Neighbours and rivals: On the Asia Cup
Asia Cup remains hostage to India-Pakistan relations
The Asia Cup, a tournament originally launched to promote Asian solidarity in cricket, is often caught between the fissures that define Indian subcontinental history. Started in 1984 with bonhomie between the big three — India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — the championship soon became captive to the political issues that cropped up between these nations with the India-Pakistan narrative being the primary basis for grudges. Still the continental skirmish has developed deep roots, lasted the distance, embraced new teams such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and even had Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates. And when the 16th edition commenced at Multan in Pakistan on Wednesday, even Nepal was in the fray. The latest edition also had its share of heartburn. Originally scheduled to be entirely held beyond the Wagah border, India’s refusal to tour Pakistan forced a compromise with Sri Lanka stepping in as a co-host. Pakistan bristled and then got practical and it is a sad reality that India’s last tour of its neighbouring country happened during the 2008 Asia Cup in Karachi. Much water has flowed down the Indus but old wounds continue to fester. The current version has six teams split into two groups leading towards the super-four stage before concluding with the final at Colombo on September 17.
It is a travesty that matches involving India and Pakistan are reduced to guest appearances within ICC events and Asia Cup jousts. Away from the diplomatic crossfire, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will look at the Asia Cup as a preparatory stage for the World Cup commencing in India during October. The Indian squad will try to fix the missing links in the coming weeks but with K.L. Rahul, Shreyas Iyer and even Jasprit Bumrah winging back from injuries, there is anxiety. The last named did well as a leader during the recent T20Is in Ireland and yet the Indian line-up looks unsettled. Much will hinge on the batting thrust that skipper Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli can lend while Suryakumar Yadav needs to find his feet in ODIs. Incidentally this Asia Cup will consist of ODIs while in some of its previous avatars it had dallied with T20Is. Sri Lanka too is in a transitory phase but the most heartening story would be Afghanistan’s resilience even if back home the Taliban’s restrictions tend to suffocate life and sport. Meanwhile Bangladesh, yet to win the Asian title, gets another tilt but all eyes will be glued to Saturday’s India-Pakistan tussle at Pallekele. This contest may offer clues to the Asian angle in the upcoming World Cup.
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Mapping the way forward: on China and its neighbours
China must show its neighbours the sensitivity that it demands of them
A week after the first conversation in many months between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, India and China appear nowhere near coming to any kind of understanding to repair their relations. On the contrary, relations this week have faced yet another storm, with the two sides clashing over China issuing a new map and reports on Thursday suggesting that Mr. Xi may skip the G-20 Summit in New Delhi next week. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not confirm those reports, but it also chose not to deny them. Events this week, meanwhile, served a reminder of the currently low levels of trust, with relations arguably at their lowest since the normalisation of ties in the 1980s. On August 28, China issued what it called a “standard map” for 2023, which showed the entire State of Arunachal Pradesh, the Aksai Chin region and the South China Sea as Chinese territory, drawing protests from India, Malaysia and the Philippines. Beijing defended the map as “routine” and asked India to not “over-interpret” it, after the Ministry of External Affairs lodged a strong protest. While it may be true that the map made no new territorial claims and depicted borders as in previous Chinese maps, it is clear that the needless issuing of a new map, amid multiple, live territorial disputes, has only further complicated them. The responses of China’s neighbours make that clear.
When India in 2019 issued a new map following the internal reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir and creation of the new Union Territory of Ladakh, Beijing responded with strong statements and initiated discussions at the United Nations Security Council, even though that map, too, did not change India’s external boundaries or territorial claims vis-à-vis China. In the view of some observers, China’s increasingly aggressive mobilisation on the Line of Actual Control, leading to the on-going crisis that has plunged relations to this low level, was partly a response to India’s reiteration of its claims to Aksai Chin in 2019. In the recent up-and-down history of India’s ties with China, summit meetings have offered the platform for the two countries to dial down tensions by giving the two leaders the opportunity for high-level interventions, as was the case at the 2017 BRICS Summit following the Doklam stand-off. Regardless of whether Mr. Xi visits New Delhi next week, the prospects of a similar rapprochement remain dim. Repairing relations will require slowly rebuilding trust on a foundation of greater mutual sensitivity. Indeed, China would do well to show its neighbours the sensitivity that it demands of them, if it has any inclination towards repairing increasingly fraught relations.
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