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Crisis in Korea as nuclear quagmire deepens

Would SARS affect India? The paranoid had a field year with the scare over N Korea's nukes and the debate over call centres.

india Updated: Dec 31, 2003 13:24 IST

(Amit Banerjee)

Kim Jong-Il, leader of the last remaining Communist regimes in the world, sparked worldwide fears by announcing North Korea's withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty on January 10 this year. Ostensibly the move came in retaliation to a decision by the United States, Japan and South Korea to halt oil supplies promised under the 1994 deal.

Efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis remained deadlocked with none of the concerned parties willing to give up on long held positions. While North Korea reiterated its demand for a formal non-aggression treaty with the United States, Washington said it would not give in to nuclear blackmail.

The already tense situation in the Korean peninsula seemed to take a turn for the worse after Pyongyang test fired a surface-to-vessel anti-ship missile into the Sea of Japan in March and declared its intention to resist all international attempts at inspecting its nuclear facilities. In July, a Japanese newspaper report, citing North Korean and Japanese sources, said North Korea was prepared to conduct a nuclear test unless America responded positively to its proposals to end the standoff.

The year ends with the world still on edge regarding North Korea's nuclear aspirations. Any hopes for a quick and lasting peace in the region have receded. Both President Bush and Kim Jong-Il blame each other for delays in holding a proposed six-nation talks, involving Japan, South Korea, China and Russia besides the two key players.

In December North Korea suggested it would come to the negotiating table and freeze its nuclear weapons activities if the United States agreed to remove the North from its list of terrorism-sponsoring countries and provided oil and economic aid. The idea has since been rejected.

India faces BPO backlash

(Naresh Mathur)

The Indian Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry faced a fierce backlash in the West during 2003. For the first time, the outflow of jobs to India became an issue big enough to create a furore in the US and UK and even force some changes in legislation.

In the US, outsourcing was blamed for the 'jobless recovery' phenomenon and the backlash found political support at various levels. Several American states went as far as to propose a ban on outsourcing of government contracts by enacting new laws.

On the other hand, in UK, the country's trade minister defended outsourcing saying it was good for British companies as it promoted competitiveness. But trade unions threatened massive disruptions if British jobs -- from banking, insurance, pharma and software -- continued to be exported overseas.

The Indian software and IT companies, while consolidating their position as leaders in the industry, did not go completely unscathed. Several outsourcing deals including TCS' contract with the Indiana state government, went sour. Some dissatisfied foreign firms like Dell Computers and Lehman Brothers decided to shift their BPO work back to the US.

However, such aberrations were exceptions rather than the rule. Since outsourcing has become an integral business strategy for companies spanning all industry sectors like software, financial services, pharma and even tourism, India, with its cheap and educated labour force should find itself in growing demand.

The Outsourcing Saga

First Published: Dec 27, 2003 21:09 IST