SPR 2022 | International Relations Current Affairs Compilation for Prelims 2022

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International Relations

Dialogues And Talks:

Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm Deal: India- Srilanka

Context:

  • India's prized agreement with Sri Lanka for the joint development of the Trincomalee Oil Tank farm, signed earlier this year after a 35-year wait, may take years to turn around and at least 100 million dollars.

About:

  • This is the deal: 85 decrepit oil tanks in 850 acres of dense jungle, and a strategic natural harbour.
  • The foliage is so thick that the place is now home to several species of animals and birds, and cutting down the trees needs government permission.
  • One day, it could be key to Sri Lanka’s energy security while giving India additional capacity for reserves.
  • India’s prized agreement with Sri Lanka for the joint development of the Trincomalee Oil Tank farm, signed earlier this year after a 35-year wait, may take years to turn around and at least 100 million dollars.
  • The twin economic and political crises in Sri Lanka carry their own risks.
  • The oil tank farm was built by the British during World War II as a refuelling station,
  • It is located in ‘China Bay’ in close proximity to the internationally coveted deep water natural harbour of Trincomalee.
  • The proposal of this joint development was envisaged 35 years ago, in the Indo-Lanka Accord 1987.
  • It comprises 99 storage tanks, with a capacity of 12,000 kilolitres each, spread across Lower Tank farm and Upper Tank Farm.
  • In 2003, Indian Oil Corporation set up its Sri Lankan subsidiary called Lanka IOC, to work on this oil farm.
  • Currently, Lanka IOC runs 15 tanks. The new agreement is being negotiated for the remaining tanks.

Significance of the deal:

  • The Trincomalee Oil Tank Farms have been bestowed with several favourable factors of location. For example,
  • Easily Accessible: It is located in a deepwater natural harbour of Trincomalee.
  • Strategic Location in the Indian Ocean: These oil farms are located along some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
  • Thus, a well-developed oil storage facility and refinery adjacent to the Trincomalee Port would have great economic value for both India and Sri Lanka.

Issues in India-Sri Lanka Relations:

  • China’s Intervention: China’s rapidly growing economic footprint (and political clout as a corollary) in Sri Lanka is straining India-Sri Lanka relations.
  • China is already the largest investor in Sri Lanka, accounting for 23.6% of the total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) during 2010-2019 as against 10.4% from India.
  • China is also one of the largest export destinations for Sri Lankan goods and holds over 10% of its external debt.
  • China is also handling Hambantota Port of Sri Lanka, the port is viewed as a part of China’s String of Pearls Strategy.
  • Katchatheevu Island Issue: India ceded the uninhabited island to its southern neighbour in 1974 under a conditional accord.
  • However, many times the fisherman issue arises more out of a domestic tussle rather than the India-Sri Lanka view on the issue.
  • 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution: Indo-Sri Lankan Accord was signed in 1987 to provide a political solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict.
  • It envisages devolution of necessary powers to the provincial councils to address the just demand of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, and respect within a united Sri Lanka.
  • The provisions of this accord were made in the Sri Lankan constitution, by the Thirteenth Amendment.
  • However, still the provisions are not implemented on ground. Even to this day, s lot of Srilankan Tamils who evaded from Srilankan civil war (2009) are seeking refuge in Tamil Nadu.
  • Back Tracing of Sri-Lanka: Recently, Sri Lanka backed out from a tripartite partnership with India and Japan for its East Container Terminal Project at the Colombo Port, citing domestic issues.

Way Forward:

  • Nurturing the Neighbourhood First policy with Sri Lanka is important for India to preserve its strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Indian foreign policy towards Sri Lanka, as part of its ‘Island Diplomacy’, will also have to evolve in tune to the emergent realities and threats.
  • Both countries can also cooperate on enhancing private sector investments to create economic resilience.

The India-UK Relationship

Context:

  • India-UK relations also known as Indian–British relations refer to international relations between India and the United Kingdom. Both countries are full members of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Bilateral Relations:

  • India and the United Kingdom share a modern partnership bound by strong historical ties
  • India’s multifaceted bilateral relationship with the UK intensified with its up-gradation to a Strategic Partnership in 2004
  • A Joint Declaration titled ‘India-UK: towards a new and dynamic partnership’ which envisages annual Summits and regular meetings between Foreign Ministers
  • Civil nuclear energy, space, defence, combating terrorism, economic ties, science & technology, education and culture are the areas of cooperative relations between India and UK
  • The UK supports India’s proposal for permanent membership of the UNSC and is also an important interlocutor for India in the European Union (EU), Group of Eight (G-8), G20 and global contexts

Political Relations :

  • India and UK are bound by strong ties of history and culture. 
  • India has a high commission in London and two consulates-general in Birmingham and Edinburgh. The United Kingdom has a high commission in New Delhi and five deputy high commissions in Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
  • The United Kingdom has an Indian population of over 1.5 million
  • Both countries are also members of the World Trade Organization and the Asian Development Bank
  • Three Presidents of India have paid state visits to the United Kingdom: Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan in June 1963, Ramaswamy Venkataraman in October 1990, and Pratibha Patil in 2009
  • Indian Prime Ministers including Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi have also paid a visit to the country during their tenures as the PM of India
  • Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom paid state visits to India in November 1963, April 1990, and in October 1997
  • There have been regular exchanges of visits at the Prime Ministerial level since the Strategic Partnership in 2004

Economic Relations:

  • The economic and commerce matters are guided based on the institutionalised dialogues of India-UK Joint Economic & Trade Committee, Economic and Financial Dialogue and India-UK Financial Partnership
  • The growth of India’s multinational companies contributed greatly to UK’s business and economy. As of 2019, Indian companies in the UK generated over 48 billion pounds
  • In September 2017 the High Commission of India in the UK, with the support of the UK India Business Council, announced the Access India Programme, a unique scheme set up to help many more UK SMEs export to India

Trade Relations:

  • The UK is among India’s major trading partners and during the year 2016-17, the UK ranked 15th in the list of India’s top 25 trading partners
  • As per trade statistics of MoC&I, India’s trade with the UK in 2017-2018 was the US $14.497 billion

India-UK Relations Investment:

  • UK is the 4th largest inward investor in India, after Mauritius, Singapore and Japan with a cumulative equity investment of US $26.09 billion (April 2000-June 2018)
  • It accounts for about 7% of all foreign direct investment into India
  • As per the data released in 2018, India was  the third-largest investor in the UK and emerged as the second-largest international job creator with Indian companies having created over 110,000 jobs in the UK
  • As of December 2018, the total consolidated revenue of Indian companies in the UK is £47.5 billion with the technical and telecom sector accounting for 31% with the pharmaceuticals and chemicals sector mapping 24% of the India-tracker

Educational Relations between India and UK:

  • The UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) was launched in 2005 with a focus on higher education and research, schools and professional and technical skills
  • Joint Working Group on Education, Newton-Bhabha Fund and Scholarship schemes are some other educational initiatives by the two countries for maintaining the bilateral relationship
  • During the visit of the Prime Minister to the UK in November 2015, the following announcements relating to education were made:
    • 2016 was announced as the UK-India year of Education, Research and Innovation
    • Virtual partnerships would be initiated at the school level to enable young
    • People of one country to experience the school system of the other
    • Country and develop an understanding of the culture, traditions and social and family systems
    • UK’s plans for 25,000 UK students to go to India through the Generation UK- India programme by 2020, including 1000 UK interns with Tata Consultancy Services in India by 2020
    • Launch of the 3rd phase of the UK India Education and Research Initiative
  • UK also supports the Skills India Mission and announced a fresh commitment of up to £12 million

Cultural Links between India and the United Kingdom:

  • India and UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Cultural Cooperation in July 2010
  • The Nehru Centre (TNC), established in 1992 in London, is the cultural outreach of the High Commission of India in UK. It organises a wide range of cultural functions at its premises
  • There has been a gradual mainstreaming of Indian culture and absorption of Indian cuisine, cinema, languages, religion, philosophy, performing arts, etc.
  • A Midnight Freedom Run was organized in London by the High Commission of India in the midnight hours of August 14-15, 2017 to commemorate of 70 years of India’s independence

India-UK Relations – Defense :

  • Cooperation in the defence sector is another important pillar of bilateral cooperation. During Prime Minister’s visit to the UK in November 2015, the two countries agreed to elevate their Defence relationship by establishing capability partnerships in strategic areas. 
  • At all the three services level, joint exercises and wide-ranging exchanges between the three services are conducted regularly. 

Indians in the United Kingdom:

  • As of January 2013, the Parliament of UK has 8 Indian origin MPs and 24 Indian-origin Lords. In addition, there are over 180 Indian origin Councillors elected to Councils across UK.
  • The Indian Diaspora in UK is one of the largest ethnic minority communities in the country, with the 2011 census recording approximately 1.5 million people of Indian origin in the UK equating to almost 1.8 percent of the population and contributing 6% of the country’s GDP. 

India Abstains at UNHRC

Context:

  • Recently, India abstained from a vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Council moved the resolution to set up an international commission of enquiry into Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
  • The move is significant in the terms that the vote followed even after India’s meeting with Quad countries.
  • India has also abstained from similar resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly and United Nations Security Council.
  • India also abstained from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution that was related to safety at four nuclear power stations and a number of nuclear waste sites including Chernobyl, as the Russians seized control of them.

What is the UN Human Rights Council?

About:

  • The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world.

Formation:

  • The Council was created by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006. It replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
  • The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) serves as the Secretariat of the Human Rights Council.
  • OHCHR is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

Members:

  • It is made up of 47 United Nations Member States which are elected by the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
  • The UNGA takes into account the candidate States' contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.
  • The Council's Membership is based on equitable geographical distribution. Seats are distributed as follows:
    1. African States: 13 seats
    2. Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
    3. Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
    4. Western European and other States: 7 seats
    5. Eastern European States: 6 seats
  • Members of the Council serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

Procedures and Mechanisms:

  • Universal Periodic Review: UPR serves to assess the human rights situations in all United Nations Member States.
  • Advisory Committee: It serves as the Council’s “think tank” providing it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues.
  • Complaint Procedure: It allows individuals and organizations to bring human rights violations to the attention of the Council.
  • UN Special Procedures: These are made up of special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts and working groups that monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on thematic issues or human rights situations in specific countries.

Issues:

  • Related to the Membership: A key concern for some critics has been the composition of Council membership, which sometimes includes countries widely perceived as human rights abusers.
  • China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia, and Venezuela, all of which have been accused of human rights abuses.
  • Disproportionate Focus: the US pulled out of the Agency in 2018 due to its disproportionate focus on Israel, which has received by far the largest number of critical council resolutions against any country.
  • The US has joined the organization again.

India and UN Human Rights Council:

  • Recently, a group of Special Rapporteurs to the United Nations (UN) has written to the Indian government expressing concerns over the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020.
  • In 2020, India’s National Human Rights Commission submitted its mid-term report to the Council as a part of the third round of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.
  • India was elected to the Council for a period of three years beginning 1st January 2019.

India Japan Summit 2022

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Japanese Prime Minister was on an official visit to India for the 14th India-Japan Annual Summit between the two countries.
  • The Summit took place at a time when the two countries were celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and India was celebrating its 75th anniversary of Independence.
  • Earlier, the Indian PM virtually inaugurated a Japanese ‘Zen Garden – Kaizen Academy’ at the Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA) in Gujarat.

Investment by Japan:

  • Japan will invest Rs 3.2 lakh crores in the next five years in India.
  • 7 JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) loans for projects in connectivity, water supply and sewerage, horticulture, healthcare, and biodiversity conservation in various States.
  • An MoU has been signed to introduce Johkasou technology in India by Japanese companies for decentralised wastewater treatment. It is used in areas where sewage infrastructure has not yet been developed.

India-Japan Digital Partnership:

  • On cyber security, the leaders discussed the “India-Japan Digital Partnership” with a view to enhancing the digital economy through the promotion of joint projects in the area of IoT (Internet of Things), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and other emerging technologies.
  • Japan is looking forward to attracting more highly-skilled Indian IT professionals to contribute to the Japanese ICT sector.

QUAD:

  • The two PMs affirmed the importance of bilateral and plurilateral partnerships among like-minded countries in the region including the QUAD grouping between India-Australia-Japan and the United States.
  • The Japanese Prime Minister invited PM Modi to the QUAD Summit Meeting in Tokyo.

On Situation in Other Countries:

Ukraine:

  • Talked about the serious invasion of Russia into Ukraine and sought a peaceful solution on the basis of international law.

China:

  • India informed Japan about the situation in Ladakh, the attempts of amassing troops and India's talks with China over border-related issues.
  • The Japanese PM also briefed India about his perspective of the East and South China sea.

Afghanistan:

  • In Afghanistan, the PMs expressed their intention to collaborate closely to realize peace and stability in Afghanistan, and stressed the importance of addressing the humanitarian crisis, promoting human rights and ensuring the establishment of a truly representative and inclusive political system.
  • They also referred to the UNSC Resolution that unequivocally demands that “Afghan territory not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist acts”.

North Korea:

  • The PMs condemned North Korea’s destabilising ballistic missile launches in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs).

Myanmar:

  • They called on Myanmar to urgently implement ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus.

What are other Recent Developments between India and Japan?

  • Recently, India, Japan and Australia have formally launched the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in a move to counter China’s dominance of the supply chain in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • In 2020, India and Japan signed a logistics agreement that will allow the armed forces of both sides to coordinate closely in services and supplies. The agreement is known as the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).
  • In 2014, India and Japan upgraded their relationship to a 'Special Strategic and Global Partnership'.
  • The India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) that came into force in August 2011 covers trade in goods, services, movement of natural persons, investments, Intellectual Property Rights, custom procedures and other trade-related issues.
  • Japan is India’s 12th largest trading partner, and trade volumes between the two stand at just a fifth of the value of India-China bilateral trade.
  • Defence Exercises: India and Japan's defence forces organize a series of bilateral exercises namely, JIMEX (naval), SHINYUU Maitri (Air Force), and Dharma Guardian (Army). Both countries also participate in Malabar exercise (Naval Exercise) with the USA and Australia.
  • Both India and Japan are members of the G-20 and G-4.
  • They are also member countries of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

New Delhi reaches out to the Indian Ocean

Why in News:

  • Jaishankar’s five-day (March 26-30) visit to the two key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean region is part of India’s attempt to proactively reach out with projects and initiatives to counter China’s influence.

Pacts and Projects in the Maldives:

  • Jaishankar and Maldives President Ibrahim Solih will inaugurate a police training academy and a drug rehabilitation centre built with Indian financial assistance at Addu, a city in the southernmost atoll of the Indian Ocean archipelago.
  • Last year, the Modi government approved a proposal for opening an Indian consulate at Addu.
  • The signing of several agreements related to bilateral development co-operation, inauguration/handing-over and launch of a number of key India-supported projects were also on the cards.

Anti-India Protests:

  • The Maldives stopover comes at a time of protests there that the government has “sold out” to India, and a determined pushback by President Solih, Nasheed and the ruling MDP against these protests.
  • Dubbed the “India Out” campaign, the protests have received active backing from Yameen and his Progressive Party, especially since his release from house arrest after he was exonerated from corruption charges.
  • The anti-India campaign claims a large Indian military presence in the Maldives and that the government is planning to hand over the Uthuru Thilafalhu atoll to the Indian Navy.

India's soft power on the Maldives:

  • With a friendly government in Male since 2017, India has been well-positioned to build back influence in the country, vital along with Sri Lanka, to Delhi’s strategic interests in a region where China is also engaged in establishing its presence.
  • Other than the police training school, and the drug rehab clinic, India has undertaken a  host of other projects in Addu city, including an airport, road projects, drainage and land reclamation. Another project being financed in Addu by India is the development of eco-tourism zones.
  • India is also building the $500-million Greater Male Connectivity project, the largest infrastructure project in the country that links three islands with Male.

Assistance to Srilanka:

  • The assistance is to enable Sri Lanka to import food, other essential commodities and medicines from India. With this, Delhi has provided total financial assistance of $2.4 billion to Sri Lanka since January.
  • It has also conveyed to Colombo that Indian investments in renewable energy, ports, logistics, infrastructure and connectivity will help Sri Lanka build capacity “holistically”, repairing its economy.
  • While in Sri Lanka, Jaishankar will also participate in the BIMSTEC ministerial meeting in Colombo on March 29.

India-Russia Military Relations

Why in News?

  • The evacuation of thousands of Indian students in Ukraine (Operation Ganga) is the most immediate impact of Russia’s war over Ukraine on India. However, the Russia-Ukraine conflict will have long-term implications too.
  • For example, negotiating its relationships with the United States and other Western nations on one side, and the historically deep and strategic ties with Russia on the other.
  • This will most significantly have an impact on the decades-old defence trade between India and Russia.

What is the History of India-Russia Defence Ties?

  • India was reliant, almost solely on the British, and other Western nations for its arms imports immediately after Independence.
  • However, this dependence weaned, and by the 1970s India was importing several weapons systems from the USSR (now Russia), making it the country’s largest defence importer for decades.
  • Russia has provided some of the most sensitive and important weapons platforms that India has required from time to time including nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, tanks, guns, fighter jets, and missiles.
  • According to one estimate, the share of Russian-origin weapons and platforms across Indian armed forces is as high as 85%.
  • Russia is the second-largest arms exporter in the world, following only the United States.
  • For Russia, India is the largest importer, and for India, Russia is the largest exporter when it comes to arms transfer.
  • Between 2000 and 2020, Russia accounted for 66.5% of India’s arms imports.
  • Russia’s share in Indian arms imports was down to about 50% between 2016 and 2020, but it still remained the largest single importer.

What Defence Equipment does India procure From Russia?

  • Submarines: The first submarine India ever got was also Soviet.
  • The first Foxtrot Class submarine bought from the USSR entered Indian service in 1967 as INS Kalvari.
  • Of the total 16 conventional diesel-electric submarines with the Indian Navy, eight are Kilo class, of Soviet origins.
  • India has one indigenously manufactured nuclear ballistic submarine (INS Arihant) commissioned, of the four that are being built. However, a lot of the technology is based on Russian platforms.
  • Frigates & Guided-missile Destroyers: Four of the Navy’s 10 guided-missile destroyers are Russian Kashin class, and 6 of its 17 frigates are Russian Talwar class.
  • Aircraft Carrier: The only aircraft carrier in service with India, INS Vikramaditya is a Soviet-made Kiev-class vessel that came into service for the Indian Navy in 2013.
  • Missile Program: India’s missile programme has been developed with significant help from Russia or the Soviets earlier.
  • The BrahMos missile, which India will begin exporting soon, has been developed jointly with Russia.
  • Fighter Aircraft: Russia has also been one of main exporters of fighter aircraft to India, including hundreds of Sukhoi and MiG jets. All six of the service’s air tankers are Russian-made Il-78s.
  • Arms and Ammunitions: According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), India’s present military arsenal is heavily stocked with Russian-made or Russian-designed equipment.
  • Tanks: Indian Army’s main battle tank force is composed predominantly of Russian T-72M1 (66%) and T-90S (30%).
  • Favourable Russian Military Exports to India: Much of Russia’s influence in India comes through its willingness to provide weapons systems and technologies that no other country will export to India.
  • The US only provides non-lethal defence technology like C-130j Super Hercules, C-13 Globemaster, P-8i Poseidon etc.
  • While Russia provides high-end technology like Brahmos supersonic missile, S-400 anti-missile system.
  • Russia also continues to offer advanced weapons platforms at relatively attractive rates.

What can be the Impact of the Russia-Ukraine War on Military Supplies?

  • At the moment there are two major defence deals between India and Russia that might be jeopardised by the current crisis.
  • S-400 Triumf air-defence system Deal:
  • The deal has been under the threat of American sanctions, even as the US had not decided on it yet.
  • However, the fresh round of sanctions on Russia could jeopardise this deal.
  • Joint Submarine Development: Russia has also pitched to make six Air Independent Propulsion (AIP-powered) conventional submarines for the Navy under the P75-I project, along with four other international bidders.
  • India is also in talks with Russia to lease two nuclear-ballistic submarines, Chakra 3 and Chakra 4, the first of which is expected to be delivered by 2025.

What are India’s Plans to Diversify Arms Import Diversification?

  • Over the last few years, there has been a conscious effort to expand the weapons platform bases to not only other countries but also domestically as well.
  • Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) noted in its international arms transfer trends report last year that between 2011–15 and 2016–20 arms imports by India decreased by 33%.
  • In 2011–15 the USA was the second-largest arms supplier to India, but in 2016–20 India’s arms imports from the USA were 46% lower than in the previous five-year period, making the USA the fourth-largest supplier to India in 2016–20.
  • France and Israel were the second and third largest arms suppliers to India in 2016–20.

G7 tax deal

Context: The G7 grouping of advanced economies has struck a “historic” agreement on multinational corporation taxation.

More on news:

  • The first decision has been made to require multinational corporations to pay taxes in the countries where they operate.
  • The agreement's second conclusion commits governments to a worldwide minimum corporate tax rate of 15% in order to prevent countries from undercutting each other.
  • The deal will now be addressed in further depth during a G20 summit.

Is this the end of tax havens?

  • If the agreement does not completely eliminate tax havens, it will make them significantly less appealing to many businesses wanting to reduce their tax burden while simultaneously improving their reputation with investors concerned with environmental, social, and corporate governance issues.
  • The global minimum tax is designed to allow governments to levy a top-up tax on corporate profits in countries with lower tax rates than the global minimum.

About the G7:

  • It is an international organization founded in 1975 by the world's leading economies as an informal platform for discussion of critical global issues.
  • Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States make up the Group of Seven or G-7. In 1976, Canada joined the organization, and the European Union joined in 1977.
  • The G-7 nations gather annually at summits presided over by rotating presidents of member countries.
  • Initially founded as a forum for the United States and its allies to address economic difficulties, it debated a variety of subjects, including the oil crises of the 1970s, the economic transition of ex-Soviet bloc countries, and terrorism, arms control, and drug trafficking.
  • After Russia joined the original seven in 1997, the G-7 was dubbed the “G-8” for several years. After Russia was ousted as a member in 2014 as a result of the latter's invasion of Ukraine's Crimea area, the Group was renamed G-7.

Global Minimum Tax

Context:

  • Major economies are aiming to discourage multinational companies from shifting profits – and tax revenues – to low-tax countries regardless of where their sales are made.

More Info:

  • Increasingly, income from intangible sources such as drug patents, software, and royalties on intellectual property has migrated to these jurisdictions.
  • This has allowed companies to avoid paying higher taxes in their traditional home countries.
  • With a broadly agreed global minimum tax, the Biden administration hopes to reduce such tax base erosion without putting American firms at a financial disadvantage.

How would such tax work?

  • The global minimum tax rate would apply to companies’ overseas profits.
  • Therefore, if countries agree on a global minimum, governments could still set whatever local corporate tax rate they want.
  • But if companies pay lower rates in a particular country, their home governments could “top-up” their taxes to the agreed minimum rate, eliminating the advantage of shifting profits to a tax haven.
  • The Biden administration has said it wants to deny exemptions for taxes paid to countries that don’t agree to a minimum rate.

Reasons why the USA is proposing it

Hike in tax rates:

  • The plan seeks to increase the US corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%. The ex-US President had reduced the corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%.

Revitalization:

  • It aims to revitalize the transportation infrastructure, water systems with other goals.
  • An increase in the tax rate and other measures to prevent the offshoring of profits will fund it.

More cooperation:

  • It will support integration instead of isolationism.

Tax evasion:

  • The plan will stop firms from shifting profits to tax haven countries.

Stability:

  • The bill aims to stabilize tax systems to raise enough revenue to invest in public welfare.

Significance:

  • This measure will help close cross-border tax loopholes used by some of the world’s biggest companies, thus will help limit base erosion and profit sharing (BEPS).
  • Increasingly, income from intangible sources such as drug patents, software and royalties on intellectual property has migrated to the low tax jurisdictions, allowing companies to avoid paying higher taxes in their traditional home countries.
  • As per some estimates, countries are losing $427 billion every year to tax havens. India suffers an annual loss of $10.3 billion from global tax abuse.
  • This agreement marks a much necessary reform of the global tax system to make it fit for the current global digital age where cross-border digital services are gaining prominence.
  • The introduction of a global minimum corporate tax will contribute to ending the decades-long “race to the bottom on corporate tax rates”, in which countries have resorted to ultra-low tax rates and tax exemptions to lure multinationals companies to invest.
  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has been coordinating tax negotiations among 140 countries on rules for taxing cross-border digital services and curbing tax base erosion, including a global corporate minimum tax. The OECD and G20 countries aim to reach a consensus on both by mid-year.

Digital Service Tax 

Context: The United States has conducted a year-long inquiry of India's digital services taxes (DST), claiming that they are discriminatory against tech giants such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

What is DST in India?

  • The amendment to the Finance Act 2020 imposes a 2% DST on non-resident e-commerce operators with a turnover of more than Rs 2 crore in trade and services.
  • It effectively broadens the scope of the equalization levy, which previously exclusively applied to digital advertising services.
  • It went into effect in April 2020 and broadened the scope of the equalization levy to include non-resident e-commerce firms engaged in the supply of services, such as online sales of goods and services.
  • The tax must be paid at the end of each quarter by e-commerce firms.

The tussle with the US:

  • The US Trade Representative's office produced a report in January 2021 saying that the Indian government's DST discriminates against US enterprises, violates established principles of international tax law, and hinders US commerce.
  • The DST is discriminatory on two points, according to the USTR investigation.
  • It claims that the DST discriminates against US digital enterprises by deliberately excluding domestic (Indian) digital businesses from its coverage.
  • The DST does not apply to services offered by non-digital service providers that are equivalent to those provided by digital service providers.

The tax’s Rationale:

  • Reform International Tax Laws: The OECD's base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) program formally framed the digital enterprises to be taxed where economic activities are carried out.
  • It is still a work in progress seven years after its start, and several countries propose or implement DST.
  • The Changing Economic Order of the World: The spread of DST is a sign of a shifting worldwide economic system.
  • Countries that supply big markets for digital firms, such as India, are seeking a broader power to tax incomes.
  • For governments like India and the United States, a redistribution of taxing powers might have enormous financial ramifications.

 

 

India rejects UNSC draft on climate

  • Context:
    • On December 13, India joined Russia in opposing a draft proposal at the United Nations Security Council which would effectively bring climate change into the Security Council’s purview.
  • Implications:
    • This would have allowed UNSC to enforce and hold countries accountable for their promises to mitigate global warming. 
    • The proposal was sponsored by Niger and Ireland, who claimed that 113 countries, which included permanent Security Council members the U.S., the U.K., and France, backed their view to integrating climate-related security risks into the UNSC’s conflict prevention mandate.
    • However, after a heated debate and a strong counter by India, the proposal was vetoed by Russia, and the UNSC recorded 12 in favor, 2 against as well as an abstention from China.
  • Why are sponsors keen to introduce climate change into the UNSC mandate?
    • Climate change has been discussed at the UNSC since 2007, and several UNSC statements reference the impact of global warming on conflicts. 
    • Both Niger and Ireland pointed out that people in countries most vulnerable to climate change are also most vulnerable to terror groups and violence, attempting to connect both to the UNSC’s mandate on peacekeeping. 
    • They said climate-related conflicts over arable land, food security, desertification and forced migration, the increase in climate refugees due to global warming would all eventually lead to conflicts that the UNSC needs to weigh in on.
    • According to a report by Peace Research Institute SIPRI, 10 of 21 ongoing UN peacekeeping operations are located in countries ranked as most exposed to climate change. 
  • Why did India vote with Russia?
    • India’s stand on the proposal is consistent with a desire not to allow the UNSC too broad a mandate to “intervene” and overreach on sovereign issues. 
    • While the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which held the CoP 26 at Glasgow collates the voluntary contributions of countries in order to battle climate change and promote sustainability, India believes these are not issues where the UNSC should interfere. 
    • India reiterated that it is “second to none” on keeping its climate commitments and fighting for climate justice, it would be “misleading” to view conflicts through the prism of climate change worldwide. 
    • India even suggested that it would support a more limited draft that focused exclusively on the Sahel region of North Africa, where desertification of arid areas is directly sparking water-related conflict, but this was not considered, and India then recorded its first negative vote in this term at the UNSC. 
    • The Chinese representative, also said that UNSC should only consider security risks driven by climate change, based on “country-by-country or situation-by-situation” analysis.

PM Modi meets foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries

  • Context:
    • Foreign Ministers of five Central Asian countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday and emphasized the readiness of their leaderships to further strengthen relations with India.
  • Relationship between India and Central Asia:
    • The relationship between India and Central Asia has a long history. In terms of people-to-people contact, trade, and commerce, the two regions have shared profound cultural ties over the previous two millennia.
    • Parts of both regions were occupied by ancient kingdoms such as the Kushana Empire.
    • From the 3rd century BC until the 15th century AD, these regions were connected by the Silk Road, until the maritime route from Europe to India was discovered.
    • The Silk Route linked the two regions not only for the transit of goods such as silk and spices, but also for the interchange of ideas, religion, and philosophy.
    • Buddhism spread from India through Central Asia and then to West China along this route.
    • The historical and civilizational connections have influenced many aspects of life, including religion and culture.
    • The arrival of Islam and later the formation of Muslim power in India, many of whose rulers had their origins in Central Asia, increased ties between the two countries during the medieval ages.
  • Relationships between India and Armenia in recent years:
    • India’s External Affairs Minister is the first from the country to visit Armenia.
    • To strengthen bilateral relations, the Minister and his Armenian counterpart agreed to increase trade and cultural exchanges.
    • Mr. Jaishankar also supported efforts under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk group to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia during his visit.
    • The Taliban’s re-establishment of power in Afghanistan has exposed the flaws of coalitions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which was formed in response to terrorism threats emanating from Afghanistan.
    • However, most member nations have utilized the SCO for their own regional geostrategic and security purposes, resulting in a trust deficit and divergence within the organization.
    • Central Asian officials convened in Turkmenistan in August to express their worries about the Afghan situation and to debate the existence of Central Asian terror groups within Afghanistan and along their borders after the SCO failed to respond collectively to the Afghan problem.

Indian diplomats to boycott Beijing Winter Olympics

  • Context:
    • India has announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics just ahead of the opening ceremony.
  • Why are India and other countries diplomatically boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympics?
    • India is boycotting the servant due to China’s decision to pick a Chinese soldier involved in the Galwan incident as an Olympic torch-bearer.
    • The other countries are boycotting due to the atrocities by China on Uyghur Muslims and human rights abuses in China.

India finalizes cooperation plan to revive Covid-hit Sri Lanka economy

  • Context:
    • India and Sri Lanka have agreed to a four-pronged package comprising initiatives on food and energy security to help mitigate Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.
  • The four-pronged package that has been finalized between India & Sri Lanka:
    • Urgent food and health security package that includes an extension of a line of credit to cover the import of food, medicines, and other essential items from India to Sri Lanka.
    • Energy security package that includes a line of credit to cover the import of fuel from India and early modernization of the Trincomalee Tank Farm;
    • Offer of a currency swap to help Sri Lanka address its balance of payment issues;
    • Facilitation of Indian investments in different sectors that would contribute to the growth and expand employment.
  • What are the recent economic issues between India and Sri Lanka?
    • One, The Rajapaksa Government has favored Chinese companies on projects that it expedites. For instance, the projects to develop oil infrastructure in Trincomalee have been languishing till now.
    • Two, Sri Lanka’s request for a $1 billion swap has not yet materialized.
    • Three, India has also delayed a decision on a request for a debt moratorium waiver to help Sri Lanka tide over its economic problems during the pandemic.
    • Four, recently, Sri Lanka cancelled an MoU signed with India and Japan for the East Coast Terminal project. India protested the cancellation though it later agreed to the West Coast Terminal being developed by the Adani group.

B3W Project

Context: To oppose China's multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, the G7 group has unveiled Build Back Better World (B3W), a global infrastructure initiative (BRI).

More on news

  • The United States is leading the infrastructure plan, which would establish a transparent infrastructure partnership to help developing countries shrink the $40 trillion gap by 2035.
  • The B3W project intends to place a greater emphasis on environmental and climate issues, as well as worker protections, transparency, and anti-corruption measures. It is seen as a safeguard for developing countries against China's debt-trap policy through infrastructure financing.

What is BRI?

  • It is a large-scale economic development and a commercial project aimed at increasing connectivity and collaboration among a number of countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe.
  • President Xi Jinping of China is the brains behind this. It was established in 2013, and the Chinese government has nicknamed it the “Project of the Century” because it reaches more than 100 countries.
  • The project entails the construction of a large network of roads, trains, maritime ports, electricity grids, oil and gas pipelines, and other infrastructure.
  • The project entails the construction of a large network of roads, trains, maritime ports, electricity grids, oil and gas pipelines, and other infrastructure.
  • The project is divided into two halves. The first is the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” which will connect China with Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe by land.
  • The second is the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” which will run along China's southern coast and connect the Mediterranean, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia.

Why has India not yet joined the initiative? 

  • China has provided funding to some of India's neighbours, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. India has been hesitant to join the programme out of concern that it will strengthen China's geopolitical position in the region. The risk of being enslaved by debt. Bhutan is likewise a non-participant in this programme.
  • The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, is another source of concern for India.

 

India-Nepal dialogue in G20 summit

  • Context:
    • PM Modi holds talks with Nepal Prime Minister Deuba in Glasgow.
  • About Infrastructure for the Resilient Island States:
    • It is an Indian initiative at COP26 Summit in Glasgow. Its aim is to develop the infrastructure of small island nations vulnerable to climate change.
    • The IRIS initiative is a part of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) that would focus on building capacity, having pilot projects, especially in small island developing states.

India-Israel talks

  • Context:
    • The Indian embassy said France reiterated its commitment to fully support Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of “Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India)” and defence industrialisation, joint research and technology development in India across a wide range of advanced capabilities.
  • About Atmanirbhar Bharat Programme:
    • Launched in May 2020 with an economic stimulus package – worth Rs 20 lakh crores aimed towards achieving self-reliance.
  • Objective:
    • Cutting down import dependence by focussing on substitution while improving safety compliance and quality goods to gain global market share.
    • Promoting “local” products.
    • Self-Reliance.

  • About AUKUS Alliance:
    • The UK, US and Australia security pact in the Asia-Pacific, is seen as an effort to counter China. It is called the AUKUS pact and AUKUS alliance.
    • Its aim is to enhance the development of joint capabilities and technology sharing, foster deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains.

Free Trade Agreement

  • Context: 
    • Negotiations between India and the U.K. on a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) could be delayed to January 2022, with a Cabinet change in the U.K. and the need for more “pre-negotiation” talks being the main reasons.
  • About Free Trade Agreement:
    • An FTA is a pact between two or more nations to reduce barriers to imports and exports among them.
    • Under a free trade policy, goods and services can be bought and sold across international borders with little or no government tariffs, quotas, subsidies, or prohibitions to inhibit their exchange.
  • Key features of FTAs:
    • The member nations of FTAs explicitly identify the duties and tariffs that are to be imposed on member countries when it comes to imports and exports. 
    • FTAs typically cover trades in  (a) merchandise — such as agricultural or industrial products (b) services — such as banking, construction, trading and so forth (c) intellectual property rights (IPRs) (d) investment (e) government procurement (f) competition policy and so on.
    • FTAs additionally, for the most part, provide a criterion called the ‘Rules of Origin’, required for the determination of the product's country of origin for the imposition of the preferential tariff on International trade.
    • FTAs act as an exception to the Most Favoured Nation principle adopted by WTO.
  • Importance of FTAs:
    • Competition on a global level: FTAs encourages competition on a global level, increasing efficiency of domestic industries, specialization within countries,  availability of cheaper and better-quality products for consumers. 
    • Elimination of global monopolies: With FTAs, global monopolies are eliminated due to increased competition. 
    • Enhanced global growth: FTAs help build shared ways to trade and invest and offer support for strong people-to-people and business-to-business links which in turn enhances global growth. 
  • Steps were taken by India to strengthen the existing FTAs:
    • Strengthening RoO mechanism: 
      • Custom (Administration of Rules of Origin under Trade Agreements) Rules, 2020 (CAROTAR 2020) to tighten the authorization of RoO standards under FTAs. 
    • Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs):  
      • In the year 2015, India reviewed its existing BITs and released a Model BIT in 2016.
    • Reviewing existing FTAs:
      • In 2019, a meeting was held in Thailand where India and the ASEAN decided to initiate the review of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement that has been in operation since January 2010. 

India-Oman Relations

  • Context: 
    • Moving to expand its footprint in the Indian Ocean region and counter Chinese influence, New Delhi is reinvigorating ties with Oman where it has secured access to the key port of Duqm for military use and logistical support.

 

  • Significance of this move:
    • The Port of Duqm is situated on the southeastern seaboard of Oman, overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
    • It is strategically located, in close proximity to the Chabahar port in Iran. With the Assumption Island being developed in Seychelles and Agalega in Mauritius, Duqm fits into India’s proactive maritime security roadmap.
    • This is also part of India’s maritime strategy to counter Chinese influence and activities in the region.
    • The Port of Duqm also has a special economic zone, where about $1.8 billion investments are being made by some Indian companies.

India and SriLanka

  • Context:
    • China’s Foreign Minister will visit Sri Lanka in the midst of a crippling economic crisis that has seen Sri Lanka turn to India for help and fast pedal the long-delayed India-Sri Lanka plan for joint development of the Trincomalee oil tank farm.
  • About:
    • The economic crisis in Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves sank to $1.6 billion.
    • The shortage has led to a drop in food imports, pushing up prices of essentials in the country.
    • An IMF bailout is the last option that Sri Lanka does not wish to take.
    • International rating agency Fitch downgraded Sri Lanka from CC to CCC, warning that the country was likely to default on two international sovereign bonds.
    • Financial assistance: India may offer in return financial assistance to help Sri Lanka tide over its present crisis.
    • Tank farm at Trincomalee: Sri Lanka is moving ahead on finalizing plans for jointly developing with India a massive oil tank farm at Trincomalee.
  • Significance of the deal:
    • 16-month-long negotiation: It will not only mark the culmination of India’s 16-month-long negotiation with the ruling Sri Lankan administration but will also give shape to a proposal envisaged 35 years ago, in the Indo-Lanka Accord.
    • China Bay: The facility, interestingly located in ‘China Bay’, has 99 storage tanks with a capacity of 12,000 kilolitres each, spread across the Upper Tank Farm and the Lower Tank Farm, where LIOC currently runs 15 tanks.
    • The new agreement being negotiated pertains to the remaining tanks.
    • Emergency Lines of Credit and currency swap: India’s nod for the emergency Lines of Credit and currency swap requests from Sri Lanka was contingent on the Sri Lankan administration moving forward on the Trincomalee deal.

India-Nepal relations needs a reset

  • Context: 
    • Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at Haldwani, Uttarakhand where he stated that road construction was ongoing at Lipulekh and even further, top authorities in Nepal have asked their Prime Minister to note PM Modi’s comments and demand a response. 
    • The Indian embassy in Nepal has conveyed that India’s position on the India- Nepal border remains consistent and unambiguous.
  • Background:
    • The immediate provocation is the long-standing territorial issue surrounding Kalapani, a patch of land near the India-Nepal border, close to the Lipulekh Pass on the India-China border, 
    • Lipulekh Pass is one of the approved points for border trade and the route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra in Tibet. 
    • However, the underlying reasons are far more complex where the Nepali political class by raising the banner of Nepali nationalism paints India as a hegemon, which creates distrust between the neighbours.
  • Kalapani Region:

  • Kalapani is a valley that is administered by India as a part of the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. It is situated on the Kailash Mansarovar route.
  • Kalapani is advantageously located at a height of over 20,000 ft and serves as an observation post for that area.
  • The Kali River in the Kalapani region demarcates the border between India and Nepal.
  • The Treaty of Sugauli signed by the Kingdom of Nepal and British India (after Anglo-Nepalese War) in 1816 located the Kali River as Nepal's western boundary with India.
  • The discrepancy in locating the source of the Kali river led to boundary disputes between India and Nepal, with each country producing maps supporting its own claims.
  • Susta Region:
    • The change of course by the Gandak river is the main reason for disputes in the Susta area.
    • Susta is located on the bank of the Gandak river.
    • It is called the Narayani river in Nepal.
    • It joins Ganga near Patna, Bihar.
  • Nepal’s Stand:
    • Kali river originates from a stream at Limpiyadhura, northwest of Lipu Lekh. Thus Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, and Lipu Lekh, fall to the east of the river and are part of Nepal’s Dharchula district.
    • Lipulekh was deleted from the country’s map by the kings to get favours from India.
    • The territory of Kalapani was offered to India by King Mahendra after the 1962 India-China war who wanted to help India’s security concerns due to perceived lingering Chinese threats.
    • Kalapani was not a part of the Nepal-India dispute. It was Nepal’s territory that the king had allowed India to use temporarily
    • The new map is in fact a document that was in circulation in Nepal till the 1950s.
  • India’s Stand:
    • Kali river originates in springs well below the Lipu-lekh pass, and the Sugauli Treaty does not demarcate the area north of these streams.
    • The administrative and revenue records of the nineteenth century also show that Kalapani was on the Indian side, and counted as part of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand.
  • Efforts to Solve Border Dispute:
    • In the 1980s, the two sides set up the Joint Technical Level Boundary Working Group to delineate the boundary.
    • The group demarcated everything except Kalapani and Susta area.
    • Officially, Nepal brought the issue of Kalapani before India in 1998. Both sides agreed to demarcate the outstanding areas (including Kalpani) by 2002 at the prime ministerial level talk held in 2000. But that has not happened yet.

You can read more on: https://samajho.com/upsc/indo-nepal-border-dispute-kalapani/

India-USA tariff and visa issue

  • Context: 
    • U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and India's Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal this week co-chaired the U.S.-India Trade Policy Forum, which was reconvened after a gap of four years.
  • About agreement on digital services:
    • Both countries said they had reached an agreement on a transition from the existing Indian equalisation levy on the digital services as part of the new multilateral tax solution under the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework.
  • Why is the resumption of trade talks significant?
    • The resumption of the Trade Policy Forum and the decision to activate the working groups augur well for trade ties to the extent that the two sides now have a mechanism to come to grips with their differences lay out their positions and work towards reaching negotiated compromises. The aim is to arrive at solutions to multiple contentious issues.
  • What are the major issues dogging the ties?
    • The size of the trade deficit that the U.S. faces in its trade relationship with India.  In a bid to narrow the deficits, which for merchandise trade with India stood at about $23.5 billion in 2019, the Trump administration had in 2018 imposed new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from several nations, including India.
    • The Indian Government, in turn, announced retaliatory tariffs that it then subsequently operationalised after the U.S. removed India from the list of developing countries eligible for favoured access under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).
    • U.S. demand for market access for its dairy products.
    • Intellectual property rights issue.
    • Other issues are investment barriers, Indian price controls on medical devices, the digital economy and its related taxation issues, and vitally for New Delhi, the U.S. approach to visas for India's professionals and skilled workers in the services sector.

NSA meeting on Afghanistan

  • Context:
    • National Security Adviser Ajit Doval will host a meeting of NSAs in the neighbourhood (including Russia) on November 10 to discuss Afghanistan’s future and how to deal with threats to security emanating from developments there.
    • It is also known as Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan.
  • Who all have been invited?
    • China
    • Iran
    • Kazakhstan
    • Kyrgyzstan
    • Pakistan
    • Russia
    • Tajikistan
    • Turkmenistan
    • Uzbekistan.
    • Confirmations have been received from all but China and Pakistan, and while Indian officials are still hopeful of Chinese Minister for State Security Chen Wenging or another security official attending the conference virtually, Pakistan's NSA Moeed Yusuf has said he will not attend the conference.
  • What is on the agenda?
    • Seek a common understanding of how to approach the Taliban regime, especially on seeking an inclusive government in Afghanistan, with rights for women and minorities.
  • Importance for India?
    • India could focus on terror groups operating within Afghanistan, an increase in drug trafficking, and an inflow of refugees due to the humanitarian crisis unfolding there.
    • Indian investment in the Chabahar port project in Iran and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline could be hampered by the terrorist organizations.
  • Delhi Declaration agreement on a range of issues:
    • They reiterated strong support for a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan.
    • They emphasised that Afghanistan’s territory should not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing any terrorist acts.
    • They called for collective cooperation against the menace of radicalisation, extremism, separatism and drug trafficking in the region.
    • Central Role of UN: Recalling the relevant UN Resolutions on Afghanistan, they noted that the United Nations (UN) continued presence in the country must be preserved.
  • Indian investment in Afghanistan:
    • Zaranj delaram highway: 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation.
    • Parliament: The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at $90 million. It was opened in 2015; Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the building.
    • Stor Palace: India restored Stor Palace in Kabul, originally built in the late 19th century, and which was the setting for the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement by which Afghanistan became an independent country. The building housed the offices of the Afghan foreign minister and the ministry until 1965.
    • Power Infra: rebuilding of power infrastructure such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri. Indian contractors and workers also restored telecommunications infrastructure in many provinces.
    • Health Infra: Indian contractors and workers also restored telecommunications infrastructure in many provinces. ‘Indian Medical Missions’ have held free consultation camps in several areas.
    • Transportation: According to the MEA, India gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for urban transportation, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan National Army, and 10 ambulances for public hospitals in five cities.
    • Salma dam: the 42MW Salma Dam in Herat province.

 

Steadfast Defender 21

Context:  Due to escalating tensions with Russia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducts extensive war drills.

More on news:

  • The war exercises, dubbed Steadfast Defender 21, are intended to train member countries' militaries in the event of an assault on one of them. It will put NATO's capacity to deploy soldiers from America while maintaining supply links to the front lines to the test.
  • It comes after the Russian Defense Ministry revealed footage of its nuclear-capable bombers Tu-22M3 flying over the Mediterranean Sea, as well as Russia's decision to move tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine's border.
  • It has alarmed NATO, which in 2014 undertook one of its largest-ever defense investment efforts in response to Russian soldiers annexing Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

About the NATO:

  • NATO is a group of 30 European and North American countries that was created in 1949 to protect the people and territory of its members.
  • The Alliance is built on the premise of collective defence, which means that if one NATO member is attacked, all NATO Allies are attacked as well.
  • NATO has increased its collective defence spending by the most since the Cold War ended in 2014. Their goal isn't to start a fight, but to prevent one.
  • The NATO Headquarters are in Brussels, Belgium.

‘Golden’ card visa

Context: The UAE's most coveted Golden Visa has been issued to a Bollywood celebrity.

What is the golden card visa?

  • It is a long-term residency program established in May 2019 by Dubai's Prime Minister and Ruler for providing 5 and 10-year renewable visas to specific foreign investors, entrepreneurs, top executives, scientists, and outstanding students.
  • The golden card visa grant for certain professionals, specialist degree holders, and others was extended to a 10-year residency in the UAE in 2020.
  • All holders of doctorate degrees, including medical doctors, as well as those with specialised degrees in artificial intelligence, big data, and epidemiology, as well as high school students in the UAE who rank first in their class and students from certain universities with a GPA of 3.8 or higher, are eligible for this visa.
  • Foreigners in the UAE often have renewable visas that are only good for a few years and are related to employment.
  • So, in recent years, the government has made its visa rules more flexible, allowing some sorts of investors, students, and professionals to stay for longer periods of time.
  • These actions will assist the UAE in diversifying its economy and reduce its reliance on oil.
  • The golden visa is aimed at wealthy individuals who are willing to invest a considerable amount of money in the UAE in exchange for a chance to live there and a way for the UAE government to expand its tax base.

India-Australia Cooperation in Agriculture

Context: Union Agriculture Minister reviewed collaboration in the field of Agriculture with his Australian counterpart.

About India-Australia Cooperation in Agriculture:

  • It's part of India and Australia's Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which was launched in 2020.
  • The India-Australia Grains Partnership is a significant addition, with the goal of leveraging Australia's expertise in post-harvest management to improve rural grain storage and supply chains and reduce losses and wastage.
  • It also envisions market access for the relevant agricultural products as well as the sharing of technical information.
  • The National Innovation for Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) will be strengthened in collaboration with Australian research institutions.

About NICRA:

  • The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) began the NICRA network initiative in 2011.
  • The project aims to improve Indian agriculture's resilience to climate change and climate vulnerability.
  • Crops, cattle, fisheries, and natural resource management are all part of the adaptation and mitigation study.
  • Strategic Research, Technology Demonstration, Capacity Building, and Sponsored/Competitive Grants are the four components of the initiative.

 

Taiwan reports ‘largest’ incursion by Chinese forces

Context: A total of 28 Chinese air force aircraft entered Taiwan's air defence identification zone, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers (ADIZ).

Air Defence Identification Zone:

  • It is an early warning zone that assists a country in detecting possible incursions into its sovereign airspace.
  • When an aircraft enters an ADIZ without warning, a country's fighter jets may be dispatched to visually identify the aircraft and decide whether it poses a threat.
  • In other terms, an ADIZ is airspace over land or water where civil aircraft are identified, tracked, and controlled for the sake of national security.
  • The United States created the first ADIZ in 1950 when it created a joint North American ADIZ with Canada, citing a nation's legal right to establish reasonable entrance conditions into its territory.
  • An ADIZ is not specified in any international treaty or governed by any international organization.

Air Defence Identification Zone in India:

  • In the mid-twentieth century, India established ADIZs. Notifications are necessary 10 minutes before to entry, among other things.
  • Six ADIZs have been established near India's borders. They are Pakistan's international boundary, Nepal's, Bangladesh's, Bhutan's, and Myanmar's, China's Over the Line of Actual Control, and two in India's southern region.

Taiwan Strait

  • The Taiwan Strait, also called the Formosa Strait, is a 180-kilometre-long strait that separates Taiwan from mainland China.
  • Currently, the strait is part of the South China Sea and links to the East China Sea to the north. The narrowest section is 130 kilometres long.
  • The strait is entirely on Asia's continental shelf.
  • Both the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan have historically advocated for a One-China Policy, which views the Taiwan Strait as part of a single “China's” exclusive economic zone.

60th anniversary of the Antarctic treaty

Context: The Antarctic Treaty was signed 60 years ago, and it is a unique example of a single treaty that regulates an entire continent.

About the Treaty:

  • It was signed in December 1959 with the goal of making the Antarctic Continent a demilitarised zone that would only be used for scientific research.
  • The pact was signed in 1961 and now has 54 signatories.
  • In 1983, India became a signatory to the pact.
  • All land and ice sheets south of 60°S latitude are considered Antarctica.
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina is the headquarters of the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat.

Major Provisions:

  • Freedom of scientific research.
  • Use the continent for peaceful purposes only.
  • Prohibition of military activities, nuclear tests, and disposal of radioactive waste.
  • Limit for making a new claim or enhancement of an existing claim.

Meeting of Health Ministers: Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)

Context: Recently, the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare took part in a virtual conference with the health ministers of the NAM nations.

More about the Meet:

  • Vaccine Maitri Initiative: Despite internal pressures, India ensured that 123 partner countries, including 59 NAM members, received drugs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Efforts to Achieve “Universal Health Coverage: Universal health coverage is defined as ensuring that everyone has access to needed health services of sufficient quality to be effective (including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliation), as well as ensuring that using those services does not put them in financial hardship.
  • Ayushman Bharat, the world's largest health insurance scheme, intends to give free health insurance to more than 500 million underprivileged people.
  • It employs the following strategy:
    • To begin, health and wellness centers will be created near people's homes to provide health care.
    • Second, a Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) is being developed to shield poor and vulnerable families from financial difficulty caused by catastrophic health crises.
    • Immunization coverage is quickly increasing, with a greater emphasis on village-based micro-plans aimed at obtaining 90 percent coverage in a year.

More About NAM:

  • Background: It was created during the Cold War (1945-1991) as an organization of states that preferred to remain independent or neutral rather than officially associate with either the United States (Capitalism) or the Soviet Union (Socialism).
  • The Movement of Non-Aligned Countries was founded on a broader geographical foundation at the major Summit Conference of Belgrade in September 1961, six years after the Bandung Conference in 1955.
  • The summit was led by Tito of Yugoslavia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Nehru of India, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Sukarno of Indonesia.
  • Headquarters: NAM's administration is non-hierarchical and rotational, with no permanent secretariat or constitution.
  • To make decisions, consensus is employed, which demands substantial agreement but not unanimity.

China to allow couples for a third child

Context: After census data revealed a sharp drop in birth rates, China has announced that couples will be allowed to have up to three children.

About China’s One-Child Policy:

  • Deng Xiaoping, China's then-leader, instituted the One-Child Policy in 1980.
  • The programme was implemented in response to concerns that unfettered population expansion would result in economic and environmental disaster. It was also in reaction to fears of food scarcity.
  • The policy was applied in a variety of ways. For example, financially incentivizing families to have only one child, making contraception readily available, and enforcing punishments against those who break the policy.
  • The strategy, however, was a source of concern because the government used harsh techniques such as forced abortions and sterilisations.

Was the One Child Policy successful?

  • The programme has been accused of causing China's population to age quicker than those of other countries, limiting the country's potential for growth.
  • It is also stated that, as a result of the one-child policy, China will be unable to fully profit from its economic expansion and will require alternative sources of assistance.

China’s Two-Child Policy:

  • China's One-Child Policy was loosened in 2016. It permitted each couple to have two children. The policy reform, however, had no effect on the sharp decline in population increase.
  • In 2020, approximately 12 million infants were born, according to Census 2020. This is a considerable drop from the previous year's figure of 18 million, and it's also the lowest number of births since the 1960s.
  • As a result, China's strict two-child policy has been loosened, allowing couples to have up to three children.

Greater Male Connectivity Project

  • India and Maldives will sign a contract on the mega Greater Male Connectivity project (GMCP), the largest infrastructure project in the country.
  • The project is funded by an Indian grant of $100 m and a Line of Credit of $400 m.
  • GCMP will involve the construction of a 6.74 km long bridge and causeway link connecting the capital Male with the adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.
  • This is a direct result of the ‘India First’ foreign policy of the Maldives and India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ foreign policy.

Indo-Russian ties

  • The fast-changing developments in Afghanistan have, of course, taken everyone by surprise — unexpected as to their speed, as well as their consequences.
  • Security ramifications: India and Russia are affected even more due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalist and radical groups.
  • The sanctuary that could be claimed by terror groups – their impact on security interests- both for India and Russia and the impact on normal inter-state relations especially with respect to Central Asia.
  • The additional threats emanating from drug trafficking, organized crime and the flow of refugees. This could potentially upend the very foundations of interstate relations in the broader region. Ongoing and upcoming Defence Projects with Russia:
  • The S-400 anti-aircraft weapon system will be delivered shortly.
  • Manufacture of two frigates of Project 1135.6 in Kaliningrad, in parallel with the production of 3rd and 4th units of the same frigates at the Goa shipyard.
  • Production of AK-203 advanced assault Kalashnikov rifle which will be produced by an India-Russia joint venture in Uttar Pradesh, which when completed will be a 100% Indian product.
  • The Kamov Ka-226, a twin-engine Russian utility helicopter, is one more project as part of made in India. Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS) and a Navy-to-Navy cooperation MoU are planned to be signed later this year.
  • A 2+2 mechanism at the Ministerial level is envisaged to hold its first meeting in Delhi later this year.

Logistics agreement with Russia

Context:

  • India is all set to conclude the bilateral logistics agreement with Russia soon while the agreement with the U.K. is in the final stages of conclusion.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS) is likely to be signed by Indian next two months
  • The agreement is an administrative arrangement facilitating access to military facilities for the exchange of fuel and provisions on mutual agreement
  • This cooperation simplifies logistical support and increases the operational turnaround of the military when operating away from India.
  • India has signed similar logistics agreements with all Quad countries, France, Singapore and South Korea beginning with LEMOA with the U.S in 2016.

India-ASEAN Connectivity Partnerships

Context: 

  • Union Minister for Ports, Shipping & Waterways and AYUSH Shri Sarbananda Sonowal has underlined the importance of cross-border connectivity among India and developing nations of South-East Asia.

On connectivity:

  • Extension of the Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam will enable greater connectivity and economic integration of India's northeast with its eastern neighbours.
  • India has helped construct two key stretches of the 1,360-km trilateral highway in Myanmar, but work on several other sections and the upgrade of nearly 70 bridges has been held up by a variety of factors. This highway will allow access to markets across the ASEAN region and boost people-to-people ties.
  • Emphasised upon setting up of National Transport Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) to facilitate cross-border transportation and trade. The physical connectivity will enable small and medium-sized enterprises in the border areas to explore new business opportunities.

On digital and data connectivity:

  • India and ASEAN are fast-growing consumer markets – important for two regions to explore ways to enhance digital connectivity.
  • The Government of India has been making efforts to turn India into a “Global Data Hub” through various policies and reforms. India’s data centre industry is expected to add 560 MW during 2021-23 leading to a real estate requirement of 6 million sq ft. The industry is expected to grow exponentially to reach 1,007 MW by 2023 from 447 MW.

India, Australia to hold 2+2 meet

Context:

  • India and Australia will hold the inaugural ‘2+2’ Ministerial meeting in New Delhi.
  • The meeting will be part of Australia's engagements with regional partners as the Ministers will visit Indonesia, India, South Korea and the United States for IndoPacific consultations.

About:

  • These inaugural 2+2 discussions are a cornerstone of the Australia-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which is founded on a shared commitment to a secure, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.
  • The discussion will cover economic issues, cyber security, climate change, critical technology and supply chains.
  • The defence cooperation related meeting will also be held with the Indian Defence minister.
  • Bilateral economic and trade relationship between India and Australia 
  • The India-Australia economic relationship has grown significantly in recent years.
  • India’s growing economic profile and commercial relevance to the Australian economy is recognized, both at the federal and state level in Australia.
  • India's exports to Australia stood approximately at US$ 4.6 billion (A$6.1 bn) in 2016 while India's imports from Australia during the same period stood at US$ 11 billion (A$14.6 bn).
  • India’s main exports to Australia are Passenger Motor Vehicle & machinery, Pearls, Gems and Jewellery, Medicaments and Refined Petroleum while India’s major imports are Coal, Non-monetary Gold, Copper, Wool, Fertilizers and Education related services

Green Visa

Context:

  • The United Arab Emirates has announced a new class of visas intended to ease the restrictions faced by foreigners in pursuing employment opportunities in the country, referred to as “green visa”.

Key features of the new visa:

  • Under the green visa, foreigners will be allowed to work in the UAE without being sponsored by an employer.
  • The green visa will enable visa holders to sponsor their parents.
  • It will increase the cap on the age of children who can be sponsored by the holder from 18 to 25.
  • The program will also allow the holder a grace period of up to three months to look for a new job if they lose their old one.

CECA between India and Australia

Context:

  • India and Australia are looking to finalise a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) by the end of 2022, which will help expand trade between the two nations.

About the CECA between India and Australia:

  • Both nations aim to sign an early harvest trade deal that will cover areas of immediate interest. 
  • The trade deal will cover goods, services, investments, government procurement, logistics, standards, and rules of origin. The trade deal is expected to double the trade between the two nations.
  • In the past, a trade deal with Australia was put on hold as both countries were not able to reach a conclusion due to a lack of consensus on various issues.

About the trade between India and Australia:

  • In 2020, India was Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner and sixth-largest export destination. India-Australia bilateral trade exceeded AUD 24 billion last year.
  • Major Indian exports to Australia are petroleum products, medicines, polished diamonds, gold jewellery, apparel, etc. The key Australian exports to India include coal, LNG, alumina, and non-monetary gold.
  • In services, major Indian exports relate to travel, telecom and computer, government and financial services. Similarly, the Australian services exports were principally in education and personal travel.

What is CECA?

  • CECA stands for Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. It is a kind of free trade pact that aims to provide an institutional mechanism to encourage and improve trade between the two countries.
  • CECA is different from the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). “Cooperation” denotes a less intense relationship between two countries, while the word “partnership” denotes a more personal and more intense relationship between the parties.

What is an early harvest trade deal?

  • An Early Harvest trade deal serves as a precursor to an FTA between the two countries. It helps them to identify certain products and services for tariff liberalisation to further strengthen the confidence between the two trading partners.

18th ASEAN – India Summit

Context:

  • PM Modi participated in the 18th India-ASEAN Summit that was held virtually. He co-chaired the summit along with the Sultan of Brunei, the current chair of ASEAN.

About ASEAN – India Summit:

  • ASEAN-India Summits are held annually. It provides an opportunity for India and ASEAN to engage at the highest level.
  • PM Modi attended the 17th ASEAN-India Summit held virtually in November last year.

Key Outcome of the Summit:

2022 as India-ASEAN Friendship Year:

  • The year 2022 will mark the completion of 30 years of the India-ASEAN Partnership. India will also complete 75 years of its Independence.

The centrality of ASEAN in India’s Vision toward the Indo-Pacific:

  • PM Modi underlined the centrality of ASEAN in India's Act East Policy and in India's Vision for the wider Indo-Pacific Vision.
  • ASEAN Outlook for the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI)
  • Building upon the synergies between the AOIP and IPOI, both sides welcomed the adoption of the India-ASEAN Joint Statement on cooperation for peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

Cooperation In Fight Against COVID-19:

  • India has contributed medical supplies worth USD 200,000 to ASEAN’s humanitarian initiative for Myanmar and USD 1 million to ASEAN’s Covid-19 Response Fund.
  • ASEAN leaders appreciated India’s role as a trusted partner in the region, especially during the current Covid19 Pandemic with its supply of vaccines.

India-ASEAN Connectivity:

  • Views were exchanged on enhancing India-ASEAN connectivity in the broadest terms including physical, digital and people to people.
  • To further strengthen India-ASEAN cultural connectivity, PM Modi announced India’s support for establishing the ASEAN Cultural Heritage List.

On Trade And Investment:

  • Both sides underlined the importance of diversification and resilience of supply chains for post-COVID economic recovery. They also stressed the need to revamp India-ASEAN FTA.

Promoting A Rules-Based Order In The Region:

  • Summit also discussed the regional and international issues of common interest and concern, including the South China Sea and terrorism, adherence to international law, especially the UNCLOS.
  • maintaining and promoting peace, stability, safety and security in the South China Sea, and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.

Read more on India-ASEAN Relations here: https://samajho.com/upsc/india-asean-relations/

Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures (CICA)

Context:

  • Recently, the External Affairs Minister addressed the 6th Ministerial (2021) meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures (CICA) in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

About

  • India has called for ensuring that no country “tries to take advantage of the delicate situation in Afghanistan and use it for its own selfish interests.
  • The voice of the CICA can play a positive role in shaping the global response to the developments in Afghanistan.
  • The Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) is a multi-national forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia.
  • The idea of convening CICA was first proposed by the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – Elbasy H.E. Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev, on 5 October 1992, at the 47th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
  • CICA pursues its policy based on the principles of sovereign equality, non-interference in internal affairs of the Member States and economic, social and cultural cooperation to achieve its main objective of enhancing cooperation through elaborating multilateral approaches toward promoting peace, and security and stability in Asia.
  • All decisions within the CICA framework are taken by consensus.
  • To be a member of CICA, a state must have at least a part of its territory in Asia
  • Presently CICA has the twenty-seven Member States accounting for nearly 90% of the territory and population of Asia. Nine countries and five multi-national organizations, including the United Nations, have observer status.
  • The CICA Secretariat has been located in Almaty (Kazakhstan) since June 2006.
  • The CICA Summit is convened every four years.

30 years of India-Israel Diplomatic Relations

  • Context:
    • A recent speech by PM Modi has marked three decades since New Delhi established formal diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv on January 29, 1992, when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister.
  • Reasons for India prioritizing Israel:
    • India’s exclusion from OIC: The formation of an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1969 which neglected the sentiments of Indian Muslims by blocking India’s membership to this group by Pakistan is one of the primary triggers for the change instance.
    • Backing of Kashmir: India has received no backing from the Arab countries on the Kashmir Issue. There have been no serious attempts by the Arab world to put pressure on Pakistan to reign in the cross-border insurgency in Kashmir.
    • Support in crucial wars: Israel supported India during the Indo-Pak wars even before full diplomatic ties were established.
    • India’s US allegiance: With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the US as a superpower, India started aligning itself with the US, and this further added to our improved relations with Israel.
    • Deviation from NAM: After decades of Non-Alignment and Pro-Arab policy, in 1992 India changed its stance and established full diplomatic ties with Israel.
    • Support at global forums: Israel has always been a vocal supporter of India’s permanent seat in the UNSC.
    • Technology: India’s world-class institutes of higher education could benefit from the strong culture of research and high-end innovation that thrives in Israel.
  • Israeli interests in India:
    • India presents a massive market for Israel’s manufactured goods and technology.
    • India has for long enjoyed great goodwill among Israel’s citizens as the only country in the world where Jews have not faced anti-Semitism.
    • There are many instances of Jews under Hitler’s persecution finding shelter in India including some that were said to have been facilitated by Nehru.
    • The minuscule Jew community was able to rise to eminence in various fields.
    • Israel cherishes its admirers in India for its ability to thrive in spite of very adverse situations in its short history as an independent nation.
  • Collaborations between India and Israel
    • Military collaboration
      • Against terrorism: India and Israel have increased collaboration in military ventures since both nations face the threats of rising radical terrorism and separatism.
      • Arms trade: India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment and Israel is the second-largest defense supplier to India after Russia.
      • Security: Working groups in areas of border management, internal security and public safety, police modernization, and capacity building for combating crime, crime prevention, and cybercrime were established.
      • Defence R&D: IAI is developing the Barak 8 missile for the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force which is capable of protecting sea vessels and ground facilities from aircraft and cruise missiles.
    • Political collaboration
      • Since the up-gradation of relations in 1992, defense and agriculture have become the two main pillars of the bilateral engagement.
      • The political ties have become especially cordial under the Modi Government.
      • In 2017, Prime Minister Modi became the first-ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel.
    • Agriculture collaboration
      • India has chosen Israel as a strategic partner (G2G) in the field of agriculture.
      • This partnership evolved into the Indo-Israel Agricultural Project (IIAP), under the Indo-Israel Action Plan, based on an MOU signed by Indian and Israeli ministers of Agriculture in 2006.
      • The partnership aims to introduce crop diversity, increase productivity & increase water use efficiency.
      • India has a lot to learn from the dryland agriculture of Israel. The Economic Survey 2016-17 batted for Indo-Israel cooperation in drip-irrigation technologies.
    • Economic collaboration
      • India is Israel’s third-largest trading partner in Asia after China and Hong Kong.
      • In recent years, bilateral trade has diversified to include several sectors like pharmaceuticals, agriculture, IT and telecom, and homeland security.
      • Major exports from India to Israel include precious stones and metals, chemical products, textiles, etc.
      • Major imports from Israel include chemicals and mineral products, base metals and machinery, and transport equipment. Potash is a major item of Israel’s exports to India.

India, UAE Ink Comprehensive Trade Pact

  • Context:
    • Recently, Prime Minister Modi and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan held a Virtual Summit. During the summit, both the leaders issued a Joint Vision Statement.
  • The Joint Vision Statement:
    • “Advancing India and UAE Comprehensive Strategic Partnership: New Frontiers, New Milestone”.
    • The Statement establishes a roadmap for a future-oriented partnership between India and UAE and identifies focus areas and outcomes. 
    • The shared objective is to promote new trade, investment and innovation dynamics in diverse sectors, including economy, energy, climate action, emerging technologies, skills and education, food security, healthcare and defence & security.
  • Key Highlight Of Virtual Summit:
    • The major highlight of the summit was the signing and exchange of the India-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). 
    • MOU on Food Security Corridor Initiative MOU between India's Gift City and Abu Dhabi Global Market on cooperation in financial projects and services. 
    • Two other MOUs – one on cooperation in Climate Action and the other on Education have also been agreed
    • A JOINT commitment to fight extremism and terrorism; Enhancing maritime cooperation; Promote e-payment solutions; Set up an IIT in UAE; A joint Hydrogen Task Force.
  • About CEPA Between India and UAE:
    • In September 2021, India and the UAE started formal negotiations for a mutually-beneficial CEPA.
    • CEPA will allow duty-free export of food products, textiles, gems & jewellery and pharma while giving easier access to Indian workers in high skill sectors to Emirates.
    • It is expected that the CEPA will lead to an increase in bilateral trade from the current USD 60 bn to USD 100 bn in the next 5 years.
    • The Agreement will provide significant benefits to Indian and UAE businesses, including enhanced market access and reduced tariffs.

11th India–Oman Joint Military Cooperation Committee Meeting

  • Context:
    • The 11th India–Oman Joint Military Cooperation Committee (JMCC) Meeting on bilateral defence cooperation was held in New Delhi
    • The JMCC is the apex body between the Defence Ministries of India and Oman to comprehensively review & guide all aspects of bilateral defence cooperation. 
  • Importance of Duqm port:

See the source image 

  • The Port of Duqm is situated on the southeastern seaboard of Oman, overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. 
  • It is strategically located, in close proximity to the Chabahar port in Iran.
  • With India’s involvement in the development of Assumption Island in Seychelles and Agalega in Mauritius, Duqm fits into its proactive maritime security roadmap.

India-France: Roadmap on Blue Economy and Ocean Governance

  • Context:
    • Both the countries agreed on this roadmap with the aim of contributing scientific knowledge and ocean conservation.
    • The scope of the roadmap will encompass maritime trade, naval industry, marine technology, fisheries, scientific research, marine eco-tourism, inland waterways, integrated coastal management, and cooperation between competent administrations on civil maritime issues.
    • Both the countries have planned to organise an annual bilateral dialogue on blue economy and ocean governance for exchanging views on their priorities, support ongoing & future cooperation and share their best practices.
  • What is Blue Economy?
    • The concept of Blue Economy was introduced by Gunter Pauli in his 2010 book titled “The Blue Economy: 10 years, 100 innovations, 100 million jobs”. Blue economy means sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, ocean ecosystem health and improved livelihoods & jobs. It provides for the greening of ocean development strategies for conservation of ocean health and higher productivity.

Pakistan Occupied Kashmir

  • Context:
    • The Ministry of External Affairs issued a “strong protest” over an order by the Pakistan Supreme Court that permits to hold elections in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

  • Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is that part of UT Jammu and Kashmir which was invaded by Pakistan in 1947.
  • PoK has a population of over 40 lakhs and is divided into 10 districts.
  • The capital of PoK is Muzaffarabad, a town located in the valley of the Jhelum river and its tributary Neelum (which Indians call Kishanganga) to the west and slightly north of Srinagar.
  • In 1963, through an agreement, Pakistan gave over 5,000 sq km of J&K land to China in the Shaksgam area, in northern Kashmir, beyond the Karakoram.
  • Pakistan occupied Kashmir is divided into two parts:
  • Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK): attached to the western part of Indian Kashmir.
  • Gilgit-Baltistan (referred to as the ‘Northern Areas’ till 2009)

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB):

  • Gilgit-Baltistan is a hilly region to the north of PoK and east of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
  • It is over five times the size of PoK. However, it is sparsely populated, with just under 20 lakh people.
  • GB is divided into three administrative divisions and 10 districts.

Significance of GB:

  • The GB region is strategically important for many reasons as it is a source of vast glaciers feeding the Indus River system that meets Pakistan’s water needs.
  • It is a gateway for China to the Indian Ocean through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
  • It also shares borders with several countries – the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province provinces (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) in Pakistan to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the north-west and Xinjiang province of China to the North.

Administrative status in Gilgit-Baltistan:

  • Though both PoK and GB are ruled directly from Islamabad, neither is officially listed as the territory of Pakistan, which has just four provinces: Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh.
  • PoK and GB are both autonomous territories because incorporating these areas into its Pakistani map would damage Pakistan’s international position in the United Nations.
  • For India as per the resolution passed by Parliament in 1994, PoK and GB are both parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession to India in 1947.

Geopolitical Events:

Bucha Killings

Context:

  • India joined the international community in expressing outrage over civilian killings in Ukraine’s Bucha. 

About:

  • Bucha is a town located about 25 km to the northwest of the capital Kyiv.
  • Over the past few days, gruesome images have emerged of mass graves and dozens of bodies of civilians in the town of Bucha.
  • So far, more than 300 bodies have been found in the town. These bodies were discovered after the town was reclaimed by Russian forces.

India’s Stand on Bucha Killings:

  • India has condemned the killing of civilians at Bucha in Ukraine and backed the call for an independent investigation into the incident.
  • This is the first time New Delhi has publicly censured actions blamed on Russian forces.
  • India’s condemnation of the civilian killings stopped short of blaming Russia. However, the support for an independent probe is significant.
  • India had earlier abstained from a vote on a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council. This resolution was seeking a commission of inquiry to look into violations committed during Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

A Genocide Or War Crimes:

  • Both expressions have been used freely in outraged Ukrainian and Western descriptions of the atrocities in Bucha.
  • Since the international community has an obligation to respond to these incidents, it is necessary to analyze whether these incidents fit those definitions.

War Crime:

  • War crimes are defined as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, agreements signed after World War II. These conventions laid down international humanitarian laws during wartime.
  • Deliberately targeting civilians amounts to a war crime.
  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague has already opened an investigation into possible war crimes by Russia. However, it will be difficult to bring Russian defendants to trial because Russia does not recognise the ICC and will likely not cooperate with the investigation.

The Crime Of Genocide:

  • The crime of genocide is defined by the United Nations Genocide Convention of December 1948.
  • It includes acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
  • Genocide is seen as the gravest and most serious of all crimes against humanity. 
  • Examples of genocides, generally recognised as fitting the 1948 UN definition, are:
    • Holocaust in which more than 6 million Jews were exterminated
    • 1915-20 mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks,
    • Killings of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994
    • Srebrenica massacre of 1995.
  • Hence, international security analysts believe that the current findings amount to Russia being guilty of war crimes.

Modi, Deuba jointly flag off cross-border train

Context:

  • This is going to be Nepal’s first broad gauge passenger train service, all of which has been hand-held by India from the start.
  • After eight years of work, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepal counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba jointly flagged off the cross-border train service between Bihar’s Jayanagar and Nepal’s Kurtha, with the Hindu pilgrimage city of Janakpur Dham — the mythical birthplace of Sita.

About:

  • Part of the 68.73-km Jaynagar-Bardibas train service from Nepal side beyond Janakpur had to be stopped due to flooding of some railway bridges in 2001, while service from Janakpur to Jaynagar continued until March 2014 when India and Nepal decided to go for converting the entire narrow gauge link into broad gauge.

Ties on track:

  • New Delhi is footing the construction bill of Rs 784 crore for the entire 68.73-km track between Bihar’s Jaynagar and Nepal’s Bardibas as a grant to the neighbouring country.
  • It’s an out-and-out India show with Railway-arm IRCON carrying out the design and construction and another PSU, the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL), slated to help the Nepal Railway Company in operations and maintenance, including training of manpower.
  • KRCL has already supplied two sets of 1,600 horsepower Diesel Electric Multiple Unit passenger trains to run at a top speed of 100 kmph.
  • The next stretch of 17 km from Kurtha to Bijalpura is also getting finishing touches. For the rest of the portion up to Bardibas, land is being handed over to IRCON.
  • The rail link line has been popular since the early 20th Century. The British had built the narrow gauge line in 1937 to ferry cargo, mainly logs, from Nepal to India. However, over time, it became a popular passenger service for people of the two countries.
  • In the first phase, Inerva, Khajuri, Mahinathpur halt, Baidehi, Careha halt, and Janakpur Dham stations have been built between the complete Jayanagar-Kurtha rail section.
  • Custom check-points have been created at Jayanagar in India and Innerva in Nepal. The Jaynagar station has a parallel station building operated by Nepal Railway Company for this line.

Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis

Context:

  • The Sri Lankan economy has been facing a crisis owing to a serious Balance of Payments (BoP) problem. Its foreign exchange reserves are depleting rapidly and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the country to import essential consumption goods.
  • The current Sri Lankan economic crisis is the product of the historical imbalances in the economic structure, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s loan-related conditionalities and the misguided policies of authoritarian rulers.

Why is Sri Lanka Suffering from Crisis?

  • Background: When Sri Lanka emerged from a 26-year long civil war in 2009, its post-war GDP growth was reasonably high at 8-9% per annum till 2012.
  • However, its average GDP growth rate almost halved after 2013 as global commodity prices fell, exports slowed down and imports rose.
  • Sri Lanka’s budget deficits were high during the war and the global financial crisis of 2008 drained its forex reserves which led to the country borrowing a loan of $2.6 billion loan from the IMF in 2009.
  • It again approached the IMF in 2016 for another US$1.5 billion loan, however the conditionalities of the IMF further deteriorated Sri Lanka’s economic health.
  • Recent Economic Shocks: The Easter bomb blasts of April 2019 in churches in Colombo resulting in 253 casualties, consequently, dropped the number of tourists sharply leading to a decline in foreign exchange reserves.
  • The newly led government by Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019 promised lower tax rates and wide-ranging SoPs for farmers during their campaign.
  • The quick implementation of these ill-advised promises further exacerbated the problem.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 made the bad situation worse –
  • Exports of tea, rubber, spices and garments suffered.
  • Tourism arrivals and revenues fell further
  • Due to a rise in government expenditures, the fiscal deficit exceeded 10% in 2020-21, and the debt to GDP ratio rose from 94% in 2019 to 119% in 2021.
  • Sri Lanka’s Fertiliser Ban: In 2021, all fertiliser imports were completely banned and it was declared that Sri Lanka would become a 100% organic farming nation overnight.
  • This overnight shift to organic fertilisers heavily impacted food production.
  • Consequently, the Sri Lankan President declared an economic emergency to contain rising food prices, a depreciating currency, and rapidly depleting forex reserves.
  • The lack of foreign currency, coupled with the disastrous overnight ban on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, has sent food prices soaring. Inflation is currently over 15% and is forecast to average 17.5%, pushing millions of poorer Sri Lankans to the brink.

How has India Assisted Sri Lanka in this Crisis?

  • Beginning January 2022, India has been providing crucial economic support to the island nation in the grip of a severe dollar crisis that, many fear, might lead to a sovereign default, and a severe shortage of essentials in the import-reliant country.
  • The relief extended by India from the beginning of 2022 totals over USD 1.4 billion – a USD 400 currency swap, a USD 500 loan deferment and a USD 500 Line of Credit for fuel imports.
  • More recently, India extended a USD 1 billion short-term concessional loan to Sri Lanka to help the country as it faces an unprecedented economic crisis.

Why Helping Sri Lanka is in India’s Interests?

  • Crucially, any disillusionment in Sri Lanka with China eases India’s effort to keep the Lankan archipelago out of China’s ‘string of pearls’ game in the Indo-Pacific.
  • It is in India’s interest to contain Chinese presence and influence in this region.
  • To the extent India can extend low-cost help to alleviate the hardships of Sri Lankans, it should, however it must be done with due care keeping in mind that the optics of its aid matters too.

What Can Be the Way Forward?

  • Measures for Sri Lanka: The government should take measures for economic recovery of the country as soon as the shortage of certain essential commodities ends, which is expected before the start of the Sinhala-Tamil New Year (in mid-April).
  • The government should also join hands with the Tamil political leadership to create a roadmap for the economic development of the war-affected northern and eastern provinces, among the areas badly hit by the current crisis.
  • It would be best to raise domestic tax revenue and shrink government expenditure to limit borrowing, particularly sovereign borrowing from external sources.
  • Tough measures should be taken for restructuring the administration of concessions and subsidies.
  • India’s Assistance: It would be completely unwise for India to let the Chinese take over expanding chunks of Sri Lankan territory. India must offer Sri Lanka financial help, policy advice and investment from Indian entrepreneurs.
  • Indian businesses must build supply chains that intertwine the Indian and Sri Lankan economies in goods and services ranging from the export of tea to information technology services.
  • India, rather than any other nation, should help steer Sri Lanka towards realising its potential, to reap the rewards of a stable, friendly neighbourhood.
  • Preventing Illegal Refuge: The state of Tamil Nadu has already started feeling the impact of the crisis with the reported arrival of 16 persons from Sri Lanka through illegal means.
  • Tamil Nadu was home to nearly three lakh refugees after the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983.
  • The authorities, both in India and Sri Lanka, should ensure that the present crisis is not used to step up smuggling activities and trafficking or whip up emotions in both countries.
  • Crisis as an Opportunity: Neither Sri Lanka nor India can afford to have strained ties. As a much larger country, the onus is on India, it needs to be extremely patient and engage Sri Lanka even more regularly and closely.
  • There is also a need to step up our people-centric developmental activities while scrupulously staying clear of any interference in Colombo’s domestic affairs.
  • The crisis should be used as an opportunity for New Delhi and Colombo to thrash out a solution to the Palk Bay fisheries dispute – a longstanding irritant in bilateral ties.

Pakistan in a Crisis Anew

Context:

  • Pakistan Prime Minister locked a no-confidence vote and advised the president to order fresh elections, fueling anger among the opposition and deepening the country’s political crisis.

Political Crisis in Pakistan:

  • The Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly has tabled a no-confidence motion against Pakistan’s Prime Minister, kicking off the process in the lower house to remove him.
  • The opposition accuses Pakistan’s Prime Minister of failing to revive the economy and combat corruption.
  • Pakistan’s inflation is high, its foreign reserves are depleting, and the country’s budget deficit is growing. It is also part of a difficult bailout programme run by the International Monetary Fund.
  • A motion of no confidence in the government was blocked by the deputy speaker of parliament.
  • After dissolving parliament, Pakistan’s Prime Minister called for new elections.
  • Since Pakistan’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, no prime minister has completed a full five-year term.

Global Implications of Pakistan’s Political Crisis:

Afghanistan:

  • In Afghanistan, the Taliban have retaken power and are facing an economic and humanitarian crisis as a result of a lack of funds and international isolation.
  • In recent years, ties between Pakistan’s military intelligence agency and the Taliban have loosened.
  • Pakistan wants the Taliban to do more to combat extremist groups, fearing that they will infect the country with violence.
  • Tensions between the Taliban and Pakistan’s military have risen as the latter has lost several soldiers in attacks near their shared border.

China:

  • Pakistan has consistently emphasized China’s positive impact on the country and the world.
  • Pakistan’s political crisis will have an impact on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which connects the two countries.

United States:

  • Pakistan’s political crisis is unlikely to be a top priority for the US, which is preoccupied with the Ukraine conflict, unless it results in widespread unrest or increased tensions with India.
  • But, this could harm the United States’ efforts to strengthen Pakistan’s democratic governance institutions.
  • The Pakistani PM has blamed the US for the current political crisis, claiming that Washington wanted him removed as a result of his recent trip to Moscow.

Implications of Pakistan’s Political Crisis on India:

  • Pakistan’s current political unrest may have an impact on its relations with India, as the Pakistan army has more control over the country’s foreign policy than it has ever had.
  • It could also pose new obstacles to improving India-Pakistan relations, as well as stifle hopes for effective regional cooperation and trade in South Asia.
  • Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of which were fought over Kashmir’s territory. Tensions along the de facto border issues will rise as a result of Pakistan’s political crisis.
  • The Pakistani military may exert pressure on a new civilian government in Islamabad to build on the success of the Kashmir ceasefire.

Black Sea and Russia

Context:

  • Recently, the sinking of the warship Moskva, flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet — whether due to a Ukrainian missile strike or, as Russia claims, a fire on board — is a serious setback for Russia in the War against Ukraine.

About Black Sea:

  • The famed water body is bound by Ukraine to the north and northwest, Russia and Georgia to the east, Turkey to the south, and Bulgaria and Romania to the west.
  • It links to the Sea of Marmara through the Bosphorus and then to the Aegean through the Dardanelles.

Significance of Black Sea for Russia:

  • Domination of the Black Sea region is a geostrategic imperative for Moscow.
  • Black Sea has traditionally been Russia’s warm water gateway to Europe.
  • For Russia, the Black Sea is both a stepping stone to the Mediterranean.
  • It acts as a strategic buffer between NATO and itself.
  • It showcases the Russian power in the Mediterranean and to secure the economic gateway to key markets in southern Europe.
  • The Rhine-Main-Danube canal connects the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea and the port of Odessa serves as a vital link between Ukraine and the outside world.

Black Sea in the Ukraine war:

  • Russia has been making efforts to gain complete control over the Black Sea since the Crimean crisis of 2014.
  • During the ongoing invasion, the domination of the Black Sea has been a major Russian objective, along with the land bridge to connect Russia and Crimea.
  • As such, there have been intense efforts to capture Mariupol, the Sea of Azov port in the breakaway eastern Ukrainian oblast of Donetsk.
  • Mariupol appeared close to falling to the Russians.

Sinking of the Moskva:

  • The sinking of the Moskva is believed to be the worst loss in the history of naval warfare.
  • It was sunk by shore-based anti-ship cruise missiles which took advantage of bad weather and used decoy UAV attacks to defeat the ship’s air defence systems.
  • It demonstrates the success of outside-the-box measures adopted by Ukraine in the war.

United Kingdom and Rwanda deal for asylum seekers

Context:

  • The United Kingdom has signed a deal with Rwanda to send some asylum seekers to the East African nation — a move that PM Boris Johnson said will “save countless lives” from human trafficking.

Immigrants crisis in UK:

  • Since 2018, there has been a marked rise in the number of refugees and asylum seekers that undertake dangerous crossings between Calais in France and Dover in England.
  • Most such migrants and asylum seekers hail from war-torn countries like Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, or developing countries like Iran and Iraq.
  • The Britain that has adopted a hardline stance on illegal immigration, these crossings constitute an immigration crisis.
  • The Nationality and Borders Bill, 2021, which is still under consideration in the UK, allows the British government to strip anyone’s citizenship without notice under “exceptional circumstances”.
  • The Rwanda deal is the operationalization of one objective in the Bill which is to deter illegal entry into the United Kingdom.

What is the Rwanda Deal?

  • The UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership or the Rwanda Deal is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two governments.
  • Under this deal, Rwanda will commit to taking in asylum seekers who arrive in the UK on or after January 1, 2022, using illegally facilitated and unlawful cross border migration.
  • Rwanda will function as the holding centre where asylum applicants will wait while the Rwandan government makes decisions about their asylum and resettlement petitions in Rwanda.
  • Rwanda will, on its part, accommodate anyone who is not a minor and does not have a criminal record.

Rationale of the deal:

  • The deal aims to combat “people smugglers”, who often charge exorbitant prices from vulnerable migrants to put them on unseaworthy boats from France to England that often lead to mass drownings.
  • The UK contends that this solution to the migrant issue is humane and meant to target the gangs that run these illegal crossings.

What will the scheme cost the UK?

  • The UK will pay Rwanda £120 million as part of an “economic transformation and integration fund” and will also bear the operational costs along with an, as yet undetermined, amount for each migrant.
  • Currently, the UK pays £4.7 million per day to accommodate approximately 25,000 asylum seekers.
  • At the end of 2021, this amounted to £430 million annually with a projected increase of £100 million in 2022.
  • The Rwanda Deal is predicted to reduce these costs by outsourcing the hosting of such migrants to a third country.

Will the Rwanda Deal solve the problem of illegal immigration?

  • This deal will be implemented in a matter of weeks unless it is challenged and stayed by British courts.
  • While Boris Johnson’s government is undoubtedly bracing for such legal challenges, it remains unclear if the Rwanda Deal will solve the problem of unlawful crossings.
  • Evidence from similar experiences indicates that such policies do not fully combat “people smuggling”.

Criticisms of the deal:

  • Several activists, refugee and human rights organizations have strongly opposed the new scheme.
  • There are dangers of transferring refugees and asylum seekers to third countries without sufficient safeguards.
  • The refugees are traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing.
  • Such arrangements simply shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention.
  • Rwanda also has a known track record of extrajudicial killings, suspicious deaths in custody, unlawful or arbitrary detention, torture, and abusive prosecutions, particularly targeting critics and dissidents.

Do any other countries send asylum seekers overseas?

  • Yes, several other countries — including Australia, Israel and Denmark — have been sending asylum seekers overseas.
  • Australia has been making full use of offshore detention centres since 2001.
  • Israel, too, chose to deal with a growing influx of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants from places like Sudan and Eritrea by striking deals with third countries.
  • Those rejected for asylum were given the choice of returning to their home country or accepting $3,500 and a plane ticket to one of the third countries.
  • They faced the threat of arrest if they chose to remain in Israel.

Fifth BIMSTEC Summit

Context:

  • Recently, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) grouping’s fifth summit took place in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Host for the Fifth Summit).

Key Highlights of the Summit:

  • BIMSTEC Charter: The signing of the BIMSTEC Charter was the main outcome of this summit.
  • Under this Charter, the members were expected to meet once every two years.
  • With the Charter, the BIMSTEC now has an international personality. It has an emblem, it has a flag.
  • It has a formally listed purpose and principles that it is going to adhere to.
  • In line with the development of the organisation into a formal structure, the leaders of the member-countries have agreed to divide the working of the grouping into seven segments, with India providing leadership to the security pillar.

  • Master Plan for Transport Connectivity: The summit saw the declaration of the Master Plan for Transport Connectivity that would provide a framework for regional and domestic connectivity.
  • Other Agreements: Member countries also signed a treaty on mutual legal assistance on criminal matters.
  • A Memorandum of Association (MoA) on the establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility (TTF) in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
  • India will provide the (BIMSTEC) secretariat USD 1 million US dollars to increase its operational budget.

Way Forward:

  • BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement: There is a need for finalisation of the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement among the member countries.
  • As the region is facing challenges of health and economic security and stressed the need for solidarity and cooperation, the FTA will make the Bay of Bengal a bridge of connectivity, a bridge of prosperity, a bridge of security.
  • Apart from this, there is a necessity for coastal shipping ecosystem and electricity grid interconnectivity, as two of the necessary components of the evolving shape of BIMSTEC.
  • Gujral Doctrine: India would have to counter the impression that BIMSTEC is an India-dominated bloc, in that context India can follow the Gujral doctrine that intends to chalk out the effect of transactional motive in bilateral relations.
  • The Gujral Doctrine is a set of five principles to guide the conduct of foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbours.
  • These principles are:
    • With neighbours like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, India does not ask for reciprocity but gives and accommodates what it can in good faith and trust.
    • No South Asian country should allow its territory to be used against the interest of another country of the region.
    • No country should interfere in the internal affairs of another.
    • All South Asian countries must respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
    • They should settle all their disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations.

Roubles for fuel, defence deals with Russia

Context:

  • This article discusses the ways Russia and India are looking to “bypass” the sanctions imposed by the Western Countries.

Background:

  • Recently the Russian Foreign came to India making it the first high-level visit since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs of India said that the two leaders discussed India’s concerns over the impact of the Ukraine crisis on its economy and said that it is critical to ensure that the economic and technological contacts remain “stable and predictable”.
  • India and Russia have been working on streamlining payments through the rupee-rouble mechanism bypassing the SWIFT system and the dollar route.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. said that there will be “consequences” for any country, including India, that conduct local currency transactions with Russia’s central bank against its sanctions.

Developments in India-Russia Relations:

  • Russia is intensifying the use of national currencies against the dollar payments with India and China.
  • India has imported about 13 million barrels of Russian oil since the start of the Ukraine war in February.
  • This is a significant move as India had imported only about 16 million barrels of Russian oil in all of 2021.
  • India and Russia are further looking at ways to bypass the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other European Countries and the leaders of both countries feel the measures will also be extended to the area of military and technical cooperation.
  • Officials from Russia’s central bank met the officials of the Reserve Bank of India to identify and resolve issues in trade that have arised due to Western sanctions
  • The Indian government has set up a multi-ministerial group which is led by the Finance Ministry to formulate plans to tackle challenges in trade with Russia, including managing payments for exporters and importers.

Defence Deals:

  • The Defence Ministry has assessed and monitored the impacts of the sanctions on the deliveries and supplies from Russia.
  • Experts opine that only some shipping delays were possible, there would not be any impact on the forces’ preparedness along the borders.
  • The forces have made crucial emergency procurements in the last two years since the standoff in eastern Ladakh and have stocked up defence equipment. So, there won’t be any shortages of equipment.
  • Even in the past, both the countries in the $5.43 billion deal for S-400 air defence systems had agreed for the payments through the rupee-rouble exchange, in the background of the U.S.’s CAATSA sanctions.
  • Also, many other deals are in the pipeline such as the procurement of 12 Su-30MKI aircraft and 21 MiG-29 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force.

Pakistan’s Constitutional Crisis and Implications for India

Context:

  • On 10th April 2022, Imran Khan’s term as Pakistan’s Prime Minister ended after days of constitutional chaos in Pakistan that left him with no choice but to be voted out of the office or to resign.

Overview:

  • The lower house of the Pakistani parliament will be meeting on 11th April 2022 to vote for a new acting prime minister of the country.
  • In Pakistan, this is the first time that a no-confidence motion against a prime minister of the country has been successful.
  • In 2018, Imran Khan was elected as the Prime Minister of the country.
  • Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, no prime minister of the country has been able to complete a five-year term in office.

What is the cause of the no-confidence motion?

  • The opposition is challenging the latest moves by Khan, who came to power in 2018, contending that they are his plans of him to stay in power.
  • The opposition has also accused him of economic mismanagement.
  • Khan’s ally and Pakistan’s deputy parliament speaker dismissed the motion to sidestep a no-confidence vote that Khan appeared certain to lose.
  • Clause (1) of Article 5 was quoted to argue that the no-confidence motion submitted to the Speaker went against the provisions of the Article.
  • Imran Khan advised the President to dissolve the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies and call for fresh elections.
  • Until then, a caretaker government under him would be in charge.
  • The opposition claims the deputy speaker had no constitutional authority to throw out the no-confidence vote.
  • The developments marked the latest in an escalating dispute between Khan and the opposition.

What is Article 5 of Pakistan’s Constitution?

  • Article 5 titled ‘Loyalty to the State and Obedience to the Constitution’ has two clauses.
  • Clause (1) states that loyalty to the State is the basic duty of every citizen.
  • Clause 2 states that obedience to the Constitution and law is the inviolable obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and every other person for the time being within Pakistan.
  • It was said that the no-confidence motion was a conspiracy hatched by a “powerful country” that did not want Pakistan to have an independent foreign policy.
  • During another address to the nation, Khan had named the United States as the country behind the conspiracy.

What was the different opinions regarding the recent developments in Pakistan?

  • Opposition- The decision to cancel the no-confidence vote angered opposition parties and they have appealed the decision in court.
  • Army- Pakistan Army countered Imran Khan's allegations of a “foreign conspiracy” involving the US.
  • The Army has said that a wrong impression was given about the military leadership endorsing the view of the government.
  • Election commission– Pakistan's election commission has expressed its inability to hold general elections within three months due to legal, constitutional and logistical challenges.
  • UN Secretary-General– Antonio Guterres underscores the utmost importance of respecting democratic processes and resolving differences in accordance with the Constitution of Pakistan.
  • Pakistan Chief Justice- He held that the speaker cannot reject the no-confidence motion even if he refers to Article 5 of the constitution.
  • The Supreme Court of Pakistan however is yet to deliver a verdict.

Five Fallouts of Western Sanctions on Russia

Context:

  • The Russian ruble tanked 30 percent versus the dollar in offshore trading on Monday morning, trading as low as 117.8170 to the US dollar based on data compiled by Bloomberg, as against around 76 to a dollar on February 22.

About:

  • There are five areas where the impact was clearly visible:
    1. A sharp tanking of the Russian ruble,
    2. a looming fear of a run on its banks,
    3. a panic reaction by the Russian central bank to suspend the execution of all orders by foreigners to sell securities indefinitely starting February 28 morning,
    4. a looming shortage of most consumer goods that Moscow sources from the West,
    5. and a worsening of terms of trade on future imports.
  • Also, the global commodity markets are seeing an upsurge, with crude, gas, and metals spiking.

Currency impact:

  • The Russian ruble tanked 30 per cent versus the dollar in offshore trading on Monday morning, trading as low as 117.8170 to a US dollar-based on data compiled by Bloomberg, as against around 76 to a dollar on February 22.

Suspension of sell orders of Russian securities:

  • Russia’s central bank Monday ordered professional stock market participants “to suspend the execution of all orders by foreign legal entities and individuals” to sell Russian securities from February 28 morning, Reuters reported quoting an internal document.

Consumer goods shortage:

  • The impact of some of these measures would clearly end in hurting middle-class Russians, given that the country remains highly dependent on the West for many of its consumer goods.
  • These goods are stocked in Russian supermarkets and had catalysed the consumption boom in the economy over the last 6-odd years.
  • This collapse of the ruble will further impact the Russian living standards while having a deleterious effect on Moscow’s “terms of trade” with its partners.

Bank run:

  • The US, EU, United Kingdom and Canada had announced that the assets of Russia’s central bank will be frozen, which would make it difficult for it from selling them overseas to support its own banks and companies. Also, some Russian banks are to be excluded from the SWIFT payment network.

Oil surge:

  • Brent crude surged past $104 a barrel in the wake of the fresh sanctions on Russia, one of the top global producers of oil, gas, metals, and agricultural products.
  • Futures in London jumped as much as 6.5 percent in early Asian trade on Monday, Bloomberg reported.

Why Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal

Context:

  • Following its declaration of independence, Ukraine surrendered the nuclear weapons that the Soviet Union had installed on its territory.
  • In exchange, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States promised its security. Russia has threatened Ukraine with a nuclear assault in the recent past.

Key Points:

  • The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, stated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (which he could only attend virtually due to restrictions on airspace) on March 1st that “the threat that the (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy regime (in Ukraine) poses to neighbouring countries and international security, in general, has increased significantly since the Kyiv authorities began playing dangerous games involving plans to obtain their own nuclear weapons.”
  • From the beginning, Russia has attempted to legitimise its invasion of Ukraine by claiming that its smaller neighbour to the west posed a nuclear danger to the country. “Ukraine possesses Soviet nuclear technology and methods of delivering these weapons,” Lavrov stated at the press conference, adding that it was important to take the “irresponsible” claims seriously.
  • He also stated that Russia is a “responsible member” of the international community and that it is “dedicated to its non-proliferation vow, as well as taking every necessary precaution to prevent the establishment of nuclear weapons and associated technologies in Ukraine.”
  • The nuclear issue is playing out quite differently in Ukraine than it is elsewhere. Ukraine has totally de-nuclearized between 1996 and 2001, in accordance with an international agreement and under the supervision of Russia and the United States.
  • Now that Russian soldiers have infiltrated Ukraine's borders, many Ukrainians are questioning if it was a mistake to de-nuclearize and whether having nuclear weapons would have been more effective in deterring Russia's aggression against their nation.
  • As previously stated, this is predicated on the debatably correct underlying premise that countries that possess nuclear weapons rarely go to war with one another, deterred by the spectre of mutually assured annihilation.
  • Ukraine's decision to give up nuclear weapons came after three years of national deliberations and consultations with the United States and Russia, as well as substantial security assurances from the three founding members of the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) — the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom — as well as France and China.
  • This was supported by NATO's assurances that it would not expand in order to allay Russian worries.
  • At a time when India and Pakistan were developing nuclear weapons and the A Q Khan proliferation network was putting Pakistan at the centre of the issue, Ukraine was held up as a model of non-proliferation and an example of an ideal NPT member.

At the end of the Cold War, Ukraine’s choices:

  • Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Ukraine began the process of gaining independence from the Soviet Union, which was in the process of disintegrating.
  • Its 1990 Declaration of Sovereignty, which was adopted a year before the Soviet Union's dissolution, had an unambiguous political declaration that it wished to be a nuclear-weapons-free and non-nuclear country.
  • The Ukrainian republic, one of the former Soviet Union's 15 republics, was barely recovering from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant tragedy at the time (1986). Moscow was in command and control of the nuclear weapons deployed on Ukrainian soil at the time. Ukrainian authorities at the time were concerned that this might result in constraints on their personal freedom.
  • However, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the sentiment in Ukraine began to shift. As a result, it believes that giving up nuclear weapons will no longer be required for its survival.
  • Ukraine possessed 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at the time, 130 of which were liquid-fueled SS-19s and 46 of which were solid-fueled SS-24s, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  • In addition, it possessed 44 strategic bombers equipped with cruise missiles. It possessed roughly 2,000 nuclear warheads in stock, as well as 2,600 tactical nuclear weapons, according to the CIA.
  • It became clear, however, that Russia, as the principal successor state of the Soviet Union, did not control these weapons, nor did Ukraine, Belarus, or Kazakhstan, where this old Soviet stockpile was stationed.
  • Their deterrent usefulness was also called into doubt, considering the great range of the ICBMs, as well as the technical know-how and financial resources that would be required to maintain and replace the arsenal when it reached the end of its useful life.

The assurance of 1994 in Budapest:

  • The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurance, which was signed on December 5, 1994, confirmed Ukraine's participation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its position as a non-nuclear state in exchange for security guarantees. The presidents of Ukraine (Leonid Kuchma), the United States (Bill Clinton), Russia (Boris Yeltsin), and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Theresa May) all signed the document (John Major). Later, China and France, both of which joined the NPT in 1992, joined the list of signatories.
  • In 1992, the Lisbon Protocol made Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan participants to the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1991 and aimed to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in each country's arsenal.
  • “Respect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, as well as the existing borders of Ukraine,” according to the Budapest document, which also stated that the powers had a “obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.” Also included in the agreement was a promise that they would not use their weapons against Ukraine “unless necessary for self-defense or in conformity with the United Nations Charter”.
  • The countries also stated that if Ukraine were threatened or attacked with nuclear weapons, they would “demand prompt UNSC action to give support to Ukraine,” and that they would discuss if such a case happened. It has been pointed out, however, that this was an assurance rather than a security guarantee in this case.
  • Ukraine achieved a political win by implicitly acknowledging that it was the owner of the nuclear weapons located on its territory. After signing the Budapest Memorandum in 1992, Ukraine gave over all of the nuclear weapons it possessed to Russia in 1996, less than two years after the agreement. A number of severe deals were struck by Ukraine as well – Russia repaid its neighbour with a payout of one billion dollars, while the United States paid a substantial sum to purchase Ukraine's stockpile of enriched uranium.
  • Despite the fact that Ukraine continued to be concerned that Russia was not completely reconciled to the new international line, the agreement remained in place for more than two decades, even as Russia raised reservations about NATO's growth. At the Munich Security Conference in 2007, Vladimir Putin, who took over as president from Boris Yeltsin at the end of 1999, expressed his concerns for the first time, accusing NATO of pushing the envelope to include former Soviet satellites and lighting into the United States, accusing it of considering itself above international law, and accusing it of igniting a new arms race through its unilateral actions.
  • In addition, keeping the weapons would imply that Ukraine would be a nuclear state that is not a signatory to the NPT. The P5 nations must be non-nuclear states, and any additional signatories must either be non-nuclear states or have given up nuclear weapons. Russia and Ukraine, both of which aspired to be a part of Europe, did not want to begin their new path with sanctions and isolation from the rest of the world.

The role of Belarus in the Russia-Ukraine war

Context:

  • Belarus, the largest landlocked European country bordering the two warring nations has found itself in a precarious position amid its political proximity to Russia.
  • The country is now at the receiving end of the West’s economic sanctions, meant to deter the Russian assault on Ukraine, despite restrictions already in place after the controversial election of its President, Alexander Lukashenko.

Background:

  • The Belarusian border serves as the site for dialogue between Russia and Ukraine to possibly end the war. However, both the first and second rounds of talks have yielded no significant breakthrough.
  • Historically, Belarus has acted as the site of negotiations between the two nations – two sets of agreements were signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk in 2014 and 2015 to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
  • Initially, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had refused to hold talks in Minsk, stating that missiles, helicopters, and rockets had been launched from Belarusian territory and “hit our lives”. Imploring its neighbour to “be Belarus, not Russia”, Zelenskyy said, “The war is going on and you’re not on the same side with us”.
  • However, after the Lukashenko government assured their missiles and aircraft would stay grounded during the passage of the Ukrainian delegation, the two sides agreed to meet near the Ukraine-Belarus border in the vicinity of Pripyat River, a Facebook post by Ukraine Defence stated.

How has Belarus helped Russia?

  • Additionally, on February 27, a constitutional referendum in Belarus allowed the country to scrap its non-nuclear status, paving the way for Russia to potentially station its nuclear weapons on its territory.
  • He has also warned that if NATO and its allies deploy nuclear arms in its neighbouring countries, then Belarus has “agreed with Putin to deploy such weapons here that will make Poles and Lithuanians lose any desire to go to war”.
  • The Defence of Ukraine had claimed that it shot down a missile fired from Belarusian soil. “A few min ago, the Air Force of the AFU shot down a cruise missile fired at the capital of Ukraine from the territory of the Republic of Belarus by a TU-22 aircraft. This is another war crime of Belarus and Russia.”
  • Prior to the announcement of the “special military operation” in Ukraine, the United States for months had raised concerns over 30,000 Russian troops, fighter jets and defence missile systems being stationed in Belarus, which borders Ukraine from the north, at the pretext of a military exercise.
  • The stay of the troops had been extended indefinitely at the time, citing increased tensions in Donbass – the conflicted eastern Ukraine territory.

Why is Belarus helping Russia?

  • Lukashenko often touted as Belarus’ dictator, was elected as the country’s President in 1994, just a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union. He has been in power since then and is widely known for running an authoritarian regime that allows for no dissenting voices.
  • After years of deferment and negotiations, Minsk and Moscow signed off on 28 programmes under the Union State agreement in November 2021 to align on matters related to taxes, business, energy, and agriculture.
  • Moscow values its alliance with Belarus as it forms a strategic land between Russia and the NATO-aligned Lithuania, Poland and Latvia.
  • On the other hand, Belarus recognised the need for cosying up to Moscow after it was effectively cut off by the West, following Lukashenko’s crackdown on countrywide protests against his re-election.
  • Putin supplied Lukashenko with a loan of $1.5 billion and offered to send in Russian troops to contain the protests.
  • The restrictions were also imposed on the trading of petroleum products and potash – of which Belarus was the second-largest exporter in 2020, according to figures shared by the Canadian government – hitting the country’s export revenue.

The economy of Belarus & impact of sanctions:

  • Russia is the largest trading partner of Belarus. In 2020, according to IMF data, Belarus exported over $13,000 million worth of goods to Russia.
  • Its imports from Russia amounted to over $16,500 million, followed by China, which amounted to over $3,700 million. Apart from this, Belarus also enjoys subsidies on oil and gas from Russia.
  • The new sanctions against Belarus for its role in the Russia-Ukraine war, which cover 70 per cent of exports to the EU, are likely to cause trouble for the country. In fact, according to Reuters, while earlier sanctions covered just 20 per cent of potash exports, the 2022 sanctions ban them completely.
  • These restrictions come at a time when Belarus is looking to lower its inflation. According to an IMF analysis at the end of 2021, though its economy recovered to the pre-pandemic level, its growth has been weakening and inflation remained above target at around 10 per cent.
  • The report also noted that international sanctions had limited Belarus’ alternatives to bring down the fiscal deficit as well as presented challenges to cross-border payments.

Turkey’s stakes in the war

Context:

  • Turkey has sought to mediate between Russia and Ukraine since the time tensions rose. “Upon President @RTErdogan’s initiatives and our intensive diplomatic efforts, Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov of Russia & Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine have decided to meet with my participation on the margins of @AntalyaDF,” Cavusoglu tweeted.

Turkey-Ukraine-Russia:

  • Turkey, as the gateway between Europe and Asia, is a country of many parts. It is a member of NATO and was at one time thought to be a natural fit for membership in the EU.
  • But it is also increasingly a religiously conservative state, whose authoritarian leader wants to turn the clock back to Islamism.
  • Russia is a friend of Turkey but also an age-old geopolitical rival, going back to the Russo-Ottoman wars.
  • Russia’s proximity to the PKK, the Turkish Kurdish rebel group, from the Soviet Union days is a major irritant for Turkey.
  • In Syria, Russia and Turkey fought on opposite sides, Russia to preserve Bashar al-Assad's presidency, and Turkey on the side of groups fighting him.
  • But Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin overcame a particularly bad phase in the Moscow-Ankara relationship after Turkish forces shot down a Russian fighter plane. Russia is now among Turkey’s main trade partners.
  • Turkey’s economy depends heavily on imports from Russia. In 2019, their bilateral trade was about $ 16.4 billion, and the biggest item imported from Russia was refined petroleum.
  • There is a gas pipeline now under the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey. In 2020, Turkey bought the S 400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defence system from Russia and was sanctioned by the United States under its CAATSA law. Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Ayukku in southern Turkey.
  • Turkey is also a close trading and strategic partner of Ukraine. Their bilateral trade in 2019 was about $ 2.15 billion, with Turkey a major exporter to Ukraine.
  • The biggest export in 2019 was refined petroleum. Turkey also supplies Ukraine with a lethal missile carrier drone, which Ukraine has been using against Russian tanks during the current conflict.
  • In February, when matters were reaching a boiling point between Ukraine and Russia, Erdogan made a visit to Kyiv and signed a Free Trade Agreement and an agreement to co-manufacturer the armed long-range Bayrakthar drone in Ukraine. Russia has been angry with Turkey for arming Ukraine. 

Turkey in the conflict:

  • Turkey has described the Russian invasion of Ukraine as unacceptable and a blow to regional peace. It has rejected Russia’s recognition of the “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk.
  • It used the word ‘war’ five days after the invasion, and was one of the 80 sponsors of the General Assembly resolution titled “Russian Aggression in Ukraine”.
  • Turkey also invoked clauses of the 1936 Montreux Convention, a convention that put Turkey in charge of the Bosphorous and Dardanelles Straits, to bar the passage of warships through the Bosphorous Straits.
  • But Turkey has also said that under the terms of the convention, it cannot stop warships of the Black Sea littoral countries – Russia is one of them – from returning to their home base. Further, Erdogan has said Turkey cannot abandon ties with either Ukraine or Russia.

Conclusion:

  • In its efforts to mediate, Turkey is seeking to take on the role of the regional leader. It may also help Erdogan shed his bad-boy image in the West, where he is ranked alongside the authoritarian leaders of the world. 
  • It is also seeking to protect its considerable economic interests in the region, the stability of the Black Sea and the Turkish straits, its defence relations with both countries, and its oil and gas supplies from Russia.

South Asia's views on the Ukraine war

Context:

  • Some of India’s neighbours voted against Russia at the UN General Assembly, and some abstained. From history to current economics and geopolitics, a look at what is behind their respective positions.
  • Afghanistan, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal supported the resolution against Russia in the United Nations General Assembly.
  • Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka abstained. Nepal, which is a member of the UN Human Rights Council, also voted for the HRC resolution to set up an independent investigation into Russia’s alleged violations of human rights in Ukraine.

Sri Lanka: tourism & tea:

  • A shortage of foreign exchange has crippled Sri Lanka’s import-dependent economy. The surge in oil prices due to sanctions on Russia has made India’s $500-million line of credit to Sri Lanka for fuel purchases look inadequate.
  • Even in the tourism sector, which is recovering from the double whammy of the 2019 Easter suicide bombings and the pandemic, Sri Lanka might take a hit once again – Russia and Ukraine were major markets.
  • Russia is also a major buyer of Sri Lankan tea, and Colombo can continue selling only if it can find a way around the sanctions

Pak’s embrace of Russia:

  • Pakistan’s decision to abstain at the UNGA vote, Its ties with Russia was built over the last decade as a response to its tensions with the US during the two-decade-long Afghan war.
  • Pakistan hopes to build a new “axis” with China and Russia that will take charge of Afghanistan and Eurasia.
  • But Imran Khan’s awkwardly timed visit to Moscow – he became the first foreign leader to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine – has left the world baffled, with many Pakistani commentators calling it “ill advised”. 

Bangla: 1971, 2021 memories:

  • Bangladesh had its own reasons for abstaining. Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen said Dhaka’s position was for “peace and stability throughout the world”.
  • Bangladesh’s abstention can be seen in the light of tensions between the US and the Sheikh Hasina government, and the Biden Administration’s December 2021 decision to sanction the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite paramilitary deployed against jihadist groups, for its alleged human rights violations.
  • On the other hand, Dhaka remembers with gratitude that Moscow helped India militarily during the 1971 war, while the US sided with Pakistan. Russia is now constructing Dhaka’s first nuclear power plant at Rooppur.

Nepal: pitch against Russia:

  • Sandwiched between China and India, both of which abstained from voting on the UN General Assembly resolution against Russia, and a raging domestic debate in the country on whether to accept a $500 million development grant from the US, Nepal’s unequivocal stand against Russia seemed to reflect its own geopolitical difficulties. 
  • Amrit Rai, Nepal’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said in the UNGA that his country opposed any threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any sovereign country.

Bhutan, Maldives, Afghanistan:

  • BHUTAN, which is usually viewed as an Indian satellite, but which has, in fact, been asserting an independent foreign policy for a few years now, also voted against Russia.
  • THE MALDIVES, which signed a defence agreement with the US last year, and which, under the Solih government, has shed the previous Yameen government’s China tilt in its foreign policy, also voted against Russia.
  • AFGHANISTAN, which continues to be represented at the UN by its ousted government, voted against Russia. The Taliban regime, which is yet to be recognised as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, issued a statement declaring neutrality in the Ukraine conflict.

China-US arm-wrestling in Nepal played out over a $500 million grant

Context:

  • Nepal’s House of Representatives passed by voice vote the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact, a $500 million grant from the US to build power and road infrastructure projects.
  • The biggest American financial pledge to Nepal so far was signed more than four years ago, but ratification was delayed by criticism that it undermined Nepal’s sovereignty.

About the deal:

  • The deal was ultimately approved with a 12-point explanatory note stating that it has no military or security component and nothing to do with the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific — and that Nepal would be free to pull out if the US violated this understanding.
  • The PM had been warned by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and later the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu, that failure to ratify by February 28 could lead to termination of the grant and a possible review of the US-Nepal relationship and cooperation — and that the failure would be seen as a result of Chinese influence over Nepal’s policy.
  • While the ratification by parliament may have given the required legitimacy to the grant, the apprehensions of certain sections of the population continue to pour out on the streets, triggering large-scale arrests and curfew in some parts.

Terms of the compact:

  • MCC, which sought to help low- and lower-middle-income countries, found Nepal “qualified” for a grant of $500 million, with the recipient having to contribute another $130 million, for power infra projects including a 400KV transmission line, three power substations, and 655 transmission towers along a 315-km route touching India and a 105-km four-lane road in western Nepal.
  • Details of the deal were kept under wraps until July 2019, when Dr. Yubaraj Khatiwada, finance minister in the K P Oli government, gave notice to the parliament secretariat for its “endorsement”.
  • Although it did not require parliamentary approval, law ministry officials wanted to play safe because of a provision that in the event of a dispute over the law of Nepal and the deal, the latter would prevail.

Controversy over the deal:

  • Senior leaders of Oli’s ruling Nepal Communist Party said the deal was a sellout and undermined Nepal’s sovereignty and laws by giving the US the liberty to dictate to the country.
  • While the question of approval never came before parliament even after the July 2019 notice, it triggered intense infighting in the Communist Party. The deal, along with the clash of personalities among top leaders, ultimately resulted in a split in the party and the collapse of the government.

Stand of US, China, India:

  • Nepal is surrounded by India on three sides and China on the fourth.
  • After becoming PM for the first time in September 2015, Oli took Nepal close to China, retaliating against the months-long economic blockade launched by India to punish Nepal for refusing to defer the promulgation of its new constitution without meeting the major demands of the Madhesi people who have a close kinship with India.
  • India mediated in Nepal by bringing all seven pro-democratic parties and the underground Maoists together against the monarchy.
  • It recognized Maoists as true representatives of the people and lobbied with the West for support of its initiative.
  • In response, China, apprehending that the political and cultural void left by the exit of the monarchy might create trouble in Tibet, its soft underbelly, increased its presence in the north.
  • China’s involvement in four key areas — energy, tourism and hospitality, post-earthquake reconstruction, and trade and investment — has increased substantially since then.
  • In recent years, it has begun to openly exercise its influence and preferences in Nepali politics. Ambassador Hou Yanqi has been more visible than the envoys of many other countries in Kathmandu.

Refugees from Srilanka

Context:

  • The 16 Sri Lankan Tamils who arrived on the Rameswaram coast in two batches on March 22 were, however, different. They were economic refugees, trying to escape a dire situation in Sri Lanka, which is reeling under a severe economic crisis.
  • Indian intelligence agencies believe that as unemployment and skyrocketing inflation drive more and more people to desperation in the coming days and weeks, the numbers of these refugees are likely to only increase.

Tamil Nadu, a natural destination:

  • Barely 30 km away across the shallow Palk Strait, India has long appeared within reach, especially to Tamils in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka.
  • Ethnic affinity has made Tamil Nadu inviting, either as asylum or as a point of transit to the West, mostly Europe — where a large and influential Tamil diaspora has gathered over the decades of war and political turbulence in Sri Lanka.

History of Sri Lankan refugees:

  • While Tamil-origin refugees from Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka had been arriving in India long before the 1980s, their flow increased significantly after 1983 when ethnic clashes began on the island between the majority Sinhala Buddhist ruling class and the Indian-armed Tamil Tigers.
  • Those who arrived before 1983 were mainly Indian-origin Tamils whose forefathers had migrated to Sri Lanka to work in the tea plantations.
  • Their arrival was facilitated by an agreement between Prime Ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri and Sirimavo Bandaranaike to allow 9,75,000 people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka to become citizens of the country of their choice.
  • The second wave of arrivals began after the war flared up in June 1990, and about 1,22,000 Tamils fled the island. Between 1991 and 1995, some 54,000 refugees were repatriated to Sri Lanka; this was also the period in which Sri Lankan Tamils faced pressures in Tamil Nadu after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

New economic refugees:

  • The collapse of tourism following the Easter attacks of 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic has wrecked the Sri Lankan economy.
  • The country is heavily import-dependent, and with foreign exchange reserves crashing, there have been acute shortages of food items, fuel, and other essentials.
  • Staples like rice and milk have become unaffordable for large numbers of people.
  • Several sources said people are keenly following the news from Tamil Nadu about the way those who have reached India are being treated.

Their life in Tamil Nadu:

  • Many refugees who work in hotels or other sectors, or as daily wage labourers, are watched by the Q-branch, the state intelligence and investigative unit tracking terrorists and other radicalised individuals.
  • The refugees have benefitted from the general social welfare schemes in the state, be it the free rice or periodic festival incentives and “kits”.
  • The head of each refugee family gets a monthly allowance of at least Rs 1,000, and monthly assistance for spouses and children below age 12.
  • The DMK government announced a scheme to build 3,510 houses for Sri Lankan refugees, renovate 7,469, and provide financial assistance to refugee students for higher education.

Mission creep: on NATO expansionism

Context:

  • Russia launched a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
  • Russia stated that the reason behind this aggression was the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
  • Russia feels that Ukraine becoming a member in the future would threaten its interests by bringing a formidable security coalition into the neighbourhood of Russia.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO):

  • NATO was signed in April 1949, with three objectives:
    1. Deterring Soviet expansionism,
    2. Forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent
    3. Encouraging European political integration.
  • The history of the Nazi troubles and World War II were the main reasons for its creation.
  • NATO claims that its creation was to check the threats from the then Soviet Union.
  • There is a strong emphasis on military cooperation and collective defence in its mandate.
  • For example, Article 5 says that “an armed attack against one or more of them, shall be considered an attack against them all” and that following such an attack, each member would take “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force” in response.

Warsaw Pact, 1955:

  • In 1955, when the Cold War was getting stronger, the Soviet Union signed up socialist republics of Central and Eastern Europe to the Warsaw Pact.
  • The pact included Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania.
  • The Pact, was mainly a political-military alliance aimed at countering NATO and its focus was on East Germany which was still a part of the Soviet occupied-territory of Germany,
  • The Federal Republic of Germany partnered with NATO in 1955, and Russia started to worry about the consequences of a strong and rearmed West Germany at its border.
  • As a unified, multilateral, political and military alliance, the Warsaw Pact was aimed at connecting Eastern European capitals to Russia, which it succeeded for many decades despite the Cold War.
  • The Pact allowed the Soviet Union to suppress civil uprisings across the European satellite states, including in Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), and Poland (1980)
  • The pact started to weaken in the late 1980s, due to the pressure of economic slowdown in most of the European allies, which reduced the potential for military cooperation.
  • In September 1990 that East Germany quit the Pact to be reunified with West Germany, and soon Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland withdrew from the Warsaw Pact.
  • The Pact was dissolved in early 1991, post the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Expansion by NATO:

  • As the Soviet Union disintegrated, NATO started to expand its presence.
  • NATO successfully negotiated and expanded to include former Warsaw Pact states as its members.
  • Germany continued to be a member of NATO after its reunification.
  • The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined the alliance in 1999.
  • In 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia joined NATO
  • Again, in 2009 Albania and Croatia signed up.
  • In 2017, Montenegro joined the organization along with North Macedonia’s in 2020.

Russia’s concerns on the Expansion of NATO:

  • In 2008, NATO allies offered membership to Ukraine and Georgia
  • NATO announced measures to engage with both countries at a high political level to address their issues regarding their Membership Action Plan.
  • This concerned Russia, because Ukraine is a country that was considered to have strong historic ties first to the Soviet Union and then to Russia.
  • This development prompted Russia to warn the NATO-led by the U.S. and stated that “no Russian leader could stand idly by in the face of steps toward NATO membership for Ukraine. That would be a hostile act toward Russia.”
  • This is considered the main reason for the recent Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Commodity crunch

Context:

  • Commodity prices have seen a huge rise after the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian forces.

Increase in commodity prices:

  • The Bloomberg Commodity Index, with a rise of 13%, saw its biggest weekly rise since 1960.
  • Global commodity prices, as measured by the Bloomberg Commodity Index, have risen by over 60% since the start of 2021.
  • The price of Brent crude oil reached $120 per barrel, the highest in the last 10 years.
  • There are fears that the drop in the supply of essential commodities such as oil, metals, and agricultural goods could impact the global economy and supply chain which is recovering from the pandemic shock.

Impact of war on the increasing commodity prices:

  • The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has caused disruptions to the global supply chain.
  • The traders are not willing to buy oil and other commodities from Russia fearing that the sanctions imposed by Western governments would impact their business.
  • The United States and its European allies are taking measures to dent Russia’s economy by removing Russian banks from the SWIFT payment messaging system and freezing Russia’s foreign reserves.
  • There are logistical troubles in moving commodities from war zones.
  • Exports from the have been impacted.
  • In 2020 Russia produced nearly 12% of the world’s oil and around 16% of the world’s natural gas.
  • Russia also produced about 50% of the world’s palladium (the main component in making catalytic converters and semiconductors).
  • Ukraine accounts for about 12% of global wheat exports and 13% of global corn exports.
  • Disruptions in such significant commodity supplies can affect global commodity prices.

Other reasons:

  • The commodity prices have been rising significantly since 2021 after the lockdowns were lifted by governments and businesses were allowed to open up.
  • The supply of goods was limited and this scarcity caused higher prices.
  • The pandemic also saw major global central banks inject massive amounts of funds into their economies.
  • This led to an increase in the demand for all goods and services and caused their prices to rise.
  • Experts feel that the policies in several countries to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy are also a possible reason behind the increase in commodity prices.
  • The emphasis on renewable energy has discouraged investors from investing in the production of traditional fossil fuels.
  • The suppliers from the rest of the world have failed to increase their production to make up for the loss of output in Russia and Ukraine.
    • For example, The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has not made any efforts to increase its output despite multiple requests from worldwide.

Wayforward:

  • The impact on the commodity supply chain would be greater the longer the war lasts.
  • Cutting off Russia’s economy from the rest of the world also affects businesses and traders that depend on Russia.
    • For Example, Germany relies highly on Russia’s energy supplies.
  • The struggling global economy and rising commodity prices pose a risk of stagflation, which is marked by high price inflation and low growth.

Chinese firm inks deal with the Maldives

  • Context:
    • Sino Soar Hybrid (Beijing) Technology Co. Ltd won the bid for the mini-grid project in August. Maldives environment minister Shauna Aminath and the company’s project manager signed the agreement.
  • About:
    • A Chinese renewable energy firm signed an agreement with the Maldives to provide a hybrid solar-diesel power system in the inhabited islands of an atoll south of the capital Male.
    • The ADB-supported project is for the design, supply, installation, and maintenance of a grid-tied solar PV-diesel hybrid power project in 12 islands of Thaa atoll.
    • One of the islands in the atoll is Thimarafushi, a well-known tourist destination.

Russia-Ukraine Conflict

  • Context:
    • The US intelligence reports said the tension on the Russia-Ukraine border represents a major security crisis for the region, with the potential to snowball into a broader conflict.
    • Ukraine says that Russia has amassed around 90,000 troops at the border.
    • Ukraine and Russia share hundreds of years of cultural, linguistic and familial links.
    • For many in Russia and in the ethnically Russian parts of Ukraine, the shared heritage of the countries is an emotional issue that has been exploited for electoral and military purposes.
    • As part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the second-most powerful Soviet republic after Russia, and was crucial strategically, economically and culturally.
  • Cause of Conflict:
    • Buffer Zone for Western Countries: For the US and the European Union, Ukraine is a crucial buffer between Russia and the West.
    • Balance of Power: Ever since Ukraine split from the Soviet Union, both Russia and the West have vied for greater influence in the country in order to keep the balance of power in the region in their favour.
    • As tensions with Russia rise, the US and the EU are increasingly determined to keep Ukraine away from Russian control.
    • Russian Interest in the Black Sea: The unique geography of the Black Sea region confers several geopolitical advantages to Russia.
    • Firstly, it is an important crossroads and strategic intersection for the entire region.
    • Access to the Black Sea is vital for all littoral and neighbouring states, and greatly enhances the projection of power into several adjacent regions.
    • Secondly, the region is an important transit corridor for goods and energy.
  •  
  • History of Russia-Ukraine relations:
    • With over 6 lakh sq. km area and more than 40 million population, Ukraine is the second-largest country by area and the 8th populous in Europe.
    • Ukraine is bordered by Russia in the East, Belarus in the North, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova in the West. It also has a maritime boundary with the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
    • Ukraine was under different rulers including the Ottoman Empire, Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union.
    • It gained independence in 1991 following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
  • The Minsk agreements between Russia-Ukraine:
    • Following the 2014 Ukraine revolution and the Euromaidan movement, civil unrest erupted in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (together called the Donbas region) in Eastern Ukraine which borders Russia.
    • The majority population in these regions are Russians and it has been alleged that Russia fuelled anti-government campaigns there. Russia-backed insurgents and the Ukrainian military engaged in armed confrontations in the region.
  • MINSK I
    • In September 2014, talks led to the signing of the Minsk protocol (Minsk I) by the Trilateral Contact Group involving Ukraine, Russia, and the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It is a 12 point ceasefire deal involving provisions like weapon removal, prisoner exchanges, humanitarian aid, etc. But the deal broke following violations by both sides.
  • MINSK II
    • In 2015, yet another protocol termed Minsk II was signed by the parties. It included provisions to delegate more power to the rebel-controlled regions. But the clauses remain un-implemented due to differences between Ukraine and Russia.
  • The sudden rise in tensions can be attributed to the following factors:
    • The newly elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been harsh on Russian supporters in Ukraine and has been going against Moscow’s interests.
    • Perceivably undecisive administration in the US under the new President Joe Biden and Washington’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan.
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s immense interest in Ukraine. Putin maintains that Ukraine is the “red line” the West must not cross.
  • India’s stand on Russia- Ukraine conflict:
    • India has long maintained a cautious silence on the Russia-Ukraine conflict issue. But recently India has spoken in the matter and called for a peaceful resolution of the issue through sustained diplomatic efforts for long-time peace and stability.
    • New Delhi and Moscow have a time-tested and reliable relationship especially with Russia being a major arms supplier to India.
    • India has risked US sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) by the buying S-400 missile defence system from Russia.
    • On the other hand, India also needs the support of the US and EU in balancing its strategic calculus.

Sri Lanka’s Organic only Agriculture

  • Context:
    • Recently, the Srilankan government imposed a state of emergency in Sri Lanka after its mismanaged response to the foreign exchange crisis cascaded into food shortages.
    • The Sri Lankan government had imposed a range of import controls earlier this year. Banning the import of automobiles, toilet fixtures, Venetian blinds, toothbrush handles, and turmeric is one thing, but a complete ban on chemical fertilizers is entirely another.
    • The fertilizer ban has left Sri Lanka both short of food and US dollars.
  • Impacts:
    • Ruined agriculture: The fertilizer ban has left Sri Lanka both short of food and US dollars.
    • It was being seen as a progressive policy aimed at making Sri Lanka the first country in the world to completely embrace organic agriculture. In a few short months, it resulted in a disaster.
    • Lessons from Sri Lanka’s unplanned push for organic agriculture:
      • No simple, universal case for organic agriculture: Pushing organic farming as a one-size-fits-all policy will inevitably lead to disaster. 
      • Leave cropping and farming decisions to the farmers: The government and civil society should spread awareness and market knowledge. 
      • Need policy support: Estimates suggest that organic yields are 20-30% lower than their conventionally farmed counterparts. Hence, it is unethical to ask a family earning less than ₹10,000 a month to consider organic farming.
      • Hence, organic farming is a luxury. Those who prefer to remain in agriculture do it because they can.
      • This is one reason why organic farming is catching on in Western economies and among India’s richer cultivators.
  • Key takeaways for India:
    • First, we need massive improvements in yield, a massive reduction in the number of farmers, or both.
    • We need to make the policy case for organic, at the global, national, and regional levels. Reckless abuse of pesticides, fertilizers, and hormones needs to be fixed through better public policies and technology.
    • Second, to increase organic output and income, we need more farmland and fewer farmers. More farmland means fewer forests. Fewer farmers would need more non-farm jobs.
    • Hence, there is a need for the creation of non-agricultural jobs.

Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

  • Context:
    • The United States recently announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022, a move that was quickly followed by Australia, Britain, and Canada.
    • US diplomatic boycott will prevent only government officials from attending. 
    • Typically, high-ranking officials from many countries attend the Games, which are among the biggest international gatherings outside of the UN and major summits.
  • Reasons:
    • Genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
    • The recent case of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who accused a former top government official of sexually assaulting her, also contributed to this decision.
  • Does it mean anything for US athletes at the Olympics? 
    • American athletes are to travel to China and compete in their events as scheduled.
    • Some American Olympic athletes are speaking out about China & about human rights violations. However, the International Olympic Committee has always asserted that the Games are nonpolitical. As such, it has strict rules about athletes protesting while at the Games.
    • Nevertheless, even those top athletes who have condemned human rights abuses say they plan to compete at the Games.

Aiding Afghans

  • Context:
    • The Prime Minister has called for the international community to provide Afghanistan with immediate and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance.
  • The current crisis in Afghanistan:
    • In Afghanistan, banks are running out of money, civil servants have not been paid and food prices have soared, leaving millions at risk of severe hunger.
    • The country is struggling with drought and severe poverty following the decades of war.
    • The U.S. has frozen the reserves of Afghanistan making the situation vulnerable.
    • The Taliban government’s refusal to allow women to work and stopping girls from schooling have complicated the issue.
  • India's efforts:
    • India hosted the National Security Advisors (NSAs) level ‘Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan’
    • It aims to organize a conference of regional stakeholders and important powers on the country’s current situation and future outlook.
    • India transported wheat and medicines through Pakistan, to aid the Afghan people.
  • How can the situation be eased?
    • EU has already committed $1.15 billion for Afghanistan and neighboring countries where refugees have fled.
    • The U.S. and China pledged $1.1 billion at a donor conference in Geneva last month.
    • G20 leaders have also pledged to help with the Afghan humanitarian crisis at a special summit.
    • Maintaining links with terror groups including those that target India leaves little space for the government to increase its engagement or to send aid directly to the new regime.
    • Coordinating with the Taliban did not mean recognizing their administration and hence India could contribute to international agencies that are working with displaced Afghans.
    • The government could also consider liberalizing its visa regime for Afghans.
    • As a goodwill gesture, India could send food aid, including wheat, grain, fortified biscuits, and other packaged food directly to Kabul.
    • Regional leaders like India have to play a key role in unfolding the humanitarian crisis because not only Afghans but also the rest of the world will pay a heavy price.

Bhutan Confers its Highest Civilian Award on PM Modi

  • PM Modi has been conferred with the highest civilian award of Bhutan, Order of the Druk Gyalpo' also known as Ngadag Pel gi Khorlo, on the occasion of the country’s National Day.
  • Recently, Bhutan celebrated its 114th National Day on December 17. 
  • This day commemorates the Coronation of the First King of Bhutan, Druk Gyalpo Ugyen Wangchuck on December 17, 1907.
  • This award has been given in the recognition of all the unconditional friendship and supports Indian PM 
  • extended over the years and particularly during the pandemic.

Pillar of Shame

  • Pillar of Shame – a famous statue at the University of Hong Kong – marking the Tiananmen Square massacre was removed recently.
  • The sculpture stood as a memorial to the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the Chinese military crushed protests led by college students in Beijing with deadly force.
  • Its removal comes as Beijing has increasingly been cracking down on political dissent in Hong Kong.

China’s new Border Law and India

  • Context:
    • The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress passed the law for the “protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas”. China’s new law on land borders, passed on October 23, came into effect on January 1.
  • What is the new law?
    • Under the law, “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of… China are sacred and inviolable”, and the state needs to “take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines these”.
    • It mandates the state to take measures “to strengthen border defence, support economic and social development as well as opening-up in border areas, encourage and support people’s life and work there, and promote coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas”. 
  • Why did China bring it?
    • Maritime assertion: This law reflects Beijing’s renewed concerns over the security of its land border while it confronts a slew of unsettled disputes on its maritime front (in the South China Sea).
    • Land boundary issues: The confrontations on the Sino-Indian borders in recent years may have reminded Beijing about this law.
    • Another sticking point could be that the new law prohibits the construction of permanent infrastructure close to the border without China’s permission. Both India and China have been building new roads, bridges and other facilities faster since the standoff began; in fact, China had objected to India’s workers even before.
    • Besides India, Bhutan (477 km) is the only other country with which China has a disputed land border.
  • Does it concern India?
    • No specific mention: Although the law is not meant specifically for India, it is bound to have some impact.
    • May hamper disengagement:  The date for the round meeting is still awaited, amid concerns that the Chinese delegation can use the new law to try to bolster their existing positions.
    • Possible misadventures: The new law provides for the construction of permanent infrastructure close to the border. This has been observed in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • What impact can it have on India-China relations?
    • Some experts feel the new law will make China dig its heels in, on the ongoing standoff as well as for the resolution of the larger boundary issue.
    • Others feel the new law is only a tool China government will use if it wants, as its actions have been aggressive even before this law.

US and allies accuse China of a globally hacking spree

Context:

  • The United States and its allies accused China of a global cyber espionage campaign, mustering an unusually broad coalition of countries to publicly call out Beijing for hacking.

More Info:

  • The United States was joined by NATO, the European Union, Britain, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada in condemning the spying as it poses a major threat to our economic and national security.
  • U.S. security and intelligence agencies outlined more than50 techniques and procedures that “China state-sponsored actors” use against U.S. networks.
  • Washington in recent months has focused heavy attention on Russia in accusing Russian hackers of a string of ransomware attacks in the United States.
  • The United States and China have already been at loggerheads over trade, China's military buildup, disputes about the South China Sea, a crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong and treatment of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.
  • The campaign targeted trade secrets in industries including aviation, defence, education, government, health care, biopharmaceutical and maritime industries.
  • Victims were in Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

China constructing bridge on Pangong lake in Ladakh

  • Context:
    • China is constructing a bridge in eastern Ladakh connecting the north and south banks of Pangong Tso (lake), which will significantly bring down the time for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to move troops and equipment between the two sectors.
    • Construction is being laid between Kurnak Fort in the north part of the lake to Moldo on the south bank.
    • Location: 25 Km away from the Line of Actual Control between India and China.
    • Purpose: it would reduce the overall distance by 140­150 km
  • What is the status on the ground in Eastern Ladakh?
    • The two countries are working out details for the 14th round of Corps Commander talks to take forward the disengagement that has stalled after two phases of disengagement.
    • The 13th round of Corps Commander talks remained inconclusive with the two sides releasing sharp statements on the outcome.
    • At the same time, the two Armies had prepared to keep over 1 lakh soldiers on both sides deployed through the extreme winter in the high altitude region.
    • Since May 2020, the two sides have been holding regular military to military talks on the ground and also diplomatic level talks in addition to the 13 rounds of Corps Commander level talks to resolve the standoff.
    • The two sides have so far undertaken two phases of disengagement, from both banks of Pangong Tso last February and from Gogra in August in addition to Galwan after the violent clash. Other friction areas yet to be resolved are Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang.
    • The two sides had also agreed on a moratorium on patrolling in the disengaged areas and set up buffer zones until a resumption is discussed by both sides through diplomatic and military talks.
    • India has insisted on comprehensive de-escalation of the situation in Eastern Ladakh which includes disengagement from all friction points, de-escalation and working out of new protocols.
  • What is the importance of the bridge over Pangong Tso?
    • The bridge over Pangong Tso is located around 25 kms ahead of the LAC in Chinese territory and will significantly reduce the time for movement of Chinese on the North Bank and the South Bank, a distance of around 200 kms.
    • The initial tensions as the standoff began in May 2020 were on the North Bank of Pangong Tso with PLA troops moving up to Finger 4 and building permanent structures.
    • However, tensions had flared up on the South Bank in August 2020. The Indian Army gained a tactical advantage over the PLA on the south bank at end of August by occupying several peaks lying vacant since 1962 gaining a dominating view of the Spanggur gap and Moldo area.
    • During this, the two sides had also deployed tanks at heights of over 15,000 feet and shots were fired in the air on the LAC for the first time in decades.
    • This has prompted China to build deep alternate roads behind the friction points away from the line of sight, officials said.
    • There has been massive construction of accommodation for housing of troops closer to the LAC and also road infrastructure for movement of troops and mechanised forces, officials say.
    • Earlier, PLA had to take a roundabout between the two sides of the Pangong lake which takes around 12 hours but the new bridge, around 500m long, would cut down the time to 3-4 hours.
    • India holds one-third of the 135 km long boomerang-shaped lake located at an altitude of over 14,000 feet.
  • How is India responding to developments on the ground?
    • The bridge is well within Chinese territory, officials say while stating the implications of this new bridge will have to be factored in the Indian Army’s operational planning for the future.
    • On its part, over the last few years, India has been focusing on infrastructure development in forwarding areas and improving connectivity to the forward areas. Large scale construction of roads, bridges and tunnels is underway all along the LAC.
    • Ahead of the winter, the Army had completed advanced winter stocking for the troops in forwarding areas, including rations, specialised fuel and ammunition among others as well as repair and upgrade of habitat and infrastructure.
    • While the process of disengagement and de-escalation stretches on, the two armies are geared to remain in the high altitude areas.

Trincomalee oil tank farm

  • Context:
    • Sri Lanka’s Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila announced that the Indian Oil Subsidiary Lanka IOC would be given a 49% stake in the joint development of the Trincomalee Oil Tank farm, with Ceylon Petroleum Corporation keeping 51%.
  • Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm:
    • It comprises 99 storage tanks, with a capacity of 12,000 kilolitres each, spread across Lower Tank farm and Upper Tank Farm.
    • Currently, Lanka IOC runs 15 tanks. The new agreement is being negotiated for the remaining tanks.  Indian Oil Corporation will work with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation for developing the Upper Tank Farm.
  • Why has this become a historical deal?
    • 35-year-old agreement: If it goes according to plan, India and Sri Lanka would have finally achieved the implementation of an agreement —  contained in an exchange of letters between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J R Jayewarndene as part of the annexure to the India-Sri Lanka Accord of July 29, 1987 — that the tank farm would be developed jointly.
  • Why does Trincomalee matter?
    • Strategic Location in the Indian Ocean: Located inland from China Bay, the facility was meant to be serviced by the natural harbour at Trincomalee.
    • Balancing China: From India’s geostrategic viewpoint, Trincomalee is an important counterbalance to the southern Hambantota Port backed substantially by China.

Japan – Australia Defence Agreement

  • Context:
    • On January 6, 2022, Japan and Australia signed a defence agreement to boost security and defence cooperation. The signing of the agreement is considered “historic”. This is to anger China. The agreement is to expand the Quad agenda. The agreement will reduce Chinese influence in ASEAN. It will aid in achieving a free and open Indo – Pacific.
  • About the Agreement:
    • The agreement includes sharing military facilities between the countries, landing rights, securing port access, logistic support, legal regimes, logistic support.
    • This means the advanced F-35s (fighter jet) of Japan can now practice on Australian soil. The Australian submarines can now operate in Japanese waters.
    • The countries can build special forces together. Both Japan and Australia share a common interest in keeping the US engaged in the Indo – Pacific.
  • China and the deal:
    • The following recent issues reflect that the world countries are not ready to accept Chinese domination:
    • AUKUS Security pact: Signed by Britain, Australia and US. The agreement helps the UK to acquire nuclear-powered submarines
    • QUAD cooperation strengthening by India, Japan, US and Australia. The Malabar military exercise which was a trilateral exercise (India, US and Japan) till 2020, has now become a QUAD exercise with Australia participating in the exercise in 2021.
    • The emergence of Japan – Australia – US cooperation
    • Increase in South Korea – Australia friendly relations
    • The countries are coming together under one objective. To put an end to Chines domination.

Unrest in Kazakhstan

  • Context:
    • Recently, a sharp and sudden spike in fuel prices triggered a national crisis in Kazakhstan, with the government officially stepping down following days of violent protests across the country.
    • Russian-led forces have also arrived in Kazakhstan at the request of the country's authoritarian president, amid a violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

  • Reason for the Unrest:
    • Fuel prices doubled in the oil-rich Central Asian nation when the government lifted price caps for Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), commonly used in vehicles.
    • The protests began in the oil city of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 oil workers protesting against poor working conditions were killed by the police in 2011.
    • Kazakhstan has been a largely stable autocracy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, protests of this scale haven’t been seen since the 1980s.
    • Protesters demanded the resignation of the government and the lowering of LPG prices.
    • They have argued that the jump in prices would cause a steep increase in food prices and deepen the income inequality that has plagued the nation for decades.
    • Just last year (2021), inflation in the country was closing in on 9% year-on-year, the highest it has been in over five years.
    • There has been growing discontent among ordinary Kazakhs, both over rising income inequality, which has only worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the lack of democracy.
    • While the country has been able to attract millions of dollars worth of foreign investments by appearing politically stable, its authoritarian government has been widely criticised over the years for violating fundamental freedoms.
  • Implications:
    • The country has vast mineral resources, with 3% of global oil reserves and important coal and gas sectors.
    • It is the top global producer of uranium, which jumped in price by 8% after the unrest.
    • The country is also the world's second-largest miner of bitcoin.
    • The latest demonstrations matter because the country has been regarded until now as a pillar of political and economic stability in an unstable region, even as that stability has come at the price of a repressive government that stifles dissent.
    • Kazakhstan has been aligned with Russia, whose president views the country — a body double of sorts for Russia in terms of its economic and political systems — as part of Russia’s sphere of influence.
    • The intervention by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Russian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), is the first time that its protection clause has been invoked, a move that could potentially have sweeping consequences for geopolitics in the region.
    • This is the third uprising against an authoritarian, Russia-aligned nation, following pro-democracy protests in Ukraine in 2014 and in Belarus in 2020.
    • The chaos threatens to undermine Russia’s sway in the region at a time when Russia is trying to assert its economic and geopolitical power in countries like Ukraine and Belarus.
    • Kazakhstan also matters to the US, as it has become a significant country for American energy concerns, with Exxon Mobil and Chevron having invested tens of billions of dollars in western Kazakhstan, the region where the unrest began this month.

Ukraine-Russia conflict

  • Context:
    • NATO sends ships and jets to Eastern Europe in the Ukraine crisis.

  • Causes for conflict:
    • Balance of Power:
    • Ever since Ukraine split from the Soviet Union, both Russia and the West have vied for greater influence in the country in order to keep the balance of power in the region in their favour.
  • Buffer Zone for Western Countries:
    • For the US and the European Union, Ukraine is a crucial buffer between Russia and the West.
    • As tensions with Russia rise, the US and the EU are increasingly determined to keep Ukraine away from Russian control.
  • Russian Interest in the Black Sea:
    • The unique geography of the Black Sea region confers several geopolitical advantages to Russia.
    • Firstly, it is an important crossroads and strategic intersection for the entire region.
    • Access to the Black Sea is vital for all littoral and neighbouring states, and greatly enhances the projection of power into several adjacent regions.
    • Secondly, the region is an important transit corridor for goods and energy.
  • Protests in Ukraine:
    • Euromaidan Movement: Euromaidan (European Square) was a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, which began in November 2013 with public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, Ukraine.
    • The protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government's decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, instead choosing closer ties to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union.
  • Separatist Movement:
    • The Donbas region (the Donetsk and Luhansk regions) of eastern Ukraine has been facing a pro-Russian separatist movement since 2014.
    • According to the Ukrainian government, the movement is actively supported by the Russian government and Russian paramilitaries make up between 15% to 80% of the separatists fighting against the Ukrainian government.
  • Invasion of Crimea:
    • Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in what was the first time a European country annexed territory from another country since World War-2.
    • The annexation of Crimea from Ukraine followed a Russian military intervention in Crimea that took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and was part of wider unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine.
    • The invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea have given Russia a maritime upper hand in the region.
  • Ukraine's NATO Membership:
    • Ukraine has urged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to speed up the country’s membership in the alliance.
    • Russia has declared such a move a “red line”, and is worried about the consequences of the US-led military alliances expanding right up to its doorstep.
    • The Black Sea is bordered by Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. All these countries except Russia & Ukraine are NATO countries.
    • Due to this faceoff between NATO countries and Russia, the Black sea is a region of strategic importance & a potential maritime flashpoint.
  • What are Russia’s demands?
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded a ban on further expansion of NATO to include Ukraine, Georgia or other countries in Russia’s neighbourhood.
    • Since the German unification in 1990, NATO has added new members five times. If the alliance had 12 founding members in 1949, it now has 30 members, including the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — all sharing borders with Russia — and Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, all members of the former Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.
    • Mr Putin has also asked NATO to roll back its military deployments to the 1990s level and ban the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in areas that would allow NATO to reach Russia. Further, Moscow has asked NATO to curb its military cooperation with Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.
  • What is the U.S. response?
    • The U.S. has ruled out changing NATO’s “open-door policy” — which means, at least in theory, NATO could induct more members. The U.S. also says it would continue to offer training and weapons to Ukraine. But Washington is open to discussing missile deployment in Eastern Europe and a mutual reduction in military exercises. 
    • The U.S. has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine or taking other direct military measures against Russia in the event of an invasion. But Washington has threatened to impose severe economic sanctions on Russia if it makes any military move.
  • What is India’s position?
    • India broke its silence on Friday, calling for “a peaceful resolution of the situation through sustained diplomatic efforts for long-term peace and stability in the region and beyond”. This was the standard position India had taken during the Crimean crisis as well.

Minsk Agreements

  • Minsk I: Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists agreed on a 12-point ceasefire deal in the capital of Belarus in September 2014.
  • Its provisions included prisoner exchanges, deliveries of humanitarian aid and the withdrawal of heavy weapons.
  • The agreement quickly broke down, with violations by both sides.
  • Minsk II: In 2015, an open conflict was averted after the ‘Minsk II’ peace agreement was signed, under the mediation of France and Germany.
  • It was designed to end the fighting in the rebel regions and hand over the border to Ukraine’s national troops.

Houthis and the war in Yemen

  • Context:
    • The Houthi rebels of Yemen have claimed responsibility for the suspected drone attack in Abu Dhabi recently, which killed three people, including two Indians.
  • Background:
    • One of the Arab world’s poorest countries, Yemen has been devastated by a near seven-year civil war, which started after Houthis captured the capital Sana’a, following which Saudi-led forces intervened and fought the rebels with the aim of ending Iranian influence in the region and restoring the former government.
    • The UAE joined the Saudi campaign in 2015 and has been deeply involved in the conflict ever since, despite announcing the formal withdrawal of its forces in 2019 and 2020.

Who are the Houthis?

  • Founded in the 1990s by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a member of Yemen’s Shia majority.
  • It is a group of Zaidi Shia Muslims who ruled a kingdom in the province for nearly 1,000 years.
  • Why is Saudi Arabia in Yemen?
    • Saudi Arabia interfered in Yemen after the Shia Houthi rebels captured Sana’a, the capital city, and the internationally recognised government of President Hadi moved to the country’s south.
    • The rapid rise of the Houthis in Yemen set off alarm bells in Saudi Arabia which saw them as Iranian proxies.
    • Saudi Arabia started a military campaign in March 2015, hoping for a quick victory against the Houthis. But the Houthis had dug in, refusing to leave despite Saudi Arabia’s aerial blitzkrieg.
    • With no effective allies on the ground and a no-way-out plan, the Saudi-led campaign went on with no tangible result. In the past six years, the Houthis have launched multiple attacks on Saudi cities from northern Yemen in retaliation for Saudi airstrikes.

Tigray Crisis

Context: Rebels in Tigray approved a ceasefire in principle with tight conditions before it could be finalized.

Humanitarian Concerns:

  • According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR), tens of thousands of refugees have crossed the border into Sudan.
  • Thousands of people had died, and 400,000 more were famine-stricken.
  • UNICEF, in collaboration with the World Food Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, has called for immediate action to address the Tigray region's severe food insecurity.

About Tigray Crisis:

  • It is a conflict between Ethiopia's government and forces in the country's northern Tigray province.
  • Eritrean troops are also fighting for the Ethiopian government in Tigray.
  • The war or crisis arose as a result of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's decision to dispatch the army to depose the Tigray People's Liberation Front's dissident regional government (TPLF).

About Tigray Region:

  • It is the northernmost region of Ethiopia, bordering Eritrea, and is home to the majority of Ethiopia's estimated 7 million ethnic Tigrayans.
  • Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Somaliland border Ethiopia, which is a landlocked country in Eastern Africa (Somalia).

 

UK-EU Brexit Spat Over North Ireland in G7 summit

Context: Britain and the EU are locked in an escalating diplomatic feud over Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that borders the 27-nation bloc.

Background:

  • Northern Ireland is a part of Ireland from a geographical standpoint. Politically, it is a part of the United Kingdom.
  • After centuries of occupation and an uneasy union, Ireland, long ruled by the United Kingdom, gained independence over 100 years ago. 26 of the country's 32 counties became separate countries with a Roman Catholic majority. Six Protestant-majority counties in the north remained British.
  • The Protestant-run state of Northern Ireland discriminated against the Catholic minority.
  • In the 1960s, a Catholic civil rights movement demanded change, but the government and police retaliated harshly.
  • In 1969, the British Army was deployed for the first time, ostensibly to protect the peace.
  • The situation degenerated into a fight between Irish republican militants who wanted to join the south, loyalist paramilitaries who wanted Northern Ireland to remain British, and British forces.
  • During 3,600 individuals were killed in bombings and shootings over the course of three decades of violence, the majority of them were civilians. The majority of the bombings took place in Northern Ireland, but the Irish Republican Army also detonated bombs in London and other British cities.

Ending the Conflict:

  • The combatants negotiated a peace agreement in the 1990s after secret talks and with the assistance of diplomatic efforts by Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • The paramilitaries laid down their arms as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which established a Catholic-Protestant power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland.
  • The ultimate status of Northern Ireland was postponed: it would stay British as long as the majority wanted it to, but a future referendum on reunification was not ruled out.
  • While the calm has mainly held, there have been sporadic attacks on security forces by minor Irish Republican Army splinter groups, as well as outbreaks of sectarian street violence.
  • The power-sharing system has had its ups and downs, and both parties continue to distrust the administration.

 

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Bagram Air Base

Context:

  • Recently, US troops have departed from the Bagram Air Base, which coordinated the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan, effectively ending their military operations in the country.

Bagram Air Base

  • It lies around 40km north of Kabul and is named after a nearby village.
  • It was built by the US for its Afghan ally during the Cold War in the 1950s as a bulwark against the Soviet Union in the north.
  • Ironically, it became the staging point for the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979, and the Red Army expanded it significantly during its near-decade-long occupation.
  • US-led coalition forces moved in during December 2001 and it was developed into a huge base capable of holding up to 10,000 troops.
  • The territory of the base has a piece of rubble from the World Trade Center, destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, buried under it.
  • It has two runways, 110 parking spots for aircraft, a 50-bed hospital, and a main prison facility for people detained by US forces at the height of the conflict, which became known as Afghanistan's Guantanamo, after the infamous US military prison in Cuba.

Major Timeline of US War in Afghanistan

September 2001:

  • After the 9/11 attacks, then US President George W. Bush declared war on Afghanistan, then ruled by the Taliban.

November 2001:

  • The Taliban fled Kabul as the US-led coalition marched into the Afghan capital with the Northern Alliance.
  • The Northern Alliance, officially known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, was a united military front that came to formation in late 1996 after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan took over Kabul.

December 2001:

  • The Bonn Agreement was signed in Bonn, Germany, giving the majority of power to the Northern Alliance’s key players and strengthening the warlords. The Taliban regime officially collapses.
  • Karzai was sworn in as chairman of a 29-member governing council established under the Agreement.

2004-2009:

  • General elections were held and Karzai was elected President for two consecutive terms.

April 2014:

  • After flawed elections, the US negotiated a power-sharing deal for a so-called Unity Government, with Ashraf Ghani serving as President and Abdullah Abdullah as Chief Executive.

December 2014:

  • American and NATO troops formally ended their combat mission, transitioning to a support and training role and carrying out operations against Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets.

2015-2018:

  • An Islamic State group affiliate emerged in the east and the Taliban seized control of nearly half the country.

September 2018:

  • The US-appointed veteran Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad was a negotiator with the Taliban.

September 2019:

  • After intense escalation in Taliban attacks, the US scrapped talks with the Taliban.

February 2020:

India's Investment in Afghanistan

Context:

  • As the Taliban push ahead with military offensives across Afghanistan, preparing to take over after the exit of US and NATO forces, India faces a situation in which it may lose all its stakes.

India-Afghan ties

  • India built vital roads, dams, electricity transmission lines and substations, schools and hospitals, etc. India’s development assistance is now estimated to be worth well over $3 billion.

Salma Dam

  • The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds and inaugurated in 2016, is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam.

Zaranj-Delararam Highway

  • The other high-profile project was the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation. Zaranj is located close to Afghanistan’s border with Iran.
  • With Pakistan denying India overland access for trade with Afghanistan, the highway is of strategic importance to New Delhi, as it provides an alternative route into landlocked Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port.

Afghan Parliament

  • The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at $90 million.
  • It was opened in 2015; PM Modi inaugurated the building.
  • A block in the building is named after former PM AB Vajpayee.

Stor Palace

  • In 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and PM Modi inaugurated the restored Stor Palace in Kabul, originally built in the late 19th century.
  • It is famous for the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement by which Afghanistan became an independent country.

Power Infra

  • Other Indian projects in Afghanistan include the rebuilding of power infrastructure such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province to the north of Kabul.
  • Indian contractors and workers also restored telecommunications infrastructure in many provinces.

Health Infra

  • India has reconstructed a children’s hospital it had helped build in Kabul in 1972 —named Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health in 1985 — that was in shambles after the war.
  • ‘Indian Medical Missions’ have held free consultation camps in several areas.
  • Thousands who lost their limbs after stepping on mines left over from the war have been fitted with the Jaipur Foot.
  • India has also built clinics in the border provinces of Badakhshan, Balkh, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nooristan, Paktia and Paktika.

Transportation

  • According to the MEA, India gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for urban transportation, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan Army.
  • It also gave three Air India aircraft to Ariana, the Afghan national carrier, when it was restarting operations.

Other Projects

  • India has contributed desks and benches for schools and built solar panels in remote villages, and Sulabh toilet blocks in Kabul.
  • New Delhi has also played a role in building capacity, with vocational training institutes, scholarships to Afghan students, mentoring programmes in the civil service, and training for doctors and others.

Various ongoing project

  • India had concluded with Afghanistan an agreement for the construction of the Shatoot Dam in Kabul district, which would provide safe drinking water to 2 million residents.
  • Last year, India pledged $1 million for another Aga Khan heritage project, the restoration of the Bala Hissar Fort south of Kabul, whose origins go back to the 6th century.
  • Bala Hissar went on to become a significant Mughal fort, parts of it were rebuilt by Jahangir, and it was used as a residence by Shah Jahan.

Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue 2021

  • Context:
    • The Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue (IPRD) 2021 is being held from 27th to 29th October 2021.
  • What is Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue(IPRD)?
    • Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue (IPRD) is the apex international annual conference of the Indian Navy. The dialogue was first conducted in 2018.
  • Aim:
    • To review both opportunities and challenges that arise within the Indo-Pacific.
    • The organiser of the dialogue: National Maritime Foundation is the navy’s knowledge partner and chief organiser of each edition of the dialogue.
  • The theme for 2021:
    • “Evolution in Maritime Strategy during the 21st Century: Imperatives, Challenges, and, Way Ahead”. 
  • About National Maritime Foundation(NMF):
    • NMF was established in 2005 as India’s first maritime think-tank for conducting independent and policy-relevant research on ‘matters maritime’. 
    • It is an autonomous think-tank. But its intellectual and organisational development is supported by the Ministry of Defence and the Indian Navy. It is located in New Delhi.

China Taiwan Tussle

Context:

  • Coinciding with the 72nd-anniversary celebrations, China flew over 100 fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone setting off an alarm around the world that it was prepping to take over the island by force.

What is the history of the China-Taiwan relation?

  • Taiwan earlier known as Formosa and formally as the Republic of China (ROC) is a self-ruled island that lies about 161 kilometres off the coast of mainland China. It is a democracy with a separate government and a military.
  • The Republic of China (ROC) was founded in 1912 in China.
  • At that time, Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule as a result of the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, by which the Qing ceded Taiwan to Japan.
  • The ROC government began exercising jurisdiction over Taiwan in 1945 after Japan surrendered at the end of World War II.
  • The ROC government relocated to Taiwan in 1949 while fighting a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party.
  • The ROC, the non-communist frontier against China was only China recognised at the UN until 1971.
  • In 1971, the UNGA recognised the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the only legitimate representative of China to the global body which led to the withdrawal of ROC from the U.N.
  • The PRC believed that Taiwan must be reunified with the mainland while the ROC has held out as an independent country.
  • The US backs Taiwan’s independence, maintains ties with Taipei, and sells weapons to it but officially subscribes to PRC’s “One China Policy”.
  • The “One-China policy” is a policy asserting that there is only one sovereign state under the name China, as opposed to the idea that there are two states, the PRC and the ROC.
  • As the British prepared to exit Hong Kong in 1999 the “One Country, Two Systems” solution was offered to Taiwan but it was rejected by the Taiwanese.
  • The One Country Two Systems policy was originally proposed by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. Currently, Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions have been placed under this system.
  • In 2004, China started drafting an anti-secession law aimed at Taiwan.
  • In 2009, Taiwan attended the World Health Assembly as an observer, marking its first participation in an activity of the U.N. since its withdrawal in 1971.

What is the current tension about?

  • The 2016 election of President Tsai marked the onset of a sharp pro-independence phase in Taiwan and the current tensions coincided with her re-election in 2020.
  • Last year, the Chinese conducted a military exercise in the Taiwan Strait, which separates Taiwan from mainland China.
  • In October 2020, President Xi Jinping asked the Chinese army to prepare for war triggering an alarm in Taiwan.
  • Taiwan reported repeated incursions of Chinese jets in its air defence zone.
  • On October 10, Xi spoke about the peaceful reunification of the motherland.

What is the challenge for the U.S.?

  • President Joe Biden has so far walked a thin line between pledging support for Taiwan and keeping the lid on tensions with Beijing.
  • Recently, the U.S. and China had agreed to abide by the “Taiwan Agreement”, under which it supports the “One China Policy”.
  • Taiwan agreement allows Washington to maintain a robust unofficial relationship with Taiwan.
  • The AUKUS pact among the US, UK, and Australia which has imparted a new dimension to the security dynamics of the Indo-Pacific was criticised by China.

What will be the implications for India?

  • India and Taiwan currently maintain “trade and cultural exchange” offices in each other’s capitals.
  • Talks with Taipei are ongoing to bring a $7.5-billion semiconductor or chip manufacturing plant to India.
  • India should review its One China Policy and develop more robust relations with Taiwan to send a message to Beijing

China's Slowdown

Context:

  • China’s third-quarter GDP growth slowed to 4.9% as industrial output rose way below expectations in September, according to data released by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics.

What are the reasons behind the economic slowdown in China?

  • Massive fuel crunch and worries of a systemic crisis in its real estate business precipitated by the Evergrande fiasco, and a souring of business sentiment amid the federal government’s crackdown on multiple Chinese sectors and marquee companies.

How China’s growth output is being affected?

Loss of Capital to sustain Growth:

  • According to a Reuters report, businesses were less keen to invest in new projects amid the federal government’s crackdown on multiple Chinese sectors.

Power Crisis:

  • The power shortage had a “certain impact” on normal production. Factories and units across the country had to curtail output due to a surge in coal prices.

Real estate sector Crisis:

  • The drop in fixed-asset investment is being primarily attributed to a perceptible slowdown in real estate investments. In August, real estate major Evergrande warned of default and subsequently missed payments to investors in its offshore US dollar-denominated debt.

Why the present situation may be of concern to India?

  • India could be impacted, given India’s deepening trade with China and its import dependence. For example,
    • Import dependence: India imports items such as smartphones and automobile components, telecom equipment, active pharmaceutical ingredients, and other chemicals mostly from China. India’s trade deficit with China increased to $46.55 billion in the first nine months of 2021, up from $29.9 billion in the year-ago period.
    • Increasing Bilateral trade: India’s total trade with China touched $90.38 billion during the January-September period and is likely to cross $100 billion by the end of the year. According to India’s Commerce Ministry data, China was India’s top trading partner in the April-July period.

China's New Border Law

Context:

  • On October 23, China passed a new land law for the “protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas” which will come into effect from January 1.
  • The law is not meant specifically for the border with India; however, the 3,488-km boundary remains disputed, and some experts feel it could create further hurdles in the resolution of the 17-month-long military standoff. 

The Chinese law

  • It states that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China is sacred and inviolable”, and asks the state to “take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines it”.
  • The state can take measures “to strengthen border defence, support economic and social development as well as opening-up in border areas, encourage and support people’s life and work there and promote coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas”.
  • In effect, this suggests a push to settle civilians in the border areas. 
  • However, the law also asks the state to follow the principles of “equality, mutual trust, and friendly consultation, handle land border related-affairs with neighbouring countries through negotiations to properly resolve disputes and longstanding border issues”

Implications on India

  • The announcement of a law that makes China’s borders “sacred and inviolable” at a time of prolonged ongoing discussions to resolve the standoff in eastern Ladakh, may create further hurdles in arriving at a lasting solution.
  • The PLA is now “bound to protect the integrity, the sovereignty of the border”, and saying “that PLA is going to pull out from A, B, C, D areas, will make this much more difficult”.
  • Overall, it will make negotiations a little more difficult, a pullout from balance areas less likely.
  • China has been building “well-off” border defence villages across the LAC in all sectors. China is trying to change the facts on the ground not only through military but also civilian presence. The “dual civil and military use” of border villages is a concern for India.
  • Some experts think the law is just words — what has impacted the ties is not domestic Chinese legislation, but their actions on the ground.

Rail link between Nepal and India

Context:

  • Popular since the early 20th century, the rail link between Nepal and India is ready to resume on the neighbouring country's first-ever broad gauge passenger service.

About

 

  • The first stretch is ready: a 34-km line between Bihar’s Jayanagar and Nepal’s Kurtha, with the Hindu pilgrimage city of Janakpur Dham in between.
  • The second stretch of 17 km from Kurtha to Bijalpura is also getting the finishing touches.
  • The Konkan Railway Corporation Limited has got the contract for operations and maintenance of the line
  • In 1937, the British had built a narrow-gauge line to ferry cargo, mainly logs, from Nepal to India. However, over time it became a popular passenger service before it was stopped in 2014 for conversion to broad gauge.
  • The construction cost of Rs 784 crore for the entire stretch is being borne by India in the form of a grant to Nepal.
    • Petroleum pipeline
    • From Motihari (Bihar) in India to Amlekhgunj in Nepal
    • This is South Asia’s first cross-border petroleum products pipeline
    • Inland Waterways
  • It will link Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) with Sagar (Indian Ocean).

Organizations And Conventions:

Geneva Conventions and the Russia Ukraine War 

Why in News?

  • As the Russian military continues to sweep through the country marching on to the capital, Kyiv, there is growing concern surrounding the issue of human rights violations.
  • Geneva Convention is a set of principles outlining norms for combatant behaviour during a war, for standards to which the invading Russian forces can be held.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any responsibility for harm to civilians.

Key Highlights:

  • However, as the evidence of casualties in the civilian population continues to mount, the world will increasingly look to the Geneva Conventions.
  • Ultimately, if there is a compelling case for prosecuting combatants for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and the crime of aggression, evidence could be collected for an investigation and trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Geneva Conventions Guidelines for Wartime:

  • These are a set of four treaties, formalized in 1949, and three additional protocols, which codify widely accepted ethical and legal international standards for humanitarian treatment of those impacted by war.

The focus of the Conventions is the:

  • Treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war, and
  • Not the use of conventional or biological and chemical weapons

What are the four Geneva Conventions?

First Geneva Convention: Health and Medical Issues:

  • It protects wounded and sick soldiers on land during the war.
  • This convention extends to medical and religious personnel, medical units, and medical transport.
  • It has two annexes containing a draft agreement relating to hospital zones and a model identity card for medical and religious personnel.

Second Geneva Convention:  Offshore Protection:

  • It protects wounded, sick and shipwrecked military personnel at sea during the war.
  • This convention also extends to hospital ships and medical transports by sea, with specific commentary on the treatment and protection of their personnel.

Third Geneva Convention: Treatment of Prisoners of War (PoW):

  • It applies to prisoners of war, including a wide range of general protections such as humane treatment, maintenance and equality across prisoners, conditions of captivity, questioning and evacuation of prisoners, transit camps, food, clothing, medicines, hygiene and right to religious, intellectual, and physical activities of prisoners.

Fourth Geneva Convention: Civilian protection of occupied territory :

  • It particularly applies to the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces.
  • It protects civilians, including those in occupied territory.
  • Comprising 159 articles, it outlines the norms for this critical dimension of conflict.

The extent of the Fourth Geneva Convention amid the Ukraine-Russia War:

  • Along with the Additional Protocols of 1977, the Fourth Convention expounds upon the:
  • General protection of populations against certain consequences of war
  • Conduct of hostilities and the status and
  • Treatment of protected persons
  • Distinguishing between the situation of foreigners on the territory of one of the parties to the conflict and that of civilians in occupied territory
  • This convention also spells out the obligations of the occupying power vis-à-vis the civilian population and outlines detailed provisions for humanitarian relief for populations in occupied territory.

Russia and these conventions:

  • In 2019, perhaps anticipating the possibility of its invading Ukraine in the near future, Russia withdrew its declaration under Article 90 of Protocol 1.
  • By withdrawing this declaration, Russia has pre-emptively left itself with the option to refuse access by any international fact-finding missions to Russian entities.
  • Not withdrawing could have found Russia responsible for violations of the Geneva Conventions standards.
  • Further, the four conventions and first two protocols of the Geneva Conventions were ratified by the Soviet Union, not Russia.
  • Hence there is a risk of the Russian government of the day disavowing any responsibility under the Conventions.

What would be the steps for potential prosecution under the Conventions?

  • Under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, it is the ICC that has jurisdiction in respect of war crimes, in particular, “when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.”

To what extent have Geneva Conventions been upheld worldwide in recent years?

  • Amnesty International notes that there has been a blatant disregard for civilian protection and international humanitarian law in armed conflicts where four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are parties.

Specifically, Amnesty cited:

  1. US-led coalition’s bombing of Raqqa in Syria, left more than 1,600 civilians dead
  2. Destruction of civilian infrastructure and lives in Aleppo and Idlib by Russian forces
  3. Leading to the mass displacement of millions
  4. War in Yemen where Saudi Arabia and the UAE-led coalition, backed by the West, killed and injured thousands of civilians, fuelling a full-blown humanitarian crisis

I-Familia

Context: Interpol has launched a new global database named “I-Familia”.

About the I-Familia:

  • It uses cutting-edge scientific research and the DNA of families to identify missing people and unidentified human remains all across the world, as well as assist authorities in member countries in solving cold cases.
  • I-Familia is made up of three parts:
    • Bonaparte is a DNA matching software developed by the Dutch business Smart Research.
    • A global database dedicated to the storage of DNA profiles submitted by relatives that are kept apart from any criminal data.
    • Interpol developed interpretation guidelines.

What is Interpol? 

  • Interpol is the abbreviated name for the International Criminal Police Organization, a network of 192 countries that includes India.
  • The agency was founded in 1923 and is headquartered in Lyon, France.
  • “Our role is to enable police around the world to work together to make the world a safer place,” it adds. Our high-tech technical and operational support infrastructure helps us address the mounting problems of fighting crime in the twenty-first century.”
  • There are different Interpol notices:
    • Red Notice: A Red Notice is a request to locate and provisionally arrest individual pending extradition.
    • Yellow Notice: A Yellow Notice is issued to help locate missing persons, often minors, or to help identify persons who are unable to identify themselves. 
    • Blue Notice: A Blue Notice is issued to collect additional information about a person’s identity, location, or activities in relation to a crime.
    • Black Notice: A Black Notice is a request to seek information on unidentified bodies in member nations.
    • Green Notice: A Green Notice is issued to provide warnings and intelligence about persons who have committed criminal offenses and are likely to repeat these crimes in other countries. 
    • Orange Notice: An Orange Notice is issued to provide warnings about warn of an event, a person, an object, or a process representing a serious and imminent threat to public safety. 
    • Purple Notice: A Purple Notice is a request to seek or provide information on the modus operandi, objects, devices, and concealment methods used by criminals.

Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB)

Context: Bhutan’s Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB) program was launched in partnership with India.

More about the News:

  • This program is expected to be of about 24 months' duration through which India in collaboration with the UNDP and the TIWB Secretariat aims to aid Bhutan in strengthening its tax administration.
  • The focus of the program will be in the area of International Taxation and Transfer Pricing.
  • It is another milestone in the continued cooperation between India and Bhutan and India’s active support for South-South cooperation.
  • India has already been supporting Eswatini under TIWB.

About TIWB:

  • TIWB is a joint initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), intended to support developing countries to strengthen national tax administrations through building audit capacity.
  • The program launched in 2015 aims to strengthen tax administrations of developing countries by transferring technical know-how and skills to their tax auditors and through the sharing of general audit practices and dissemination of knowledge products with them. 
  • The TIWB Program complements the efforts of the international community to strengthen cooperation on tax matters and contribute to the domestic tax mobilization efforts of developing countries.
  • TIWB does not cover assistance relating to customs matters nor is concerned with providing policy support or other aspects of international tax treaties etc.

AUKUS Alliance

  • Context:
    • Recently, the U.S., U.K. and Australia announced a new trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific region named ‘AUKUS ‘.
  • About AUKUS Alliance:
    • Under it, the U.S., U.K will help Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the Pacific region.
  • Focus:
    • The focus of AUKUS will be on integrating all defence and security related science, supply chains, industrial bases and technology.
  • Significance of the AUKUS Security Alliance
    • Nuclear-powered submarines:
    • Under the AUKUS alliance, the US and UK are willing to export nuclear technology to a non-nuclear powered nation. Nuclear-powered submarines are able to move faster underwater than conventional submarines.
    • Compliment the efforts of QUAD-in Indo-Pacific:
    • According to Arzan Tarapore, a South Asia security expert, “If the new partnership lives up to its promise, it could be a “game-changer” for the region”. He also mentions, “Alongside India’s stated intent to acquire more nuclear-powered submarines, the AUKUS will amount to a step-change increase in the Quad’s undersea and anti-submarine warfare capabilities“.
    • Countering China in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the South China Sea:
    • The nuclear-powered submarines will give Australia naval heft in the Pacific, where China has been particularly aggressive.
  • Implications: 
    • It will help Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) in cooperation with the UK & the US. 
    • It will enhance  Australia’s contribution to its other partnerships, including the QUAD.
    • The deal is seen as a step towards curtailing China, which has made significant aggressive manoeuvres in the Pacific region, especially in and around the South China Sea, where it has expansive territorial claims.
    • QUAD is meaningless w/o the necessary capability upgrade of its members, so it provides Naval strength to them.
    • India needs a broader coalition of countries in the Indo-Pacific region to deal with China.
    • Any measure that boosts the capability of India's partners is a welcome move.

ADB 

Context:

  • India and the ADB have signed a $500 million loan to expand the metro rail network in Bengaluru.

About ADB:

  • ADB (founded in 1966) is an international development finance institution whose mission is to help its developing member countries reduce poverty and improve the quality of life.
  • Headquartered in Manila, ADB is owned and financed by its 67 members, of which 48 are from the Asia Pacific region and 19 are from other parts of the globe.
  • The two largest shareholders are Japan(15.677%) & United States(15.567%). India is a founding member with a share (5.812%).
  • ADB is an official United Nations Observer.
  • Voting rights in ADB are distributed in proportion with members’ capital subscriptions

G-20

Context:

  • The first-ever G20 ministerial conference on Women’s Empowerment was held in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy in a hybrid format. The current chair is held by Italy.

India’s Stand

  • India was represented by the Union Minister of Women & Child Development.
  • India joined the Gender Equality Ministers of the G20 in committing to promote gender equality and empowerment of women through cooperation and coordination at all relevant fora.

About G-20

  • It is a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 individual countries and the European Union. It was established in 1999.
  • It was elevated to a forum of Heads of State/Government in 2008 to effectively respond to the global financial crisis of 2008.
  • It is a forum, not a legislative body. Its agreements and decisions have no legal impact, but they do influence countries' policies and global cooperation.
  • Members – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and the European Union.

BRICS

Context:

  • Recently, India chaired the BRICS working group on agriculture. It was a virtual meeting of Ministers of agriculture of
  • BRICS nations. It was the 11th meeting of this group. The first meeting was held in March 2010 in Russia.

Key Highlights:

  • Theme – BRICS Partnership for Strengthening Agro Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Security
  • Action plans for 2021-24 for agricultural cooperation of BRICS countries and the BRICS Agriculture Research Platform were also discussed. Once endorsed by the BRICS working group, the Action Plan of 2021-24 will be adopted in BRICS annual meeting.

Few Facts:

  • BRICS countries produce more than a third of the global agricultural output.
  • As per the UN, BRICS countries are capable of taking a leading role in helping to achieve the objectives of the 5 elected by the General Assembly from all regions 5 appointed by the Human Rights Council in consultations with regional groups as well as organizations of people of African descent 10 members  2030 SDGs to eradicate hunger and poverty.
  • BRICS Agriculture Research Platform has been developed by India. It promotes cooperation in the areas of agricultural research, extension, technology transfer, training and capacity building.
  • BRICS nations have signed an agreement for cooperation in remote sensing satellite data sharing.
  • It was signed under India's Chairmanship. This deal will enable the building a virtual constellation of specified remote sensing satellites of BRICS space agencies.
  • It will increase multilateral cooperation in meeting the challenges such as global climate change, major disasters and environmental protection. It would also promote cooperation in space data for development and achieving social objectives outlined in SDGs.

7th Meeting Of BRICS Environment Ministerial 2021

  • India Chaired 7th Meeting Of BRICS Environment Ministerial 2021.

Key Highlights:

  • The conclave adopted the ‘New Delhi Statement on Environment’. This statement is aimed at furthering the spirit of Cooperation for Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus in Environment among the BRICS Nations.
  • During the meeting, BRICS nations expressed concern regarding the proposals for introducing trade barriers, such as unilateral carbon border adjustment.
  • Note: EU has incorporated Carbon Border Adjustment mechanism under its “Fit For 55” initiative
  • The participating countries have agreed to focus on cooperation on waste management.
  • India has launched an initiative of BRICS Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy Dialogue. The aim of this dialogue is to facilitate an exchange of knowledge and best practices on waste management, resource efficiency and circular economy.

India’s Stand:

  • Acknowledged that IPCC Climate Change 2021 Report may be the last signal for taking concrete collective global actions.
  • Actions should be guided by equity, national priorities and circumstances, and the principles of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC).
  • 31st Special Session of UN Human Rights Council on the Situation in Afghanistan
  • A special session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was held on the situation in Afghanistan.
  • It was convened on the basis of a request submitted by Pakistan, the coordinator of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Afghanistan.

About UNHRC:

  • The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body (having 47 States) within the United Nations system. It was created in 2006 by UNGA.
  • Members of the Council serve for a period of three years. They are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
  • Procedure for Calling Special Session.
  • The UNHRC can call for special sessions only if a request receives the support of 1/3rd members.
  • The request for organising a special session on Afghanistan received support from 89 states (including members and observers).

International Fund for Agricultural Development

Context:

  • India and the United States of America (USA) has launched the “Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue (CAFMD)”.
  • The CAFMD is one of the two tracks of the India-U.S. Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 partnership launched at the Leaders' Summit on Climate in April 2021, by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and US President Mr Joseph Biden.

About:

  • India and the USA will engage for a constructive engagement under the “India-US Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership”.
  • These platforms provide greater opportunities for working together for climate actions and emphasize that India stands committed to working with the US on Clean Energy.
  • The dialogue will not only strengthen India-US bilateral cooperation on climate and environment but will also help to demonstrate how the world can align swift climate action with inclusive and resilient economic development, taking into account national circumstances and sustainable development priorities.
  • Lauded India’s leadership role in demonstrating how economic development and clean energy can go hand in hand and stated that urgent Global Climate Action is the need of the hour.
  • The launch was preceded by a bilateral meet where both sides discussed at length a wide range of climate issues relating to COP26, Climate Ambition, Climate Finance, Global Climate Initiatives including International Solar Alliance (ISA), Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C).

International Fund for Agricultural Development:

Objectives:

  • To increase the productive capacity of poor people.
  • To increase benefits for them from market participation.
  • To strengthen the environmental sustainability & climate resilience of their economic activities.

Flagship publications:

  • Rural Development Report
  • IFAD at a glance
  • Investing in rural people in India
  • Addressing Hunger and Poverty: 30 years of IFAD’s Development Partnership in India
  • Images of Tribal Development in India

Eastern Economic Forum

Context:

  • The Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas will lead a delegation to Russia to participate in the 6th Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) Summit in Vladivostok.

About:

  • EEF was established by the decree of the President of the Russian Federation in the year 2015.
  • Its aim is to support the economic development of Russia’s Far East and to expand international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • It takes place each year in Vladivostok, a city in Russia.
  • It serves as a platform for the discussion of key issues in the world economy, regional integration, and the development of new industrial and technological sectors, as well as of the global challenges facing Russia and other nations.
  • Asia-Pacific region, and with ASEAN, a key integration organization of dynamically developing nations in Southeast Asia.
  • This forum is sponsored by the organizing committee appointed by Roscongress.

The International Solar Alliance (ISA)

Context:

  • The fourth general assembly of The International Solar Alliance (ISA), is being held virtually.
  • It is presided over by the Minister for Power, New and Renewable Energy, the Government of India and the President of the ISA Assembly.

Highlights:

  • The Fourth Assembly of the ISA will deliberate on the key initiatives around the operationalisation of the OSOWOG initiative, the $1 trillion Solar Investment Roadmap for 2030, and approval of a Blended Financial Risk.

Mitigation Facility.

  • World leaders of ISA member countries will also discuss the strategic plan of the ISA for the next five years.
  • The ISA will also discuss the partnership with Global Energy Alliance (GEA) to scale up technical and financial support to LDCs and SIDS.

About the ISA Assembly:

  • International Solar Alliance was launched in 2015.
  • The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is an alliance of more than 122 countries initiated by India.
  • ISA is a coalition of solar resource-rich countries lying fully or partially between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn to specifically address energy needs by harnessing solar energy.
  • The Paris Declaration establishes ISA as an alliance dedicated to the promotion of solar energy among its member countries.
  • ISA brings together countries with rich solar potential to aggregate global demand, thereby reducing prices through bulk purchase.
  • It facilitates the deployment of existing solar technologies at scale and promotes collaborative solar R&D and capacity building.

India, US, UAE, and Israel Form A New QUAD

Context:

  • The first virtual meeting of the foreign ministers of India, Israel, the US and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took place. The meeting is described in some quarters as a “new Quad”.

About:

  • The new grouping is described as an international forum for economic cooperation.

Objective: 

  • To generate synergies that go beyond government-level cooperation.
  • Possible areas of cooperation – The first quadrilateral meeting between India, Israel, the UAE and the US decided to ensure:
    • closer cooperation on increasing trade,
    • enhancing cooperation in maritime security and global public health,
    • joint infrastructure projects in transportation and technology.
  • The group also discussed the possibility of working on joint infrastructure projects. It will help these countries to work together on infrastructure, transport, maritime security.

Benefits for India:

  • India has always supported peace and stability in West Asia which is considered as India’s extended neighbourhood.
  • The new “Quad” will give India the flexibility to engage more freely with Israel and India’s partners in the Gulf region.
  • This platform strengthens India’s strategic desire to adopt a regional foreign policy strategy towards West Asia, transcending its bilateralism.

Quiet Diplomacy

  • Context:
    • Speaking at the UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine, India called for quiet diplomacy and the peaceful resolution of the Russia-Ukraine tensions.
  • About:
    • Quiet diplomacy is also known as the “softly softly” approach.
    • It is the attempt to influence the behaviour of another state through secret negotiations or by refraining from taking a specific action.
    • This method is often employed by states that lack alternative means to influence the target government, or that seek to avoid certain outcomes.

Major non-NATO ally (MNNA)

  • Context:
    • Recently, the US has designated Qatar a MNNA.
  • About 
    • It is a designation given by the United States government to close allies that have strategic working relationships with the US Armed Forces but are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
    • Nations with MNNA designation are eligible to, among other things, host U.S. war reserve stockpiles of material inside their countries.
    • While MNNA status provides military and economic privileges, it does not entail any commitments to the designated country.
    • India is not a MNNA of the US.

World Food Programme

  • Context:
    • India signed an agreement with the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) for the distribution of 50,000 MT of wheat that it has committed to sending Afghanistan as part of humanitarian assistance.
  • About
    • According to the MoU, the wheat will be taken through Pakistan to the Afghan border crossing and handed over to WFP officials in Kandahar beginning February 22.
    • The wheat will eventually be divided into five batches of 10,000 MT, to be distributed across the country on approximately 200 trucks that are run by WFP.
  • About UN WFP 
    • The World Food Programme (WFP) is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security
    • Born in 1961, the WFP strives to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, with the ultimate goal in mind of eliminating the need for food aid itself.
    • It is a member of the United Nations Development Group and part of its Executive Committee.
    • WFP food aid is also directed to fight micronutrient deficiencies, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, and combat diseases, including HIV and AIDS.

Munich Security Conference

  • Context:
    • The Munich Security Conference is being held in Germany. India is taking part in it.
  • About
    • The Munich Security Conference is an annual conference on international security policy that has been held in Munich, Bavaria, Germany since 1963.
    • The conference is held annually in February.
    • Over the past four decades, the Munich Security Conference has become the most important independent forum for the exchange of views by international security policy decision-makers.
    • Each year it brings together about 350 senior figures from more than 70 countries around the world to engage in an intensive debate on current and future security challenges.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

Context:

  • The chief of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority has accused the U.S. of sabotaging the multi-billion dollar project, the economic lifeline of Pakistan.

Background:

  • Pakistan is the seventh-largest recipient of Chinese overseas development financing with 71 projects worth $27.3 billion underway as part of the CPEC. 
  • Launched in 2015, the CPEC is the flagship project of the multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, aimed at enhancing Beijing’s influence around the world.

China-funded infrastructure projects:

  • The 3,000 km-long China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) consists of highways, railways, and pipelines.
  • China’s North Western region Xinjiang through a vast network of highways and railways.
  • The proposed project will be financed by heavily-subsidised loans, that will be disbursed to the Government of Pakistan by Chinese banks.

But, why is India concerned?

  • It passes through PoK.
  • CPEC rests on a Chinese plan to secure and shorten its supply lines through Gwadar with an enhanced presence in the Indian Ocean. Hence, it is widely believed that upon CPEC’s fruition, an extensive Chinese presence will undermine India’s influence in the Indian Ocean.
  • It is also being contended that if CPEC were to successfully transform the Pakistan economy that could be a “red rag” for India which will remain at the receiving end of a wealthier and stronger Pakistan.
  • Besides, India shares a great deal of trust deficit with China and Pakistan and has a history of conflict with both. As a result, even though suggestions to re-approach the project pragmatically have been made, no advocate has overruled the principal strands of contention that continue to mar India’s equations with China and Pakistan.

16th East Asia Summit

  • Context:
    • Prime Minister recently participated in the “16th East Asia Summit” via video conference, hosted by “Brunei” as EAS and ASEAN Chair. India has been an active participant in EAS.
    • It saw the participation of leaders from ASEAN countries and other EAS Participating Countries including Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, the USA(first time since 2017) and India.
  • What are the key takeaways from the summit?
    • The EAS leaders adopted three Statements on Mental Health, Economic recovery through Tourism and Sustainable Recovery, which have been co-sponsored by India.
    • Discussion on important regional and international issues including Indo-Pacific, South China Sea, UNCLOS, terrorism, and situation in Korean Peninsula and Myanmar was seen.
  • What is the view shared by India at the summit?
    • Reaffirmed the importance of EAS to discuss important strategic issues. 
    • Reiterated its support of $1 million to the “ASEAN Covid Recovery Fund” and raised the idea of developing global standards on cyber security.
    • Commitment to delivering Quad-sponsored vaccines to Indo-Pacific nations.
    • Stressed on “Atmanirbhar Bharat” Campaign for post-pandemic recovery and in ensuring resilient global value chains.
    • “ASEAN centrality” reaffirmed in the Indo-Pacific and the synergies between ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) highlighted.
    • Source: This post is based on the articles“PM calls for free & open Indo-Pacific” published in “Times of India” on 28th October 2021 and “Prime Minister participates in 16th East Asia Summit on October 27, 2021″ published in “PIB” on 27th October 2021.

G20 Summit

  • Context: 
    • Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday described the just-concluded G20 Summit in Rome as “fruitful” and said world leaders had elaborate deliberations on issues of global importance such as fighting the pandemic, improving health infrastructure, boosting economic cooperation and furthering innovation.

G20

  • An informal group of 19 countries and the European Union, with representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
  • The members of the G20 are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.
  • It does not have a permanent secretariat or Headquarters.
  • It comprises a mix of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, representing about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85% of global gross domestic product, 80% of global investment and over 75% of global trade.
  • The G20 Presidency rotates annually according to a system that ensures a regional balance over time.

G20 Summit in Rome, Italy

  • Highlights of the declaration:
    • Restricting Aid to Coal Based Plants:
      • Pledge to halt financing of overseas coal-fired power generation by the end of this year (2021).
    • Leaders committed to the key Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
    • An agreement that will subject multinationals to a minimum 15 percent tax, as part of an effort to build “a more stable and fairer international tax system”.
    • PPP Finance Mobilization Model:
      • Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) are the only method to mobilise the billions of dollars in annual investment required to transition to clean, sustainable energy sources and reduce global warming.
    • It asked leaders of the world's largest economies to present their action plans to address the global climate change challenge at COP 26.
  • Indian declaration:
    • One Earth, One Health:
      • International collaboration in the fight against the pandemic.
    • Global Minimum Tax:
      • India applauded the G-20's decision to enact a 15% minimum corporation tax in order to make the global financial system “more just and fair.”
    • Resilient Global Supply Chains:
      • India highlighted the need for resilient global supply chains and invited G-20 countries to make India their partner in economic recovery and supply chain diversification.
    • Indo-Pacific Strategy:
      • India welcomed the European Union’s Indo-Pacific strategy and French leadership in it.
    • Addressing Vaccine Inequality: 
      • India is ready to produce over 5 billion vaccine doses by the end of next year (2022).

International Court of Justice

  • Context:
    • Pakistan's Parliament passed the International Court of Justice (Review and Reconsideration) Bill, 2021, granting the right of appeal to Kulbhushan Jadhav.
  • When was he arrested?
    • Kulbhushan Jadhav was arrested in March 2016 and charged with espionage and sabotage against Pakistan's security installations.
  • What had India argued at the ICJ?
    • India had argued at the ICJ in May 2017 that Jadhav had been denied his rights under the Vienna Convention and Pakistan had failed to inform” New Delhi about his arrest. The law passed on November 17 at a joint session of the two Houses of Pakistan's parliament is being presented by the Imran Khan government as proof of Islamabad complying with the ICJ ruling.
  • What did the ICJ rule?
    • In April 2017, a year after his arrest, Jadhav was sentenced to death by a military court in Pakistan for alleged acts of sabotage. India moved the ICJ and pointed out that Pakistan had failed to provide consular access to Jadhav.
    • In its observations of May 18, 2017, the ICJ asked Pakistan to take “all measures at its disposal to ensure that Jadhav is not executed pending its final decision. It observed that Pakistan had violated Article 36 of the Vienna Convention by not allowing India consular access to Jadhav and by denying his right to a proper legal representation.
  • Will this law help Jadhav access his legal counsel?
    • The law will end up as mere paperwork if Pakistan fails to provide verifiable legal access to Jadhav. India has already expressed its misgivings. The Ministry of External Affairs said the law is a repeat of the International Court of Justice (Review and Reconsideration) Ordinance, 2020, that Delhi had rejected as inadequate for meeting the goals stated in the ICJ's observations of July 2019. India said the ordinance did not “create the machinery of an effective review and reconsideration” as mandated by the ICJ.

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961

  • adopted on 14 April 1961 by the United Nations Conference on Diplomatic Intercourse and Immunities.
  • It sets out the special rules – privileges and immunities – which enable diplomatic missions to act without fear of coercion or harassment through enforcement of local laws and to communicate securely with their sending Governments.
  • India has ratified the convention.

 

International Court of Justice

  • It was established in 1945 by the United Nations charter and started working in April 1946.
  • principal judicial organ of the United Nations, situated at the Peace Palace in The Hague (Netherlands).
  • It settles legal disputes between States and gives advisory opinions in accordance with international law, on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.
  • Unlike the six principal organs of the United Nations, it is the only one not located in New York (USA). It has 193 state parties.
  • The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of office of nine years by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.
  • In order to be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of the votes in both bodies.
  • Its official languages are English and French.
  • The 15 judges of the Court are distributed in the following regions:
  • Two from Latin America and the Caribbean:
    • Three from Africa.
    • Three from Asia.
    • Five from Western Europe and other states.
    • Two from Eastern Europe.
  • Indian Judges at the ICJ:
    • Judge Dalveer Bhandari: Member of the Court since 27 April 2012
    • Raghunandan Swarup Pathak: 1989-1991
    • Nagendra Singh: 1973-1988
    • Sir Benegal Rau: 1952-1953

 

OPEC+

Context:

  • Recently, the latest round of meetings among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries Plus (OPEC+) group of oil-exporting countries has stalled.

Background

  • In April 2020, the OPEC+ group of countries entered into a two-year agreement, which entailed steep cuts in crude production to deal with a sharp fall in the price of oil as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The price of Brent crude hit an 18-year low of under USD 20 per barrel in April 2020 as economic activity around the world crashed as countries dealt with the pandemic.
  • The initial production cut by OPEC+ was about 10 million barrels per day or about 22 per cent of the reference production of OPEC+ nations.
  • However, in November 2020, the price of Brent crude started climbing consistently and has, now, risen to USD 76.5 per barrel, up from about USD 40 per barrel at the end of October, after the steady rollout of vaccination programmes around the world. 
  • Still, OPEC+ maintained lower levels of production despite crude oil prices reaching pre-Covid levels, with Saudi Arabia, notably, announcing a further cut in production of 1 million barrels per day for the February-to-April period, which helped boost rising prices even further.

Major Issue

  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has pushed back proposals making an increase in crude oil supply conditional on an extension to an output agreement.
  • Another round of discussions between OPEC+ countries have been also called off because key players failed to make any progress in resolving key issues.
  • The UAE initially agreed that there was a need to increase crude oil production from August, but did not agree to a condition by the OPEC Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) that the two-year production agreement be extended by six months.
  • For it, the only option of extension to the current agreement did not make any sense with respect to increasing the production.
  • The UAE’s key objection to the existing agreement is the reference output used to calculate the total production apportioned to each oil-exporting country.
  • It noted that the baseline production level reference used in the current agreement was not reflective of the UAE’s production capacity and, therefore, led to the UAE being apportioned a lower share of the total production of crude oil.
  • It held the baseline reference production levels as unfair and it would only agree if the baseline production levels were reviewed to be fair to all parties.

Impact on India

  • If OPEC+ and the UAE are not able to reach an agreement for increasing the production, expected relief in the form of lower crude oil prices could be delayed. 
  • India is the world's third-biggest oil importer and consumers stated that the delay in the decision can threaten the consumption-led recovery in some countries.
  • India imports about 84% of its overall crude needs with over 60 per cent of that coming from Middle Eastern countries, which are typically cheaper than those from the West.
  • Rising oil prices are posing fiscal challenges for India, where heavily-taxed retail fuel prices have touched record highs in some parts of the country, threatening the demand-driven recovery.
  • India is currently facing record-high prices of petrol and diesel, with pump prices of the former exceeding Rs. 100 per litre in 13 states and Union Territories(UTs).
  • High crude prices have led to Indian oil marketing companies hiking the price of petrol by about 19.3 per cent and that of diesel by about 21 per cent since the beginning of 2021.

Steps Taken by India

  • India has asked state refiners to speed up the diversification of oil imports to gradually cut their dependence on the Middle East after the OPEC+ decision.
  • India, hit hard by the soaring oil prices, has urged producers to ease output cuts and help the global economic recovery. 
  • One plan is to import oil from a new producer, Guyana.
  • The country’s top refiner Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has also renewed its oil import contract with Russia.
  • India is also hoping to resume Iranian oil imports.

OPEC and OPEC +

  • The non-OPEC countries which export crude oil are termed as OPEC plus countries.
  • OPEC plus countries include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan and Sudan
  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a permanent, intergovernmental organization, created at the Baghdad Conference in 1960, by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.
  • It aims to manage the supply of oil in an effort to set the price of oil in the world market, in order to avoid fluctuations that might affect the economies of both producing and purchasing countries.
  • It is headquartered in Vienna, Austria.
  • OPEC membership is open to any country that is a substantial exporter of oil and which shares the ideals of the organization.
  • Gabon terminated its membership in January 1995. However, it rejoined the Organization in July 2016.
  • OPEC has a total of 14 Member Countries viz. Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates(UAE), Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Angola, Ecuador and Venezuela are members of OPEC.



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