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Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] Headwinds after a hard-line approachop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : China's internal conditions


Context

The challenges for the Communist Party of China and Chinese President Xi Jinping are mounting by the day. 

Over Hong Kong

  • In a rebuke to the handling of the Hong Kong crisis, pro-democracy forces made massive gains in local elections.
  • 17 of the 18 district councils are now controlled by pro-democracy councilors. 
  • The election saw an unprecedented voter turnout of more than 71%.

Managing Hong Kong

  • Protests began early in 2019 over the introduction of a bill authorizing extraditions to mainland China.
  • It is not clear if the voices of the Hong Kong street protests would be heard in Beijing

Problems for China

  • Mr. Xi held the Hong Kong portfolio on the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee before he became China’s de facto emperor. 
  • He has centralized power to an unprecedented level. There is no one else to share any blame for the policies enunciated by Mr. Xi. 
  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has reiterated that “no matter what happens, Hong Kong is a part of China”.

Uighur issue

  • A massive trove of classified Chinese government documents was leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
  • It showcases a much more granular narrative of how China is carrying out the mass detention of Muslim Uighurs and other minorities in its northwest Xinjiang province. 
  • These documents belie repeated Chinese claims that it is sending the estimated million or more people to vocational training schools with the goal of combating terrorism. 
  • Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide had been instrumental in facilitating the mass detention. 

Costs of the backlash

  • There are no good options for him in Hong Kong. If he continues his hard-line approach, he will make the ground situation worse in Hong Kong.
  • Making concessions also is not a very viable option for him as it is not readily evident how far the demands might go. 
  • Though the extradition bill has been withdrawn, the demands of protesters in Hong Kong have grown to include genuine universal suffrage and an inquiry into allegations of police brutality. 

Effect on party dynamics

  • The delicate balance that the Communist Party has managed to evolve in the politics of China can be frayed if ordinary Chinese lose trust.
  • There is also a chance of rivalries within the Communist Party flaring up as Mr. Xi’s policies take a hit. 
  • He has made a lot of enemies in his drive to emerge as the supreme leader and he has been ruthless with his opponents.
  • The Chinese economy is not doing well. There is growing internal criticism of Mr. Xi’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative and the costs China is having to bear for a grandiose project. 
  • China’s aggressive influence operations in other countries are also generating strong backlash. 
  • The Australian media has reported on an alleged Chinese plot to plant a spy in the Australian Parliament which has been termed as “deeply disturbing”.
  • Reports that a Chinese spy has applied for asylum in Australia after providing information about Chinese operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia has damaged an already battered Chinese global image.

Conclusion

Beijing might want to divert attention from its own internal failures by lashing out at the world.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[oped of the day] One state push for Israel and Palestine?op-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Two state solution

Mains level : Two state solution and the future of Israeli peace


Context

The U.S. State Department’s recognition of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank is another indication that the two-state solution is dead. 

Israel – Palestine

    • There are 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. They will soon be one-third of the overall population. 
    • When the Zionist settlers in the 1930s became one-third of the population, Palestine was doomed.
    • Then, the Zionist leadership began to contemplate the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
    • The West Bank is under a similar danger. Vast areas have already been ethnically cleansed. The rest can turn inhabitable, as it did in the Gaza Strip. 

Imaginary homeland

    • The “Green Line” — the 1949 armistice line that separates Israel from the West Bank — is a figment of the imagination of those who support the two-state solution. 
    • It was replaced by a greater Israel, ruled by the Israeli nationality law passed in 2018. 
    • It states that only the Jews have the right of self-determination all over historical Palestine.
    • It sanctions the continued colonization of the country and upholds its apartheid system.

Requires new approach

    • This requires a different approach by anyone caring for the future of the Palestinians and respects their basic rights. 
    • The existing regime allows half of the population living between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean to have all the privileges.
    • It is robbing the other half of its living space, lands, rights, dignity, and life. 

Decolonization

    • It cannot be solved by a “peace process” but only by decolonization.
    • It should reformulate the relationship between the third generation of Jewish settlers and the indigenous population of Palestine on the basis of equality.
    • Decolonization is associated with processes that took place in the first half of the last century.
    • The process of decolonization, apart from Algeria and South Africa, has not affected settler-colonial projects which ended in the creation of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

Ongoing ‘catastrophe’

    • In some cases, the settler community acted upon “the logic of the elimination of the native”. 
    • This led to the genocide of native Americans and aboriginals. 
    • Even there the struggle continues for recognition, restitution, and equality. 
    • In Palestine, it was translated into an incremental process of ethnic cleansing. Palestinians call it “the ongoing Nakba”.
    • The Zionist movement succeeded in expelling half the Palestinian population in 1948.
    • Since 1967, it led to the departure of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from all over historical Palestine.
    • Today, the Israeli government continues to dispossess land and take away resources from Palestinians. This is creating conditions that become unsustainable for many Palestinians.

Early resistance

    • In the 1960s and 1970s, the Palestinians resisted this policy of colonization and dispossession with an armed struggle. 
    • In many ways, the Hamas in Gaza still seems to believe that this can be an effective tool in the struggle. 
    • Quite a few Palestinians seem to prefer a different kind of popular resistance given the imbalance of power.

Changing resistance

    • The “march of return” — the weekly peaceful demonstrations by thousands of Palestinians on the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel is an example of a different kind of popular resistance.
    • It demands not only the end of the siege on Gaza and its two million people but also the right of return of refugees to their homes.
    • 80% of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are refugees who live near their lands, villages, and towns from which they were expelled in 1948.

International diplomacy

    • Popular resistance on the way to liberation would not have been needed if international diplomacy examined the origins of the conflict in Palestine. 
    • But the international community fully supports Israel and remain silent in the face of continued dispossession of Palestinians. 
    • It adopted the two-state solution as its mantra for what should be done and was supported by the Palestinian leadership. It hoped to salvage at least part of Palestine (22%). 

Failure of a two-state solution

    • Israel has established that any sovereign Palestinian state is impossible. 
    • We have an American administration that fully endorses Israel’s wish to de-politicize the Palestinian question.
    • It allows Israel to fully extend its sovereignty all over historical Palestine and also rejects the right of any Palestinian refugee to return.
    • We wasted 50 years trying to push towards this solution.
    • The end result of this effort was more Jewish settlements in the West Bank and total separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
    • Now we see an American recognition of the Judaisation of the West Bank.

Way forward

    • The situation in Palestine is not a conflict but a struggle against settler colonialism. Not unlike the struggle against Apartheid South Africa. 
    • Call upon the international community to divest from, boycott and sanction Israel in order to stop the “ongoing catastrophe”. 
    • BDS – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, the campaign will continue until the people of the West Bank would be liberated from a military rule, the people of Gaza from the siege, the refugees return from their exile, and the Palestinians in Israel would be recognized as equal citizens.
    • An alternative Palestinian call for the establishment of one democratic state all over historical Palestine is being heard.
    • Rectify past evils by compensating and restituting lost land and property, enable the repatriation of refugees, and offer democracy for all who live in historic Palestine. 
    • Pressure from the outside, a continued popular struggle from the inside and a clear Palestinian vision for the future can turn this vision into reality.
Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap] Setting the clock back on intersex human rightsop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Transgender Bill


Context

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, continues to trigger protests across the country. Still, Rajya Sabha has passed the same version of the draft law that was passed by the Lok Sabha.

The journey of intersex human rights

    • Arunkumar v. The Inspector-General of Registration – Given by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, it judgment marks the beginning of a journey of intersex human rights in India. 
    • It took up the issue of the validity of consent given on behalf of intersex infants for undergoing sex-selective surgeries. 
    • It held that the consent of the parent cannot be considered as the consent of the child. Hence, such surgeries should be prohibited. 
    • It recognizes the consent rights of intersex children and the right to bodily integrity. 
    • The judgment declared a prohibition on sex-selective surgeries on intersex children in Tamil Nadu. 
    • Tamil Nadu banned sex reassignment surgeries on intersex infants and children.

Transgender Bill

    • It also deals with issues related to human rights protection of intersex persons.
    • The title of the Bill itself is exclusionary. It does not accommodate all persons whose legal protection it seeks to recognize. 
    • Transgenders have a different gender identity than what was assigned to them at birth. Intersex indicates the diversity of gender-based on biological characteristics at birth. 
    • There are also multiple variations in intersex itself. The Bill is not in alignment with the evolving international human rights framework. 
    • Parliament has to change the title of the Bill to Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019. It conflates the condition of intersex persons with transgender persons. 
    • Mostly. the legal and welfare needs of intersex persons are different from those of transgender persons.
    • Some persons born or living with intersex traits can live with a non-binary identity or may choose to live as gender-fluid persons. The Bill fails to account for these possibilities. 
    • It does not provide for the definition of terms such as gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.
    • The Bill doesn’t say much about discrimination against intersex persons. Intersex conditions are termed in derogatory terms even by medical professionals. 
    • It should have included a provision directing medical professionals to ensure that intersex traits are not characterized as “disorders of sex development”
    • Intersex traits should not be considered as genetic defects/ disorders, and terms like ‘gender dysphoria’ should be used to characterize them.

Unnecessary medical procedures

    • As per the court’s jurisprudence, medical procedures are not a necessity for self-identification. 
    • The Union Health Ministry has still admitted that medical procedure including sex reassignment surgeries are being performed on intersex children. 
    • Court slammed the Ministry for its poor understanding of consent rights and imposed a ban on the practice of sex reassignment surgeries on intersex infants/children. The Bill fails to protect intersex persons from unnecessary medical intervention.

Conclusion

    • The discourse around gender and sexuality has evolved a great deal in the last decade. 
    • The current legislative discourse on this issue suffers from a lack of foundational understanding. 
    • Intersex persons are particularly vulnerable and experience barriers in access to education, employment, marriage, etc. 
    • The Bill turns back the clock on decades of positive change brought about by intersex activists.
Economic Indicators and Various Reports On It- GDP, FD, EODB, WIR etc

Explained: Significance of computing GDPExplained

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GDP, GNP

Mains level : National income accounting


  • With the upsetting news of a secular decline in India’s GDP growth rate, the government has offered several arguments to either say the picture is not as bleak as it is being made out to be.
  • This has questioned the merit of the basic variable, GDP used to map economic growth.

What is GDP?

  • GDP measures the monetary value of all goods and services produced within the domestic boundaries of a country within a timeframe (generally, a year).
  • It is slightly different from the other commonly used statistic for national income — the GNP.
  • The Gross National Product (GNP) measures the monetary value of all goods and services by the people and companies of a country regardless of where this value was created.
  • For example, if Apple manufactures its mobile phone worth $1 million within India, then this $1 million will be counted in India’s GDP and US’ GNP.
  • On the other hand, if the US office of Infosys created software worth $1 million, then it will be counted in US’ GDP and India’s GNP. It is the domestic boundary that distinguishes the GDP.

Its creation

  • The modern-day definitions of GDP and GNP can indeed be traced back to Simon Kuznets, who was entrusted with the task of creating National Accounts in 1933 by then US President Franklin D Roosevelt.
  • Kuznets’ team travelled the length and breadth of the USA asking farmers and factory managers what and how much they had produced and what they had purchased in order to make their final product.
  • The final report, National Income, 1929-32, was presented to the US Congress in January 1934.
  • However, the origins of GDP as a concept date far back. Indeed, the man credited with inventing the concept is William Petty (1623-1687), an Englishman who was a professor of anatomy at Brasenose College.
  • Petty’s quest started when he received an estate in Ireland. To figure out how much did it value, Petty attempted to account for the benefits from the estate and find an appropriate “present value” of the estate.
  • Later on, he applied his approach to the whole of England and Wales to provide the first set of national accounts for the two countries.

Was Kuznets completely satisfied with GDP as a measure?

  • But, again, one has to understand that no measure can accurately summarize the welfare or wellbeing of an entire population.
  • Kuznets was striving for a measure that would reflect welfare rather than what he considered a crude summation of all activities.
  • All measures suffer from some weaknesses. For instance, annual GDP of India is $2.8 trillion but that does not mean that an average Indian is better off than say the average New Zealander ($0.18 trillion).
  • An average Kiwi is 19-times richer than an average Indian even though India’s annual GDP is 15-times than of NZ’s.

So, what is the point of GDP?

  • Yet, GDP is a variable of great merit. That’s because as a measure, it most sums up more information about an economy than any other variable.
  • For instance, countries with higher GDPs have citizens with higher incomes and better standards of living.
  • Of course, one can point out variations and suggest that a country ranked 1 in GDP is ranked 9 in GDP per capita but these divergences would be relatively small when data is seen at a global level.
  • Similarly, countries with higher GDP can be expected to have much better health and education metrics.
  • The so-called richer countries would have better institutions devoted to higher education, research and development etc primarily because they have the money to spare.
  • As such, while it helps not to depend overly on just the GDP of a country to make up one’s mind, it is also not a good idea to disregard it as a measure.
Air Pollution

Torrefaction TechnologyPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bioendev project, Torrefaction

Mains level : Alternatives to stubble burning



To find a solution to stubble burning issue, India is testing a Swedish technology — torrefaction that can convert rice stubble into ‘bio-coal’.

Bioendev project

  • The Bioendev project was discussed at a gathering chaired by King Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden and PM Modi.
  • The Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to GoI has funded a pilot project in Punjab to evaluate the feasibility of the technology.
  • Bioendev is a Swedish company and it has set up a pilot plant at the National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute in Mohali.

What is Torrefaction?

  • Torrefaction is a thermal process to convert biomass into a coal-like material, which has better fuel characteristics than the original biomass.
  • It involves heating up straw, grass, saw mill residue and wood biomass to 250 degrees Celsius – 350 degrees Celsius.
  • This changes the elements of the biomass into ‘coal-like’ pellets.
  • These pellets can be used for combustion along with coal for industrial applications like steel and cement production
  • If scaled up, about 65% of the biomass could be converted to energy.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Asteroid DidymosPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA)

Mains level : Need for a planetary defence mechanism



The European Space Agency (ESA) has approved the budget of Hera, the European component of the mission to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid.

Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA)

  • Amidst the growing concern of need of a planetary defence mechanism, scientists are studying asteroids and trying to find ways to deflect them from a collision course with Earth.
  • One such project is the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA), which includes NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Hera.
  • The project aims to study the effectiveness of an impact to ward off an impending asteroid threat.

Why need a planetary defence mechanism?

  • There are around 25,000 near-Earth objects (NEOs) that orbit the Sun on a trajectory that brings them close to our planet’s orbit. NASA tracks such near-Earth objects to ensure they do not become threats.
  • However, certain near-Earth objects have been classified as “potentially hazardous” which are 140 metres or more in size and come within 0.05 AU (astronomical unit) to Earth.
  • The distance in space is usually measured in astronomical units where 1 AU is the distance between Earth and the Sun, which is around 93 million miles or 150 million kilometres.
  • According to NASA JPL’s Centre for NEO studies, as of now, there are about 900 near-Earth objects measuring more than 1 km. A
  • n impact from one of these NEOs can bring devastating effects to Earth.

Why AIDA is aiming for Didymos?

  • The twin-asteroid system Didymos is a binary near-Earth asteroid.
  • According to NASA, while the primary body of Didymos is approximately 780 meters across, its secondary body or “moonlet” is about 160-meters in size.

About DART and Hera’s mission

  • Last year, NASA announced that it had started the construction of DART, their component of the AIDA mission.
  • DART is scheduled to launch in 2021 with an aim to slam into the smaller asteroid of the Didymos system at around 6 km per second in 2022.
  • Hera will arrive at the Didymos system in 2027 to measure the impact crater produced by the DART collision and study the change in the asteroid’s orbital trajectory.
  • ESA was supposed to construct the complementary mission Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) to study Didymos prior to DART’s collision, but the mission was scrapped and ESA came up with an alternative mission Hera, which is scheduled to launch in 2024.
Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Aerial seedingPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Aerial and Dart seeding

Mains level : Aforestation measures



The Delhi High Court asked forest authorities whether “planting of seeds could be done by throwing dart shots containing them from helicopters into forest areas”.

Aerial seeding

  • Aerial seeding is a well-established concept, but this is generally achieved not with darts but by spraying seeds through an aircraft or a drone.
  • Aerial seeding can be used not only to plant various crops but also to spread grasses to large areas of the land after wildfires, a common problem in countries like the United States.
  • Aerial seeding is adopted because it is quicker and more effective than planting manually.
  • It also allows access to areas where the terrain is rocky or at high elevation.

Dart seeding

  • Dart seeding is used with the same broad objective as aerial seeding: a plantation in inaccessible areas.
  • The process involves throwing darts containing seeds onto open ground.
  • A variation of dart seeding was used in Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in the late 1990s, but not with a helicopter.
  • The Forest Department used a long iron rod to access ground that could not be reached due to thick cover of shrubs. Seeds were put into the rod, which had a small opening at the other end.
  • When the rod was inserted into the removed and then removed, the soil would cover the seed, unlike in aerial plantation when seeds are thrown into open ground.
  • In aerial seeding, many seeds fail to germinate. If dart plantation is done from a low-flying helicopter, seeds have a relatively better chance of survival as they reach deeper into the ground.
  • Plantation with both aerial and dart plantations is carried out close to the onset of monsoon as watering the seeds is often challenging in inaccessible areas.
Electoral Reforms In India

[pib] Political Parties Registration Tracking Management System (PPRTMS)PIB

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PPRTMS

Mains level : Registration of Political parties in India


Election Commission of India (ECI) is set to implement “Political Parties Registration Tracking Management System” (PPRTMS).

About PPRTMS

  • The salient feature in PPRTMS is that the applicant (who is applying for party registration from 1st January, 2020 onwards) will be able to track the progress of his / her application and will get status update through SMS and email.
  • It will be implemented through an online portal, to facilitate tracking of status of application by applicants.
  • The applicant is required to provide contact mobile number and email address of the party / applicant in his application if he/she wishes to track the progress of the application.

Back2Basics

Registration of Political Parties

  • The Registration of Political Parties is governed by the provisions of section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • A party seeking registration under the said section with the Commission has to submit an application to the Commission within a period of 30 days following the date of its formation.
  • The application must be in prescribed format with basic particulars about the party such as name, address, membership details of various units, names of office bearers etc.