1) Standing its ground-
- The interesting thing about US President Donald Trump’s offer of mediation between Delhi and Beijing is that it was made at all.
- It is less about Trump knocking together the heads of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping than about signalling American concerns about Sino-Indian military tensions that have become frequent and intense.
EXPANDING ARC OF CONFLICT:
- It comes amid the expanding arc of conflict between the US and China — from trade disputes to coronavirus and from Huawei to Hong Kong.
- Despite the massive and unprecedented polarisation(division) in the US, the US political class has come together to project the China threat and agree on the need for a vigorous(strong) push-back.
- Trump’s statement merely extends the argument articulated a few days ago by Alice Wells, a senior official in the State Department.
- Wells was locating Chinese muscle-flexing on the disputed border in the trend of Beijing’s aggression in many areas, including in the South China Sea.
- Trump’s offer is bound to irritate China.
- Beijing sees itself as Washington’s equal but has convinced itself that China is poised to overtake the US as the predominant power in the Asian theatre.
- It is especially galling for Beijing, since, not so long ago, China was offering to work with the US to manage the conflicts between Delhi and Islamabad.
- India and China might have been equals way back in the 1990s; Beijing no longer sees Delhi in the same weight class.
- Clubbing China with India will be seen as a big put-down in Beijing; and that, probably, was Trump’s intent.
- There was a time when Delhi used to jump at any one talking about “mediation”, especially on Kashmir.
- But now it has learnt the art of fending off these busy-bodies with a smile. And then, Delhi discovered that it could, in fact, leverage international interest in its relations with Islamabad to India’s advantage.
- In the last few years, it managed to redirect the international concerns on Kashmir towards the sources of cross-border terrorism in Pakistan.
- In fact, Delhi is actively “internationalising” the question of Pakistan’s sanctuary and support to those fomenting violent extremism in Kashmir.
- Similarly, Delhi can use the global concerns on a Sino-Indian conflict to counter the PLA’s forward policy.
- In the name of handling the boundary dispute with Beijing in a purely bilateral framework, Delhi has turned its China strategy into an opaque process that neither the domestic or international public opinion understands.
- This is a good moment for India to publicise its case for a reasonable boundary settlement with China and contrast it with Beijing’s insatiable territorial greed.
- If winning the war of narratives is important in today’s world, standing one’s ground in a military standoff is absolutely critical.
- Even as it repels Beijing’s incursions in Ladakh, Delhi must guard against being overtaken in the war of narratives.
- In a paradox, a Delhi that can repel Beijing’s military incursions on its own will gain ever-larger international political and diplomatic support for India’s contestation with China.
2) Unsafe journeys-
- A video clip of a toddler(child) at Muzaffarpur railway station in Bihar tugging(pulling) at a piece of cloth covering his dead mother, that went viral on Wednesday, frames a continuing tragedy.
- In the first week of May, the Indian Railways started Shramik Special trains to ferry back home migrant workers, who have waged a grim struggle for existence after their livelihoods dried up following the announcement of the nationwide lockdown on March 24.
- For large numbers of these workers, these journeys has been arduous(difficult).
- Trains have been delayed, and several have deviated from their routes. Nine people have died on their way back home in the Shramik Specials.
- Now the Supreme Court has taken cognisance(observation) of the matter.
- In an interim order passed on Thursday, a three-judge bench asked the states where the journey originates to provide food and water to passengers at the station.
- It asked the railways to provide the same during the journey.
LACK OF BASIC NECESSITIES ON SPECIAL TRAINS:
- Railway officials have claimed that the people who died on the special trains had been “battling many illnesses”.
- But, by all accounts, most state governments and the railways have given short shrift to arranging even the basic necessities on these special trains.
- A first-hand account published in this newspaper has highlighted the travails(harships) of the passengers who boarded the Surat-Warangal Shramik Special on May 23.
- All norms of social distancing were flouted(violated) during the bus ride to the railway station at Udhna.
- During the 10-hour train journey in the heat, food and water were in short supply, often leading to scuffles(fights) between the travellers.
- The passengers had to suffer the ignominy(shame) of food parcels and water bottles being hurled at them from across the platform when the train stopped at a station.
- The toilets were unusable for most of the journey.
DUTY AND RESPONSIBILITY:
- The state governments and the Indian Railways must realise that facilitating the movement of the migrants is not an act of charity, it is their duty and responsibility.
- The workers have been forced to return to their villages because the urban areas in which their worksites are located do not offer them any semblance(similarity) of social security.
- The journey back home shouldn’t be a continuation of the saga of indignity that began after the announcement of the lockdown.
- The humanitarian imperative(need) of a safe and dignified journey for the worker cannot be overstated.
- The authorities in the states and at the Centre should also realise that the way the workers have been treated on their journey could further diminish(curt) their already shaken confidence in a system they are an essential part of.
- Passengers in the special trains must be provided with food and water and norms of social distancing must be observed — accountability must be enforced if this is not done.
- As Court has underlined, safety and dignity of migrants is responsibility of states, Railways.
3) Covid-19 pandemic may create opportunities to deepen India’s engagement with Africa-
- Africa Day is observed every year on May 25 to commemorate(celebrate) the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (now known as the African Union).
- India has been closely associated with it on account of its shared colonial past and rich contemporary ties.
- The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses has hosted an Africa Day Round Table annually for the last four years in order to commemorate the event.
- This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has marred(disturbed) the celebrations in India.
- Africa, too, has come to a standstill(halt) due to the coronavirus.
- The World Bank’s Africa’s Pulse is a biannual analysis of the near-term macroeconomic outlook for the region.
- In it’s latest report, it assessed that the COVID-19 outbreak has sparked off the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region’s first recession in 25 years.
- Growth is expected to plummet(decrease) to between -2.1 and -5.1 per cent in 2020, from a modest 2.4 per cent in 2019.
- With high rates of HIV, malaria, diabetes, hypertension and malnourishment prevalent, a large number of Africans were already faced with a health and economic crisis.
- The steep decline in commodity prices has spelt disaster for the economies of Nigeria, Zambia and Angola.
- Precarious fiscal positions have ruled out any major governmental stimulus. Public debt has mounted.
- According to the World Bank, the SSA region paid $35.8 billion in total debt service in 2018, 2.1 per cent of regional gross domestic product (GDP).
- Together, African countries have sought a $100 billion rescue package, including a $44 billion waiver of interest payment by the world’s 20 largest economies.
- The IMF’s debt service relief of $500 million is meant for 25 countries of which 19 are in Africa, but that is a drop in the bucket.
- It is clear that without outside support, Africa will find it very difficult to meet the challenge.
CHINESE PRESCENCE IN AFRICA:
- Africa’s rich natural resources, long-term economic potential, youthful demography and influence as a bloc of 54 countries in multi-lateral organisations is apparent.
- In recent years, several extra-regional economies have strengthened their engagement with African states, with an eye to rising economic opportunities, including in energy, mining, infrastructure and connectivity.
- China’s engagement of Africa, as elsewhere, is huge but increasingly regarded as predatory and exploitative.
- Its annual trade with Africa in 2019 stood at $208 billion, in addition to investments and loans worth $200 billion.
- Traditionally, China’s participation in infrastructure projects has been astonishing.
- Having famously built the 1,860 km Tanzania-Zambia railway line in 1975, and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti and Mombasa-Nairobi lines more recently, China is now eyeing to develop the vast East Africa Master Railway Plan.
- It is also developing the Trans-Maghreb Highway, the Mambilla Hydropower Plant in Nigeria, the Walvis Bay Container Terminal in Windhoek and the Caculo Cabaca Hydropower project in Angola.
- At the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (COCAC) in 2018, China set aside $60 billion in developmental assistance, followed by a whopping $1 billion Belt and Road (BRI) Infrastructure Fund for Africa.
- China has followed up with robust health sector diplomacy in the wake of the pandemic, but its image has been tarnished by defective supplies of PPE gear and discriminatory behaviour against Africans in Guangzhou, leading to an embarrassing diplomatic row.
OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE LIST:
- Japan hosted the 7th Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD) in August 2019.
- Russia hosted the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit last year.
- Brazil, home to the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa, has also sought to develop closer ties.
- Cuba has sent medical teams to help Africa.
INDIA AND AFRICA:
- In the last few years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has redefined India’s relations with Africa.
- India-Africa trade reached $62 billion in 2018 compared to $39 billion during 2009-10.
- After South Asia, Africa is the second-largest recipient of Indian overseas assistance with Lines of Credit (LOC) worth nearly $10 billion (42 per cent of the total) spread over 100 projects in 41 countries.
- Ties were boosted at the India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in 2015.
- Forty per cent of all training and capacity building slots under the ITEC programme have traditionally been reserved for Africa.
- Approximately 6,000 Indian soldiers are deployed in UN peace-keeping missions in five conflict zones in Africa.
- Bilateral cooperation includes solar energy development, information technology, cyber security, maritime security, disaster relief, counter-terrorism and military training.
- India has also launched several initiatives to develop closer relations, including the first-ever India Africa Defence Ministers conclave in February this year on the margins of the Defence Expo 2020.
- India provides about 50,000 scholarships to African students each year. The huge Indian diaspora is a major asset.
INDIA’S HELP FOR CORONA:
- India had planned to host the Fourth India Africa Forum Summit in September this year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may cause it to be delayed.
- India has already despatched medical assistance to 25 African countries and PM Modi has had a telephonic talk with President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa who is the current chairperson of the African Union, and separately others such as the presidents of Uganda and Ethiopia.
- Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar has also reached out to counterparts in Africa to reiterate India’s support in the fight against the coronavirus.
- India could consider structuring a series of virtual summits in zonal groups with African leaders across the continent over the next few months that could both provide a platform for a cooperative response to the pandemic and also serve as a precursor to the actual summit in the future.
- There are several other ideas that could be pushed to deepen India’s engagement with Africa.
- The Ministry of External Affairs has already extended the e-ITEC course on “COVID-19 Pandemic: Prevention and Management Guidelines for Healthcare Professionals” to healthcare workers in Africa.
- The Aarogya Setu App and the E-Gram Swaraj App for rural areas for mapping COVID-19 are technological achievements that could be shared with Africa.
- Since the movement of African students to India for higher education has been disrupted, India may expand the e-VidyaBharti (tele education) project to establish an India-Africa Virtual University.
- Agriculture and food security can also be a fulcrum for deepening ties.
- With the locust scourge devastating the Horn of Africa and the pandemic worsening the food crisis, India could ramp up its collaboration in this sector.
- India could also create a new fund for Africa and adapt its grant-in-aid assistance to reflect the current priorities.
- This could include support for new investment projects by Indian entrepreneurs especially in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors in Africa.
- Both India and Japan share a common interest in forging a partnership for Africa’s development. The COVID-19 crisis has nudged many countries to engage in new formats.
- It is time for the Quad Plus, in which the US, India, Japan and Australia have recently engaged other countries such as the ROK, Vietnam, New Zealand, Israel and Brazil, to exchange views and propose cooperation with select African countries abutting the Indian Ocean.
- After all, the Indo-Pacific straddles the entire maritime space of the Indian Ocean.
- The pandemic is a colossal challenge but it may create fresh opportunities to bring India and Africa closer together.