China reaches accord with India on LAC spat

Paper: II

Mains: India and its neighbourhood- relations.

Why in News?

China said it had “reached agreement” with India on the ongoing tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a day after India announced troops from both sides had begun a “partial disengagement” from some of the stand-off points.

Key points:

  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry said both sides had agreed to handle the situation “properly” and “in line with the agreement” to ease the situation, but did not provide specific details on some of the stand-off points, such as Pangong Lake, where Chinese troops are still present on India’s side of the LAC.
  • On Wednesday, India and China held Major General-level talks to discuss further de-escalation at several standoff points in Eastern Ladakh including Patrolling Point (PP) 14, following a broad accord reached on Saturday in talks held at the Corps Commander-level.
  • As per the agreement, a series of ground-level talks would be held over the next 10 days, with four other points of conflict identified at PP15, PP17, Chushul and the north bank of Pangong Lake.
  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not provide specifics on the sites of conflict. It only referred to the western section, which was the focus of Saturday’s talks, although a stand-off is also continuing at Naku La in Sikkim in the eastern section.

Taking action

  • “Through diplomatic and military channels, China and India have recently had effective communication and reached agreement on properly handling the situation in the west section of the China-India boundary,” spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
  • At present, the two sides are taking actions in line with the agreement to ameliorate the border situation.
  • Government officials said a partial disengagement had happened at some points in the Galwan area and at Hot Springs, but there was no change at Pangong Lake.
  • The Global Times, a Communist Party-run newspaper, reported on Tuesday that the ongoing dispute “will not escalate into a conflict” but added “due to the complexity of the situation, the military stand-off could continue for a little longer”.
  • The military-level talks showed “both sides do not want to escalate,” Qian Feng, director of the research department of the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing, was quoted as having said.
  • “It showed that China and India remain determined to peacefully resolve border issues,” Mr. Qian Feng said. “That being said, the ongoing stand-off is not likely to end immediately, as concrete issues must still be resolved.”
  • The Indian delegation at Wednesday’s military-level talks was led by the General Officer Commanding, 3 Corps based in Karu.
  • Last Saturday, the two sides held talks at the level of Corps Commanders on the Chinese side at Moldo opposite Chushul, where the two sides agreed to partial pullout of troops and equipment from some of the stand-off areas in Galwan.
  • The talk on Wednesday is the first of several at the rank of Colonel, Brigadier and Major General.
  • Finger 4 area in Pangong Lake remains a major area of contention where Chinese troops had taken position in Indian territory and that is expected to be discussed at the Corps Commander level at a later stage.

No cold war with China: EU

Paper: II

Mains: India and its neighbourhood- relations.

Why in News?

The EU’s chief diplomat said on Wednesday he had assured China’s Foreign Minister the bloc does not want a “cold war”, as it accused Beijing of waging a coronavirus disinformation campaign.

Key points:

  • Brussels said China and Russia have sought to undermine European democracy and burnish their own reputations during the pandemic with “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns”.
  • The unusually blunt accusation came in an official EU strategy paper for tackling what officials say is a “flood” of false healthcare claims, conspiracy theories, fraud and hate speech surrounding the pandemic.
  • The report was published on Wednesday, a day after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell held video talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
  • Borrell on Wednesday insisted the EU was “not starting anything” with China, and said he had reassured Wang during their talks. “I told him: ‘Don’t worry, Europe is not going to embark on any kind of Cold War with China’,” Mr. Borrell said.
  • The report accuses Moscow and Beijing of “seeking to undermine democratic debate and exacerbate social polarisation, and improve their own image in the COVID-19 context”.
  • Tensions rise ahead of a video summit later this month between EU and Chinese leaders.
  • EU-Chinese relations have hit a rocky patch as Brussels struggles to calibrate its response to Beijing’s growing assertiveness under President Xi Jinping.

European Union raised the issue of Hong Kong

  • In the same meeting, Borrell said that he raised the issue of the former British colony with the Chinese representative and noted the risk that undermines Hong Kong’s autonomy with Beijing’s new security bill.
  • Earlier, he had said that China’s move to limit Hong Kong’s role in ‘One Country, Two Systems’ with its new legislation has damaged its ties with Beijing but also acknowledged that imposing sanctions would not resolve the crisis situation.
  • EU’s Borrell previously said in a press briefing that the union expresses “grave concern” over the recent steps taken by China and noted that the developments in Hong Kong were “not in conformity with its international commitments”.ondition of anonymity, said.

New Zealand is free of COVID-19

Paper: III

Mains: Science and technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

Why in News?

New Zealand has no active cases of COVID-19 in the country for the first time since February 28, the country’s Health Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

Key points:

  • The last person who was being monitored for coronavirus has now been released from isolation as he’s been symptom-free and is regarded as recovered, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said in a statement.
  • New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that all coronavirus measures in the country will be lifted from Tuesday, barring border closure restrictions, as the virus had been eliminated from the country.
  • The country would move to national alert level 1 from midnight on Monday, Ardern said in a news conference.
  • Public and private events, the retail and hospitality industries and all public transport could resume without social distancing norms still in place across much of the world, she said.
  • While the job is not done, there is no denying this is a milestone … Thank you, New Zealand, Ardern told reporters.
  • “We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now, but elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort.”
  • The South Pacific nation of about five million people is emerging from the pandemic while big economies such as Brazil, Britain, India and the United States grapple with the spreading virus.
  • This was largely due to 75 days of restrictions including about seven weeks of a strict lockdown in which most businesses were shut and everyone except essential workers had to stay at home.
  • Today, 75 days later, we are ready, Ms. Ardern told a news conference, announcing the government would drop social distancing restrictions from midnight on Monday and move to a level 1 national alert from level 2.
  • Border controls would remain and everyone entering the country would be tested, she said.
  • There were no active cases in New Zealand for the first time since the virus arrived in late February, the Health Ministry said. New Zealand has reported 1,154 infections and 22 deaths from the disease.

Economic rebuild

  • Ardern, 39, has won global praise for her leadership during the pandemic and her popularity has seen stratospheric growth over the last few months.
  • She is well placed to win a second term in office in September elections, according to recent opinion polls.
  • Even so, the government will need to show it is up to the task of reviving the economy, which is expected to sink into recession.
  • Opposition parties have criticised Ms. Ardern’s decision to keep restrictions for so long despite there being no new cases for over two weeks.
  • Ardern did not commit to a timeline for a proposed ‘travel bubble’ to open with Australia, although the tourism industries in both countries have been pushing for it.
  • We will need to move cautiously here. No one wants to jeopardize the gains New Zealand has made, she said.

Economy to contract 3.2% in FY21: World Bank

Paper: III

Prelims: About report

Mains : Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.

Why in News?

The Indian economy is expected to contract by 3.2% in this fiscal year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions, the World Bank said in its Global Economic Prospects (GEP) June 2020 report. Growth is forecast at 3.1% next year.

Key points:

  • The world economy, as a whole, is set to witness its deepest recession since World War II, with a forecasted contraction of 5.2% this year — some 60 million could be pushed into extreme poverty, World Bank Group President David Malpass had warned last week.
  • With updated data now available, this number could be 70-100 million, a Bank economist told reporters on a briefing call on Monday.
  • Emerging Market and Developing Economies (EMDEs) are expected to contract by 2.5% this year, and economic activity in advanced economies is forecast to shrink by 7%, as domestic supply and demand, finance and trade have been disrupted due to the pandemic.
  • Countries most reliant on global trade, tourism, external financing and commodity exports are likely to be hit the hardest. “This is a deeply sobering outlook, with the crisis likely to leave long-lasting scars and pose major global challenges,” said World Bank economist Ceyla Pazarbasioglu.
  • Our first order of business is to address the global health and economic emergency. Beyond that, the global community must unite to find ways to rebuild as robust a recovery as possible to prevent more people from falling into poverty and unemployment.
  • In the baseline scenario, global growth is set to rebound at 4.2% in 2021, with EMDEs growing at 4.6% and advanced economies growing at 3.9%. This, however, is the baseline forecast and assumes that pandemic-induced domestic restrictions will be lifted by mid-year in advanced economies and a bit later in EMDEs.
  • The downside scenario is more severe – the global economy could shrink this year by as much as 8% (5% for EMDEs), followed by a weak recovery at just above 1% growth next year.

India to grow at 3.2% in FY2020-21

  • India’s growth is estimated to have slowed to 4.2% in FY 2019-20 (year ending March 31, 2020).
  • Output is expected to contract by 3.2% (so growth is -3.2%) in FY2020-21, as the impact of the pandemic (the restrictions on activity) will largely fall in this year, despite the fiscal and monetary stimulus.
  • The growth forecast for this fiscal year is 9 percentage points lower than the GEP forecasts from January 2020, when the forecast for this fiscal was a (positive) 5.8% – the world was not yet in the grip of the pandemic.
  • Spillover effects from weak global growth and balance sheet stress are also weighing down on economic activity, as per the report.
  • India is forecast to see some recovery next year and grow at 3.1%.

South Asia expected to grow at 2.7%

  • For the South Asian region as a whole, economic activity is expected to contract by 2.7% in 2020, due to restrictions impacting consumption and services and the uncertainty causing a chill in private investments.
  • These forecasts are highly uncertain, and the risks to the outlook are heavily skewed to the downside (i.e., there is a good chance the forecasts will be even worse).
  • The high share of workers who are employed in the informal sector exacerbates the health and economic challenges caused by the pandemic. Food price increases could also lead to food insecurity for more people and global financial market disruption could add pressure to vulnerable balance sheets.
  • Spillover effects from major trading partners could negatively impact economic activity in the South Asian region and supply chain linkages could depress activity in the medium term.
  • The region as a whole is expected to grow at a (positive) rate of 2.8% next year.

Rest of the World

  • The U.S. is expected to contract at a forecasted 6.1% this year due to pandemic-caused restrictions and disruptions.
  • The Euro Area is projected to shrink 9.1% due to the heavy outbreaks and their impact on activity.
  • Japan is expected to shrink at 6.1% due to preventative measures that had impacted economic activity.

China is expected to slow to 1% in 2020, its lowest rate in more than four decades


India, China agree to ease standoff

Paper: II

Mains: India and its neighbourhood- relations.

Why in News?

Indian and Chinese troops began partial “disengagement” from the some of the standoff points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, defence sources said on June 9, in a first sign of moving towards resolution of the month long standoff between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army there.

Key points:

  • A series of ground level military talks are due to be held over the next 10 days, beginning Wednesday, to try and resolve most of the other issues at the local level.
  • “Partial deinduction has happened from some points in Galwan and Hot Springs areas. The Chinese side removed some of the tents and some troops and vehicles have been moved back, and the Indian side too has reciprocated,” official sources said.
  • At some points in the Galwan Valley, Chinese troops have moved back 2-3 km. However, there is no change on the ground situation at Pangong Tso.
  • While this is the first time officials spoke about the ground situation, no government statement was issued, either in Delhi or Beijing.
  • This is also the first time senior government officials have acknowledged the continued presence of Chinese troops in these areas where India patrols, and the heavy build-up of vehicles and firepower behind the LAC lines.
  • Despite references to the major build-up that had taken place, officials insisted that there had been “no intelligence failure” and that the Indian Army stopped the PLA advances “quickly and strongly”.
  • Outlining the plans for talks on de-escalation, the sources said Major General level talks were scheduled on Wednesday at Patrolling Point (PP) 14 in Galwan area as part of the series of talks at the rank of Colonel, Brigadier and Major General, as had been decided at Corps Commander level meeting on Saturday at the LAC at Moldo-Chushul.
  • Both the Corps Commanders had a one-on-one meeting for almost three hours before engaging at the delegation level where the main issues were discussed further, they said.
  • At the meeting, both sides agreed and identified five locations of conflict currently, PP 14, 15 and 17, North bank of Pangong Tso and Chushul. Of these, Finger 4 area in Pangong Tso was a contentious issue and would take some time to be resolved, the sources said.

Pangong Tso issue

  • However, major worries remain at the Pangong Tso (lake), where territory is marked by ridges or “Fingers” in increasing serial order, towards Chinese territory.
  • India claims upto Finger 8 and patrols upto Finger 4, but after a major skirmish on May 5, Chinese troops have dug in at Finger 4.
  • No mention was made of the situation at Naku La in Sikkim, where the stand-off continues, as the focus for these talks was the Ladakh situation.
  • The sources stressed that India remained “firm” on restoring the Status quo to pre-May 5 positions, and that apart from troops retreating from the “front lines”, it was necessary to ensure a drawdown of troops and firepower behind the Chinese lines where the PLA had deployed “fighter bombers, rocket forces, air defence radars and jammers among others”.
  • “India will continue to have a major build-up until China withdraws the build-up done there. The Indian Army is fully prepared for a long and permanent deployment if the PLA doesn’t retreat,” the sources stated.
  • As reported earlier, the Indian side also told the Chinese counterparts that it would not stop construction, including the DBO road, as it is well within Indian territory.

Conclusion

Underscoring the efforts to resolve the tensions, which they referred to as “episodic issues”, the sources said that tactical level hotlines at border meeting points at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO)- Tien Wein Dien (TWD) and Chushul-Moldo remain “on and open”. It has also been proposed that the Corps Commanders should have formal meetings once or twice every year for better interaction between the two armies at a higher level.


Migrants should not be prosecuted: SC

Paper: II

Mains: Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources. Issues relating to poverty and hunger.

Why is News?

The Supreme Court said migrant workers should not be prosecuted for trying to reach home amid the national lockdown.

Key points:

  • A Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan directed the Centre and the States to withdraw any complaint or prosecution lodged against migrant labourers who had set out on foot from big cities for their native villages to escape starvation, unemployment and disease during the pandemic.
  • The court said “society as a whole was moved by their miseries and difficulties”.
  • “States/Union Territories to consider withdrawal of prosecution/complaints under Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act and other related offences lodged against migrant labourers who are alleged to have violated lockdown measures by moving on roads”, it directed.
  • A migrant worker who walked home would have faced a year in prison or been fined or suffered both if found guilty of obstructing the law under Section 51 of the Act.
  • The Bench, also comprising Justices S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah, ordered the States and the UTs to bring the stranded migrant workers home within the next 15 days.

Directive to railways

  • It ordered the railways to provide the States with 171 more Shramik Special trainswithin the next 24 hours to transport migrant workers.
  • “The process of transportation by rail and road has to be completed by all the States and the Union Territories so that the next stage of attending the needs of the migrant labourers can be looked into, i.e., source of employment, provision of food and ration for them”, the 38-page order reasoned.
  • The court asked the Directors General of Police to direct their personnel to deal with the migrant workers humanely. It said there were instances of police excesses despite otherwise doing a “commendable job”.
  • “Migrant labourers are forced to proceed to their native place after cessation of their employment. They are already suffering. They have to dealt by the police and other authorities in a humane manner”, it observed.

Job opportunities

  • The court squarely placed the onus on the Centre, the States and the UTs to provide details of employment and benefits schemes to the returned workers.
  • The Bench directed that counselling centres should be set up to reach out to them and explain the various schemes framed for their rehabilitation and employment. The centres should freely provide information and even “extend helping hand” to those workers who want to return to their places of past employment.
  • The States and UTs were directed to conduct extensive skill-mapping of the returned workers at village and block levels.
  • The court passed the order after suo motu taking cognisance of the migrant workers’ exodus. The next hearing is on July 8.
  • In a retort to the government criticism of High Courts running a “parallel government” with their orders on migrants, the apex court said, “High Courts, as constitutional courts, were well  within their jurisdiction to take cognisance of violation of fundamental rights of migrant workers and we have no doubt that those proceedings shall proceed”.
  • The top court reminded that the job of a government was not merely about churning out policies, declaring measures and funds. It included “strict vigilance and supervision as to whether those measures, schemes, benefits reaches to those to whom they are meant”.
  • The court applauded the passion and devotion shown by individuals who came forward to help the migrant workers. It recognised the contributions of NGOs that pitched in for migrant workers and helped fight the pandemic by providing food, water and transportation at their own cost.

India, China agree to ease standoff

Paper: II

Mains: India and its neighbourhood- relations. 

Why in News?

Indian and Chinese troops began partial “disengagement” from the some of the standoff points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, defence sources said, in a first sign of moving towards resolution of the month long standoff between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army there.

Key points:

  • A series of ground level military talks are due to be held over the next 10 days, beginning Wednesday, to try and resolve most of the other issues at the local level.
  • “Partial deinduction has happened from some points in Galwan and Hot Springs areas. The Chinese side removed some of the tents and some troops and vehicles have been moved back, and the Indian side too has reciprocated,” official sources said.
  • At some points in the Galwan Valley, Chinese troops have moved back 2-3 km. However, there is no change on the ground situation at Pangong Tso.
  • While this is the first time officials spoke about the ground situation, no government statement was issued, either in Delhi or Beijing.
  • This is also the first time senior government officials have acknowledged the continued presence of Chinese troops in these areas where India patrols, and the heavy build-up of vehicles and firepower behind the LAC lines.
  • Despite references to the major build-up that had taken place, officials insisted that there had been “no intelligence failure” and that the Indian Army stopped the PLA advances “quickly and strongly”.
  • Outlining the plans for talks on de-escalation, the sources said Major General level talks were scheduled on Wednesday at Patrolling Point (PP) 14 in Galwan area as part of the series of talks at the rank of Colonel, Brigadier and Major General, as had been decided at Corps Commander level meeting on Saturday at the LAC at Moldo-Chushul.
  • Both the Corps Commanders had a one-on-one meeting for almost three hours before engaging at the delegation level where the main issues were discussed further, they said.
  • At the meeting, both sides agreed and identified five locations of conflict currently, PP 14, 15 and 17, North bank of Pangong Tso and Chushul. Of these, Finger 4 area in Pangong Tso was a contentious issue and would take some time to be resolved, the sources said.

Pangong Tso issue

  • However, major worries remain at the Pangong Tso (lake), where territory is marked by ridges or “Fingers” in increasing serial order, towards Chinese territory.
  • India claims upto Finger 8 and patrols upto Finger 4, but after a major skirmish on May 5, Chinese troops have dug in at Finger 4.
  • No mention was made of the situation at Naku La in Sikkim, where the stand-off continues, as the focus for these talks was the Ladakh situation.
  • The sources stressed that India remained “firm” on restoring the Status quo to pre-May 5 positions, and that apart from troops retreating from the “front lines”, it was necessary to ensure a drawdown of troops and firepower behind the Chinese lines where the PLA had deployed “fighter bombers, rocket forces, air defence radars and jammers among others”.
  • “India will continue to have a major build-up until China withdraws the build-up done there. The Indian Army is fully prepared for a long and permanent deployment if the PLA doesn’t retreat,” the sources stated.
  • As reported earlier, the Indian side also told the Chinese counterparts that it would not stop construction, including the DBO road, as it is well within Indian territory.

Conclusion

Underscoring the efforts to resolve the tensions, which they referred to as “episodic issues”, the sources said that tactical level hotlines at border meeting points at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO)- Tien Wein Dien (TWD) and Chushul-Moldo remain “on and open”. It has also been proposed that the Corps Commanders should have formal meetings once or twice every year for better interaction between the two armies at a higher level.


Pfizer, BioNTech begin Virus Vaccine Trial

Paper: III

Mains: Science and technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

Why in News?

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE said they have begun delivering doses of their experimental coronavirus vaccines for initial human testing in the U.S.

Key Details:

  • The U.S. drug maker and German partner said if the vaccine proves to be safe and effective in trials, it could potentially be ready for wide U.S. distribution by the end of the year, shaving several years off the typical vaccine development timeline.
  • The vaccine, which uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, has the potential to be among the first vaccines against the virus that has infected more than 1 million people in the U.S. and killed some 68,000.
  • There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for the new coronavirus, though some drugs are being used on patients under an emergency use authorisation.
  • The U.S. study is part of a broader, global programme already underway in Germany, where BioNTech is based. Dosing there began last month.
  • Moderna Inc is using similar technology for its vaccine being developed along with the U.S. government. Phase I testing of that vaccine candidate has also begun, with mid-stage trials planned in the current quarter.
  • Pfizer said last week it hopes to receive emergency authorisation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as early as October, and could distribute up to 20 million doses by the end of 2020, with an eye toward producing hundreds of millions of doses next year.
  • “Even going from a few million to 20 million will allow you to protect the epicentres of the virus, and then drive out the virus from our society as we ramp up to hundreds of millions,” Pfizer research chief Mikael Dolsten told Reuters in an interview.
  • Using synthetic mRNA technology can enable the vaccine to be developed and manufactured more quickly than traditional vaccines, the companies said.
  • Pfizer said last week it expects to make safety data on the vaccine available by late May.

Covid-19 vaccine trial

  • The trial will initially aim to test different dosing regimens of four potential vaccine candidates on around 360 healthy volunteers divided into a younger cohort and a group of seniors.
  • The trial will expand to more subjects after researchers determine which compounds and dosing regimens are most effective, said Kirsten Lyke, a director at the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health, which is participating in the trial.
  • Doses have already been administered to some volunteers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
  • Pfizer plans to expand the trial to sites across the U.S. in early July, and may ultimately enroll more than 8,000 participants, a company spokeswoman said.

DRDO Develops a Disinfection Tower

Why in News?

The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has developed Ultra Violet Disinfection Tower for chemical free and rapid disinfection. The tower is to be highly helpful in high infection prone areas.

Key points:

  • The equipment named UV Blaster is a UV based sanitizer that designed and developed by DRDO.
  • It is highly helpful for disinfecting high tech surfaces such as computers, electronic equipment and other gadgets.
  • UV Blaster is helpful in offices where chemical methods may not be suitable.
  • The product is also very much suitable in areas where chemical methods cannot be implemented.
  • It is useful for high tech surfaces like electronic equipment, computers and other gadgets in laboratories and offices that are not suitable for disinfection with chemical methods.
  • The product is also effective for areas with large flow of people such as airports, shopping malls, metros, hotels, factories and offices.
  • It was designed and developed by Laser Science & Technology Centre (LASTEC) based in Delhi with the help of New Age Instruments and Materials Private Limited, Gurugram.
  • For a room of about 12×12 feet dimension, the disinfection time is about 10 minutes, while for a 400 square feet area, it would take 30 minutes by positioning the equipment at different places within the room, the statement said, adding that the sanitiser could be remotely operated.

Working process:

  • The UV Disinfection tower can be operated through mobile phone or laptop remotely.
  • There are six lamps each of 43 watts. The lamps emit Ultra Violet light of wavelength 254 nm in 360 degrees of illumination.
  • The tower will switch off during human intervention or accident opening of the room.
  • The device also provides arm operation.

DRDO’s new technology

  • The DRDO has been developing several new technologies and products to help in disinfection, sample collection, cost effective personal protective equipment. Several of these technologies were transferred to private sector companies.
  • Recently DRDO developed ATULYA, a microwave sterilizer to help disinfecting COVID-19. DRDO had also developed a kiosk for COVID-19 sample collection.