The News Editorial Analysis 18th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 18th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 18th Jan 2022

Two Indians, a Pakistani killed in UAE tanker blasts

The News Editorial Analysis 18th Jan 2022

Yemen’s Houthi rebels claim responsibility for attackTwo Indians and a Pakistani were killed in a massive explosion in three petroleum tankers in Abu Dhabi on Monday. The blast is believed to have been sparked by a fire near the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) facilities, in what is claimed as a “drone attack” by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

In a strongly worded statement, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan called the explosions a “cowardly act of terrorism”, and promised to hold Houthi militia “accountable”, indicating there could be reprisals.If confirmed, this is the second attack this month by Houthi rebels affecting Indians, after they seized a UAE-flagged ship in the Red Sea off the Yemeni coast and took its crew, including seven Indians, hostage.The Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi said it was awaiting confirmation on the identity of the two Indians killed, and was in “close touch with UAE authorities”. An ADNOC statement said all three who died were employees.“Those responsible for this unlawful targeting of our country will be held accountable,” a statement issued by the UAE Foreign Ministry said, expressing condolences for the deaths. “The UAE reserves the right to respond to these terrorist attacks and criminal escalation,” it added, describing them as crimes committed in flagrant violation of international law.Eyewitness accounts and videos shared on social media showed columns of black smoke billowing from the Musaffah Industrial City of Abu Dhabi (ICAD)-3 area outside the UAE capital. The fire is believed to be the result of a drone attack in the port area where the ADNOC storage facilities are housed. Another smaller fire was extinguished at the new construction area of the Abu Dhabi international airport.

COVID-19 spike continues, 2.32 lakh cases on Monday

At 17.7%, test positivity rate the highest in the ongoing waveIndia recorded 2,32,760 COVID-19 cases on Monday, a 40% increase from a week ago. The number of infections has reached 3.74 crore, and the active cases have crossed the 17-lakh mark.On Sunday, 13.13 lakh tests were conducted, a 21% decline from the day before. The test positivity rate (the number of cases detected per 100 tests) continued its ascent and reached 17.7%, the highest in the ongoing wave.Maharashtra recorded 31,111 cases on Monday, the most for any State, followed by Karnataka (27,156) and Tamil Nadu (23,433).The figures are based on the State bulletins released until 10 p.m. on Monday. However, Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Jharkhand and Tripura had not yet released data for the day.While 89.7% of the eligible population has been vaccinated with at least one dose, 64.9% have received both doses. In the 15-17 age cohort, 48.4% of the population have got their first dose. Altogether, 91,41,91,708 first doses, 66,07,95,449 second doses and 49,35,439 booster doses have been administered across the country.On Monday, 300 deaths were recorded in India, slightly less than the average levels recorded in the last week. Kerala reported the most deaths at 72, followed by West Bengal (33) and Maharashtra and Delhi (24 each).West Bengal saw 9,385 new cases but the case positivity rate dropped to 26.4%.


SC voices concern for children hit by third wave

The Supreme Court on Monday expressed a deep sense of anxiety on whether the third wave of the pandemic will put more children, both orphaned and abandoned, on the streets.

A Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.V. Nagarathna reminded the country’s bureaucracy that fighting COVID also means fighting to keep children off the streets.

“We are not running away from the reality of the pandemic. Bureaucrats are busy… But part of COVID battle is to see that children are off the streets,” Justice Rao addressed the Centre and the States.JusticeNagarathna said there was every possibility that the third wave may upend the lives of many more children.“JusticeNagarathna is right… More children may end up on the streets,” Justice Rao said. He said the State governments should wake up on their own rather than the court goading them awake.The Bench said the estimate of children on the streets may cross 15 lakh in reality. Advocate Shobha Gupta, for a petitioner, said she could, during every day of her commute in the capital, see at least eight children begging on the streets at the traffic lights.The court contemplated various suggestions, including giving traffic policemen the responsibility to alert authorities, to forming special units to rescue children from the streets.The issue had been brought to the forefront by an NGO, Save the Children, which had reported that there were two lakh such children in 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi alone.However, an affidavit filed by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), through advocate Swarupama Chaturvedi, said data compiled from States about children orphaned, abandoned and those who lost either parent to COVID add up to just 1,47,492 as of January 11, 2022. The NCPCR has been compiling data on these children since April 2020. It has a dedicated web portal ‘Baal Swaraj Portal – COVID Care’ for this purpose.Of this, orphans number 10,094, those who lost one parent are 1,36,910 and childrenabandoned are 488. Uttar Pradesh has recorded 9,247 children under all the three categories, Delhi 6,629, Andhra Pradesh 8,760, Gujarat 14,770, Kerala 3,773, Maharashtra 19,623, Tamil Nadu 11,014, West Bengal 6,835, and Punjab 1,438.“There might be lakhs of children in street situation in the remaining parts of the country who need to be rescued and rehabilitated,” the court had responded in an earlier order. The apex court said the process of collecting the information with regard to the social background of the children, identification of benefits under the individual care plan and the enquiries have to be conducted by the Child Welfare Committees under the Juvenile Justice law.

Noted environmentalist M.K. Prasad passes away

He led the Silent Valley campaign in the early 1970sProfessor Prasad, who had served as Pro-Vice Chancellor of Calicut University, was in the forefront of environment protection activities in Kerala.He had played a crucial role in creating public awareness across the State for protecting the verdant forests of the Silent Valley during the early 1970s. He had played a leadership role in the Save Silent Valley campaign, considered the first popular campaign for protecting a forest ecosystem in the State.It was the green campaign led by Mr. Prasad and others highlighting the ecological significance of the evergreen forest of the area that eventually led to the scrapping of the hydel power project proposed by the Kerala State Electricity Board in the area. Later, the Silent Valley was notified as a national park.

Mr. Prasad, who hailed from Cherayi in Vypeen, had led the popular science movement Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad, which had undertaken campaigns for popularisation of science in everyday life, as its president.He had also played a key role in the development of the Integrated Rural Technology Centre in Palakkad.He was also involved in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board of the United Nations and was associated with the activities of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, the Kerala State Biodiversity Board.

Red lines

China’s response to Lithuania is to ensure other countries do not take the same route

The European Union (EU) has found itself caught in a bind over the worsening tensions between Lithuania and China. Last week, top EU diplomats met to find a way to de-escalate tensions before a planned EU-China summit, expected in the coming weeks. After a two-day meet of Foreign Ministers in France, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, said the grouping expressed “solidarity” with Lithuania, which is a member of the EU and NATO. He, however, stopped short of announcing any concrete actions. The EU has watched nervously as one of its members faces the full weight of coercive Chinese diplomacy, even as the grouping keeps one eye on its substantial $828 billion annual trade with Beijing. The tensions began last year after Lithuania announced the setting up of a Taiwanese Representative Office. Such offices are hardly unusual across Europe, or in much of the world. The difference, however, was in the naming. The offices elsewhere are not called Taiwanese but are named, as in New Delhi, Taipei Economic and Cultural Centres because of the “one China policy” followed by most countries, including India, that do not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Lithuania has said the name did not change its “one China policy”, but for Beijing, the move crossed one of its most sensitive red lines. The opening of the office followed a number of developments that strained relations after the election of a coalition government that has underlined the importance of “democratic values” in the foreign policy of the first former Soviet republic that declared independence, as well as pushed closer ties with Washington.If the rest of Europe is unlikely to similarly test Beijing’s Taiwan red lines, what has alarmed the EU is the forcefulness of China’s response, which has ranged from downgrading ties, recalling its ambassador, an effective trade blockade, and especially the moves to pressure European companies to stop sourcing from Lithuania should they wish to continue exporting to China. China’s response suggests an attempt to, as Chinese strategists like to say, “kill the chicken to scare the monkeys”, and ensure other countries do not contemplate a similar move. Beyond the Lithuania-China tensions, of particular salience to India is how the EU, as a major power, will take forward ties with China as it similarly weighs strategic considerations against a booming trading relationship. China’s use of trade as leverage and as a method of coercion, which stands in stark contrast to its declaration in October, on the 50th anniversary of its UN membership, that it eschews “power politics” and “hegemony”, is another matter of concern. Lithuania is an exception in having both a trade surplus with China and no pressing need to access the China market. How the EU assesses the benefits and costs of taking on China on a core concern — the Taiwan issue — will be closely watched in New Delhi as it continues to recalibrate its own modus vivendi with China.

India’s watchwords in a not so bright 2022

There are risks that could be both domestic and geopolitical and New Delhi must take care to read the signals properlyAn intense debate is on among political strategists and commentators about what is in store in 2022. Most hew to the view that a rules based international order is a remote possibility. Instead, uncertainty and impermanence are likely to be the dominant aspect in world affairs.Risks in 2022 could be both domestic and geopolitical, with many precepts that the world has been accustomed to being at risk. Democracy itself could face serious headwinds this year.A paramount issue as 2022 begins, is the future of democracy. Admittedly, the world has recently seen the rise of authoritarian rulers in many countries — though by itself this can hardly be viewed as a new phenomenon. What is worrisome is that democratic tenets which have been under attack in recent years appear set to face more onslaughts this year. Adding grist to concerns about democracy’s future, is that the United States, which was widely viewed as a major bulwark for democracy, appears to have developed certain pathological infirmities. This situation does not augur well for the future of democracy worldwide.

China as disruptor

Equally daunting as we enter 2022 are the geopolitical challenges and risks. The role of China is possibly the most disrupting one, given the challenge it poses to the existing international order. With a GDP of $15.66 trillion in 2020, its net worth today is estimated to be higher than that of the U.S.; and, hence, it demands to be recognised as much. Militarily, China is openly challenging U.S. supremacy in many areas, including ‘state-of-the-art weaponry’ such as hyper-sonic technology.China has abandoned the ‘one country two systems’ policy, stripping Hong Kong of its freedom and inviting international opprobrium. It is now threatening Taiwan, which could well become one of the flash points of conflict in 2022. The West meanwhile does not realise what could happen if the stakes of ‘cross-strait relations’ between China and Taiwan get higher in 2022. It might well be that in order to ‘save face’ with regard to Taiwan (which China regards as its territory), China could provoke a serious conflict.The dip in China’s economic profile in the past year and more (which China hardly acknowledges) could also lead to new tensions in the Asia-Pacific region in 2022. To outsiders, the Chinese economy has entered a period of relative uncertainty and is looking more vulnerable. Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, however, China is unlikely to acknowledge that this would entail any reduction in its military capabilities, at least as far the Asia-Pacific is concerned. Instead, it might well be tempted to demonstrate that it still has the ability to get the better of the U.S. in the Pacific region — where it holds more cards than the U.S. — and also demonstrate that it has the ability to ramp up its military capabilities, while the U.S. is reducing its forces in the Indo-Pacific region. Uncertainty per se, could constitute a serious risk.

Russia-Ukraine conflict

The other major risk of a war in 2022, stems from the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine — the latter being backed by the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. It is difficult to discern as to which side is indulging in provocation, but what is not contested is that during the past three decades, NATO has expanded its reach almost a 1,000 miles to the east in violation of an earlier tacit understanding. Russian President Vladimir Putin appears determined that Ukraine should be the ‘last frontier’ and, if need be, ensure this through military force. The situation has grave possibilities and could result in a series of cyclical outcomes with considerable damage potential.Apart from the grave risk of a possible war or conflict, what is also evident is that ‘peace is not at hand’ across vast regions of the globe in 2022. The current unrest in Kazakhstan, which till recently was one of the more stable Central Asian nations, is perhaps symptomatic of what is in store. Whether recent events in Kazakhstan reflect a new round of ‘colour revolutions’ or not, it demonstrates a sharper cleavage between the U.S.-led West and its principal opponents, Russia and China. This bodes ill for a world already wracked by a series of coups or internecine strife as in Ethiopia, Libya and certain regions of West Asia and North Africa.

Return of the Taliban

Of particular significance to India is that the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan has led to a material shift in the balance of power in an already troubled region on India’s periphery. Notwithstanding the general belief that the Taliban’s return to power represents a significant victory for Pakistan, it has become evident, more lately, that this comes with a great deal of baggage — both for Pakistan and much of Asia. Developments in Afghanistan have fuelled the ambitions of quite a few ‘anti-state militant groups’ across the region. Even in Pakistan, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has become energised and is enlarging its sphere of action to other parts of Asia, notably Kazakhstan. More important is that it is well known that the TTP is a by-product of al Qaeda jihadi politics and still has covert links with the al Qaeda. This will have an unsettling effect across large parts of Asia.Adding to such concerns is new evidence that on India’s eastern flank, viz. Indonesia, a resurgence of radical Islamist activities is taking place. The Jemaah Islamiyah has reportedly become more active in Indonesia. All this provides fertile ground for other radical Islamist terror groups to enlarge their activities across the Asian region, providing a fillip to groups like the Islamic State, specially the Islamic State of Khorasan.

Border issues for India

As 2022 dawns, India’s problems are only likely to intensify. The most serious issue that India confronts today is how to deal with a China that has become more confrontational. The transgressions across the Line of Actual Control in different sectors in Ladakh — which were till now seen as merely an attempt by China to restrict and limit India’s options — could well be expanded in 2022. India’s membership of the four nation Quad (the U.S., Japan, Australia and India) still rankles as far as China’s psyche is concerned, and during 2022, may well result in China embarking on new adventurist actions at many more points on the Sino-Indian border compelling India to react. Hence, 2022 is unlikely to see any reduction in tensions across Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and the Middle Sector.Additionally, India will need to determine how best to respond to China’s sabre-rattling. India will need to develop a strategy on how to counter the publicity given by China to its low-yield nuclear weapons meant for battlefield use even during conventional military operations and against conventional targets. India would need to strengthen its military posture, both as a means to deter China and also to convince India’s neighbours that it can stand up to China. Simultaneously, India cannot avoid, in 2022, suitably positioning itself on how best to deter China’s naval force projection in the Indian Ocean Region and the publicity it has given to the additions made of new type nuclear power ballistic missile submarines to their existing fleet. In the battle of wits and strength, much will depend on how India responds to the situation.

Diplomatically, in 2022, India may find itself vulnerable in dealing with the turmoils which have occurred in two areas of strategic interest to it, viz. Central Asia and West Asia. Both areas are undergoing a churn — not all of it to India’s liking. In Central Asia, India will be challenged on how best to manage its traditional friendship with Russia with the pronounced tilt seen more recently in India-U.S. relations. In West Asia, the challenge for India is how to manage its membership of the Second Quad (India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.) with the conflicting interests of different players in the region. Membership of the Quad makes India a key player in a region which has become a quagmire of intense rivalries notwithstanding the 2020 Abraham Accords. Indian diplomacy will be under severe test to manage the extant situation in both regions.

Path to tread

It is easy to say that what India and India’s foreign policy need to do is to demonstrate more flexibility to manage the contradictions that exist. However, this is hardly feasible in practical terms, in most instances. There is a limit to the kind of balancing act that India can perform, whether it be with regard to buying S-400 missile systems from Russia, risking potential sanctions from Washington under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) or manoeuvering between the Arab States, Israel, Iran and the U.S. in West Asia.

For India, the outlook is, hence, not particularly bright in 2022. No grand strategy is evident as of now but it is important that India finds rational answers to a rash of problems that it cannot keep on the back burner for much longer. What India must do is avoid blind spots that arise due to cognitive bias and take care to read the signals properly. Facing a host of unprecedented challenges, India’s leaders and diplomats must not only take stock of the dangers that exist but also be ready on how to manage the risks that are well evident.

M.K. Narayanan is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau, a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal

Vaccination for 12-14 age group likely from March: NTAGI chief

Coverage of the 15-17 population making good progress, says N.K. Arora

India may begin inoculating children in the 12-14 age group against COVID-19 in March as the 15-17 population is likely to get fully vaccinated by then, N.K. Arora, Chairman of the COVID-19 working group of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), said on Monday.Of the estimated 7.4 crore population in the 15-17 age bracket, over 3.45 crore have received the first dose of Covaxin so far and their second dose is due in 28 days, he said.

Active participants

“Adolescents in this age group have been actively participating in the inoculation process, and going by this pace of vaccination, the rest of the beneficiaries in the 15-17 age group are likely to be covered with the first dose by January-end and subsequently their second dose is expected to be done by February-end,” he said.Once the 15-17 age group is covered, he said, the government is likely to take a policy decision for initiating the vaccination drive for the 12-14 age group in March. According to him, there is an estimated 7.5 crore population in the 12-14 age group.

Provisional vaccination reports till 7 a.m. on Monday showed that with more than 39 lakh doses being administered in a span of 24 hours, the cumulative number has exceeded 157.2 crore doses. According to government data, over 3.45 crore first doses have been given to children in the 15-17 years age group so far.India began administering the “precaution dose”, a third jab of COVID-19 vaccine, to healthcare and frontline workers, including personnel deployed for election duty and those aged 60 and above with co-morbidities, from January 10 amid the country witnessing a spike in coronavirus infections, driven mainly by the Omicron variant of the virus.

Xi Jinping rejects ‘Cold War mentality’

Chinese President pledges to send an additional 1 billion doses of COVID vaccine to other countriesChinese President Xi Jinping called on Monday for greater world cooperation against COVID-19 and pledged to send an additional 1 billion doses of vaccine to other countries, while urging other powers to discard a “Cold-War mentality” at a time of rising geopolitical tensions — a veiled swipe at the U.S.The Chinese leader touted his country’s efforts to share vaccines, fight climate change and promote development at home and abroad as he delivered the opening speech of a virtual gathering hosted by the World Economic Forum. The online event is being held in place of its annual January meeting in Davos, Switzerland, because of health concerns linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

He touched on standard themes from his previous talks to international audiences, including responding to complaints by China’s trading partners by promising to open its state-dominated economy wider to private and foreign competition.His comments come as tensions between the U.S. and China have simmered on dossiers as diverse as Taiwan, intellectual property, trade, human rights and the South China Sea.

‘Peaceful coexistence’

“We need to discard Cold War mentality and seek peaceful coexistence and win-win outcomes. Our world today is far from being tranquil,” said Mr. Xi, through a translator. “Protectionism and unilateralism can protect no one. They ultimately hurt the interests of others as well as one’s own. Even worse are the practices of hegemony and bullying, which run counter to the tide of history.“A zero-sum approach that enlarges one’s own gain at the expense of others will not help,” he added. “The right way forward for humanity is peaceful development and win-win cooperation.” Mr. Xi, who hasn’t left China since the coronavirus emerged in early 2020, said China had already sent abroad more than 2 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccines and plans to provide an additional 1 billion, including a donation of 600 million doses to Africa and an extra 150 million to Southeast Asia.

By comparison, managers of the UN-backed COVAX programme to ship vaccines to developing countries announced over the weekend that it has now delivered 1 billion vaccine doses.

‘Stands ready’

Mr. Xi said China “stands ready to work with” other governments on climate but announced no new initiatives and offered no resources. He said it was up to developed countries to provide money and technology.The Chinese leader repeated official promises that the Communist Party will open the state-dominated Chinese economy wider. The ruling party has taken steps over the past five years, including ending ownership restrictions in its auto industry, but business groups say foreign banks, technology and other companies still face restrictions that limit access to the most promising industries.

China’s economy grows 8.1% to $18 tn

Fastest expansion since 2011 was driven by exports, consumption; slump in birth rate clouds outlookASChina’s economy grew 8.1% in 2021 and reached the $18 trillion mark, although slowing growth in the last quarter and the lowest birth rate since 1949 emerged as concerns for policymakers.Last year’s expansion was the fastest since 2011 and marked a strong recovery after growth plummeted to a 44-year-low of 2.2% in 2020 as the country dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan and months of lockdowns.The rebound was driven by a strong trade performance with 30% growth in imports and exports as well as recovery in domestic retail sales. Exports contributed to 20.9% of growth while consumption accounted for 65.4%, data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday show.Retail sales climbed 12.5% while fixed asset assessment rose 4.9%. However, overall growthslowed in the last quarter to 4%, from 4.9% in the third quarter.A key reason for the slowdown was a sharp decline in real estate investment, which slid by close to 14% in December from the previous year, coinciding with curbs on the property market and debt troubles at several major real estate firms in the wake of government moves to put a stop to debt-fuelled expansion of the sector.Heading into the country’s new year, China, which avoided a major second wave with its strict ‘zero-COVID’ approach that enabled a domestic recovery but came at the cost of continued international isolation, is dealing with the spread of new clusters and the more transmissible Omicron variant. This has led to fresh lockdowns in several cities and could be a major concern for growth in 2022.

Alarming drop

Another significant — and longer-term — concern from Monday’s data was an alarming drop in China’s birth rate with the national growth rate at 0.34 per thousand, meaning the birth rate was only slightly higher than the national death rate, despite moves to relax family planning restrictions by allowing a ‘three child policy’.The NBS said 10.6 million babies were born last year, down from 12 million in 2020 and the lowest number since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 — lower even that the worst years of the famine of the early 1960s during Mao’s‘Great Leap Forward’.“The most shocking part of the data released today is that the natural growth of the population has dropped…[for] the first time below 1.0 since data become available,” the South China Morning Post quoted economist Zhang Zhiwei as saying. “The demographic challenge is well known, but the speed of population ageing is clearly faster than expected.”



The News Editorial Analysis 17th Jan 2022

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