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Biden focused G-7 Summit disappoints

By Asad Mirza

The 3Cs: Covid, China and Climate Change dominated the 47th annual G-7 Summit in Cornwall, UK. But overall the leaders were not able to present a united stand on any major issue.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted the summit to showcase his brand of ‘Global Britain’, after Brexit. But there were terse exchanges between the French, EU and British leaders and officials on the issue. In effect, the summit turned out to be more Biden focused and expectations were raised high on some real agreement taking place on the 3C’s before the summit, though that was not the result ultimately.

Broadly, Biden sought to set a new tone after the unrestrained Trump years. Most G-7 leaders seemed relieved to have a return to a more predictable and traditional US administration. France’s Emmanuel Macron welcomed Biden back to the “club.” But the final Communique showed that even Biden’s expectations to ensure a consensus on many of his promises fell short.

On the issue of Covid-19, the leaders of the seven most affluent western nations seemed united, but there was a difference of opinion on the way forward. Earlier, they had shown commitment to donate 1 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses over the next year to poorer countries. But in reality the bloc fell short of its own goal — 613 million new doses pledged, instead of a billion.

Even so, the vaccine effort gave Biden some help with his China push. Biden has criticised China for a transactional brand of vaccine diplomacy, where the shots are being doled out for geopolitical advantage. Biden called on democracies to counter China and Russia by donating vaccines equally and based on need, without seeking favours in return.

On the second day of the summit, US unveiled plans to counter China through infrastructure funding for poorer nations. Promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership.

G-7s “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project was aimed directly at competing with China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Infrastructure (BRI) initiative.

However, several leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pushed back over worries about turning the G-7 into an anti-China group, suggesting any infrastructure programme should be framed as a more positive, pro-environment effort.

French President Emmanuel Macron also pushed back publicly, saying that the “G-7 is not a group that is hostile to China.” Macron was one leader who sought the middle ground.

China hit back at these statements dismissively saying that the days when “global decisions” were dictated by a “small group of countries are long gone”.

The final version of the communique skirted B3W, instead creating a task force to study how to spur infrastructure development abroad. It made no mention of BRI, though Biden renewed his call at a press conference, and said that, “I proposed that we have a democratic alternative to the Belt and Road initiative, to build back better.”

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced last month that due to surging Covid cases in India, he’d not travel to the UK, he addressed the summit virtually. He conveyed India’s commitment to “collective” solution to global health challenges, and called for “one earth, one health” approach, which aims for unity and solidarity among the states of the world to deal with the pandemic. He also emphasised the need to keep raw materials for vaccines easily accessible.

The summit’s Communique, which was issued several hours after the end of the summit, promises many things but falls short of what was expected to be achieved before the summit.

(The Op-Ed appeared in IANS)

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India Latest News

Indian Army top brass discuss threats from China, Pakistan

New Delhi: Amid border standoff with China, the Indian Army held a commanders’ conference led by General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Thursday to review the operational situation at the border with China and Pakistan. Indian Army Commanders’ Conference is an apex level biannual event, which formulates important policy decisions through collegiate deliberations.

The conference was attended by senior officers of the Army including the vice chief of the army staff, all commanders, principal staff officers (PSOs) of the Army Headquarters and other senior officers.

In the two-day conference, the Army top brass discussed the current position of Chinese People’s Liberation Army positions in disputed areas at Gogra, Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang at Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh.

China has enhanced troops, artillery and armour deployment in three sectors of Line of Actual Control — western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) sectors.

A year after the Galwan valley clash in Eastern Ladakh, China is still sitting at the Line of Actual Control and India has geared up for a long grind. Indian and Chinese military delegates had 11 rounds of talks to resolve border disputes at friction points.

During the commanders’ conference meeting, Army top brass discussed how to be better prepared to face Chinese belligerence in Ladakh over the last year as a final resolution seems far off. India has enhanced military infrastructure, increased troop deployment to 50,000 to 60,000, and constructed better roads connectivity for quick mobilisation.

Last month, General Naravane said that the troops are on high alert at Line of Actual Control and are keeping watch on Chinese People’s Liberation Army activities.

The Indian Army chief stated that India wants the status quo ante of April 2020 to be restored. He also stated that India has made it clear to China that de-escalation will only be considered once disengagement is completed to the mutual satisfaction of both the sides.

He had said that Indian troops are on high alert and deployments have not thinned after the disengagement in Pangong River.

General Naravane said that India is currently concentrating on resolving outstanding problems at other friction points like Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang at Line of Actual Control.

The army chief also stated that trust levels between two countries are low but pointed out that the trust deficit should not hinder the negotiation process.

At Galwan valley, the clash took place on June 15 last year sparking a war like situation. Later by the end of August last year there was a further build up across and Pangong Lake at 14,000 feet turning it into a battle zone as India occupied key mountain tops at the Kailash Range overlooking the southern bank of the lake.

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India Latest News

As Netanyahu loses power, what does it mean for India?

By P R Kumaraswamy

“Bibi dethroned”. This is the expression used in the Israeli media to describe the formation of a new Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government. Though Benjamin Netanyahu — known as Bibi — vowed to bring down the fragile government, endorsed by a wafer-thin majority of 60-59 (with one abstention) in the Knesset, the changeover marks the end of an era. Netanyahu was the longest-serving Prime Minister (PM) of Israel.

The ongoing tenure of PM Narendra Modi coincided with Bibi’s. As the 2014 Lok Sabha results were trickling in, Netanyahu was the first international figure to congratulate Modi on his impending sweep. Since then, both have been talking, meeting, hosting, greeting and tweeting at regular intervals.

During PM Modi’s July 2017 visit to Israel, Bibi broke protocol and skipped the Knesset proceedings to be a tour guide for the Indian visitor. Modi reciprocated when Bibi visited India in January 2018. Indeed, Bibi even used Modi’s image during his September 2019 election campaign and lamented his own difficulties in forming a government when Modi swept the 17th Lok Sabha elections.

Some of the key shifts in India’s position vis-a-vis Israel happened during the Bibi-Modi tenure — India’s abstentions in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) vote on Jerusalem and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) votes on the Gaza wars of 2014 and 2021; and the dropping of East Jerusalem as the capital of future Palestinian State. 

The display of bonhomie was also manifested in bilateral exchanges between presidents, PMs and officials. De-hyphenation was a hallmark of the Modi-Bibi relations when Modi undertook standalone visits to Israel and Palestine. The Covid-19 fight also brought both countries together.

While the basic parameters of the bilateral relations are strong, under the Bennett-Lapid government, there will be a lull, at least in public display. Bibi has dominated the Israeli political landscape since the early 1990s, and has not left office smoothly. In his last speech as PM, he pledged to topple the nascent government and return to office.

Since 2009, Bibi was synonymous with Israel and forged closer ties with leading personalities, from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Moreover, though Bennett served under Netanyahu during 2013-2020, he held portfolios such as religious affairs, education and diaspora affairs. His exposure to India will largely be confined to his six-month tenure at the defence ministry. Improving relations with the Joe Biden administration and slowing down, if not scuttling, the nuclear negotiations with Iran are his priorities.

In the 1990s, the Indian embassy was lukewarm towards the opposition, but things will be better now and presumably, India forged ties with some of them before the changeover.

The Gaza crisis is a reminder of the urgency of the Palestinian track, and if the past pattern is an indication, the Bennett government will be preoccupied with negotiations with the Palestinians, which means lesser attention to India.

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Business Latest News

Biden reinvigorates tariff war against India

New York: The US tariff war against India has been reinvigorated by President Joe Biden threatening to increase import duties on a range of imports, from prawns and Basmati rice to furniture and jewelry, in retaliation against New Delhi imposing Digital Services Tax (DS) on tech giants.

The US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced on June 2 the plan for the 25 per cent increase in the tariffs on 26 items from India, but said that the hikes will be on hold till December.

India imposed a two per cent tax starting in April last year on earnings in the country by foreign technology and e-commerce companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google. It was opposed by the administration of former President Donald Trump, and Biden has picked up the baton.

The Trade Representative’s Office said: “India’s DST is unreasonable or discriminatory and burdens or restricts US commerce.”

The Office estimated the increased taxes on the selected imports from India will equal the taxes India assesses on the US companies under the DST.

“Estimates indicate that the value of the DST payable by US-based company groups to India will be up to approximately $55 million per year. The level of trade covered by the action takes into five account estimates of the amount of tariffs to be collected on goods of India and the estimates of the amount of taxes assessed by India.”

The other items threatened with increased duties include bamboo, window shutters, cigarette papers, pearl, copper foil and bedroom furniture.

Inaugurating the new phase of trade wars, the Biden administration also threatened to increase tariffs on imports from five other countries — the UK, Austria, Italy, Spain and Turkey over their DST.

Explaining the reason for holding the increases in abeyance for the six countries, Tai said it was to help the international negotiations on taxation.

“The US remains committed to reaching a consensus on international tax issues through the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and G20 processes. Today’s actions provide time for those negotiations to continue to make progress while maintaining the option of imposing tariffs.”

The latest Biden salvo opens a new front in the trade war between the two countries that started in 2018 when Trump imposed 25 per cent duties on steel and aluminium imports from India.

In 2019, Trump withdrew the special treatment for some Indian exports, mostly low-tech items and handicrafts, under the General System of Preferences (GSP) that exempted them from import duties.

New Delhi retaliated with higher tariffs on 28 US products that included walnuts and almonds.

Biden has not so far taken steps to reinstate the GSP facility for India.

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International Latest News

‘Misunderstandings’ with India resolved: Nepal PM

Kathmandu: Nepal’s embattled Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has said that misunderstandings with India have been resolved, and that the two countries should move forward looking at the future.

In a recent interview, Oli accepted the fact that once, there were misunderstandings between the two neighbors. However, he did not elaborate on those issues.

Oli stated in a recent interview with BBC Hindi Service that the outstanding issues relating to the border issue with India will be resolved through diplomatic channels on the basis of historical accords, maps, and factual documents.

“Yes, there were misunderstandings at one time, but now those misunderstandings are gone. We should not be stuck in past misunderstandings but move forward looking at the future. We have to pursue a positive relationship,” the 69-year-old Nepal Prime Minister, now heading a minority government said.

He further said that, unlike any other country. Neighbors share both love and problems. Don’t people in Nepal has a unique relationship with India Chile or Argentina have a problem? he asked.

Oli had approved Nepal’s new map featuring the Indian territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura.  As per reports, Nepal’s new map has been drawn on the basis of the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 signed between Nepal and the then British Indian government and other relevant documents.

After this incident, the ties between India and Nepal soured. India reacted sharply, calling it a “unilateral act” and cautioning Kathmandu that such “artificial enlargement” of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it. India said that Nepal’s action violated an understanding reached between the two countries to resolve the boundary issues through talks.

 

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International Latest News USA

Russian President to visit Pak amid changing priorities

Islamabad: After Pakistan and Russia signed a fresh agreement to lay a gas pipeline, prospects of Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting Islamabad for the very first time were on the cards.

The project, previously named The North-South Gas Pipeline, has now been renamed as Pakistan Steam Gas Pipeline, in which a gas pipeline will be laid from Pakistan’s Karachi city to Kasur.

It is a flagship project between the two countries, which intends to remove the memories of rivalry of the Cold War and bring both countries on the road to bilateral ties.

Both Pakistan and Russia have been working to materialize Putin’s visit.

In April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Islamabad after a gap of at least nine years.

As per official details, Lavrov came with a message that Moscow was willing to extend all possible help to Islamabad and create pathways for bilateral relations.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has already extended a formal invitation to President Putin.

Experts have said that with the signing of the Pakistan Steam Pipeline agreement, the visit of President Putin has become even more significant and important.

Pakistan is anxious to have President Putin inaugurate the groundbreaking of the gas pipeline project, which is expected to be held later this year or in early 2022.

As per sources, Russia is keen on selling arms to Pakistan, something it avoided in the past because of opposition by India.

It is pertinent to mention that both countries have been holding regular joint military exercises since 2016.

Russia and Pakistan are also in close contact in the peace process and ongoing regional security issues including Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Steam Gas Pipeline is a stepping-stone in the normalization of relations between the two countries, which has been strained for years due to Cold War rivalry.

The project was originally signed in 2015. However, it could not be initiated due to possible sanctions by the US on Russian companies.

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International Latest News

Putin-Biden talks: Russia says it expects no ‘breakthrough’

Moscow: Russia is not expecting any major breakthrough when President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Joe Biden hold their first summit this month, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

“We are not under any illusions and we are not trying to create the impression that there will be any breakthrough, any historic fateful decisions,” Lavrov told a press conference in Moscow ahead of the June 16 talks in Geneva.

“But the very fact of top-level talks between the two leading nuclear powers is of course important,” he said, after an online meeting of officials from the BRICS alliance of major emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

The face-to-face meeting between the two leaders comes amid levels of tension not seen for years, and both countries have downplayed expectations of any significant results.

Since taking office, Biden has imposed new sanctions against Moscow over what US authorities say was the Russian role in the massive SolarWinds cyberattack and meddling in 2020 presidential election.

Washington has also harshly criticized Moscow for the near-death poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

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International Latest News

China, BRICS stand with India in fight against Covid: Wang Yi

All five BRICS member countries, including China, will provide support to India as it battles against the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Chinese state councilor and foreign minister Wang Yi said.

“Let me begin by once again expressing my sympathy to India over the severe impact of the new wave of Covid-19 infections,” Wang said via video link at a BRICS foreign ministers’ summit on May 31.

Wang said, “At this trying time, China stands in solidarity with India and all BRICS countries. As long as it is needed by India, I believe all BRICS partners including China will provide further support and assistance at any time. We are fully confident that India will certainly overcome the pandemic.”

The Chinese minister lauded India for conducting its role as the BRICS chair despite the raging pandemic.

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International Latest News

BRICS backs Covid-19 vaccine patent waivers

New Delhi: The BRICS grouping endorsed an India-South Africa proposal for patent waivers for Covid-19 vaccines and called for sharing of doses, transfer of technology, and development of vaccine production capacities in order to turn the tide in the fight against the coronavirus disease.

Against the backdrop of the India-China border standoff, members of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping reaffirmed the importance of territorial integrity and sovereignty of states and the need to resolve problems through peaceful means.

A virtual meeting of foreign ministers of BRICS states, which was chaired by external affairs minister S Jaishankar, also resolved to combat all forms of terrorism, including cross-border movement of terrorists, terror financing networks, and safe havens.

Jaishankar and his counterparts from the four other countries – China’s Wang Yi, Brazil’s Carlos Alberto Franco França, Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, and South Africa’s Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor – focused on the response to the Covid-19 crisis and equitable access to vaccines during their deliberations.

India and South Africa have been pushing for a waiver of patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization (WTO) since last year, and all the BRICS members agreed to support this measure as part of efforts to ensure timely, affordable and equitable access to diagnostics, vaccines, and essential health products and technologies and their components to combat the pandemic.

“The ministers reaffirmed the need to use all relevant measures…including supporting ongoing consideration in WTO on a Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property rights waiver and the use of flexibilities of the TRIPS agreement and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS Agreement and Public Health,” said a joint statement on reforming the multilateral system that was adopted at the meeting.

The ministers reiterated the need for sharing vaccine doses, transfer of technology, development of local production capacities and supply chains for medical products, and promotion of price transparency, and sought “due restraint in the implementation of measures that could hinder the flow of vaccines, health products, and essential inputs”. They also called for timely operationalization of the BRICS vaccine research and development center.

Though there was no official word on whether the India-China standoff figured in the discussions, Jaishankar said in his opening remarks that Brics strives for an inclusive and equitable multipolar international system that respects the territorial integrity of all states. (Hindustan Times)

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