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24th December Current Affairs

China- Hong Kong Relations

(GS-II: Effects of policies of other countries on India)

In News:

Pillar of Shame, a memorial to the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown, was recently dismantled by China.

Pillar of Shame:

The Pillar of Shame, a haunting eight-metre tall sculpture showing intertwined bodies with hollowed eyes and open mouths — an anguished mass of humanity — was created by Danish artist Jens Galschiot as a tribute to the victims of China’s crackdown in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

What’s the issue now?

The statue has been at Hong Kong University (HKU) since 1997, installed shortly after one of Hong Kong’s annual June vigils at Victoria Park, where thousands gathered every year to mark the anniversary.

The vigil itself had been symbolic of Hong Kong’s special status under the “one country, two systems” model that granted it freedoms that are denied on the mainland, where commemorations of June 4 are banned.

The vigil did not take place in June this year for the first time, with the police cordoning off the park.

If the end of the vigil was seen as a significant symbol of one of Hong Kong’s distinct freedoms slipping away, the removal of the statue has now been added to the list.

Recent changes:

Hong Kong’s changes, including the shutting down of newspapers and an overhaul of the curriculum in schools and colleges, have come thick and fast in recent months after Beijing, in June 2020, passed a new national security law that lists stiff penalties for subversion and secession.

The passing of the law followed months of pro-democracy protests in 2019 calling for direct elections, including for the top post of Chief Executive, who is now nominated.

Beijing has also overhauled the electoral system, reducing the share of directly elected representatives in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), down from 50% to 22%. The new rules also introduced a review committee to decide on the eligibility of candidates to ensure only “patriots” could run for office.

How is Hong Kong ruled?

It is ruled under One Country Two Systems approach.

As per the policy, the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions, both former colonies, can have different economic and political systems from that of mainland China, while being part of the People’s Republic of China.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese control on July 1, 1997, and Macau’s sovereignty was transferred on December 20, 1999.

The regions would have their own currencies, economic and legal systems, but defence and diplomacy would be decided by Beijing.

Their mini-Constitutions would remain valid for 50 years — till 2047 for Hong Kong and 2049 for Macau. It is unclear what will happen after this term.

Chinese law in Hong Kong to respond to foreign sanctions:

The law is proposed to be introduced through Hong Kong legislation rather than Beijing legislation, by adding it to an annex of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law.

What’s the law all about?

Beijing adopted a law in June under which individuals or entities involved in making or implementing discriminatory measures against Chinese citizens or entities could be put on a Chinese government anti-sanctions list.

Under China’s law, such individuals could then be denied entry into China or be expelled.

Their assets in China may be seized or frozen. They could also be restricted from doing business with entities or people in China.

Why was such a law introduced?

The law comes as the United States and European Union step up pressure on China over trade, technology, Hong Kong and the far western region of Xinjiang.

Concerns and issues associated with the law:

Critics have warned that Hong Kong’s adoption of the law could undermine its reputation as a global financial hub.

‘Meendum Manjappai’ scheme

(GS-III: Conservation related issues)

In News:

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has launched the ‘Meendum Manjappai’ campaign aimed at creating awareness on the usage of cloth bags instead of single-use plastic bags.

Background:

The Tamil Nadu government has already banned 14 types of plastic materials.

Way ahead?

Enforcement is key for the ban to be effective.

The government also needs to address important structural issues such as policies to regulate the use of plastic alternatives, improve recycling and have better waste segregation management.

In addition to improving recyclability, investment in research and development for alternatives should also be a priority.

What are single use plastics?

Single-use plastics refer to disposable items like grocery bags, food packaging, bottles and straws that are used only once before they are thrown away, or sometimes recycled.

Why plastics?

As plastic is cheap, lightweight and easy to produce, it has led to a production boom over the last century, and the trend is expected to continue in the coming decades, according to the United Nations.

But countries are now struggling with managing the amount of plastic waste they have generated.

About 60% of plastic waste in India is collected — that means the remaining 40% or 10,376 tons remain uncollected.

Background:

In 2019, the Union government in a bid to free India of single-use plastics by 2022, had laid out a multi-ministerial plan to discourage the use of single-use plastics across the country.

The strategy:

A government committee has identified the single use plastic (SUP) items to be banned based on an index of their utility and environmental impact. It has proposed a three-stage ban:

The first category of SUP items proposed to be phased out are plastic sticks used in balloons, flags, candy, ice-cream and ear buds, and thermocol that is used in decorations.

The second category, proposed to be banned from July 1, 2022, includes items such as plates, cups, glasses and cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straws, trays; wrapping and packing films used in sweet boxes; invitation cards; cigarette packets; stirrers and plastic banners that are less than 100 microns in thickness.

A third category of prohibition is for non-woven bags below 240 microns in thickness. This is proposed to start from September next year.

Challenges ahead:

It is not going to be an easy task given that close to 26,000 tons of plastic waste is generated across India every day, of which more than 10,000 tons stays uncollected.

A significant amount of plastic ends up in rivers, oceans and landfills.

What needs to be done?

The government has to do a thorough economic and environmental cost-benefit analysis.

The plan has to take into account social and economic impacts for the ban to be successful.

We need better recycling policies because resources are poor and there needs to be a much broader strategy.

Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA)

(GS-II: Bilateral Relations)

In News:

India and Australia are fast-tracking negotiation regarding the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

India- Australia bilateral trade:

India’s exports to Australia amounted to $4.04 billion while imports were $8.24 billion in FY21.

Major Indian exports to Australia are petroleum products, medicines, polished diamonds, gold jewellery, apparel etc, while key Australian exports to India include coal, LNG, alumina and non-monetary gold.

In services, major Indian exports include travel, telecom and computer, government and financial services, while Australian services exports were principally in education and personal travel.

In 2020, India was Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner and sixth largest export destination, driven by coal and international education.

Difference between CECA and CEPA:

  • CECA – Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.
  • CEPA – Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

The major “technical” difference between a CECA and CEPA is that CECA involve only “tariff reduction/elimination in a phased manner on listed/all items except the negative list and tariff rate quota (TRQ) items.

CEPA also covers the trade in services and investment and other areas of economic partnership”.

So CEPA is a wider term that CECA and has the widest coverage.

Usually CECA is signed first with a country and after that negotiations may start for a CEPA.

India seeks early return of democracy in Myanmar

(GS-II: India and neighbourhood relations)

In News:

India has conveyed to the military rulers of Myanmar that it seeks early return of democracy in Myanmar.

What’s the issue?

Myanmar has been internationally isolated because of the violent crackdown on protesting citizens.

India’s demands:

  • Myanmar’s return to democracy at the earliest.
  • Release of detainees and prisoners.
  • Resolution of issues through dialogue.
  • Complete cessation of all violence.

Significance of India’s move:

Since February 2, India has expressed concern at the ongoing military campaign against the democratic elements in Myanmar but this statement has additional significance, as it is the first time the government has hinted that India is ready to mediate among various sides to end the crisis.

What’s happening in Myanmar?

The elected leaders of Myanmar were overthrown on February 1 this year in a coup by the army, which accused Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s ruling party of cheating in the November elections. The army’s allegation has been rejected by the previous election commission and international monitors.

India’s stand on Myanmar at the UN:

India recently abstained from voting on the United Nations General Assembly‘s (UNGA’s) resolution for an arms embargo against Myanmar.

119 countries voted ‘yes’, Belarus voted ‘no’ and 36 countries abstained, including Myanmar’s neighbors China and India, along with Russia.

Reasons behind India’s move:

India said its views were not reflected in the draft resolution before the Assembly passed it.

India also said it does not believe that the tabling of this resolution for adoption at this juncture, is “conducive to aiding the country’s joint efforts towards strengthening the democratic process in Myanmar.”

About the UN Resolution:

The UN’s resolution demonstrated widespread global opposition to the Myanmar military and demanded that the country’s democratic transition be restored.

The resolution called upon the Myanmar armed forces to respect the people’s will as freely expressed by results of the general election of November 8, 2020.

India is supporting ASEAN initiative on Myanmar and the ‘Five-Point Consensus’:

It includes:

  • Immediate cessation of violence.
  • Dialogue among all stakeholders in Myanmar for a peaceful solution.
  • The appointment of a special Asean envoy to facilitate mediation.
  • Aid to Myanmar.
  • A visit to the country by the envoy.

Why should India be concerned about the situation in Myanmar?

For India, the stakes are high as instability within Myanmar has grave implications for the Northeast.

There are reports of guerrilla groups in Myanmar reviving their activities and any breakdown of law and order will allow militant groups in the Northeast to take advantage of the situation.

What lies ahead for India?

India’s reaction is likely to be different this time. India does care about democracy in Myanmar, but that’s a luxury it knows it will not be able to afford for the time being. Why? Because,

India’s security relationship with the Myanmar military has become extremely close, and it would be difficult to “burn bridges” with them given their assistance in securing the North East frontiers from insurgent groups.

Changed image of Ms. Suu Kyi herself: Her image as a democracy icon and Nobel peace laureate has been damaged by her time in office, where she failed to push back the military, and even defended the Army’s pogrom against Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2015.

Benefits for China: A harsh reaction from India, on the lines of that from the U.S., which has threatened action against those responsible for the “coup” unless they revoke the military’s takeover, would only benefit China.

Apart from strategic concerns, India has cultivated several infrastructure and development projects with Myanmar, which it sees as the “gateway to the East” and ASEAN countries (For example: India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport network, as well as a plan for a Special Economic Zone at the Sittwe deep-water port).

Besides, India still hopes to help resolve the issue of Rohingya refugees that fled to Bangladesh, while some still live in India, and will want to continue to engage the Myanmar government on that.

Myanmar’s military Constitution:

It was the military that drafted the 2008 Constitution, and put it to a questionable referendum in April that year.

The Constitution was the military’s “roadmap to democracy”, which it had been forced to adopt under increasing pressure from the west.

It was also due to its own realisation that opening up Myanmar to the outside world was now no longer an option but a dire economic necessity.

But the military made sure to safeguard in the Constitution its own role and supremacy in national affairs.

Under its provisions, the military reserves for itself 25 per cent of seats in both Houses of Parliament, to which it appoints serving military officials.

Also, a political party which is a proxy for the military contests elections.