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Development, International

Key tunnel on Lhasa-Nyingchi railway completed

Construction on a pivotal tunnel on a railway linking Lhasa and Nyingchi in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region was completed Friday, marking huge progress of the mammoth project.

  • The Bukamu Tunnel, located in Milin County of Nyingchi, is 9,240 meters long with an average elevation of 3,100 meters above the sea level. It is also the 37th tunnel being finished, leaving just 10 tunnels to be completed by the end of the year.
  • Over 3,000 rock bursts were counted during the construction of the tunnel, while the oxygen level inside was merely 19 percent that of the plain areas, said Wang Shucheng, director of the project.
  • The Lhasa-Nyingchi railway is 435 km long, 75 percent of which are bridges and tunnels. It is expected to be completed in 2021

Most of the tunnels along the Lhasa-Nyingchi section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway have been completed, railway authorities said over the weekend.

The Bukamu Tunnel, one of the longest tunnels on the railway linking Lhasa and Nyingchi in Southwest China’s Tibet autonomous region, was completed on Friday. With its completion, 96 percent of the tunnels on the Lhasa-Nyingchi section of the railway are finished.

The 9,240-meter Bukamu Tunnel is located in Manling county of the region’s eastern Nyingchi city. According to the China Railway 17th Bureau Group, and it is also the 37th tunnel to be completed for this section, leaving 10 other tunnels to be finished by the end of the year.

“Once construction began in October 2015, it took more than 300 workers 1,234 days to complete the tunnel,” said Yan Qingjing, an official of the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway Headquarters, which is part of the group.

“The oxygen level in the region is merely 50 percent that of the plain areas, with the tunnel’s location at an average elevation of 3,000 meters above sea level, and the oxygen level inside the tunnel is only 19 percent of that of the plain areas,” Yan said.

The group’s statistics show that more than 90 percent of the tunnel is rock burst section, and that more than 3,000 rock bursts were counted during construction of the tunnel, with an average daily burst of three.

Wang Shucheng, director of the project, said the tunnel’s depth reaches 1,381 meters at one point, and high geostress inside causes the tunnel’s highest temperature to reach 42 C, much higher than the railway tunnel construction safety temperature of 28 C.

“The tunnel is like a steam room,” said Kang Yanjun, who works with the group. “Once you get inside, you begin sweating profusely. It is like doing anaerobic exercise.”

The technicians must exert a lot of energy every time they work in the tunnel, and each person needs at least 10 bottles of water, Kang said.

“We have implemented a 90-minute work shift schedule,” Kang said. “We place ice blocks in the tunnel to prevent workers from getting sick because of the high temperature, and we also use fans and oxygen transfer stations inside the tunnel.”

With a length of 2,416 kilometers, the Sichuan-Tibet Railway connects Southwest China’s Sichuan province with the Tibet autonomous region. It is the second railway linking Tibet with the rest of the world, along with the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

Xinhua

International

First Indian cargo ship from Bhutan arrives in Bangladesh via India

 For the first time, an Indian cargo ship carrying 1,000 tonnes of
stone aggregates from Bhutan has arrived in Bangladesh through India via
the Brahmaputra river, significantly reducing travel time and transportation cost.
An inaugural ceremony held at Narayanganj city near here on Thursday,
Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das, Ambassador
of Bhutan to Bangladesh Sonam T Rabgye and vice-chairman of
Bashundhara Group Safwan Sobhan received the first-ever consignment
through the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route, the Indian high commission
here said in a statement.
The ship, MV AAI of the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), was digitally flagged off by Indian Minister of State for
8/13/2019 First Indian cargo ship from Bhutan arrives in Bangladesh via India .
The ship then sailed from Dhubri in Assam and travelled to Narayanganj in Bangladesh, over the river Brahmaputra, the
statement said.
Dhubri was declared a port of call in October 2018. This is the first time an Indian waterway is being used as a channel for
transport of cargo between the two countries, using India for transit, it said.
The stone aggregates were transported by trucks from Phuentsholing in Bhutan which is 160 kilometres from IWAI’s Dhubri
jetty in Assam.
Bhutan was exporting significant quantities of stone aggregates to Bangladesh through the land route.
Mandaviya said the development is a historic one and takes forward Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to promote cargo
transportation through inland waterways.
He said the move will benefit India, Bhutan and Bangladesh and will strengthen relations between the neighbouring countries.
Transport of cargo through this route will cut short travel time by 8 to 10 days, and reduce transportation cost by 30 per cent,
bringing down logistics costs, Mandaviya said, adding that it will also be a more environment friendly mode of transport.
Mandaviya also said it will also open up an alternative route to India’s North Eastern states, making it easier and cheaper for
goods to reach these places from other parts of the country

International

Monsoon misery: Assam’s annual tryst with floods

If preventive measures are not taken immediately floods will cause more damage.

Flood affected villagers with their belongings travel on a boat in Katahguri village in river Brahmaputra, east of Gauhati, India, Sunday, July 14, 2019. (Photo: AP)

Flood affected villagers with their belongings travel on a boat in Katahguri village in river Brahmaputra. (Photo: AP)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Assam falls under a meteorological zone that receives excess monsoon rains
  • Brahmaputra carries a lot of water and sediments – another natural reason for floods
  • Destruction of wetlands and encroachment of plains have worsened the situation

It’s tucked away in the inside pages of national newspapers, rarely makes it to prime time TV bulletins, hardly finds mention in the national discourse on development…floods in Assam are an annual affair, rarely raising more than an eyebrow.

As sure as night follows day, floods in Assam (and in most parts of the Northeast) follow the monsoon. This year has been no different.

According to data put out by Assam State Disaster Management Authority, till July 18 the death toll has touched 27 and is likely to go up. Over 4,000 villages in 28 districts out of the state’s 33 have been affected.

Assam’s population is just over 3 crore; of this 53.5 lakh-plus people are under threat. While close to 1,000 houses have been damaged, 88 animals have been washed away. Over 16 lakh animals, including livestock have been affected. Pictures of rhinos trying to reach higher grounds at the Kaziranga National Park surfaced on Thursday.

(Photo: Reuters)

Over 2 lakh hectares of crop land have been affected by the flood waters. Infrastructure — roads, bridges, culverts – and public utilities have also taken a hit.

Floods lead to loss in human lives and the economy takes a big hit. According to Central Water Commission data (1953-2016) on average 26 lakh people are affected every year in Assam; 47 lose lives, 10,961 cattle die, Rs 7 crore worth of houses destroyed and the total damage comes up to Rs 128 crore every year.

Why is Assam flood-prone?

There are both natural and man-made causes for the annual deluge.

Most of Assam falls under a meteorological zone that receives excessive rain during the monsoon season. According to the Brahmaputra Board, a central body under the Ministry of Jal Shakti tasked to monitor and control floods, the region receives rainfall “ranging from 248 cm to 635…Rainfall of more than 40 mm in an hour is frequent and around 70 mm per hour is also not uncommon”. There have been occasions when 500 mm of rainfall has been recorded in a day.

The valley through which the Brahmaputra flows is narrow. While the river occupies 6-10 km, there are forest covers on either side. The remaining area is inhabited and farming is conducted in the low-lying areas. Overflowing rivers and flowing rapidly down the valley tend to spill over when it reaches the narrow strips.

(Photo: AP)

The zone’s topography also complicates matters. The steep slopes force the rivers to gush down to the plains.

Assam lies in a seismic zone — in fact most of the Northeast does. Frequent earthquakes and resultant landslides push soil and debris into the rivers. This sedimentation raises river beds.

According to a paper published in the International Journal for Scientific Research and Development, “Brahmaputra water contains more sediments raising river by 3 metres in some places and reducing the water carrying capacity of the river.”

Then there are man-made causes that have worsened the flood situation. Encroachment is a big issue. The population density of Brahmaputra valley was 9-29 people per sq km in 1940-41; this shot up to 200 people per sq km now, according Brahmaputra Board.

The systematic destruction of wetlands and water bodies that act as natural run-offs have aggravated the flood problem in Assam. Though embankments provide protection, most of them have not been maintained leading to breaches.

Is there a way out?

First and foremost is the need for early warning systems. There are reports that around the Assam-Bhutan border, villagers form WhatsApp groups to warn people of rising water levels.

If such people-people arrangements can work out then there is no reason why more institutionalised systems, based on technology, cannot be put in place.

(Photo: AP)

These early warning systems should be institutionalised based on scientific approach.

Wetlands and local water bodies should be revived so that the natural drainage system can act as a basin for excess water to flow. This would entail clearing human encroachments in the Brahmaputra flood plains.

Embankments should be regularly checked for breaches and systems put in place for maintenance; a first step would be to break the babu-contractor nexus that finds floods an easy way to sponge money from the system. (India Today)

International

Orban and Aung San Suu Kyi Gave in to Hate the Same Way

BY AZEEM IBRAHIM 

The two Oxford-educated leaders once preached liberal values—but found bigotry more convenient.

Aung San Suu Kyi with Viktor Orban in Budapest on June 5.

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her pro-democracy activism and her resilience in advocating for the cause of democracy in the face of terrible repression by the socialist military junta of Myanmar.

Around the same time, a young Viktor Orban was feted as one of Europe’s future democratic leaders after playing an instrumental role in Hungary’s post-communist transition to democracy. Had the field been less crowded in Europe, Orban could well have been nominated for the same honor as Aung San Suu Kyi, and for the same reasons.Trending Articles

Back then, you would have expected the fellow University of Oxford graduates to have a lot in common. Alas, the two also have much in common today—just all the wrong things. A summit between the two on June 5 epitomized the painful truth: On opposite sides of the earth, the two leaders have converged toward the same rejection of everything they once stood for.

Orban is reviled by many at the moment as the spiritual father of European right-wing populist illiberal democracy. He is a highly successful domestic politician who casts a long shadow over European politics and the West’s long-standing efforts for a peaceful and cohesive Europe under a liberal political and economic consensus.

He rose to power as a traditional center-right Christian democrat, in the mold of the German center-right Christian Democratic Union of Angela Merkel. But in the face of weak opposition from the center-left in Hungary and a threat from the more nationalistic, hard-right Jobbik party, he tacked right. And hard. Jobbik still exists in Hungary, but the erstwhile hard-right alternative is now positioning itself as a more centrist rival to Orban’s Fidesz party.

Meanwhile, Orban and his allies have captured virtually all the mainstream media in Hungary. The 2010 electoral returns gave him a supermajority in parliament, enabling him to change the constitution to permanently entrench an electoral advantage for his party, as well as to weaken the judiciary and the Constitutional Court in the face of the executive.

These power grabs have developed alongside each other with a mutually reinforcing narrative of Hungarian ethnonationalist exceptionalism amid supposed permanent threats from external and internal enemies. The list of enemies is also highly predictable: Jews, most notably in the form of the boogeyman-in-chief, George Soros; Western liberals, under the heading of “Brussels”; Roma, derogatorily called Gypsiesnaturally; and Eastern Europe’s favorite historical antagonists, Muslims.

Orban’s path toward autocracy was voluntary—and driven at least in part by his need to shield himself from charges of corruption. Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to power has been much less smooth and her turn toward oppression much more tragic. She spent much of the 1990s and early 2000s under house arrest in Myanmar, after her political movement, the National League for Democracy (NLD), posed a constant democratic threat to the entrenched political power of the military in her country.

Things came to a head after Cyclone Nargis in 2008, when the shambolic response of the military government to the natural disaster it gave them so much authority that it had to concede to a constitutional change and a so-called managed transition to democracy.

It was now seen as inevitable that Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD would come to the political fore. What was not anticipated was the price that they would be willing to pay to come to power. The managed transition would mean that the military maintained full control of defense, security, foreign affairs, and strategic economic sectors—effectively all functions of the state that constitute its de jure but also de facto sovereignty—while the civilian government would be allotted the largest proportion of legislative seats to be democratically elected and would be given responsibility over areas of governance that did not interfere too much with the military’s interests and concerns.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD finally ascended to their allotted role within Myanmar’s new constitutional arrangements in 2014. This was hailed as a huge step forward for a country that had suffered under five decades of military rule, and the international community regarded it as inevitable that the country would move ever more toward the Western model of liberal democracy under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Then the 2017 Rohingya crisis happened, when the military proceeded with so-called clearing operations against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the west of the country, ethnically cleansing over 1 million people and pushing them over the border to Bangladesh. Only about 300,000 Muslims remain in the region of their birth in western Myanmar, and over a third of them are effectively captive in refugee camps. Whether out of political expedience or personal conviction, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party backed the military against the Rohingya, whom they call “Bengali Muslims,” in this conflict. And to the shock of her erstwhile fans in the West, “The Lady” became a cheerleader for Islamophobia and ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar and Hungary also have some peculiar things in common. Hungary to the west and Myanmar to the east are both at the very historical periphery of the Muslim world at its greatest extent. Hungarian national identity has long defined itself around ideas of resistance, and with the Austrians and the Soviets no longer in the picture, nationalists have turned back to older stories of Christian resistance to Muslim Ottoman expansion into Europe. And similarly, Burmese national identity defines itself, more so now than perhaps in the past, in terms of Buddhist resistance to Mogul Muslim expansion into Southeast Asia.

All this is happening against the context of an emergent, U.S.-led global cultural awareness, which in the post-9/11 era has normalized Muslims as Public Enemy No. 1.

All this is happening against the context of an emergent, U.S.-led global cultural awareness, which in the post-9/11 era has normalized Muslims as Public Enemy No. 1.

 So if you are a national leader who is looking for scapegoats, for whatever reason, and you also have a national historical narrative deeply tied to the current global hate figures, “the Muslims” are a perfect target.

And so, when Aung San Suu Kyi and Orban finally met on June 5, their strangely parallel stories finally converged. Aung San Suu Kyi, the global pro-democracy and humanitarian icon fallen from grace, scraping around for any form of international recognition and prestige, ended up in the company of Europe’s most prominent outcast. Orban, once the bright hope of Europe’s future, was seeking solace after that slap in the face from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the rest of Europe from a woman who has not even begun to wash the Muslim blood off her hands.

These two tarnished icons, now spurned by disappointed humanitarians and former Western friendsbonded over their favorite far-right tropes such as the supposedly “continuously growing Muslim populations” in Myanmar and in Europe, the “fake news media,” and their beastly liberal critics.

In the final analysis, though, both have found their way to power. And both have found that decency, morality, ideals, and reputation were things they were willing to sacrifice to gain and hold on to power.

They both may have been ostracized from the democratic free world, but they both found new friends among the autocrats in Beijing for Aung San Suu Kyi and Moscow for Orban. And it turns out that there is a market out there for an Islamophobia International, which can be milked by both as a way to shore up the domestic base.

They are now, as they would have been in the early 1990s, kindred spirits. The problem, however, is that they are not alone. U.S. President Donald Trump is obviously a fan of Orban and his style of politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India, whom Aung San Suu Kyi meets with often, has found much political mileage in pushing a Hindu supremacism and violence against India’s substantial Muslim minority. And the only reason Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro might feel excluded here is because he does not have many Muslims at hand to brutalize.

Just as they did in the 1920s and 1930s, the forces of religious and ethnonationalist supremacism are on the rise, and, for now at least, they can find common ground among themselves against supposed international and internationalist conspiracies of humanist equality and decency, as they seek to buttress one another’s international standing and protect themselves from domestic accountability for their corruption and failures of governance.

They sell the same snake oils: national pride, protection from imagined threats to the volk, Islamophobia and/or anti-Semitism where available, and so on. For the time being, at least, people seem to be buying. And as long as they are, amoral political profiteers who sold out their ideals like Orban and Aung San Suu Kyi will be there to sell.

Azeem Ibrahim is a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College and a director at the Center for Global Policy in Washington. He is the author of Radical Origins: Why We Are Losing the Battle Against Islamic Extremism and a former expert advisor to the U.K. government’s Commission for Countering Extremism.  Twitter: @azeemibrahimVIEW

Climate Change, International

European heat wave sees Germany put speed limits on autobahn

Large parts of western and central Europe sweated under blazing temperatures on June 26, with authorities in one German region imposing temporary speed limits on some stretches of the autobahn, the federal controlled-access higyway system designed for high-speed vehicular traffic, as a precaution against heat damage.

Authorities have warned that temperatures could top 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in parts of the continent over the coming days as a plume of dry, hot air moves north from Africa.

The transport ministry in Germany’s eastern Saxony-Anhalt state said it has imposed speed limits of 100 kmph or 120 kmph on several short stretches of the highway until further notice. Those stretches usually have no speed limit.

On the evening of June 25, German railway operator Deutsche Bahn called rescue services to Duesseldorf Airport station as a precaution because two trains’ air conditioning systems weren’t working properly, but neither had to be evacuated.

In Paris, authorities banned older cars from the city for the day as a heat wave aggravates the city’s pollution.

Regional authorities estimate these measures affect nearly 60% of vehicles circulating in the Paris region, including many delivery trucks and older cars with higher emissions than newer models. Violators face fines.

Around France, some schools have been closed because of the high temperatures, which are expected to go up to 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) in the Paris area later this week and bake much of the country, from the Pyrenees in the southwest to the German border in the northeast.

Such temperatures are rare in France, where most homes and many buildings do not have air conditioning.

French charities and local officials are providing extra help for the elderly, the homeless and the sick this week, remembering that some 15,000 people, many of them elderly, died in France during a 2003 heat wave.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe cited the heat wave as evidence of climate destabilization and vowed to step up the government’s fight against climate change.

About half of Spain’s provinces are on alert for high temperatures, which are expected to rise as the weekend approaches.

The northeastern city of Zaragoza was forecast to be the hottest on Wednesday at 39 degrees Celsius, building to 44 degrees Celsius on Saturday, according to the government weather agency AEMET.

In southwestern Europe, however, some people had other reasons to complain during their summer vacation- the Portuguese capital Lisbon, on Europe’s Atlantic coast, awoke cloudy and wet on Wednesday.                           AP

International

Slovakia’s first female president takes office in a divided country

In a country rife with corruption and unease, Zuzana Caputova steps forward as the fresh-faced first female president, sworn in on 15 June, 2019

Zuzana Caputova had been battling to close a toxic landfill in her hometown, Pezinok, in Slovakia for years when she learned that the wife of her closest colleague had been stricken with an aggressive form of cancer. That same week, her godfather was told that he, too, had cancer. “Part of my personal motivation to get involved in this case is that I was scared of cancer,” she says. “And suddenly, in this week, the first week of June 2006, these two roles – the personal and professional – came together.”

That experience convinced Caputova that what counted most was doing her best to win the case and not to worry about the result, which she could not control. She did eventually win it before the European Court of Justice in 2013, and says she now plans to bring that same attitude to her new job.

On 31 March, Caputova, then a 45-year-old lawyer and political neophyte who had never held state office, became the first woman sworn in as president of Slovakia.

At her swearing-in ceremony in Bratislava, the capital, she vowed to continue to work for the forgotten and the dispossessed. “I offer my expertise, emotion and activism. I offer my mind, my heart and my hands,” she said. “I want to be the voice of those who are not heard.” Caputova rode a wave of public disgust with a political system rife with corruption to a victory widely seen as a rebuke of the illiberal and nativist strain of populism that has swept the European continent in recent years.

“I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without an aggressive vocabulary,” she told her supporters during her March victory speech. 

Caputova is proudly European, supports minority rights and does not shy away from controversial stances, like her support for gay rights, including the adoption of children by same-sex couples. Significantly, she was able to do so in a way that many in this still deeply conservative country did not find threatening, perhaps offering a model for others.

“When I talked about these things, for me, this attitude is based on a value that I believe to be very conservative and Christian – empathy and respect for other people,” she says. “And, for me, this value leads to tolerance and respect.” By any measure, it has been a remarkable year in this small central European nation, which emerged from communist rule in 1989 and became independent in 1993, after a peaceful split with the Czech Republic.

The revolt against the governing party, Smer-SD, began after the murders of a young investigative reporter, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, in February 2018. Kuciak had been looking into the nexus between politicians and the Italian mob, the ’Ndrangheta. A prominent businessman, Marian Kocner, would later be charged with ordering his killing.

But that came only after hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets and town squares across the country, the largest protests since the 1989 Velvet Revolution. The protests brought down the government of the prime minister, Robert Fico, and paved the way for Caputova’s election a year later. But her ascension promises to be anything but smooth, as she is about to enter a political maelstrom that will test her skills and determination. 

Fico’s Smer-SD party remains the dominant political force in the country, and the anger at the government that led many voters to embrace Caputova’s reformist vision has also emboldened the country’s far right, with avowed neo-Nazis winning seats in Slovakia’s parliament.

An unlikely supporter of Caputova is Ivan Kocner, the brother of the businessman charged with ordering Kuciak’s murder. His brother also had a stake in the landfill that Caputova fought to close and had once, not so subtly, threatened her. “I remember the first time we met, and her eyes grew wide,” Ivan Kocner, 48, recalls. “She knew I was Marian Kocner’s brother, and she did not have good experiences with the Kocners.”

Here is this group of angry men, very emotional. And she took it all in calmly, got to the essence and then focused on what needed to be done to fix the problem.

By that time, around 2009, Caputova had won a reputation for helping people take on the authorities. Ivan Kocner had gone to her because the mayor of his small village was trying to sell public land to a political patron and he, along with others from the village, wanted it stopped. “Here is this group of angry men, very emotional,” he recalls. “And she took it all in calmly, got to the essence and then focused on what needed to be done to fix the problem.” 

They prevailed. “She is not easily influenced or distracted by outside things,” he says. “It is going to take real effort to keep this part of herself.”

While Ivan Kocner became a documentary filmmaker, his brother surrounded himself with people who saw the country’s transition to democracy as a chance to get rich quick. Many of them would go on to become central figures in the organised crime world. Caputova, who was born in 1973, grew up thinking that communist rule could never last. “I remember how schizophrenic it felt,” she recalls. “To be talking with your friends honestly one moment and then having to hide your opinions with other groups.”

Then it all changed. Able for the first time to travel without a permit, her family visited Vienna during the Christmas season in 1989. “I can still remember the dazzling lights,” she says. When she entered college, she intended to study psychology. But she forgot to bring her paperwork and was rejected from the department. So she took up law instead.

While still in school, she worked as a legal assistant in the mayor’s office in Pezinok. “We had a feeling that we needed to care for something else than just ourselves and our studies,” she says. She volunteered to work with local children who had been neglected and abused. She left the mayor’s office in 1998, along with the heads of several other departments, after a disagreement with the administration. 

Jaroslav Pavlovic, who has known her since she was a child, would go on to work with her at city hall and, later, joined in the landfill fight, says he remembers her being fired with “the injustice of it all”.

“It was just brutal how the state could ignore the will of the people,” Pavlovic says.

Caputova says she was pregnant when she joined the landfill case. “Motherhood inspired me to get involved,” she says. The case soon took over her life. The day she went into labour, she says, she was completing a legal brief. Pavlovic says she was nothing if not tough and stubborn. There were many times before they won the landfill case that it all seemed overwhelming and hopeless. “She was the one who would motivate others,” he says. “And she took a lot of the burden on herself.”

Slovak president Zuzana Caputova

Pavlovic says she helped him deal with the pressure by introducing him to meditation, something she had been doing for some time to deal with stress. “I try to meditate every day,” Caputova says. She first came across books on Zen meditation as a teenager and has been a regular practitioner for 13 years. “I’m not sure how we’re going to manage that now,” she adds. “But the regular practice is important for me.” 

Pavlovic recalls that Caputova first broached the idea of running for president right after a meditation session early last year. “She asked me what I thought,” he says. “I remember she was very unsure about joining politics. My first reaction was, of course, ‘That’s fantastic,’” he says. “But she told me to think about it.”

After thinking it over, he sent her a passage from a favorite book, about how there are two roads one can choose. The dragon’s path, flying up into heaven; and the worm, digging deep into the ground. To do the job of president well, he says, she would have to make the harder choice – to be the worm.

“But on election night,” he says, “I told her that she had finally managed to connect these two roads into one.”

© New York Times

Human Rights, International

US State Department Report: Extremist Hindu Groups Attacking Minorities in India

Forty-five-year-old Qasim being dragged in the presence of policemen after a violent mob attacked him. Credit: Twitter

Washington: Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, particularly Muslims, continued in India in 2018, amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef, an official US report said on Friday.

The state department, in its annual 2019 International Religious Freedom Report, also alleged that senior officials of the ruling BJP made inflammatory speeches against minority communities.

The report says though India’s Constitution guarantees the right to religious freedom, “this history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives”.

The report praised India’s “independent judiciary” for often providing essential protections to religious minority communities through its jurisprudence.

The “exclusionary extremist narratives”, the report says, includes “the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities”. The “campaign of violence” says involves intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities.

“Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef,” it said.

According to some NGOs, the authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution, it said.

The report said that as of November, there were 18 such attacks, and eight people killed during the year.

On June 22, two Uttar Pradesh police officers were charged with culpable homicide after a Muslim cattle trader died of injuries sustained while being questioned in police custody, the report said.

Mandated by the Congress, the state department in its voluminous report gives its assessment of the status of religious freedom in almost all the countries and territories of the world.

Releasing the report at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the state department, secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the report was like a report card which tracks countries to see how well they have respected this fundamental human right.

Government’s failure to act

In the India section, the state department said that there were reports by non-governmental organisations that the government sometimes failed to act on mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalised communities and critics of the government.

The state department said that the Central and state governments and members of political parties took steps that affected Muslim practices and institutions.

The government continued its challenge in the Supreme Court to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords them independence in hiring and curriculum decisions, it said.

“Proposals to rename Indian cities with Muslim provenance continued, most notably the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions,” the state department said.

There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytise, the annual report said.

However, noting the positive developments, the report says some government entities made efforts to counter increasing intolerance in the country. Citing Rajanth Singh, previously the home minister, it said there was a 12% decline in communal violence compared to the previous year.

Senior US government officials underscored the importance of respecting religious freedom and promoting tolerance throughout the year with the ruling and opposition parties, civil society and religious freedom activists, and religious leaders belonging to various faith communities, the report said.

India has 1.3 billion population as per July 2018 estimate.

According to the 2011 national census, the most recent year for which disaggregated figures are available, Hindus constitute 79.8% of the population, Muslims 14.2%, Christians 2.3% and Sikhs 1.7%.

Groups that together constitute less than one per cent of the population include Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Jews, and Baha’is.

Suggestions to the US government

The document makes recommendations to the US government to improve religious freedom in India. It says the US should press India to allow a USCIRF delegation to visit the country and evaluate the conditions for freedom of religion.

The report says since 2001, USCIRF has attempted to visit India in order to assess religious freedom on the ground. “However, on three different occasions—in 2001, 2009, and 2016—the government of India refused to grant visas for a USCIRF delegation despite requests being supported by the State Department,” it says.

The US government could work with India to “create a multiyear strategy to ebb the flow of hate crimes targeting religious minorities”, the report says. It suggests measures such as pressing state governments to prosecute religious leaders, government officials and media personalities who incite violence against religious minority groups through public speeches or articles.

The US should encourage India to pass the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2018 to establish national and state human rights commissions and human rights courts, the report says.

It also asked the US government to ensure that India’s Central government does not use the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to “target international missionary and human rights groups”.

The CBI recently registered a case against the Lawyers Collective, a NGO run by prominent advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, for alleged misuse of the FCRA. The NGO denies these allegations and said its office bearers were “personally being targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the judiciary in all fora”.

(With PTI inputs)

Forty-five-year-old Qasim being dragged in the presence of policemen after a violent mob attacked him. Credit: Twitter

Economy, International

FPC Briefing: The Authoritarian-Populist Wave, Assertive China and a Post-Brexit World Order

by Dr Chris Ogden

Over the last decade, the rise of authoritarian tendencies represents an increasing illiberal wave in international politics. Such a wave is not limited to smaller countries but increasingly typifies the political leadership and underlying nature of the international system’s foremost powers, in the guise of the United States (US), Russia, China and India, who are normalizing authoritarian-populism as a dominant global political phenomenon. In this regard, we must recognise that authoritarianism and democracy are not opposing political systems but are fundamentally inter-related on one continuum, whose characteristics co-exist and significantly influence each other.  China is at the vanguard of this phenomenon and provides a clear counterpoint to western liberal democracy. With western democracies heavily reliant upon China’s continued economic growth and facing significant political upheavals and crises, in particular, Brexit, the essence of the liberal world order may soon be on the verge of capitulation to China’s preferred authoritarian basis.

Authoritarian and populist tendencies are escalating in the international system, transforming the nature of domestic and global politics. Permeating the domestic proclivities of countries ranging from Hungary, Poland and Turkey, to Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines, ‘nearly six in ten countries … seriously restrict (their) people’s fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression’.  Authoritarian-populism is now also a shared phenomenon among the world’s most influential countries, and the rise of authoritarian tendencies among the great powers characterises an increasing illiberal theme in international politics over the last decade[2].

‘Anti-elitist’, assertive and nationalist-minded leaders all currently lead the world’s great powers – the United States (US), Russia, China and India – with each proactively proclaiming a common nationalistic goal of restoring their countries’ past glories and status. Via their economic, military and diplomatic strength, as well as substantial, growing and evermore vocal populations, it is these four major powers – more than any other countries – that will determine and delineate the foundations of world politics – and of the prevailing world order itself – in the decades to come.

As such, in the US, the populist President Trump openly questions civil liberties, attacks the media, and side-lines and undermines major bureaucratic and legal bodies. In China, President Xi’s repressive government has increased internet surveillance, imprisons human rights activists, and threatens and re-educates religious activists. In Russia, an autocratic President Putin silences liberal opposition groups, restricts free speech, and controls media outlets. And in India, Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist rule is typified by heightened state censorship, the frequent banning of non-governmental organisations, and increased violence towards minority groups.

A range of key factors critically binds these four leaders together; primarily their highly personalistic leadership styles, their desire for centralized political control, their appeal to mass public audiences, and their sustained intolerance of dissent. Of note too is that even before President Trump gained power, the US was downgraded to the status of a “flawed democracy” in the Economist’s Democracy Index 2016[3]. India holds a similar standing, whilst Russia and China are considered authoritarian. The Index bases its comparison across a range of factors, including the electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties, underscoring the commonalities between these countries.

Given the vital role that these great powers perform as the shapers and creators of global institutions – and therefore of accepted behaviours and practices in the international sphere – as they become more authoritarian in nature so too will the dominant world order. Moreover, how they understand, demonstrate and deploy authoritarian-populist traits via their autocratic leaders has the potential to threaten the stability of democratic societies throughout the world, including in Britain and the European Union. Critically, we need to see that authoritarianism and democracy are not opposing and exclusive political systems but that they are fundamentally inter-related on one continuum. In this way, there is no fixed, binary divide between democracies and authoritarian regimes but instead, they are essentially fluid, inter-connected and impermanent entities, whereby democracies can display particular authoritarian inclinations and vice versa.

Chinese-Style Authoritarianism

Through a one-party state dating from 1949, the Chinese Communist Party presently rule with an authoritarian political basis that seeks to inhibit political pluralism, sanction political participation, imprison opponents (including political, ethnic and religious groups, most notably China’s Uighur population), and use state apparatuses to strictly monitor, control and command their population. China’s specific political nature relates to core elements of its specific world vision, in particular a set of desires pertaining to centralized control, territorial restoration and restored recognition, along with the continued impact of Confucian beliefs concerning harmony, peace, hierarchy, respect and benevolence – principally across East Asia. These various factors are informed by particular leadership styles, especially the more assertive and nationalistic Xi Jinping, who in October 2017 pertinently stated that ‘no one political system should be regarded as the only choice and we should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries’[4].

China’s authoritarian-populism is deep-seated in nature and is the hallmark of the country’s bureaucratic, legal and security institutions. These elements produce a political basis that critically contrasts to core dynamics integral to the current world order orientated around Western liberalism, as based upon democratic practices, tolerance, the rule of law, and protecting individual (rather than collective) human rights. As China’s stature increases, via the country’s ongoing economic, military and diplomatic rise, its global pre-eminence will allow the country to influence the functioning of the international system and threaten the predominant parameters of the current world order. This will allow for the realisation of Xi’s ‘Chinese Dream’ that ‘is a dream about history, the present and the future’, and inter-connects China’s longstanding values with its ambitions. By enabling a new world order, China’s supremacy in 1) economic, 2) institutional and 3) normative terms will be paramount and echo the country’s specific domestic values, which are deeply historically engrained in the mind-sets of its leaders, thinkers and people.

Economics

With China now possessing the world’s largest economy[5], it is acquiring a system-determining capacity that allows it to cast its own vision of authority, order and control throughout the contemporary international structure. The country’s gradual embrace of liberal economics – often merged with specific Chinese values and characteristics based upon state control and a blurring between public and private ownership – has given it this ability. This has resulted in an economic system defined as being authoritarian-capitalism that diverges from the western liberal economic ideal. In addition, China’s ever-increasing demand for resources, markets and energy has made the world’s composite national and regional economies dependent upon it as a major import and export market, cheap labour provider and fruitful foreign investment destination[6].

Beijing’s wild success in rapidly transforming the economic fortunes of its population, pulling hundreds of millions out of poverty and conducting its international trade in a non-ideological manner, also acts as an inspirational developmental model for countries across Africa and Asia – particularly those with authoritarian regimes. By doing so, China deeply questions the legitimacy of western liberalism’s declaration that economic growth inevitably leads to democracy, and – by presenting a viable alternative to it – shows that such a world order can be usurped and replaced.  Beijing’s planned Social Credit System[7], which will come into force in 2020, inter-links educational achievements, financial behaviour and social media activity to produce a transparent and publicly available social score, will extend the Chinese state’s capability to control its people.  The technologies central to this control are being exported to other countries[8], and their underlying principles are evident in the west, such as for credit scoring or screening terrorists[9].

Institutions

By binding members together around particular values, practices and understandings, and providing their instigators with a managerial role to govern and regulate international affairs, multilateral regimes aid the creation and maintenance of world orders. Such institutions innately reflect the specific interests, concerns and values of their creators, and are vehicles to disseminate particular visions of the world onto the global stage, as displayed by the western-originated International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations. For most of the latter half of the twentieth century, these institutions encapsulated the US-led vision of a western-orientated world order resting upon an image of international security via liberal free trade and democratic politics.

Underscoring this system-ordering potential, and also its differentiation from existing groupings, China’s beliefs concerning multi-polarity, global governance, human rights, peaceful development and non-intervention are engendering a new form of world order. China’s creation of different regimes, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB, a multilateral development bank founded in 2015), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, a Eurasian security organization initially initiated in 1996), encapsulates how its differing attitudes are inculcating a Chinese-led world order. Such an order inherently challenges rival western institutions, and – by extension – the very liberal values upon which they have been crafted, imagined and legitimized.

Normative

Drawing upon how leading great powers not only create world order but also provide leadership, as well as territorial, financial and existential security, a Chinese world order would necessarily change the very conduct and nature of global affairs. China’s domestic identity, history and behaviour pertaining to the acceptance of an autocratic and benevolent form of single- party rule all critically inform this discussion. So too do the wider realization and enactment of the notion of tian xia (“all under heaven”) that seeks to create a China-centred world order that is built upon tenets of hierarchy, paternalism and harmony in its various diplomatic relations across the world.

China’s underlying indigenous authoritarian values, practices and ideas have already altered the structure and workings of the international system, and as China becomes increasingly influential and powerful, they will lead to further significant transformations. Moreover, because authoritarian-populism is increasingly present in the politics of the great powers – as well as in many medium and lower tier countries – it acts as an enabling and legitimizing mechanism for China’s worldview. Such a convergence, accompanied by the weakening of western liberalism, the challenge that China poses to it, and the US’s continued retreat away from leading global affairs, illustrates how China’s authoritarian world order is becoming both feasible and achievable.

Thinking Ahead

The international system is currently experiencing a period of transition as economic, institutional and military power is being amassed by China, which is depleting the relative influence and stature of western countries and their associated values and worldviews. Moreover, Beijing is now able to articulate an alternative vision of world order premised upon different economic, institutional and normative conditions that are becoming increasingly legitimate in the eyes of many world leaders. Growing authoritarian and populist traits across the world – and its dominant great powers – accelerate this trend, as do pressure from domestic populations negatively affected by globalization, increased migration and growing economic disparities.

To effectively counteract the risk posed to their country by the authoritarian-populist wave, leaders in the UK – particularly in the context of Brexit – must remain aware that political systems are inter-connected and evolutionary in nature, and that such systems are all highly susceptible to:

  • Shock: Periods of tumult – in the form of a profound economic shock, recession or depression – will only serve to further accentuate and speed up a country’s assimilation to the authoritarian-populist wave. In such an atmosphere, nationalist tendencies will rise as domestic pressures and international uncertainties increase, especially in countries experiencing a deep identity crisis, such as the UK post-Brexit;
  • Slippage: In order to prevent them from being replaced by other worldviews, national values – and thus values underpinning particular world orders – require regular maintenance. Populations need to be actively (and regularly) informed concerning their rights, and how such rights were originally won, in order to better sustain the liberal world order. Without such a basis, citizens will be evermore vulnerable to alternative narratives; &
  • Isolation: countries separated from dominant economic and political groupings are more exposed to the core factors personifying the authoritarian-populist wave. This means not only nationalist forces – and more extreme political beliefs – but also alternative sources of financial and trade security, which China (and also the US) may be willing to provide but only subject to a tacit acceptance of its preferred worldview.

[1] Quoted in People Power Under Attack 2018 (Monitor Civicus), https://monitor.civicus.org/PeoplePowerUnderAttack2018/

[2] Economist, Democracy Index 2016: Revenge of the “Deplorables” (London: Economist Intelligence Unit), http://www.transparency.org.nz/docs/2017/Democracy_Index_2016.pdf; Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2017 – Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy(Washington DC: Freedom House), https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017; Polity IV, Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions 1800-2013(Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic Peace), 2014, http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4x.htm

[3] Economist, Democracy Index 2016: Revenge of the “Deplorables” (London: Economist Intelligence Unit).  Accessible at http://www.transparency.org.nz/docs/2017/Democracy_Index_2016.pdf

[4] Quoted in Tom Phillips ‘Xi Jinping Heralds “New Era” Of Chinese Power at Communist Party Congress’, The Guardian, October 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/xi-jinping-speech-new-era-chinese-power-party-congress

[5] See ‘Country Comparisons – GDP (Purchasing Price Parity)’, CIA World Factbook, 2017,https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/208rank.html#CH

[6] See ‘Foreign Direct Investment’, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 2018,  http://unctadstat.unctad.org/wds/ReportFolders/reportFolders.aspx

[7] Celia, Hatton, ‘China “Social Credit”: Beijing Sets Up a Huge System’, BBC News, October 2015. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-34592186

[8] Rui Hou,  ‘The Booming Industry of Chinese State Internet Control’, openDemocracy, November 2018, https://www.opendemocracy.net/rui-hou/booming-industry-of-chinese-state-internet-control

[9] Jimmy Tidey, ‘What China Can Teach the West About Digital Democracy’, openDemocracy, October 2017,  https://www.opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/jimmy-tidey/what-china-can-teach-west-about-digital-democracy

Indo - China Relation, International, Water

China Begins Sharing Hydrological Data On Brahmputra With India; Expected To Share Sutlej Data From 1 June

With the onset of monsoons, China has begun sharing hydrological data with India on the flow of Brahmaputra river for this year and is also expected to start sharing data on the Sutlej river from 1 June, reports Economic Times.

Originating in China’s Tibet and flowing into India’s Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, the Brahmaputra then flows into the Bangladesh before ultimately draining into the Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile, Sutlej, a tributary of the Indus river, also originates in China’s Tibet and flows into India before entering Pakistan.

The data on the flow of these rivers holds significance for the Indian government as it is necessary for flood management in peak monsoon seasons when the rivers swell up in size because of the heavy rains.

It should be noted thought that China had stopped sharing the data on Brahmaputra river in 2017 following the Dokalam stand-off between the two South Asian giants. It had then claimed that the hydrological data gathering sites had washed away due to heavy flooding. It was later in 2018 with the strengthening relations that China resumed the sharing of data.

The data on Brahmaputra river is shared from 15 May while on Sutlej from 1 June and the sharing of data continues till 15 October every year. Last year, China provided the data even beyond the October deadline after the Brahmaputra had witnessed formation of a lake due to a landslide that had increased the water levels.Tags: 

International, Nature

New species of orchid discovered in Tibet

Researchers have discovered a new species of orchid in southwestern China’s Tibet Autonomous Region and the finding has been published on a scientific journal.

Li Jianwu, senior engineer of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and one of the authors said the new species was found during a botanical survey in 2017 in the Yarlung Zangbo River Basin in Bomi and Medog counties in Tibet.

Growing on trees or mossy rocks near the riverside with an altitude of 1,700 to 2,000 meters, the orchid has conical pseudobulbs, ovate-oblong leaves, and ovate-rhomnus petals.

Researchers transplanted the orchid to the tropical botanical garden in southwestern Yunnan Province and later confirmed it as a new species.

The new finding has been published on Phytotaxa. (Xinhua))