Current Affairs 8th March

China gives green light for first downstream dams on Brahmaputra #GS2 #IR

A draft of China’s new Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), which is set to be formally approved, has given the green light for the first dams to be built on the lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo river, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet, before it flows into India.

The draft outline of the new Five-Year Plan (FYP) for 2025 and “long range objectives through the year 2035”, submitted before the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s ceremonial legislature, on Friday, specifically mentions the building of hydropower bases on the lower reaches of the river as among the priority energy projects to be undertaken in the next five years.

The lower reaches refer to the sections of the river in Tibet before it flows into India.

Fresh exploitation

The inclusion of the projects in the draft plan suggests the authorities have given the go-ahead to begin tapping the lower reaches for the first time, which marks a new chapter in the hydropower exploitation of the river.

The FYP’s backing for the projects also suggests that a number of long-pending proposals from Chinese hydropower companies to build dams on the lower reaches, including near the border with India, may be given the green light.

On the top of a list of energy construction projects for the next five years, mentioned on page 30 of the 142-page draft document in Mandarin — it has not yet been published in English — calls for “building a hydropower base on the lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo river”, along with “clean energy bases” in the upper and lower reaches of Jinsha river (the upper course of Yangtze river in western China).

Other major projects include the construction of coastal nuclear power plants and power transmission channels.

Infrastructure strategy

The high importance given to building dams on the “lower reaches” of the Yarlung Zangbo is underlined in the plan, where it is also mentioned on page 38 of the document among significant planned investments in infrastructure that serve major national strategies. The project is also listed along with the Sichuan-Tibet railway and the national water network.

China’s media reported in November that State-owned hydropower company POWERCHINA had signed “a strategic cooperation agreement” with the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government to “implement hydropower exploitation in the downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River”.

In 2015 China operationalised its first hydropower project at Zangmu in Tibet, while three other dams at Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha are being developed, all on the upper and middle reaches of the river. While POWERCHINA is not the first hydropower company to push for dams downstream and previous plans did not pass technical feasibility studies because of concerns over the environmental impact, the inclusion of the projects in the draft FYP suggests a high-level sanction has been given.

Yan Zhiyong, POWERCHINA’s chairman, told a conference of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering last year “there is no parallel in history” to the plans and the downstream reaches of the river offered “a historic opportunity for the Chinese hydropower industry”. Mr. Yan did not mention the location of the planned project but spoke about the particular potential offered at the “Great Bend” of the Brahmaputra and at the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in Medog county, where the river falls over a 2,000 metre-drop and turns sharply to flow across the border into Arunachal Pradesh.

India has expressed concerns to China over the four planned dams on the upper and middle reaches, though Indian officials have said the dams are not likely to greatly impact the quantity of the Brahmaputra’s flows in India because they are only storing water for power generation, and the Brahmaputra is not entirely dependent on upstream flows with an estimated 35% of its basin in India. Dams on the lower reaches and at the Great Bend would, however, raise fresh concerns because of the location across the border from Arunachal Pradesh and the potential impact downstream.

Mr. Yan said the 50-km section at the Great Bend alone offered the potential of 70 million kWh “which equals more than three Three Gorges power stations” and “will play a significant role in realising China’s goal of reaching a carbon emissions peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2060”, a target mentioned by Premier Li Keqiang on Friday at the opening of the NPC and also highlighted in the draft outline.

Maharashtra leads surge in cases across six States #GS3 #SNT

Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are reporting high daily COVID-19 cases with these six States collectively accounting for 84.71% of the 18,711 new cases reported in last 24 hours.

The active cases registered an increase for the fifth consecutive day, going up to 1,84,523, which now comprises 1.65% of the total infections. While the country’s total case count has gone up to 1,12,10,799, the number of people who have recovered from the disease also increased to 1,08,68,520. However, this translated to a drop in the recovery rate to 96.95%. The case fatality rate, meanwhile, stands at 1.41%.

Maharashtra continues to report the highest number of daily new cases at 10,187, followed by Kerala with 2,791 and Punjab with 1,159.

Eight States Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka and Haryana are displaying an upward trajectory in daily new cases, with the country’s total active caseload currently at 1.84 lakh (1,84,523). India has also reported 100 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours and six States account for 87% of the new casualties with Maharashtra registering the highest of 47, Kerala 16 and Punjab 12 daily deaths.

This has brought the total deaths in the country due to COVID-19 up to 1,57,756. The Ministry stressed that over 70% of the deaths occurred due to co-morbidities.

Jaishankar, Zalmay Khalilzad discuss Afghan peace talks #GS2 #IR

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and United States special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad spoke over phone on Sunday and discussed the latest developments pertaining to the Afghan peace talks.

Last November too, Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Khalilzad had held talks during the latter’s visit on the historic peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government and related issues.

“Received a call from US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad @US4AfghanPeace. Discussed latest developments pertaining to peace talks. We will remain in touch,” Mr. Jaishankar said on Twitter on Sunday.

India has been keenly following the evolving political situation after the U.S. signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February last year.

The deal provided for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, effectively drawing curtains on Washington’s 18-year war with Taliban.

India has also been maintaining that care should be taken to ensure that any such process does not lead to any “ungoverned spaces” where terrorists and their proxies can relocate.

India has been a major stakeholder in Afghanistan and it has extended $3-billion developmental assistance in the last few years to the country.

India, China need ‘enabling conditions’ to settle dispute #GS2 #IR

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday said India and China needed “to create enabling conditions for the settlement” of the boundary dispute, even as he reiterated China’s view that “the rights and wrongs” of last year’s crisis were clear.

His comments came at his annual press meet along the sidelines of the on-going convening in Beijing of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the ceremonial Communist Party-controlled legislature. Mr. Wang addressed China’s relations with the United States, the EU, Japan and India, among other issues.

“The China-India relationship is essentially about how the world’s two largest developing countries get along and pursue development and rejuvenation together,” he said in response to a question on the on-going disengagement along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Mr. Wang reiterated the statement he made during a February 25 call with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar that “the boundary dispute, an issue left from history, is not whole story of the China-India relationship.” “It is important that two sides manage disputes properly and, at the same time, expand and enhance cooperation to create enabling conditions for the settlement of the issue,” he told reporters. “The rights and wrongs of what happened in the border area last year are clear, so are the stakes involved. It again proves that initiating confrontation will not solve the problem. Returning to peaceful negotiation is the right way forward. China’s position is very clear. We are committed to settling the boundary dispute through dialogue and consultation. At the same time, we are resolved to safeguard our sovereign rights and interests.”

India’s stand

India has conveyed a different message, underlining that without full disengagement along the LAC, and then de-escalation, restoring normalcy in the relationship would not be possible.

The Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday complete disengagement “would allow both sides to consider de-escalation of forces in Eastern Ladakh as that alone will lead to the restoration of peace and tranquility and provide conditions for progress in our bilateral relationship.”

Since a February 20 meeting of military commanders that followed disengagement being completed on the north and south banks of Pangong Lake, there has been no official word on the progress in the Gogra-Hot Springs area and in Demchok. There are also long-running tensions involving the blocking of patrols in Depsang, which officials said pre-dated the current crisis. De-escalation also remains, with troops still present in large numbers in depth areas beyond the LAC.

Mr. Wang said “it falls on both sides to solidify the existing consensus, strengthen dialogue and communication, and improve various management mechanisms to jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area.”

“In the year ahead, we hope India will work with China to truly deliver on the important common understanding reached by our leaders that both are not threats to each other, but opportunities for each other’s development,” he said.

The Chinese Foreign Minister said “on many important issues, our positions are the same or close, due to similar national realities.” “Therefore, China and India are each other’s friends and partners , not threats or rivals,” he said. “The two sides need to help each other succeed instead of undercutting each other. We should intensify cooperation instead of harbouring suspicions of each other.”