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South Asia: Connectivity connecting diplomacy

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The role of connectivity is immense. It cannot be undermined in phase of development. It is one of the basic prerequisite of imbu- ing a sense of nationalism and sustaining socioeconomic integration. The spirit of connectivity cuts across parochial tendencies and imparts a sense of belonging. It intertwines the fate of every locality into a single mainstream. In the era of globalization and information technology, the objectivity of connectivity has to be heavily applied in the realms of diplomacy also. The existing trends indicate that the role of connectivity in diplomacy is being marginalised. This is not encouraging. The diplomacy cannot be seen in isolation. Despite more than seven decades after the independence, India has not able to link its north-east region with the rest of the mainland in a proper manner. As a result of this the Act East Policy has not yielded desired results. But the latest launch of the GSAT-9 satellite could be a trend-setter in the annals of connectivity connecting diplomacy. This has consolidated India's "Neighborhood First" policy. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has launched 2,230-kg GSAT-9, a geostationary communications satellite.

Australian Open 2016

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Men’s single: Serbian World number one Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray in straight sets to win a record equalling sixth Australian Open title. The Serb swept to a 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory in two hours, 53 minutes to hand Murray his fifth defeat in the Australian Open final. Djokovic equalled the tally of Australia’s Roy Emerson, who won the tourna- ment six times between 1961 and 1967, an achieve- ment that has gone unmatched in the 49 years since. It was also Djokovic’s 11th Grand Slam title, and he moved into equal fifth place with Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg behind 17-time leader Roger Federer. Djokovic is continuing this year where he left off in 2015 when he won three of the four Grand Slam events, falling short only at the French Open, where he lost to Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka. Roland Garros is still the only Grand Slam event that the Serb has not won. Djokovic defeated JoWilfried Tsonga to win his first major title in 2008, outclassed Rafael Nadal in an epic final in 2012 along with his four wins over Murray in 2011, 2013, 2015 and now 2016. Murray becomes only the second man to lose five finals at the same Grand Slam joining former coach Ivan Lendl who lost five at the US Open. Women’s singles: The 28-year-old Angelique Kerber has created history by becoming the first German to win a grand slam title since her childhood idol Steffi Graf in 1999 when she defeated world number one the 34-year-old Serena Williams 6-4 3-6 6-4 to clinch the Australian Open. She has prevented Williams from securing her 22nd major title. Men’s doubles: In just their third tournament together, the 29-year-old Jamie Murray and Brazil’s 33-year-old Bruno Soares defeated the vastly more experienced Daniel Nestor of Canada and the Czech Radek Stepanek 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 to win the title. This was Murray’s third straight Grand Slam doubles final appearance, having finished runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open with Australian John Peers. It was Soares’ second Grand Slam doubles final, having finished runner-up with Alexander Peya at the 2013 US Open. Women’s doubles: Top seeded women’s doubles pair of Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis overwhelmed Czech sev- enth seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 7-6 (1), 6-3 to win the Australian Open crown. It was the World No.1 doubles team’s 36th consecutive win and third straight Grand Slam victory after winning the Wimbledon and US Open last year. It was Sania’s second Australian Open title. She first won the mixed doubles title in 2009 with Mahesh Bhupathi. Sania has now six Grand Slam titles to her credit. It was the 35-year-old Martina’s 12th women’s doubles title.

Saudi and Iranian diplomatic crisis : Heading towards regional cold war

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Tensions between Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, and Shiite-dominated Iran have erupted into a full-blown diplomatic crisis, sparking widespread worries of regional instability. Traditionally, Saudi Arabia and Iran are long-standing rivals for pre-dominance in West Asia and the region’s heavy-weights; they see themselves as the leaders of the Sunni and Shia world, respectively.

North Korean h-bomb : Transforming regional spat in global tension

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North Korea or DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea) has once again pushed the button on its fourth underground nuclear test. This time North Korea used more sophisticated technology than its previous attempts. The test, which came just two days before North Korean leader Kim JongUn’s birthday, was initially detected as a 5.1-magnitude tremor at the main Punggyeri nuclear test site. The weapons yield was initially estimated at between 6 and 9 kilotonnes, similar to the North’s last nu- clear test in 2013.

India and Russia: Lacking economic dimensions

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Modi and Putin copy copy.tif India-Russia bilateral relations have been low key for a couple of years. The 20th meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) was co-chaired by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.


The commission reviewed the progress on a broad spectrum of bilateral issues including trade, economic, scientific, technological and cultural cooperation and suggested actions for realizing the full potential of this important relationship.

 

Some of the important decisions of the Commission include: a joint study group for the proposed agreement between India and the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation for trade in goods and services; Enhancement of bilateral trade through the International North South Corridor Project (INSTC) by freight forwarders and exporters particularly to bolster trade in agriculture and food processing industry; Maintain the momentum of cooperation in some priority areas such as hydrocarbons, coking coal, fertilizers, mining, civil aviation, infrastructure and trade in rough diamonds. Another decision was for joint cooperation between Indian company National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and the Russian company ACRON for development of potassium and magnesium deposits in Talitsky mine in Perm region of Russia and Partomchorr apatite-nepheline ore deposit (Murmansk region).

The defence ties between both sides are not doing well as the Indian defence procurement policy has undergone a sea change, with India emphasizing self-reliance and indigenization. If stagnating Indo-Russian bilateral trade has to beefed up, then the two sides have to diversify their trade basket. The Commission has rightly identified new priority areas such as hydrocarbons, coking coal, fertilizers, mining, civil aviation, infrastructure and trade in rough diamonds for achieving this objective. India has sought greater market access in Russia for its merchandise exports in sectors such as pharmaceutical, automobiles, textiles and value-added agri-products even as Moscow demanded strengthening of the Rupee-Rouble trade. Addressing the eighth India-Russia Forum on Trade and Investment, commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman pitched for enhanced market access for Indian goods in Russia and also invited Russian companies to increase their investments in India.

Positive Aspects:

  1. Now finally the two strategic partners have begun to adjust to new realities and deepen their bilateral cooperation in newer areas, in such non-defence areas as agriculture, food processing, hydrocarbons, coking coal, fertilizers, mining, civil aviation, infrastructure and rough diamonds.
  2. India and Russia have also identified three more areas for deepening their cooperation: smart cities, the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation for trade in goods and services and enhancement of bilateral trade through the International North South Corridor Project (INSTC).
  3. Indian companies will be able to participate in development and production of hydrocarbons in the Arctic and in East Siberia. Russia also has suggested involving India in Russian gas projects, including in the Sakhalin-1, where a second stage of an LNG plant will be built.
  4. Russia has offered a proposal to the Government of India to pick up 30% stake in the Acron, the Russian potash manufacturer, along with buyback agreement for exclusively supplying potash back to India.
  5. After it warmed up to China with a $400-billion gas deal, Russia is likely to have India as the next stop for expansion of its hydrocarbon market.
  6. If stagnating Indo-Russian bilateral trade has to beefed up, then the two sides have to diversify their trade basket. The Commission has rightly identified new priority areas such as hydrocarbons, coking coal, fertilizers, mining, civil aviation, infrastructure and trade in rough diamonds for achieving this objective.
  7. India and Russia have decided to renew the Cultural Exchange Programme for 2015-2018 and strengthen ties between their state-owned broadcasters. It was also decided to hold Festival of India in Russia in 2015 and strengthen links with Roerich International Memorial Trust in the village of Naggar in Kullu Valley.
  8. India oil refiners’ payments to Iran, which continue to be stymied by sanctions on Tehran despite interim leniency shown by the US and five other world powers to the Persian Gulf country, may finally get easier with Moscow agreeing to play intermediary. Russia, which recently signed an agreement with Iran for oil purchases from the West Asian country, would institute an oil swap mechanism with India that will mean that practically New Delhi will have to pay Russia for Iranian oil with Russia assuming the risk of routing the funds to Iran.

Limitations:

  1. Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to build military ties with Pakistan as India buys more weapons from the U.S., changing an approach toward the nuclear-powered neighbours that has endured since the Cold War. On 20th November, 2014, India’s tried and trusted friend, ally and strategic partner – signed a never-before defence cooperation agreement with Pakistan. The defence pact scripts a new history as Russia agreed to cooperate with Pakistan in combating terrorism and offered advanced counter-terrorism training to Pakistan.
  2. Russia’s ban followed the US-EU economic sanctions announced on the Ukraine issue. The previous year’s import of these items from America and 11 European countries were about $128 billion. India exported only $195 million of agri products to Russia in 2013-14. And, despite supplying 60 per cent of the world’s buffalo meat, India was absent from the Russian market.
  3. Bilateral trade between the two BRICS -member countries witnessed a  7.84 per cent decline in 2013-14 to $6 billion with India’s exports to Russia at $2.1 billion and Russia’s exports to India at $3.9 billion. The share of Russia in India’s imports declined by 0.87 per cent, which is not in tandem with the friendly historical bilateral relations and economic position of both countries, adding that the trade balance is in Russia’s favour due to import of energy supplies.

Potential:

  1. Russia is extremely rich in mineral deposits and boasts a significant share in the world’s raw materials production. It has iron ore reserves of around 56 billion tonnes.
  2. India is also planning to invest US$ 1 trillion in the infrastructure sector alone in the next five years. India aims to double its food processing capabilities in the next five years with the establishment of 64 fully equipped Agro Processing Zones and Food Parks. Russia “can be an invaluable partner to develop cross-sectoral linkages in the entire value addition chain from agriculture to retail, packaging and logistics.
  3. Russia’s retaliatory ban on import of meat, poultry and some other agricultural products from America and the European Union has opened an opportunity for India.
  4. Faced with economic sanctions by the Western world and a retaliatory ban on import of agricultural commodities from there, Russia has evinced interest in buying a large quantity of fruits and vegetables from India.
  5. Dairy products exports from India have jumped from Rs.289 crore in 2011-12 to Rs. 3,318 crore in 2013-14. At present, India has been exporting items such as grapes, cucumber, gherkins, fresh and processed vegetables and guar gum to Russia. The value of agricultural food product exports to Russia has increased from Rs 601 crore in 2011-12 to Rs. 1,174 crore in 2013-14.
  6. India is set to start negotiating with Russia the extension of a $30-billion gas pipeline Russia plans to build to China till the Indian border. If the proposed pipeline from Russia via China’s Xinjiang province materialises, it will be among the world’s most expensive gas pipelines.

India and USA: Coming on positive track

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India and US copy copy.TIF In a major diplomatic boost to Indo-American ties, US President Barack Obama has accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invite to be the chief guest at India’s 66th Republic Day Parade on January 26, 2015. With this, Obama would become the first US president to visit India twice, completing a remarkable warming in the relationship between the leaders of the world's two largest democracies.

East Asia Summit : Towards action-oriented regime

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map_usa.jpgThe East Asia summit (EAS) is a major forum for leaders in the region and it currently has 18 members. Besides the 10 countries in the ASEAN region and India, the other EAS members are Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the US and Russia. The EAS bloc represents 55 per cent of the world’s population and accounts for around 56 per cent of global GDP.

China, Taiwan : hold first direct talks

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China and Taiwan have held their first high-level talks since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Wang Yu-chi and Zhang Zhijun, the top cross-strait officials from each side, attended the four-day talks in Nanjing. The talks were seen as an attempt at building cross-Strait relations and paving the way for wider exchanges. The choice of Nanjing as the venue has special resonance because it was the capital of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government during the war against Mao Zedong’s Communists before the Nationalists were forced 65 years ago to flee the mainland for Taiwan.

India and Fiji : DTAA

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India and Fiji have entered a double taxation avoidance agreement (DTAA) that provides for among, other things, exchange of banking information for tax administration purpose.

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