News, June 28th

China’s manufacturing still strong amid COVID-19 pandemic: The Economist

Despite all the dislocations from the coronavirus crisis, China’s manufacturing is still going strong, said The Economist on June 23.

In a report entitled “China is the world’s factory, more than ever”, the author pointed out that Chinese firms are in better shape than most elsewhere amid the coronavirus outbreak, attributing it to China’s “success in slowing the spread of the coronavirus”.

The article said the Canton Fair, though conducted entirely online this year, is a testament to China’s manufacturing muscle. “Some 25,000 exhibitors have hosted live-streams simultaneously, often from their factories, chatting to anyone interested in their products.”

China is home to 28% of the world’s manufacturing—nearly as much as America, Japan and Germany combined—and its manufacturing is still going strong despite all the dislocations from the coronavirus crisis, the report said.

According to the article, China has two big advantages as a manufacturing power. The first advantage is China’s unparalleled industrial base in breadth and depth, “churning out everything from low-end footwear to high-end biotech”.

“Even as wages have steadily increased, China’s combination of manufacturing clusters, first-class infrastructure and upgraded factories have made it more competitive,” the report said.

According to the OECD, in 2005, 26.3% of the value of China’s exports was added abroad; by 2016 that was down to 16.6%, with the share of foreign content falling most sharply in electronics, meaning that “more of the bits and bobs that end up in Chinese gadgets are themselves made in China”.

Citing an example of face masks as a vivid illustration of China’s strengths, the article noted that at the start of February, China made about half the world’s supply, 10m a day. Within a month, output had increased to nearly 120m. “That was not simply through exertion. It was thanks to having ‘the world’s most complete supply chain’,” the report said.

The second advantage for China, it said, is its own vast market. Despite the trade war, global firms look even more wedded to China. According to Rhodium Group, a research firm, during the past 18 months the value of foreign mergers and acquisitions in China reached its highest in a decade.

Even amid the coronavirus outbreak, not only is China’s economy one of the few likely to grow this year; its earlier resumption of industrial activity has allowed exporters to gain market share while most other countries are still in varying states of lockdown, the article noted.

Global COVID-19 cases cross 10mn: Johns Hopkins University

The overall number of global COVID-19 cases crossed the 10 million mark on Sunday, while the deaths were nearing 500,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

Currently, the total number of cases increased to 10,001,527, while the fatalities increased to 499,124, the University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) revealed in its latest update.

The US accounted for the world’s highest number of infections and fatalities with 2,510,323 and 125,539, respectively, according to the CSSE.

Brazil came in the second place with 1,313,667 infections and 57,070 deaths.

In terms of cases, Russia ranks third (633,542), and is followed by India (528,859), the UK (311,727), Peru (275,989), Chile (267,766), Spain (248,469), Italy (240,136), Iran (220,180), Mexico (212,802), Pakistan (202,955), France (199,473), Turkey (195,883), Germany (194,693), Saudi Arabia (178,504), Bangladesh (137,787), South Africa (131,800) and Canada (104,878), the CSSE figures showed.

The other countries with over 10,000 deaths are the UK (43,598), Italy (34,716), France (29,781), Spain (28,341), Mexico (26,381), India (16,095) and Iran (10,364).

India-China Conflict

THE clash at the Galwan river valley which resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, including the commanding officer of the 16 Bihar regiment, has understandably roused the anger of people in India.  The incident was shocking and condemnable as it happened after the June 6 meeting of senior military commanders of both sides where an agreement was reached on de-escalation and disengagement at various points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). There is still much which is unknown about the circumstances that led to the physical clashes between the Indian and Chinese soldiers on the night of June 15. The government has done nothing to clarify matters.

At the all-party meeting held on June 19, all the parties reiterated that the country is united in facing the situation. But this does not mean that no questions should be asked about the whole episode of the standoff between Chinese and Indian troops around the LAC in Ladakh and our response.  These need to be assessed properly and lessons learnt.  Only this will help the government and the country to find a way forward.

The foreign ministers of India and China held telephonic talks on June 17. After reiterating each other’s positions, they concluded that, “the overall situation would be handled in a responsible manner and both sides would implement the disengagement understanding of 6 June sincerely.” Further, “Both sides would take no action to escalate matters and instead ensure peace and tranquility as per bilateral agreements and protocols.” This was the approach the CPI(M) supported in the all-party meeting.

In this context, the jingoistic cries for revenge and military retaliation can be dismissed outright.  No sensible person, of whatever political persuasion, can subscribe to such an unrealistic and immature response.

There are others who claim that all the previous agreements arrived at with China for maintaining peace and tranquility on the border have become redundant.  There were a series of agreements on managing the border issues on the LAC, starting with 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas. Subsequently, there were more agreements in 1996, 2005, 2013 and 2015 under successive governments of India, including that of the Congress and the BJP.  It is these agreements and the mechanisms set-up under them to deal with differences and clashes that helped to maintain peace on the Himalayan heights. The last armed clash leading to casualties had been in 1975, 45 years ago.  It will be wrong to sweepingly dismiss all these efforts. On the contrary, what is required is a new compact building on these past agreements.

The way forward is two-fold – firstly, in the immediate context, talks for tactical de-escalation and disengagement all across the LAC should be pursued.  The meeting at the Lieutenant General level on June 22 at Moldo was a step forward in this regard.  But talks at the military level alone will not do.  There has to be a high level initiative at diplomatic and political levels to begin a dialogue.  However, this requires a clear-cut strategic approach.

The standoff in Ladakh is being seen by many analysts as the Chinese bid to nibble at Indian territory using `salami-slice’ tactics.  But to see this as a mere bid to grab some territory will not suffice.  There are deeper reasons for this fracas on the border.  There are geo-political factors beyond the usual LAC related frictions.  At a more basic level, there has developed a degree of mistrust and suspicion in the bilateral relationship between India and China.

Whatever egregious actions by China, the positions adopted by the government of India have also contributed to such a situation developing.  The steps to dismantle the state of Jammu & Kashmir and break it up into two centrally-administered territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh have had external repercussions. China saw it from their own standpoint. The Chinese government protested twice to India that for them, this amounted to changing of an administrative arrangement, which has an impact on an area to which China has claims. But the Indian government overlooked this response even when China got the matter raised in an informal session of the United Nations Security Council.

The political grandstanding indulged in by senior government leaders on this issue had also its impact.  On August 6, when the restructuring of Jammu & Kashmir was discussed in parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah had asserted that, “I want to put this on record that whenever I say state of Jammu & Kashmir in the House, then both PoK and Aksai Chin are part of it”.  The Foreign Minister, S Jaishankar, at a press conference in September last year talked about having “physical jurisdiction of PoK one day”.

The first year of the second term of the Modi government also saw speedy steps to integrate India with the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States – a plan which is meant to counter China.  In September last year, the quadrilateral alliance taking shape between the United States, India, Japan and Australia got upgraded to the ministerial level when the foreign ministers of the four countries met in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

During the current pandemic, India was seen going along with the United States in its diplomatic efforts to corner China at the World Health Assembly.  A union minister echoed the charge of the United States that the coronavirus was produced in a laboratory in China.

All these seem to have contributed to the standoff which has developed in Ladakh. The building of the road to Daulat Beg Oldi and branch roads northwards –  which was  part of India legitimately developing its border infrastructure – is seen in a different light now by the Chinese side.

The government should ask itself why its troubles with our neighbouring countries are increasing. Apart from the intractable territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, Nepal has now raised a dispute over the Kalapani area. The other friendly neighbour, Bangladesh is increasingly discomfited by constant official rhetoric against Bangladeshi infiltrators and the CAA-NRC design to deport these “termites” to Bangladesh. To dismiss all this as part of some design by China is self-delusionary. The fact is, the ultra-nationalist Hindutva world view of the BJP-RSS is having its fall-out on our relations with the South Asian countries.

India has to figure out a way not only to end the present confrontation but also to chalk out a path to resolve outstanding issues with China.  This can be done only through a high level political and diplomatic intervention.  It requires a recalibration of our strategic approach to China.  A former national security advisor and an experienced security expert, MK Narayanan, has recently advocated in an article in a national newspaper that India should adopt a non-aligned posture on the US-China conflict, if the country’s interests are to be best served. This is sage advice, contrary to what the growing chorus of pro-Western strategic experts and lobbyists are demanding. The Modi government, steeped as it is in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy and a burgeoning military and strategic relationship, should consider whether ganging up against China will serve our interests.

India must have the resilience to deal with China on an equal but independent footing. This does not require giving up our core interests. It only needs a political leadership which recognizes realities and works towards protecting the country’s vital interests and independence.

Iran makes mask-wearing compulsory

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that mask-wearing will be mandatory in certain areas as of next week and gave virus-hit provinces the green light to reimpose restrictive measures.

The Islamic republic has refrained from enforcing full lockdowns to stop the spread of the Covid-19 disease, and the use of masks and protective equipment has been optional in most areas.

Mask-wearing would be “obligatory in covered spaces where there are gatherings”, Rouhani said during a televised meeting of the country’s anti-virus taskforce.

The measure would come into force as of next week, continue until July 22 and would be extended if necessary, he said.

Rouhani said the health ministry had devised “a clear list” of the types of spaces and gatherings deemed high-risk, but he did not elaborate.

He also did not say what the penalty would be for those who fail to observe the measure.

According to deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi, “services will not be given” to those without masks in areas such as “government organisations and shopping malls.”

Iran reported its first Covid-19 cases on Feb 19 and it has since struggled to contain the outbreak as the death toll has crossed 10,000 and the number of infected reached more than 220,000.

Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in new confirmed cases since early May, when Iran hit a near two-month low in daily recorded infections.

The increasing caseload has seen some previously unscathed provinces classified as “red” – the highest level on Iran’s colour-coded risk scale – with authorities allowing them to reimpose restrictive measures if required.

According to Rouhani, the measure would be also extended to provinces with “red” counties.

“Any county that is red, its provincial (virus) committee can propose reimposing limitations for a week,” which could be extended if needed, he said.

The health ministry launched a “#I wear a mask” campaign on Saturday and pleaded with Iranians to observe guidelines aimed at curbing infections.

One Iranian is infected with Covid-19 every 33 seconds and one dies from the disease every 13 minutes, Harirchi said on Saturday.

Judge: Alaska corporations can get tribal virus relief money

Alaska Native corporations are eligible for a share of coronavirus relief funding set aside for tribes, a federal judge ruled late Friday in a case that has been closely watched around Indian Country.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., initially granted a request from tribal nations to withhold money from the corporations while he determined whether they qualified for a share of $8 billion.

Mehta said the corporations can be treated as tribal governments for limited purposes after sorting through arguments that picked apart the language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, congressional intent and the history of other federal laws.

“It stands to reason that Congress, in its effort to distribute emergency funds quickly to Indians under the CARES Act, intended to get those dollars in the hands of the same entities that deliver public services to Indians,” he wrote. “In the lower 48 states, those entities are largely Tribal governments in the traditional sense, but in Alaska, those entities include Alaska Native village and regional corporations.”

Various tribes that sued said they were reviewing the decision and deciding on next steps.

“We sincerely believe that Alaska Native corporations are not governments and should not be allowed to access funding that is intended to go to tribal governments,” said Rémi Bald Eagle, a spokesman for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.

The Treasury Department, responsible for doling out the money, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It withheld more than $162 million for Alaska Native corporations from an initial disbursement that was based on population data, according to court documents. The total hasn’t publicly been disclosed.

Alaska Native corporations are unique to Alaska and own most of the Native land in the state under a 1971 settlement known as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The corporations were not party to lawsuits regarding the relief funding but have said they support Alaska Natives economically, socially and culturally.

“This disaster assistance will provide immediate support to Alaska’s rural communities suffering from COVID-19 and help repair the economic damage caused by the pandemic,” said Kim Reitmeier, executive director of the ANCSA Regional Association.

Tribes had expressed concern that a ruling in favor of the corporations would lead to competition between tribal nations and the corporations for limited federal resources.

Mehta disputed that, saying his ruling in no way elevates the corporations to “super tribal status,” as some plaintiffs argued, or fosters competition.

“Today’s decision would result in critical congressional funding intended for Indian tribal governments being diverted to state-chartered corporate entities with no governance authority and no governmental duties to tribal citizens in Alaska,” the National Congress of American Indians said in a statement Friday.

The Alaska Federation of Natives said it understands that the more than 200 Alaska Native tribes have sovereignty that doesn’t extend to corporations through any federal law or policy.

UN highlights urgent need to tackle impact of likely electric car battery production boom

Demand for raw materials used in the production of electric car batteries is set to soar, prompting the UN trade body, UNCTAD, to call for the social and environmental impacts of the extraction of raw materials, which include human rights abuses, to be urgently addressed.

Electric cars are rapidly becoming more popular amongst consumers, and UNCTAD predicts that some 23 million will be sold over the coming decade: the market for rechargeable car batteries, currently estimated at $7 billion, is forecast to rise to $58 billion by 2024 .

The shift to electric mobility is in line with ongoing efforts to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, but a new report from UNCTAD, warns that the raw materials used in electric car batteries, are highly concentrated in a small number of countries, which raises a number of concerns.

For example, two-thirds of all cobalt production happens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 20 per cent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from artisanal mines, where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in extremely dangerous conditions in the mines for meagre income.

And in Chile, lithium mining uses nearly 65% of the water in the country’s Salar de Atamaca region, one of the driest desert areas in the world, to pump out brines from drilled wells. This has forced local quinoa farmers and llama herders to migrate and abandon ancestral settlements. It has also contributed to environment degradation, landscape damage and soil contamination, groundwater depletion and pollution.

Noting that “the rise in demand for the strategic raw materials used to manufacture electric car batteries will open more trade opportunities for the countries that supply these materials”, UNCTAD’s director of international trade, Pamela Coke-Hamilton, emphasised the importance, for these countries, to “develop their capacity to move up the value chain”.

In the DRC, this would mean building processing plants and refineries that would add value and, potentially, jobs within the country. However, for various reasons (including limited infrastructure, financing and a lack of appropriate policies), refining takes place in other countries, mainly Belgium, China, Finland, Norway and Zambia, which reap the economic benefit.

The report recommends that countries such as DRC provide “conducive environment to attract investment to establish new mines or expand existing ones”.

UNCTAD also recommends that the industry find ways to reduce its dependence on critical raw materials. For example, scientists are researching the possibility of using widely-available silicon, instead of graphite (80% of natural graphite reserves are in China, Brazil and Turkey).

If the industry manages to become less reliant on materials concentrated in a small number of countries, says UNCTAD, there is more chance that prices of batteries will drop, leading to greater take-up of electric cars, and a shift away from fossil-fuel powered transport.

As for the environmental consequences of the batteries themselves, the report recommends the development of improved, more sustainable mining techniques, and the recycling of the raw materials used in spent Lithium-Ion batteries, a measure that would help deal with the expected increase in demand, and also create new business opportunities.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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