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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 19 June 2021

Contents

  1. Biden & Putin’s ‘great power’ summit analyzed
  2. Sale of illegal HTBt cotton seeds doubles
  3. China launches crewed spacecraft Shenzhou-12

Biden & Putin’s ‘great power’ summit analyzed

Context:

  • U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a summit meeting which the American leader called the meeting of “two great powers”.
  • In a press conference held after the summit, Mr. Putin said they have agreed to return their ambassadors to their posts in a bid to lower tensions after Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. was recalled from Washington after Biden described Mr. Putin as a killer.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Foreign Policies and Treaties affecting India’s Interests, Important Developments in foreign relations)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Recent USA-China Rivalries
  2. India as Counterbalance to China for USA
  3. The Current Development: Western alliance
  4. Russian Distraction amidst Western Alliance against China

Recent USA-China Rivalries:

  • Competition for dominating world finances: To counter the USA-dominated International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization, China has come out with alternative financial institutions like Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, and New Development Bank.
  • Contending influence over international groupings: In order to contain rising China’s assertiveness, the USA under its ‘pivot to Asia policy’ has launched a Quad initiative, Indo pacific narrative. Most recently, the USA proposed to expand G7 to G-11 without including China in it.
  • New Cold War: USA-China confrontation is on multiple fronts including ideological and cultural hegemonic rivalry, trade wars which has often been called the New Cold War.

India as Counterbalance to China for USA

  • India is a preferred partner on security issues and to cooperate to preserve maritime security and counter Chinese influence in South Asia and Southeast Asia. To achieve this, USA aims to:
    • Support India’s aspiration to be a leading global power, highlighting its compatibility with the USA, Japanese and Australian vision of the Indo-Pacific.
    • Work with India “toward domestic economic reform”.
    • Enhance defence cooperation and interoperability.
    • Provide greater leadership roles for India in the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus.
    • Support India’s Act East policy.

The Current Development: Western alliance

  • In the past, when American Presidents visited Europe and met NATO allies, Russia had been their main focus. But this time, when Mr. Biden went to Europe, his first foreign trip after becoming the President, the focus was on China – a sign of the emerging shifts in the global power balance. Hence, the American President held a host of talks with separate blocs in Europe — the Group of Seven (G7), NATO and the EU — with a focus on strengthening the western alliance.
  • The G7 industrialised nations — the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan — issued a communique slamming China’s human rights records. Issues such as the detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang, the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, growing tensions with Taiwan and the alleged lack of transparency on Covid-19 were all mentioned in the G7 statement.
  • The 30-member NATO, whose traditional focus has been on Russia, has also issued a statement in which China has been mentioned multiple times. NATO members warned against the “systemic challenges to the rules-based international order” emanating from China’s rise.
  • The U.S. and the 27-member EU have decided to cooperate more on technology, regulation, industrial development and trade in an attempt to help the West compete better with China. They have also decided to set up a high-level trade and technology council, which would boost innovation and investment.

Russian Distraction amidst Western Alliance against China

  • While U.S. is keen on focusing on China, Russia remains a distraction as the ties between the two countries are at the lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
  • There were allegations of Russian cyberattacks and election interference in the U.S., while Moscow is reeling under Western sanctions and seems determined to resist any move by NATO to expand into its backyard.
  • Ukraine remains an unresolved crisis. Earlier this year, Mr. Putin had assembled Russian troops on the Ukraine border in a direct challenge to the U.S.
  • Bilateral relations between the two countries practically collapsed after the U.S. recalled Russian Ambassador from Washington and asked the American Ambassador to return for consultations after Biden described Putin as a killer.
  • It’s too early to see any meaningful change in Russia-U.S. relations. But the recent Geneva summit suggests that policymakers in Washington have at least started thinking of Russia as a secondary challenge that needs to be tackled diplomatically, not only through coercion, if the U.S. wants to take on a rising China.

-Source: The Hindu


Sale of illegal HTBt cotton seeds doubles

Context:

The illegal cultivation of herbicide tolerant (HT) Bt cotton has seen a huge jump in 2021, with seed manufacturers claiming that the sale of illegal seed packets has more than doubled since 2020.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology (Biotechnology, Genetically Modified crops)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are GM Crops?
  2. Regulating Bodies concerned with GM Crops
  3. About Bt cotton
  4. About HT Bt Cotton

What are GM Crops?

  • Genetically modified crops (GM crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering techniques. More than 10% of the world’s crop lands are planted with GM crops.
  • In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species like resistance to certain pests, diseases, environmental conditions, herbicides etc.
  • Genetic Modification is also done to increase nutritional value, bioremediation and for other purposes like production of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels etc.

Regulating Bodies concerned with GM Crops

GEAC

  • The top biotech regulator in India is Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
  • The committee functions as a statutory body under the Environment Protection Act 1986 of the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF).
  • GEAC is responsible for granting permits to conduct experimental and large-scale open field trials and also grant approval for commercial release of biotech crops.
  • The Rules of 1989 also define five competent authorities for handling of various aspects of the rules:
    • The Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBSC),
    • Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM),
    • Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),
    • State Biotechnology Coordination Committee (SBCC) and
    • District Level Committee (DLC)

Cartagena Protocol

  • The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement on biosafety as a supplement to the Convention on Biological Diversity effective since 2003.
  • The Biosafety Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by genetically modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.

About Bt cotton

  • Bt. cotton is the only GM crop approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) which works under MOEFC.
  • Genetically modified (GM) cotton, the plant containing the pesticide gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), has been grown in India for about twenty years.
  • Strains of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis produce different Bt toxins, each harmful to different insects.
  • Most notably, Bt toxins are insecticidal to the larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, cotton bollworms and ghtu flies but are harmless to other forms of life.
  • The gene coding for Bt toxin has been inserted into cotton as a transgene, causing it to produce this natural insecticide in its tissues.
  • According to the Ministry of Agriculture, from 2005, adoption of Bt cotton rose to 81% in 2007, and up to 93% in 2011.

About HT Bt Cotton

  • The third generation, i.e., herbicide tolerant Bt (HtBt) cotton variety saw the addition of ‘Cp4-Epsps’ gene from another soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which produces a modified protein that allows the plant to withstand herbicide glyphosate.
  • Farmers are not able to spray glyphosate on normal cotton because the chemical does not distinguish between the crop and weed, but the herbicide tolerant Bt (HtBt) cotton remains unaffected by glyphosate.
  • Like the first two hybrids, Ht Bt has also been developed by the US giant Bayer Monsanto. The company had submitted a proposal to GEAC for approval in 2013. However, the proposal was later withdrawn by the company because of various regulatory issues with the government.

The important advantages of Bt Cotton are briefly:

  • Increases yield of cotton due to effective control of three types of bollworms, viz. American, Spotted and Pink bollworms.
  • Insects belonged to Lepidoptera (Bollworms) are sensitive to crystalline endotoxic protein produced by Bt gene which in turn protects cotton from bollworms.
  • Reduction in insecticide use in the cultivation of Bt cotton in which bollworms are major pests.
  • Potential reduction in the cost of cultivation (depending on seed cost versus insecticide costs).
  • Reduction in predators which help in controlling the bollworms by feeding on larvae and eggs of bollworm.
  • No health hazards due to rare use of insecticides (particularly who is engaged in spraying of insecticides).

Arguments against Bt Cotton

  • In India, Bt cotton has been enveloped in controversies due to its supposed failure to reduce the need for pesticides and increase yield.
  • The link between the introduction of Bt cotton to India and a surge in farmer suicides has been refuted by other studies, with decreased farmer suicides since Bt cotton was introduced.

Argument for Indigenous variety

  • The cost of ignoring indigenous varieties for decades has been high for India.
  • These varieties resist many pests and don’t present the problems faced with hybrids.
  • Research suggests that with pure-line cotton varieties, high density planting, and short season plants, cotton yields in India can be good and stand a better chance at withstanding the vagaries of climate change.
  • But government backing for resources, infrastructure and seeds is essential to scale up indigenous varieties.

-Source: The Hindu


China launches crewed spacecraft Shenzhou-12

Context:

China launched a spacecraft Shenzhou-12, carrying three astronauts to part of a space station still under construction for the longest stay in low Earth orbit by any Chinese national.

China is the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to carry out a manned mission on its own.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology (Important Developments in Space Technology)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Shenzhou-12
  2. What is Tianhe?
  3. About China’s Tiangong Space Station

About the Shenzhou-12

  • The Shenzhou-12 launch is the first of two manned space missions planned for 2021 by China as a part of an intense schedule of launches aimed at completing the Chinese space station in 2022.
  • A Long March 2F rocket transported the Shenzhou-12, or Divine Vessel, towards the Tianhe space station module.
  • The Shenzhou-12 craft connected with the Tianhe space station module about six hours after takeoff from the Jiuquan launch center in Gobi Desert.
  • The three-man crew will spend three months on the Tianhe module, which is orbiting at some 340km to 380km above the earth.
  • This mission will help test technologies related to long-term astronaut-stays and health care, the recycling and life support system, the supply of space materials, extravehicular activities and operations, and in-orbit maintenance.

What is Tianhe?

  • Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).
  • Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.
  • The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).
  • In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.
  • Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.

About China’s Tiangong Space Station

  • The Tiangong Space Station or Chinese large modular space station is a planned space station to be placed in low Earth orbit between 340 and 450 km above the surface.
  • The Chinese Space Station will be roughly one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station and about the size of the decommissioned Russian Mir space station.
  • Operations will be controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center in China.
  • The Tiangong-3 will be a third generation, modular space station.

-Source: The Hindu

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