CURRENT AFFAIRS – 31/05/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 31/05/2023

Scientist team discovers new exoplanet with mass 13 times that of Jupiter

A new Jupiter-size exoplanet with the highest density known till this date and mass 13 times than that of Jupiter, has been discovered by an international team of scientists led by Prof. Abhijit Chakraborty at the Exoplanet Research Group of the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad.

An exoplanet is any planet beyond the solar system and the one discovered by scientists from India, Germany, Switzerland and the U.S. is with a density of ~14 g/cm3.

Massive giant exoplanets are those having mass greater than four times that of Jupiter.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said that the discovery of this massive exoplanet was made using the indigenously made PRL Advanced Radial-velocity Abu-sky Search spectrograph (PARAS) at the 1.2 m telescope of PRL at its Gurushikhar Observatory in Mt. Abu by measuring the mass of the planet precisely. The newly discovered exoplanet was found around the star called TOI4603 or HD 245134. NASA’s The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite initially declared TOI4603 as a possible candidate to host a secondary body of unknown nature.

“What sets this discovery apart is that the planet falls into the transition mass range of massive giant planets and low-mass brown dwarfs with masses ranging from 11 to 16 times the mass of Jupiter. Only fewer than five exoplanets are currently known in this mass range so far,” the ISRO said.


Using Buddhism as a tool of soft power

I am a Shakya from Nepal, a supposed descendant of Siddhartha Shakya, who went on to be known as the Buddha. Every Shakya is engaged in a different path today, yet is bound by one phenomenon. But it is rare for individuals, or the tribe, or even Nepal to feature in a congregation of Buddhists such as the Global Buddhist Summit, which took place in New Delhi in April. Realisations like these prompt a closer look at why growing superpowers, India and China, are defining their own versions of the future of Buddhism and using it as a tool of soft power.

The Shakyas who ruled Kapilavastu after Buddha’s Parinirvana did not have an army, and many were massacred in Sagarahawa. Eventually, the remaining Shakyas fled to different parts of Greater Magadha and to far-flung places like Gandhara (modern-day Afghanistan) and Burma (Myanmar). Many also went to the Kathmandu valley and were granted a status comparable to that of the Vajracharya priests, but they were not permitted to practise priesthood outside of their families. Therefore, in Hiranyavarna Mahavihara (Golden Temple) Shakyas alternate as temple caretakers and conduct all the rituals. Aside from the Kumari temples, this is one of the few temples in the Kathmandu valley where a 1,000-year-old tradition continues. When Nepal accepted a grant from the Government of India to renovate portions of the Golden Temple complex, it created a controversy. Many locals believe that India was only interested in this project because, after Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, this is the temple complex most frequently visited by Chinese tourists, indicating vested interests and strategies.

India’s Buddhism

For India, Buddhism provided an identity of peace and tranquillity during the formation of the Republic, which was a time of intense violence and division between the country’s two key religions, Hinduism and Islam. Professor Naman Ahuja, curator of the Lumbini Museum, discusses the usage of Buddhist symbolism as a means of escaping difficult times, whether it be the Ashoka Pillar or the wheel in the flag. In addition, the inscriptions on the edifice erected by King Ashoka provided evidence of the life and teachings of the Buddha.

Due to such usage and evidence, India likes to claim Buddhism as its own. It convened the Global Buddhist Summit in April primarily to provoke China by promoting Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. There were no Nepal representatives present. The summit was hosted by the International Buddhist Confederation, a Buddhist organisation based in India, which has neither a patron nor a member of the Supreme Dhamma Council from Nepal. Nobody from Bhutan, a Buddhist nation, was present either. Therefore, the geopolitical tool for India seems to be the promotion of Tibetan Buddhism, which has greater Western appeal.

The India International Centre for Buddhist Culture and Heritage is coming up in Lumbini, Nepal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone in May 2022. A year later, little progress has been made on the construction of this centre. This could be seen as an attempt to counter the opening of the Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa, Nepal, which, in India’s eyes, is a Chinese project. It was constructed as part of a project financed by the Asian Development Bank and carried out by a Chinese contractor.

India’s overtures of Buddhism in Nepal began only after ‘Buddha is Born in Nepal’ became a populist slogan of sovereignty in Nepal, which Mr. Modi had to accept in a speech he delivered to the Constituent Assembly in Nepal in 2014. India’s claim over Buddhism by excluding discussions with the pallbearers of tradition and the larger Buddhist community will only serve the purpose of irritating China.

China’s Buddhism

China is home to around 245 million Buddhists, 28,000 Buddhist monasteries, 16,000 temples, and 2,40,000 Buddhist monks and nuns. This makes Buddhism an important soft power for China. By adding religious overtones to China’s existing portfolio of cultural and linguistic diplomacy, the state religious system has become increasingly involved in Xi Jinping’s efforts to support the growing political and economic power of China abroad. Beijing pursues a multifaceted and flexible approach to promote Chinese Buddhism abroad, with its specific modalities varying depending on whether the target country is Buddhist-majority, Western, or one of China’s Asian competitors. As a source of Buddhism, the Chinese look to Nepal rather than India, as the popular temples in Beijing have a connection with Nepal, whether through the use of Newa Ranjana scripts on the pillars or the association of these temples with Nepali artist Arniko, who is revered in China. China utilised Buddhist narratives alongside infrastructure investments in Sri Lanka, just as Cambodia, Laos, and other Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia do. With large crowds thronging to Buddhist temples, China cannot ignore the undercurrents and, therefore, would prefer to use its own version of Buddhism not only for national integration but also as a tool of soft power.

In Nepal, a popular rumour is that China will send five million Buddhist pilgrims and establish hotels and other businesses through its investment arms as a big soft power push. It is also rumoured that India will invest more money in Lumbini. My hope is that the geopolitical wrangling over my ancestors will not turn Nepal into a Buddhist Disneyland.

The geopolitical wrangling over the future of Buddhism between India and China is making the Nepal Buddhists uneasy.


Clean energy funds rise, but mostly in China, Europe, U.S.


The latest report by the International Energy Agency, ‘World Energy Investment 2023,’ shows that investment in clean energy has increased in recent years, with the transition mainly fuelled by Electric Vehicles (EVs) and renewable power. However, investments are concentrated in advanced economies and China. More worryingly, the decline in the prices of clean energy technologies has reversed slightly in the past two years.

The report shows that economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with global efforts in tackling energy scarcity have significantly propelled investments in the renewable energy sector. The report, which compares the International Energy Agency’s 2023 forecasts with the actual data from 2021, highlights a notable finding: annual investments in green energy have outpaced those in fossil fuels during this period, recording a growth of 24% against 15%.

The report also highlights the influence of recent geopolitical events on the energy market. Specifically, it points out that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to substantial instability in the fossil fuel markets. Interestingly, this volatility has inadvertently accelerated the deployment of various renewable energy technologies, despite triggering an immediate scramble for oil and gas resources.

Chart 1 shows the global energy investment in clean energy and fossil fuels, 2015-2023 (estimated) in billion $. While investments in fossil fuels have been stagnant, money flow into clean energy has considerably grown in recent years. The push towards greener fuels is driven predominantly by renewable power and EVs, according to the report. These sectors, complemented by additional contributions from other areas like battery technology, heat pumps, and nuclear power, have been at the forefront of this transition.

In 2023, low-emission power sources are expected to attract nearly 90% of the total investment in electricity generation. Among these, solar energy shines brightest. Investment in solar energy is projected to exceed $1 billion per day in 2023, totaling $380 billion for the year. Chart 2 shows the annual clean energy investment, 2015-2023 (estimated) in billion $.

The report shows that over 90% of the surge in clean energy investment since 2021 has been concentrated in advanced economies and China. The increases in clean energy investment in these regions since 2021 have outstripped the total clean energy investment in the rest of the world combined.

However, there are other regions that are demonstrating progress. India, for instance, continues to exhibit robust investment in solar energy. Brazil’s deployment of renewable energy is on a consistent upward trajectory, while investor interest is escalating in parts of West Asia, specifically Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman. But despite these developments, hurdles remain for many countries, the report argues. Higher interest rates, ambiguous policy frameworks, market designs, financially constrained utilities, and a high cost of capital are all impeding investment. Chart 3 shows the increase in annual clean energy investment across select countries and regions, 2019-2023 (estimated) in billion $.

In a shift from the consistent trend of cost reductions, prices for several crucial clean energy technologies experienced a rise in 2021 and 2022, largely because of escalating input prices for critical minerals, semiconductors, and bulk materials such as steel and cement. Chart 4 shows the average prices for selected technologies in $ per kilowatt hour (nominal prices) and $ million per megawatt.


The shift in the U.S.’s approach to China

What has been the takeaway from the recent G-7 summit in Hiroshima? Why is the U.S. shifting from the Trump-era policy of decoupling to de-risking in its attitude towards China? How has China reacted to the change in policy? Did the Russia-Ukraine conflict play a role?


The story so far:

The Trump-era focus of the U.S. to decouple from China is being phased out by a new concept. The U.S. has expressed that it is shifting its policy on China from decoupling to de-risking. The EU has already declared that its approach to China will be based on de-risking. The recently concluded G-7 summit at Hiroshima, through its Leader’s Communique, has also expressed the grouping’s consensus on de-risking.

What is ‘de-risking’?

After the establishment of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and China in 1979, both the countries embarked on a path of increasing economic interdependence. China gained immensely from this relationship, as it helped the country drastically widen and deepen its diplomatic and economic engagement with the rest of the world. As China’s economic and military power grew, its ambition to challenge the primacy of the U.S. in the international system became increasingly apparent. China’s rise not only came at the expense of America’s global clout, but also the latter’s domestic industry, which got “hollowed out” in its four-decade old economic embrace with China.

By the time Donald Trump took over the reins of power in the U.S., dealing with the techno-economic challenge from China became a matter of urgency. The Trump administration made it a point to attack the gargantuan bilateral trade imbalance in favour of China. It also wished to keep the U.S’s high technology sector out of China’s reach. In a series of moves, Trump raised tariffs on Chinese imports which invited retaliatory tariffs from China. The U.S.-China ‘trade war’ started, and bilateral relations were set on course for a “decoupling” from the American standpoint. This approach was marked by a rare sense of bipartisanship in an otherwise polarised domestic political climate in the U.S.

Therefore, the Biden administration which took over from the Trump administration continued with the latter’s China policy. However, over time, the Biden administration added its own features into the China policy inherited from Trump. Most recently the label of “decoupling” has been changed to “de-risking”. According to the U.S. National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan, “de-risking fundamentally means having resilient, effective supply chains and ensuring we cannot be subjected to the coercion of any other country”. While decoupling stands for an eventual reversal of the four-decade old project to enmesh the two economies, de-risking aims to limit such an effect only in areas where it undercuts the national security and industrial competence of the U.S.

This shift has been articulated by the Biden administration in two recent landmark speeches — by the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on the “U.S.-China Economic Relationship” at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on April 20, followed by that of Jake Sullivan on “Renewing American Economic Leadership” at the Brookings Institution on April 27. Recent legislations in the U.S. such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, CHIPS and Science Act as well as the Inflation Reduction Act have been subsumed under this new approach. The U.S.’s geo-economic initiatives like the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment as well as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity are also supposed to reflect the spirit of de-risking.

Why de-risking?

In order to understand the rationale behind the U.S.’s shift from decoupling to de-risking, it is important to comprehend the timing of the move. The policy change has been announced in the wake of several events of high geopolitical significance. The world has just emerged out of the tentacles of the pandemic after three disruptive years and the global economy is hoping for a resulting rebound. The U.S.-China rivalry had peaked in the past few months — from the ratcheting of tensions across the Taiwan Strait to the acrimonious spy balloon episode between the two countries. China also witnessed Xi Jinping beginning his second decade of rule over China in an unprecedented third term as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and President of the People’s Republic of China, ever since the dawn of the reform era. In parallel, a year has passed since Russia began its special military operation in Ukraine, with the conflict going on without any end in sight. Mr. Xi, after starting his third consecutive leadership term, made his first foreign visit to Russia where he proposed a peace plan. He has also, in his third leadership tenure, extended his “peacemaking diplomacy” to West Asia, striking gold in normalising the frayed Saudi-Iran ties. All of these developments have necessitated the U.S. to recalibrate its posture towards China. In such a situation, casting the U.S.-China relations as a new Cold War and a zero-sum game appears to be risky for the U.S. Bringing more nuance into its earlier decoupling approach could bring down China’s guard and give the U.S. more room to re-consolidate its strength.

Perhaps, the Russia-Ukraine conflict could have played a pivotal role in enabling the U.S’s policy shift towards China. The Biden administration, unlike its predecessor, has made it a point to reassure its European allies. At a time when China has been backing Russia in its shadow battle in Ukraine against the West, the idea of decoupling hardly appeals to the European Union (EU). The EU has in fact been looking to woo China in order to convince it to stop supporting Russia from skirting Western sanctions.

In this context, a watered down version in the form of de-risking could better achieve the objective of getting Europe on board the U.S’s efforts to counter China. It is therefore no surprise that the U.S’s recent articulation of its de-risking approach repeatedly draws references to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s milestone speech on “EU-China relations” to the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre on March 30. In her speech, Ms. von der Leyen stressed that the EU’s strategy to China will be based on de-risking. This was a precursor to her visit to China in April, along with the French President Emmanuel Macron, with the Russia-Ukraine war as the main agenda. In fact, China policies of the U.S. and the EU have been witnessing a significant convergence of late — recent developments may have only triggered the Trans-Atlantic consensus on de-risking vis-à-vis China.

What could be the geopolitical ramifications of de-risking?

The U.S. efforts to keep its allies closer in its geopolitical rivalry against China by adopting the path of de-risking has already won a significant victory in Japan at the G-7 summit. The leaders at the summit declared that they will coordinate their “approach to economic resilience and economic security that is based on diversifying and deepening partnerships and de-risking, not de-coupling”. China has expressed its scepticism to the West’s de-risking approach, portraying it as a façade to the decoupling agenda. Moreover, China has expressed its disapproval in painting China as the actor responsible for heightening geopolitical risks. According to China, the real source of risks is the U.S., which it alleges to have created instability across the world by pursuing political and military interventions and perpetuating a Cold War mindset.

The continuing emphasis in de-risking to diversify supply chains away from China demonstrates that the Trump-era spirit of decoupling is being carried forward, albeit with some changes. This could also make the West’s moves to counter China’s rise much more sustainable by facilitating a united front among allies. However, its effectiveness could be questionable, as it has dialled down U.S’s rhetoric against China which could be read by the latter as a sign of its adversary’s weakness. Though countries like India will stand to benefit from de-risking by leveraging its benefits like attracting supply chains and confronting China’s aggressive moves, it could also come at a cost. With the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the consolidation of the European alliance being the major triggers behind this shift, de-risking could lead to U.S. focus on the Indo-Pacific being diluted, at least for the short term.

Dr. Anand V. is Assistant Professor (Senior Scale) at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education


The Trump-era focus of the U.S. to decouple from China is being phased out by a new concept. The U.S. has expressed that it is shifting its policy on China from decoupling to de-risking.

While decoupling stands for an eventual reversal of the four-decade old project to enmesh the two economies of U.S. and China, de-risking aims to limit such an effect only in areas where it undercuts the national security and industrial competence of the U.S.

The U.S. efforts to keep its allies closer in its geopolitical rivalry against China by adopting the path of de-risking has already won a significant victory in Japan at the G-7 summit.


‘India keen to boost ties with Cambodia’

President Droupadi Murmu on Tuesday said India is keen to further elevate its defence relations with Cambodia besides increasing tourism and people-to-people contacts.

Welcoming Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni, the King of Cambodia, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Ms. Murmu said there is great potential for further growth in trade and investment between India and Cambodia. She said India is keen to further elevate its defence relations with the Southeast Asian country.

Welcoming King Sihamoni on his first visit to India, she said his visit demonstrates the importance that Cambodia attaches to its ties with India as the two countries share a rich and vibrant relationship.

“We value our shared history and consider Cambodia as our civilisational sister country,” Ms. Murmu said.


Fresh excavation reveals pre-Mauryan era signs in Delhi’s Purana Qila site

A fresh round of excavations at the site of Delhi’s Purana Qila (Old Fort) have uncovered evidence of the continuous history of the city since the pre-Mauryan era. The findings include shards of Painted Gray Ware pottery which are usually dated to around 1200 BC to 600 BC.

Sources said that the site could host one of the accompanying events during the G-20 leadership summit in September. The Purana Qila, built by Sher Shah Suri and Mughal emperor Humayun, is believed by many to be the site of Indraprastha, as mentioned in the Mahabharat.

The new excavations have also found remains of a 900-year-old Vaikuntha Vishnu from the Rajput period, a terracotta plaque of Goddess Gaja Lakshmi from the Gupta period, the structural remains of a 2,500-year-old terracotta ring well from the Mauryan period, and a well-defined four-room complex from the Sunga-Kushan period dating back to 2,300 years ago, besides beads, seals, copper coins and a bone needle.

Trade centre

“More than 136 coins and 35 seals have been discovered from a small excavated area, indicating the site’s pivotal role as a centre for trade activities,” Culture Minister G. Kishan Reddy, who visited the excavation site on Tuesday, said. This was the third round of excavations at the site, beginning from January. Earlier excavations had been carried out in 2013-14 and 2017-18.

These efforts have revealed nine cultural levels, representing different historical periods, including pre-Mauryan, Mauryan, Sunga, Kushana, Gupta, post-Gupta, Rajput, Sultanate, and Mughal.

The Culture Minister said that the Purana Qila would soon be reopened.


Chinese mission with first civilian reaches space

China sent three astronauts to its Tiangong space station on Tuesday, putting a civilian into orbit for the first time as it pursues plans to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2030.

The world’s second-largest economy has invested billions of dollars in its military-run space programme in a push to catch up with the United States and Russia.

The Shenzhou-16 crew took off atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China at 9:31 a.m. (0301 IMT). They docked at the space station’s Tianhe core module on Tuesday afternoon, more than six hours after taking off.

The launch was a “complete success” and the “astronauts are in good condition”, Zou Lipeng, director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center said.

Leading its crew is commander Jing Haipeng on his fourth mission, as well as engineer Zhu Yangzhu and Beihang University professor Gui Haichao, the first Chinese civilian in space.

China was the third country to put humans in orbit and Tiangong is the crown jewel of its space programme, which has also landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon.