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NEW DELHI: The second meeting of foreign ministers of the Indo-Pacific Quad comprising India, Japan, Australia and the United States has rattled China, which appears to be groping for a suitable response.

The October 6 Tokyo security conclave, where the four foreign ministers, braving the Covid-19 pandemic, chose to meet in person, and not online, evoked a prickly response from the Chinese embassy in Japan.

In its statement, the Chinese embassy warned the foursome not to form “exclusive cliques” that threaten the interests of third parties.

It also took aim specifically at US secretary of the state Mike Pompeo, implying that the Quad was divided on the question of China. “Pompeo has repeatedly fabricated lies about China and maliciously created political confrontation. We once again urge the US to abandon its Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice, stop unprovoked accusations and attacks against China and treat relations with China in a constructive manner,” the embassy said.

The statement predictably ignored the fact that just because the other three countries of the Quad, did not name China, it did not mean that they did not share Washington’s concern about Beijing posing a real threat to a rule-based Indo-Pacific region. Unsurprisingly, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne asserted that Quad countries were committed to a region that was “governed by rules, not power,” a veiled but clear message to China.

India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar also sharply focused on the importance of “upholding the rules-based international order”. He spotlighted that the Quad grouping had grown in importance, trailing, what appeared to be Pompeo’s pitch for mutating the Indo-Pacific Quad into a more formal security grouping modelled on NATO.

In his meeting with Pompeo, Japanese pitched China’s territorial disputes with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, as well as Beijing’s militarisation of conflict prone South China Sea.

In tune with the Chinese embassy statement, Global Times, the propaganda bullhorn of the Communist Party of China (CPC), sought to sell the illusion that the US stood isolated in its anti-China tirade during the conference in the Japanese capital. “The US has been barking aloud before and during the Quad meeting. But will it bite with expected ‘unity’ from the Quad? The answer is no. At least, the result of this Quad meeting is evidence of the US’ relatively declining leadership.”

Reading from a similar script, the website Sina.com.cn chorused, citing the Associated Press, that “?Pompeo was the only one who explicitly criticized China in the opening speech of the Quad”.

But China watchers in the mainland and outside were not so sanguine or vituperative in their response. Pang Zhongying, an international relations expert with Ocean University of China in Shandong province, pointed to the growing potency of the Quad, following the Covid-19 pandemic. “Since the (coronavirus) pandemic, in the past nine months or so, the Quad has evolved from being a loose grouping based on a vague concept to now emerging as a political and military bloc that sees China as their common challenge,” Pang was quoted as saying in the South China Morning Post.

The scholar pointed out that China’s growing assertion in the region maybe reinforcing the Indo-Pacific security bonds. “The formalisation of Quad, to a certain extent, is closely linked to China’s security policy and its assertive posturing in recent years.” Pang also cited that outside the region, countries such as Germany were showing greater interest in Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Germany last month became the second European country after France to formally sign up for an Indo-Pacific strategy, with China at its heart.

The daily also quoted Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, urging China to dial down its rhetoric for its own good. “If China is able to handle regional security issues with a less assertive tone, there is likely to be less incentive for countries in the region to band together and strengthen the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy.”

Despite their bravado, the Chinese are bound to worried by the rapid institutionalisation of the Quad to perform common security missions. Days before Tokyo conference, a US submarine – hunting P8 Poseidon, for the first time refuelled from India’s Andaman Sea hub of Port Blair – an event whose legal underpinnings can be traced to Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) (LEMOA), which became operational in 2018. Earlier, the US had refuelled the Indian Navy’s warship, Talwar, in the northern Arabia Sea, invoking the same arrangement.

After signing LEMOA, India has inked similar agreements with the remaining Quad members, Australia and Japan, laying the foundations for joint operations in the Indo-Pacific region.

Later this month India and the US are set to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation. The last of four military communication foundational agreements, BECA is an important precursor to India acquiring armed drones such as the MQ-9B from the US as the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) uses spatial data for pinpointed strikes on enemy targets, the Hindustan Times reported. The agreement can be a game-changer, in view of the China’s heavy military build-up in Ladakh.

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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INDIA

Hathras case: SC to deliver verdict on Tuesday on pleas seeking court-monitored probe

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court is scheduled to pronounce its judgment on Tuesday on a batch of pleas which have sought a court-monitored probe into the Hathras case, in which a Dalit girl was allegedly brutally raped and died of injuries, and transfer of trial to Delhi.

A bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde, Justice A S Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian had on October 15 reserved its verdict on a public interest litigation (PIL) and several intervention pleas of activists and lawyers who have argued that a fair trial was not possible in Uttar Pradesh as the probe has allegedly been botched up.

The lawyer, appearing for the victim’s family, had told the apex court that trial in the case be shifted out of Uttar Pradesh to a court in the national capital after completion of investigation.

A 19-year-old Dalit woman was allegedly raped by four upper-caste men in Hathras on September 14. She died on September 29 at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital during treatment.

The victim was cremated in the dead of the night near her home on September 30. Her family alleged they were forced by the local police to hurriedly conduct her last rites. Local police officers, however, said the cremation was carried out “as per the wishes of the family”

During the hearing in the apex court, activist-lawyer Indira Jaising had also raised apprehension of not having a fair trial in the case in Uttar Pradesh.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had referred to the affidavit filed in the apex court by the Uttar Pradesh government which gave details about the security and protection provided to the victim’s family and witnesses in the case.

The state government, which has already transferred the case to the CBI and has given consent to monitoring by the apex court, had filed the affidavit after the top court sought details on witness protection and on whether the victim’s family has chosen a lawyer.

Referring to the compliance affidavit, Mehta said that victim’s family has informed that they have engaged lawyer and they have also requested that government advocate should also pursue the case on their behalf.

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INDIA

Terrorist killed in encounter with security forces in J&K’s Pulwama

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SRINAGAR: An unidentified terrorist was killed in an encounter with security forces in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir on Monday, the Army said.

A joint operation was launched by the security forces at Noorpora in the district’s Awantipora area on the basis of inputs provided by police, it said.

“Op Noorpura, Awantipura, Pulwama. Joint operation was launched based on @JmuKmrPolice inputs today evening. Cordon was laid and contact was established. Firefight ensued. Joint Operation in progress,” Srinagar-based Chinar Corps tweeted.

One unidentified terrorist has been killed in the operation so far, the Army said.

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INDIA

Govt weakening democracy, PM must give ‘healing touch’ to dissenting farmers: Rahul Gandhi

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NEW DELHI: The Congress on Monday accused the government of weakening democracy and crushing the voice of dissent, which it said was the right of every citizen irrespective of who they voted for.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the new farm laws. He said farmers in Punjab were setting a dangerous precedent by burning effigies of the Prime Minister and asked him to reach out to them and give a “healing touch”.

“This happened all over Punjab yesterday. It’s sad that Punjab is feeling such anger towards the PM. This is a very dangerous precedent and is bad for our country. PM should reach out, listen and give a healing touch quickly,” he tweeted.

Gandhi cited media reports claiming that farmers under the banner of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) in Punjab torched effigies of the PM and business tycoons while protesting against the new farm laws.

Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh in a press conference said when people express their disagreement over the government’s policies and decisions, it does not mean they are promoting terrorism or are anti-national.

He cited an article by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and alleged that democracy is being weakened and hollowed out when the government books intellectuals for voicing their opinion against the government.

BJP president J P Nadda, responding to Rahul Gandhi’s remarks, described the torching of Modi’s effigies as a “ Rahul Gandhi-directed drama” and said it was shameful but not unexpected.

“After all, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has never respected the office of the Prime Minister. This was seen in the institutional weakening of the Prime Minister’s authority during the UPA years of 2004-2014,” he said.

Hitting back at the BJP president, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted, “Respected Nadda ji, panic about imminent loss in Bihar election is visible. Your farewell on November 10 is a given. Do not divert. If you want to debate on issues of employment, development, security, education, industry, I am awaiting.”

Nadda also lambasted the Congress for its criticism of the Prime Minister, saying the more the opposition party and its leaders “lie” and “hate” Modi, the more people will support him.

“Combination of despondency and shamelessness is dangerous. Congress possesses both. Empty rhetoric of decency and democracy by the Mother is ‘complemented’ by live demonstrations of politics of hate, anger, lies and aggression by the Son. Double standards galore,” he said.

The BJP chief said, “One dynasty’s deep personal hatred against a person who was born in poverty and became PM is historic. Equally historic is the love people of India have showered upon PM. More Congress’ lies and hate increases, the more people will support PM Modi”.

Recalling Emergency, Nadda said the Congress can never pontificate on the freedom of speech and alleged that the party has had a contempt for dissenting voices.

“We saw glimpses of it during the Emergency. Later on, the Rajiv Gandhi government made a brazen attempt to weaken press freedom. A free press rattles Congress,” he claimed.

Alleging that the Congress “blessed” Maharashtra government is a “laboratory of usage of brute state power”, the BJP chief said troubling opponents and curbing freedom of speech in “trademark Congress style” are visible in the working of the state government.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi earlier hit out at the government alleging that Indian democracy was being hollowed out and the central government was misusing institutions to target political opponents and civil society leaders.

“The world’s largest democracy is at the crossroads. That the economy is in deep crisis is clear. But what is less appreciated is that all the pillars of a democratic system of governance are under assault.

“The fundamental right to freedom of expression has been systematically suspended through suppression and intimidation. Dissent is deliberately stifled as ‘terrorism’ or branded as an ‘anti-national activity’,” she said in an article.

She also alleged that India’s hard-won democracy was being hollowed out.

The Congress chief said citizens do not cease to be citizens when the party they voted for loses an election.

“The Prime Minister repeatedly claims to represent 130 crore Indians. But his government and the ruling party are treating political opponents, dissenters, and those who did not vote for the ruling party as second-class citizens without democratic rights,”she said, adding that the people of India are not just an electorate but are the nation and the government exists to serve them, not vilify them.

Vallabh accused the Prime minister, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief Nadda of trying to suppress all voices of dissent and seeking to project them as anti-national.

“Real democracy is to listen to the voice of people and understand what they are saying. Everyone has the right to disagree and voice their opinion, even if they vote or don’t vote for you,” he said.

“Democracy gives equal rights to everyone, whether he is voting for or against the ruling party. His rights remain the same,” Vallabh said.

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