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Indian ISRO, Japanese JAXA Join Hands For Joint Moon Mission – ‘Lunar Polar Exploration’

The joint moon / lunar mission between India and Japan adds another feather in the cap for the Indian space organization which will be working on the lander.

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Indian and Japanese space agencies ISRO and JAXA have joined hands for joint moon mission called ‘Lunar Polar Exploration’ mission which aims to bolster ties between India and Japan and counter the Chinese ambitions in outer space. 

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Details of the joint Indian-Japanese lunar mission have been revealed for the first time. The Joint Lunar Polar Exploration (LPE) mission aims to put a lander and rover on the surface of the moon with Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) leading the lander development.

As per information revealed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Lunar Polar Exploration will be launched after 2023. Diagrams released by the JAXA show that the Japanese would be building the overall landing module and the rover, while scientists from ISRO would be handling the lander development.

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The primary aim of the mission is to obtain real data regarding the quantity of water from in areas where water is predicted to exist. It also seeks to understand the distribution, conditions, form and other parameters of the lunar water resources in the polar regions.

A project-team established earlier this year is currently working on developing a comprehensive management plan for the collaborative mission including investigating the spacecraft system requirements and the different interface specifications in collaboration with ISRO.

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The joint mission will be launched from Japan using the H3 rocket, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The investigation and observational points with unique environmental and geological conditions will be selected prior to landing. The lander will land at a location near the investigation area that has long sun-light hours and deploy the rover.

The rover will then observe the moon surface and will also observe areas 2m below the surface to check for possible water resources.  According to JAXA, the ISRO developed rover will conduct an observation of the chemical elements present in areas where water may be presently distributed. If it detects hydrogen, the rover will then mine the surface to collect samples.

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ISRO- India’s prized possession 

The joint mission with Japan adds another feather in the cap for the Indian organization. ISRO has won praise for its work from scientists and people all across the world.

Last year India successfully launched Chandrayaan-II from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, aboard a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) rocket. The main objective was to circle the moon and provide information about its surface. Unfortunately, the Vikram moon lander crashed and lost contact with the scientists at ISRO.

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Undeterred from the crashing of Vikram moon lander in 2019, ISRO had announced earlier this year that it will launch Chandraayan III. The latest mission will reportedly cost 6.15 billion rupees, or about $91.2 million at current exchange rates making it considerably less expensive than Chandrayaan-2, which cost 9.7 billion rupees ($136.1 million).

The organization had also planned around 24 additional launches including Gangayan flight (in December 2020 and India’s first solar probe, Aditya in the summer). Gaganyaan is an Indian crewed orbital spacecraft that aims to send 3 astronauts to space for a minimum of 7 days by 2022, as part of the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme. However, these plans have been left in limbo due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

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As for the Lunar Polar Exploration Mission, both India and Japan were keen to collaborate and talks first began in 2017 at a multi-space agency meeting in Bangalore. Since then, the project has only moved forward and was even discussed during Indian PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan in 2018.

According to experts at EurAsian Times, India’s reignited interest in space prepares it for space diplomacy, a theme gaining momentum globally. Partnering with Tokyo not only strengthens India-Japan relations but sends a clear message to China.

Written by- Armaan Srivastava

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Africa emerges as a new battle ground for India and China for trade, commerce war

India sees this initiative as an effort by China to flex its economic muscle and extend the reach of its influence. “However, India’s engagement with Africa is not limited to trade and commerce.

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Post the border clashes, India and China are striving to create a robust influence in Africa through humanitarian aid and investments. However, with the countries adopting different outreach strategies, analysts suggest that competition between India and China is unnecessary as there is room for both to make their presence felt. 

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According to Maria Siow, a China-based journalist and analyst, India’s renewed focus on Africa is a result of China’s growing footprint on the continent, not just in terms of trade and commerce, but also Beijing’s rising maritime interests.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative aims at connecting Asia with Africa and Europe through land and maritime routes which would enable regional integration and growth in trade and commerce.

Recently, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said during a press conference that a total of 44 African countries and the African Union Commission have signed cooperation documents with China on the Belt and Road initiative.

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“It is a vote of confidence in China-Africa cooperation from our African brothers,” he added.

India sees this initiative as an effort by China to flex its economic muscle and extend the reach of its influence. “However, India’s engagement with Africa is not limited to trade and commerce.

The Indian diaspora, for instance, has been a major force in several African nations’ pursuit of prosperity and political participation,” said Swaran Singh, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of International Studies.

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India and China stand far apart in terms of the size of their economies. India’s US$2.7 trillion versus China’s US$14 trillion which acts as a roadblock for New Delhi to make further inroads in African nations.

According to United Nations trade data, 39 African countries imported more than US$71 billion worth of goods from China in 2017 and only US$21 billion from India.

“African governments are therefore aware that in spite of their rapprochement with India, China remains the most important – and at the government level, the most trusted – development and investment partner on the continent,” said Lin Minwang, the deputy director of Fudan University’s Institute for South Asian Studies.

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Nevertheless, India has not made huge loans to African countries and thus avoided being a major part of the serious debt problems facing by many African countries today.

However, it is expected that India’s investment in Africa will become more valuable especially in Africa’s health care and pharmaceutical sectors. Sizeable investments have already been made in oil and gas, mining, banking, pharma, textiles and other sectors in African countries under the strategic initiative, “Focus Africa” by the Government of India launched in 2002.

Zhang Yongpeng, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of West Asian and African Studies noted that even though India posed a challenge to China’s strategy in Africa, for instance in bidding for commercial projects, the economic threats were not daunting for now.

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African nations are unwilling to choose between China and India because of the accruing benefits and investments from both nations. Also, the African governments are avoiding being dragged in conflicts, especially during the ongoing trade and diplomatic tensions between the US and China and the border tensions between India and China.

“India tends to have largely positive perceptions as a fellow Global South democracy. China can sometimes be more controversial, for example, due to the recent ill-treatment of Africans in Guangzhou,” stated Cobus van Staden, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs.

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India refuses to review RCEP decision over China’s border hostility – Reports

Last year, India backed out of the RCEP agreement citing its negative effects on “farmers, MSMEs and dairy sector”. “The present form of the RCEP Agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP.

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India is firm on the decision to not become a member of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). The Modi government is reportedly “not reviewing” its decision on RCEP due to the presence of China as a member.

According to the sources, India has decided it won’t join any trade agreement including RCEP where China is a member as matters have turned worse for India, especially after the border stand-off with China.

Last year, India backed out of the RCEP agreement citing its negative effects on “farmers, MSMEs and dairy sector”. “The present form of the RCEP Agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP.

It also does not address satisfactorily India’s outstanding issues and concerns. In such a situation, it is not possible for India to join the RCEP Agreement,” PM Modi had stated at RCEP summit in Bangkok. The summit included China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the 10-nation ASEAN grouping.

“There is no question to join the pact now that the prime minister has given a clarion call to a self-reliant or ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) India,” said an official who refused to be identified. The comments came after Thailand said all member countries have decided to sign the trade pact by the end of 2020 without India, and the deal may come into force by the middle of next year.

According to Chinese state mouthpiece, Global Times (GT), this is a method of venting of irrational emotions after a recent deadly border conflict in the Galwan Valley.

“India’s years of hesitation toward the RCEP are essentially due to the country’s weak manufacturing sector,” it said. “After the deadly border conflict in June, India’s diplomacy has entered an irrational state of anger.

It is expanding its emotional approach to many other aspects of relations. Using border tensions with China as an excuse for its latest RCEP rejection is just another example. If India continues this irrational approach, it would not only harm regional interests but would not benefit India’s own long-term interests,” it added.

It further criticised the Indian media for calling RCEP as “Chinese-dominated” and “Chinese-backed” trade deal.

Despite China’s belligerence, no other country has shown any hesitation for signing the RCEP agreement. “For countries such as Australia, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand it will be difficult to have inner coherence between geopolitics and trade,” said Rajiv Bhatia, a veteran diplomat.

Vietnam, which is now the ASEAN chair has said that it will continue to urge India to join the RCEP “whenever it feels comfortable”.

Amid soaring tensions in the South China Sea when the Chinese ship attacked and sank a Vietnamese boat near the Paracel Islands, it is still going to go ahead with the RCEP deal. Similarly, Australia, which has blamed China for the origins of Covid-19 and its growing military aggression, also seems clear about joining the RCEP.

China’s advice to India is that while facing a “more powerful neighbour”, it is imperative for India to properly assess its situation and rationally reduce its rivalry toward China to develop favourable economic and diplomatic strategies, rather than “irrationally heating up nationalism and blaming China when it encounters unsatisfactory situations”.

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India can ‘no longer’ choke China at the Strait Of Malacca as Beijing finds solution

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India. 

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Could the advantage that India enjoys over China due to the Strait of Malacca be coming to an end? Does China have a way to tackle the Indian plans of chocking Beijing at the Malacca Straits – the strategic waterway, in case of a war?

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India’s position at the mouth of the Malacca Strait has created panic amongst Chinese officials as they try to find an alternative route, writes the Forbes.

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India.

India’s natural position in the Indian Ocean, with basing capabilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the mouth of the strait, would allow its navy to cut it off in the event of a crisis or war with China.

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Keeping in mind the recent flare-up between India and China, Larry Bond, renowned naval author and creator of the Harpoon war game series, says that if India wanted to block trade with China, all it has to do is its park ships at the mouth of the Malacca Strait.

The vast majority of China’s oil imports, from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela and Angola, pass by this route. Due to the strategic importance of the waterway, there is fear amongst Chinese officials that India could block the Malacca Strait in case of war.

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Experts at EurAsian Times believe that the strategic importance of the Malacca Strait and the advantage it gives to India will likely reduce over time as Beijing find alternative routes.

Bypassing the Malacca Strait

The fact India enjoys a strategic advantage over China because of the Malacca Strait has forced Beijing to explore other options and find ways around the waterway.

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One such option is Gwadar Port in Pakistan. As part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing has developed the port in Gwadar so that goods unloaded there will be shipped overland to China.

On June 8 the Pakistani government approved a $7.2bn upgrade to a railway which will connect Gwadar to Kashgar, China. The port is not yet operating at capacity, but the direction seems clear.

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While Gwadar is still susceptible to an attack by the Indian Air Force (IAF), it adds political and military risks as it is in a third country’s territory. The Indian Navy could try and block this port but it would require ships to move away from the Malacca Strait.

The other option Beijing is exploring is Northern Sea Route in the Arctic which could create a ‘Polar Silk Road.’ The importance of this is underlined by China’s 2018 Arctic policy. It asserts, “Geographically, China is a “Near-Arctic State”, one of the continental States that are closest to the Arctic Circle.”

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The policy statement goes on to say, “China hopes to work with all parties to build a “Polar Silk Road” through developing the Arctic shipping routes.”

Due to accelerated global warming, ice sheets are receding, thus making it possible for ships to travel via this route. Having sent its first ship through the region in 2013, Beijing is now investing in port infrastructure in the Arctic which connects to Europe.

China is also investing in designing ice breakers, vessels that would ease navigation through the Arctic. With help from Finnish Aker Arctic, China launched its first locally built ice breaker the Xue Long 2 in 2018.

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Apart from exploring new waterways and developing strategic ports, Beijing is developing a land route directly to Europe, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), mainly as a way to export goods.

Thousands of trains are transversing across Asia in recent times, the modern-day version of the ancient Silk Road. Land routes are one way China can reduce the criticality of Chinese sea routes.

The strategic importance of the Strait of Malacca to China will lessen over a period of time. India will still be in a position to throttle Chinese supply lines there, but it will not have the same impact that it once had.

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