China seeks to tighten grip with new social work department

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China’s ruling Communist Party will set up a social work department under its powerful Central Committee, a move aimed at tightening control over non-public sectors and grass-roots organs.

The department will “coordinate and guide” the handling of petitions from the public and the soliciting of public opinion, according to a reform plan for party and state institutions released by the Central Committee and the State Council, China’s cabinet, on Thursday.

It will also “lead” the work of industry federations and improve the governance of grass-roots communities in urban and rural areas.

Grass-roots officials have come under fire in the past three years for not fully implementing central government policies and failing to meet people’s demands during the controversial zero-Covid response.

The new department is part of a broad overhaul aimed at strengthening the party’s grip over finance, science and technology, Hong Kong and Macau affairs as well as social work – areas the top leadership sees as crucial for China’s security and stability amid intensifying rivalry with the United States and an economic slowdown.

The plan was approved at a key party meeting last month, with the reform of state institutions under the cabinet passed by the national legislature during its annual session last week.

According to the plan, the new social work department will “improve party-building” in non-public sectors including private companies and foreign firms, industry federations and volunteer organisations.

While China’s economy is dominated by the state sector, the private sector contributes more than 50 per cent of the country’s annual tax revenue, more than 80 per cent of urban employment and has accounted for more than 90 per cent of market entities in recent years, official data show.

According to Neil Thomas, a fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Centre for China Analysis, the new social work department “turbocharges Xi [Jinping]’s existing efforts to enhance the party’s influence in private firms, industry associations and civil society, as well as extending these efforts to the gig economy and online influencers”.

Thomas said the department might “push these firms to either establish party committees or to give more influence to existing party committees”.

“Widespread protests against Covid curbs last November could have encouraged Xi’s decision to create a social work department,” he said.

“The new institution is designed to strengthen the party leadership’s oversight of citizen complaints, which last year could have helped Xi to defuse the protest movement either by cracking down earlier on souring public opinion or by accelerated loosening of Covid controls.”

China made an abrupt decision to scrap its tough pandemic restrictions in December after three years of mass testing and lockdowns. A fresh wave of the virus swept the country after the exit from zero-Covid, which came with no timetable or road map and caught many by surprise.

It followed rare protests in major cities calling for an end to the harsh controls, with demonstrators holding up blank sheets of paper to express their anger and some even calling for regime change.

As part of the overhaul, China will elevate the National Public Complaints and Proposals Administration – through which the public can air grievances – to make it directly affiliated to the cabinet instead of being supervised by its general office.

Under the reform plan, institutional restructuring at the central level is to be completed before the end of the year, while changes at the local level are to be made by the end of 2024.

Source: SCMP


Gurcharan Singh Grewal Discusses Sikh Politics and Heritage

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In the dynamic landscape of Indian politics, it is rare to find a figure who has steadfastly dedicated his life to the service of his community and culture. Gurcharan Singh Grewal is one such stalwart. As the General Secretary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), the largest Sikh organization managing over 280 Gurudwaras across Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Chandigarh, Grewal’s name has become synonymous with Sikh political life.

Grewal’s tenure at the helm of SGPC spans four decades, an enduring commitment that has earned him widespread recognition and respect within the Sikh community. His association with Akalis and Sikh politics is a testament to his devotion to the preservation of Sikh culture and values, and his vision for a prosperous and inclusive Punjab.

Grewal’s perspective about Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale is interesting. Despite the controversy surrounding Bhindranwale’s role in the Khalistan movement, Grewal maintains that Bhindranwale never demanded Khalistan and refers to him as a martyr. It is a testament to Grewal’s conviction and his willingness to assert unpopular opinions in the face of controversy.

Grewal’s recent conversation with Smita Prakash, ANI, offers a riveting account of the history of SGPC, its inception, and his personal association with Bhindranwale. In explaining the Akali Dal’s dominance in the SGPC elections and the inability of other political parties to make headway, Grewal provides a nuanced understanding of the complex interplay of religious and political forces in Punjab.

His frank discussion about the arrest of Amritpal, perceived as a conspiracy by the state government and central agencies, highlights the tensions that persist in Punjab. In addressing the significant issue of youth migration from Punjab, Grewal voices a concern that resonates with many in the region.

Grewal’s enduring presence in Sikh politics is not just a testament to his dedication but also to his ability to navigate the complex realities of Punjab. His deep understanding of the challenges facing Punjab, his unwavering commitment to the Sikh community, and his vision for a prosperous future make him a figure of significance in the current political landscape.

As the SGPC continues to play a vital role in safeguarding Sikh heritage and fostering communal harmony, Grewal’s leadership is crucial. Under his stewardship, the SGPC has not only succeeded in managing a vast network of Gurudwaras but has also become a beacon of Sikh values and traditions.

In addition to his political acumen and community leadership, Gurcharan Singh Grewal has roots in sportsmanship that run deep. In his youth, he was a field hockey player who competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics. As a member of the Indian field hockey team, he proudly represented his nation on the global stage, contributing to the team’s triumphant victory and securing the gold medal. Grewal played one match in the position of back, showcasing his prowess on the field. This accomplishment, often overlooked amidst his political achievements, adds another layer to Grewal’s multifaceted personality and reveals his dedication not only to his community but also to his nation.


Army Chief Meets Bangladeshi Counterpart, Discusses Bilateral Defence Ties

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Indian Army chief Gen Manoj Pande on Monday met his Bangladeshi counterpart General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed here and discussed various aspects of mutual interest and explored ways to further expand bilateral defence and security ties.

Gen Pande, who arrived here earlier Monday on a two-day visit to Bangladesh - his second trip to the country as Army chief, also interacted with Lt Gen Waker-Uz-Zaman, the Principal Staff Officer of the Armed forces division.

The Indian Army chief visited Bangladesh in July last year on his first foreign visit after assuming charge of the top post.

"General Manoj Pande #COAS interacted with General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed, Chief of Army Staff, #BangladeshArmy & Lieutenant General Waker-Uz-Zaman, Principal Staff Officer, Armed Forces Division, #Bangladesh and discussed aspects of mutual interest," the Additional Directorate General of Public Information said in a tweet.

The Army chief also laid a wreath at Shikha Anirban and paid tributes to soldiers who laid down their lives for the Liberation of Bangladesh. He also received the Guard of Honour at Senakunja and planted a tree to commemorate the friendship between the two Armies.

On Tuesday, Gen Pande will be reviewing the Passing Out Parade (POP) of officer cadets of the 84th 'Long Course' at the Bangladesh Military Academy (BMA) in Chattogram.

During the parade, the Army Chief will be presenting the 'Bangladesh India Friendship Trophy' instituted for the best foreign cadet from friendly foreign countries of the passing out course from the BMA.

The first trophy this year is being awarded to officer cadet Everton of Tanzania.

This trophy is in reciprocation to the 'Bangladesh Trophy and Medal' instituted at the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun in December 2021 for the Best foreign cadet passing out the course, the Army said in a statement.

The Army chief will be reviewing the POP at IMA, Dehradun on June 10 and present the Bangladesh Medal and the trophy.

The Bangladesh Chief of Army Staff visited India in April this year and reviewed the passing out parade at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai.

Source: NDTV


India-US partnership cornerstone of free and open Indo-Pacific: Lloyd Austin

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Terming the US-India partnership as the "cornerstone" of a free and open Indo-Pacific, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on Monday said that both countries have a unique role in preserving the rules-based international order.

Addressing a press conference after holding wide-ranging talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Austin said, "I had productive discussions today with Defence Minister Singh and National Security Advisor Doval. As the world's two largest democracies, India and the United States play a unique role in preserving the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure."

He further said, "Since I last visited India in 2021, our global and strategic partnership has continued to rapidly grow. Today, the US -India partnership is a cornerstone of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and our deepening bonds show how technological innovation and growing military cooperation between two great powers can be a force for global good."

The US Defence Secretary said that India and US have taken new measures to strengthen the defence partnership between two countries. He spoke about the establishment of a new roadmap for defence industrial cooperation between India and the US, which will fast-track high priority co-development and co-production projects.

US Defence Secretary said that Rajnath Singh and he also spoke about Indus X that aims to enable partnerships between the US and India in defence innovation sectors.

"On this visit, I am pleased that we have taken new steps to strengthen our defence partnership. We established an ambitious new roadmap for defence industrial cooperation, which will fast track high priority co-development and co-production projects and build closer ties between our defence industries," Austin said.

"We look forward to advancing some of those projects during the upcoming visit between our leaders later this month. We also discussed an important new initiative, Indus X, that aims to jump start partnerships between the US and Indian defence innovation sectors and we're looking forward to the formal launch of Indus X in conjunction with Prime Minister Modi's state visit to Washington," he said.

Austin stated that during his meeting with Singh, he discussed ways to increase information sharing and new initiatives to improve maritime cooperation. He said that India and US are breaking new ground with pace and scope of joint military exercises.

"We're not only sharing technology together, we are cooperating alongside each other more than ever before. We discussed ways to increase information sharing, as well as new initiatives to improve maritime cooperation, including in the undersea domain," the US Defence Secretary said.

"We also recently celebrated the launch of our first defence space and dialogue and that will help us work more closely together in emerging domains. We're also breaking new ground with the pace and scope of our joint military exercises. In this past April, some of America's most advanced and strategic aircraft, the F35 and B1 bombers participated for the first time in the annual Cope India Air Exercises," he added.

Earlier today, Austin who arrived in Delhi a day ago from Singapore inspected a Tri-Services Guard of Honour in the presence of the Defence Minister at the Manekshaw Centre in the city. This is Austin's second visit to India. Previously, Lloyd Austin visited India in March 2021.

Earlier, the US Defence Secretary in a tweet thanked Rajnath Singh for his "unwavering commitment" to defence ties between India and US.

Austin tweeted, "Great to meet again with my friend @rajnathsingh and thank him for his unwavering commitment to US-India defence relations. His leadership has helped paved the way for deeper collaboration, joint exercises, and technology sharing between our two countries." (ANI)


India's successful adoption of digital health tech lesson for world: WHO

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India's successful adoption of digital health technologies can provide lessons for accelerating the progress towards universal health coverage for all countries, a top WHO official said on Monday.

What is crucial is to achieve a level-playing field for making sure that these technologies are available widely for all countries, Dr Alain Labrique, Director, Department of Digital Health and Innovation at WHO, said.

He spoke at a session on "Digital Health Innovations and Solutions to Aid Universal Health Coverage and Improve Healthcare Service Delivery" on the second day of the third G20 Health Working Group meeting here on Monday.

"When we talk about digital health, we are talking about strengthening primary health care systems, improving universal health coverage, and timely and relevant data for decision making and resource allocation. Most important, we are talking about equity so that no one is left behind. Digital health is a proven pathway to achieve universal health goals," he said.

On India's G20 presidency, especially in the context of digital health, Labrique said there has been a fruitful set of discussions around the G20 building on India's long leadership in the space of digital innovation and leveraging digital technologies to achieve health for all.

"I think what we are trying to do is level the playing field, making sure that these technologies are available widely for countries all across the globe looking to undertake a process of digital health transformation, to make sure that we able to reach the last mile with quality assured technologies that can deliver the services that people are expecting from their governments," he said.

The world is on the verge of an important digital health revolution, wherein post pandemic the appetite for investing in digital technology is greater than it ever has been, Labrique stated.

"So the time is now to learn from successes like India and its neighbours to apply those successful lessons and really accelerate the progress towards universal health coverage and amplify the capacity of digital tools to achieve these goals," he said.

Underscoring the relevance and importance of digital health, he said the pandemic has galvanized many governments to move from digital experimentation to digital transformation.

The global initiative on digital health levels the playing field, optimizing investments, democratizing access to the building blocks and improving the responsiveness that the country needs.

He emphasised that digitalization of global health systems in inevitable.

Underlining its ramifications, he said, "Whether it happens in a way that ensures quality, efficiency, equity and inclusion will depend on whether we as a group move together."

Highlighting the role of India's G20 presidency, he said, "We as a group must invest strategically. This will enable cross-border exchange of credential health information now available to all member states.