30 October, 2020

  • Mains Compass 2020 Economic Development
  • (i) Centre sets up Commission to tackle NCR pollution + (ii) SC says will study ordinance to check stubble burning – (Environment)
  • Less pollution, more soil fertility Article - (Environment)
  • Gaps in Learning - Editorial - (Social Issues)
  • The India-US partnership is deepening - Lead Article - (International Relations)
  • Lowest core sector shrinking since March (Economy)
  • Is the US on the wane as superpower? - (International Relations)
  • Question for the day (International Relations)

Prelims Quiz


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    UPSC Current Affairs: Centre sets up commission to tackle NCR pollution | Page 01

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims – Environment | Mains – GS Paper III– Environment  

    Sub Theme: Geo-political strategy in Indo-Pacific  | UPSC


    Context: Central Government through an Ordinance promulgated under Article 123 has constituted a permanent body “Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Adjoining Areas” comprising 18 Members. The Commission shall address issues of better co-ordination, research, identification and resolution of problems surrounding the air quality index of NCR and adjoining states. Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde while hearing the matter on air pollution has said the Supreme Court will study the new ordinance promulgated by the government to check stubble-burning by farmers and will pass orders if necessary. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the court about The Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance of 2020. The ordinance is meant to both prevent and monitor stubble burning by farmers of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. The air pollution caused by the indiscriminate burning of the fields is choking Delhi.  



    • Earlier, on 16th October, Supreme Court had constituted a One Man Committee under the Chairmanship of former Supreme Court Justice Madan B. Lokur to look into the issues of air pollution in NCR and adjoining areas.
    • However, this order was short-lived after the Supreme Court on October 26, kept the One Man Committee in abeyance based on an assurance made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in Court that the central government is planning to propose a law to tackle the issue of air pollution in NCR.


    • The Commission is to have exclusive jurisdiction over the NCR, including areas in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, in matters of air pollution, and will be working along with CPCB and ISRO, apart from the respective state governments.
    • The Central Pollution Control Board and its State branches have the powers to implement provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act for air, water and land pollution. In case of dispute or a clash of jurisdictions, the commission's writ will prevail specific to matters concerning air pollution.
    • The Commission will supersede all the other bodies and authorities formed through judicial orders or otherwise on the aspect of air quality management and this commission will have "exclusive jurisdiction" in this domain.
    • In case of any conflict between orders and directions passed by this commission and by State governments, the Commission's orders will prevail.


    • As per the ‘’, the body will be chaired by a government official of the rank of Secretary or Chief Secretary, and will include the Secretary Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and five other Secretary/Chief Secretary level officials as ex-officio members.
    • The Commission shall have a full time Chairperson who is or has been Secretary to the Government of India or Chief Secretary to the government of a state.
    • The full time Chairperson or a Member other than ex-officio members shall hold office for a term of 3 years from the date on which they enter upon his office or until they attain the age of 70 years and shall be eligible for re-appointment.


    • The Commission shall have at least the following sub-committees
    • Sub-Committee on Monitoring and Identification
    • Sub-Committee on Safeguarding and Enforcement
    • Sub-Committee on Research and Development

    Powers of the Commission

    • The Commission will be empowered to issue directions to control air pollution and take cognizance of complaints. The Commission can regulate or prohibit activities that are likely to cause or increase air pollution in NCR and adjoining states.
    • The Commission can lay down parameters of air quality.
    • The Commission can lay down restrictions or safeguards for industrial operation affecting air quality.
    • The Commission shall have power to inspect any premises including plant, equipment, machinery, manufacturing or other process impacting Air Quality.
    • The commission will also have the authority to slap fines and will be responsible for laying down parameters to curb emissions and keep air quality under control.
    • The Commission can appoint officers with the prior approval of Central Government and empower them to tackle air pollution and take requisite steps.
    • Offence under this Ordinance shall be Non-Cognizable and shall be tried by a Judicial Magistrate of the First Class.
    • Penalty - Any contravention or non-compliance of directions issued by the Commission shall be an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend upto 5 years or with fine which may extend upto Rs. 1 crore or both.

    Functions to be Performed by the Commission

    • To take up matters suo motu or on the basis of complaints made by individuals, representative body or organisation working in the field of environment against any individual, association, company, public undertaking or local body carrying on any industry, operation or process
    • Provide mechanism and the means to implement in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas
    • The National Clean Air Programme
    • National Air Quality Monitoring Programme
    • National Ambient Air Quality Standards
    • Provide an effective framework and platform in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas for –
    • Source identification of air pollutants on a periodic basis
    • Taking on-ground steps for curbing air pollution
    • Specific research and development in the field of air pollution
    • Synergizing the energies and efforts of all stakeholders in developing innovative ways to monitor, enforce and research on issues concerning air pollution
    • Building a network between technical institutions working or researching in the field of air pollution.
    • International co-operation including sharing of best practices in the field of air pollution.
    • Training and creating a special work force to tackle problem of air pollution
    • Provide an effective framework, action plan and take appropriate steps for
    • Tackling the problem of stubble burning
    • Monitoring, assessing and inspecting air pollution agents
    • Increasing plantations
    • Monitoring measures taken by States to prevent Stubble Burning
    • Promote awareness about the perils of air pollution on health among various sections of the society.
    • Encourage the efforts of NGOs and institutions working in the field of air pollution.


    UPSC Current Affairs: | Less pollution, more soil fertility | Page 07

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper III – environment

    Sub Theme: Delhi Pollution | UPSC


    Air pollution in Delhi and the whole of the Indo - Gangetic Plains is a complex phenomenon that is dependent on a variety of factors. The first and foremost is the input of pollutants, followed by weather and local conditions.

    Why does air pollution rise in October each year?

    • October usually marks the withdrawal of monsoons in Northwest India.
      • Once monsoon withdraws, the predominant direction of winds changes to north westerly. According to a peer reviewed study conducted by scientists at the National Physical Laboratory, 72 per cent of Delhi’s wind in winters comes from the northwest, while the remaining 28 per cent comes from the Indo-Gangetic plains.
    • Reduction in Temperatures
      • As temperature dips, the inversion height — which is the layer beyond which pollutants cannot disperse into the upper layer of the atmosphere – is lowered. The concentration of pollutants in the air increases when this happens.
    • Reduction in wind speed during winters
      • High-speed winds are very effective at dispersing pollutants, but winters bring a dip in wind speed over all as compared to in summers.

    The combination of these meteorological factors makes the region prone to pollution. When factors such as farm fires and dust storms are added to the already high base pollution levels in the city, air quality dips further.

    What roles do farm fires play in Delhi’s air pollution?

    • Farm fires have been an easy way to get rid of paddy stubble quickly and at low cost for several years. With the use of combine harvesters, the practice became more common as the harvester leaves behind tall stalks, which have to be removed before replanting. But the practice gained widespread acceptance starting 2009, when the governments of Punjab and Haryana passed laws delaying the sowing of paddy.
    • The aim of passing this law was to conserve groundwater as the new sowing cycle would coincide with monsoons and less water would be extracted.
    • This, however, left very little time for farmers to harvest paddy, clear fields and sow wheat for the next cycle. The paddy straw and stalks have high silica content and are not used to feed livestock.
    • The easiest, but the least productive, way to get rid of it is to set it on fire.

    Steps taken by the government to counter Delhi's Air Pollution

    • Notification of graded response action planfor Delhi identifying source wise actions for various levels of air pollution, etc
    • Leapfrogging from BS-IV to BS-VI standards for vehicles by 1st April 2020;
    • Notification of National Ambient Air Quality Standards and sector-specific emission and effluent standards for industries;
    • Setting up of monitoring network for assessment of ambient air quality;
    • Introduction of cleaner gaseous fuels like CNG, LPG etc and ethanol blending;
    • Launching of National Air Quality Index (AQI);
    • Banning of burning of biomass;
    • Promotion of public transport network;
    • Issuance of directions under Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
    • Installation of on-line continuous (24x7) monitoring devices by 17 highly polluting industrial sectors;
    • Regulating the bursting of pollution-emitting crackers;
    • Smog towers to tackle pollution problem


    UPSC Current Affairs: Gaps in Learning | Page 06

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II – International Relation

    Sub Theme: Geo-political strategy in Indo-Pacific  | UPSC

    ASER stands for Annual Status of Education Report.

    • It is an annual survey released by an NGO Known as Pratham that aims to provide reliable estimates of children’s enrolment and basic learning levels for each district and state in India.
    • It has been conducted every year since 2005 in all rural districts of India and is the largest citizen-led survey in India. ASER is completely a rural survey. Urban areas are not covered.
    • It is a household-based rather than school-based survey.  As that enables all children to be included – those who have never been to school or have dropped out, as well as those who are in government schools, private schools, religious schools or anywhere else.
    • It is also the only annual source of information on children’s learning outcomes available in India today.

    ABOUT ASER 2020

    • ASER has recently released its 15th Survey for the year 2020. This was the first time ever survey was done over the telephone.
    • It covers 26 states & 4 UT’s.

    Key Findings of ASER 2020

    • Govt school enrolment rose from 44.3% in 2018 to 49.6% in 2020, despite schools upto class 8 till shut owing to the Covid pandemic. As a result enrolment in private school can clearly be seen to have decreased.
    • Digital divide stands out starkly - Only approx. 45% govt school student have smart phone and 61% of learning material is being delivered using whatsapp.

    Challenges to children education during pandemic

    • Digital divide & Lack of access to learning material and education aid – smartphones, technology(Internet) etc.




    Smart Phone

    56.4 %


    Learning Material Through WhatsApp




    • Low parents and family members literacy levels makes it difficult to seek help at home
    • Migration - Ex- student enrolled in Mumbai shifted to latur during pandemic with parents cannot either access textbook from his school in the city also fails to study in village as academic year has started.
    • Poor Home based support set up - In the week of the survey, about one in three rural children had done no learning activity at all. About two in three had no learning materials or activity given by their school that week, and only one in ten had access to live online classes.
    • Self-learning challenges - About 20% of rural children have no textbooks at home.

    Although the Centre has now permitted States to start reopening schools if they can follow COVID-19 safety protocols, the vast majority of the country’s 25 crore students are still at home after seven straight months. The ASER survey provides a glimpse into the levels of learning loss.

    Solution to prevent 2020 from turning into zero year and to reduce learning losee

    • Out of box thinking – use creative learning opportunities to broaden learning – for example – in lower classes observational learning should be promoted as it builds strong foundation.
    • Expanding availability of textbooks
    • Home support
    • Promotion of educational videos using talented teacher- communicators can advance learning during pandemic – Ex – TN and Kerala have already hosted curriculum based videos lessons on the internet after beaming them on television.
    • Hybrid solution of partially opening schools and online learning – presents a good way forward


    UPSC Current Affairs: The India-U.S. defence partnership is deepening | Page 07

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II – International Relation

    Sub Theme: Geo-political strategy | UPSC

    Context: The optics around the 2+2 Dialogue in Delhi are defining — the defence ties between the two countries have come of age.  

    The India-United States defence partnership received a major boost earlier this week with the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper for the third round of the 2+2 Dialogue with their Indian counterparts, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. The joint statement spells out the highlights but the optics are what define the visit. At a time when most ministerial engagements and even summits are taking place virtually, the significance of two senior U.S. officials travelling to Delhi a week before the U.S. goes to the polls conveys an unambiguous political message — the defence partnership has come of age.

    A Long Road

    It has been a long process, with many ups and downs since the first modest steps were taken with the end of the Cold War three decades ago. The 1991 Kicklighter Proposals (Lt. Gen. Claude Kicklighter was the Army commander at the U.S. Pacific Command) suggested establishing contacts between the three Services to promote exchanges and explore areas of cooperation. An Agreed Minute on Defence Cooperation was concluded in 1995 instituting a dialogue at the Defence Secretary level together with the setting up of a Technology Group.

    The end of the Cold War had helped create this opening but the overhang of the nuclear issue continued to cast a shadow on the talks. There was little appreciation of each other’s threat perceptions and the differences came to a head when India undertook a series of nuclear tests in 1998. The U.S. responded angrily by imposing a whole slew of economic sanctions and leading the international condemnation campaign.

    An intensive engagement followed with 18 rounds of talks between the then External Affairs Minister, the late Jaswant Singh, and then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott spanning two years that helped bring about a shift in perceptions. Sanctions were gradually lifted and in 2005, a 10-year Framework for Defence Relationship established, followed by a Joint Declaration on Defence Cooperation in 2013 (https://bit.ly/3mCnKsR). The Framework agreement was renewed in 2015 for another decade.

    The Framework laid out an institutional mechanism for areas of cooperation including joint exercises, intelligence exchanges, joint training for multinational operations including disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, technology transfer and a sharing of non-proliferation best practices. Initial movement was slow; it gathered momentum once the nuclear hurdle was overcome in 2008 with the India-U.S. civil nuclear deal.

    There were other factors at play too. Equally important was the progressive opening up of the Indian economy that was registering an impressive annual growth rate of over 7%. Bilateral trade in goods and services was $20 billion in 2000 and exceeded $140 billion in 2018. The four million-strong Indian diaspora in the U.S. has come of political age and its impact can be seen in the bipartisan composition of the India Caucus (in the House) and the Senate Friends of India group. From less than $400 million of defence acquisitions till 2005, the U.S. has since signed defence contracts of $18 billion.

    A bipartisan consensus

    A bipartisan consensus supporting the steady growth in India-U.S. ties in both New Delhi and Washington has been a critical supporting factor. The first baby steps in the form of the Kicklighter proposals came in 1991 from the Bush administration (Republican) when P.V. Narasimha Rao led a Congress coalition. Following the nuclear tests, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Bharatiya Janata Party) welcomed President Bill Clinton (Democrat) to Delhi. The visit of Bill Clinton, taking place after 22 years — the previous one being U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s visit in 1978 — marked a shift from “estranged democracies” to “natural allies”.

    A Congress coalition led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh carried the process forward with a Republican Bush administration. Heavy political lifting was needed to conclude the historic nuclear deal in 2008, removing the biggest legacy obstacle.

    The biggest push has come from Prime Minister Narendra Modi overcoming the “hesitations of history” and taking forward the relationship, first with a Democratic Obama administration by announcing a Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region in 2015 (https://bit.ly/31OXIuk), followed by elevating the India-U.S. Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (launched in 2009 and the first round held in 2010) into the 2+2 dialogue in 2018 with the (Republican) Trump administration reflecting the ‘Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership’. Mr Modi is not constrained (at least on the strategic side) unlike Dr. Singh during his second term who faced opposition within his party, had a Defence Minister who preferred to shy away from any decision, and often had to prod a reluctant bureaucracy.

    The signing, last week, of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) providing for the sharing of geospatial data is the last of the foundational agreements. The first, General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), relating to security of each other’s military information was signed in 2002. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government signed the End Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) in 2009 but then dragged its feet on the others on the grounds that it would jeopardise India’s strategic autonomy. However, it was apparent that as military exercises with the U.S. expanded, both in scale and complexity, and U.S. military platforms were inducted, not signing these agreements was perceived as an obstacle to strengthening cooperation. Nearly 60 countries have signed BECA. In 2016, Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) relating to exchange of logistics support had been concluded, followed by Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 permitting encryption standards of communication systems. More than a 100 countries have signed these agreements with the U.S. Equivalent agreements on logistics and mutual security of military communication have also been signed with France but without the political fuss.

    Breaking away from ‘labels’

    Developing the habit of working together has been a long process of building mutual respect and trust while accepting differences. The U.S. is used to dealing with allies (invariably junior partners in a U.S.-dominated alliance structure) and adversaries.

    India falls into neither category. Therefore, engaging as equal partners has been a learning experience for both India and the U.S. Recognising this, the U.S. categorised India as “a Major Defence Partner” in 2016, a position unique to India that was formalised in the National Defense Authorisation Act (2017) authorizing the Secretaries of State and Defence to take necessary measures.

    It has helped that India also joined the export control regimes (Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime and Wassenaar Arrangement) and has practices consistent with the Nuclear Suppliers Group where its membership was blocked by China spuriously linking it to Pakistan. In 2018, India was placed in Category I of the Strategic Trade Authorisation, easing exports of sensitive technologies.

    In every relationship, there is a push factor and a pull factor; an alignment of the two is called the convergence of interests. An idea matures when the timing is right. After all, the Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.) was first mooted in 2007 but after one meeting, it petered out till its re-emergence now. Alongside the ministerial meeting in Tokyo earlier this month, India was invited for the first time to also attend the Five Eyes (a signals intelligence grouping set up in 1941 consisting of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S.) meeting.

    The policy debate in India is often caught up in ‘labels’. When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described non-alignment as the guiding principle of Indian foreign policy, it was designed to expand India’s diplomatic space. Yet, in 1971, when the Cold War directly impinged on India’s national security, a non-aligned India balanced the threat by signing the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation between the Government of India and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. However, during the 1970s and 1980s, it was often hijacked by the Non-aligned Movement tying up policy in ideological knots. Such became the hold of the label that even after the Cold War, India defined strategic autonomy as Non-alignment 2.0!

    The Indian strategic community needs to appreciate that policies cannot become prisoners of labels. Ultimately, the policy objective has to enhance India’s strategic space and capability. That is the real symbolism of the in-person meeting in Delhi.  


    UPSC Current Affairs: Lowest core sector shrinking since March | Page 07

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims- Economy |

    Sub Theme: core sector growth | UPSC

    Context: India’s eight core industry sectors shrank just 0.8% in September on a year-on-year basis, recording their lowest contraction since March 2020, with electricity and steel output clocking positive growth for the first time since March, and coal production rising for the second month in a row. Cement output improved in September, recording a 3.5% year-on-year drop — the lowest since March when production had collapsed 25.1%. Surprisingly, fertilizer production which had grown consistently from May to August, marginally contracted in September by 0.3%. 

    1. The Office of Economic Adviser, Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade is releasing Index of Eight Core Industries for the Month of September, 2020.
    2. The combined Index of Eight Core Industries stood at 119.7 in September,2020, which declined by 0.8 (provisional) per cent as compared to the Index of September, 2019.Its cumulative growth during April to September, 2020-21 has been(-) 14.9%.
    3. Final growth rate of Index of Eight Core Industries for June’2020 is revised to(-) 12.4 %.The Eight Core Industries comprise 40.27 per cent of the weight of items included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP).Details of yearly/monthly index and growth rate is provided atAnnexure.

    4.Monthly growth rates of Index of Eight Core Industries (Overall) is depicted in the graph: 

    1. The summary of the Index of Eight Core Industries is given below:

    Coal- Coal production (weight: 10.33per cent) increasedby 21.2 per cent in September, 2020 over September,2019. Its cumulative index declined by 6.1per cent during April toSeptember, 2020-21over corresponding period of the previous year.

    Crude Oil-Crude Oil production (weight: 8.98per cent) declined by 6.0 per cent inSeptember, 2020 over September,2019. Its cumulative index declined by 6.1 per cent during April toSeptember, 2020-21over the corresponding period of previous year.

    Natural Gas- The Natural Gas production (weight:6.88per cent) declinedby10.6 per cent in September, 2020 over September,2019. Its cumulative index declined by 13.2 per cent during April to September, 2020-21 over the corresponding period of previous year.

    Refinery Products- Petroleum Refinery production (weight: 28.04per cent) declined by9.5 per cent in September, 2020 over September,2019. Its cumulative index declinedby 16.3per cent during April to September, 2020-21over the corresponding period of previous year.

    Fertilizers-Fertilizers production (weight: 2.63 per cent) declined by 0.3 per cent in September,2020 overSeptember,2019. Its cumulative index increasedby 3.7 per cent during April toSeptember, 2020-21 over the corresponding period of previous year.

    Steel-Steel production (weight: 17.92per cent)increasedby 0.9 per cent inSeptember, 2020 over September,2019. Its cumulative index declined by 26.7per centduring April to September, 2020-21 over the corresponding period of previous year.

    Cement-Cement production (weight:5.37per cent) declinedby3.5per cent inSeptember, 2020overSeptember,2019. Its cumulative index declinedby25.1per centduring April to September, 2020-21over the corresponding period of previous year.

    Electricity- Electricity generation (weight:19.85per cent) increasedby3.7per centin September,2020over September,2019. Its cumulative indexdeclined by 8.2per cent duringApril to September, 2020-21over the corresponding period of previous year.


    UPSC Current Affairs: Is the U.S. on the wane as a superpower?| Page 07

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II – International Relation

    Sub Theme: Geo-political strategy in Indo-Pacific  | UPSC 

    IS US still a super power ?

    Context: With is inability to handle the Pandemic effectively  questions have been raised regarding America's position as a superpower.  Also China's economic and military power has increased considerably. So let us look at some of the aspects of this question  - Is US on the wane as a superpower?

    Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has generally been considered the world's only real superpower, while China is still generally referred to as an emerging superpower.

    Some analysts are certain that China is well on its way to leaving its developing status behind and will pass the US as a global power in coming decades, while others maintain the US will stay in front for years to come.

    However there are People argue that the concept of Superpower is losing its relevance as the world is increasingly becoming multi polar.

    US as a superpower -

    • A superpower is typically characterised by a state's ability to exert influence and project itself as a dominating power anywhere in the world.
    • There are several measurements of power which include military and economic strength, as well as diplomatic and cultural influence — a superpower should be a leader in all of these areas
    • Some argue that if power were solely measured in military terms, there is no question the US is the only military superpower.
    • According to the World Economic Forum, the US is currently the only global military power with the ability to plan, deploy, sustain and fight on a scale and at a distance from its homeland across the land, sea, air and space in a way that's just not possible for any other country.
    • China is still a distant second in terms of military spending — roughly $US250 billion versus America's $US620 billion
    • However its rise as a developing country to one of the biggest contributors to world economics, its growing diplomatic pushes, as well as its advances with technology and artificial intelligence, have all called into question the lack of definition in calling the US the world's only superpower.

    Weakening Superpower status-

    • Some argue that the world is increasingly becoming multi polar.
    • A rebalancing of power is going on among the nations in the world.
    • There is also persistent rise of powerful actors who are not nations whether they're terrorist organisations or multi-national corporations that are increasingly important actors on the world stage.
    • Others argue that America still has a "huge lead" over other countries — for example, it still has four times as much wealth as China and five to six times the military capabilities.
    • However under Trump administration the its global influence is declining. This is visible in US pulling out of key organisations like UNESCO, WHO , Paris deal etc.
    • Further the image of US has seen a setback on various fronts visible in the handling of COVID-Pandemic and its economic impact, foreign policy in North Korea, Israel, Afghanistan and Iran etc.
    • Also the trade war between US and China is decreasing the influence of USA on Global economy as it being seen as sign of the world moving away from Multilateralism towards Protectionism.

    Way forward

    Given the economic and military might the US is still likely to remain Superpower. However if US continues to disengage itself from the burning global issues this trend of declining influence continues its status as a superpower is likely to come into question. Along with this the rise of China economically and its increasing influence through its Belt road initiative can further threaten the Position of US as a superpower.