Research & Analysis

The World This Week | 31 Aug 2019

Subjects covered in latest edition of The World This Week: G7 Summit, Suspension of the British Parliament, Growing Warmth in Russia-Turkey relations, Italy’s new Coalition and Google-Huawei differences

Written by Sourina Bej, Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer, Harini Madhusudan & Lakshmi V Menon at International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS

G7 Summit: Cold responses and little outcomes

What happened? 

During 24–26 August 2019, the G7 summit was held in Biarritz, France. The summit was attended by the leaders from the US, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan, along with some top European Union officials.

Apart from the G7 leaders and EU officials, leaders from Australia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Egypt, India, Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa also took part. The visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister also became the highlight of the summit.

 

What is the background?

The summit took place in the background of increasing trade tensions between the US and China, fires in Amazon and tensions in the Persian Gulf.

The previous summit was held during 2018 in Quebec, Canada. The summit witnessed substantial differences between the G7 countries. Inclusion of Russia was one of the most discussed subjects in Quebec summit. Trade and Climate Change received significant attention as well. The summit also highlighted the differences between the G7 countries. Trump’s differences with the Canadian and French leaders scuttled substantial outcomes of the 2018 summit.

Since the previous summit, the trans-Atlantic divide between the G7 partners also increased substantially. While Europe (including the UK) has been trying to save the nuclear deal with Iran, Trump was showing no signs of accommodation. The second significant difference between the US and Europe was over China. While the EU has its apprehension over China, Brussels prefers to adopt a nuanced approach towards Beijing. The trans-Atlantic G7 partners also differ over Russia and Putin. While Trump is keen to get Russia into the G7, the rest of the group is not in favour of the same. Not now.

Trump’s approach to diplomacy has also created tensions at the leadership level.

Outside Trump, G7 also witnessed the change of guard in the UK. Boris Johnson is the new PM with a strong Brexit push. The rest of G7 leaders in Europe is apprehensive of Boris Johnson’s agenda; they were meeting Johnson for the first time.

So, the present G7 summit took place in a tensed situation.

 

What does this mean?

Firstly, the environment and Climate Change was part of the main agenda of the summit, but there was no concrete outcome on the same. Trump did not attend the climate change discussion last year; he skipped this year as well. The summit issued a statement regarding the ongoing Amazon fire and extended a grant of 20 million dollars to Brazil. However, the seriousness of G7 to Climate Change needs to be questioned with their inability to take the US on board.

Secondly, Macron’s attempt to play a mediatory role between the US and Iran was evident. His invitation to the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend the summit has created a positive atmosphere. This could be a significant step towards the de-escalating the tension and may also lead to Trump meeting with his Iranian counterpart.

Thirdly, the debate over Russi’s inclusion has got a new renewal. Trump stated, “it would be better to have Russia inside the tent than outside the tent.” In 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, Russia was removed from this group. The US seems to be more interested in getting Russia inside than the rest. Trump’s push is likely to continue on Russia.

Lastly, the big question before the summit was whether President Trump would attend this summit. During the last summit, Trump’s differences with the rest of G7 members was obvious. Hence, this year, Macron seemed to have made more efforts to deal with Trump than emphasizing on other crucial issues. Perhaps the lack of significant outcomes is because of this.

 

UK: Boris Johnson suspends the Parliament; so, no-deal Brexit it is

What happened? 

Boris Johnson announced on 28 August the suspension of the Parliament. Hailed as a political gamble this suspension could allow a “no-deal” Brexit to be forced through — or preempt a vote of no confidence in the government. The Queen formally agreed to Boris Johnson’s request to end the current parliamentary session and made the announcement.

 

What is the background? 

The move to “prorogue” or suspend the Parliament will now prevent current lawmakers from making any laws that would hinder or delay the Brexit (as scheduled on 31 October) from the European Union (EU).

Boris Johnson’s request to the Queen (who holds the right) to suspend the Parliament follows the controversy over Ireland being a hard or soft border between EU and UK. This step by Johnson tightens the parliamentary timeframe and has made the prospect of Britain exiting the European Union on 31 October without a deal in place far more likely.

The prorogation means that the Parliament will be prevented from sitting during the crucial period between now and the Brexit deadline of 31 October. The debate over whether Britain should follow a no-deal or not while exiting has been at the upfront between the conservatives and the labour party. Former Prime Minister Theresa May has faced main party resignations and vote of no confidence over the terms of the Brexit deal, especially from the Labour Party chief Jeremy Corbyn. Thus Johnson’s rationale of suspending the Parliament and engaging in constituting a new one with a new agenda is to avoid walking down the path of his predecessor May.

 

What does it mean? 

At this juncture, the suspension of the Parliament is going to have multiple impacts.

Firstly, those who are opposed to the no-deal Brexit had two primary routes to oppose the no-deal: to enact legislation requiring the government to seek a further deferral of the Brexit date or a vote of no-confidence in the government and calling for an early general election. However, both would be extremely difficult to achieve within the tight parliamentary timeframes.

Secondly, Johnson’s act cannot be challenged in the court as unconstitutional because the Parliament has not been prorogued for an entire two years. Usually, a parliamentary session lasts for around a year. However, the current session began in 2017 and was extended to give time to the complex Brexit legislation. The current lawmakers have been on their summer break since 25 July, just one day after Johnson became Prime Minister due to return on 3 September. This session would have been for two weeks until 14 September. These two weeks were crucial to legislate against a “no-deal” Brexit. However, prorogation means lawmakers will only sit until 9 September thus moving up the Brexit endgame. The fact that Johnson gave prorogation advice to the Queen before a court could decide on whether to issue an order to prevent the giving of such advice also potentially stymied the use of courts to prevent prorogation. Moreover, the Queen’s diktat is unchallenged.

Thirdly, it also unknown if the House of Commons can block Johnson if he is intent on a no-deal Brexit, whether or not calling the Parliament in session again is possible. The members would need to create a circumstance for a binding vote, and it is unclear how this might be done.

Finally, the immediate impact of Johnson’s declaration has been the resignation of the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson stating conflict over her dealings with Boris. The question on Ireland remains in doldrums as it would involve checks of some form, whatever the UK government’s insistence that it will not impose any infrastructure. As the Irish government has pointed out repeatedly, Ireland cannot remain a part of the EU’s single market and allow the unmonitored flow of goods across what will then become a customs, standards and regulation border. While there is an understandable desire to avoid infrastructure on the frontier, some new system of checks might now come into place.

 

 Turkey and Russia: Erdogan-Putin grow closer as divisions over Syria remain

 What happened?

On 27 August 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met in Moscow and held discussions about the prospects of an extension of existing defence cooperation between the two countries. This comes at a time when the tension between the two countries has escalated despite the deal over the creation of a de-escalation zone signed between the two parties a year ago.

 

What is the background?

Developments in Syria, Russia-Turkey closeness and US-Turkey differences form the background.

The S-400 deal has brought Erdogan and Putin closer in a move which has led further strained ties with NATO and the US. The first batch of S-400 had reached Ankara in July 2019 despite warnings of sanctions over the purchase from Washington. The US had retaliated by removing Turkey from its F-35 manufacturing Programme during the coming months.

However, Russia-Turkey relations are not smooth. Earlier this month, a Russian-backed military air raid had struck down a Turkish convoy at the Idlib province. This shows that divisions over Syria remain as joint cooperation over defence expands.

Within Syria, after eight years of civil strife, the Syrian government is slowly gaining control back with the support of Russia and Iran while Turkey has been supporting rebels alongside the US. Idlib province has been a stronghold of the opposition and the scene for most of the violence ever since the war broke out. Ankara’s growing proximity towards Moscow has lately led to a unilateral ceasefire in the Idlib province by Putin urging the anti-government groups to join the peace process.

 

What does it mean?

First, Russia and Turkey are trying to get rid of external actors from the war-torn country. The preplanned trip to Russia by the Turkish leader amidst the Idlib crisis further puts Turkey in a difficult position. Also, given the current Turkish drift towards Russia and the latter’s upper hand over the situation, the Syrian government may stand a higher chance at the negotiating table with the opposition backed by Turkey.

Second, Putin has tried to use the sale of S-400 and the prospects of joint defence hardware production as a tool to create a gap between Turkey and its NATO allies. This follows a recent statement from Turkey’s defence minister to launch of a joint operations centre alongside the US to create a buffer zone close to the Syrian-Turkish border. This shows that Turkey is trying to compartmentalize given its domestic pressure over border security and strained relations with the Trump administration. On the other hand, Moscow does not want Ankara to cooperate with Washington’s continued presence in Syria and let it have a say in future developments there. Taking off the US from the picture would help Russia fulfil its goal in Syria as recent events show that Turkey is being pushed into darkness both militarily and diplomatically.

 

Huawei vs Google: The Saga Continues

What happened?

Mate 30, Huawei’s flagship model will be deprived of licensed access to any of the Google apps. This is the direct outcome of the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China, which sees Huawei as the centre of the dispute. Google is obligated to comply with the ban on Huawei where the open-source android version would be available; however, the entity list will bar Huawei from access to licensed versions that include technical support and pre-installation of apps such as Google Maps and Gmail. A company spokesperson has stated that Huawei still prefers Android as their first choice, and it is unlikely that HarmonyOS- Huawei’s self-developed operating system will be used.

Through the week, it was unclear if the company would go ahead with their scheduled launch of the Mate 30 model, which is a flagship model relating to 5G technology. Huawei has not officially revealed what their plan of action would be, and what would be on the device in place of Google’s apps but it was revealed on 31 August 2019 that the company would go ahead with the launch event. The date is set for 19 September 2019, at Munich Germany. All eyes would be on this event because what happens there could change the way the mobile phone market works.

 

What is the background? 

The drama around Huawei began with the arrest of the daughter of the CEO of Huawei in Canada. Following a series of issues surrounding the company and the adamancy of the US administration to ensure the delay of the launch of 5G. This was seen in how the US tried to influence its allies not to allow Huawei to help with 5G development for their respective countries. This was also seen the ban that was imposed on Huawei, that stopped them buying from US companies.

In May 2019, Trump administration escalated its approach on Huawei with two moves. One, an executive order that allowed the government to ban technology from “foreign adversaries” if they are seen to pose “unacceptable risks” to national security. Second, the placement of Huawei on a commerce department “entity list” that bans it from acquiring components or technology from US companies without government approval. However, the commerce department granted Huawei two 90-day reprieves, allowing it to maintain their existing infrastructure and provide support to existing Huawei devices, the temporary agreement would expire on 19 November.

After Huawei was on the entity list, many American chipmakers confirmed that they would stop their supplies to Huawei. This included Intel, Qualcomm, Xilinx and Broadcom. The ban also extends to software products and services, such as Google’s Android, the operating system used by Huawei’s smartphones.

 

What does it mean?

Huawei is probably the most spoken of, the outcome of the trade dispute between the US and China. It all boils down to two facts: first, China is way ahead of US in its development of 5G, and second, China has existing infrastructure and is prepared to face the US pressure.

Keeping China’s policy of technology-sharing in the picture, one can assume that the outcome of this dispute would break the role that Google plays in the technology market.

The uncertainty would encourage Huawei to develop their systems and reduce their dependence on the US systems. This would also mean that the existing systems in Russia, Japan and South Korea would get some relevance in markets that they have not reached. The question remains, what will happen on 19 September 2019? Either outcome will have far-reaching implications.

 

Italy: Experiments with a new coalition 

What happened?

On 28 August, Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) became new coalition partners solely based on far-right loathing. The unprecedented and questionable alliance has been criticized and ridiculed. Previously, Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella gave PM Giuseppe Conte a mandate to attempt the formation of a new coalition.

 

What is the background?

Following Matteo Salvini’s shock decision to dissolve the League’s alliance with Five Star Movement, the latter rushed into the M5S-PD coalition feeling betrayed.

The new partners share a bitter past. The far-right League, along with its populist Matteo Salvini, a common enemy, is responsible for the former adversaries forging a government alliance. However, beyond this shared hostility, there exist no commonalities between M5S and PD.

 

What does it mean?

Lack of consensus on various significant aspects and frictions between the Five Star and Democratic Party point towards the plausible collapse of the coalition shortly and its inability to bring about deep-seated reform and political stability in the third-largest economy of the eurozone. It means ambushes lie ahead.

The coalition’s survival would need roping in far-left Free and Equal party and independent senators. The immediate worry is to raise $25.6 billion required to counter the forthcoming hike in VAT (value-added tax). Tackling this impending tax explosion may be the chief reason behind the alliance.

Salvini, desiring to become the Prime Minister, may doubt the coalition but the parties have much to gain by ensuring the League defeat.

The dramatic alliance is threatening to create a far-right government. Meanwhile, the worries of immigrants are looming large.

 

 

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