The US: Biden calls for the return of America and diplomacy, as he unveils the US foreign policy priorities
On 4 February, in a speech at the US Department of State, the new President Biden outlined his foreign policy priorities. The message he wanted the world to hear is: “America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.”
As a general outlook on the American alliances, leadership, China and Russia, he said: “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy.”
In terms of principles that the US would like to follow in conducting foreign policy, he said: “we must start with diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”
He considered climate change as an existential threat, as he wants to build global cooperation to address the same.
What is the background?
First, the US reengaging the world, as against the retreat strategy pursued by Trump. As soon as he assumed the office, President Biden decided to rejoin the Paris Climate agreement on day one. He also announced the US decision to reengage with the WHO. He has also announced to extend the START treaty with Russia.
Second, Biden’s approach to rebuilding alliances. During Trump, the trans-Atlantic partnership suffered a setback. Biden’s emphasis on rebuilding alliances and retaining the US troops in Europe means that the US would go back to pre-Trump US-Europe relationship. He has announced troops withdrawal from Germany, which was one of Trump’s destructive unilateral announcement vis-à-vis the American engagement in Europe. Not only Europe but also with other American partners – Canada, Japan, South Korea and Australia; during Trump’s period, there was a strain in the US relationship with most of the above traditional partners.
Third, emphasis on human rights and the rule of law. Though there was an extra focus on Yemen, as a part of this, he also covered the same issue vis-a-vis Russia and China in detail. He has announced a US special envoy for Yemen, underlining a new American approach and leadership towards Yemen. On 5 February, the US State Department separately announced that it would lift the Houthis’ designation as a terror organization.
Fourth, a balanced relationship with Russia and China. While he has announced the extension of the new START, in his 4 February speech, Biden also stressed that he would “very different from (his) predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions – interfering with (the US) elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens – are over.” He also said, that the US would “not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people.” On China, he has stated: “We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance.”
What does it mean?
As Biden underlined in his 4 February speech, the above would mean that the US is back and would use diplomacy and alliances to reengage the world. This would be crucial and much needed, given the four disastrous years of American foreign policy of disengaging the world and breaking the alliances. Biden’s big challenge would be to fill the gap that Trump has yielded and fill it fast. 2021 is not 2016; there have been numerous changes in the last five years. Biden will have to be proactive.
The emphasis on human rights should be another significant relief. Starting from Yemen, there are numerous conflict spots, that need a rightful engagement of the US. On this issue as well, there are enormous challenges – starting from Russia, Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Myanmar and the list would be a long one. Biden will have to prioritize.
Russia: New tension with Europe, Moscow expels European diplomats
On 5 February, Russia expelled diplomats from Germany, Sweden, and Poland for joining the protests in support of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, who was jailed earlier last week. In its statement, the Russian foreign ministry said the diplomats had taken part in “illegal demonstrations” held on 23 January and “such actions do not correspond to their diplomatic status. Russia expects that in the future, the diplomatic missions of Sweden, Poland and Germany and their personnel will strictly follow international law norms.”
The diplomats’ home countries have condemned the expulsions along with the UK, France and the EU. German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass denounced the expulsion as being “in no way justified.” Sweden said the claim was unfounded and said it reserved the right to an appropriate response. Poland reiterated that the expulsion could lead to the “further deepening of the crisis in bilateral relations.” EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who is currently in Russia, on behalf of the EU, said he “strongly condemned this decision and rejected the allegations that they conducted activities incompatible with their status as foreign diplomats.”
What is the background?
First, a new low in EU-Russia relation. The expulsions were announced in the immediate context of Borrell’s meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Borrell is the first senior EU official to travel to Russia since 2017 and had sought to extend an olive branch to Moscow when he called for the EU to approve the Sputnik vaccine. However, the expulsions are timely messages to the West on Moscow’s brazenness. Since the claims of Russia’s support to Belarus to the poisoning of its strongest critic Alexei Navalny in Berlin, the relation between EU and Russia has remained stiff. In 2018, similar was the response from the UK and the US in expelling Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK. Relations between the two had also soured over energy issues when on 21 January, the European Parliament members called on the EU to immediately stop work on the Nord Stream 2 as it “violates the EU’s common energy security policy.”
Second, dipping human rights record and culture of impunity in Russia. Navalny’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment for his campaign against corruption is not the first act of human rights violation in Russia. On 12 June 2019, the Russian police detained over 200 people at a protest march in Moscow demanding the release of the investigative journalist IvGolunov. Russia ranks 149th out of 180 countries for press freedom, according to an annual index published by international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
Third, the slow return of the Transatlantic condemnation of Russia. Along with Germany, Poland and Sweden, France and the US has joined in condemning Russia’s decision to expel the diplomats. This collective condemnation had been seemingly absent during Trump’s tenure which was marred with his bonhomie for Putin despite alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 US election. The US President Joe Biden said there would be no “rolling over” to the Kremlin any more under his watch.
What does it mean?
First, despite tensions, the EU has not engaged in constructive criticism of Russia. Instead, they have come together to negotiate on the Iran nuclear deal or the Paris climate agreement. The EU is still Moscow’s most significant trade and investment partner, and Merkel on 6 February has said Berlin’s stance on the Nord Stream 2 remains “unaffected”. Thus, it is difficult to foresee any untoward pushback from the EU yet. Second, international pressure didn’t alter Russia’s defiance on human rights and freedom in 2014. It probably will not now as the hallmarks of Moscow’s preparation to handle the “Navalny issue” is the same as it did with the Crimean crises.
China: New Redlines on Xinjiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong, as US-China relations starts under Biden
On 1 February 2021, in a conversation with Jacob J. Lew, the Politburo Member and the Director of the office of the Central Committee for Foreign Affairs of the Politburo of the 19th CPC Central Committee, Yang Jiechi expounded on the state of US-China relations and prospects for the future of the bilateral relations. In his address, he cautioned the US not to cross the “red lines”.
What is the background?
First, the new redline as Beijing’s signal to the larger US-China relations. China is anxious about its relations with the US under Joe Biden. The leadership of China believes that the US-China relations have reached “new crossroads” and “a new window of hope” is opening with the coming of Joe Biden. Thus, as an attempt to put forth the Chinese perspective on the evolving bilateral relation Yang Jiechi articulated his response.
Second, China would like to continue with what it has agreed with the Trump administration. There is an agreement reached in January 2020. As per the agreement, China agreed to purchase more of certain US goods and services worth USD 200 billion in 2020 and 2021 with the base year as 2017. On 13 January 2021, the US declassified “the US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”. It is rare to declassify a document before its scheduled date. The objective of declassifying the document was to put forth the official US stance in the public domain is to ensure that the administration does not retract. Perhaps, China also wants to push the same argument with force and new redlines.
Third, China’s “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy” – a euphemism for its new approach. The Chinese diplomats have been more aggressive in defending their country’s interests. Yang Yechi redline statement is perhaps a part of this aggressive strategy.
What does it mean?
Will the Biden administration go back on the Trump policies? The new administration has already reaffirmed Taiwan’s enduring commitment and advised China “to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said he agreed that China’s actions in its western Xinjiang region should be designated as “genocide”. He has also offered support to people fleeing Hong Kong, “the US should give haven to people fleeing political repression in Hong Kong. Consequently, Yang Yechi alluded to draw a “red line” on the core issues and reiterated that the US should fulfil its commitment to abide by the One-China principle.
Yang Jiechi speech was the most high-profile appeal by China to the US ever since Joe Biden took office. Through this speech, he has put the onus on the US to mend the damage caused by the “misguided policies” under the Trump administration. Furthermore, after the speech, China Daily published an article titled, “US govt urged to focus on cooperation”. The article highlighted that both China and the US task to take their relationship back to “a predictable and constructive track”. It stated, the two largest economies should build a model of interaction that “focuses on peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation”.
To conclude, redline speech is an indication that US-China relations are not expected to be smooth.
Also in the news…
By Avishka Ashok
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: BBC reports of systematic abuse in Xinjiang detention camps
On 3 February, the BBC published a report regarding the horrifying treatment of women in China’s “re-education camps”. The report spoke about systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of Uighur women at Chinese authorities’ hands. The report has garnered strong statements from Australia, UK and the US, demanding inspection in the region by international bodies like the United Nations. While accusing the BBC of fake news, China has denied the reports of abuse and insists that the camps operate per the international regulations on human rights.
Japan: Two-plus-two meeting with the US to strengthen relations
On 4 February, the defence ministers and foreign ministers of Japan and Britain conducted a virtual meeting where the two countries agreed to cooperate on economic, national security, cyberspace, the pandemic and climate change. Japan raised the recently passed Chinese Coast Guard Law and appreciated the dispatch of Queen Elizabeth, an aircraft carrier strike group, in the South China Sea. The two countries signed a comprehensive economic partnership right after Britain’s exit from the EU.
South Korea: Iran releases the crew seized from oil tankers
On 2 February, the Iranian authorities agreed to release the seized oil tanker crew members on humanitarian grounds after the South Korean government appealed to Iran for their release. The Tanker remains in the custody of Iran and will be released only after South Korea unfreezes its funds in Iran, which would violate the US-issued sanctions. Even though Iran claimed pollution of the seas as the reason for the seizure, the release of the taker as well as the crew had been hijacked due to the frozen South Korean funds.
South Korea: US global defence posture review to affect troops hosting
On 4 February, US President Joe Biden announced the review of their Global Defence Posture which will bring changes to the number of troops on the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The move is a welcome change from the Trump Administration which pushed the host countries to pay a higher share towards hosting the US Troops. The Biden Administration has announced that the US troops stationed in different parts of the world are essential in securing and protecting the US national interest.
Singapore: New Legislation restricts the usage of covid19 tracing data
On 2 February, the Singaporean Parliament passed a bill to restrict the use of COVID 19 TraceTogether data to look into seven serious offences including murder, rape and terrorism. Privacy concerns arose after the government initially appealed to use the data by police forces. Minister Sharael Taha opined, “Let this be the only time where we limit access to information for our police force in the pursuit of justice”.
Indonesia: Ban on forced religious attire in schools
On 5 February, the Indonesian government banned the compulsion of wearing a headscarf for school girls. All public schools have been given a notice period of 30 days to revise their rules and regulations. The education minister reiterated that wearing a religious attire is “an individual’s right and not the school’s decision”. The ban comes into effect after a 16-year-old girl belonging to the Christian community was forced to wear a headscarf. The religious affairs minister also stated that “Religions do not promote conflict, neither do they justify acting unfairly against those who are different.”
Myanmar: Coup leads to Civil Disobedience; increase in demands for Suu Kyi and Myint Win’s release
On 1 February, the military detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and other members of the NLD. 24 Ministers of the NLD were removed and instead an eleven-member bench was appointed comprising of retired military officers and members of the USDP. On 2 February, most detainees, except Suu Kyi and Myint Win were released. The UN Security Council met to release a statement on the subject but were blocked by China who stated the matter as an “internal matter” of Myanmar. The citizens of the country have come together to resist the military’s forced takeover of political power. There have been protests by the teachers and students, nightly home protests where people bang plates and sing revolutionary songs, and daytime flash mobs demanding Suu Kyi and Myint Win’s release.
South Asia This Week
India: Farmers’ protests receives international attention
On 2 February, American Pop Star Rihanna tweeted about the Indian Farmers Protests which received global attention as well as reaction from Indian celebrities and citizens. The Ministry of External Affairs released a strong statement against the protests and urged the citizens not to get involved in propaganda. Many Indian celebrities also expressed their opinion on the subject, claiming it to be India’s internal issue.
Pakistan: PDM announces protests against the government.
On 4 February, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) declared a long march against the PTI government on 26 March 2021. PDM chief said, “Caravans of long march will leave for Islamabad from across the country on 26 March” to protest against PTI’s corrupt practices. The PDM will also decide on passing a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister. The PDM has rejected the government’s proposal for open balloting in the Senate polls as they desire an elaborate package on electoral reforms and stepping down of the current government.
Pakistan: The ASFC conducts training launch for capable nuclear missile
On 3 February, The Army Strategic Forces Command (ASFC) announced the successful training launch of the Ghaznavi missile, a surface-to-surface ballistic missile with nuclear capabilities. The missile has an efficient technical guidance system and a range of 290 km, bringing several Indian cantonments and military bases within its reach if fired from Central Punjab. The missiles are operationally ready for use as of now.
Afghanistan: Pentagon reviews the US Troops withdrawal
On 3 February, Pentagon clarified that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan would be when progressive peace negotiations between the Afghan republic and Taliban occur. The Pentagon spokesperson has also spoken against the withdrawal of troops just to keep up with the previously agreed upon date of departure. On 4 February, the resUS Congress’s research grouped the Biden administration to extend the date of withdrawal from 1 May 2021 as the study conducted by the group predicts Afghanistan falling back into a state of Civil War. The research suggests extending the date of complete withdrawal to ensure that the country has sufficient time to ensure a peaceful existence of political activities after the troops exit.
Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa This Week
Armenia: Turkey and Azerbaijan conduct joint military drills close to the border.
On 2 February, the winter military exercises between Turkey and Azerbaijan began near the city of Kars. The exercise will carry on until 12 February and depicts the deepening relationship between the two countries who have strengthened their ties against the Armenian forces. The Turkish Defence Ministry issued a statement that ensured the exercises were being conducted with an aim to improve coordination and capabilities in winter conditions.
Kyrgyzstan: Parliament welcomes the new government post-political crisis
On 3 February, the Parliament approved a new government with Ulugbek Maripov as the new Prime Minister. The current government has a much smaller administrative machine with just 12 ministries and 4 state committees. The President has appreciated the efforts to restrict theft and corruption from government agencies by merging ministries to create efficient and transparent mechanisms within the country. Numerous ministries in the country were increasing costs and were hardly contributing towards the development of the people. The Prime Minister aims to deal with the problems of the economic fallout, energy issues and preparing for the agricultural season in his first 100 days.
Yemen: the US withdraws support from Saudi-led offensive
On 4 February, as a part of the US restoring emphasis on diplomacy, democracy and human rights, President Joe Biden announced that he was withdrawing support from the Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen. According to Biden, this step would signify the much-needed change in the US Foreign Policy. The shift in support of Saudi-led party portrays Biden’s intentions to distance the US from Saudi Arabia during his tenure as President. The move has been appreciated by Yemeni activists who have urged America to stay involved in the peace efforts.
Israel: Prime Minister accuses ICC of anti-Semitic ruling
On 5 February, the International Criminal Court (ICC) extended its jurisdiction to the land occupied by Israel during the 1967 war and has opened up possibilities of a probe into Israel’s war crimes. Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the ICC of “legal persecution and perversion of justice” and has called the move anti-Semitic. The United States has also expressed its objection with the court’s ruling and has stated that they don’t recognize the jurisdiction. The court can also investigate Palestinian crimes committed against Israel during the war and the indiscriminate use of rockets against Israel in 2014.
Iran: Victory in another legal case against the US
On 3 February, the Iranian Foreign Minister appreciated the ICJ’s ruling on US withdrawal from the JCPOA three years ago. The initial claims of lack of jurisdiction of the ICJ has been rejected among other objections that were presented by the US. On the same day, Iranian Foreign Minister tweeted “Another legal victory for Iran” while announcing the dismissal of objections placed by America. The court issued the ruling unanimously, Washington secured one vote against 15 negatives.
Qatar: ICJ dismisses case of racial discrimination filed against UAE
On 4 February, the International Court of Justice dismissed the case brought by Qatar against the United Arab Emirates. Qatar had claimed that the measures travel ban and expulsion of Qatari nationals adopted by the UAE violated the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. While addressing the issue, the ICJ explained that “declarations criticizing a state or its policies cannot be characterized as racial discrimination”. The case, therefore, lacks suitable jurisdiction and has been dismissed by the ICJ.
Iraq: High-level Officials meet Iranian counterpart to discuss Trade and Soleimani
On 3 February, the Iraqi Foreign Minister met the Iranian officials to discuss various issues of concern. However, the US assassination of General Soleimani was one of the primary issues that were discussed. The delegation from the two countries also discussed the formation of the joint economic cooperation commission for improving economic and political ties between the two countries. Iranian Foreign Affairs minister hopes to make progress on banking, industrial cities, border marketplaces, transit and Iraq’s debts to Iran. Iran has also appreciated Iraq’s efforts in pursuing the murder of Soleimani.
Uganda: ICC charges Ugandan rebel commander of war crimes
On 4 February, the ICC charged Dominic Ongwen of multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity ranging from numerous murders, rapes, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and forced marriages. Ongwen, who was himself a child soldier abducted by the shadowy militia at a young age is now charged with 61 offences and has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Ongwen’s defence appealed to consider the fact that he himself was also a victim and had been transformed into the human that he is due to the circumstances and not because of his personal choice. However, the court has discharged these arguments and explained that the case was regarding the multiple crimes committed by Ongwen as a grown and responsible adult commanding the LRA.
Zimbabwe: the UK sanctions four Zimbabwe officials for human rights abuse
On 1 February, the UK sanctioned four security officials in Zimbabwe on account of violating the international regulations on human rights during post-election violence and crackdown of protests in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The sanctions will restrict the officials from travelling to the UK and will freeze their assets in the UK. The four officials have been accused of the deaths of protestors and opening fire on unarmed demonstrators protesting against the delay in election results.
Europe and the Americas This Week
Turkey: Government accused of homophobia
On 2 February, President Erdogan accused the LGBT movement of vandalism for depicting rainbow flags at Islam’s holiest site, Mecca, during a rally. Dozens of students protesting peacefully were dragged away by the police, and 159 students were arrested. Erdogan has been accused of inciting hatred and homophobia in the country during his 18 years in power.
Russia: Sputnik V Vaccine announces 91 per cent efficacy
On 2 February, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) confirmed the safety and efficacy by announcing 91 per cent efficiency of the Sputnik Vaccine. The vaccine was effective against the coronavirus even in senior citizens over the age of 60. The Chief Executive Officer of the RDIF said that the Sputnik V vaccine was among the only three vaccines in the world which provided with efficiency above 90 per cent and also provided ease in transportation and storage due to its requirement of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.
Russia: Navalny’s arrest intensifies protests across Russian cities
On 2 February, Alexey Navalny was declared guilty for violating the terms of a case from 2014. He was sentenced to three-and-half years in prison, but he failed to report regularly to the Federal Penitentiary Service. The court has converted his judgement into a real one after claiming his excuse for non-appearance to be insufficient. Over 1400 people have been detained for protesting against the arrest of Navalny. Navalny also issued a statement from prison, urging the people not to give up the fight against Putin’s government.
Canada: Proud Boys declared as a terrorist group
On 3 February, Canada has declared the Proud Boys group as a terrorist group for the US Capitol’s insurrection 6 January. The extremist group, an ardent supporter of Trump and Trump’s policies, has been scrutinized for their actions at the Capitol Hill and Canada is the first country to label them as a terrorist entity. Canadian Public Safety Minister said, “their intent and escalation toward violence became quite clear”. In response, the chairman of the Proud Boys claimed that there were approximately 1500 proud boys in Canada and that a terrorist entity’s designation is ridiculous.
US: Congresswoman Marjorie Greene removed for her past statements
On 4 February, the Democrats vote to remove congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assignments for her insensitive comments and statements made in the past. She has been accused of propagating conspiracy theories, inciting violence against Democrats and making racist remarks. The Democrats were joined by eleven Republicans who have also voted to remove Greene from office. The Republicans claimed that she deserved leniency since the comments were made before she was sworn into the Congress. However, a representative explained that “they were dealing with conduct that brought shame to the House and fuelled violence”.
Brazil: Mining company charged to pay $7bn for failure to prevent environmental tragedy
On 4 February, the Brazilian Mining company, Vale, was charged with $7bn to be paid as compensation for breaking the dam that killed 272 people on 25 January 2019. This is Latin America’s most significant reparation package, and Vale has said that it will contribute to the improvement and development of the communities they engage with. Despite Vale responding positively to the compensation payment, numerous civil society groups fear that the money will not reach the needy and may be used for other infrastructure projects in different parts of the country.
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