Research & Analysis

The World This Week: Global Coalition on China, North Korea-US tensions, UAE’s jibe at Israel and the COVID Peak in Brazil

A Global Coalition of Legislators to counter the challenges from China 

What happened?
On 12 June an Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) was formed to focus on key areas of policy safeguards against China. The safeguards include: protecting the international law and ensuring that China is held accountable for the human rights violations, promoting trade fairness, strengthening security, and promoting responsible development by protecting emerging economies from investment or lending from China.

Few issues could bring the former leader of Britain’s Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith together with his peer in the Labour party Baroness Helena Kennedy or the US Republican Senator Marco Rubio together with his Democrat Senator Robert Menendez.

It is a diabolical sight to behold when German Green Party Member of the European Parliament Reinhard Butikofer united with its ideologically opposed Slovak Conservative Miriam Lexmann and with many senior politicians from left and right-wing political parties in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Norway and Japan to form a coalition to grapple with the challenges posed by China.

What is the background?
First, an opposition against Xi but engagement with China continues. The issue that has united the global coalition of developed countries is the foreign policy challenges posed by China. However, these challenges are essentially led by Xi Jinping and his Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime. The COVID-19 pandemic had forced policymakers across the globe to confront questions of how the CCP has repressed the truth about the coronavirus when it was first identified, silenced the whistleblowers, and failed to report to the WHO on time. In the post-COVID-19 world order, the possibility of an all-time assertive Chinese leader is fathomable which has been evident in the regime’s breaches of its international treaty obligations to Hong Kong, mass atrocities against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and increasing tensions with Taiwan and in the South China Sea. Under these foreign policy challenges, the economic engagements of the coalition partner countries seem to continue without a pause with most recent being that of the Trump administration not leading its efforts to decouple the US and Chinese economies or target the Huawei company during the pandemic.

Second, a divided response to China from the EU to Australia. The coalition has come at a time when the responses by different institutions and leaders have been divided. In spite of Chinese aggression in the Himalayan belt, South China Sea or in its peripheral provinces, a tough stance has been from the US and Australia while the EU and several Scandinavian countries have been soft on China. It is the time of worsening relations between the US and China that has been exacerbated by finger-pointing over the pandemic. Washington has also taken a tough stance on Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong, and along with it, Australia was seen calling for an ‘independent international’ investigation into China’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its origin. Beijing has been curt in imposing tariffs on Australia’s agricultural exports and choking the manufacturing units. At the same time, the EU was seen releasing a policy brief labelling China as the cause for disinformation on the pandemic but also assuring the Chinese foreign minister of no harm in the economic ties.

What does it mean?
First, belated as it may, the coalition is a political statement in a desperate attempt to defend the rules-based international order. China’s staunch leadership policy is singled out as a threat that also proves that historically for a system to function and introspect on its own fault lines, an external threat has been essential. In this case, how much will the “Concert of Legislators”, a loose network, work? The approaches are bound to vary, and not every member will necessarily be in agreement of a policy to push back on China.

Second, more than the deep-seated frustration with China’s assertiveness, the coalition represents how the leaders are disillusioned by their own individual State’s soft policy over China politically and economically. The State seems to have accommodated China’s forceful pursuing interests in global issues ranging from trade to technology development to environmental regulation.

Last, the missing voice from the developing countries has been glaring where the dominance of China’s economy and political clout can be viewed as the maximum. From a racist attitude against African to border transgression with India and the South China Sea, the coalition has representations from only the developed world, making the coalition an elite voice.


East Asia: North Korea warns the US against meddling in Inter-Korean affairs, and threatens South Korea to take actions against the anti-Kim activists 

What happened?
On 12 June, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon said that it is futile to continue maintaining a relationship between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the United States President Donald Trump. On the occasion of the second anniversary of the 2018 Singapore summit between the two leaders, the foreign minister said that the US could no longer bring peace and prosperity to the Korean peninsula.

The reason behind the escalation of tensions between Pyongyang and Washington came after the disappointment expressed by the United States on the closing of hotline communications between North and South Korea.

Last week also witnessed tensions between the two Koreas over the balloons from South Korea carrying anti-regime message leaflets into South Korea. While North Korea is upset about this propaganda, South Korea has announced to take action those activists for sending balloons, mostly those who defected from North Korea.

What is the background?
First, the failure of Trump-Kim personal diplomacy. Over the last two years, there was hype on the meetings between the two leaders along with the failure to take forward the relations between the two countries. While the United States has asked for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula before easing of sanctions, North Korea insists that sanctions be removed earlier. The 2018 Singapore summit created a hype, but the agreements lacked clarity. Persistent sanctions from the US and differences during the 2019 Hanoi summit frustrated Kim Jong-un to the extent that this was followed by weapon tests and increased pressure on Seoul and Washington by North Korea.

Second, the anti-Kim propaganda from South Korea by North Korean defectors. Activists (including those who have defected from North Korea) in South Korea have been sending leaflets attached to helium balloons across the border, criticizing Kim Jong-un over his nuclear ambitions and abysmal human rights record. On failing to stop this, North Korea expressed its anger by threatening to permanently shut down a liaison office with South Korea as well as nullify the 2018 inter-Korean agreement. South Korea wants to continue the dialogue with North Korea and balance its liberal policies within.

Third, the Sino-North Korea bonhomie. In support of North Korea’s statement, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that the US should take concrete measures to address North Korea’s legitimate concerns. North Korea-China bonhomie has been evident from the meetings between Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping over denuclearisation and peace in the Korean peninsula. North Korea has regularly sought advice from China’s premier on negotiation strategies before the Trump-Kim Hanoi summit.

What does it mean?
First, North Korea is in a difficult economic situation due to the pandemic and the sanctions imposed on it. It is only interested in mild provocation and has resorted to maintaining pressure on Seoul and Washington. The recent events with North Korea have pushed South Korea’s interest in ensuring peace in the region.

Second, while China is expected to continue its economic and political support, North Korea is likely to wait until after the November elections before deciding a path forward with the United States. The United States is unlikely to engage in a confrontation with North Korea due to its domestic situation.


Middle East: In a public appeal UAE cautions Israel against the annexation of West Bank

What happened?
On 10 June, following the Executive Committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) emergency meeting, UAE’s Foreign Affairs Minister Anwar Mohammed Gargash condemned the expected Israeli move to annex parts of West Bank and reiterated absolute Emirati support for Palestinian rights.

On 12 June, UAE’s ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba made a rare public appeal to the Israeli public, through an op-ed article titled “It’s Either Annexation or Normalization” published in a leading Israeli Hebrew newspaper Yediot Ahronot. Otaiba offered better commercial, military and security ties between the two nations provided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave up unilateral plans to annex West Bank. The ambassador said annexation would upend normalizing ties between the Arab nations and Israel. The article received mixed reactions from Israel. To The National, an Abu Dhabi newspaper, al-Otaiba said that annexation would undermine all bilateral exchanges, cooperation and progress.

What is the background?
First, ameliorating UAE-Israeli ties for the Arab world. Ambassador Otaiba’s article was a rejoinder to claims by Netanyahu and his right-wing allies that Arab states would pick Israel over Palestinians as they had much to gain in terms of technology, security and commerce from Israel. Otaiba’s move is a first for a Gulf diplomat. It positions the impending formal establishment of Israel-UAE ties in a more appealing manner to the larger Arab population. The move by presenting the establishment of ties and cooperation with Israel as the lesser evil becomes a crowd pleaser amongst Arab states and UAE’s domestic population. Also, as Israeli analyst Shimrit Meir said, it is an effective attempt to influence Israeli public opinion regarding annexation.

Second, endorsement of Trump-Jared “Middle east plan” by the Gulf States. The proposed US recognition of Israeli settlements on West Bank and a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside a highly securitized Israel with borders is to facilitate the latter’s security needs. However, the head of Palestinian Authority Mahmood Abbas rejected the plan calling it the “slap of the century”.

Last, annexation plans face widespread opposition. Along with Arab states and Israeli left, Israeli settler leaders who were previously its strongest advocates now oppose it fearing it would create a Palestinian state and end prospective of further Israeli expansion.

What does it mean?
First, UAE and Saudi Arabia are attempting to strengthen ties with the US and Israel – a move to counter Iran’s influence in the region. A policy of countering Iran is gaining momentum, drifting these states away from their traditional regional policy of devout and staunch support for the Palestinian cause. Recent years have witnessed several indicators of normalizing of UAE-Israel relations – allowing Israel to establish a diplomatic presence in Abu Dhabi under the patronage of the International Renewable Energy Agency; and opening of a kosher catering service in Dubai for its Jewish community. In March 2019, UAE FM Gargash called the Arab move to not have formal diplomatic ties with Israel a “very wrong decision” and said a strategic shift was required for peace.

Second, although Arab states had blunted their criticism towards Israel, UAE along with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are saying that annexation is unacceptable. The pre-emptive Arab condemnations contrast the dull statements issued by these states during the US’ embassy move to Jerusalem and US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights and Syrian territories captured in 1967.


Latin America: Brazil stares at instability, as coronavirus curve peaks and Bolsonaro threatens of a military intervention

What happened?
Brazil has become the new epicentre of the virus after. Brazil is now the world’s second-highest country in both the number of cases and the death toll from the coronavirus.

As of 13 June, up to 8,30,000 cases were confirmed in Brazil with 25,982 new cases and 41,901 deaths. As the country is moving towards easing quarantine restrictions, Brazil’s Health Ministry has reported high death rates throughout this week as the President of the country was instead seen taking part in rallies that supported the military rule.

What is the background?
First, the misinformation on data relating to COVID cases within Brazil. Since the early weeks of April, there have been accusations against Brazil’s health department of downplaying the intensity of the outbreak by hiding the data and from 8 June, the country has reported 1,36,000 new infections. The reported numbers could be much higher, owing to insufficient testing. Experts say that the outbreak is weeks away from its peak in Brazil and the hospital systems are already inching towards a collapse.

Second, the President’s muscular response towards the threat, and now a strategy to strangle the opposition. President Bolsonaro was seen playing down the pandemic impacts by calling it a “little flu” in his statements on TV wherein he was seen accusing the media of creating hysteria over the pandemic. Now, in an effort to control any voice of opposition from the Congress and the Supreme Court, Bolsonaro set a political statement by being involved in rallies with protesters who were calling for the shutdown of the legislature and the court. Bolsonaro, along with his sons, and his allies, has gone to the extent of threatening to use military intervention against those institutions that might impede his rule.

Third, corruption and lack of systemic transparency. Two powerful and popular officials, from the justice and health department, have resigned from the President’s cabinet. Corruption, lack of transparency and attempts by Bolsonaro to influence the federal police to protect political allies have defeated any attempts to control the spread of the pandemic in the initial stage. The lack of transparency highlights the failures of the health ministry to not only release the data on time, but it comes at the time when the country is far from flattening the curve.

What does it mean?
With Bolsonaro’s focus on strengthening his power, the COVID-19 situation in Brazil is expected to get worse. This, coupled with the failure of institutions and the collapse of the economy might be disastrous for the largest democracy in Latin America. Following the failures and the mistrust, the fear of impeachment has pushed Bolsonaro to encourage the call for military rule, which is unlikely. However, this has led to a divide in the opinions within society.


Also this week…

Hong Kong marks one year of protests with renewed momentum
Thousands of people in Hong Kong have again taken to the streets, singing a protest anthem and chanting slogans as they marked the first anniversary of a pivotal moment in the pro-democracy protest movement. On 9 June 2019, protesters in the financial hub staged a massive march in opposition to an unpopular bill that would have allowed extraditions to the Chinese mainland. The protests that thawed with the pandemic received a new lease of life after Beijing moved to tighten its grip in the semi-autonomous region by imposing the National Security Law early this month.

Sri Lanka sets new date for general elections on 5 August
On 10 June, the chairman of Sri Lanka’s Elections Commission announced that the general elections that were to be held on 20 June will now be held on 05 August. This is the second time that the parliamentary vote has been delayed amid the pandemic. After President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the Parliament on 02 March, the election was scheduled to take place on 26 April. However, as the threat of Covid-19 grew, the Election Commission postponed the polls by nearly two months, to 20 June.

India-China: Another round of military talks to de-escalate tensions
India and China held another round of military talks between commanders of the Indian and the Chinese Armies on 12 June to help de-escalate the military stand-off in the Ladakh Sector which has been going on for more than a month. The two sides discussed ways to defuse tensions between the troops in the Galwan and Hot Springs areas. The Indian and Chinese military officials have been talking at various levels in the Ladakh sector to defuse tensions after a physical confrontation between Indian Army troops and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on 5  May at Pangong Tso lake. Since then, there has been a military build-up on both sides that was followed by confrontation soon after along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Intra Afghan negotiations must begin immediately, says Zalmay Khalilzad
The US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad stated that the intra-Afghan negotiations between the Kabul government and the Taliban must begin immediately. Further, he welcomed the government’s move on the release of more than 3,000 Taliban prisoners stating that it is important that this process continues. He also welcomes the Taliban’s statement specifying that they will participate in intra-Afghan negotiations within one week of the prisoner release commitment outlined in the agreement. The US-Taliban deal signed in Qatar on 29 February called for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners to open the way for intra-Afghan negotiations.

The US President decides to withdraw troops from long time NATO ally Germany 
The US President Donald Trump authorized a plan to cut 9,500 of the 3,4,500 US troops stationed in Germany on 10 June. The plan will limit the number of US troops deployed in Germany to 25,000. The policy has blindsided Germany, a longtime ally in the NATO and comes after repeated rows with the US over its defence spending in the alliance.

Trudeau calls forceful arrest video of Canada Indigenous leader ‘shocking’.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the video showing the forceful arrest of an indigenous leader as “shocking.” The newly released video sheds light on a similar incident of police brutality that comes after the anti-racist protests in the US sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody. Chief Allan Adam of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation alleged last week that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had beaten him in March after being questioned on an expired licence plate raising serious question on police conduct and human dignity.

 

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About the author

Sourina Bej, Aarathi Srinivasan, Lakshmi V Menon, Harini Madhusudan and Abigail Miriam Fernandez

Sourina Bej is a Project Associate; Aarathi Srinivasan is an intern; Lakshmi V Menon is a research consultant; Harini Madhusudan is a PhD scholar; and Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a Research Assistant. All are with the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS).