The US: Biden brings America to Paris
On 20 January 2021, as a part of the first day actions, the new American President issued a series of directives, including rejoining the Paris agreement on climate change, focussing on global warming. He has appointed John Kerry, former Secretary of State (during Obama’s period), as the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. Kerry made an immediate announcement on the wasted years of climate change.
On the same day, Biden has also revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, thereby impacting the expansion of the pipeline that would bring the Canadian crude oil to the US Gulf Coast.
On the same day, the administration also announced a 60 days freeze, to any new drills on federal lands and waters.
What is the background?
First, the US and the Paris agreement. Signed in 2015, the Paris agreement has around 200 members, from the developed and developing worlds agreeing to reduce fossil fuels’ use. Each country has committed to reducing the use of fossil fuels, addressing carbon neutrality and thereby to bring down the global temperature. Obama, then the US President made the US a part of the agreement, and also made pledges to reduce carbon emissions. Accorper cent a New York Times report, “Under the accord, the United States had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 and commit up to $3 billion in aid for poorer countries by 2020.” In early June 2017, President Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement, as a part of his “American first” push; according to Trump, the Paris agreement would undermine the American economy and place the US at a disadvantageous position. Though he also stated that he would like to renegotiate a better deal for the US, leading States in Europe said, that the Paris agreement is irreversible. Biden has now reversed the Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, and announced the US’ re-entry.
Second, the controversial Keystone energy project. Though the idea of a gas pipeline from Canada to the US transporting crude originated in 2008, there have been multiple objections to expanding this project over the years. Besides the climate change activists within the US, who opposed the project on larger climate change issues, there have also been protests from the local communities and Native Americans over the pipeline routes, as the pipelines expanded. According to a Wall Street Journal report, “farmers, ranchers and Native American groups along the proposed route also opposed the pipeline, because it would have traversed ecologically sensitive areas and aquifers important as sources of drinking water and irrigation supplies.”
Third, the support for Trump’s policies. While Biden has taken a bold step to re-enter the Paris agreement and revoke the Keystone pipeline extension permit, he would face opposition to implement them. From the US Congress to industrialists and business communities, a section within the US supported Trump’s policies to withdraw from the Paris agreement and go ahead with the Keystone pipeline expansion to boost the American economy.
What does it mean?
Biden’s reversal of Trump’s inward-looking and disastrous climate change policies are much needed to take the Paris agreement forward. The decision taken on the first day shows Biden’s urgency and also underlines a plan on how the US would approach the climate change issue.
From a global perspective, the return of the US to Paris agreement is much wanted. John Kerry’s appointment as the Climate Envoy should give a new push to the climate change debate and actions globally. One should also welcome Kerry’s initial statement on the subject, as he underlined the wasted years. Now with Biden at the White House, US and rest of the world have to take the process forward, as the climate clock is ticking.
India: New Delhi’s re-engagement with neighbours through vaccine diplomacy
On 19 January, the Ministry of External Affairs announced that India would begin delivering the Indian-manufactured vaccine to six nations — Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, in response to neighbouring countries’ requests Myanmar, and Seychelles. On the same day, Bhutan received its first batch of 1.5 lakh doses of Covishield developed by the Serum Institute of India (SII) followed by the Maldives which received one lakh doses.
On 21 January, Nepal received one million doses, and Bangladesh received two million doses of Covishield. Nepali PM KP Sharma Oli tweeted: “I thank Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi ji as well as the Government and people of India for the generous grant of one million doses of Covid vaccine to Nepal at this critical time when India is rolling out vaccination for it’s own people”.
On 22 January, Myanmar received 1.5 million doses of Covishield. Mauritius and Seychelles also received vaccines.
What is the background?
First, India fulfilling its commitment to supply vaccines. Last year, the Indian Foreign Secretary and Minister of External Affairs visited Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives to review the bilateral relations. These visits aimed to assist the countries facing pandemic induced challenges. India had also promised to provide the COVID-19 vaccines once they were developed and approved in the country.
Second, neighbourhood pandemic challenges and India’s helping hand. As of 22 January 2021, according to the data by the Johns Hopkins University, Nepal had 2,69,000 COVID-19 cases; Bangladesh had 5,30,000 cases; Myanmar had 1,36,000 cases. Inadequate healthcare facilities further worsened the situation. Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Seychelles, the Maldives, Bhutan, and Nepal faced an economic crisis because of their heavy dependence on the tourism sector suffered due to lockdowns and closing of international borders. New Delhi used this as an opportunity to demonstrate itself as a responsible regional player when the relations with neighbours were going through testing times. India utilized it to mend ties with the neighbourhood.
Third, the key role of the SII in manufacturing the jabs. World’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, it played an important role in mass production of the vaccine based on Astrazeneca-Oxford candidate to meet domestic and international requirements. This enabled India to start the rollout and shipping of vaccines to the neighbourhood simultaneously.
What does it mean?
First, India has yet again proved to be the pharmaceutical powerhouse of the region. It has increased the reliability of India’s healthcare sector on which its neighbours are heavily dependent. This will further bolster medical tourism in India.
Second, with an efficient mass production capacity, India will export vaccines to the other poor and middle-income countries as part of an arrangement with GAVI, the vaccine alliance. India will export vaccines to other regions like Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. This will boost India’s international standing, goodwill, and soft-power.
Also in the news…
By Akriti Sharma and Lokendra Sharma
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Beijing sanctions 28 US nationals including Mike Pompeo
On 21 January, the Global Times published a statement by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs which announced sanctioning 28 US nationals “who have seriously violated China’s sovereignty”. This list includes former Secretary of State Pompeo and former National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien. The sanctioned persons are barred from entering China and doing business with the Chinese companies.
Taiwan: De facto Ambassador attends Biden’s inaugural
On 20 January, Taiwan’s de facto Ambassador to the US Bi-Khim Hsiao attended President Joe Biden’s inauguration after receiving a formal invitation; a first since 1979. Hsiao tweeted: “Honored to represent the people and government of Taiwan here at the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris.”
Thailand: First meeting of the reconciliation committee held
On 18 January, the first meeting of the national reconciliation committee was held. The committee was formed on the initiative of the House Speaker Leepkai to address the political conflict and protests in the country. The meeting was attended by 11 of the 21 total proposed members as the invited opposition and protestors boycotted it.
Thailand: Former civil servant sentenced on ‘lese majeste’ charges
On 19 January, a criminal court in Bangkok sentenced a former civil servant woman to more than 43 years in prison for violating the ‘lese majeste’ laws under which any criticism of the monarchy is punishable. She was originally sentenced to over 87 years; however, the prison sentence was halved after pleading guilty. Her charges relate to six-year-old social media posts. This ruling comes after months of pro-democracy protests and many protestors being charged with lese majeste.
Singapore: Agreement on submarine rescue signed with India
On 20 January, Singapore’s Defence Minister and his Indian counterpart signed an agreement on naval submarine rescue during the fifth Defence Ministers’ Dialogue. Under the agreement, Singapore can take help of Indian Navy’s Deep-Sea Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV) in case of any mishap or emergency. Both sides also committed to further strengthening defence ties.
The Philippines: Government terminates an agreement with the University preventing the entry of forces
On 18 January, the Philippines government terminated a 1989 agreement with the University of the Philippines (UP), which restricted security forces and police from entering the university’s 17 campuses. Earlier, forces could not enter campuses without permission except in cases of hot pursuit or an emergency. The revocation sparked students’ protests as they fear the Duterte regime will target critical voices from the left-wing.
Myanmar: Naypyitaw agrees to start the Rohingya repatriation
On 19 January, Myanmar and Bangladesh held talks under Chinese mediation on the question of Rohingya repatriation. Myanmar agreed to start the repatriation under the 2017 agreement it reached with Bangladesh. Currently, over one million Rohingya refugees live in the latter in camps in squalid conditions. Acknowledging the failures at repatriation in the past, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister said that they have taken “lessons” and “finding ways on how we can become successful”.
South Asia This Week
India-China border: Beijing defends the construction of village in Arunachal Pradesh
On 21 January, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that the country’s “position on Zangnan [Arunachal Pradesh] region is consistent and clear”. “We never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh,” the spokesperson added. On 22 January, Global Times reported: “The area has never been recognized by the Chinese government and Chinese ethnic minority groups such as the Moinba, the Lhoba and Tibetan people live in the area.” Earlier, on 18 January, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that it was aware of the Chinese construction along the border.
India: Farmers turn down the government’s proposal
On 22 January, farmers and the government held the 11th round of talks. Farmers turned down the latter’s proposal to implement the farm laws for one and a half years. They reiterated their position of repealing all the three farm laws. Both sides failed to decide the date for the next round of talks. Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said that the ball is in the farmers’ court now.
Bangladesh: Agreement signed for Bangabandhu Satellite 2
On 19 January, Bangladesh Satellite Company Limited (BSCL) signed an agreement with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for its second satellite called the Bangabandhu Satellite-2. The satellite will get ready by 2023. BSCL Chairman said: “Bangladesh can reduce its dependency on foreign countries after launching the satellite and the country will be self-reliant in technology as well.”
Afghanistan: Government refuses to release more Taliban prisoners
On 20 January, Afghanistan President Ghani’s senior adviser for public and strategic affairs said that the government would not release more Taliban prisoners over fears of increased violence. “We are not in favor of releasing more Taliban prisoners,” he said. Taliban has demanded the release of 7,000 more prisoners, removal of its members from the UN blacklist, and the formation of an Islamic system to continue the peace talks. Earlier, 5,000 prisoners were released, but it did not reduce violence.
Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa This Week
Uzbekistan: Abolition of monopoly over gas and energy
On 18 January, the government released a document titled “State Program for 2021” which proposes to abolish the State monopoly on gas and electricity from 1 March 2021. It will also allow local companies to buy electricity and gas from the open market than the State in the face of domestic energy shortage.
Iraq: Suicide bombing in Baghdad
On 21 January, two bombers blew themselves along with 32 others in the Baghdad market. The health ministry said that those who were injured were treated and released from the hospital. No group claimed the attack. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued an appeal “to the people of Iraq to reject any attempts to spread fear and violence aimed at undermining peace, stability and unity.”
Libya: Shipwreck leaves 43 dead
On 20 January, a ship carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya due to bad sea conditions. 43 people drowned and 10 survived. The survivors received emergency assistance, including water, food, and medical screenings. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC) jointly expressed their sadness at the tragic event.
Qatar: Iran welcomes call for engagement with the Gulf States
On 18 January, Qatar’s Foreign Minister said that his government was hopeful that Iran and its Arab neighbours would resume talks. On 19 January, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed Qatar’s call for dialogue. He tweeted: “As we have consistently emphasized, the solution to our challenges lies in collaboration to jointly form a ‘strong region’: peaceful, stable, prosperous & free from global or regional hegemony”.
Syria: Talks on a new constitution to resume on 25 January, says UN envoy
On 20 January, the UN special envoy for Syria announced that the next round of talks toward revising its constitution would start in Geneva on January 25. He urged the parties to move to actual drafting. He also told the UNSC that he views the meeting of delegations from the Syrian government, opposition, and civil society as very important. It is time for the Constitutional Committee to ensure that “the meetings are better organized and more focused”, he added.
Tunisia: Youth protest over unemployment
On 19 January, Tunisian youth clashed with security forces across the country burning tires and hurling gasoline bombs. They are protesting against the deteriorating social and economic conditions of the country. They held placards saying: “Employment is a right, not a favor”. The pandemic-induced economic slowdown has further worsened the situation. Protests broke out a day after Tunisia marked its tenth anniversary of pro-democracy protests which sparked-off the Arab Spring.
Mali: Anti-France protests
On 20 January, Malian security forces dispersed protestors by firing tear gas. The protests were against the role of the French military in the country. So far, there are 5,100 French troops deployed across Africa’s Sahel region as a part of the Barkhane, an anti-jihadi force. Earlier this month, 20 people were killed in a French helicopter strike.
Europe and the Americas This Week
The UK: London refuses full diplomatic recognition to Brussels
On 20 January, the BBC reported that the UK government refused to extend full diplomatic recognition to the EU’s envoy. The former considers the EU to be an international organization, hence outside the Vienna Convention’s purview that regulates diplomatic relations. While the latter, which has got State-like diplomatic privileges by more than 140 countries, insists on the same recognition by the UK. The BBC quoted an EU spokesperson as saying: “Nothing has changed since the UK’s exit from the European Union to justify any change in stance on the UK’s part”.
Russia: Opposition leader Navalny arrested on arrival in Moscow
On 17 January, Navalny returned to Moscow from Berlin after recovering from a nerve-agent attack in August 2020. He was arrested on arrival at the Moscow airport on charges of violating previous prison sentences’ terms. On 18 January, a court extended his detention for the next 30 days. His arrest was criticized by the EU, the UN and the US. In a video message released after a court hearing, Navalny called for street protests.
Brazil: Vaccination process started
On 18 January, Brazil began vaccinating its population. On 17 January, Brazil’s drug regulator approved for urgent use of two vaccine candidates – one by Sinovac and one by Astrazeneca-Oxford University. On 21 January, Brazil announced two million doses of the latter vaccine candidate from India-based Serum Institute. Brazil’s delayed vaccination push comes amid a surge on COVID-19 cases and the detention of two mutant strains. More than 200,000 people have died so far.
The US: Biden takes over as country’s 46th President
On 20 January, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the US. Kamala Harris, his running mate, was sworn as Vice President, becoming the first woman, first African-American and Asian-American to occupy the post in the country’s history. In his inaugural speech, Biden said: “Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy”. After taking over, he immediately signed orders relating to the pandemic, immigration, economy, racial equity, and climate change.
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