The US Senate passes sanctions bill in support of Hong Kong
The US Senate has unanimously passed two bills that would impose sanctions on the Chinese officials who undermine Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status, as well as the banks and state entities that do business with them. One of the bills, the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, would impose sanctions on businesses and individuals that help China restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy. The second bill from Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley is a resolution condemning China for violating a 1984 agreement to guarantee autonomy for Hong Kong.
The legislation would require the Trump administration to act “on individuals in the government of China who are undermining the rights of people in Hong Kong”. The legislation also brings financial institutions such as banks that are seen as “aiding and abetting” China’s position leading to undermining of rights of the people in Hong Kong. The legislation will now be taken up in the House of Representatives where two lawmakers have introduced a companion bill. At this stage, it is unclear if the White House will implement the bill.
What is the background?
First, the bill is likely to ban all opposition in Hong Kong. A day after the US Senate passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, the US State Department took another step by imposing visa restrictions on Chinese officials over the Hong Kong National Security law. The restrictions are targeted at Chinese Communist Party officials whom the US believes are behind the new law to be imposed on Hong Kong. Beijing has not yet released the full details of the legislation, which is expected to be passed by 30 June. Earlier, Trump has also declared that the US will end its preferential treatment of Hong Kong.
Second, Trump administration’s continued tough stance on China. This step is in continuation of the Trump administration’s decision to take a tough stand against China on a range of issues including trade and human rights. On 17 June, President Trump signed legislation calling for sanctions over the repression of China’s Uighurs. China has threatened ‘retaliation’ after Trump signed the legislation calling for sanctions over the repression of China’s Uighurs.
What does it mean?
First, the two bills related to Hong Kong are intended to send China a strong message that there will be serious consequences for undermining human rights as well as on Beijing’s decision to impose restrictions of any form on Hong Kong’s autonomy. The recent decisions are reflective of further hardening position of the US vis-a-vis China.
Second, the US-China relations are moving rapidly towards an irreversible downward spiral. Even before the ongoing pandemic, the US-China ties were at a historic low. As the pandemic has raged on, revealing some of the worst vulnerabilities of the US, China has scrambled to use the moment as an opportunity. It has not only opened multiple fronts of conflict and contestations with other countries but seems to be assessing the current times as an inflection point in its transition to great power. As such, in most assessments, China’s preparations to integrate Hong Kong, and even invade Taiwan, are being seen as more ready than ever. The series of steps by the US geared towards deterring China from succeeding in its attempt to do so.
A new COVID-19 hotspot: Latin America battles pandemic, leadership crisis
Latin America has recorded more than two million cases of COVID-19 and over 1,00,000 deaths. Brazil alone accounts for more than one million cases, second only to the US. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the region is a hotspot and an ‘intense zone’ for COVID-19 transmission.
Apart from Brazil; Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Argentina and Bolivia are amongst the worst affected. These countries have reported the biggest rise in cases, while others in the region have seen a steady rise rather than exponential rise in cases.
What is the background?
First, the pace and entrenchment of the pandemic. Transmission began on a slow note since the first case in Latin America was reported in Brazil in late February. However, the region has now become one of the most affected in the globe. For instance, Chile and Bolivia’s COVID-19 cases increased to a greater level only by May and June. Since 9 June, Argentina began recording more than 1,000 cases on a daily basis. The disease began spreading rapidly at a later stage. Brazil is an exception, as has seen an exponential rise since the beginning.
Second, failure of the leadership. Brazil and Mexico, the biggest hotspots, have failed to contain the spread of the virus. Former’s reckless response to the pandemic has been criticized widely. President Bolsonaro’s statements on the virus and the politics playing out in the health ministry have emerged as major challenges for the fight against the pandemic. Brazil has also been accused of pushing the neighbouring countries to the brink, by “allowing” the transmission to happen.
What does it mean?
First, COVID-19 exposed the vulnerabilities of Latin America. It is a witness to the disastrous consequences of amalgamation of an epidemic and inequality. Recent protest movements in Latin America revolved around inequality, economics, poverty and despotic leadership. COVID-19 has definitely deepened the already existing gaps in society. It has inflicted more damage in countries like Venezuela and Haiti. Venezuela, which is already in deep trouble, has very few cases on record. But it is uncertain if those numbers reflect the actual figures. The country’s economy is in shambles, and so is the healthcare system. The Colombian President has called Venezuela as a ‘health time bomb’ that poses a risk to the entire region. The ECOSOC and the WHO have warned a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Haiti, where six million people live under the poverty line.
Second, the impact of the pandemic on the indigenous communities. Latin America is home to around 500 indigenous communities, the majority of them living in the Amazon. Lack of health facilities and basic infrastructure, poverty, entry of illegal poachers and miners into the forest areas, lack of any restrictive measure in Brazil, has brought these communities to the brink of decimation. Additionally, these communities have weak immunity systems, thereby increasing the risk of contracting the virus.
Third, the success stories. Uruguay, Paraguay, Costa Rica among the success stories in Latin America. Though having a relatively porous border with Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay managed to contain the pandemic to a very large extent. Strict measures and timely, aggressive response from the health sector in terms of testing and tracing, enabled these countries to battle COVID-19. Similarly, Costa Rica also responded in a swift manner, involving all the departments of the government, supported by a strong healthcare system and the policy of striving towards self-sufficiency during a crisis. It was not only in terms of trade but also medical equipment that was manufactured immediately within the country.
After the withdrawal, the US-Russia START talks returns in Austria
The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that was signed in 2010, the last remaining bilateral treaty on nuclear weapons between the US and Russia is set to end in 2021. On 22 June, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, and Marshall S Billingslea, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control, met for two days to negotiate an extension to the START treaty, in Vienna.
The US side stated that the talks have been productive enough to establish several technical working groups and take the initiative further. Russia welcomed the initiative but called the need to invite China, “unrealistic” and China showed no intention of taking part.
What is the background?
First, START talks come amid the US withdrawal from global treaties. The negotiations come at a time when the US has been consistently walking away from previous treaties. Both the US and Russia suspended their obligations last year under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and recently the open skies treaty.
Second, the US has wanted China onboard its arms control regimens for a while now. The Chinese spokesperson stated that its stockpile is not as large as that of the US or Russia and the “time is not right” for China to be a part of these negotiations. The US and Russian sides have agreed to meet for another talk at a later date. Billingslea said that the working groups would delve deeper into the issues that exist and would work towards a second round of talks by late July or early August.
Third, the international environment is different now. Though the deal to reduce long-range nuclear warheads and launchers was made in 2010, the limits did not take effect until 2018. With February 2021 as a deadline in mind, the US is seen trying to formulate a “perfect combination” for the next treaty. However, the conditions for the same no longer exist. Both the US-NATO and the US-EU relations are at an all-time low. Right from the troops’ reduction in Germany and the disenchantment with NATO, the US does not have many allies like it did in 2010.
What does it mean?
The US is trying to negotiate a deal at a time when its relations with the rest of the world are dicey. The insistence on wanting China onboard the new deal might slow down the process. It is also unclear if the renewal of the treaty in a trilateral setting would be sufficient for strategic arms control. It remains to be seen as to whether it be a better option to extend the previous treaty for a couple of years and negotiate a strategic treaty that encompasses all aspects of arms control.
70 years of Korean War: South Korea vows to deescalate tensions with stern caution to North Korea
South Korean President Moon Jae-in gave a stern warning to North Korea stating that it will retaliate strongly against any threat to its people. He urged North Korea to maintain peace in the Korean peninsula and warned against any armed threat.
The remarks, unusual for a President who has dedicated the last three years in improving relations with the North, came during a live speech, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.
North Korea announced earlier this week that Kim Jong-un has suspended military “action plans” against South Korea, while it continues to strengthen its nuclear capabilities. It accused Washington of increasing the conflict between both the countries and rejected any future talks on nuclear arms control.
What is the background?
First, the failure of inter-Korean rapprochement. Moon Jae-in was successful in re-initiating the process of rapprochement in 2018. Failure of US-DPRK summits on denuclearisation of North Korea and the further imposition of economic sanctions on it, lead to a tiff in the Korean peninsula. The rapprochement collapsed after North Korea blew up the inter- Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong and threatened military action against the South.
Second, the anti-Kim campaign by North Korean defectors and South Korean activists. The North Korean defectors have constantly been sending anti- Pyongyang leaflets across the heavily fortified border. Though the ulterior motive is to make North Koreans aware of the regime, the anti- Kim campaign has aggravated the tensions between North and South Korea.
Third, Pyongyang aggressive threats against South Korea. North Korea retaliated with several stern threats against the anti-Kim leaflets. North Korea cut off all communication lines with South Korea and threatened to nullify the 2018 agreements. It also threatened to send troops to the demilitarized zone after rejecting South Korea’s offer to send envoys regarding the dramatic destruction of the joint liaison office.
What does it mean?
First, the suspension of military “action plan” against South Korea came as a surprise, while the tensions in the Korean peninsula was at its peak. The decisions taken by North Korea seems to be erratic, creating an uncertain situation in the region. Accordingly, North Korea might continue with the same relation with the South in order to maintain consistent pressure.
Second, President Moon Jae-in made a bold move, calling North Korea to formally end the Korean war in peace overtures. It can be seen as a move to stabilize his approval ratings which hit an all-time low after North Korea blew up the liaison office. North Korea’s threat also hit his cabinet, leading to the resignation of the Unification minister. The President’s speech can be seen as an attempt to bolster the confidence among his cabinet and the public.
Palestine protests against Israel’s West Bank annexation plans
On 22 June, Palestine staged a Fatah-backed protest, in the presence of international diplomats, against the planned annexation in Jordan Valley’s Jericho. It is expected that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on 1 July, will proclaim the annexation of the northern Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley (illegally occupied West Bank territories) in congruence with the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition government agreement and the Trump-Jared Mideast plan. Netanyahu has called the potential annexation another ‘glorious chapter in the history of Zionism.’ Meanwhile, Palestinians have called for global intervention to thwart the land-grab which they believe would cause a ‘bottom-up approach’ to their issue and transform the conflict into a ‘revolution’ while strengthening Jewish settlement expansion policies.
What is the background?
First, Netanyahu’s publicized announcement. On 28 May, Netanyahu publicized his commitment to annex the West Bank after the completion of a conceptual map by an Israeli-US team. Israel’s alternate PM, Benny Gantz is also less likely to back sweep the unilateral annexation plans.
Second, annexation is illegal under the UN Charter. Annexation is when “a state unilaterally incorporates another territory within its borders”. The UN forbids territorial conquest and annexation, and the UN’s Middle East envoy has warned Israel that it “would dramatically shift local dynamics and most likely trigger conflict and instability in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip”. However, any UNSC move to condemn Israel would be vetoed by the US.
Third, international criticisms for the annexation. Israel’s friends and foes have warned against going forward with the annexation. Israel’s largest trading partner EU ‘discouraged’ Israel from annexing. Russia has called the plan’ very dangerous’ and the Arab states, in particular, Jordan sharply criticized the plan. And most of the Gulf countries have but verbally accused the country.
What does it mean?
First, annexation will redraw the eastern frontiers of Israel and push the asymmetric conflict into novel territory. As per reports, the earmarked areas would encompass 30 per cent of the West Bank. Although over 4.5 per cent Palestinians living in West Bank would come under the annexed territory, Israeli sovereignty will not apply to Palestinians. The latter would only be subject to Palestinian laws and Israeli military orders.
Second, a significant change in settlement construction. Presently, construction in the West Bank needs approvals from Israeli PM and defence minister. Annexation would make building a local, easier and faster process.
Third, the reversal of the annexation plan would be highly unlikely. Post annexation, only the support of a huge majority of members of the Israeli Parliament can repeal the permanent status of the annexed regions as parts of the state of Israel (at least from Israel’s view).
Fourth, the spiralling nexus. Core issues of Israeli occupation, illegal settlement construction, securitization, access restrictions, displacement, deprivation of basic civil rights of Palestinians, restrictions on Palestinian construction, animosities, violence and the disjointed Israeli-Palestinian map resembling “Swiss cheese” will worsen.
ALSO, IN THE NEWS…
The second wave of COVID-19 in Beijing
The new wave of the virus linked to the Xinfadi food market is spreading across Beijing. On 11 June, the city reported its first infection in two months. China’s COVID-19 tally stands at 83,483 with a death toll of 4,634. As per the local government, Beijing has vowed to expand its scope of nucleic acid testing for COVID-19 to fight the second wave of the virus.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan calls Osama bin Laden a ‘martyr’
On 25 June, while addressing the National Assembly, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan referred to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a ‘martyr’. He was elaborating on how Pakistan has been humiliated despite supporting the US-led war on terrorism. In response, the opposition political party PPP accused the Prime Minister of appeasing violent extremism in the country.
Nepal ministry document shows China encroached 36 hectares of territories
According to the Survey Department of Ministry of Agriculture 2017, China has encroached 36 hectares of Nepal’s territory along its northern borders. The document adds a loss of 10 hectares in Humla district, six hectares in Rasuwa, 11 hectares in Sindhupalchowk, and nine hectares in Sakhuwasabha. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, however, issued a separate press statement refuting the media reports of encroachment.
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