Research & Analysis

The World This Week: US Senate acquits Trump, Coronavirus impacts Southeast Asia and more

The US Senate acquits Donald Trump
What happened? 
The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump of both the impeachment charges after a two-week trial without hearing any witnesses. Removal of the President required two-third of the 100 senators to vote against him, but the votes were against the impeachment with 52 to 48 on one count, and 53 to 47 on the other.

Mitt Romney was the only Republican Senator to go against the tide and convict Trump that too only on one, out of the two significant charges – that of abuse of power. Rest of the Republican Senators voted against the impeachment, while the Democrats voted in favour of it.

Although the democrats knew they did not have the numbers in the Senate and were fighting a losing battle, they hoped to garner few Republican votes in their favour, which may dent the image of Trump who is contesting the re-elections for the second term.

What is the background?
There were a few attempts earlier to initiate an impeachment process against Trump. While most of the efforts waned out early, the democrats this time pursued the impeachment process following a complaint from a whistle-blower.

They charged the President for making the release of military aid conditional on opening an investigation from Ukraine on his potential White House rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump rubbished the allegations and called them a “witch hunt”. However, the timing of his 25 July phone call to President Volodymyr Zelensky and the use of the words “do us a favour”, confirmed his political intention as it came shortly after he withheld the release of 391million dollars military aid to Ukraine.

The US Constitution states that the President can be removed for conviction of ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanour’. The Democrats seized the opportunity on allegations against Trump in misusing his authority in Ukraine to act against political opponents.

The House of Representatives dominated by the Democrats passed the impeachment resolution against Trump on two charges.  First, abuse of power as President and secondly, obstruction of the Congress as the White House blocked testimony and documents sought by impeachment investigators. His removal was, however, subject to the same process in the Republican-dominated Senate. The Republicans wanted to swiftly complete the trial without any testimony or witnesses as it could damage their political image.

The Democrats tried to issue subpoena looking for testimony against Trump.

What does it mean?
Both the Republicans and Democrats see the impeachment process as a victory. The Republicans will try to leverage on the vindication by proving the impeachment process as a failed Democratic campaign tactic. According to a Gallup opinion poll, Trump’s approval rating by the voters touched his personal highest of 49 per cent following his acquittal.

The Democrats, on the other hand, see a victory in stamping a black mark on Trump’s Presidency and showing the Republicans in a bad light.

Many believe that the acquittal has made a mockery of the Senate trial in which a partisan approach failed the system by refusing even to hear witnesses. It also reveals how Trump has been successful in hijacking the Republican party, which gave the democrats only one vote as their consolation prize.
As the Coronavirus spreads, it impacts Southeast Asia more 
What happened?
On 7 February, Singapore raised its risk assessment to the second-highest level of alert as the number of Coronavirus affected cases increased to 33. The Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) is currently orange, indicating the disease is severe, easily transmitted but could be contained. A day later, on 8 February, Singapore has identified seven more cases, raising the total number to 40. Singapore’s Prime Minister, in his latest address on the issue, has said: “If the numbers keep growing, at some point we will have to reconsider our strategy.” However, he is also confident of addressing the issue.

Singapore, since last week, has blocked the entry and transit of travellers who have been commuting from mainland China, including suspending visa applications of the Chinese citizens. Besides Singapore, other southeast Asian countries – Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines have imposed similar bans.

Inside Singapore, there is a growing fear about the availability of basic groceries. According to a Straits Times news report, “A check of supermarkets across Singapore on Saturday (8 February) morning saw larger than usual crowds, although less than on Friday after the coronavirus situation alert was raised a notch from yellow to orange.” The PM has hit the nail on this: “…fear can do more harm than the virus itself. It can make us panic, or do things which make matters worse, like circulating rumours online, hoarding face masks or food, or blaming particular groups for the outbreak.” (The Straits Times)

What is the background?
The World Health Organization on 30 January has declared the outbreak of 2019-nCoV as the Public Health Emergency of International Concern. As on Saturday, 636 deaths and 31,161 diagnosed cases have been reported.

In Southeast Asia, in Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia, the virus has been transmitted not only from Chinese who were visiting but also from locals who came in contact with somebody carrying the virus.

Lack of information on the virus and its symptoms has raised fear. A more significant problem is the fake news. In Malaysia, there have been reports of attacks and fake news through social media.

What does it mean?
First, the spread of the Coronavirus highlights the integrated nature of the markets, and the need to get prepared to address a global health issue. The disease had its inception in one of the small markets in China has now spread at a faster rate outside the country due to the movement of people and integrated world connectivity. In 2003, during the SARS endemic, the technological aspects were not as advanced as today, but even after a month, the Coronavirus is yet to be contained in spite of all advancements.

Second, the growth of the tourism industry as a new phenomenon. In Southeast Asia, more than 30 per cent are dependent on Chinese tourists.  The cancellation of visas and flights is bound to hit the economy of Southeast Asia as well.

Third, along with tourism, the economy has witnessed a sharp decline since January as goods and services from China have been stopped due to the virus. In Singapore, which is heavily dependent on Chinese exports saw big queues and wholesale shopping due to fear of shortage.

Fourth, several ongoing infrastructural projects in these countries are either funded or built by China. Many Chinese workers have come to  Southeast Asia to work on these projects. The outbreak may delay these projects, indicating a growing dependency on China. The outbreak is also likely to upset the global supply chain of goods.

Last, countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Indonesia have refused to take concrete actions in bringing back their citizens to showcase their solidarity to China. It appears, for a section in Southeast Asia, offending China looms large than the welfare of their own citizens.
Also in the News…

Trump hosts Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido
On Wednesday, the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido was hosted at the US White House. President Trump reaffirmed the US support to Guaido and has put all the speculations to rest over America’s lost interest in Guaido’s campaign to oust Nicolas Maduro. Trump praised Guaido for leading Venezuelan people to democracy and followed with a standing ovation by US congress members of both the Democratic and Republican parties. The US National Security Adviser, Robert C O’Brien, has signalled on applying more pressure on Maduro’s government by inflicting more sanctions on energy giants like Rosneft that continue to do business with the Maduro’s government.

Back home, Guaido will gain some momentum in his efforts to topple Maduro. Guaido flouted the travel ban to leave Venezuela last month and was seen recently concluding his world tour that included meeting leaders like Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau seeking international endorsement in his efforts to regime change.

Maduro and his supporters have denounced Trump’s remarks and reiterated Guaido as a US puppet with the evil intentions of trying to overthrow him in a coup.

NATO plans to reduce troops in Afghanistan 
As the US announced its decision to reduce its forces in Afghanistan from 12,000 to around 8,500, some members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have decided to consider a similar withdrawal of troops. Trump’s decision has opened a debate within the NATO countries to rethink their commitment to maintaining their forces and the current NATO base networks in Afghanistan.

Under the current US reduction plan, it will maintain half a dozen bases, including two run by Germany and Italy in the north and west of Afghanistan. The NATO policy in Afghanistan has been contingent on the US. It remains to be seen by how much NATO reorients its troops’ deployment as the Afghan peace talks further.

Four dead in violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians 
This week four Palestinians, including a police officer, were killed within 24 hours after the clashes escalated between Israeli forces and Palestinians. On Thursday, twelve Israeli soldiers were wounded, in a car-ramming attack in Jerusalem. Hamas positions in Gaza were attacked by Israeli airforce after Hamas launched mortars and balloons filled with explosives towards Israel. Israel also deployed additional troops to occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, as demonstrations turned violent.

Tensions rose between Palestinians and Israelis, after US President Trump’s “Middle-East plan”, which favours Israel. The plan proposed Israel to annex portions of West Bank, also legalize Israel settlements in the Palestinian territories.

 

With inputs from Sneha Tadkal, Sourina Bej and Sukanya Bali

 

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