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CWA # 541, 29 August 2021
The World This Week #134, Vol. 3, No. 35
The World This Week #134, Vol. 3, No. 35
The US and Southeast Asia: Vice President Kamala Harris visits Singapore and Vietnam
On 23 August, Kamala Harris, during her visit to Southeast Asia said: "In our meeting, I underlined the United States' commitment to working with our allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific to preserve the rules-based international order and freedom of navigation, including in the South China Sea."
On the same day, the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "Prime Minister Lee and Vice President Harris reaffirmed Singapore's and the United States' long-standing and multifaceted partnership. As they commemorate the 55th anniversary of Singapore-US ties, they also welcomed the announcement of new areas of cooperation.
What is the background?
First, a brief background to Kamala Harris' visit to Southeast Asia. Her visit to Singapore and Vietnam is aimed at improving ties and increasing economic cooperation with the US' two most important Indo-Pacific allies. The meeting with leaders from both countries discussed matters of shared concern, such as regional security, the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and cooperative efforts to establish a rules-based international order. Harris also confirmed and celebrated the US and these countries' strong cultural and people-to-people links.
Second, the growing US concerns in Southeast Asia. The region claims to have a long history of critical security and economic relations with the US and is strategically important. Despite this, the United States has been oblivious to the region's needs and economic potential for nearly two decades. President Biden and Vice President Harris have made it a priority to strengthen their global connections and keep the country safe. This trip will help them deepen their engagement in Southeast Asia.
Third, the China factor. Vice President Harris accused Beijing of undermining the rules-based order and spoke out against its claims to control a significant part of the South China Sea, a statement she repeated in Vietnam.
Fourth, the US efforts to strengthen its ties with the ASEAN. As a regional economic bloc, ASEAN plays a vital role in the Indo-Pacific plans of the US. Kamala Harris reaffirmed that the US believes that ASEAN should lead efforts to resolve the crisis in the country. ASEAN's diplomacy on Myanmar has moved at a glacial pace thus far. This acceptance of ASEAN's central role is vital to governments in the region, which are concerned about the intensifying rivalry between the US and China, as well as the dominance of the so-called 'Quad,' the new strategic partnership between the United States, Australia, Japan, and India, in the US diplomacy.
What does it mean?
The high profile visit underlines the importance of Southeast Asia as a region, and ASEAN as an economic bloc, to American interests. While the region has always played an important role in the US calculations, the new Indo-Pacific push makes it even more significant. As could be derived from the statements of Kamala Harris, China assumes large for the US in the region.
Also, in the news …
By Sukanya Bali, Avishka Ashok and Juan Mary Joseph
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Tech firms scrutinized over data security risks
On 27 August, Reuters reported, Beijing is planning to ban internet companies from listing abroad that pose a potential threat to national security. The ban emphasizes the "companies whose data poses potential security risks from listing outside the country, including in the US." Last month China tightened scrutiny over its overseas-listed firms, over-collecting users' data, and "planned to strengthen supervision of all firms listed offshore." The draft regulation also emphasizes "the legal responsibility of underwriters in overseas listings" and also demanded disclosure of shareholding under the variable interest entities (VIE) structure.
China: Don't scapegoat, says Beijing to the US on the COVID-19 origin investigations
On 25 August, Director General of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fu Cong said: "Scapegoating China cannot whitewash the US." Reuters reported, on 24 August, the US officials said, "they do not expect the review to lead to firm conclusions after China stymied earlier international efforts to gather key information on the ground." In response, Beijing criticized the US efforts to "politicize" the tracing of the origin of COVID-19. The director also said, "It is only fair that if the US insists that this (lab-leak) is a valid hypothesis, they should do their turn and invite the investigation into their labs."
China: Huawei gets licence approval in the US
On 25 August, Reuters reported, the US officials have approved license applications for Beijing's blacklisted company Huawei "to buy chips for its growing auto component business." The US Senator Marco Rubio called Biden administrations move a "failure to protect America's economic and national security." He also said Biden Administration should increase penalties and restrictions on Chinese tech companies "instead of granting waivers". Huawei spokesperson declined to comment on the licenses but said: "We are positioning ourselves as a new component provider for intelligent connected vehicles, and our aim is to help car OEMs (manufacturers) build better vehicles."
South Korea: Foreign Minister visits Thailand
On 27 August, Seoul Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong in his visit to Thailand, met with his counterpart, Don Pramudwinai and agreed to strengthen cooperation in future industries, healthcare, and green technology. According to the joint press statement, "the two sides affirmed their commitment to intensifying cooperation in technology, innovation, digital economy as well as human resources development." Both also agreed to promote green investment and technologies for sustainable development and cooperation against infectious diseases and public health threats.
Malaysia: PM unveils his cabinet, retains senior ministers
On 27 August, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob unveiled his cabinet. Many senior ministers heading finance, defence and education portfolios from the previous administration were re-appointed to restore political stability amid the COVID-19 crisis. Ismail, in a televised address said: "The formation of this cabinet is a re-formulation based on the current situation, in order to maintain stability and prioritizing the interests and safety of the Malaysian people above all." He also said each ministry "will need to prove its early achievements within the first 100 days."
South Asia This Week
India: Defense relations with Russia continue to ameliorate
On 24 August, the Russian Head of International Cooperation and Regional Policy of Rostec State Corporation revealed that the defense trade between Russia and India had amounted SD 15 billion in the last three years as a result of certain big deals. On the same day, it was revealed that the first Krivak class stealth frigate which is currently being built by Russia will be delivered to India by mid-2023. On 26 August, the two countries signed a deal for the immediate purchase of 70,000 latest AK series of rifles. There are also plans to manufacture six lakh ak-203 rifles in India.
India: INS Trikand exercises with German frigate Bayern in the Gulf of Aden
On 27 August, the Indian Navy informed in a statement that The Indian Navy Ship (INS) Trikand exercised with German frigate Bayern in the Gulf of Aden, including 'cross deck helo landings', visit board search and seizure operations. According to the statement, the exercise has enhanced interoperability and facilitated the exchange of best practices between the two partner navies in the maritime domain.
India: Foreign Minister adopts "wait and watch" policy for Afghanistan
On 25 August, in an all-party meeting, Foreign Minister, S Jaisankar described the situation after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan as "critical." He said India will also follow, "wait and watch" policy similar to others. He also said, "it is an evolving situation and I request everybody to be patient so that once the situation normalizes, we can tell you what India's stand is." The Hindu reported, Jaishankar during the meeting also mentioned, that the priority is "evacuation of Indian national and Afghan partners from the war-torn country."
India: Prime Minister discusses the situation of Afghanistan with Moscow
On 24 August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a "coordinated" strategy in Afghanistan. on the same day, National Security Advisors from BRICS countries met virtually to discuss developments to combat terrorism. the MEA said that the meeting "reviewed the regional and global political and security scenario with particular reference to current developments in Afghanistan, Iran, West Asia, and the Gulf, and emerging threats to national security, such as Cyber Security." The representatives also "adopted and recommended the BRICS Counter-Terrorism Action Plan."
Pakistan: Foreign Minister Qureshi visits Tajikistan and Iran
On 25 August, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met Tajik counterpart Sirojiddin Muhriddin and President Emomali Rahmon. During the meetings, matters of mutual interest, bilateral cooperation, the evolving situation in war-torn Afghanistan, and future strategy were discussed. On 26 August, Qureshi met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The President appreciated Pakistan's efforts to strengthen the regional approach to the Afghan crisis. The Foreign Office quoted Qureshi, "Return of peace in Afghanistan would provide impetus to greater economic integration, regional connectivity and facilitate people-to-people linkages."
Pakistan: Islamabad and Moscow conclude three-day meet on PSGP project
On 27 August, Pakistan and Russia concluded a three-day technical-talks on the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP) project, which will be laid down from Karachi to Kasur. They discussed several aspects including debt financing issues and raised concerns on the ability of the company chosen to construct the pipeline. During the talks, Moscow also raised objections on the route of pipeline worked out by NESPAK citing security concerns. The project is expected to begin by December 2022 and completed by 2024. Russia also sought clarification from Pakistan government over the viewpoint of its Special Assitantant to Prime minister (SAPM). SAPM had proposed for the construction of a smaller diameter pipeline with the help of local companies.
The US: President Biden's statements on Afghan airport blasts and retaliatory measures
On 26 August, US President Joe Biden commented on the suicide bomb blasts outside Kabul that killed 12 US troops and injured 15 others. He said: "We're outraged as well as heartbroken. We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay." He called the situation as the "nightmare we feared" and the reason behind the weeks of contemplation for extending the airport perimeter and standing up to the Taliban's offensive. On 28 August, the US carried out air strikes in retaliation and announced that two militants responsible for endangering the American security were killed in these attacks. The Taliban however, condemned the attacks on Afghan territory and said: "The Americans should have informed us before conducting the air strike, it was a clear attack on Afghan territory."
Afghanistan: Taliban holds first talk with Turkey
On 27 August, Turkey held its first talks with the Taliban in Kabul. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the talks were held at its embassy temporarily stationed at the military section of the Kabul airport. He also said, "If necessary, we will have the opportunity to hold such talks again." In response to criticism over engagement with Taliban, Erdogan said "You cannot know what their expectations are or what our expectations are without talking. What's diplomacy, my friend? This is diplomacy."
Afghanistan: Massoud and Taliban meeting; no attack until next round
On 25 August, the leader of the resistance front, Ahmad Massoud, and Taliban representatives held their first meeting, in the center of Parwan province to seek an alternative to fighting. The resistance front delegation was composed of 12 people and the six-member Taliban delegation was led by Mohammad Mohsin Hashimi. A representative of the resistance front, posted on social media: "After three hours of discussion, it was decided that both delegations will share the message with their leadership and resume the negotiations to reach a durable peace in the country. It was also decided that the parties should not attack each other until the second round of negotiations." The member of the cultural commission of the Taliban said, "The Panjshir delegation was more focused on the overall structure of the governance system. Since there were big differences between the two sides' demands, both sides decided to take the messages to their leaders." The negotiations did not have a tangible outcome.
Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Iran: Khamenei issues statement on US demands regarding JCPOA
On 28 August, the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused US President Joe Biden of walking in the steps of Trump and making the same demands for the revival of the JCPOA. In a meeting with the newly formed cabinet under President Raisi, Khamenei said: "America's current administration is no different from the previous one, because what it demands from Iran on the nuclear issue is different in words, but the same thing that Trump demanded."
Israel: Biden promises "unshakable partnership" in meeting with Bennett
On 27 August, US President Joe Biden hosted Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House, where the focus of the meeting, as the former described, was the demonstration of "an unshakable partnership between our two nations." The two leaders have significant policy differences, especially on the subject of Iran and the expansion of the West Bank settlements in Israel. Biden said that the US was planning to put "diplomacy first" but was "ready to turn to other options" if that fails. The meeting was delayed a day due to the deadly terrorist bombing at the airport in Kabul that killed 13 US service members.
Israel: Blockade in Gaza eased after demonstrations
On 26 August 2021, Israel said that it will allow more goods and equipment to enter the Gaza Strip for civilian and international projects. The move came in a bid to ease tensions after demonstrations by hundreds of Palestinians called out against the crippling blockade. A similar gathering had previously ended in a deadly crackdown by the Israeli army that left a Palestinian dead and an Israeli policeman critically injured. The Hamas, which governs Gaza, said Egypt would also be partially reopening its key border crossing with the Gaza Strip. Israel and Egypt had imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas won the election and began governing the territory in 2007.
Qatar: First batch of US-made F-15 combat aircrafts delivered
On 26 August, Qatar received its first batch of the new generation F-15 combat aircraft in a ceremony at Boeing's headquarters in Missouri, jointly produced in partnership with the United States and aircraft manufacturer Boeing. Qatar, which acquired the aircraft for defence purposes, signed agreements to buy warplanes from the US in 2017 after its political dispute with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain.
Iraq: Regional summit to mend tensions in the Middle East
On 27 August, Iraq hosted a regional summit aimed at easing tensions, promoting peace and reconciliation between countries in the Middle East, donning the role of a mediator in the region. Sources close to the new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who assumed office a week ago, said that the summit seeks to give Iraq a "unifying role" to bring together all countries in the region, including arch rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, who were also in presence at the summit. The meeting was co-organized by France under President Emmanuel Macron, the only official from outside the region.
Gambia: Deportation flights carrying returning migrants from the EU blocked
On 27 August, Gambia formally blocked deportation flights bringing back migrants deported from the European Union for fear of causing a "social upheaval" in the country, said Gambian foreign ministry spokesman Saikou Ceesay. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) more than 35,000 Gambians arrived in Europe between 2014 and 2018 in search of better economic opportunities. The blocking of the flights comes ahead of Germany's preparation to expel a number of Gambians and the upcoming Gambian presidential elections in December.
Algeria: Diplomatic ties with Morocco cut over 'hostile actions'
On 24 August, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramdane Lamamra announced at a news conference that Algeria is breaking diplomatic relations with Morocco, accusing that latter of "hostile actions". Algeria has also announced it will not renew a gas-supply agreement with Morocco. The two countries have shared strained relations for decades, mainly over the Algerian backing of the Polisario movement that seeks independence for Western Sahara, which Morocco considers as part of its own territory. Other issues between both countries include the allegations of the lethal Algerian wildfires being caused by the Movement for Self-determination of Kabylie (MAK), and the support for the organization backed by Morocco.
Zambia: Hakainde Hichilema sworn in as President
On 24 August, Zambia's newly-elected President, Hakainde Hichilema, was sworn into office after a rare yet stunning victory for an African opposition leader. Hichilema defeated outgoing President Edgar Lungu by almost one million votes in his sixth election attempt. Zambia's second female Vice President Mutale Nalumango was also sworn in at the ceremony that was attended by leaders from Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Malawi. This is the third time that there has been a peaceful transfer of power from a ruling party to the opposition since Zambia's independence from Britain in 1964.
Morocco: Court postpones Uyghur extradition hearing
On 26 August, a Moroccan court postponed the extradition hearing for Yidiresi Aishan, a Uyghur Muslim who was arrested in July upon his arrival in Casablanca from Turkey. The arrest was made on China's Interpol red notice request for charges relating to "terrorist acts committed in 2017", and of belonging to a "terrorist organization". The hearing was postponed until 1 September. Human rights organization Amnesty International had said last month that Aishan, a computer scientist based in Turkey since 2012, risks being detained and tortured if forcibly returned to China.
Europe and The Americas This Week
Ireland: Irish Opposition accuses government for harming relations with Northern Ireland
On 27 August, the leader of the Irish Opposition Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, blamed the government for sabotaging Northern Ireland's relations with the UK by extending support to the Brexit deal. He cautioned that unless the Northern Ireland Protocol is resolved, the relations between Ireland and Northern Ireland would become unsustainable. The UK and the EU also agreed to his call to change the approach to the protocol and avoid a hard border in Ireland. He said: "If the Irish government persists in harming our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom through this protocol then of course that has an impact on our relationship with Dublin."
The G7: Leaders attempt to persuade the US on matters related to Afghanistan
On 24 August, the G7 held a virtual meeting to discuss the political and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The Secretary-General of the UN and NATO were also present at the meeting where the G7 expressed concern regarding the situation in Afghanistan and called for a restraint to ensure the safety of Afghans. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to the suggestion of keeping an airport presence in Kabul and said: "We will go on right up until the last moment that we can." The G7 members also agreed to recognize and deal with the Taliban provided certain conditions were met but were disappointed in the US as the Biden government refused to further extend the US operations at Kabul airport and the evacuations.
Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel's final interaction at the African Summit
On 27 August, African heads of the states met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the "Compact with Africa Conference" in Berlin, the latter's final interaction with the African leaders before she steps down. This marks the end of an era when Africa played a greater role in German politics, the most visible of which was the huge flow of private investments and support mechanisms, particularly from German companies, to Africa. The Compact Initiative, an economic drive to boost investment in Africa, has been deemed as fairly positive by both parties involved. However though German investments in Africa grew moderately by about $1.84 billion from 2017 to 2019, most German companies still do not find Africa attractive. The future of the initiative remains unclear under the light of the new German regime that will step in after the upcoming elections.
Russia: Media houses pen an open letter, demanding press freedom
On 27 August, the Russian media outlets penned an open letter to the Putin government and demanded an end to the media crackdown on journalists. The move comes after the Russian government banned and declared multiple news outlets, private channels, NGO publications as "foreign agents." The letter read: "We are convinced that these events are part of a coordinated campaign to destroy independent Russian Media, whose entire 'guilt' is constituted by their honestly fulfilling their professional duties to their readers." However, the Russian government has not taken any steps to respond to these accusations.
Russia: Wildfires continue to spread and threaten to reach central regions
On 25 August, the emergency ministry of Russia reported that the firefighters were dealing with 15 fires in the Urals and issued an "extreme fire danger" alert in the region. At the same time, the fires in Mordovia grew more intense where 50 firefighters were dealing with a ring of fire. So far, 129 tonnes of water have been poured by nine aircrafts in an attempt to control the wildfires. On 24 August, the Russian authorities shut down the highway for long hours due to forest fires in the northern part of the country which are fast spreading to central Russia. On the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged EUR 300 million to protect the forests.
Russia: Tech company develops technology to protect spacecraft telescope and captured images
On 25 August, Stealth Transit announced that the company was developing a technology that is capable of detecting approaching bright satellites and closing the telescope's shutters to protect the images captured by the spacecraft. The technology can also be applied to a wide range of telescopes such as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory which had a field of view of 9.6 square degrees. The CEO of the company Vlad Pashkovsky said: "The StealthTransit approach allows us to protect certain areas of a wider field of view, ones which are most important for the observation."
Cuba: Government announces plans to recognize and regulate cryptocurrencies
On 27 August, the Official Gazette in Cuba announced that the central bank will recognize and regulate the use of cryptocurrencies for payments in the country. The resolution will also provide for licensing the service providers related to the cryptocurrency. The government has decided to accept the use of cryptocurrencies as there has been a gradual increase in its usage and popularity in the country. Digital currency can also be used to circumvent the sanctions imposed by the US. The resolution in the Gazette, however, provides that the State will have control of the operations and the currency can be used only for socio-economic interests and not for illegal activities.
Venezuela: Opposition leader plans to participate in upcoming national elections
On 27 August, the Venezuelan opposition announced that it will end the boycott of the elections and participate and register its candidates for the upcoming election in November. The opposition leader Juan Guaido will announce the party's participation in the coming week, marking progress in the political negotiations with the Maduro government. The change in position of the opposition after two congressional elections could be connected to the EU's decision to deploy an electoral observation mission for the elections on 21 November.
The US: President Biden's statements on Afghan airport blasts and retaliatory measures
On 26 August, US President Joe Biden commented on the suicide bomb blasts outside Kabul that killed 12 US troops and injured 15 others. He said: "We're outraged as well as heartbroken. We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay." He called the situation as the "nightmare we feared" and the reason behind the weeks of contemplation for extending the airport perimeter and standing up to the Taliban's offensive. On 28 August, the US carried out airstrikes in retaliation and announced that two militants responsible for endangering American security were killed in these attacks. The Taliban however, condemned the attacks on Afghan territory and said: "The Americans should have informed us before conducting the airstrike, it was a clear attack on Afghan territory."
The US: Space Development Agency announces "Tranche 1" for first operational constellation
On 26 August, the Space Development Agency (SDA) announced its plan, "Tranche 1", to award a January 2022 contract for a set of roughly 144 data relay satellites. The satellites once on orbit will start covering the Earth in a new multifunctional network as part of the planned National Defence Space Architecture.
About the Authors
Vibha Venugopal is a postgraduate scholar from Christ (Deemed-to-be-University). Sukanya Bali and Avishka Ashok are Research Associates at NIAS. Juan Mary Joseph is a research intern.
Chetna Vinay Bhora
Vineeth Daniel Vinoy