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CWA # 154, 17 August 2019

The World this Week
North Korea's New Threats, Gotabaya Rajapaksa as Presidential Candidate, Failure at the Pacific Islands Meet, UNSC on J&K, and Israel's ban on the US Congresswomen

  GP Team

This edition looks at North Korea's missile tests, the announcement of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as Presidential Candidate by Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka, failure of the Pacific Islands to reach a consensus on climate change, discussions at the UNSC on J&K, and Israel's ban on the US Congresswomen

Sourina Bej, Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Harini Madhusudan, Laxman Chakravarthy, Abigail Miriam Fernandez and Vijay Maidergi
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS
 

East Asia: Post missile tests, North Korea vilifies Moon Jae

What happened? 
In a continuation to the tension in the Korean peninsula, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on 16 August issued a public statement denigrating the South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Rejecting the idea of a dialogue with Seoul, Kim launched two missiles into the sea after that. In a volley of rattling, Kim responded to Moon’s Liberation Day speech and said ‘his open talk about ‘dialogue’ between the north and the south under such situation raises a question as to whether Moon has proper thinking faculty.” Pyongyang added that “Moon is, indeed, an impudent guy rare to be found.” 
This has come as another blow to Moon’s dream towards a unified Korea, when he spoke on the Liberation Day (15 August). Moon aims to “solidify denuclearization” of North Korea, initiate a “peace economy” and unify the Korean Peninsula by 2045. 

What is the background? 
Kim’s missile launch is the sixth missile during the last three weeks. His coarse statement bordering on mockery of the South Korean President was a reaction to the Dong Maeng military exercises between South Korea and the US on 25 July. North Korea’s interpretation of these exercises as a “rehearsal for war” follows a long process of attempted dialogues, broken summits and surprise visits. The missiles were fired on 16 August and flew for 140 miles. 
North Korea has launched a series of missile tests in quick succession since the military drills. These come after the collapse of talks between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump in February at Hanoi. 

What does it mean? 
Since the abrupt end to the Hanoi summit and a visit of Trump to DMZ in North Korea post the G-20 summit, the tension with North Korea had increased. 
Along with the missile tests, Kim has outrightly brandished Moon Jae thereby nibbling any form of bonhomie that might have grown between the two leaders since last year. 
Washington has so far downplayed the tests and has ignored the threat posed by the new missiles to South Korea and its neighbours. The US National Security Advisor John Bolton said: “The firing of these missiles doesn’t violate the pledge that Kim Jong-un made to the president about intercontinental-range ballistic missiles." However, Bolton also criticized the diplomatic process towards denuclearisation that was slated to start on June 30. While North Korea has not closed the door to dialogue with the US either, its anger has deepened. Equally important are Trump’s tweets on the missile tests and the military exercises. Trump was seen defending Pyongyang’s right to test missiles and even indicated his opposition to the military exercises because he believes they cost the United States too much. There appears a difference of opinion between the different institutions in the US.
South Korea’s position needs exploration. Security analysts have concluded that Kim has used the tests to significantly improve its ability to attack South Korea and penetrate its missile defence shield. In particular, its KN-23 missile is designed to fly fast and low, making it particularly tough to detect and intercept. Because it is launched from a truck, KN-23 appears to mimic a Russian-built missile with a capacity to penetrate the US defence systems. 
Given the military advancements achieved by North Korea, earlier this week, South Korea’s military unveiled a plan to build new warships and develop precision-guided weapons. This plan should not be seen in isolation of the US security umbrella that is slowly thinning as Trump has been reluctant to provide for denuclearisation talks. 
Also, Moon’s dream of an integrated Korean economy is deterred further by US sanctions throwing the country into negative economic growth. South Korea’s relation with Japan has seen its all-time low over the forced labour issue, pulling most of the Japanese company and money with themselves out of the country. In this situation, the military drills were a strategic position reiterated with the US, but North Korea’s statement will wheel back the advances in the relationship between the two Koreas.

 

Sri Lanka: Gotabaya Rajapaksa as Presidential candidate

What happened? 
On 11 August 2019, Mahinda Rajapaksa announced his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) for the forthcoming election. Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former President and currently the leader of Opposition also officially took charge as leader of SLPP. This party is founded by his loyalists in 2016, breaking away from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), of which even Mahinda Rajapaksa was previously part of.
 
The Presidential election which is due before the end of the year is expected to be crucial given Sri Lanka's political environment. The ruling United National Party (UNP) is yet to announce its candidate, due to the disagreements between its leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the party’s deputy leader Sajith Premadasa. President Maithripala Sirisena, leader of the SLFP,  is most likely to support Rajapaksa.
 
What is the background?
Gotabaya's as SLPP's Presidential candidate is not surprising;  Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot run for Presidency due to a 2015 legislation that places a two-term limit. He would be SLPP's prime ministerial candidate in the general elections scheduled in 2020. Although not founded by Mahinda himself, the SLPP  is synonymous with the Rajapaksas. The party is founded and comprises of Mahinda loyalist including his brothers, Basil and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. 
The SLPP performed well in the 2018 local elections. On the other hand, the current coalition of UNP and SLFP, that came to power in 2015 is under threat. The difference between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena became public in a Parliamentary coup by the latter in 2018. It also made evident Rajapaksa's zeal for coming back to power.  Wickremesinghe was reinstated later; however, the failure to prevent the Easter attack in 2019, has dented this government further.
 
What does this mean?
Firstly, Gotabaya may have the support of SLFP and may face a weak UNP candidate; however, he may not have the support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Tamil party coalition. Gotabaya is credited for the end of Sri Lankan civil war and is also blamed for the war crimes and violence against the Tamil community. He may not have significant support from the Tamil vote bank.
Secondly, Gotabay may get the Sinhalese vote, but his record may discourage some. His involvement with the civil war linked to Sri Lanka’s infamous “white-van abductions” targeting dissidents, anti-Rajapaksa voices and media, will not help. He has also faced trial for financial fraud and murder which he has denied. His support for the radical Sinhala Buddhist groups, who are notorious for provoking violence against minorities, may play a role.
Thirdly, in case Rajapaksa comes to power this election, it will ensure the impact the democratic process in Sri Lanka. The present government though weak but has been successful in reinstalling a rule-based order. Gotabaya's victory will also ensure a long-lasting reign of the Rajapaksa family.

 

The Pacific: Islands Forum fails to evolve a consensus


What happened?
In Tuvalu, the 18 members of the Pacific Islands Group held a long discussion but failed to pass a resolution with a strong message on climate change.  Prime Minister of the archipelago Tonga was reported to be in tears at the Pacific Islands Forum.
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison used his influence to water down a climate resolution called the ‘Tuvalu Declaration'. The resolution had been drafted by the Smaller Island States (SIS) group earlier in the week. 
Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama questioned: "How does Morrison reconcile calling the Pacific family while he persistently ignores our demands for Australia to reduce its emissions?" said Moeono-Kolio the head of Greenpeace Pacific. 
 
What is the background?
The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is an intergovernmental organization that aims to enhance cooperation between countries and territories of the Pacific Ocean. Im 1971, it was founded in 1971 as the South Pacific Forum (SPF). It changed its name in 1999 to "Pacific Islands Forum", so as to be more inclusive of the Forum's Oceania-spanning membership of both north and south Pacific island countries, including Australia. It is a United Nations General Assembly observer. 
Australia and New Zealand are larger and wealthier than the other countries that make up the rest of the Forum. Australia's population is twice that of the other 17 members. Australia's economy is also five times larger. Both are significant aid donors and big markets for exports from the other island countries. 
Last year’s meeting was held in Nauru. Pacific island concerns about climate change were centre stage even then. The significance of climate change was underlined by its prominent inclusion in the new regional security agreement – the Boe Declaration. 
Dissatisfaction toward Australia, which reportedly prevented a stronger statement on climate change, was also evident in post-meeting interviews with leaders and was expressed in 2018. 
 
What does this mean? 
The failure of Australia and New Zealand to endorse serious climate challenges, like coal mining, reflects the attitude that the world has towards island nations and climate change. 
The most significant impact of climate change is said to be on the small island nations. These regions are already facing severe impacts of the change in water temperatures and increase of the sea length. The frustrations of the leaders of the smaller islands are directed towards the arrogance and ignorance of the bigger leaders of the region, but a region and its practices can not be changed overnight. It might be too late to be demanding the bigger powers to adapt to the changes for the sake of these islands. The sheer ignorance of the world and world media towards these issues may end up being a huge lesson for the world. 

 

Israel: US Congresswomen's visit denied 


What happened?
On Friday, US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan refused to visit Israel despite the permission given to her on humanitarian grounds by the Israeli Interior Ministry. Earlier, the Israeli Interior Ministry refused entry to two Congresswomen -  Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar on the grounds of Anti-Boycott Law of 2017. 
The ban was criticised by senior Senators and Congressmen across Democratic and Republican parties as well as by the pro-Israeli groups in the US, suggesting that it would weaken diplomatic ties between US and Israel. The two congresswomen were not allowed to be part of the 72-member delegation of the House of Representatives visiting Israel, a trip sponsored by the American Israeli Education Foundation. Although approved initially, Netanyahu’s government changed its decision after being pressurised by US President Trump via private lobbying and public tweeting. The decision came just hours after Trump softly threatened Israel on Twitter, of displaying weakness if it admitted these two congresswomen.
 
What is the background?
Both the Congresswomen were targeted along with two others last month by President Trump to leave the country if they are displeased with the US. In March this year, Omar was involved in the controversy with her anti-Semitic tropes against the supporters of Israel. 
The two congresswomen are vocal supporters of Palestine and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which advocates for sanctions against Israel for its occupation in the West Bank. 
Based on the Anti-Boycott Law, Israel previously denied entry of several MEPs, but no US lawmaker was subjected to it so far. Senior House leaders lobbied for the inclusion of the two congresswomen in the Israel trip citing respect for US Congress and the alliance between the two nations, despite the representatives’ anti-Israeli rhetoric in the past. 
 
What does this mean?
The coercion from Trump for the ban on the two congresswomen demonstrates the exertion of his power beyond the nation’s boundaries. This move may indicate more of such incidents to come. 
The existing rift between the White House and the Congress may widen with the exposure of domestic political differences on the international arena. 
The suggestion for ban adds to the continuing chain of mutual support of far-right policies by both the leaders, following the shift of US embassy to Jerusalem and US recognition of Golan Heights as Israeli territory. The decision on the ban is significant for both Trump and Netanyahu in the coming elections in both countries as none of them wants a portrayal of weakness in their exercise of power.


Jammu and Kashmir: The UNSC meeting

What happened?
The UN Security Council held a closed meeting to discuss the situation in Jammu and Kashmir on 16 August 2019. This meeting was held after China asked for a “closed consultation” on the matter and Pakistan writing to Poland the Council President for August also requesting the UNSC to hold a meeting. 

What is the background? 
On 6 August 2019, Indian government revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. India has gone on to state to the international community that this was an internal matter.
Following the revoking, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shan Mahmood Qureshi had gone on to call for an emergency meeting by the UNSC to discuss India’s move. He had also visited Beijing to consult with the leadership on the issue of raising the Kashmir issue to the UNSC. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang had conveyed Beijing's support to Pakistan on the issue. 
Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar then went on to convey in his bilateral meeting in Beijing that the matter of Jammu and Kashmir was an internal matter for India.
The last time the UNSC addressed the dispute between India and Pakistan was in 1964-65 under “The India-Pakistan Question” and then later in 1969-1971 under item “Situation in the India/ Pakistan subcontinent”. However, this meeting will not be considered as a full meeting because closed-door consultation such as these is informal, not open to the public, and no records of the statement or discussions are recorded. The outcome of the UNSC meeting will thus not be a formal pronouncement as the consultations are informal. India and Pakistan are also not attending the meeting, which is open only to the five permanent members and ten non-permanent members of the UNSC.

What does this mean?
The permanent members of the UNSC have made their stands clear from their sides in the past about India’s move, the United States picked a neutral stance, with President Donal Trump initially offering to mediate but then revoked the offer back stating that he would offer mediation assistance only if both India and Pakistan agree to it. Russia and other UNSC have come out in support of New Delhi’s position on Kashmir, whether this will change remains a question.
The Chinese agenda behind this meeting is to be noted, China has directed its representative in New York to keep close link with Pakistani diplomats on the issue, however, India has gone on to state that there is no need for China to be concerned either with the external boundaries of India or the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and that India was not raising any additional territorial claims. Thus, what China wants from this situation is another question to be answered.
The meeting can also be seen as a push from Pakistan’s Foreign Policy to securitize the issue. They have looked at getting the international community to say something about the issue and to push for their agenda.
Lastly, the Kashmir earlier was seen as a nuclear flashpoint; any issue between the two South Asian nuclear neighbours has always been one that has raised caution. This viewpoint had come down over the past few years; the recent events could revive this perception again at the international level.

 

UK: Iranian oil tanker to be released amid US hold 

What happened?
Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, has decided to allow the seized Iranian supertanker to leave the territory. It comes in the wake of the US government’s last-minute attempt to hold it when it issued a warrant for the seizure. 
However, it did not give enough indications when and how it would be released. Also, it is reported that, if it were not for the US legal hurdle, the vessel would have set for a sail. Grace 1 was captured by British Royal Navy commandos of the coast of Gibraltar on July 4, on the charge that Iran was violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria. 
 
What is the background?
Events started to unfold when the US unilaterally decided to break away from the 2015 nuclear deal, that was concluded, with Iran along with P5+1 members. Before the seizure of Iranian oil tanker by the British military in the Gibraltar strait, incidents related to ‘ attack on oil tankers’ in the Gulf has been reported. The US blames Iran though the latter has denied these allegations. 
Tensions escalated further in the Gulf when Iran shot down US drone in the region. Immediately after the detention of Grace1, Iran seized British flagged tanker- Stena Impero. Incidentally, Iran referred to the British action as ‘act of piracy’. 
 
What does this mean?
Freeing of Iranian oil tanker conveys the changing picture between Europe and Iran. UK wants to conduct its affairs with Iran on its terms without the US. Furthermore, Britain expects Iran to not to backtrack on the nuclear deal. Britain wants to tell Iran that all parties in the deal are making an effort to uphold the deal in letter and spirit even after US withdrawal. 
The release of tanker also indicates how far the rest are willing to maintain the Iran deal and not allow Tehran to persuade the nuclear program. It is also expected that it would motivate Iran to reciprocate by releasing, along with its crew, Stena Impero- the British flagged oil tanker. 

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