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CWA # 172, 12 October 2019

The World this Week
Turkey-Syria border tensions, Modi-Xi summit, Ecuador Protests and the Impeachment Inquiry against Trump

  GP Team

This edition looks at the following four issues: new border tensions between Turkey and Syria, the second informal summit between Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping, Protests in Ecuador and new developments in the impeachment inquiry against Trump in the US 

Nidhi Dalal, Parikshith Pradeep, Sourina Bej and Sukanya Bali

International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS

 

Middle East: Border Tensions between Syria and Turkey across the border

What happened?

Turkey has launched military operations against the Kurdish forces in northern Syria. It has launched airstrikes and fired arms in the territory held by the US-allied Kurdish forces. Under Operation Peace Spring, Turkish F-16 jets had begun offence along the Turkish border. According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the assault on the Kurdish forces in the region had been initiated to 'prevent the creation of a terror corridor across its southern border'. 

Despite Trump's statement denying the US approval for Turkey's actions, recent reports suggest it had provided intelligence to the Turkish forces. Surveillance videos and reconnaissance footage from US planes were provided to the Turkish forces that were planning the attack weeks earlier.

What is the background?

The attacks were launched after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of the US troops stationed in the region. The Kurdish forces were instrumental in the fight against the ISIS. After substantially pushing back the ISIS, the Kurdish forces guarded the prisons that held thousands of fighters and their relatives. Turkish assault and US withdrawal have left the forces to fend for themselves and have also left the prisons vulnerable. With a large number of Syrian refugees already in Turkey, the assault has left a substantial number of civilians susceptible.

The Kurdish population is the most significant minority in Syria. It comprises 7-15 per cent of the total population and is mostly in the north-eastern part of the country. Turkey has long considered the Kurds as terrorists and has termed its latest actions as counterterrorism. It has designated the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization.

Kurds rose to global prominence for their role in fighting ISIS. The Syrian Kurdish forces along with the Iraqi Kurdish forces and Turkish Kurdish forces, withheld the advancing ISIS and had taken custody of about ninety thousand ISIS. The Kurds had allied with the US and had received substantial airpower support in their operations. 

The Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) coalition was effective in minimizing the ISIS threat. The faltering of the peace treaty between Turkey and the Turkish Kurds also saw an increased number of terrorist attacks in Turkish cities of Ankara and Istanbul. 

Turkey is highly suspicious of PKK receiving support from another side of the border from Syrian Kurds. 

What does it mean? 

The US withdrawal affects not only the Kurdish fighters but also a large number of civilians in the region. 

If the Syrian forces are now engaged in fighting Turkey, it will shift the attention from countering the resurgence of the ISIS. Chances of imprisoned ISIS fighters escaping is a threat. 

The humanitarian crisis inflicted by the civil war is expected to deepen with numerous civilians fleeing the area after the attacks. The UN expects a substantial number of 758,000 civilians residing in the border region displaced. 

The peace process in the region is also on the verge of falling apart with concerns voiced by Russia, Iran, Kuwait, and others. 

There is a vacuum left due to the US departure. Syria's future hangs in the balance. 

 

India and China: Second informal meeting between Modi and Xi Jinping 

What happened?

During 11-12 October, Modi and Xi Jinping had their second informal summit following Wuhan. The two days visit has been a grandeur with both leaders visiting Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu. Modi said: "The Wuhan summit instilled a new momentum and trust in our relations and today's 'Chennai connect' is the start of a new era in India-China relations." Both leaders reiterated 'Asian Century' which was earlier mentioned in the April 2018 summit. 

What is the background?

The summit comes at a time when India and China are tangled in complex geopolitical equations. The rigorous preparedness for the event shows India's attempt to rejig its relations with China.

The lead-up to this summit has been calmer than the inaugural summit of April 2018 which was a resultant of the long standoff at Doklam. The last meeting touched upon issues such as bilateral trade, security, strategic communication and terrorism, and issued joint assurances. The summit has been careful and cautious in touching upon problems such as the Kashmir issue and India's position on Belt and Road Initiative. Attempts by Pakistan to persuade China on these issues have not made a dent. President Xi recently tweaked his stance on Kashmir sealing it as a bilateral issue by saying "China supports Pakistan to safeguard its own legitimate rights and hopes that the relevant parties can solve their disputes through peaceful dialogue." Since the last meeting, both India and China have been consistent in balancing tensions and building consensus.

What does it mean?

First, the absence of any significant border issue highlights the effectiveness of the 2018 summit, which called for building friendly narratives and strengthening cooperation along borders.

Second, the summit called for setting up of new trade and investment mechanisms between the two countries. This is to resolve India's trade deficit with China, and its repeated request for market access in Beijing. It also comes in the backdrop of reaping potential as emerging South Asian drivers of global growth. India relaxed its visa restrictions for the Chinese, easing multiple entry rules for the visitors. 

Third, the summit stressed cultural exchanges and widening people to people connect. In particular, this included enhancing academic ties between Tamil Nadu and Fujian province. This signals an accommodative stance of both countries in strengthening ties.

Fourth, despite President Xi's meeting with Pakistan PM Imran Khan before the summit, there was no mention of Kashmir in the event. The leaders shared common outlooks on dealing with the issue of terrorism and radicalization. China's change of decision regarding Masood Azhar also highlights India's diplomatic success and sharing of similar grounds by both countries. 

 

Ecuador: Protests force the Government to shift capital 

What happened?

The mass protests in Ecuador is continuing. The protestors released the riot police officers detained by them at a cultural centre in the capital city of Quito that has been used by thousands of indigenous protesters as their base since they arrived in the city on 3 October. Following the release, the Interior Minister María Paula Romo addressed in a public speech the release of 30 journalists along with the officers who were covering the incident and had been prevented from leaving the building. The demonstrators paraded the officers and forced few to carry the coffin of an indigenous activist allegedly killed during the unrest. The President of Ecuador Lenín Moreno moved the Government out of the capital and declared a two-month national emergency as the unrest gathered momentum and turned violent within a few days.

What is the background?

The protests began after the Government announced to cut the fuel subsidies as part of the broader public spending reduction policy agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in return for a loan to ease the fiscal deficit of the country. The deal reached in March will allow Ecuador to borrow $4.2bn (£3.4bn). To follow the austerity measures set by the IMF, Moreno announced that the fuel subsidies were no longer affordable and eliminating them would shore up Ecuador's flagging economy. This, in turn, led to a steep increase in the petrol prices as per the high current market price of petrol, leading the transport industry to call a national strike in protest.

Different indigenous groups later joined the protest from Amazon. In the past few days, the protestors have also entered few oil fields disrupting the production of the Andean. Along with the fuel subsidy cut, the Government has also released a series of labour and tax reforms as part of its austerity measures with the IMF. Five have been killed, and more than 700 people have also been arrested so far in Ecuador.

What does it mean?

The indigenous-led protests in Ecuador command a historical significance. In the past few decades, three presidents have been forced to resign owing to the tribal led protests in Ecuador. However, this is the first time, the protesters have taken dozens of police officers hostage in various locations throughout the country, forcing the President to shift the capital to the port city of Guayaquil.

Firstly, since the indigenous groups joined the protestors, the rhetoric of the dissent has been expanding and is no more centred on oil price or ease in transportation. The transportation unions were the first to organize a national strike, but after talks with the Government the national union leaders called off the strike on 4 October. The mass protests have continued, with thousands from the indigenous movement, student groups, human rights organizations and labour unions taking to the streets. Each group center voiced their own grievances making the protests a collective opposition.

Secondly, over the past week, Moreno has shifted the capital Quito. He has accused the protesters of being part of a larger plan to destabilize the Government. 

He has also blamed the former President Rafael Correa. Moreno served as vice president under Correa and was elected in 2017 based on continuing his left-wing platform. However, weeks after the election, he broke with most of Correa's policies. 

Nevertheless, why did the Government move out of the capital? The reason could be the intensity of the protests and the historical significance the protest holds in ousting power. The barricades made by the protesters in cutting all links and communication into the capital city could have forced the Government to shift power to Guayaquil. 

Thirdly, the role of IMF in introducing austerity measures has been unpopular in all of the Latin American countries. Moreover, the protest in Ecuador against the organization is not the first of its kind. Previously, the leaders in Argentina have faced pushback on the structural changes that the IMF has promoted, leading to a political crisis. Moreno will be facing the same if he remains isolated from the mass protesters and their demands. The suspension of oil field operations has cut the nation's production by 12 per cent, and the country has lost $1.4 billion over six days of protests. This could further lead to nose tightening measures by the IMF. 

 

US: Further developments on the impeachment inquiry on Trump

What happened?

There have been new developments since Nancy Pelosi ordered an impeachment inquiry against President Trump. The White House has continued to refuse to cooperate with the inquiry. Two business associates, Parnas and Fruman, of Rudy Guliani Trump's personal lawyer, were arrested on charges of making illegal- donations to US politicians. The two arrested are central to the impeachment inquiry, considering the alleged role they played in the Trump-Ukraine connection.

Last week, former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch gave her testimony to Congressional committees. Further Energy Secretary Rick Perry was subpoenaed to submit documents related to his role in the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine by the end of next week. 

What is the background?

The impeachment inquiry pertains to alleged 'abuse of power 'by President Trump. According to a whistleblower complaint, Trump asked President Volodymyr Zelensky over a phone call on 25 July to investigate the democrat-front-runner Joe Biden and his son's ties with a Ukrainian gas company. 

According to whistleblower complaint, Rudy Giuliani built contacts to look into Biden's ties with Ukrainian gas company, for Donald Trump in 2018. Parnas and Fruman, the two arrested helped Giuliani build connections in Ukraine and called for the removal of Marie Yoganovitch. Additionally, Trump referred to Yoganovitch's 'bad news' in his phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart. Rick Perry, the US Energy Secretary, was sent to attend President Zelensky's inauguration by Trump and had connections in Ukraine that could help in investigating the Biden's.

The White House had also attempted to stonewall testimonies of several officials. Subpoenas, testimonies, and investigations have been snowballing Trump's impeachment inquiry. Trump has repeatedly downplayed the allegations as garbage-witch-hunt and later openly asked China and Ukraine to initiate investigations against Biden.

What does it mean?

Trump is no stranger to controversies. However, with the election just around the corner, allegations against Trump will have an impact on his re-election. According to polls, more than fifty per cent of the US population is inclined towards President Trump's impeachment. The entire episode also shows the deep divide between the executive and the legislative bodies of the country.

 If the findings of the inquiry are proven to be true, it would mean the end of Donald Trump's political aspiration. It would also raise questions about Trump's role in Russian intervention in the 2016 elections. However, if the allegations against the Biden's are proven, Donald Trump would emerge a hero. 

Eyes are glued-on Trump.

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