CWA Commentary

Photo Source: New York Times
   NIAS Course on Global Politics
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)
Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore
For any further information or to subscribe to GP alerts send an email to subachandran@nias.res.in
Print Bookmark

CWA # 136, 22 June 2019

The World this Week
Rising US-Iran Tensions, Xi Jinping's North Korea Visit, Continuing Protests in Hong Kong, Untimely Death of Morsi and the Triple Suicide Attacks in Nigeria

  GP Team

The World This Week looks at the escalating tensions between the US and Iran, continuing protests in Hong Kong, the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to North Korea, unfortunate death of former President of Egypt Mohammad Morsi and the triple suicide attacks in Nigeria.

Abigail Fernandez, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer, Sourina Bej and Harini Madhusudan.

 

Middle East: Trump calls off the Strike on Iran after getting "Cocked and Loaded"

What happened?
President Donald Trump approved a military strike against Iran but pulled back from launching the late-night. US officials awaited the strike after long discussions and briefing had taken place. When the operation was in progress, with ships and planes in position, the order to stand down came ten minutes before the attack. Trump later tweeted that the attack would have probably killed about 150 people to which he believed would not be proportionate to the shooting down of an unmanned drone. He also went on to add that Iran can never have nuclear weapons and that he is going to increase the sanctions on Iran further. Earlier, Iran shot down a US military drone.

Iran responded by saying that the US has no reason to retaliate back and if they did, they would respond firmly. 

What is the background?
Tensions have been escalating between Washington and Tehran over the past month drastically; both countries have accused each other of several activities. The US accused Iran of continued damaging activity that threatens the US and its allies. This has also caused Washington to increased its military presence in the region.

During this week, tensions escalated substantially when Iran had shot down a US drone on 20 June 2019. The RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, according to Iran, was targeted when it entered Iran's airspace. General Hossein Salami, the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, said that this was done to send a clear message to the US, further stating that Iran does not have any intention for War with any country, but they are nevertheless ready for the War. The US responded to these claims by saying that they had not violated Iranian airspace and the US president Donald Trump has made a statement saying that this was a very bad mistake made by the Iranians.

There have been a series of clashes in the region during the recent weeks. The attack on oil tankers allegedly by Iran has raised tension in the Gulf. The US has gone on to assert that Iran was behind the attacks; the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that they had substantial evidence to prove their claims. Although the US allies initially did not consider the claims made by the US, many of them throughout the week have gone on to issue statements about the issue.

What does it mean?
The constant increase of tensions in the Gulf is an unpredictable situation which could have many implications. An outbreak of War in this region would not only have drastic effects on the region, but it would inevitably impact the whole world. Iran is already facing problems because of the crippling sanction that has been imposed on them and fighting a war would only lead to further problems. 

When it comes to the immediate regions, Saudi Arabia has gone on to state that they will look into all aspects to counter the hostile situation with Iran. With other on-going conflicts already existing in this region, this pushes the region into greater hostility.

When it comes to the other signatories of the deal, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union, have been unable to ease the tension with Iran. Whether or not they have the capability to do so or if they are still obligated to side with the US who is not part of the deal anymore remains a question. 

Trump however still remains to hold the view on not wanting a war with Iran, though the halting of a military attack (to the attack on the US drone by Iran) shows that he is seeking to escalate this issue politically rather than militarily.  However, de-escalation of the situation needs to take place in the Gulf, for the world is already facing the brunt of it through the rise in oil prices.  

 

East Asia: Chinese President Xi visits North Korea

What happened? 
The Chinese President Xi Jinping visited North Korea during 20-21 June thereby becoming the first leader in 14 years after Hu Jintao to visit Pyongyang. The visit comes amid stalled talks with the United States over North Korea's nuclear programme on the one hand and the escalating trade war between China on the other. Acknowledging this, the North Korean mouthpiece said, "when serious and complicated changes are happening in international and regional situations the two leaders have agreed to promote close strategic communication" and develop their "common interests." 

As for China, Xi referred to the nuclear program and urged all sides to "stick to peace talks to make even greater contributions to peace, stability and prosperity in the region." (According to China's official Xinhua News Agency)

What is the background? 
At the current visit, Pyongyang was seen giving a grand welcome to Xi. In these 14 years, much had happened in the Korean peninsula. North Korea had carried out five nuclear tests and launched missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland. After a flurry of diplomacy in 2018 and early 2019, including three meetings between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in and two summits between Kim and US President Donald Trump, currently, talks are stalled between the US and North Korea. The second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi in February had ended abruptly, with no agreement as the two were unable to overcome differences over the pace and scope of sanctions relief. Amid these developments, Xi's visit was full of political innuendos and expectations. 

What does it mean? 
Firstly, most have thought of Xi's visit as intended to become a signal to Trump of his influence with Kim, ahead of next week's G20 summit in Japan. In this, Pyongyang has also given a larger than life portrayal of his relations with China. Also, it has repeated it's call for Washington to adopt "a new method of calculation" for the negotiations. 
Second, as Hong Min, a senior researcher at the South's state-run Korea Institute for National Unification said Xi's visit might give Kim a 'political and diplomatic opening to resume talks with the US again'. However, what was striking from the visit was the lack of any major announcements. According to an official spokesperson, Xi and Kim reached "extensive major consensus" on the China-North Korea relationship, thereby drawing on the past rhetoric of a strong relationship. 

Thirdly, the visit had many people attending the march of Xi in Pyongyang with him receiving 21 gun salutes. However, the visit was shrouded with symbolism and this was important for both North Korea and China. For North Korea, it was to show the home audience about the necessity to keep the narrative of sanctions lifting and not failing out to US alive. North Korea had invested a lot in the US-North Korea summit amid the hopes of Korean unification. This would have been Kim's legacy had not been for the failed Hanoi summit. With Xi's visit once again, the talk of the future of crisis in the Korean Peninsula has returned. For China, making no point (announcement) was the point. The two countries are engaged in separate disputes with President Trump — one over trade, the other over nuclear weapons.  

Hence at this juncture, showing solidarity and just merely standing with Kim in place of what Trump could have done has garnered both "political support and encouragement for the party, government and people." The trade war has exhausted the party and in particular Xi's image to being a tough negotiator always emerging a winner. With this image Xi would be seen sharing the stage with world leaders at the G20 summit. 
 
Hong Kong: The Protests Escalates Further

What happened?
On 21 June 2019, the demonstrators including the activist Joshua Wong blocked a main road through the city centre in Hong Kong and massed outside the police headquarters to demand the total withdrawal of new extradition law, the release of detained activists and apologies for police brutality. This is the fourth major demonstration in the city in less than two weeks. 

Despite the government on 15 June 2019  stating that it would postpone its plans on the extradition bill, demonstrators occupied roads around government headquarters and legislature, in a repeat of the tactics seen during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. The crowds began to parade on the streets, blocking the paths around the legislature and filling up the roads through Wanchai and Causeway Bay chanting for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign.

What is the background?
The extradition bill was announced after a young man murdered his wife on Taiwan soil and escaped trial, as he returned to Hong Kong. When the bill was drafted in March, it drew criticism, after which amendments were made to the bill. However, the citizens are convinced that this bill would affect the business prospects of the region. There was also significant scare, regarding the investments spread by the visits by US officials in the past months. 

Before the second debate over the bill took place, thanks to the protests, the administration announced postponing the bill indefinitely. Simultaneously, the protestors clashed with the forces, and many were arrested. The postponement should have reduced the intensity of the protests, but they have instead increased.

The crowds, mostly young and wearing black clothes along with helmets and face masks, staged the primarily peaceful, impromptu rally in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district, chanting slogans and hurling eggs at the police complex. The crowds were well prepared; for example, a bunch of youth taking water bottles and putting off tear gas shells went viral on Twitter. 

What does it mean?
This is a mostly youth-led protest aimed at bringing down rules and regulations that will harm their freedom against the mainland. Lam, is seen as that power which will carry out orders by the mainland. One of the arguments was that the Hong Kong society could not be built on material wealth, and Lam is trained to do just that; she stopped short of withdrawing the bill entirely. However, what then is the solution to the extradition loop that the region has? One can expect more amendments to the bill after a couple of months. It is unsure if Lam will resign. The police would soon use mild violence to take control of the situation. 

 

Egypt: Death of Mohammad Morsi: Lessons from 'Democracy protests'

What happened? 
Mohammad Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, died on 17 June 2019, following over six years of imprisonment, after being overthrown in a military coup by current the President Abdel Fattah el Sisi. His death leaves more questions than answers. Egyptian authorities claim Morsi died of a fatal heart attack in a Cairo court. However, many speculate over the possibility of foul play and call for a transparent investigation into Morsi's death. 

While appearing in court in June 2017, Morsi reportedly requested to speak to his lawyers about 'crimes' he suffered in prison, but his request was denied. In its place, an official health report was presented during the court hearing declaring him to be in good health aside from high blood pressure. He was being kept inside a soundproof glass cage to ensure he could not speak at will. When Morsi collapsed in court during his trial on espionage charges, witnesses spoke to reporters and stated that he was left in the cage for 20 minutes after he collapsed. 

In his final moments, Morsi reportedly urged the judge to let him share secrets that could exonerate him. He told the judge he needed to speak in a closed session to reveal the information, a request the deposed president had repeatedly asked for in the past but had never been granted.

What is the background?
As an ailing political prisoner who represented no physical threat or risk of escape from a maximum-security prison, he was isolated brutally. Neither regional powers representing the tyrannical regimes in the Arab world nor their global supporters allowed the Morsi-led democratic government to rule Egypt, the largest and by far the most important Arab country. After intense pressure from external actors, he was ousted by a military junta on 3 July 2013 and imprisoned after the coup. He was blamed for treason and was accused of acting in the name of external powers. The el-Sissi regime tortured and mistreated him while he was in jail.

Writing in a Washington Post op-ed last year, Abdullah Morsi, the former president's son, said his father had lost most of his sight in one eye while in prison due to inadequate health care. "We fear that the Egyptian authorities are doing this on purpose since they want to see him dead 'from natural causes' as soon as possible," his son wrote. Speaking to HRW, Morsi's family detailed how he fainted twice and fell into a diabetic coma during the first week of June 2017. According to HRW MENA Director Sarah Leah Whitson, Morsi told his family that a medical professional told him he needed surgery for his deteriorating sight, but that he was never able to get it. The only medical attention Morsi received, according to HRW, was the occasional blood pressure or sugar level check by a nurse or doctor. No additional medical care was provided. He was even forced to buy his own insulin, according to the group.

Morsi's brief tenure as Egypt's only democratically elected president was characterised by optimism, which quickly turned to frustration. Tens of thousands turned out across Turkey to mourn the deposed leader's passing, in stark contrast to his low-key burial in Cairo. All the major parliamentary democracies, which always speak with one voice about tyranny, were mute. Barring a few, Turkey, Malaysia, Qatar, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood-in-exile and all the usual suspects – Morsi's memory and his final moments were as if they had never been.

What does it mean?
Following his death, the regime declared a state of high alert across the country and dispatched thousands of police patrols to squash any protests. He was not given the funeral that his family requested for. It was swift and largely a secret. This can be seen as a significant blow to the Arab Spring. If one were to assume that there could be a revival of the Arab Spring in the coming months, this would remain precedence for leaders and young adults. 

Morsi's death and the silent burial also speaks volumes about the leadership in Egypt.

 

Nigeria: The Triple Suicide Bombing by Boko Haram

What happened?
On 17 June 2019, a triple suicide attack killed nearly 30 people and injured more than a dozen injured in northeastern Nigeria. Three bombers, two girls and a boy reportedly carried out the bombing outside a hall in Konduga village in Borno state where fans were watching a game of football on television. 

According to popular media, the attack had no immediate claims but bore the evident tactics used by the Boko Haram jihadist group. Boko Haram has targeted video halls in several past occasions calling them un-Islamic.
 
What is the background?
Boko Haram has been waging an insurgency across the north-east of Nigeria for a decade now. The group which claimed their allegiance to the Islamic State is known for using women and children as suicide bombers into crowded markets and mosques. The northeastern part of Nigeria, especially places like Konduga has remained the group's stronghold and vulnerable to attacks. 
 
What does it mean? 
While the attack in Borno state is not an isolated event in the northeastern part of the country which remains the centre of action for the action, it emphasises how complex and grave the security challenges remain. While the State claims that the Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa to have mostly disintegrated as their operating terrain had significantly dropped over the years, civilians and military personnel along the region continue to suffer. Besides, several unclaimed armed attacks have increasingly scaled up concerns over regional security and the further spread of terrorism. 

 

Also in the News...

UK: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt leads the elections race

The race for Britain's next prime minister has narrowed down to two candidates on 20 June after former London Mayor Boris Johnson got the maximum vote from Conservative MPs in their fifth and final round of voting, coming in at 160 votes.  Second in the row is Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt with 77 votes, narrowly edging out Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Sajid Javid.  

The UN report on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder

The United Nations report on Khashoggi murder was released on June 19. The investigator Agnes Callamard held the state of Saudi Arabia responsible for the “extra-judicial”, “premeditated” killing and called it an “international crime”. While listing disturbing details of the execution of the murder and dismemberment of the body, the report also spoke in large about state responsibility, individual liability, accountability, universal jurisdiction, consular immunities and duties to protect, prosecute, reparations, warn and investigate. The report has linked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to the murder on the basis of “credible evidence”, however, Riyadh has dismissed the findings as “nothing new”. Who will hold Saudi Arabia responsible is the question looming large.

MH17 investigators name four suspects to face murder charges

The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on 19 June 2019, released the names of four suspects for the downing of MH- 17 a Malaysia airlines plane above Ukraine in 2014. Three Russians, Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, and Oleg Pulatov along with Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko will face murder charges at a trial in the Netherlands in March 2020. Officials have also said they would issue international arrest warrants for the suspects.

Print Bookmark

Other CWA Publications

Conflict Weekly
May 2022 | CWA # 739

IPRI Team

Another racial attack in the US, Divide within the EU over the Russian oil ban, and violence in Israel

read more
NIAS Africa Weekly
May 2022 | CWA # 738

NIAS Africa Team

IN FOCUS | Communal Tensions in Ethiopia

read more
France Presidential Elections 2022
May 2022 | CWA # 737

Padmashree Anandhan

What does Macron's victory mean for France and the EU

read more
France Presidential Elections 2022
May 2022 | CWA # 736

Rishma Banerjee

The rise of Marine Le Pen

read more
France Presidential Elections 2022
May 2022 | CWA # 735

Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan

Five reasons why Emmanuel Macron won

read more
France Presidential Elections 2022
May 2022 | CWA # 734

Sourina Bej

Four challenges ahead for President Macron

read more
Conflict Weekly Cover Story
May 2022 | CWA # 733

S Shaji

Sudan, three years after Omar al Bashir

read more
Conflict Weekly
May 2022 | CWA # 732

IPRI Team

Intensifying political crisis in Sri Lanka, Communal tensions in Ethiopia, and 75 days of Ukraine war

read more
NIAS Africa Weekly
May 2022 | CWA # 731

NIAS Africa Team

IN FOCUS | Mali ends defence ties with France

read more
The World This Week
May 2022 | CWA # 730

GP Team

India-Nordic Summit, and New EU sanctions on Russia

read more
Conflict Weekly
May 2022 | CWA # 729

IPRI Team

Mali-France tensions and anti-UK protests in the Virgin Islands

read more
The World This Week
May 2022 | CWA # 728

GP Team

New US assistance for Ukraine

read more
Conflict Weekly
April 2022 | CWA # 727

IPRI Team

​​​​​​​UK-Rwanda asylum deal, Mexico's continuing femicides, and Afghanistan's sectarian violence

read more
NIAS Africa Weekly
April 2022 | CWA # 726

NIAS Africa Team

IN FOCUS | UK-Rwanda asylum deal

read more
The World This Week
April 2022 | CWA # 725

GP Team

China's Boao Forum for Asia, Russia's new ICBM test, and a Cold War in the Solomon Islands

read more
Conflict Weekly
April 2022 | CWA # 724

IPRI Team

The battle for Donbas, Violence in Jerusalem, Riots in Sweden, Kyrgyzstan- Tajikistan border dialogue, and China’s military drills

read more

Click below links for year wise archive
2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018