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CWA # 139, 29 June 2019

The World This Week
G20 Summit, Pompeo's India Visit, Hong Kong Protests, US-Iran Tensions, ASEAN Summit & the Bahrain Summit on the Middle East

  GP Team

From G20 to ASEAN, this week witnessed three important summit level meetings. While the bilateral tensions between the countries overshadowed the G20 agenda, ASEAN summit conceptualized a new Indo Pacific outlook.  The Middle East also witnessed the third important summit of the week in Bahrain. However, the Middle East remained tensed with the shooting down of US drone but Trump showed an amount of restraint, on the other hand, Trump also drew up an economically driven peace deal in the region. Hong Kong protests though seemed to lose its heat, the question remains what now? 

Harini Madhusudan, Sourina Bej, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer, Aparupa Bhattacherjee, Abigail Miriam Fernandez and Lakshmi V Menon

 

G20 Summit 2019 in Japan: Early takeaways

What happened?

The fourteenth International leaders' Forum of leaders from 19 countries plus the EU, is underway in Osaka, Japan. This group collectively represents two-thirds of the population and more than 80 per cent of the world's economic output with its primary aim being- to promote international financial stability.

On the first day of the Summit, 28 June 2019, bilateral meetings took centre stage. During the meeting between Trump and Putin, a reporter asked Trump if he would tell Russia not to meddle in the upcoming US presidential election in 2020. The US leader seems to have  turned to Putin with a smile and said: "Don't meddle in the election, please." Multiple meetings were held between Trump and Merkel, May and Putin, Modi and Merkel.

The EU and the US have displayed differences in their stance regarding Climate Change; the US has been trying to get them to soften their stance on Climate. However, in his meeting with Macaron, the French president said, removing any reference to the Paris deal in the final statement would be a red line for him.

Leaders of Russia, India and China have urged joint action against unilateralism during their meeting on the sidelines. Emphasis was given to the three countries' agreement on the need to rely on international law, respect for national sovereignty, and refrain from interference in internal affairs of other nations. Apart from these, there were a couple of mentions on the Iran issue, the protests in Hong Kong, and the tensions in the Gulf. Another interesting note is that in Japan too, protesters staged a demonstration outside the venue in Osaka. 

What is the background?

The Summit is based around eight themes: ranging from climate change to women empowerment. They include; global economy, trade and investment, innovation, environment and energy, employment, women's empowerment, development and health. The Summit took place when there were increasing trade tensions between China and the USA, protests in Hong Kong, the global growth damage from the 'Trade War.' There were many expectations from the Summit. 

Japan makes a few strong points while it hosts the event. First, it shows, Abe's intent to encourage unity among the leaders in support for free-trade. Second, it wants to draw attention at the need to revive denuclearisation of North Korea. Third, Japan could show that it is capable of taking responsibility for the world. Most importantly, Abe and Trump's dialogues have managed to tone down the brash approach of Trump. 

Meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping is the most anticipated among all. One could expect another truce between them, like the one from Argentina except, Trump has the 2020 election coming, and this may have an impact on the way he negotiates. China, however, hopes that the US can meet China halfway and work together to promote a positive result from the meeting. 

What does it mean?

In the technology and data section, Japan has put the Fourth Industrial Revolution front and centre for its G-20 presidency. The meeting between Trump and Xi will leave a significant impact. What is also interesting is the statement from Rebiya Khadeer, saying the world should open their eyes to the challenges of the Uighur struggles. The Summit will collectively make a few promises on Climate and their responsibilities.

Trump, Abe and Modi fist-bumping each other is one of the many images that will emerge as an outcome of the Summit. In the next week, one can tell for sure what the impact of the Summit would be on the slowing-down global economy, on the commitments that the nations are willing to make, despite the uncertainties and what would happen to the 'Trade War,' between the US and China.

 

India and the US: The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits India 

What happened? 

Trade and tariff, restrictive oil imports from Iran, the Russian S-400 air defence deal and Huawei's entry in 5G are the important issues that were of significance in the agenda from the recent visit by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to India from 25 to 27 June.

The tour took place amid the current trade tensions between the US and India, and both the ministers Pompeo and Jaishankar equivocated that this "won't impact ties between the two nations, and their partnership is already beginning to reach new heights." The two sides discussed at length on India's $5 billion deal with Russian and on the on-going tensions between the US and Iran that have led India, who is heavily dependent on imports, look for options in meeting its energy needs. 

What is the background? 

The visit of the Secretary of State comes in less than two weeks after India increased tariffs on some of the exports from the US. This decision was seen as a response to the Trump administration's move to end India's participation in a preferential trade program. Delhi first announced plans to impose new tariffs a year ago in retaliation to the increased US import duties on Indian steel and aluminium. However, that decision afterwards was repeatedly delayed while both the sides held a series of trade talks.

When it comes to the aircraft deal with Russia, India had signed it in October 2018 during Putin's visit to India. However, perceived as a violation of the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the US has opposed the deal and has threated India with sanctions. In addition to this, the visit also came at the backdrop of US's rift with Iran and trade conflict with China that has made India's energy deficits and Huawei issue as major talking points for Mike Pompeo in the visit. 

What does it mean? 

As Mike Pompeo's visit concluded, the Indian Prime Minister was seen flying to attend the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan. Where do India-U.S. relations figure as New Delhi seeks to leverage its relationships with all the major powers in the Summit and the subsequent bilateral meetings?  Mike Pompeo's visit should be seen precisely as the groundwork to India's act of leveraging. Hence what opportunity did Pompeo's visit give or didn't give for India?  

Firstly, it opened and acknowledged a deeper level of communication that needs to be done if the problems at hands regarding trade have to be dealt with. Thus both Pompeo and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar were seen taking a pragmatic approach by saying that while trade differences exist, they are keen on addressing them effectively as well. At the outset, it might seem that no fruitful agreement or resolution was begotten from the visit, but Pompeo was never meant to meet that requirement. 

Secondly, Trump's decision was seen by many as a sign of strain in a bilateral relationship in recent decades, but India has dealt with several lows in the relation between these two once 'estranged democracies.' As always Russia continues to be an irritant when it came to the Indo-US relationship. Moreover, historically, India has been able to channelize the differences and have tilted towards buying more in the defence sector from the West. However, what has differed in this situation is along with the US, India has to simultaneously make its decision clear vis-à-vis China and 5G tussle and its interests in Iran over Chabahar have now hit a slag. This is where Pompeo's visit assumes significance as clarity was needed in terms of what Washington thinks constituted a "strategic partnership." 

Thirdly, the visit also brought to light what India is likely to do in its stance in the Huawei. With no comment on it, India will remain non-committal on allowing the company in 5G rollouts. Previously, the government has already formed a panel to examine concerns arising out of Huawei's participation in 5G. 

 

Tensions in the Middle East: Iran shoots down US drone

What happened?
In an escalation of existing tensions between Iran and the US, the Iranian forces shot down a US drone. As per official sources from Iran, the drone was shot down once it entered the Iranian airspace. The US, on the other hand, said that the drone was hit over international territory. There have been disagreements over the issue ever since. It is important to note that this incident is the first attack which Iran has directly claimed against the US and its assets after tensions between the two intensified into a war-like scenario. 

Also, on 26 June 2019, the Iranian foreign minister marked in twitter that a "Short war with Iran is an illusion" and warned the US President that he was mistaken if he thought that a war between the duo would not last long. 

What is the background?

US relations with Iran has taken a toll since Washington's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal over Iran's Nuclear Programme and imposing harsh economic sanctions. There has been a further escalation in tensions when the Trump administration sent an aircraft carrier to the region and moved to send additional troops indicating the possibilities of a military confrontation.

While both the nations are still working on different pages, recently, the friction had also taken paradoxical shifts when Trump announced his openness to holding diplomatic talks with Iran.

What does it mean?

First, apart from the fact that the incident intensified the possibilities of a war between Iran and the US, it demonstrated Iran's defence capabilities and how that could further go on to pose a challenge to the American technological superiority. Besides, it is also imperative to consider the possibility of Iran extending its potential to work along with its proxy groups across the region to threaten the US and its Middle Eastern allies.

The attacks on the US and its allies by Iranian proxies have reportedly already been increasing in recent times. Second, Iran will not give up on its regional ambitions easily. It has been continuously trying to put pressure on the US both diplomatically and militarily for the regime is toiling with sanctions and unable to survive. The current attack might be smaller in scope but has managed to put significant pressure on the US to recalibrate its stance and also to an extent boasted its image in the regional front.

Finally, just because the US President Donald Trump called off a counter-attack in retaliation, it wouldn't mean that the US wouldn't make any further military move. The chances of a confrontation remain high. 

A "maximum pressure strategy" of Washington will not make Iran surrender. Since both the regions cannot afford a war, the present scenario seems unstable. However, the coming days will inevitably see a "limited military confrontation" that could further pave clear paths into newer negotiations and eventually peace. 


ASEAN Summit: A new outlook on Indo Pacific 

What happened?

The 34th ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit was held from 20 to 23 June in Bangkok, Thailand. As per the statement realized by the ASEAN chairman, the discussion by ASEAN head of the States "emphasized the importance of advancing partnership for sustainability to achieve a people-centric, people-oriented and forward-looking ASEAN Community that leaves no one behind in the rapidly changing regional and global environment."

This year the theme was emphasizing on "advancing partnerships for sustainability". Along with many other topics discussed in the Summit, some were on tackling marine debris, technology for sustainable growth and promoting co-operation in the face of rising regional powers. However, the critical agreement reached was the 'ASEAN Outlook on the Indo Pacific' which was adopted after more than a year of negotiation.  

What is the background?

This was the 34th Summit for ASEAN a regional organization with ten members (Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos). The regional organization which was once considered one of the most successful ones had lost its charisma due to lack of involvement and discussion in case of many pertinent issues like the Rohingya conflict that have been affecting the members.  

This year's Summit took place after two important democratic elections in Indonesia and Thailand, which was also hosting the Summit. Thailand witnessed the return of Prayuth Cha-ocha in a democratically concluded election. He was the previous military leader who abolished the previous democratic government by a coup in 2014.  In Indonesia, Joko Widodo is re-elected by voters. It is important to note that it is these two countries that have proposed and taken the lead in evolving the Indo Pacific outlook for ASEAN. Indonesia proposed a distinct ASEAN Indo-Pacific approach at a foreign ministers' retreat in January 2018 and has since led the discussion. The primary push for finally concluding the 'ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific' came from Singapore's who demanded further meetings as the growing US-China trade war started affecting its economy.   

What does it mean?

Firstly, no outcome was seen on the issue of the Rohingya crisis and their repatriation to Myanmar from Bangladesh or the South China Sea issue, which was highlighted by Rodrigo Duterte. Due to lack of ASEAN's stand on the above issues, the regional organization might end up losing its significance. However, by adopting the Indo Pacific approach, the organization was seen collectively taking a stand on the trade war and the broader power politics.  

Secondly, Indonesia's keenness to push for the Indo Pacific reflects the countries' desire to evolve as a primary power from being a middle power in the geo-strategic theatre of the Indo-Pacific and the organization. This ASEAN centric vision to the Indo Pacific creates an alternative narrative taking the region away from 'bandwagoning' either behind America's 'Free and Open Indo Pacific' or China' BRI. 

Lastly, the trade war has negatively affected the economies of many ASEAN countries, as is evident with Singapore's slowing economic growth. Thus one could see China becoming the core of ASEAN's economic discussion. However, in spite of the negative growth, but some ASEAN members like Vietnam have also gained out of this trade war.

 

Hong Kong Protests: Expanding the Goals?

What happened?

On 26 June 2019, protesters in Hong Kong directed their petitions to the world by demonstrating at foreign governments' consulates demanding that world leaders meeting at the G20 Summit which is to take place this week in Osaka, Japan should address their concerns. This, they believe, could be a means by which they can put pressure on China. Zhang Jun, an assistant foreign minister, responded to this plead from Hong Kong by stating that Beijing opposed discussing Hong Kong at the Summit and that they would under no circumstance allow any country or individual to intervene in Chinese internal politics.

Thousands of protesters turned out for a peaceful demonstration outside City Hall chanting "Free Hong Kong! Democracy Now!". However, later that night the demonstration took a wilder turn as thousands of young protesters walked to the headquarters of the city's police force and surrounded it, few of them went on to pile metal barricades against a closed metal gate outside the complex while the officers watched from inside.

What is the background?

Protesters in Hong Kong have flooded the streets and the grounds of government offices over the past three weeks against an unpopular extradition bill that has caused a political crisis in the country. The bill allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. The protesters have also accused China of constant meddling their democratic reform, interfering in elections, suppressing young activists, as well as being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers whose works were critical of Chinese leaders.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has kept a low profile since her latest public apology, gave in to public pressure and suspended the bill a day after the violent protests, however, no measure was taken to cancel the bill and she rejected repeated calls to step down.

What does it mean?

Protests in Hong Kong has several implications. Is there gradual withdrawal from the political side that was once also fighting for the cause? Moreover, will this gradual step down hinder the result that the people are also fighting for? What comes next for Hong Kong?

To highlight the first question, Carrie Lam appears to be lying low, maybe she is doing this to avoid embarrassing President Xi Jinping of China ahead of his trip to Japan, or she is trying to get things to settle down back home. However, this behaviour only implies her gradual backing away from this issue. The reason for her to act this way remains unknown, but the implications of this are clear. If the political front backs down, half the cause is lost as there needs to a synergy between the political leaders and them civilians, without which no cause can be fought for effectively.

What next for Hong Kong? Do they wait for help to come from external parties, whose attention they are seeking to gain? Alternatively, do they take matters into their hand like the clash with the police station? Hong Kong may not see much results from the G20 members for no country has responded to this pleading, and the Chinese have made it clear that they will not encourage any discussions regarding Hong Kong. The main issue is the extradition bill, which most countries do not take very seriously as they are many such bills that exist between countries; however, Hong Kong has a larger picture that is to tackle China which many countries may not want to get involved in as it is uncharted territory. 

The people of Hong Kong have drastically taken matters into their hand, whether they are going to fight this issue alone remains a question. Although the political side of this issue seems to be taking a back seat, the people of Hong Kong are fighting passionately for their cause. 

 

'Peace to Prosperity': The Bahrain Summit on the Middle East

What happened?
On 25 June 2019, the US-led two-day workshop in Bahrain unveiled a part of the much-awaited Trump-Kushner' deal of the century' drawn up by Trump's advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Jason Greenbalt and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel. The plan's economic fabric was proposed by the US, aiming to raise investments worth $50 billion. Kushner stated the need for an economic pathway deal as a precondition for peace. While the 'economy first' US approach saw approvals from some Arab countries, UN upheld the two-state solution, and the IMF urged "job intensive" growth in West Bank and Gaza. 

Meanwhile, Palestinians protested, and Palestinian leadership boycotted the Bahrain workshop saying the lack of political vision guaranteed the deal's failure.

What is the background?

Since the birth of Israel, numerous peace initiatives have crumbled owing to the inability to negotiate, discrepancies in conditions of the deals, changing demands with a change in leadership, extremists on both sides, unending violence, regional turmoil and the US and Arab states rooting for Israel and Palestine respectively.

The Arab-Israeli conflict commenced with the 1917 Balfour declaration. The major points of the clash were 1948 first Arab-Israeli war, 1956 Suez war, 1967 Six-day war, 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 2018 opening of US embassy in Israel's US-recognized new capital, "undivided" Jerusalem. The peace initiatives starting from UNSC Resolution 242, though internationalized and glamourized were futile. Trump's Middle East plan is the latest in this series.

With the Trump government, Israel has mostly benefitted. The Jerusalem vote, US recognition of occupied Golan Heights as Israeli territory, statements on recognizing occupied West Bank as Israeli territory all point to Israel's victory; pushing Palestinians further away from the negotiating table. 

What does it mean?

The end game is always Arab-Israeli peace and not a mere resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestine, over the past six decades, has been reduced to tiny spots on the map and an insignificant entity in the broader peace process. Meanwhile, the collective Arab identity has been progressively dwindling. With the unprecedented Saudi-Israel rapprochement, the turbulent Saudi-Iran relations (unfolding in the Yemen war) and the fast-changing geo-strategic dynamics, the Arab states are swapping loyalties. 

The UAE has said the Trump-Jared initiative must be given a chance. Saudi officials have said that the plan could succeed. All this while Palestinians are vehemently rejecting the plan with teeth and claws.

These Arab states have made their choice clear. They are going Israel's way. Though Palestine is a trump card they have used time and again for domestic, regional and global benefits, they can no longer dither. Arab states have realized that it is domestically and foreign policy-wise more beneficial to give Israel what it wants, especially with a US President spearheading for Israeli interests.

However, boycotting by Palestinian leadership has made critics question the credibility of the proposed deal. Furthermore, IMF has expressed concerns regarding the failure of the plan as "peace, political stability and re-establishment of trust" are pre-requisites to economic success. Sultanate of Oman has expressed intention to open an embassy in Ramallah, West Bank in solidarity with Palestinians. Turkey may join Oman. Other Arab states are yet to make statements. Is their silence saying something!

Substantially the peace process has narrowed down to a question of real estate; is the Palestinian cause slowly sinking deeper into depths?

 

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