The World this Week

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The World this Week
An ugly Presidential debate in the US, a new bill to prevent Islamic separatism in France, and new EU sanctions against Turkey

  GP Team

The World This Week # 87, 04 October 2020, Vol 2, No 40

Vivek Mishra, Shreya Sinha, Sourina Bej

The US: The First Presidential Debate

What happened?
On 29 September, President Trump and Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden had a heated exchange on the first of three Presidential Debates in Cleveland, Ohio where they squared off on several topics. The debate touched upon various issues which are igniting the Presidential race including the vacant Supreme Court seat, COVID-19, the ongoing protests against racial inequality, healthcare, climate change and mail-in ballots. This was the first of three debates scheduled ahead of the US elections on 3 November 2020. The debate was chaotic and was criticized world over. The moderator of the debate - Chris Wallace of the Fox News was seen struggling to control the debate which was largely filled by interruptions from President Trump. Joe Biden has asked the Commission on Presidential Debates to find a way to control the number of interruptions at future debates, and said the way Trump conducted himself at the debate was a "national embarrassment". 

The most noticeable and discussed line coming out of the debate has been Joe Biden's rather frustrating retort to Trump's constant hectoring and interruptions, "Will you shut up, man?". An estimated 73 million viewers followed the first Presidential debate.

What is the background?
First, the US Presidential debates are a series of three moderated debates that follow the party conventions of the two political parties contesting US elections, where they declare their party's Presidential nominee. The debate is organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which sponsors televised debates for the benefit of the American electorate. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is a nonprofit corporation established in 1987 under the joint sponsorship of the Democratic and Republican political parties in the United States. The CPD sponsors and produces debates for U.S. presidential and vice-presidential candidates. 

Second, the debates between the two running Presidential mates provides a good opportunity for the electorate to assess various factors which are decisive in the election as well as each candidate's record or political stand on those issues. In total, the CPD will sponsor four debates, three between the Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden and one debate between Vice Presidential candidates, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris. 

What does it mean?
The United States Commission on Presidential Debates has said it would make changes to the debate format after the first debate proved to be chaotic and full of interruptions. This has given rise to a debate within the United States Commission on Presidential Debates on the possible move to gag candidates. The Republican Party has criticized the prospective move, even as Trump has claimed to have won the first debate. However, Biden has been ahead of Trump in most national polls since the start of the year and is currently leading in major battleground states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where the Republicans won in 2016.

The next Presidential debate is expected to take place on 15 October in Miami, followed by 22 October 2020. The next debate is a town hall format where real voters are going to have the chance to engage the candidate. Besides, the Vice Presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris will be held on 7 October 2020. However, uncertainties remain after the President tested positive for the Coronavirus. 

France: New bill to prevent Islamic Separatism 

What happened?
On 2 October 2020, President Emmanuel Macron introduced a bill to defend France's secular values against what he called Islamic separatism, with the view that the religion is under threat from across the globe. He proclaims that the bill intends to free Islam from any foreign influences in order to rein in the influence of radical Islam in the country and help develop what he called an 'Islam of France' compatible with the nation's republican values.

In a long-awaited speech on the subject, President Macron also said that the negative influence of Islamism must be eradicated from all public institutions, in a drive to push religion out of the public education and employment sector in France. The measures also include placing stringent limits on home-schooling and increasing the scrutiny of religious schools and at the same time, making all organizations that solicit public funds sign a 'Charter of Secularism'. While these measures would apply to all communities, they are intended to counter the extremist elements from those who identify themselves as Muslims. He further stated that these measures were important in the context of improving the ability of the French citizens to live together, while eradicating the ill-effects of Islamism, amid the fears of terrorist attacks the country has faced in the recent years.

What is the background?
First, the position of Islam and Muslims, as a religious community, within the French system is centrally conditioned by the French concept of secularism called the 'laїcité'. This was determined in the law of 9 December 1905 concerning the separation of church and state. It rejects any references to national, racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities. This model is based on the idea that the state should interact only with the individual and not communities or groups, in order to give equal treatment to everyone. "Absolute equality" is seen as the best way to ensure the integration of all citizens, to the benefit of both the state and the citizens themselves.

Second, the French model of identity with its rich cultural heritage and languages was not designed in a way to integrate a diverse range of groups in contemporary France. Instead, it serves to make the minorities and the difficulties they face in French society, invisible. As a result, French authorities have rejected any form of targeted measures for ethnic, religious or linguistic groups. In practice, this has rendered minorities invisible and brought systemic forms of discrimination. The French government intends to present a bill in December 2020 to strengthen this law of 1905, asserting that secularism is the cement of a United France, but indirectly targeting the Muslim minorities residing in France.

What does it mean?
Although the law permits people to belong to any faith of their choosing, it would prohibit the outward displays of religious affiliation in public affairs and places of education, in addition to the already banned practice of wearing a hijab. This has created a serious backlash among the Muslim activists as they believe that Macron's views come across as emboldening the far-right, anti-Muslim leftists and threatening the lives of Muslim students by calling for drastic limits on homeschooling despite a global pandemic. 

While France is re-evaluating its relationship with its Muslim minority, the largest in Europe, the members of the Muslim community have consistently denounced these acts, describing them as going against the precepts of their religion. A wide majority of Muslims believe that such a law would take away their right to normality and practising their faith without pressure. Macron's speech addresses a deep-rooted problem of the French society: its enduring difficulty to integrate the minority communities at large, particularly the Muslim population of immigrants and their descendants. This is likely to further contribute to the existing inequalities and discrimination among the French public, also leading to radicalization and sociological as well as ideological depreciation at the extreme.

Turkey: New EU sanctions threat will do little, as Erdogan is on an offensive

What happened? 
On 3 October, the EU issued a threat that it could impose sanctions on Turkey over "provocations and pressures" in a row with Greece over energy resources and maritime borders. The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on Ankara to "abstain from unilateral actions" in the eastern Mediterranean and said that the bloc wanted "a positive and constructive relationship with Turkey and its relation will work only if the provocations and pressures stop." 

The statement by the EU comes at a time when Turkey has not only been militarily engaged in the East Mediterranean Sea, into an area south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, but also in the Caucasian region as a proxy in the ethnoreligious conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Turkey's assertive role in its neighbourhood has been increasing with President Recep Erdogan at its helm of power. 

What is the background? 
First, a militarily assertive Turkey. Turkey has increased its military footprint from Libya to Azerbaijan. Its relation with the US is already troubled by the US support for Syrian Kurds, the Turkish military backing the Libyan government in Tripoli, Ankara's tensions with Greece and its acquisition of Russia's S-400 anti-missile defence system. President Erdogan's ambitions are driven by his desire to expand Turkish influence across large parts of the globe. His focus on Africa to Eastern Europe began before he even became president. 

Second, the Blue Homeland doctrine and Turkey's maritime ambitions. Turkey's recent engagement in the East Mediterranean is as part of its "Blue Homeland" (Mavi Vatan) doctrine, which stipulates that the country's security lies under the seabed of the Mediterranean. Turkey's Blue Homeland supports its search for gas reserves across a swath of the Mediterranean and has seen warships head to the region this week. This doctrine, championed by Erdogan, challenges Greek and Cypriot maritime claims and looks to expand Turkey's maritime adventurism in the form of energy excavations in the narrow strips of Aegean and Mediterranean coastal waters. 

Third, winning the diplomatic and cultural heart of the Muslim World. The recent Abraham Accords and the Palestinian issue has become the immediate ground for Turkey to step in support for the cause when the rest of the countries in the region have diluted the issue. Turkish President did not miss a beat during his address to the United Nations General Assembly, insisting that he, unlike the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, would not accept a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is not endorsed by the Palestinians. 

Fourth, Erdogan's revivalist Ottoman dream. Erdogan has controlled Turkey for 17 years, first as Prime Minister and second as a President. Erdogan has taken the country in the autocratic path with a calculated military rule of control. Even in its TV series, Ertugrul, Erdogan's "New Turkey" approach has been advocated. This 'New Turkey' replaces Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's secularism with an Islamist and nationalist agenda, that is quite evident from the domestic policies like conversion of Byzantine Christian Hagia Sophia church to a mosque. Turkey is increasingly looking eastward, away from its NATO, to its old sphere of influence during the Ottoman Empire and Erdogan's policies have facilitated such stance. 

What does it mean? 
Today's assertive Turkey is breaking away from the given peripheral identity and becoming more than just a geographical transit between the EU, Russia and the Middle East. An assertive Turkey would mean that it fills the leadership vacuum regionally and globally. But at the same time, Erdogan's foreign policy has a domestic sanctity where many views his strongman politics as a step towards restoring the glorious history of the Ottoman empire. Turkey has become more than the sick man of Europe, and through asserting politically and diplomatically, EU's sanctions will do little to offset the strategic ambitions Turkey has come to achieve. 

Also in the News...

by Rashmi Ramesh and Harini Madhusudan 


East Asia and South-East Asia This Week
Hong Kong: Protesters arrested to stop crowds from gathering 
On 1 October, one year since the brutal clash with the police in Hong Kong and the 71 China's National Day, the police refused to permit a march, conducted stop-and-search operations along the expected routes, and arrested more than 50 people in Hong Kong. Carrie Lam, at an official National Day ceremony amid tight security, said: "Over the past few months, an indisputable fact in front of everyone is that our society has returned to peace."

China: Domestic spending during eight-day national holiday 
1 October, marks the start to the Golden Week in China. This year, due to restriction on travel, millions of Chinese are expected to spend this week within the country. The eight-day holiday coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival would be a litmus test for whether the Chinese economy, specifically the tourism industry. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism said that tourism revenue totalled $11.3 billion on the first day, close to 70 per cent of last year's. 

Australia and New Zealand: To partially open their borders
On 2 October, Australia and New Zealand announced a partial opening of borders to allow travel between the two countries. Passengers will be able to fly to the Australian cities of Sydney and Darwin without going into quarantine from Oct. 16 if they have spent at least two weeks in parts of New Zealand that are not considered to be a COVID-19 hot spot, and New Zealand will continue to insist on travellers from Australia going into hotel quarantine for two weeks after arrival. 

Thailand: Confiscated plaque becomes a symbol of protests
A brass plaque proclaiming Thailand belongs to the people and not the King that was swiftly removed by the authorities has rapidly become the symbol of the pro-democracy protest movement. The reproductions of the plaque, featuring the three-finger salute used by Thai anti-junta activists since a 2014 coup, is seen everywhere from t-shirts to key rings to tattoos. The plaque reads: "...this country belongs to the people and is not the property of the monarch as they have deceived us."

Malaysia: The US bans palm oil imports from FGV
On 30 September, following a probe into forced labour allegations, the US customs and Border Protection Agency has banned imports of palm oil from Malaysian company FGV Holdings. FGV, one of the world's largest crude palm oil producers, and some other suppliers of the oil used in everything from food and cosmetics to biodiesel have long faced allegations from rights groups over labour and human rights abuses. FGV in its response aid: "it is fully committed to respecting human rights and to upholding labour standards." 

The Philippines: Duterte warns Facebook for taking down accounts
On 28 September, after taking down a fake network linked to the country's police and military, President Duterte said: "You cannot lay down a policy for my government. I allow you to operate here. You cannot bar or prevent me from espousing the objectives of the government." These networks are known to be a part of the government's propaganda campaign that included fake accounts used to evade enforcement, post content and manage pages, which were proven to have links with the military and the police of the Philippines. 

South Asia This Week 
India: Amnesty International closes its office
On 29 September, the Amnesty International closed its operations in India, following the government freezing its bank accounts, bringing its operations to a grounding halt. The Amnesty International has accused the government of scuffling its voice for raising concerns over Kashmir, treatment of minorities and the Citizenship Amendment Act. New Delhi issued a statement explaining the need for NGOs to adhere to laws of the host country, particularly with respect to foreign funding and their sources. However, the decision has been criticized by the human rights organizations across the world, the European Union, the US Congress, and the United Kingdom. 

India: Naval exercise with Japan in the Arabian Sea
During 27-29 September, the two Navies of India and Japan participated in the fourth edition of the naval exercise - JIMEX-20. The primary focus of the exercise was ensuring a high degree of interoperability and joint operational skills through "multi-faceted tactical exercises involving weapon firings, cross-deck helicopter operations and complex surface, anti-submarine and air warfare drills." JIMEX-20 is the first naval exercise after both countries signed a mutual logistics support agreement in early September. 

India: COVID-19 death toll crosses 100,000 mark
On 2 October, India crossed the one lakh mark in terms of fatalities due to COVID-19. The United States and Brazil are the two other countries that had witnessed a hundred thousand deaths. Deaths have been on the rise at a faster pace, though case fatality rate (CFR) stands at 1.52 per cent. Within the country, Maharashtra alone accounts for 40 per cent of fatalities, followed by Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

Pakistan: Abdullah Abdullah's visit
During 28-30 September, the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah visited Pakistan. The HCNR delegation held meetings with Pakistan President Arif Alvi, PM Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Army Chief General Bajwa. The discussions focused on the Afghanistan peace process, Iran's role in it and bilateral relations of Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Pakistan: The Foreign Office refutes claims of its troops fighting for Azerbaijan
On 2 October, the Foreign Office responded and refuted claims of Pakistan's Army fighting alongside Azerbaijan against Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It expressed concerns over the conflict, calling out Armenia's 'offensive' particularly targeting the civilians, and hoped for peace to prevail. Pakistan supports Azerbaijan's position on Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Middle East and Africa This Week 
Mali: New interim Prime Minister appointed
On 27 September, Moctor Ouane, the former foreign minister was appointed as the interim Prime Minister of Mali. This move is likely to trigger a reduction or softening of sanctions that were imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The economy of Mali has been suffering massively since the ECOWAS sanctions reduced the imports by 30 per cent. The primary charge of the interim PM will be overseeing an 18-month transition to the civilian administration. 

Algeria: Visit by US Secretary of Defence 
On 1 October, Mark Esper, Pentagon Chief, visited Algeria. He is the first Defence Secretary to visit the country in 15 years, at a time when Algeria is attempting to mediate conflicts in Libya and Mali. A senior US military official said that the visit hopes to "deepen cooperation with Algeria on key regional security issues, such as the threat posed by extremist groups." 

Europe and the Americas This Week
Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia calls for a ceasefire, and ready for talks
On 2 October, Armenia stated that it was ready to engage with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to re-establish a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia said it was ready to engage with France, Russia, and the United States "to re-establish a ceasefire regime." The statement comes a day after the three countries called for an immediate ceasefire in Karabakh. The fierce fighting in the disputed region had been going on since last Sunday. According to reports, nearly 200 have been killed, including more than 30 civilians.

Nagorno-Karabakh: Erdogan announces unconditional support for Azerbaijan
On 2 October, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Turkey's support for Azerbaijan, with which it shares ethnic and cultural ties. He said: "As Turkey, with all our means and with all our heart, we stand with fellow and brother Azerbaijan and we will continue to stand with it...God willing, until Nagorno-Karabakh is liberated from invasion, this struggle will continue." The statement comes a day after President Macron criticized Turkey for deploying Syrian fighters in Azerbaijan to fight Armenia.

Europe: The EU launches legal action against Brexit Bill
On 1 October, the European Union launched legal proceedings for response against the British government's attempt to overturn parts of the Brexit withdrawal. The Commission sent a formal notice to the UK government as a first move in the infringement procedure and has invited the government to send its observations within one month. On 29 September, the British MPs backed a bill to regulate Britain's internal market from 1 January, which overwrites parts of the withdrawal treaty that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed with EU leaders, that can be seen as a breach of international law.

The US: Pompeo demands harsher stance by the Vatican against China
On 1 October, Pompeo met Vatican's Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister, a visit that seems to have irritated the Vatican over the extension of the China accord. Pompeo was seen accusing the Holy See of putting its "moral authority" at risk if it renewed an agreement with China on the appointment of bishops. According to the Vatican Secretary of State, the Vatican "asserts (the right to move forward) with a choice that has been thought through, reflected on, prayed over, a choice the pope has made, therefore the freedom to move forward."

The US: The President test positive for COVID-19
On 2 October, President Trump tested positive for COVID-19. The White House stated that the President would continue to work, even as they go into quarantine. Due to his appearance alongside Trump, Democrat Presidential candidate Joe Biden was subjected to the COVID-19 test, and he tested negative. With elections in November, Trump's quarantine is set to pose further obstacles in the campaign plan.  

About the authors

Dr Vivek Mishra is a Research Fellow at the ICWA, New Delhi. Shreya Sinha is a PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Sourina Bej is a project associate at NIAS. 

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