The World This Week

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The World This Week
The Quad summit in Japan, the World Bank report on South Asia and the European Parliament on Saudi Arabia

  GP Team

The World This Week # 88, 11 October 2020, Vol 2, No 41

Minhaj Khan, Apoorva Sudhakar and Sourina Bej 

Energizing the Quad: Foreign Ministers of India, Japan and Australia and the US Secretary of State meet in Tokyo

What happened?
On 6 October, the foreign ministers of India, Japan, and Australia and the US Secretary of State met in Tokyo for the second foreign minister-level meeting of the Quadrilateral security dialogue. According to the media releases from all four foreign ministries, the meeting focused on containing the spread of COVID-19 and a vaccine distribution strategy, cybersecurity, 5G connectivity, the promotion of a strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific, and a rules-based order in the region.

The ministers also discussed the inclusion of Australia in the upcoming Malabar Naval exercise; although a decision is yet to be taken. A special emphasis was on the 'supply chain resilience initiative' to move supply chains away from China, as well as 'East-West' connectivity to counter China's 'North-South' connectivity plans. 

Further, the US's 'Blue Dot Network' was discussed as an alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative. Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, also brought up the possibility of formally institutionalizing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The meeting followed with bilateral meetings between all four ministers.

What is the background?
First, the origins of Quad. Originally formed in 2007, it was dissolved in 2008 following Australia's departure. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal strategic forum between the four countries that originally emanated from the Malabar naval exercises between India, the United States, Japan, and occasionally Australia. The 'Quad', as it is commonly known, was re-established in November 2017 following the promulgation of India's 'Act East Policy' and Japan's 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific Policy'.

Second, the evolution of its purpose. The Quad has undergone a transformation in terms of its purpose. The Quad is now re-established as an alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative strategy and influence over the region. Today, the Quad has evolved to have a great focus on strengthening itself as a balancing military force. While this has its roots in Obama's strategic 'pivot' to the Asia-Pacific, it has taken on an Indo-Pacific role in recent years following China's vehement attitude towards the South China Sea dispute and the recent confrontations with India at the Indo-Tibetan border. 

Third, the hostile response from China to the Quad. According to a recent opinion by Fudan University's Yi Shen in the Global Times, China sees the Quad as a futile endeavor—with Japan and Australia following their own vested interests. Further, he asserts that China sees India as a weak player. 

What does it mean?
Following the recent Sino-Indian confrontation, India has increased its naval presence in the South China Sea and seems willing to join America's 'freedom of navigation' exercises and Japan's 'refueling missions'. However, infrastructure funding for the Blue Dot Network currently seems unfeasible as unlike China's BRI, it merely vets proposals for infrastructure projects to receive loans from the private sector. The economic recession in the four countries following the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates this issue. Further, it is unclear if private firms are willing to relocate outside China under the 'supply chain resilience initiative' despite proposed economic incentives. 

Despite perceptions that the Quad might evolve into an Asian version of NATO, there are criticisms on its feasibility—particularly due to the legal challenges article nine of Japan's pacifist constitution poses, in addition to India's formal membership in the Non-Aligned Movement. 

World Bank's latest report on South Asia: Economic vulnerabilities and repercussions

What happened?
On 8 October, the World Bank released its biannual South Asia Economic Focus report. South Asian countries were quick to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and impose strict lockdowns in March itself. Yet, the World Bank Vice President for South Asia observed that the collapse of South Asian economies during the pandemic has been more brutal than anticipated. 

The report forecasts a GDP contraction of 7.7 per cent for the region this year. Attributing the number to artificially repressed consumption, the report says this is the largest decline for the region. 

The World Bank said, private consumption, which had been consistent during the previous investment and export-led recessions, is set to fall by over 10 per cent this year making a recovery difficult and uncertain. World Bank Chief Economist for South Asia says the number of people living below the poverty line has increased by 33 per cent in a single year due to the pandemic. An estimated 49 to 56 million South Asians people are expected to become poor by the end of 2020.

What is the background?
First, the uneven impact of the pandemic across South Asia. While some countries are already experiencing a second and more serious wave, some are still reeling under the first wave. Bhutan and Sri Lanka have been able to curb the spread of the virus. Cases in Bangladesh and Pakistan increased after a respite. However, in India, Maldives, and Nepal, the number of cases is still on the rise.

Second, the temporary fiscal stimulus relief. For now, the countries have controlled the pandemic's impact on the economy through fiscal stimulus packages. The central banks have eased interest rates to keep the credit line functioning. However, a more comprehensive approach needs to be adopted. Otherwise, the economies will be bound by rising fiscal deficits and falling revenues.

Third, the limitations of digital economies. Around three-quarters of the region work in the informal sector. While the formal sector transitioned easily into remote working spaces, the informal sector was largely isolated due to lack of education, awareness, and access. Countries like Pakistan and India push for digital economies without comprehending the reality on the ground.

What does it mean?
The COVID-19 has highlighted the fragile health sector in the region and the need to allocate more funds to augment the same. While the development versus defence debates are witnessed every year, the pandemic has brought out the need for a balanced budget allocation between service sectors like education and health. On an average, South Asian only spend 3.4 per cent of their GDP on healthcare. 

The pandemic has also highlighted that countries need to look beyond their geopolitical differences and hold dialogues on issues related to health, environment, and the like. Though SAARC has failed to materialize into a substantial platform, now may be the time to rise to the occasion. India created a SAARC COVID-19 fund recently, but governments are yet to decide on the operations. However, given the history of SAARC's operations, it is doubtful that the countries, especially India and Pakistan, will see eye to eye.

Europe and Saudi Arabia: Lambasting Riyadh's human rights record, the EU to cut its presence in the G20 Summit 

What happened? 
On 8 October, the European Parliament voted to downgrade European Union's attendance at the G20 summit over human rights concerns of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is to host the next summit in November. 

The human rights violations by Saudi Arabia listed in the resolution include the following: the plight of Ethiopian migrants detained in Saudi prisons; incarceration of dissident blogger Raif Badawi; and curbing of women's rights campaigner Loujain al-Hathloul. 

The European Parliament passed a wide-ranging resolution in the pretext that the reduced presence by key EU countries will be, as vice-chair of the delegation for the relations with Arab Peninsula Marc Tarabella said, to "avoid legitimizing impunity for human rights violations and ongoing illegal and arbitrary detentions in Saudi Arabia." 

Once the resolution is heeded by the commission, it would imply that European Commission President and the President of the European Council will not attend the summit. The joint resolution was written by MEPs from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group, the Renew Europe group, and the Greens–European Free Alliance. 

What is the background? 
First, the death anniversary of Khashoggi as the trigger. The resolution coincides with the second anniversary of the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It sends out a "strong political message" to the kingdom from the EU bloc. The resolution also called for the EU-targeted sanctions on Saudi Arabia's responsible for Khashoggi's murder and highlighted the 'arbitrary' detention of multiple royal family members. EU's assertive condemnation of human rights violations, has recently, ranged from countries like China to Turkey and now Saudi Arabia. 

Second, Europe's attempt to form a coherent Middle East strategy, as the US retreats from the region. The EU, led by Germany and France has sought to take control of Europe's strategy towards the region. Since the G7 meeting, the EU has understood that they cannot rely on the US. Hence, the EU's stance has contrasted with the US when it comes to the Middle East, especially Iran and Turkey. The US imposed sanctions on Iran's financial sector on 8 October, but the European allies have vehemently warned the move would limit Tehran's ability to purchase humanitarian imports amid a worsening currency crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. 

Third, Europe amidst Turkey and Russia's calculated footprints in the Middle East. Russian and Turkish footprints have deepened in the MENA region, as crises pile up from Libya to Azerbaijan. This has made it imperative for the EU to have its own Middle East policy. The recent tussle with Turkey in the East Mediterranean has also exposed divisions between France, Germany, Italy, and the EU. In this, the resolution could be seen as one concerted effort by the bloc in a long time towards the region. 

Fourth, G20 and Saudi Arabia. As a full member of the G-20, the EU is a major economic power at the table along with three of its member states – Germany, France, and Italy. A decision to downgrade their representation would be an embarrassment for Riyadh as Saudi has sought to advocate the summit as key to its international diplomacy. The development follows a move by the mayors of major world cities, including New York, to boycott a G-20-related virtual conference hosted by Riyadh last month also over human rights concerns. The summit was meant to showcase the ambitious modernization drive of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose international reputation has been tarnished by Khashoggi's murder and its role in the conflict in Yemen.

What does it mean? 
The resolution, once heeded by the Commission will definitely look to provide an institutional stand against Saudi Arabia and with it the Middle East policy. What lies ahead for the EU in the Middle East is hardening to its stance, which will be quite different from the US. The EU has solely dependent on individual countries' bilateral policies and taken time to react to Turkey or the crisis in Belarus. 

This resolution could be one of the opportunities for the bloc to have a more-than-rhetoric strategy in the Middle East, starting with Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

Also in the news…

by Harini Madhusudan and Rashmi Ramesh

East Asia and Southeast Asia This Week 

China: Economic trends from China's National Day holiday week 
During China's eight-day national holiday, nearly 0.64 billion tourists were recorded to have travelled across China. The total income from domestic tourism during these days totalled 466 billion yuan, approximately 69.9 per cent of the figures from 2019. These numbers are a positive sign to the tourism industry and its allied industries' economic recovery in China. Economic expenditure was also observed in the increase in online shopping, electricity consumption, automobile sales, and retail sales.  

Indonesia: Protests over the new controversial labour legislation
On 8 October, the Indonesian police arrested 400 people during the protests in Jakarta against the new jobs-creation law. Critics of the legislation, locally known as the "omnibus law," believe that it undermines the rights of the workers, it scraps some labour rights, indigenous community rights and environmental protections. They also complain the legislation was rushed through parliament without consultation with unions. Up to 60 demonstrators and six police officers were injured during the three-day demonstrations near the Presidential Palace. 

India-Myanmar: Foreign Secretary and Army Chief pay two-day visit to Myanmar 
During 4-5 October, the foreign secretary and the Indian army chief visited Myanmar. While the discussions focused on the maintenance of security and stability in the border regions, as a symbolic gesture, during the meeting with Suu Kyi, India handed over 3000 vials of Remdesivir to the State Counsellor, highlighting India's commitment to assist Myanmar in its fight against the pandemic. The visit concluded with a commitment to expand ties in the areas of connectivity, defence and security.

South Asia This Week
Afghanistan: Dr Abdullah Abdullah visits India

On 8 October, the Chairperson of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah met PM Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. On 9 October, he held talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. The talks revolved around the ongoing peace process in Afghanistan, the intra-Afghan talks held in Doha, regional developments and bilateral relations. PM Modi welcomed the peace process and reiterated India's stance for a democratic and peaceful Afghanistan. Dr Abdullah hailed India's role in development and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan. 

India: Chinese embassy sends a note to journalists on Taiwan special event
On 7 October, the Chinese Embassy mailed 250 journalists, asking them not to refer to Taiwan as a separate country or a nation, when they cover the event organized by the Taipei Economy and Cultural Centre, New Delhi. The event held on 10 October, marked the 109th anniversary of Taiwan National Day. The MEA responded to the note and reiterated that "there is a free media in India, that reports on issues that they see fit." Meanwhile, posters wishing Taiwan, put up near the Chinese Embassy were removed. 

India and Japan: Cooperation in AI and 5G technology
On 7 October, India and Japan finalized the text of a cybersecurity agreement that will promote technological cooperation in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, and the 5G network. Following the 13th India-Japan Foreign Ministers' Strategic Dialogue in Tokyo, the two sides welcomed the finalization of the agreement. According to a MEA statement: "agreement promotes cooperation in capacity building, research and development, security and resilience in the areas of Critical Information Infrastructure." 

Sri Lanka: High-level Chinese delegation meets the Rajapaksas
On 9 October, the Chinese delegation led by a senior member of Communist Party of China's Politburo and the director of the Central Committee's Foreign Affairs Commission met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo. The Prime Minister's Office stated that both sides agreed to recommence the negotiations on the Sri Lanka-China Free Trade Agreement, complete the Hambantota Industrial Zone and the Port City in Colombo.  President appreciated the 'Chinese model of development' and vowed to usher in a similar kind of development model in Sri Lanka, particularly in rural areas. He refuted the 'debt-trap' theory that has defined Sri Lanka-China relations in recent times and sought Beijing's help in improving the living standards in Sri Lanka. 

Bangladesh and China: Marking 45 years of diplomatic relations
On 4 October, Bangladesh and China marked 45 years of their diplomatic ties. On this occasion, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Bangladesh counterpart Mohammad Abdul Hamid exchanged messages highlighting the importance of this relation. Xi Jinping said that China would stand with Bangladesh, promote their strategic partnership and take forward the projects under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Central Asia, West Asia and Africa This Week 
Kyrgyzstan: Protests against the leadership, PM replaced 

On 7 October, large crowds gathered in Bishkek demanding the impeachment of Kyrgyzstan's President Sooronbai Jeenbekov. The protesters annulled the election results and replaced the Prime Minister with the former Prime Minister, after breaking him and several prominent politicians out of prison. Earlier, opposition groups had also seized the parliament and accused the election victory to mass vote-buying. On 10 October, the former President who had been released by the protesters, was re-arrested by the security forces. 

Nagorno-Karabakh: Ceasefire takes effect; accusations of new attacks
On 10 October, after nearly two weeks of bitter clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, moderated by Moscow, a ceasefire has been put in effect. Less than an hour into the truce, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces accused each other of bombing the civilian areas. More than 300 people have lost lives since the clashes erupted. 

Iran: The US imposes sanctions on Iran's finance sector
On 8 October, the US placed fresh sanctions on 18 banks in Iran, indicating a target of the financial sector that would choke Iranian revenues. The sanctions freeze any US assets held by these entities and bars American institutions from dealing with them. It also extends secondary sanctions towards those that do businesses with these banks. Iranian foreign minister has accused the US against the timing of the sanctions stating that it would affect Iran's ability to pay for basic necessities during the pandemic.

Mali: coup leaders release former PM and other hostages
On 9 October, as part of a prisoner swap for over 100 jihadists who are believed to be a part of al-Qaeda, four prominent people who were abducted and detained in Mali were released. This includes a 75-year-old French charity worker abducted in 2016 and the former Malian opposition leader abducted in March 2020 and two Italian tourists who were captured in 2018. For years now, the Malian government has not been able to regain full control of the north, and the leadership in Mali has not disclosed how it has been able to free the hostages.  

Europe and the Americas This Week 
Nobel Peace Prize for the World Food Program

On 9 October, the World Food Program was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for combating hunger and feeding millions across the globe. The Nobel committee noted that the WFP was honoured for its efforts to ensure food security in conflict-ridden regions, and "for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict."  In a time when the pandemic has pushed millions more into the trap of poverty and hunger, and the "largest humanitarian crisis" unfolding in Yemen, WFP being awarded reminds the world of the herculean-scale crisis. 

Germany: Declaration draft over rights violation in China
On 6 October, 39 countries led by Germany presented a declaration draft at the UN General Assembly in New York, over human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet Autonomous Region and for curbing rights and freedom in Hong Kong. Germany drafted the declaration, and predominantly western countries supported it and denounced China for gross violations.

China's ambassador to the UN opposed interference in the country's internal affairs and responded by saying that the accusations were baseless. Russia, Pakistan, Cuba, Venezuela and some countries from the Arab world and Africa have supported China's position.

EU: Talks on a new migration pact
On 8 October, EU governments began talks on a new migration pact, proposing changes to the migration rules. Germany, the chair for the talks said that the pact might be finalized by December. The scheme was proposed by the European Commission in September, where the EU countries would be obliged to assist one another by accepting migrants, sponsoring their return to their respective countries of origin and offering material assistance on arrival. 

The US and Russia on a new framework to freeze the nuclear warhead stockpiles
On 5 October 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal, the US and Russian negotiators were reported to have made progress "on a new framework accord that would freeze each side's nuclear arsenal and outline the parameters for a detailed treaty that would be negotiated next year." The WSJ also writes: "The accord, if it comes together in the coming month, would give each side something it has sought. President Trump would have a demonstration that his diplomacy toward Moscow has borne fruit, arriving before the November election. Russia would get an extension of the New START treaty, which cuts long-range arms and is due to expire in early February.". 

The US Vice Presidential Debate 
On 7 October, the vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris was concluded with Nielsen data showing a record 57 million people watching, 20 million larger than the numbers from 2016. The debate showed sharp contrasts between the two parties' agendas for the economy, health care and other pressing issues. Coronavirus remained the highlight of the debate, and while Pence placed his arguments on the economic plans of the Democratic Party, and Harris was seen talking more on the BLM and Trump's failures. Both Pence and Harris seemed more composed than the debate between Trump and Biden, but the two failed to provide answers to the questions by the moderator. 


About the Authors

Minhaj Khan is a PhD Scholar with the Centre for East Asia Studies, JNU. Apoorva Sudhakar is a Research Assistant and Sourina Bej is a Project Associate at NIAS. 

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