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CWA # 445, 28 March 2021
The World This Week #112, Vol. 3, No. 13
The World This Week #112, Vol. 3, No. 13
Sourina Bej, Jeshil J Samuel and Avishka Ashok
India-Bangladesh: Modi visits Dhaka, to reboot 50 years of bilateral relations
On 26 March, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his first bilateral visit since the pandemic, met his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka. The visit was to mark the 50th anniversary of the bilateral relationship between the two countries, which coincides with the 100th year birthday celebration of 'Bangabandhu' Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Five MoU's were signed in connectivity, energy, trade, health, and developmental cooperation. As a humanitarian gesture, Modi gave Hasina a representational key of 109 ambulances and a representational box of India's 1.2 million COVID vaccine doses to Bangladesh. In return, Hasina presented to Modi a gold and a silver coin released on the occasion of the birth centenary of her father. She also presented a silver coin released on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence. Modi also visited Bangabandhu's grave and became the only leader to do so.
What is the background?
First, India's neighbourhood first policy with Bangladesh as its 'pillar.' In the past 50 years, the relationship with Bangladesh has been a steady core for India's neighbourhood first policy. In 2020, India had sought to reset its neighbourhood policy through vaccine diplomacy, and Bangladesh became the largest recipient of India's coronavirus vaccine (about 9 million vials). Connectivity serves the second area of cooperation between the two, including the inauguration of the Tripura-Chittagong Maitri Setu over river Feni this month and the restoration of the five pre-1965 war rail lines such as the trans-boundary line from Haldibari to Chilahati. The building of ports on Mongla to an intra-riverine network channelizing the Bengal Sunderban delta is also futuristic progress in the bilateral relationship.
Second, India's relation with the Awami league as continuity in partnership. Bangladesh is the biggest trading partner with over three lines of credit totalling 8 billion dollars from India. The relationship has been cemented through several high-level visits, such as in the past year where both the Indian foreign secretary and foreign minister visited Dhaka. In her every visit, Hasina had paid personal trips to late Pranab Mukherjee with Padma hilsa and Rajshahi silk saree for late Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj.
Third, deep irritants irrespective of the bonhomie. In Bangladesh, anti-Modi protests have gained ground over India's passing of citizenship law that could deregister millions who lived in India post-1971 on religious grounds. Provocative comments from Indian ministers and the stranding of the Bangladeshis of Tablighi Jamaat sect during the pandemic in India have cost the trust where many Bangladeshi ministers, including the foreign minister, have ostensibly cancelled visits to India. 2020 also had high border killings, including the lynching of infiltrators or cattle smugglers. India has consistently raised the issue of attacks on the Hindu minorities with Bangladesh. And currently, Modi's prayers at the Jeshoreshwari temple, amid anti-Hindu violence in Sylhet, have added to the constraints giving the relation a religious fervour. Lastly, the failure to sign the Teesta water agreement remains another area of mistrust.
What does it mean?
The 50 years provide the scope for both countries to observe past precedents and set a futuristic tone in the relation. However, the relation has challenges to be wary of. First, treading the intersection of domestic politics in bilateral relation. Modi's current visit to the birthplace of the Hindu Dalit mystic figure of the Matua community could be construed as an unnecessary politicization of a domestic electoral emotive issue while undertaking a diplomatic visit. Setting a dangerous precedent of adding a religious narrative to foreign policy could beget backlash where people-to-people ethnoreligious ties run deep. Second, a spillover in border tension and future deals such as on water, which has been a long-standing dispute between India and Bangladesh.
Israel: Fourth Election in two years, but the stalemate continues
On 23 March, Israel held its fourth parliamentary election in two years. The election was conducted after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government collapsed.
On the same day, Palestinian militants fired rockets at Beersheba moments after PM Netanyahu visited the city. The Israeli army responded with overnight aerial strikes targeting areas controlled by Gaza's Hamas Islamist rulers.
On 25 March, Israel's election commission announced the election results. The pro-Netanyahu bloc had won 52 seats, and the anti-Netanyahu bloc had won 57 seats out of 120 seats. The Likud party led with 30 seats, followed by the Yesh Atid party with 17 seats. Thus, the election has ended in a stalemate between both blocs since neither side has the required majority of 61 seats.
What is the background?
First, the continuing political stalemate. Since April 2019, Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud Party) and Benny Gantz (Blue and White Party) have failed to maintain a working coalition. Despite an agreement to switch powers after 18 months, PM Netanyahu denied Gantz, the leadership. Since its inception, the Knesset (Israel's legislature) has been mostly governed by coalition governments consisting of two or more parties. The problem within the coalition governments has been the primary issue for the stalemate.
Second, Netanyahu's survival strategy. Netanyahu has been the Prime Minister of Israel for the past 12 years, making him the longest-standing PM. Despite facing opposition throughout his tenure, Netanyahu has always found a way to stay in power. He has used the legal system to validate his tenure. Even when faced with charges of corruption and bribery, Netanyahu was safeguarded by the legislature, which allowed him to remain in power. He had also pulled out support from coalition governments when his authority was challenged, knowing that re-election would end in a stalemate. This is one of the main reasons why Israelis have had to vote four times in the past two years.
Third, a divided opposition. Despite the opposing parties having won 57 seats in the recent elections and sharing the common goal of ending PM Netanyahu's tenure, they remain ineffective. Most of the opposition is highly diverse and comes from varying sides of the political spectrum. The chance for them to form a coalition is less than Netanyahu forming alliances with other rightist and orthodox parties to prove his majority.
What does this mean?
First, the ideological divide between the political parties has led to weak coalitions and has also impacted governance. If Israel is to recover from its economic slowdown due to the pandemic, then a stable government is essential.
Second, the uninterrupted reign of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu and the Likud party seem to have made it clear that they intend to stay in power. He has used successive parliamentary elections as buffers to retain his political power. His support within the Israeli bureaucracy is still favourable and would continue to save him from allegations and criminal charges.
Third, the possibility of a fifth election. If neither of the blocs proves their majority, then Israeli citizens could be called to vote for the fifth time in two years.
North Korea: New missile tests make a statement to the US
On 26 March, North Korea announced that it test-fired two ballistic missiles on 25 March after almost a year of passivity. The Korean Central News Agency of North Korea said: "The newly developed new-type tactical guided projectile is a weapon system whose warhead weight has been improved to be 2.5 tons with the use of the core technology of tactical guided projectile that was already developed."
On 26 March, South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed concerns and disappointment with North Korea testing the missiles despite their continuous efforts for restarting dialogues with North Korea. He said: "Now is the time for South and North Korea and the US to ramp up efforts to continue talks. Any action that hampers the efforts is undesirable."
On the same day, US President Joe Biden said the US would respond appropriately if North Korea continues to escalate tensions, but it would still push for diplomacy. He said: "We are consulting with our allies and partners, and there will be responses if they choose to escalate." The Vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party in North Korea criticized Biden's comments, calling it an exercise of self-defence while warning the US of unpleasant reactions if such remarks continued.
What is the background?
First, the timing of the tests, amidst a US re-entry in East Asia. North Korea's missile tests come soon after the US officials visit Japan and South Korea. The Defense Secretary and Secretary of State of the United States chose Japan as their first cabinet-level foreign visit and visited South Korea for the first time since 2016. The Defense Secretary also visited India, who is a member of the QUAD. On 12 March, the US President reinforced the idea of free and open Indo-Pacific and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. These actions signify a definite return of the US in East Asia, which is substantially affected by North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Second, Kim Jong-un's relations with the US Democrats. When Kim Jong-un became the Supreme Leader of North Korea in 2011, Democrats were in power in the United States under Barack Obama, who chose an aggressive North Korea approach. The Obama administration, unsuccessfully, tried to bring Kim to the negotiation table by imposing sanctions. When Donald Trump came to power, he succeeded in appeasing the North Korean regime; however, the talks could not continue. North Korea never had good relations with the Democrats. Now with the recent tests, the relation may worsen.
Third, North Korea's missile technology trajectory. North Korea has tested over 147 ballistic missile and six nuclear missiles since 1984. The last ICBM test took place in 2019. The missile technology has gradually improved to include nuclear payloads and short-range solid-fuel warheads. These tests pose a direct threat to South Korea, Japan and the US.
What does it mean?
How would North Korea respond to the Biden administration has been a critical question. Should the missile tests be seen as Pyongyang making a statement? North Korea's actions signify that denuclearization, which the US has been pushing for, is non-negotiable.
North Korea will continue to develop nuclear and missile technology despite UN and US sanctions. The tests will also determine US' approach towards North Korea under the Biden administration.
Also in the news...
By Avishka Ashok
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Russian Foreign Minister visits Beijing amid sanctions from the West
On 22 March, the Russian foreign minister met with his Chinese counterpart in Nanning city of China. On 23 March, the two officials reaffirmed their strong relations while rejecting international criticism on human rights violation within their authoritative political systems. Russian minister accused the US of interfering in the affairs of foreign countries and denounced the combined sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region.
China: Government bans ten British organizations and individuals
On 26 March, the Chinese government imposed sanctions on ten British organizations and individuals for spreading lies and disinformation about China. On 22 March, the UK imposed a ban on four Chinese officials in the Xinjiang region for violating the human rights of the Uighurs. The Chinese ban on the ten individuals prevents them from travelling to China and freezes their assets in China. It is seen as a reaction to the UK's sanctions.
China: Turkish citizens protest and extend support for Uighurs
On 25 March, the Chinese Foreign Minister visited Turkey and met with his counterpart and the President in Istanbul. Thousands of protestors gathered in the capital city and protests against China's policies in Xinjiang. The crowd shouted "Dictator China" and "Stop Uighur genocide, close the camps" while waving blue and white flags that depict East Turkestan's Independence movement.
North Korea: UN adopts resolution for 19th consecutive year
On 23 March, the United Nations held its 46th session in Geneva, where it adopted a resolution by consensus. This is the 19th consecutive year the UN has adopted the resolution against the country. The resolution was co-sponsored by 43 countries, including the US, EU, Japan and Australia co-sponsored the resolution while South Korea refrained from co-sponsoring. South Korean President Moon Jae-in confirmed that the country would support the consensus for the resolution but would refrain from co-sponsoring it.
Myanmar: Military regime violently reacts to protestors on Armed Forces day
On 27 March, as the military regime celebrated Armed Forces day, over 114 protestors were killed in a brutal crackdown by the military. The total number of fatalities in the protests in Myanmar crossed 414, with an increasing number of teenagers and younger generations being targetted by the military. The violent clampdown of protests drew strong criticism from the West. The US envoy called the event horrifying, while the British Ambassador said that the "security forces had disgraced themselves."
Thailand: Protestors renew calls for the resignation of Prime Minister
On 24 March, thousands of Thai protestors assembled in Bangkok in a renewed attempt to demand the release of political leaders and called for reforms to the monarchy. Despite the intensifying legal offensive against protests, the people gathered in huge numbers to call for Prayut Chan-o-cha's resignation. The police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, which injured numerous people and led to the detainment of many more.
South Asia This Week
India: 'Double mutant' strain found in Maharashtra
On 24 March, India reported the highest number of cases since November 2020, with over 47,262 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours. The number of deaths also reached the highest in 2021, with 275 deaths on the same day. The National Centre for Disease Control also announced the discovery of a new mutation of the virus. The 'double mutant' refers to a variant that has the characteristics of two previously identified variants. The newly discovered mutation was found in more than 20 per cent samples or 200 samples in Nagpur.
India: Pakistani delegation in Delhi for talks on Indus Waters Treaty
On 23 March, in New Delhi, India held discussions with the Pakistani Indus Commissioner, Syed Muhammad Meher Ali Shah, to discuss issues under the IWT. In the meeting, Pakistan's objections to India's design of Indian hydropower projects were discussed. The talks were being conducted as a part of the annual permanent Indus Commission meeting; this time, the meeting was held after two years.
Pakistan: The IMF approves USD 500 m disbursement
On 24 March, the International Monetary Fund approved a USD 500 million pay-out to Pakistan for budget support after the delayed reviews of Pakistan's USD six billion loan program. Since 2019, the latest payments brought the total pay-outs to USD 2 billion. The IMF Deputy Managing Director said, "the Pakistani authorities have continued to make satisfactory progress under the Fund-supported program, which has been an important policy anchor during an unprecedented period."
Afghanistan: Foreign Minister visits India
On 22 March, the foreign minister of Afghanistan arrived in India for an official three-day visit. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the Afghan peace process with India and comes as a reaction to the US visit to Afghanistan. He also held meetings with former ambassadors of Afghanistan, the Afghan diaspora in India and the Afghan businessmen.
Sri Lanka: Indian fishermen released after arrests
On 27 March, Indian officials confirmed that all 54 fishermen arrested for poaching by Sri Lanka were released. On 24 March, the fishermen were detained along with their trawlers for having entered Sri Lanka's territorial waters for fishing. The Sri Lanka Navy also seized their boats. Indian High Commissioner urged the country to treat the fishermen's issue in a humanitarian way and promised to provide consular assistance.
Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa This Week
Armenia: Parliament lifts martial law
On 24 March, the Armenian Parliament lifted the martial law introduced in September due to the war with Azerbaijan. The decision to remove the martial law was approved by Parliament 118 to one, with one abstention. The removal of the law is also part of an agreement between Prime Minister Pashinyan and the opposition to diffuse the tension among protestors. The Prime Minister has also announced early elections in June.
Egypt: Massive cargo carrier blocks Suez Canal
On 24 March, a massive cargo container Ship sailing under a Panamanian flag bound for the Netherlands from China ran aground on the Suez Canal due to heavy winds and lack of visibility. As of Sunday, the canal remains blocked for five days in a row, leading to loss of trade and commerce. Over 300 vessels are stuck in the canal and are waiting.
Oman: UN envoy holds talks with the Houthis
On 26 March, Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy to Yemen, held a meeting with the spokesperson for the Houthi group, Muhammad Abdul Salam. They discussed "the urgent need to agree to open Sanaa airport, ease restrictions on the ports of Hodeidah, enter into a ceasefire throughout the country, and resume political dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations in preparation for a lasting peace." Griffiths also announced that he visited the Sultanate of Oman to continue mediation in Yemen and the resumption of the political process in the war-ravaged country.
Mozambique: Islamist militants attack town after Total announces resumption of operations
On 24 March, Islamist militants stormed into the town of Palma, displacing over 200 people. Several people lost their lives in the raids. On 26 March, over 80 people were forcibly taken from the hotel they were seeking refuge in while another 100 were ferried from a military barrack. Several foreign nationalities, employed by gas and energy companies like Total, lost their lives in the violent attack.
Libya: France to reopen embassy after seven years
On 23 March, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France would reopen its embassy in Tripoli after seven years. The Unity Government of Libya, led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid, got control of the country after ten years of chaos and violence. President Macron said, "We will do everything that is in our power to defend this sovereignty and stability agenda." The embassy is set to reopen on 29 March.
Ethiopia: UN and Ethiopia Rights Agency to jointly investigate a violation of rights in Tigray
On 26 March, the United Nations and an Ethiopian Rights Agency will work together to probe into the abuse of power in the Tigray region. The government body for human rights and the UN organ together said that the investigation was "part of the much-needed accountability process." On 23 March, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted to Eritrean soldiers' involvement in the Tigray region for the first time. He also agreed that a few incidents of rape and torture had taken place during the war.
Europe and the Americas This Week
The US: US Ambassador announces aid for Palestine
On 26 March, the US Ambassador to UN Security Council announced that the country would provide Palestinians with aid to help fight the pandemic. She clarified that the US agency's funds would be used to provide support to Catholic Relief Services and for vulnerable families in the West Bank and Gaza. She also explained that the funds would be used to fund emergency food aid to the communities.
The US: Secretary of State visits NATO HQ
On 23 March, The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, arrived in Brussels, Belgium and met his European counterparts. Over the two days of meetings and discussions, the officials focused on China, Russia, Iran's nuclear deal and troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan. On 24 March, Blinken clarified that US' allies would not be forced to choose between them and China.
Brazil: Supreme Court defends former president Lula
On 23 March, the Supreme Court of Brazil ruled that the ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was treated with a bias in 2017 while convicting him of corruption. The ruling now gives Lula a chance for a political comeback. The ruling in favour of Lula came when Justice Carmen Lucia changed her mind at the last minute, giving the politician a second chance at politics.
Paraguay: Chinese vaccines tied to ditching Taiwan
On 22 March, the Interior Minister of Paraguay revealed that sources not connected to the Chinese government were forcing them into breaking ties with Taiwan in return for vaccines. In response, she said, "We are not going to accept them telling us, 'We sell the vaccines, but they break relations with Taiwan.'" Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson has said that she was unaware of the allegations and that China was always honourable with its offers for vaccines.
About the authors
Jeshil Samuel J is pursuing his Masters in International Studies at Christ University, and Avishka Ashok is a research assistant at the school of conflict and security studied at the National Institute of Advanced Studies.
V S Ramamurthy and Dinesh K Srivastava
Abigail Miriam Fernandez