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CWA # 464, 2 May 2021
The World This Week #117, Vol. 3, No. 18
The World This Week #117, Vol. 3, No. 18
D Suba Chandran and Avishka Ashok
The US: Hundred days of President Biden
On 29 April 2021, Joseph R Biden completes 100 days in office as the US president. He was sworn in as the 46th President on 20 January 2021, after a difficult campaign.
Earlier, on 28 April, he addressed the US Congress for the first time, as the President. In his address, he said: "America is moving. Moving forward. And we can't stop now… We're in a great inflection point in history. We have to do more than just build back. We have to build back better."
What is the background?
First, the focus on hundred days. Though many would consider 100 days as a short period to analyze/critique the achievements/challenges of any government, this has been a tradition in the US. Since the days of Franklin D Roosevelt, the US has always been analyzing the performance of the new President in terms of focus, number of bills passed and its effectiveness, who was appointed as a part of the President's team, their background and their utility, and what has been the primary international focus. Each President had their own immediate priorities to focus on – internal and external – ranging from the domestic economy to foreign policy challenges. For Biden, there was an additional challenge – COVID 19 and its fallouts on the US.
Second, Biden's scorecard in the first hundred days as the President. Internally, Biden had to first deal with the legal and political challenges emanating from Trump's refusal to accept the 2019 election result and the latter's poisonous narrative that the election was stolen. Besides, Biden had to address the economic decline, coupled with COVID-19 fallouts. He announced the bill immediately after becoming the President and succeeded in pushing the ambitious bill with USD 1.9 trillion to pass in the US Congress. The bill, now a law, aims to provide benefits for the jobless, direct payments to Americans, infuse funds for the state and local governments, and importantly, address the COVID-19 pandemic. Later in March, he has introduced another plan for USD two trillion to boost the US infrastructure, create jobs, and provide home care. While the first one was aimed at being a rescue plan, the second one is a long term strategy to strengthen the American economy. Finally, within the US, Biden also had to deal with the racial divide; it was an unfortunate coincidence. His first hundred days also witnessed the George Floyd murder trial, and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Fortunately, the murder trial resulted in the jury finding police office Derek Chauvin guilty, and Biden made a few positive statements aimed at healing the racial divide.
Third, Biden, the builder vs Trump, the destroyer at the international level. The first thing that Biden did immediately after entering the office is to get the US back into climate change negotiations. President Trump announced in 2017 to withdraw from the Paris agreement; however, Biden made climate change his priority, announced the US' return, and made John Kerry the US Special Envoy on Climate Change. He also hosted the Climate action conference in April 2021. Besides the climate change agreement, the Biden administration is also looking towards engaging with Iran on the JCPOA. On Indo-Pacific and in building trans-Atlantic partnership, initial statements from Biden has been positive so far.
Fourth, the challenges – immediate and long term, while discussing the first hundred days. China and Russia pose two big challenges to Biden; his first hundred days have not given a clear road map on how he is likely to pursue these two relationships. On Afghanistan, he has made a bold statement on the complete withdrawal of the American troops before 11 September 2021. In the Middle East, from Syria to Yemen, the regional situation is not easy for Biden to address.
What does it mean?
First the intent, irrespective of the challenges. Biden's first hundred days provide a positive intent – both internally and externally. It may still be early to make a finite argument, but the intent should hint at a positive momentum for the US under Biden.
Second, his initial responses so far, hint at the return of the US to take the global leadership and fulfil its responsibility, as against Trump's withdrawal plans to make the US great again.
Three years after inter-Korean talks
On 27 April, South Korea and North Korea marked three years of the inter-Korean summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. For the first time in three years, the South Korean government did not hold an official event to celebrate the anniversary of the first summit. The Unification Ministry cited COVID-19 as the reason for not allowing an official ceremony.
On 29 April, the Unification Minister emphasized the significance of the South Korea-US summit to revive talks with North Korea on the stalled peace process.
What is the background?
First, failed promises of the 2018 summit. The Panmunjom Declaration was the first document signed by the two leaders and the first meeting held in 11 years. Both countries pledged to the efforts of complete denuclearization, work towards reunification and officially bringing an end to the Korean war of 1950-53. However, it has been three years since the first meeting, and the delegations have met thrice, but the objectives of the summit are far from being achieved.
Second, reasons for the failure of talks. The obstacles in achieving the goals of the Panmunjom Declaration is directly related to the deadlock in nuclear diplomacy. Even though North Korea agreed to denuclearization three years ago, the country continued developing and maintaining its nuclear facilities after the failure of talks with the US in Hanoi in 2019. Kim Jong-un revealed in the 8th Party Congress that denuclearization would not be an agenda for discussion in any talks with the US or any other country.
Another issue is the differential idea of denuclearization. When the US pushes for complete denuclearization, it refers to a complete dismantling of nuclear facilities, regular inspections of nuclear sites and re-entering the Non-Proliferation Treaty. While this was being considered initially, the term for North Korea meant that the US would remove all nuclear warheads and protection from South Korea and Japan. This continues to be an area of contention as the US cannot withdraw its policy of protection from the Korean Peninsula.
Third, the threat posed by North Korea. North Korea's nuclear plans pose a threat to countries like South Korea, Japan and the US. The atmosphere of mistrust is created partly due to North Korea's incessant missile tests that land miles away from these territories and the country's lack of flexibility in matters of diplomacy. Despite multiple civil society initiatives undertaken by the South Korean government and the people, the relationship between the two countries has become substantially colder. The Moon Jae-in government adopted a softer approach towards North Korea and even introduced an Anti-Pyongyang leaflet ban. Nevertheless, North Korea's stance on inter-Korean relations remains unchanged.
What does this mean?
The major issue that keeps the countries from cooperating with each other is trust. Yet, when the problem involves nuclear missiles, one cannot help but be suspicious of all players in the game.
The Korean war has failed to come to an end due to the lack of a ceasefire which means that the two countries are essentially at war. The goals of reunification seem unrealistic as neither country portrays actions that speak of such a goal. Moreover, the only kind of reunification that is feasible in the country is the peaceful co-existence of the two Koreas, separate from each other's values and cultures which have drifted apart in the past decades.
Also, in the news …
By Avishka Ashok
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: The first module for new space station launched in Wenchang
On 29 April, China launched the first module of its space station, the Tianhe core module, which aims to deploy a permanent human presence in space. The module includes a life support mechanism, a living space for astronauts and ten more similar missions assembled by 2022. President Xi Jinping also delivered a congratulatory speech, calling the mission "a key step in building a great nation of science and technology".
Hong Kong: Four activists convicted in court
On 30 April, a court in Hong Kong convicted four pro-democracy activists after pleading guilty to the charges at the trial. The four, part of a larger group, are facing charges for participating in a memorial ceremony remembering the Tiananmen Square massacre victims on 4 June 2020. They will be awarded a sentence in the coming week. According to the Hong Kong authorities, permission for the 4 June memorial event had been refused to prevent the spread of the pandemic
Japan: Government lodges protest against China's Ministry of Natural Resources
On 26 April, China's Ministry of Natural resources posted topographical maps of its territory, including three islands that belong in the Senkaku islands. The Japanese government, therefore, registered an official protest through diplomatic channels soon after the release of these maps. China claimed to have uploaded the maps on its website after basing it on recent satellite images.
Japan: Delay in vaccination drive due to shortage of manpower
On 29 April, the NHK World-Japan reported that Japan's inoculation drive for senior citizens might not end by July as targeted by the government. The major reason for the delay is the lack of medical professionals such as doctors and nurses. Local governments announced that they would be able to vaccinate the older population only by August due to the shortage of human resources. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will be meeting with the Japan Medical Association and the Japan Nursing Association to resolve the issue.
Japan: Upper house of the Diet approves involvement in RCEP
On 28 April, the upper house of the Diet approved Japan's participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The government expects the participation in the free trade agreement with the 15 Asia-Pacific economies will contribute a 2.7 per cent increase in the country's GDP with the increase in exports, investments and consumption.
Southeast Asia: Surge in COVID-19 cases
On 26 April, the Department of Health in the Philippines reported that the country marked 8,929 new coronavirus cases. On 28 April, Indonesia reported 5,241 cases and 177 deaths in the country. On 30 April, Thailand also reported 1,583 new cases and 15 deaths. Singapore also reported 399 new cases. Southeast Asia has been reporting a rise in the number of cases for the third consecutive week. As of 27 April, the total cases in the ASEAN countries reached 2,22,231.
South Asia This Week
India: Over 40 Countries offer help in fighting COVID-19 upsurge
On 27 April, the UK became the first foreign country to offer assistance to India as the country plunged deep into a medical crisis with its people suffering from a widespread shortage of oxygen and other medical facilities. Soon after UK's offer for help, Russia, France, the US, and China also offered their assistance. Over 40 countries have come together to supply 550 oxygen generating plants, 4,000 oxygen concentrators, 10,000 oxygen cylinders and 17 cryogenic oxygen tankers. The UAE and Russia have also pledged to provide the country with 4,50,000 doses of Remdesivir and 3,00,000 doses of Favipiravir. On 1 May, India reported 4,01,993 new infections and 3,498 deaths.
India: Launch of Supply Chain Resilience Initiative with Japan and Australia
On 28 April, China expressed its discontent against the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) launched by India, Japan and Australia. The initiative was launched virtually by the three countries to augment the efficiency and develop dependable sources and attract investments in the Indo-Pacific region. The media, however, speculates it to be a tactic to counter China's influence in the international market. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson claimed that shifting of industrial chains would disturb the global supply chain.
Sri Lanka: Chinese Defense Minister visits to discuss bilateral relations
On 27 April, China's Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe, accompanied by a high-level delegation, reached Sri Lanka for a two-day visit. On 28 April, Gen. Fenghe held a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The delegation from China and Sri Lanka discussed their bilateral ties, defence cooperation and economic recovery in a pandemic-ridden world. The Prime Minister took to Twitter to thank China for helping the country deal with the spread of COVID-19. He tweeted: "I conveyed my gratitude to the Govt. of China for the generous donation of Sinopharm vaccines & PPE kits since the outbreak of the #COVID19 pandemic."
Sri Lanka: Cabinet approves ban on face coverings
On 27 April, the Cabinet approved a proposal to ban all face coverings in public places. The ban was proposed soon after the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka. The Cabinet spokesperson referred to the decision and said, "All forms of face covers are a threat to national security". The proposal is yet to receive the Parliament's approval, after which it will be accepted as a law in the country.
South Asia: German Foreign Minister visits Pakistan and Afghanistan
On 29 April, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas held a meeting with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi wherein ensuring peace in Afghanistan was high on their agenda. Qureshi urged that the "reduction of violence" in Afghanistan should be a priority. The two leaders also discussed bilateral issues, pandemic and the Afghan peace process. Heiko also made a surprise visit to Afghanistan and promised to continue providing support as a partner for the Afghan people despite the US military withdrawal, which began on the same day.
Afghanistan: Troika members meet in Doha to discuss intra-Afghan talks
On 30 April, the representatives of the extended Troika, consisting of the US, Russia, China and Pakistan, met in Doha to discuss intra-Afghan negotiations. The participants included the host country Qatar, representatives of the Islamic Republic negotiating team and the Taliban. The countries released a joint statement that said: "We reiterate that there is no military solution in Afghanistan and a negotiated political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process is the only way forward for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan."
Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Armenia: Pashinyan resigns, triggering snap elections
On 25 April, Nikol Pashinyan resigned from the position of Prime Minister after widespread opposition against his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The resignation, although welcomed by many, has triggered an early election in the country. The resignation also comes one day after US President Joe Biden announced the Armenian massacres as a genocide orchestrated by the Ottomans in 1915.
Israel: Human Rights Watch releases report citing years of abuse and violence
On 27 April, the Human Rights Watch released a report that held Israel responsible for the crimes of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinians. The report claims that the Israeli government enforced a policy of domination over the Palestinians. The Israel and Palestine director of the group said, "This is the starkest finding Human Rights Watch has reached on Israeli conduct in the 30 years we've been documenting abuses on the ground there." The report also highlighted systematic discrimination, which was being carried out by the Israelis.
Iran: Foreign Minister holds talks in Oman
On 28 April, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrived in Muscat and held a meeting with his Omani counterpart to discuss matters related to the bilateral issues and other regional developments. Zarif is currently on a regional tour and visited Qatar and Iraq before stopping over in Oman. Iran emphasized the importance of neighbours in Iran's foreign policy during the regional trip.
JCPOA: Jake Sullivan's statements on Natanz attack
On 28 April, the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan indirectly condemned Israel's attack on the Natanz nuclear facility in April 2021. Referring to the attack, he said, "We certainly believe that there are certain kinds of activities that are unhelpful to diplomacy," and pushed for a policy of "no surprises" between the US and Israel to ensure a united front while dealing with security issues in the region.
Somalia: Members of Parliament vote to bring back indirect elections
On 1 May, over 140 Members of Parliament decided to bring back indirect elections wherein delegates chosen by clan leaders will have the power to choose the President. This style of the election was rejected last month when the Parliament decided to hold a one-person-one-vote system. This decision was met with opposition by the Senate, Prime Minister, opposition leaders and four federal states. The President pushed for the restoration of peace in the country. He said, "I also ask the opposition leaders to play their role in pacifying the country and Mogadishu, in particular, for the sake of the people, country and religion."
South Sudan: Health ministry decides to destroy 60,000 doses of vaccine
On 26 April, the Health Ministry of South Sudan announced that it would destroy 60,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines, going against the counsel of the World Health Organization. The WHO insists that the vaccine can be used up to 36 months since manufacturing and called for the country to contact the manufacturer instead of destroying a precious commodity like the COVID-19 vaccine.
Europe and The Americas This Week
The UK: Lawmakers approve trade deal between the UK and the rest of Europe
On 28 April, the lawmakers in the European Union ratified the post-Brexit deal between the EU and Britain. The final trade deal since the initiation of the Brexit trade deal five years ago has been approved by the 660 lawmakers; while five voted against and 32 abstained from voting.
Russia: Navalny's FBK and sub-branches suspended by Moscow court
On 26 April, a Russian court started investigating the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and its regional branches for extremism. The FBK, which belongs to the Russian Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, has been ordered to suspend all its activities. On 30 April, the prosecutors cited that the FBK is "engaged in creating conditions for the destabilization of the social and socio-political situation," for which they must be labelled as an extremist organization.
Brazil: Senate approves breaking patents during the pandemic
On 29 April, the Senate approved a bill that approved the temporary breaking of patents on vaccines, medicines and tests while the pandemic continues to cause widespread destruction and deaths in the country. The bill has been sent to Congress after receiving 55 votes in favour and 19 against. The bill, if passed, will provide all small producers with a temporary license to produce the vaccines locally.
Bolivia: Tax bureau collects twice the amount of expected tax
On 27 April, President Luis Arce reported that the country collected double the estimated amount of tax through the "very rich tax." The tax bureau exceeded the expectation of collected 224.1 million bolivianos from 203 millionaires. A similar tax was also enacted in Argentina and was encouraged by the UN Secretary-General.
About the Authors
D Suba Chandran is Professor and Dean and Avishka Ashok is a Research Assistant in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies.
Chetna Vinay Bhora
Udbhav Krishna P
Joeana Cera Matthews
Keerthana Rajesh Nambiar