The World This Week

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The World This Week
G7, NATO and Biden-Putin summits, and the Iran elections

  GP Team

The World This Week #124, Vol. 3, No. 2

Joeana Cera Matthews, Dhanushaa P, Dincy Adlakha and Jeshil Samuel

The US and Russia: The Geneva Summit of Biden and Putin, and an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue
What happened?
On 16 June, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin met in Geneva, Switzerland. In the post-summit press conference, Putin said: "The meeting was actually very efficient... It was aimed at achieving results and one of them was pushing back the frontiers of trust." Biden's remarks followed. He said: "The bottom line is I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by."

On the same day, the US-Russia Presidential Joint Statement on Strategic Stability was issued. It said: "The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." It also said: "Consistent with these goals, the United States and Russia will embark together on an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust. Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures."

What is the background?
First, the 'return of diplomacy'. The summit was held during one of the lowest points of US-Russia relations. Both sides consciously downplayed expectations, as there were severe differences on crucial issues between the two countries. The Crimean annexation, Ukraine crisis, cyber-attacks and internal human rights violations dominated the headlines before the summit. As a result, the summit had a limited focus on stopping the downward spiral and preferably improving the bilateral relations. It witnessed modest progress with the two leaders stating clear areas of disagreement: explaining their red lines, rules of engagement and areas of weakness. 

Second, the issues discussed. Concrete agreements include a new round of nuclear talks and the return of ambassadors to their posts. A joint statement on nuclear proliferation and a renewed bilateral strategic stability dialogue is definitely a positive takeaway. There was more than a hint of détente, despite persisting tensions regarding cyber warfare and human rights. Biden asserted cyber-attacks on US' critical infrastructure structures were off-limits. Biden also warned Putin against militarily resolving the Ukraine and Belarus disputes while cautioning that killing Navalny would lead to devastating consequences. Putin responded that the stance on Navalny would remain unchanged and backed Belarusian President Lukashenko. 

Third, a constructive approach. The tone of the dialogue, the leaders said, remained unthreatening yet constructive. Biden's approach was evidently different from his predecessor, Donald Trump. The Biden-Putin dynamic combined mutual respect and mutual scepticism rather than friendliness, which characterized the Trump-Putin meeting. Biden and Putin, in essence, tried to dwell more on the positives than the negatives. However, Putin's press statements saw him exercising whataboutisms on the BLM movement and the Capitol insurrection when questioned on the Russian human rights violations. Biden's visible frustration on questions regarding the basis of his trust on Putin 

What does it mean?
For Biden, Russia is a distraction that needs to be addressed, but China is a larger challenge. He is forging an alliance against China, a trend seen throughout his European trip. Biden's emphasis on stable relations provides a renewed opportunity for the US-Russia bilateralism.

Second, Biden's statement – 'proof of the pudding is in the eating' implies that it would take months before considering the summit a success. The ambassadors' return is a welcome outcome and will help further negotiations on the table. 

G7 Summit: Biden brings the US back to Europe
What happened? 
On 13 June, during his visit to Europe to take part in the G7 and NATO summits, the US President declared, "America is back at the table." 

On 16 June, in Geneva, Biden remarked: "They're glad America is back, and they acted that way. And then, when we went to NATO, I think it was the same thing. We had really good meetings there and real response, as well as the EU. I didn't get one single person — not one of the world leaders said to us anything other than thanking me for arranging a meeting with Putin. And I thought, quite frankly, I was in a much better position to represent the West, after the previous three meetings with Putin, that — knowing that the rest of the West was behind us."

What is the background?
First, Biden's approach towards Europe vis-à-vis Trump's. Biden has promised to bring an end to the pandemic and address climate change, which Trump did not. During his visits, Biden emphasized joint cooperation in security and defence, against Trump's idea of making America great again by withdrawing. Through his engagements with Europe in various areas of trade and technology, he is proving that Europe is back at the stage of global diplomacy. He has also managed to address the three important issues: China, COVID and climate change. 

Second, Biden's coalition on China. The US, along with the G7 countries is planning to counter China's BRI project with the idea of 'build back better world' and global infrastructure partnership. During his visit to Europe, Biden got the consensus of G7 also on addressing China' military assertiveness.

Third, improving the lines of communication between Russia and US. A constructive consultation on cybersecurity and the return of the ambassadors to their diplomatic posts were a positive outcome. Both Biden and Putin have agreed to replace the START treaty. 

What does it mean?
Through the G7 and NATO summits, Biden has built a consensus of the West on Russia and China. With Russia, his meeting with Putin should be seen as a breakthrough to prevent the downward spiralling of the US-Russia bilateral relations. While Biden's Europe tour has consolidated the trans-Atlantic partnership, it has also addressed the recent negativity in the bilateral relations with Russia.

China: Stern response to G7 and NATO summits
What happened?
On 15 June, in a statement on the NATO summit, a spokesperson from the Chinese Mission to the EU said: "By claiming that China presents so called "systemic challenges", NATO is slandering China's peaceful development and misjudging the international situation and its own role. It represents a continuation of the Cold War mentality and bloc politics." The statement also read: "China urges NATO to view China's development in a rational manner, stop hyping up in any form the so-called "China threat", and stop taking China's legitimate interests and rights as an excuse to manipulate bloc politics, create confrontation and fuel geopolitical cooperation".

On 14 June, a spokesperson from the Chinese embassy in the UK responded to the G7 summit by saying: "This wanton smearing of China and blatant interference in its internal affairs flagrantly violates the basic norms of international relations and further exposes the ulterior motive of a handful of countries, including the United States. We are gravely concerned and firmly opposed to this." The spokesperson continued: "We urge the United States and other G7 members to respect facts, see the actual situation in perspective, stop slandering China, cease interfering in our internal affairs, stop infringing upon our interests and do more to promote international cooperation instead of creating confrontation and friction."

What is the background?
First, China's rise. China has grown from an Asian giant to a global superpower. It has a massive economy of USD 14 trillion and is expected to overtake the US to become the largest economy of the world. China's GDP expanded by 2.3 per cent last year, making it speedily recover from the COVID-19 slump. China is also posing a technological challenge to the West by repeatedly harnessing its technological prowess through 5G communications, artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, and quantum computing. China's military expenditure is almost 70 per cent of the US' defence budget and it has showcased its military might in the South China sea. The country has used all these strengths to influence the ideological leadership debate as well. Chinese national authoritarianism is competing with the western liberal democracy. 

Second, China's rise seen as a challenge by the US and Europe. The US has led the march against Chinese influence in both organizations. It is one of the issues on which President Joe Biden and ex-President Donald Trump have shown agreeability. Trump had even suggested the expansion of the G7 group to counter Chinese dominance. Biden has led the G7 closer in the pursuit against China in his maiden summit. NATO is used to deliberations on Russia but is facing trouble due to the new opponent, China.

Third, China's response to G7 and NATO. China has maintained an aggressive opposition to the two groups. It has consistently criticized G7 and opposed NATO due to the Cold War mentality and alliance politics. China has actively focused on the rest of the world as a playground for its economic and political strategies, giving less importance to the global panels. Following a realpolitik approach, China has stayed true to its belief that small groups do not rule the world.

What does it mean?
First, although China does not pose a direct military threat to the NATO signatories, it has remained a major military force in East Asia. Hence, it becomes difficult to position the alliance against China. However, now that China is extensively discussed in NATO, it will have to reassess its own military standing in the western hemisphere. 

Second, China has greatly invested in European countries, and G7 does not possess enough resources to replace Chinese investments. Therefore, any country has to be careful of the long-term implications of terming China as a "threat".

Iran: A predetermined election results in Ebrahim Raisi becoming the new President 
What happened?
On 16 June, three Presidential candidates decided to withdraw their participation from the elections. Mohsen Mehralizadeh, one of the three candidates, was, unfortunately, the only reformist candidate in the race.

On 18 June, Iran conducted its 13th Presidential elections with an all-time low voter turnout of 48.8 per cent. The election results were announced on 19 June, with ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi winning the polls with a landslide victory as expected. 

What is the background?
First, the recent Presidential elections in Iran. The last Presidential elections in 2017 saw a massive voter turnout of 73.3 per cent and 40 million votes being cast. The competition was also stiff between the then President Rouhani and his rival Ebrahim Raisi, thereby asserting the legitimacy of the elections. Earlier, in the 2013 elections, Rouhani won the race with securing more than 50 per cent in the first round; this election also witnessed more than 70 per cent of the voters taking part. In 2009, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got reelected with a record 80 per cent polling and securing more than 60 per cent of the votes. 

Second, the 2021 elections and the candidates. On 25 May, Iran's Guardian Council declared the final list of candidates, choosing seven candidates out of the 592 applicants. After three candidates decided to back out, the elections had only four contestants - Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric; Mohsen Rezaei, former commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard; Abdolnaser Hemmati, former head of the Central Bank of Iran; and Amir-Hossein, the deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament. With more than 59 million eligible voters, the elections saw a turnout of 48.8 per cent making it a lowkey election turnout. According to the election results, Raisi has won 62 per cent of the votes, followed by Rezai with 11.8 per cent. The other candidates, Hemmati and Amir-Hossein, received 8.4 and 3.5 per cent of votes, respectively. 

Third, the decline in voting. A row of controversies regarding bias in the Presidential elections began after the Guardian Council released the list of candidates. The Iranian public and the international community started calling the elections rigged as the list did not have a healthy mix of contestants, and most critics found the electoral process to be favouring Ebrahim Raisi. The Iranian public were also frustrated about the worsening economic conditions and the role of non-elected bodies (like the Guardian Council) in suppressing their choices. After three candidates dropped out of the race two days before the elections, the public opinion towards voting worsened. The Iranian public had made up their minds not to vote, knowing the inevitable outcome. 

Fourth, the pre-election advantage for Ebrahim Raisi. He has been seen as a protege of the Ayatollah and has also found favour amongst ultranationalists through his father-in-law, the Grand Imam of Imam Reza shrine. The bias towards Raisi became evident after the state media publicized his contributions and persona more than the other candidates during the election campaigns.      

What does it mean?
The electoral processes in Iran would have to change. The Guardian Council, which is not elected by the people, has the power to choose or reject candidates without giving any reason. This unfair screening would reduce the standards and legitimacy of upcoming elections if continued.  The Iranian public has already started boycotting regional elections in a quest for a more democratic selection process for future Presidential and Parliamentary candidates.

Also, in the news …
By Sukanya Bali and Avishka Ashok

East and Southeast Asia This Week 
China: Dozens of aircrafts enter Taiwan's airspace within a week
On 15 June, twenty-eight of Beijing's air force aircrafts entered Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). This was the largest incursion recorded since 1966. In response, Taipei deployed surface-to-air missiles. The incursion happened soon after G7 passed a joint statement against China. In response, China's spokesperson for Taiwan Affairs Office said: "We will never tolerate attempts to seek independence or wanton intervention in the Taiwan issue by foreign forces, so we need to make a strong response to these acts of collusion."
Later, on 17 June, the Chinese People's Liberation Army sent seven fighter jets near Taiwan, to conduct a regular exercise. This exercise included one Y-8 electronic warfare jet, two J-16 fighter jets, and four J-7 fighter jets. A total of thirty-six military planes have been dispatched in 72 hours around southern Taiwan airspace by China.

Hong Kong: Police arrests five Apple Daily executives 
On 18 June, Hong Kong police charged the chief editor and chief executive of Apple Daily with the collusion of foreign forces. Reuters reported, around 500 police personnel raided the media outlet, and a total of five executives were arrested "on suspicion that dozens of its articles violated Hong Kong's new security law." This arrest raised concerns over media freedom in Hong Kong; it was the first case of a media article violating the security law. A UN human rights spokesperson said: this raid "sends a further chilling message for media freedom". This was the second raid in the newsroom after the arrest of pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai. China's Foreign Commissioner's Office asked the "external forces" to "keep their hands off Hong Kong" issues.

Taiwan: Signs arms deal with the US
On 17 June, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense signed a deal to procure two weapons systems from the US to boost its defense capabilities. The deal cost USD 346.48 million. Taiwan's Ministry announced the deal included "a long-range precision fire system" and "a batch of missiles." According to CNA, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and Harpoon Coastal Defense System (HCDS) will further help in boosting Taiwan's warfare capabilities.

North Korea: Faces tense food situation amid coronavirus and typhoon
On 16 June, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, in a plenary meeting with the Workers' Party's central committee, reviewed the progress of the country's policies and laid down measures to resolve the economic crisis. The committee also set a goal to achieve its new five-year economic plan, which was outlined in the February session. Kim also highlighted Pyongyang's record of 25 per cent growth in total industrial output. But "the people's food situation is now getting tense as the agricultural sector failed to fulfill its grain production plan due to the damage by a typhoon last year." 
KCNA also reported, Kim emphasized the need to build relations with the US. He "stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation in order to protect the dignity of our state" and reliably guarantee a "peaceful environment."

Australia: Signs a new free trade deal with Britain
On 14 June, the UK and Australia announced a free trade agreement in a meeting in Downing Street. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "Today marks a new dawn in the UK's relationship with Australia, underpinned by our shared history and common values." The deal is the first bilateral trade accord signed by Britain since leaving the EU. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: "This is the most comprehensive and ambitious agreement that Australia has concluded." He also added: "Overall, this is going to be a great win for Australian agriculture."

Australia: Set to lodge a formal complaint against China to WTO 
On 19 June, the Australian government announced it is set to lodge a complaint to WTO about China's 'anti-dumping duties on Australian wine exports.' According to the BBC, China imposed up to 218 per cent tariffs on Australian wine last year. The Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment said: "The government will continue to vigorously defend the interests of Australian winemakers using the established system in the WTO to resolve our differences." The relation between the two has worsened since Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origin of coronavirus. Last year Australia sought for WTO review on China's decision to impose heavy tariffs on Australian barley imports.

Myanmar: UNGA condemns military coup; UN shows concerns over human rights issues
On 19 June, the UN General Assembly resolution condemned the Myanmar military coup and called for an arms embargo against the country. The resolution demanded the restoration of the country's democratic transition. Around 119 countries voted in favour, whereas 36 countries, including China, India, and Russia, abstained from the resolution. UN special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener said: "The opportunity to reverse the military takeover is narrowing and regional threat increasing." The UNGA also expressed concerns over the human rights violation of Rohingya and other minorities. 
On 17 June, the UN raised concerns over the rising human rights deterioration. Reuters reported: "The United Nations in Myanmar calls for those responsible for human rights violations to be held accountable, including the perpetrators and their chain of command."

South Asia This Week 
India: Urges Pakistan to address the flaws in the ICJ Bill 2020
On 18 June, India criticized Pakistan for passing the International Court Justice (Review & Reconsideration) Bill 2020. Earlier this week, Pakistan's National Assembly passed this bill and provided the right to appeal to Indian convict Kulbhushan Jadhav. India's Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said: "The bill has a provision for inviting the municipal court to decide whether any prejudice has been caused to Jadhav on account of the failure to provide consular access in accordance with a verdict of the ICJ." The spokesperson noted that the law breaches the basic tenet "that municipal court cannot be the arbiter of whether the state has fulfilled its obligations in international law." The Ministry called upon Pakistan to take steps to address the shortcomings in the bill.

India: Defense Minister calls for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea
On 16 June, India's Defense Minister at the eighth ASEAN Defense Ministers' Plus Meeting said: "India calls for a free, open and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific, based upon respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue and adherence to international rules and laws." He also urged for the outcomes of the negotiations for the code of conduct in the South China Sea, to be in line with international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
On 15 June, Defense Ministers from ASEAN called for an early conclusion of the code of conduct for the South China Sea. According to the maritime code of conduct, the Ministers emphasized "the need to maintain and promote an environment conducive to the early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC in accordance with international law." Recently, the tension in the south China sea has intensified with the rise in presence of China.

Pakistan: Foreign Minister cautions against blaming Islamabad for failure of the Afghan peace process
On 14 June, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned the Pak-Afghan Bilateral Dialogue in Islamabad that Pakistan would not be responsible for the deterioration of the Afghan peace process. While referring to President Ashraf Ghani's visit to the US, he said: "I wish them luck and a good visit but let me spell it down in advance. If the objective of going to Washington is starting a new blame game and holding Pakistan responsible for all the ills [in Afghanistan] and the lack of [progress in the peace] process, then it will not help."

Afghanistan: The NSC reaffirms negotiations on Hamid Karzai International Airport
On 16 June, the office of the National Security Council (NSC) announced that the Afghan government was negotiating security at the International Airport while considering the national interests of Afghanistan. A spokesperson at the office said: "All airports with international standards, including Hamid Karzai International Airport, will remain operational, and we will decide about them." However, the Taliban has previously objected to giving up the security of the airport to Turkey. On 13 June, President Erdogan of Turkey made a statement regarding the stability of Afghanistan and said that Turkey would be the only country capable of ensuring peace in the country post US withdrawal.

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Israel: First ceasefire violation in Gaza Strip 
On 16 June, an Israeli aircraft engaged in a series of airstrikes targeted at facilities used by Hamas's militants in the Gaza Strip. The airstrikes marked the first violation of the ceasefire signed between Israel and Hamas last month. On 15 June, hundreds of Israelis held public marches while chanting "Death to Arabs" in East Jerusalem. The march was viewed as potentially inciting another round of violence. The Palestinians responded to the protests by releasing incendiary balloons causing fires in Southern Israeli farmlands. 

Ethiopia: African Union launches commission into abuse in Tigray region
On 17 June, the African Union tweeted regarding the official launch of the Commission of Inquiry on the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. The commission will start working in Banjul, Gambia and will lead investigations in the neighbouring countries when the conditions are met. The statement released by the organization also added that, "The Commission of Inquiry has a mandate to, inter alia, investigate allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and to gather all relevant information so as to determine whether the allegations constitute serious and massive violations of human rights." The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry responded to the commission and demanded an "immediate cease." 

Europe and The Americas This Week
The EU: Truce with the US on 17-year-old Boeing-Airbus dispute
On 15 June, US President Joe Biden and the European Union concluded a 17-year-old trade dispute over Airbus and Boeing in an attempt to resolve personal issues and focus on China's global rise. The dispute was settled in Brussels at Biden's summit with European leaders. The President of the European Commission said: "This really opens a new chapter in our relationship because we move from litigation to cooperation on aircraft." The US trade representative also commented on the settlement and said: "Instead of fighting with one of our closest allies, we are finally coming together against a common threat."

The US: The Pentagon announces withdrawal of Patriot-THAAD missile system 
On 18 June, the Pentagon announced that the US will reduce eight Patriot anti-missile batteries in the Middle East. The countries that will be affected by this decision are Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Jordan. Saudi Arabia will be impacted the most as the US plans to remove a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, jet fighter squadrons and anti-missile batteries from the Royal Kingdom. The removal of these weapons is viewed as an attempt by the US to better prepare itself for the fight against China and Russia. 

The US: Senate passes resolution to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday 
On 15 June, the US Senate passed a resolution to establish 19 June as the Juneteenth National Independence Day, a federal holiday in the country. The resolution gained immense support since the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. Senator Ron Johnson said: "While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter." The bill is yet to be passed in the House of Representatives and will be sent to President Joe Biden for his approval. 

The US: Supreme Court refuses to annul Obamacare 
On 17 June, the US Supreme Court refused a bid promoted by former President Donald Trump regarding the nullification of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. The Supreme Court ruled that Texas, and the other challengers had no jurisdiction to file a lawsuit. This is the third time a court had to protect the healthcare law since 2010. The case required the support of over 20 states to ensure its continuation in the country as a law.

About the Authors
Joeana Cera Matthews, Dhanushaa P and Dincy Adlakha are research interns with the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Jeshil J Samuel is a Masters Student at Christ University and is part of the Peace Course at NIAS. Sukanya Bali and Avishka Ashok are Research Associates at NIAS.

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