The World This Week

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The World This Week
New tensions in South China Sea, an ASEAN envoy to Myanmar, and 76 years after Hiroshima bombing

  GP Team

 The World This Week #131, Vol. 3, No. 32

Sukanya Bali, Vibha Venugopal, and Avishka Ashok 

South China Sea: New tensions with Navy drills and foreign warships
What happened?
On 2 August, German Brandenburg-class frigate Bayern (Bavaria) the warship was deployed to the South China Sea from Wilhelmshaven on a six-month voyage. Germany has sent its warship for the first time in almost two decades; it is expected to cross the South China Sea in mid-December. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said: "We want existing law to be respected, sea routes to be freely navigable, open societies to be protected and trade to follow fair rules."

On 6 August, China started a five-day-long naval drill in the South China Sea. On the same day, the Indian navy also deployed a naval task group of four warships for two months. China's foreign ministry spokesperson said: "China hopes that the warships of relevant countries will earnestly abide by international law, respect the sovereignty, rights, and interests of countries along the South China Sea and avoid harming regional peace and stability."

What is the background? 
First, the geographical importance of the South China Sea. With a geographical extent of 3.6 million square kilometres, the region is also one of the busiest waterways for trade and merchant shipping. 20 to 30 per cent of global trade is carried through the South China Sea. The region is rich in fossil fuels and fisheries.  According to the World Bank, the region has over seven billion barrels and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Twelve per cent of the global fish catch is from the region. 

Second, issues and claims in the South China Sea. It has overlapping territorial claims between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Taiwan. Beijing has constructed numerous reefs into man-made artificial islands, and resettled finishing communities; it has also fortified islands with surface-to-air missile systems, equipped islands with runways and weapon systems. In 2016, the international tribunal in Hague ruled against China's claim, but China refused to accept the verdict. The US often deploys its navy warships in the region for freedom of navigation exercises aimed at challenging China's claims. These claims and actions have raised tensions in the region.

Third, recent developments in the region. Countries such as Germany, France, the UK, Australia, the US, and India dispatched their navies in the region. In July 2021, the British aircraft carrier strike group and an American surface action group passed through the South China Sea. These joint drills aim to ensure freedom of navigation operation (FONOPs) in the region to counter China expansionist claims.

Fourth, China's response to the navy builds up in the South China Sea. China has been cautious but also assertive in its response. Beijing has emphasized adherence to international law while passing through the South China Sea. Beijing claims to the sea both on the law of sea convention, and the nine-dash line extends for 20,000 kilometres from mainland China. In March, the Chinese Foreign Minister highlighted the South China Sea as a subject of international law, which other governments shouldn't "undermine the sovereignty and security of the littoral countries." State media accused Britain of "relive the glory days of the British empire" by allying with the US. China has, however, said, the movement of British warships through the South China sea is at the behest of the US. 

What does it mean?
The South China Sea region has turned into the hotbed of contestation between countries. The presence of foreign naval forces in the region might aggravate tensions between Beijing and the West. As countries have started becoming proactive in the region this might embolden Southeast Asian countries to take a stance against China in the coming years.

Southeast Asia: Finally, ASEAN appoints a Special Envoy to Myanmar
What happened?
On 4 August, the 28th ASEAN Regional Forum ministers appointed Brunei's Second Minister of Foreign Affairs, Erywan Yusof, as the Special Envoy to Myanmar. Reuters, on 7 August, referred to a statement by the envoy saying: "The planned travel to Myanmar is in the works, and we need to make sure we're fully prepared, unlike the visit I had in June. He even stated that during his next ASEAN visit to Myanmar, he will seek a more substantial dialogue, while emphasizing the importance of allowing him full access to all sides." Earlier, on 1 August, Myanmar's military ruler Min Aung Hlaing expressed his "willingness to engage with ASEAN."

On 6 August, the US State Department released a statement by Secretary of the State expressing grave concern about the military coup in Myanmar and calling on the ASEAN "to unite in urging the military to cease the violence, release all those who have been wrongfully jailed, and resume Myanmar's democratic path."

What is the background?
First, the ASEAN response to Myanmar. Given its shared border with Myanmar, Thailand has the greatest stakes. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have been the most active and vocal in criticizing the Tatmadaw's control. The Philippines government's reactions have been chaotic. On the other hand, Brunei, the current chair of ASEAN, has been quiet as it seeks to convene discussions amongst other ASEAN members. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos have registered muted responses. As a regional organization, the reactions of the ASEAN to the coup reflect the region's diverse national systems and outlook. It ranged from attempts to mediate an internal deal in Myanmar to near-total silence.

Second, ASEAN's five-point consensus on Myanmar. The five-point consensus arrived in April 2021 aimed at addressing Myanmar's deteriorating socio-political crisis and find a peaceful solution. It called for the cessation of violence, facilitation of constructive dialogue with the National Unity Government and other parties, the deployment of an ASEAN Special Envoy, the facilitation of humanitarian aid, and a visit by an ASEAN Special Envoy. Despite the repeated failed attempts for a consensus, it is hailed as a step towards a political solution to the situation at the time.

Third, the ineffectiveness of ASEAN in dealing with Myanmar. While many perceive ASEAN as the obvious political entity to lead efforts to find a political solution to the problem, it has a long history of refusing to do so. Especially in terms of international relations, the General seizing power leaves ASEAN with a reduced role as well as the ability to contain an increasingly assertive China, which seems to leave them hanging over the bridge.

Fourth, Myanmar's response. As part of the five-point consensus that the military government has agreed to, the Tatmadaw has helped in narrowing down the final ASEAN communique through negotiations. They have even requested the ASEAN members to provide them with the freedom to deliver aid to the humanitarian workers. Whereas the Myanmar civil society organizations express great displeasure with ASEAN for their lack of inclusive decision-making and passivity in the face of some of the region's most heinous atrocities.

What does it mean?
First, the crisis in Myanmar is too hot for the ASEAN to handle, causing reputational costs. Second, ASEAN is no stronger than its weakest link since members stay aloof, not allowing them to act decisively. Third, Myanmar's military administration will approach the five-point consensus and the ASEAN-led diplomatic process a la carte, delaying and complying with the envoy as needed to buy time and consolidate power.

Japan: Remembering Hiroshima bombing, "Little Boy" and 80,000 people, 76 years later 
What happened? 
On 6 August, Japan marked 76 years of the first atomic bombing on Hiroshima. On this occasion, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attended the memorial conference and pledged to support states towards the aim of nuclear disarmament. The annual ceremony was also attended by the Mayor of Hiroshima who pushed for the ratification of the UN treaty which seeks to ban nuclear weapons. He said: "Nuclear weapons are the ultimate human violence. If civil society decides to live without them, the door to a nuclear-weapon-free world will open wide."

What is the background? 
First, the devastation caused by the "Little Boy." In an instant, the bomb immediately killed 80,000 people in Hiroshima and another 40,000 in Nagasaki. By the end of the year, over 1,40,000 lost their lives due to radiation-related complications. More than 30 per cent of Japan's population vanished due to the atomic bombings. Other than the massive human loss, the infrastructural loss devastated the city. Hiroshima was reduced to a flat plain with no hospitals to treat the living, no fire services to help with fires or administrative structures to rebuild the city. The long term effects of the bombing started showing within a decade when hospitals started recording a steep increase in tumors and different cancers in the living population. The Little Boy and the Fat Man completely altered the demography of Japan, creating a sick populace in the two cities and forever slowing the population growth of the country. 

Second, the continuous expansion of the nuclear arsenal, despite their devastating efforts. In spite of witnessing the destruction caused by the atomic bombs in 1945, the world has continued the race to build and store more powerful weapons of mass destruction. Countries take pride in announcing advanced missiles that are capable of travelling long distances with no pilot, launching from the seas or land and claiming multiple lives in one hit. Instead of reprimanding the use of nuclear weapons by the only capable country in 1945, we now have nine countries with nuclear capacities. 

Third, the failing disarmament narrative. During the cold war, the world witnessed a steep rise in the production of nuclear weapons. As of today, this figure has been brought down exponentially due to the arms control treaty between the US and Russia. However, the aim of "Global Zero" which aims to completely abolish the production and storage of nuclear weapons, is far from being achieved. At the moment, there are approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons globally. This accounts for an 80 per cent drop in the total number of nuclear warheads; from 70,000 weapons in 1986 to 15,000 in 2021. However, in the 76 years since the use of the first atomic bomb, the world is nowhere close to complete disarmament. There is an incessant struggle amongst states like North Korea and Iran who expand their nuclear programmes while states like the US and Russia express no plans of complete eradication of these weapons. In recent years, the focus of the international community has also shifted from nuclear deterrence to currently pressing issues such as the pandemic and climate change. 

Fourth, the "realist" narrative supporting nuclear greed. Today, the states compete and fight for the right to produce nuclear weapons to securitize their national interests. States are constantly under the impression that they may be attacked by a rival state. These weapons are used as a security against foreign interventions and attacks. Hence, countries are willing to spend millions on nuclear programmes even when these funds can be used for more pressing issues that require immediate attention. 

What does it mean?
The increasingly destructive capacities of the defence arms and ammunition prove that the human race is completely immune to the suffering endured by humankind 76 years ago. The rise in the number of nuclear states in the past seven decades showcases the seriousness of the world towards the aim of nuclear disarmament. 

Also, in the news …
By Sukanya Bali and Avishka Ashok
East and Southeast Asia This Week 
Japan: Population declines for the 12th straight year
On 4 August, Japan's internal affairs ministry compiled the country's population on the basis of the "Basic Resident Register." As per the records, on 1 January the population counted over 123.84 million, which was down about 428,000 as per the last year's record. In 2020, the total number of births in Japan totalled 843,000 and had roughly 1.37 million deaths. The record also highlighted the people who moved out of the country and the number of foreign residents in Japan.

North Korea: Heavy rains damage wreck havoc 
On 6 August, the North Korean state media reported, heavy rains damaged thousands of homes, submerged farmlands and displaced several thousand people. The Deputy Head of Meteorological Administration said coastal areas of North Hamgyong registered over 500 mm of rain while "South Hamgyong exceeded the average monthly precipitation in those days." He added: "We expect more rain in various regions including the east coast area, which may cause damage." Earlier, in June, Pyongyang raised concerns over a 'tense food situation" in the country. 

North Korea: Pyongyang continues to develop its nuclear and missile program 
On 6 August, Reuters reported, according to a confidential UN document, Pyongyang violated international sanctions by continuing its nuclear and ballistic program through the first half of 2021. The report said North Korea sought material and technology for these programs "despite the country's worsening economic situation." The country accessed international financial institutions and used the earnings of the North Korean diaspora to fund state programs.

South Korea: Seoul holds defense strategy talks with Singapore 
On 2 August, South Korea and Singapore held defence strategy talks and agreed to expand defence cooperation.  The strategy talks between the deputy defence ministers of countries, was the first in eight years to be held in person. Korean Herald reported: "During the meeting, deputy defence minister Kim Man-ki and his Singaporean counterpart Teo End Dih agreed to boost exchanges in the fields of defence technology, humanitarian activities and cybersecurity."      

South Korea: Foreign Minister talks to Israeli counterpart 
On 4 August, South Korea's and Israel's Foreign Minister discussed their response to the bilateral trade, over a phone call. They agreed to work on the early implementation of the free trade agreement between countries and to strengthen cooperation in investment and innovation. Both the countries agreed to continue cooperation in pandemic response. In the meeting, Israel called on South Korea's support for a "Working definition of Antisemitism."

Malaysia: Prime Minister refuses to resign
On 4 August, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin refused to resign soon after eight lawmakers from a key party in his ruling alliance withdrew their support. As per the report, he said, "he will seek a vote of confidence in parliament next month to prove his legitimacy to govern." Opposition highlighted he was using emergency, to avoid a vote in Parliament. On the same day, the President declared Muhyiddin had lost the right to govern.

South Asia This Week 
Sri Lanka: NSA level talks after six years
On 6 August, Sri Lanka hosted a virtual meeting of the Deputy National Security Advisers of India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. The Hindu reported: three nations agreed to work on "four pillars of security cooperation, covering areas of marine security, human trafficking, counter-terrorism, and cybersecurity." The meeting was the first NSA-level trilateral talks in six years.

Pakistan: NSA says in interview Islamabad has "options" if the US ignores Islamabad
On 4 August, Pakistan National Security Adviser, Moeed Yusuf in an interview, stated that "Pakistan has other options if US President Joe Biden continues to ignore the country's leadership." This statement marks a recent setback in the US-Pakistan relationship. Conversely, the US State Department, assured Islamabad that Washington recognizes Pakistan's vital role in restoring peace in Afghanistan and wants the country to play that role. The US State Department's spokesman Ned Price said: "Pakistan has much to gain and will continue to have a critical role, be well-positioned to have a role in supporting the outcome" in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: UN envoy appeals to UNSC over increase in the Taliban attacks
On 6 August, in a special meeting of the UNSC on Afghanistan, the UN envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons appealed to UNSC to issue a statement against the increasing attacks by the Taliban. She said: "Afghanistan is now at a dangerous turning point, adding that ahead lies either a genuine peace negotiation or a tragically intertwined set of crises: an increasingly brutal conflict combined with an acute humanitarian situation and multiplying human rights abuses." She also highlighted that more than 1,000 casualties were recorded soon after districts were captured by the Taliban. She added, "There is a striking contrast between the activity on the battlefield and the quiet stalemate at the negotiation table in Doha—where we should be seeing the opposite: quiet on the battlefield and engagement around the negotiating table."

Afghanistan: Taliban captures the city of Zaranj; assassinates senior media officer
On 6 August, the Taliban captured the city of Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province. Presently, out of five districts of the province, three are completely under Taliban control. The brutality of the attack surfaced in a video showing government forces lying covered in blood on the ground. The Head of Human Rights Organisation said: "Based on the international law, it is counted as a war crime, it is also against Islamic principles." On the same day, the Head of the Afghan government's media and information centre was killed in Kabul. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Afghan Human Rights Commission spokesperson said: "Attack on civilian employees of the government, cultural activists and media workers is a violation of the armed conflict law and a clear act of war crimes."

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Turkmenistan: Third consultative meeting of leaders of Central Asian Nations
On 6 August, the leaders of the five Central Asian countries held a meeting in Turkmenistan where they discussed the worsening conditions in Afghanistan, sustainable development, mutual trade and cooperation and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tajik President Emomali Rahmon was also awarded the "Honorable Decoration of Heads of States of Central Asia" for his role in promoting and encouraging friendly relations amongst the Central Asian countries. At the meet, he pushed for the countries to collectively fight against terrorism, extremism, radicalism, drug trafficking, cybercrime and organized transnational crime. 

Lebanon: One year after the blast that triggered the economic and political downfall
On 4 August, Lebanon marked one year of the blasts that completely damaged one of its busiest ports and revealed the greater discrepancies of the government. The people participated in widespread protests to mark the day and expressed the growing discontent with the government's incapacity to resolve the political and economic crisis in the country. The protestors demanded justice since no senior official has been held accountable for the neglect which caused massive damage and took more than 200 lives. The leading Christian cleric expressed that no immunity would be provided for the incident. 

Yemen: UN appoints Swedish diplomat as new envoy 
On 6 August, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Hans Grundberg as the new Yemen envoy. His appointment was delayed by several weeks as China contemplated his approval. His appointment to the position comes after the former envoy Martin Griffiths was appointed as the aid chief in the UN. 

Iran: Ebrahim Raisi inaugurated as President
On 3 August, a conservative Ebrahim Raisi replaced the moderate Hassan Rouhani as the President of Iran. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei reached out through a decree and said: "Following the people's choice I task the wise, indefatigable, experienced and popular Hojatoleslam Ebrahim Raisi as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran." Raisi will have to first deal with the resumption of the JCPOA and the tanker attack. He promised to ameliorate the people's standard of living and said: "We believe the people's economic position is unfavourable both because of the hostility of our enemies and because of the shortcomings and problems inside the country."

Iran: G7 and the US accuse Tehran for the attack on an Israeli-linked tanker 
On 6 August, the Foreign Ministries of the G7 accused Iran of attacking the Israel-linked tanker which killed a British and a Romanian national. The joint statement provided by the G7 said: "This was a deliberate and targeted attack and a clear violation of international law. There is no justification for this attack." The US Military also released a statement and claimed that the drone used in the attack was of Iranian make. On the same day, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also discussed the attack with Israeli Defense Minister. 

Kenya: The UN criticizes the UK for failure to address colonial-era landgrab
On 3 August, the United Nations held the UK responsible for unresolved issues in Kenya which were carried forward as a result of the colonial crimes committed by the former imperialist country. The UN report claims that Britain displaced the Kipsigis and Talai clans of the Kericho County in Kenya during their rule to make space for tea plantations. The clans were not given any compensation and were violently thrown out of 36,000 hectares of their land which was later handed over to European settlers. At present, the land is occupied by various multinational tea companies.  

Ethiopia: Martin Griffiths pushes for ceasefire and access to famine-hit regions
On 6 August, the UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths addressed the meeting in Geneva and emphasized the need for a ceasefire in Tigray. He said: "This war has to stop, this war has to end; we will all of us continue to try to make sure that those 100 trucks a day reach Mekelle, reach the beneficiaries. We will do everything we can to help the people affected in Amhara and Afar while continuing the work in other parts of Ethiopia." He pushed for access to the mountainous region where thousands are suffering from a harsh famine. In the previous week alone, more than 2,00,000 people have been displaced from the Amhara region. 

Europe and The Americas This Week
Europe: Wildfires in Turkey, Italy, Greece, Albania, Macedonia
On 5 August, forest fires in Southern Europe continued to burn ceaselessly. The fires were caused by the prolonged heatwave which has ignited numerous fires across the continent. Over 100 fires broke out in Greece in the past week while Turkey closely avoided a disaster by preventing the fires from reaching one of its power plants. The governments of Greece, Italy, Albania and North Macedonia have declared a month-long emergency to deal with the calamity. Meanwhile, the EU disaster response group is providing firefighters and water-dropping planes. 

Belarus: International Olympic Committee expels two coaches 
On 6 August, the International Olympic Committee tweeted its decision to expel two Belarusian coaches who tried to force sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya in the midst of the games. The organization tweeted: "In the interest of the wellbeing of the athletes of the [National Olympic Committee] of Belarus who are still in Tokyo and as a provisional measure, the IOC cancelled and removed last night the accreditations of the two coaches." The two coaches were caught on audio where they tried to explain the orders that came from senior officials. 

Italy: Green pass vaccination drive at public venues 
On 6 August, Italy introduced a system of digital certificates for accessing public venues in the country. The initiative has been taken up to restrict the rise in cases of coronavirus. Individuals will be eligible to hold a green pass if they have had one dose of the vaccine, recovered from the virus or have tested negative in the last 48 hours. Along with Italy, other European countries such as France, Austria, Cyprus, and Denmark have already undertaken similar initiatives in their country. 

Poland: Justice minister stands up against the EU's demands
On 6 August, the justice minister of Poland in an interview with Rzeczpospolita explained his opinion that the country should not bow down to the European's Union's demands and should not be a part of the bloc at all costs. He said: "I am a staunch opponent of succumbing to the illegal blackmail of the European Union carried out by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The belief that the EU is a good uncle and gives us money, and that we should accept all its demands at all costs, is propaganda and false." The EU has demanded Poland to dissolve the disciplinary chamber for judges that do not guarantee judicial independence.   

Haiti: Government requests UN Commission to probe Moise's killing
On 5 August, the government in Haiti requested the UN to investigate the killing of former President Jovenel Moise in detail. The request for an investigation has been put forth in a letter to the Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres by the Foreign Minister Claude Joseph. He requested the UN to carry out an investigation like the one in Lebanon in 2005. 

Mexico: Foreign Minister sues US Gunmakers for illegal trafficking. 
On 4 August, Mexico accused the US of recklessly supplying a torrent of illegal arms and ammunition to violent drug cartels in Mexico. The lawsuit by Mexico has held the US responsible for thousands of deaths caused by the use of these guns which are used by the people involved in the drug cartel. According to the lawsuit, Smith & Wesson, Barrett Firearms, Colt's Manufacturing Company, Glock Inc, Strum and many other such companies were aware of the illegal trafficking of their products into Mexico. The Foreign Minister of Mexico has demanded that these companies compensate the country for the losses incurred. 

About the Authors
Vibha Venugopal is a research intern in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Sukanya Bali and Avishka Ashok are Research Associates at NIAS.

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