The World This Week

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The World This Week
Thaw in China-Australia relations, and the return of Ramaphosa in South Africa

  GP Team

TWTW#195, 25 December 2022, Vol. 4, No. 44

China: Australian leaders' visit reflects a thaw in bilateral relations
Avishka Ashok

What happened?
On 21 December, China’s President Xi Jinping met with Australian Governor-General David Hurley and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as the two countries celebrated 50 years of establishing diplomatic relations with each other. Xi claimed that China was prepared to advance its relations with Australia based on win-win principles and mutual respect.  
 
The joint statement affirmed to increased cooperation in bilateral relations, trade and economic issues, consular affairs, climate change, defence and regional and international issues.  
 
On the same day, the Foreign Ministers of China and Australia, Wang Yi and Penny Wong, held the sixth China-Australia Foreign and Strategic Dialogue. Wang Yi expressed dissatisfaction with the state of the bilateral relations with Australia and said: “China and Australia have no historical grudges and conflicts about fundamental interests, and the two sides should and absolutely can become partners with mutual needs.”  

What is the background?
First, the recent tensions in the China-Australia relationship. Political analysts across the world have called the latest meeting “an ice-breaking visit.” China’s relations with Australia witnessed a downward spiral since early 2020 when former Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and hinted at China for being the culprit. The call for inquiry resulted in diplomatic tensions, heightened trade tariffs, import restrictions and a ban on Huawei’s 5G technology in Australia. Canberra also passed laws to review and restrict the operation of Chinese companies and projects within the country.  

Second, the recent thaw. Despite the differences that have deepened over the years, the last six months have displayed a change in their approach. In June 2022, the Chinese and Australian Defence Ministers broke the ice for the first time by engaging with each other in Singapore. Following the public engagement, the Ministers also met privately for an hour and discussed the obstacles in bilateral ties. Wang Yi and Penny Wong then engaged again at the G20 Foreign Ministers Meet in July 2022, followed by President Xi and Prime Minister Albanese’s meeting in Bali during the G20 Summit.  
 
Third, the competition in the Indo-Pacific. Besides the bilateral issues, China and Australia are also competitors in the Indo-Pacific. For China, the increased cooperation between Australia, Japan, India and the US through the Quad in the region is a cause for concern. In May 2022, the Quad leaders met for the fourth time in one year and held an in-person meeting in Japan. The countries agreed on an Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness and pledged to increase their presence in Southeast Asia, Pacific Island countries and the Indian Ocean region. Australia is vexed by China’s growing closeness with the Pacific Islands Countries, which it considers as its backyard of influence. At the same time, China’s aggression and unilateral actions of changing the status quo in the South China Sea is seen as a worrying development by Australia and the West.

What does it mean?
Even though the bilateral relations seem to be improving in the second half of 2022, the ties between the two are ridden with many obstacles. Australia may seem prepared to restart relations with China, however Canberra will not be forgetting its national security concerns and its suspicions.  
 
The competition in the Indo-Pacific, close relations with the US, the fight for influence in the Pacific Island countries, and the impediments to China-Australia trade are yet to be resolved. These issues are a few of the many and will be time-taking when it comes to resolution. 
 


South Africa: Ramaphosa re-elected as party president, amid ANC divisions
Apoorva Sudhakar

What happened?
On 19 December, President Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected as the party president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Over 4,000 ANC delegates voted; Ramaphosa secured 2,476 votes against the 1,897 votes won by his only rival and former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
 
Al Jazeera quoted one of the contenders for the party’s deputy president: “This win is not only for the ANC perspective or a faction. It is for the country.”

What is the background?
First, a brief history of the ANC. The ANC was founded as South African Native National Congress in 1912 (and renamed as African National Congress in 1923) to fight discrimination against the blacks and secure their rights. Its initial objectives included rebelling against colonial reforms including the Natives Land Act, which allocated 80 per cent of land to the whites. In 1948, the apartheid system, or racial segregation, was legalised, which triggered a defiance movement, led by ANC’s youth wing, and later its military wing, with leaders like Nelson Mandela. Mandela subsequently served 27 years in prison until 1990 and was elected the first president of South Africa in 1994.
 
Second, the significance of the ANC and party factions. The ANC has remained the ruling party since 1994. After Mandela stepped down at the completion of one term, the party was re-elected in 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2018. However, in the recent past, the ANC has been factionalised into two groups. One faction is loyal to Ramaphosa, and the other, including Mkhize, is loyal to former President Jacob Zuma who is under investigation for corruption. The divide is fuelled by back-and-forth allegations of corruption, including against Ramaphosa who came to power in 2018 on the promise to fight corruption.
 
Third, the rising unpopularity of the ANC. In the local elections of November 2021, following the riots, impact of COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment, ANC secured 46 per cent of the votes and lost control of major cities like Johannesburg. This was the party’s worst performance since 1994. The then ANC deputy secretary-general said: “The low voter turnout, especially in traditional ANC strongholds, communicates a clear message — the people are disappointed in the ANC with the slow progress in fixing local government, in ensuring quality and consistent basic services, [and] tackling corruption and greed.”
 
Fourth, allegations against Ramaphosa. In late November, an independent panel, investigating the theft of USD four million at Ramaphosa’s private game farm in 2020, placed Ramaphosa at the risk of an impeachment. The panel maintained that Ramaphosa had violated the oath of office. However, Ramaphosa acknowledged the theft but denied any role in covering it up, and legally challenged the panel’s findings.
 
Fifth, the narrow escape from impeachment. Earlier in December, the parliament voted against initiating an impeachment process against Ramaphosa. The impeachment process required a two-thirds majority in the parliament. The MPs opposing Ramaphosa, some from within the ANC, could not secure the majority; only 148 voted in favour of the impeachment process, while 214 voted against it, thereby protecting Ramaphosa’s position.

What does it mean?
First, the ANC’s rising unpopularity and divisions pose a threat to the party’s relevance and legacy. Resolving the divide seems a distant solution, as over the years, the competition between the factions has only grown with little space for negotiations.
 
Second, Ramaphosa’s re-election as party president paves the way for him to contest the general elections in 2024. However, with the current state of affairs, Ramaphosa would have to address the party divide and the public grievances including unemployment, cost of living crisis, and power crisis.
 
Third, observing South Africa in 2023 would be interesting as the year would culminate in the general elections. The recent developments hint towards an intense political battle, leaving Ramaphosa with many battles to win, be it at the party front or to win the trust of South Africans.
 


Also in the news...
Regional round-ups

East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Foreign Minister warns the US against bullying and containing Beijing
On 23 December, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and urged the US to avoid a confrontational approach in containing China's development. He called on the US to focus on converting the consensus reached by Xi Jinping and Joe Biden into tangible policies and actions. Wang said: "The US should not call for dialogue while at the same time containing China, or talk about cooperation but putting a knife in China… this is not managing disputes but intensifying conflicts." 
On 22 December, China appreciated the ruling by the World Trade Organization 's (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body which deemed the US origin marking requirement as unjustified. Furthermore, the Chinese authorities called on the US to respect and abide by the WTO's ruling and uphold a rule-based multilateral trade system. 
 
China: Foreign Ministry sanctions two US individuals as a counter over 9 December sanctions
On 23 December, China's Foreign Ministry sanctioned two US citizens, Yu Maochun and Todd Stein, as a reaction to the US sanctions on Chinese individuals for human rights violations in the Xizang region. The Foreign Ministry's statement accused Yu of starting a new cold war against China and Stein of passing bills targeting the Xizang region. The statement said: "China will freeze all Chinese assets of both Yu and Stein, and ban any organization or individual within China from engaging with them. Both men and their immediate family members are also banned from entering China." The decision counters the US sanctions over Wu Yingjie and Zhang Hongbo on 9 December. 
 
China: Scientists discover the evolution code of the coronavirus  
On 19 December, a study published in the Nature journal discovered the mechanism for the convergent evolution of the coronavirus' Omicron strains. The study is expected to broaden the scope and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines and drugs. Scientists had previously discovered that the phenomenon of convergent evolution is the cause behind the Omicron variant's high level of immunity and capacity to cause breakthrough infections. The researchers said: "We demonstrate that these convergent mutations can cause striking evasion of neutralising antibody drugs and convalescent plasma, including those from BA.5 breakthrough infection, while maintaining sufficient ACE2 binding capability." The study found that the antibody-evasive strains were driving up the cases worldwide.
 
China: President Xi Jinping meets with the Chairman of the United Russia Party and pushes for negotiations on Ukraine 
On 21 December, President Xi Jinping met with the Chairman of the United Russia Party, Dmitry Medvedev and expressed China's will to deepen relations with Russia. Xi Jinping also urged Medvedev to push for a diplomatic resolution on the Ukraine issue. Xi said: "China hopes relevant parties can stay rational and restrained, conduct comprehensive talks, and resolve mutual concerns on security via political methods." Medvedev said that the issue was complicated and expressed that Russia would be willing to carry forth with negotiations. 
 
Japan: JMSDF commissions a 30DX model Mogami class frigate
On 22 December, Japan’s Defence Ministry reported that the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) commissioned its third Mogami class frigate Noshiro. The multi-mission stealth frigate has a 30DX design. It is compared with an Akizuki-class destroyer’s capabilities, although being smaller in size. The frigate’s affordability, automation and multi-mission potential became the reason for its design change to the conservative 30DX model from the radical 30FF model. The frigate is supported by a Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine and has multiple arms and weaponry systems aboard. Noshiro also can deploy and retrieve unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), unmanned surface vehicles (USV) and sea mines.    
 
Fiji: Sitiveni Rabuka elected as the new Prime Minister
On 24 December, Fiji will instate a new Prime Minister after 16 years of former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s administration. Sitiveni Rabuka narrowly became Fiji’s Prime Minister following a one-vote lead in a secret ballot conducted in the parliament. Rabuka will rule a western-style democracy. He campaigned to establish dialogues with major world powers and reform Fiji’s economic practices to ensure it does not result in a debt trap. Rabuka will form a coalition government with the National Federation Party and the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA).
 
South Korea: Parliament passes the 2023 budget
On 24 December, South Korea’s parliament passed its state budget for 2023. The budget for KRW 639 trillion (USD 499 billion) was approved to reduce Seoul’s debt reliance and wean off its post-pandemic economic slowdown. The Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s 2023 budget was planned to be passed on 02 December. However, it got delayed due to the issues on corporate tax cut between the ruling People Power Party (PPP) and the major opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). Both parties agreed on a one per cent point corporate tax cut in each quarter of the financial year on 22 December. They also agreed on various other issues that delayed the state budget passing.
 
Indonesia: EU members condemn new law on sex outside marriage
Indonesia: On 19 December, European Union officials responded to Indonesia’s new law banning sex outside marriage as a violation of human rights. Joko Widodo was in Brussels for the EU–ASEAN summit, and the members questioned the country’s new penal code to the president. They condemned the law as problematic according to fundamental human rights. The EU members questioned the country’s legislation that makes it a criminal offence to insult the president to express views that are against the national ideology.
 
Indonesia: High delegation meeting with India makes way for maritime initiatives
On 21 December, India and Indonesia agreed to push a maritime initiative between the Andaman Nicobar Islands and Aceh Islands of Indonesia, which has the Sabang port. The port has a strategic as well as an economic presence in it. The high delegation meeting held in New Delhi also agreed to have interaction between business chambers and potential investors. The two sides also discussed the ways to promote trade tourism and people-to-people contact between the two regions. The location of Sabang port which is 710 km southeast of Andaman Islands and less than 500 km from Malacca strait entrance makes the trade from the Indian side easy and charges less in transportation costs compared to the Chennai and Kolkata ports.
 
Myanmar: UNSC adopts first-ever resolution in 74 years
On 22 December, the U.N. Security Council adopted its first-ever resolution on Myanmar in 74 years to demand an end to violence and urge the military junta to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. The 15-member council has long been split on how to deal with the Myanmar crisis with China and Russia arguing against strong action. They both abstained from voting along with India. The remaining 12 members voted in favour. The resolution urges the junta to immediately release all arbitrarily detained prisoners. It also demands an immediate end to all forms of violence and asks for all parties to respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

South Asia This Week 
India-China: Seventeenth round of talks held at LAC
On 20 December, India and China held the 17th round of corps commander-level talks at the Chushul-Moldo border on the Chinese side. According to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, both sides agreed to keep the dialogue open through military and diplomatic channels and work out on mutually acceptable resolution at the earliest. The Ministry said in a statement: “They had a frank and in-depth discussion, keeping in line with the guidance provided by the State Leaders to work for the resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest which would help in restoration of peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the Western Sector and enable progress in bilateral relations,”
 
India: Abstains from a UNSC resolution on Myanmar’s military regime
On 22 December, India abstained from voting on a resolution at the UN Security Council on Myanmar’s military regime. The resolution was proposed by the UK and was passed by 12 votes. Russia and China also abstained from voting.  India’s Permanent Representative Ruchira Kamboj said: “We believe that the complex situation in Myanmar calls for an approach of quiet and patient diplomacy. Any other course will not help in resolving the long-standing issues which have prevented enduring peace, stability, progress and democratic governance.”
 
Sri Lanka: Navy rescues 104 distressed Myanmar citizens
On 18 December, Sri Lanka’s Navy rescued 104 distressed Myanmar citizens from a passenger vessel in Sri Lankan waters. The ship was reported to have entered the territorial waters after experiencing a mechanical failure while transporting these people from Myanmar to Indonesia. After receiving the distress call from the passenger ship the North Naval Command rushed with SLNS Udara and two fast attack craft to the reported location. The Navy made a tremendous effort to rescue the civilians in the rough sea conditions and the group was brought to Kankasanthurai Harbour and arranged the required necessities for them. The Navy said that the group was handed over to relevant authorities.
 
Sri Lanka: ADB grants USD 21.89 million for paddy farmers
On 21 December, Sri Lanka received LKR 8 billion as a grant from The Asian Development Bank (ADB) to help paddy farmers. Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe requested ADB for this grant. The money will help paddy farmers to buy MOP (potassium chloride) fertilizers for 800,000 hectares. Small-scale paddy farmers with one hectare or less will receive LKR 10,000, and farmers with more than one hectare will receive LKR 20,000. Sri Lanka’s Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said that the financial assistance would be directly credited to the farmer’s account. Amaraweera said that this grant would help 1.2 million farming families.
 
Maldives: ADB grants USD 7.5 million to build shelters for victims of domestic abuse
On 22 December, the Maldives government signed a grant agreement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for USD 7.5 million and a grant for technical assistance of USD 2.5 million. The grant is for “Strengthening Gender Inclusive Initiatives” in the Maldives. Maldives Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer and Director of South Asia Regional Cooperation and Operations Coordination Division Thiam Hee Ng behalf of ADB signed the agreement. The USD 7.5 million grant was provided under the ABD’s initiative to support lower income developing member states. However, the technical assistance will be in two parts, USD 500,000 from the ADB Technical Assistance Special Fund and the remaining USD two million from the Japan Special Fund. ADB aims to minimize gender-based violence and promote equal rights, participation and social and financial benefits for women. The money would be used to build shelters for victims of domestic and gender-based abuses in the state. It will also strengthen the capacity of social service systems to provide aged care and early childhood care services.
 
Maldives: Japan grants JPY 700 million for waste management
On 20 December, Japan’s government provided Maldives with USD 5.1 million as a grant to develop the island’s waste management. The deal was signed by Maldives Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Khaleel and Japan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs and Member of House of Representatives Takei Shunsuke at the ceremony held in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Maldives. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this grant aid would improve the capacity for sustainable waste management in the Maldives. It includes providing waste treatment facilities and vehicles to the islands. Khaleel at the ceremony expressed his gratitude for the generosity of the Japanese government and thank them for their support.

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Israel: Netanyahu finalizes a deal with the allies
On 22 December, Netanyahu announced that he had been successful in reaching an agreement with the allies to form a new government, following the win on 1 November. The Likud Party has entered into agreement with ultra-nationalist and orthodox Jewish parties, which ultimately may result in the most right-leaning government in Israel’s history. A statement from Netanyahu's office confirmed that he had informed President Isaac Herzog by phone that he had “been able to establish a government.”
 
JCPOA: Continued work on the deal in Jordan
On 20 December, representatives of Iran and the European Union met in Jordan and signalled a continuation of efforts towards restoring the JCPOA. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahain met EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on the sidelines of the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah. Borrell tweeted that the meeting came at a crucial juncture, amidst the deteriorating relations between Iran and the EU, Iran’s military support to Russian war on Ukraine, and the need to restore JCPOA.
 
Burkina Faso: Minister denies allocating mine to Wagner Group
On 20 December, Minister of Mines Pierre Boussim said no mines had been allocated to the Russian private military company Wagner Group. The development comes after neighbouring Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo remarked that that Burkina Faso had hired the Wagner Group and allocated a mine as a payment for its services at the UN-Africa Leaders Summit the previous week. While Burkina Faso did not dismiss or confirm the same, it expressed its disapproval over Akufo-Addo’s remarks by summoning the Ghanaian ambassador.
 
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Minister objects to COP15 agreement
On 19 December, Democratic Republic of the Congo objected to the agreement signed at the UN Biodiversity Summit, also known as COP15. Environment Minister Ève Bazaiba said the DRC would raise its objections with the UN Secretary-General and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The DRC is home to the second-largest tropical rainforest and is home to critical ecosystems. The Guardian quoted Bazaiba: "We don’t need people to tell us to conserve it. Those who are asking us to protect our rainforests, to help humanity, we are asking those responsible for pollution for compensation. If they refuse, we are going to manage our own biodiversity."
 
Rwanda: UK High Court rules asylum plan as lawful
On 19 December, the UK High Court ruled Rwanda asylum plan as lawful and that it does not breach the UN’s Refugee Convention or human rights laws. Home Secretary Suella Braverman said that she is committed to the working of the plan. She said: “I am committed to making this partnership work - my focus remains on moving ahead with the policy as soon as possible and we stand ready to defend against any further legal challenge. However, Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called the policy “unworkable, extortionate and deeply damaging.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomed the ruling, calling it a “common sense position” that “the vast majority of the British public” wanted. 

Europe and The Americas This Week
Russia: US moving unfinished Bioweapons research away from Ukraine
On 23 December, the head of Russia’s Nuclear Biological and Chemical Defense troops revealed that the Pentagon has been moving their bioweapons research labs to countries outside of Ukraine after Russian operations uncovered labs backed by the US in Ukraine. He said that the unfinished projects are being relocated to Eastern European and Central Asian countries. According to him, the data on the operations of US-backed laboratories in Ukraine was presented to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons conference in Geneva. The files included lists of several organisations in Kiev and three US contractors and seven high ranking officials of Department of Defence. Moscow claims that the Americans have been boosting cooperation with Cambodia, Thailand, Kenya, Singapore, and other nations in the Indo- Pacific and Africa, that already possess laboratories with existing high-level bio containment. Russian military has been releasing materials regarding this issue since March 2022.
 
The US: Senate passes budget of USD 1.7 trillion for federal expenses
On 23 December, the senate voted to pass a USD 1.7 trillion omnibus package that funds the federal government through September, provides Ukraine with USD 45 billion in military and economic aid and sets aside USD 38 billion for emergency disaster assistance. The budget was held up due to legal tussle over Title 42 law. Title 42 mandates funding of border patrol, immigration, customs and more employment of border guards. Out of USD 1.7 trillion, allocation in non-defence expenses stood at USD 770 billion and USD 858 billion were allocated for defence related expenses.
 
The US: Entire fleet of B-2 bomber grounded
On 21 December, Air Force Global Strike Command grounded B-2 Spirit stealth bomber after an inflight malfunction happened. The B-2 Spirit is a multi-role heavy bomber, meaning it can carry both conventional and nuclear munitions. The B-2, as well as the B-1, are expected to be replaced over time by the Air Force’s new B-21 Raider, a new stealth bomber aircraft that was unveiled by Northrop Grumman earlier this month. Earlier, this year, F-35, combat aircraft was grounded as well due to seat ejection issues.

About the Authors
Harini Madhusudan, Rashmi Ramesh, Akriti Sharma, and Ankit Singh are PhD scholars in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Avishka Ashok, Apoorva Sudhakar, Joel Jacob and Sethuraman Nadarajan are Research Associates at NIAS.

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