The World this Week

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The World this Week
Trump's Shutdown, Bangladesh Elections and China's Lunar Probe

  GP Team

US, while secures Indo-Pacific region, continues to grapple over border security policy and Syrian crisis. Romania’s presidency in EU remains debated. Europe narrow downs influx of migrants/refugees over English Channel. Sheikh Hasina secures hegemony in Bangladesh. China kickstarts its Lunar Probe. South Korea and Japan remain sour.

Komal Tiwary, Harini Madhusudan, Sourina Bej and Kriti 

Research Associates/Interns
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)


USA: Trump, Congress and the Shutdown

On the last day of 2018, Trump signs into law the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA). The act is primarily focused on the US strategy to increase U.S. security, economic interests, and values in the Indo-Pacific region. The Act authorises a sanction of $1.5 Billion for a wide range of U.S. projects in the East and South-East Asia. The act focuses on U.S. relations with China, India, the ten memberr states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the Northeast Asian allies, Japan and South Korea.

The Act mentions improving U.S. relations with Taiwan, which according to China is in violation of “One China Policy”. With regards to North Korea, the Act asks for justification for the termination of U.S. support for any Nations Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea or the lifting of any unilateral U.S. sanctions on North Korea. The Act also mentions India as one of its key military partners for the purpose of maintaining peace and stability in the region.

The Congress bill to end the government shutdown

The shutdown began on 22 December 2018 after Trump denied signing any bills that did not include the money for “The Wall”. The partial shutdown of the United States federal government has majorly affected the federal workers making them helpless in paying their bills and rent.

The new Democrats held House has passed a bill on Thursday night ending the government shutdown. They find the demand for $5 Billion to be unreasonable for building a wall. The bill will be focused on funding eight closed U.S. departments through Sept. 30. The other would reopen the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8. Trump is adamant on not signing any bill if it does not include the money for Border Security. He is said to veto the Democratic proposal. In the lights of these events, he has threatened to declare National Emergency in the United States and “build the wall really quickly”.


Europe: Romania’s Presidency in the European Union

In the rotating presidency policy of the European Union (EU), its Romania’s take over the reign of the EU. But various activists and officials have raised their concerns about Romania’s capability to do so. Even the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has publicly expressed his doubts. The main concerns revolving is, the government of Romania is presently more concerned about its own political and internal matters. It would focus on ways to how not to go jail rather than an overall development and future of the European Union.

England, France and Measures against Migrants

England and France have come up with the “Enhanced Action Plan” which they plan to implement by the second week of January. The idea focuses on combating the attempts by the migrants and refugees to cross the English Channel. The plan is said to target the trafficking gangs. Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are the four major countries from where these migrants and refugees tend to flee.

In the past, European countries have been subjected to a lot of people entering their border. The steps were taken by the currents governments to stop this has been attacked by the opposition party. They are asking the government to take Humanitarian steps towards the “people in need”. Also, the churches are asking the public to treat the migrants and refugees with empathy and show compassion.


The Middle East: Trump’s withdrawal from Syria

President Trump late this December showed urgency for immediate removal of the US troops from Syria, describing Syria as “Sand and Death”. In a video released by the white house, President Trump announced that he’s calling back his troops to their homeland with immediate effect which was later agreed upon to be a gradual process of 120 days. The urgency was toned down supposedly because the Pentagon told the White House that it is practically impossible to remove the troops in a day or two. This abrupt decision to remove the US troops from Syria has proven to be explosive, drawing rebukes across the political spectrum and also from the military establishment. Both Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Brett MacGrukk, the US envoy to counter ISIS, resigned as a result.

President Trump’s adamancy also suffered strong criticism from the allies. With ISIS still active and operating in that area, USA’s withdrawal from Syria is not a welcomed gesture among homeland security as well as the allies of the US in the region.

President Trump has been critical of previous administrations for sending and keeping the US troops abroad and has made bringing troops home part of his “America First” policy. Amidst all this drama, Syria continues to find itself in a geopolitical power tussle with no sign of peace whether the US troops remain there or goes out of the region.


South Asia: Bangladesh Elections

The 11th Parliamentary election in Bangladesh saw Awami League’s Sheikh Hasina emerge as the Prime Minister for a third consecutive term. Marred with electoral violence and accusations of poll rigging, in a repeat of history, the election result is a landmark in many ways. The election has evidenced that it’s a one-party and one family rule in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has stabilised systemic authoritarian government overturning the anti-incumbency wave that has remained a strong trend in South Asia in 2018. The national elections in 2018 concluded in Bhutan, Maldives and Pakistan elected a new face for the country. However, an exception to the trend Bangladesh not only voted its incumbent leader back to power but also reduced the opposition to mere numbers. For the first time in 45 years, Bangladesh doesn’t have an officially recognised opposition. Was the election result surprising; given that the run-up to the election was marred by youth unrest and massive street protest? No. Hasina’s win was predictable with even the sweeping majority.  

With Bangladesh National Party (BNP) boycotting the election in 2014 and the top rung leaders staying out of the country for years, the party has lost most of its support base giving Awami League a free run to assemble and group its leaders in its weak constituencies. Even the manifesto to BNP was not strong enough to attract the first time voters in Bangladesh. This indicates that BNP knew it won’t be a fair playing ground but the aim was not to repeat the same mistake of 2014 and participate in the election. In addition, prior to the election, most of the opposition leaders were jailed or dropped out. In Khaleda’s absence, Kamal Hossain, who was previously both an AL minister and Hasina ally, lead the main opposition grouping, the Jatiya Oikya Front, (led by BNP). However, it is important to note that even if Hossain supported and lead the alliance, he never stood for the election. Had he stood, it could have some bearing on the result margin. Secondly, it is no surprise that the Awami League would have the support of the urban base given its strong development-centric election manifesto. With Hasina coming back to power and Jatiya Party (Ershad’s party) emerging as the second largest party now forming the opposition, what will be the future opposition politics, especially the BNP, is yet to be seen.             


China and East Asia

China’s growing space prowess: Landing on the far side of the moon

China successfully landed its robotic spacecraft, early January 2019. In its first-ever attempt, the un-crewed Chang’e-4 probe touched down in the South Pole-Aitken Basin. It is known to be carrying instruments to conduct biological experiments and to try and analyse the unexplored region. The last crewed landing on the moon was Apollo 17 in 1972, the other recent missions to the moon have been to the orbit, fly by or impact.

The Chang'e-4 probe is aiming to explore a place called the Von Kármán crater, located within the much larger South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin - thought to have been formed by a giant impact early in the Moon's history. The propaganda value of this mission is massive and the fact that China chose to downplay this mission, by only making a statement after it landed, shows that they’re acting with caution like the Soviets in their early days of competition with NASA. Despite being a late starter in its space programme, China seems to already have its role in some of the space missions of smaller countries, as a successful launch, this would surely boost the number of nations that may be willing to work with China for their space missions.

Japan-South Korea

After the landmark South Korean ruling against Japan for its World War 2 labour and comfort women atrocities, the relations between Japan and South Korea have remained tricky. Part of the ruling was where South Korea asked Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp, to pay 100 million Won ($ 90,500) to each of the four South Koreans from the forced labour case.

Two incidents from the past week reflect how the relations between Japan and South Korea are bitter and may continue to get worse. First, the Japanese Finance Minister urged his South Korean counterpart to avoid measures that are unfair against the Japanese companies for the forced labour ruling. The second one, though not directly linked, is the radar claim of Japan where they allege that a South Korean destroyer ship tried to lock-on to Japan’s radar in the Japanese exclusive economic zone to which South Korea said that it was only an optical camera and the Japanese plane was in a low altitude while the destroyer ship was only there to rescue a North Korean boat that had strayed its path. In this past week, both Japan and South Korea have released a video each, to try and prove their claims.

The two Koreas and the U.S.

An editorial in a North Korean newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, blamed the US for the stagnation in the relationship between the North and South Korea. The article claims that the US does not want to see the improvement and development of the inter-Korean relations. Both the Koreas have so far removed around 10 guard posts in the demilitarized zone that divides the peninsula. They recently also held a ground-breaking ceremony on a project to connect their rail-road systems. All these initiatives cannot progress unless the US-led sanctions on North Korea are lifted. In his New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un said he was ready to meet with Trump at ‘anytime’ and continued to say that if the US persists imposing sanctions and pressure against their republic, they would be compelled to find new ways of defending their sovereignty and the interests of their state.   

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