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CWA # 106, 1 April 2019

The World this Week
US-China Trade Talks, Mueller Report, Gaza Anniversary and Thailand Elections

  GP Team

This edition of “The World This Week” discusses four major issues. The US-China trade talks took a turn with the recent face-to-face meeting between the finance heads of both the countries. In the US, the US Attorney General has published a part of his summary of the Mueller Report. In the Middle East, a Hamas-Israeli agreement on reducing Gaza tensions is said to have materialized on 30 March which marked one year of Gaza’s “Great March of Return.”. In Southeast Asia, the preliminary election outcome in Thailand has led to confusion in the prevailing political situation there.

Harini Madhusudan, Abigail Fernandez, Lakshmi V Menon and Aparupa Bhattacherjee

 

Uncertainties linger around US-China Trade Talks

 

What Happened? U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer were in the Chinese capital for the first face-to-face meetings between the two sides in weeks after missing an initial end-of-March goal for a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign a deal. They concluded the talks to have been ‘constructive’ and Mnuchin tweeted saying, "I look forward to welcoming China's Vice Premier Liu He to continue these important discussions in Washington next week," while China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that the two sides “held discussions on the text of the agreement and achieved new progress.” Even though Donald Trump has said the two sides are close to a deal, there are reports of differences over an enforcement mechanism to address American complaints about unfair trade practices and technology theft. Some announcements, on the other hand, also emerged that the trade talks are being hindered because China does not have a copy of the draft deal in Chinese language.

 

What is the background? The trade dispute between the two countries goes back a year ago when US and China began to impose tariffs on each other’s goods. A truce was announced in December to avoid worsening of the tariff situation. Negotiations between the two sides have been going on for a couple of months now and both sides have been showing positive signs throughout, USA more than China. However, the US has made it clear that the negotiations are not necessarily ‘time-dependent’ and might go on for weeks or even months. The announcement comes days after the two sessions meeting in China. From the meeting, China introduced an Investment Bill that laid down promises of the country's regulatory system for foreign investment offering investors greater access and better protection.

 

What does it mean? Both the nations are at a ‘make-or-break’ situation with the negotiations. They are certain that they want a deal for the outcome but the biggest challenge is to convince their domestic constituents and the main stakeholders. Both sides are facing a lot of pressure, but a deal at the end of this is more likely than ever. However, the question remains, what about the companies that have already begun to shift their company’s supply chain to other countries?

 

Attorney General Bill Barr’s Summary on the Mueller Report 

What happened? Attorney General Bill Barr presented four pages of his summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on 24 March to Congress and the public. The investigation stated that members of the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russian government in its election. However, the report also goes to say that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Barr also went on to say that although his review is still not complete, he believes that it is the interest of the public that his conclusion on the report be made immediately.

The full report has not been made available to the public yet. However, in a letter to lawmakers on 29 March, Barr said that he would deliver an edited version of the report to the Congress by mid- April. He has also said that he will be available to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 1 May and the House Judiciary Committee on 2 May. President Donald Trump has gone on to declare victory and has also made statements where he has agreed to release the Mueller Report to Congress by mid- April continuing to say that he has nothing to hide. Nonetheless, the summary has not satisfied a number of people, Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Barr summary saying that it was condescending, further stating that “the American people deserve facts and not a watered-down version of interpretation of Muller’s findings from Trump- handpicked attorney general.” This delay has caused an uprising and further escalation of tensions in Washington, where there is a constant pressure to release the full report for Congress and the people to make their own judgements.

 

What is the background? Attorney General Bill Barr received the Mueller report on 22 March, marking the end of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. It has been about two years since the former director of the FBI and war veteran Robert Mueller was appointed as the head of the special investigation counsel to look into in the matter. Further, the attorney general along with the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein together looked into the case to determine what information from the report can be released to Congress and the public.

 

What does it mean? For Republicans, the end of the investigation and submission of Barr’s summary means that there has been no evidence to prove that Trump conspired with Russia for his campaign. Democrats, on the other hand, are of the opinion that even though he has not been charged with obstruction, he was also not exonerated. However, both Democrats and Republicans are asking Barr to release the full report as well as all the material leading up to the investigation. The media has also gone on to publish extreme comments, The Washington Post termed the summary as “scandalous” further adding that, if Barr did not make the report public, all of Mueller’s efforts would have gone in vain. Pro-Putin media personality, Evgeny Popov went on to tweet “In short: Russia did not elect Trump.”

Nevertheless, the question over the obstruction of Justice has been completely closed as the report goes on to say that the evidence gathered in the Special Counsel Report is not sufficient to press charges against the President. There are a number of questions still left unanswered about the President, the Republicans and also the Democrats. This implies that there could be pressure to investigate on all persons involved in this case as well as others like former President Obama and Hilary Clinton.

 

Anniversary of Gaza’s “Great March of Return”

What happened? On 30 March, 2019, tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied along the Gaza-Israel fencing, facing-off against Israeli troops and tanks, marking one year of Gaza’s “Great March of Return”, a Palestinian grassroots social movement. Israel’s forces massed on the fortified boundary responded with rubber bullets, tear gas and live rounds, killing three and wounding over 200 people. Notably, on the anniversary’s eve, a Hamas-Israeli agreement on reducing Gaza tensions materialized.

 

What is the Background? Gaza, with a total area of 365sqkm shelters two million people of which 70% are registered refugees. In early 2018, Ahmed Abu Artema, a Palestinian poet and journalist, inspired thousands of Palestinians across political and ideological spectrums to raise in unison the Palestinian flag and banners bearing names of towns and villages from which Zionist militias had evacuated 7,50,000 Palestinians in 1948. Two demands were raised, the right to return to their ancestors’ homes and end of the 12 yearlong Israeli blockades. Every Friday Gazans protested, commencing a new chapter of Palestinian freedom struggle – one of peaceful resistance. Israel has accused Hamas of staging these protests and retaliated militarily and diplomatically. Since May 2018, the protests have cost about 260 Palestinian lives and injured more than 6,5oo. Over 50 Israeli soldiers have also been killed.

 

What does it mean? Gazans claim the defeat of Israeli propaganda and Palestinian factionalism. According to them, dehumanization and viewing Gaza as just a “security issue” is changing. Globally, public opinion has swayed in favor of Palestine. However, this may have more to do with Trump’s overtly pro-Israel votes and recognitions which are violations of international law and UN resolutions. Internally, the strife due to factional and political divisions, Hamas and Fatah are bolstering the struggle. Although the chances are slim, an Egyptian brokered truce may address ‘restriction on movement’ that has shattered Gazan lives and economy. The Hamas-Israeli agreement saw Israeli concessions like extending of fishing zones; increasing monthly Qatari funding from $15m to $40m; a major desalination project; and greater power supply to Gaza. Nevertheless, Israeli military offensives endure. A larger question is whether this agreement and the rumored Egyptian brokered truce are pieces in the larger puzzle – the much-awaited Trump-Jared Middle East plan. Will they hold ground or evaporate into insignificant pawns in the larger game plan? At a time of regional discord, is this the way forward?

 

Is Thailand heading towards Political turmoil?

What happened? Thaksin Shinawatra led Pheu Thai has formed a seven-party coalition under the banner of ‘democratic front.’ This is to make sure that the Junta backed Palang Pracha Rath Party (PPRP) cannot come back to power in May 2019. The coalition aims to win 255 out of 500 seats in the Lower House (directly elected) against the 7.9 million votes bagged by PPRP according to the preliminary vote counts by the Thai Election commission. Although the final result will only be announced in May, the preliminary result that was declared on 25 March has led to confusion and instability in the political situation there.

 

What is the background? The general election in Thailand has come after a hiatus of eight years under the Junta regime since the 2014 coup d’état. The military had taken over the power after removing Yungluck Shinawatra (Thaksin's sister) with a promise of development and re-establishment of democracy but it took a long time to the 2019 election. Although this election was about change to democracy, given the history of differences between the Pheu Thai's Thaksin Shinawatra and the military, the fight between the two has taken a precedence.

 

What does it mean? While the newly formed seven-party coalition by Pheu Thai could aim to win 255 seats out of 500 seats in Lower House however, they can never elect a Prime Minister among their candidates. A Prime Minister in Thailand requires the support of both the Lower House and the Upper House (members are chosen by a committee) that consist of members from the military. Hence, General Chan-Ocha of PPRP already enjoys the support of the 250 members in Senate; he only needs 126 more to become the Prime Minister again. But this will lead to prolonged political instability and may also give rise to a political conflict between the Pheu Thai supporters and military.

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