The World this Week

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The World this Week
Elections in Spain, BRI Summit 2.0, Kim's Russia visit and Terror attacks in Sri Lanka

  GP Team

The 28 April 2019 general election in Spain brought an end to the traditional two-party system in the country due to lack of clear majority. The BRI summit 2019 witnessed more participation than compared to the last summit. It got an encouraging response from even some east Asian countries such as Japan. Kim Jong Un visits Russia and discussed issues such as bilateral trade, migrant labour and the state of Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament. Sri Lankan attack has been claimed by ISIS will have a larger implication for not only the country but also the region.


Abigail Fernandez, Harini Madhusudan, Sourina Bej and Aparupa Bhattacherjee
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS


Elections in Spain


What happened?

On 28 April 2019, Spain held its third general elections in four years. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) won the election with 122 out of 350 seats but fell short to secure the required 176 seats to form the majority. There was a 75.8% turn out and Sanchez will now look to gain the support of other parties to form the government. The Popular Party (PP) forming the right bloc won only 66 seats. Thus, falling short of an absolute majority and, the far-right Vox party won only 24 seats.


What is the background?

Following the 2016 elections, the People’s Party (PP) formed a minority government after a party crisis resulting in the removal of Pedro Sanchez and his supporters. However, the PP’s term in office was troubled with a number of issues from corruption scandals to protests.

The Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) came back to power in 2017 after being re-elected and in June 2018 through a no-confidence motion Mariano Rajoy of the People’s Party was ousted of corruption. Sanchez went on to form a minority government with the support of Catalan Separatists. However, he could not hold on to this power as it became difficult with the rise of the far- right Vox Party. After the 2019 General State Budget was rejected in February because a number of parties even the ones who supported Sanchez earlier sided against him, he called for a “snap election” which was held on Sunday.


What does it mean?

With this election, the traditional two-party system in Spain has come to an end. The people seem to be angry with the failing political system and the issues on the minds of the voters are also changing. No longer are they worried about immigration but issues such as unemployment and other economic concerns are taking the core.

Spain has never before been governed by a coalition government, there are a number of possibilities on the coalition for the new government, each of which will have its own implications. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said his party and the Socialists had "the willingness to work together in a coalition government” implying that the left bloc has a better chance to form the government.  However, Sanchez will have to form an alliance not just with left-wing parties but with one separatist party from Catalonia at the least.

Spain has to look at a number of domestic issues such as the Catalan independence movement and it is for these reasons PSOE's manifesto promises to fight against social exclusion and inequality. With regard to the Catalan question, the party is open to dialogue with independentists but they have made it clear that they will not allow an independence referendum under any circumstances.

Looking from the larger perspective,  the whole of Europe is watching, with the EU’s election just a month away, it is unlikely that there be a rise of ideological difference as Sanchez had revealed that he would work towards the formation of a pro-European government and that his only condition for forming a government would be respecting the Constitution and promoting social justice.


Belt and Road Forum 2019: Scepticism vs historic opportunities


What happened?

On 26 and 27 of April 2019, 125 countries and 40 international organisations were part of the second summit of the Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing. The summit saw the presence of 37 heads of state and government, scores of ministers and 5,000 delegates compared to the first forum.  The previous edition saw 1,500 delegates including heads of state and government from 29 countries. It is said that 174 agreements have been signed with deals amounting to $64 billion with 126 countries and 29 international organisations. This number was 9 countries at the end of 2014, and 36 countries in May 2017 before the first Belt and Road Forum. The rise in the participation number reflects the growing endorsement and relevance of BRI.


What is the background?

There have been concerns raised by experts and alarmists regarding the absence of the requirements for borrowing countries traditionally imposed by the West and the lack of transparency in the methods of implementations of the initiative. The economic investments also require the recipient countries to introduce, for example, the Chinese Baidu navigation system or Chinese telecommunications products. One of the biggest expectations from the second summit was the hope that China would address the ‘Debt Trap’ dilemma of the countries. “Everything should be done in a transparent way, and we should have zero tolerance for corruption.” Xi Jinping said in his meeting with the thirty-seven leaders on the day before the summit that the Belt and Road is not an exclusive club. The overseas economic and trade cooperation zones that the Chinese enterprises have built in countries involved in the initiative, so far, have created about 300,000 local jobs, with a total investment of more than $30 billion.


What does it mean?

Despite India’s strong boycott of the summit, the other ‘quad’ allies of the United States, have begun to accept the increased relevance of the BRI. Japan and Australia have stopped joining the US Navy in ‘freedom of navigation’ operations in the South China Sea. Miffed by US tariffs, Japan has joined the BRI as a ‘third party’. A Japan-China Fund has been set up to co-invest in BRI projects. However, Japan is actively promoting the concept of “quality infrastructure.”

With the recent entry of Italy and Greece into BRI, and other parts of Europe are also getting on board, the 17 plus 1. With countries such as Austria, Portugal, Italy and Luxembourg signing BRI cooperation documents, one can expect the mainstream European powers like Germany, France or UK will soon begin to look at the commercial relevance of BRI in their favour.  Most likely, the EU would now aim to develop a coordinated policy regarding the Chinese initiative and Chinese investments considering a majority of them are a part of the BRI now. The highest participation in the summit was from Africa. This major diplomatic event gave mileage for China’s plan but this will be a massive accountability challenge for China with their simultaneous activities in various countries.


Kim-Putin Meet: A message to the US?


What happened?

On 25 April 2019, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin met face-to-face for the first time in their first high-level since 2011. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has made his first trip to Russia and is in the Far Eastern Port city of Vladivostok. Amongst the bilateral issues on trade and migrant labour, the Thursday meetings discussed the state of Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament, a process which has remained stalled since the summit in Hanoi between Kim and US President Donald Trump in February. At the Putin-Kim meet, the North Korean leader strongly criticized Washington for taking a “unilateral attitude in bad faith.”


What is the background?

The Putin-Kim summit has two backgrounds. One is the international process of denuclearisation and second is the long-standing Russia-North Korea relation. The meeting between Kim and Putin came after the Hanoi Summit failed to yield an agreement on the process of denuclearisation by the former. The meeting between Trump and Kim had ended abruptly after a disagreement over the issue of sanctions. Kim agreed to dismantle a part of the nuclear infrastructure including the Yongbyon nuclear complex but was not prepared to destroy the programme that included few uranium plants. This led the US to continue the sanctions and the summit ended with a ‘no deal’.

Along with a statement of political support, this meeting was to also re-emphasise  North Korea-Russia relations. Kim has been looking for some kind of economic support as a workaround for US sanctions and in this Russia could play a role. Secondly, Kim wanted to use the opportunity to also discuss the issue of more than 10,000 North Korean labourers in Russia who are slated to leave Moscow by the end of this year. These labourers are a major source of income in the form of hard cash for North Korea.


What does it mean?

At this juncture, this current meeting assumes significance at three levels. Firstly, unlike Kim Jong-un, who did not make any public statement immediately following Thursday's meeting, Putin addressed reporters at the end of his meetings. This indicates Russia’s eagerness to take control of the Korean crisis and engage as a multilateral broker for denuclearisation. A similar approach was taken by Russia in 2009. Secondly, this meeting also indicates that along with the US and South Korea, China and Russia may come to play a role in the process. Moscow has been critical of sanctions on North Korea and has called on Washington to provide more security guarantees. After Thursday’s meeting, it would be interesting to see how Russia puts up the issue to the US and how the US responds to it. This brings one to the last significance. By visiting Russia, Kim has broken the one-on-one dialogue approach with the US and involved more actors thereby increasing his leverage to bargain. Kim understood that in front of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is known to be a tough negotiator, extra support would be helpful.


Sri Lanka: The rise of Terror


What happened?

On 21 April 2019, an Easter Sunday, Sri Lanka witnessed one of the worst terrorist attacks in its history with a total of nine bomb blasts reported. The first set of attacks happened at three churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. The second stage of attack was on three luxury hotels the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury in Colombo. The seventh blast shook a small hotel in front of the Dehiwala Zoo in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. The next happened during a raid in connection with the attacks, in a private house, where three police officers and a woman along with her three children were killed. The final one occurred during a raid in Sainthamaruthu. Explosives were reportedly set off when a suspect’s house was approached. This attack killed some children and women. During this raid, Zainee Hashim, Rilwan Hashim and their father Mohamed Hashim, who were the relative of the mastermind of the Sri Lankan attack were also killed in the gunfire.


What is the background?

The initial investigations by the Sri Lankan government pointed the National Thowheeth Jama’ath for the attacks.  This extremist group was headed by Mohammed Zaharan, a radical preacher, who was one of the suicide bombers. Another local group which was also assumed to be of assistance, Tammiyathue Millathu Ibrahim, was banned alongside the previous group.

Two days after the attack, the Islamic State claimed its “fighters” were responsible and also released a video of Mohammed Zaharan with an ISIS flag in the background. Later, after the bombings, ISIS published in its magazine that they have lost seven “fighters.” Sri Lankan army has refuted the above claim as only three male members were killed in the attack. It is interesting that apart from the mastermind, Mohammed Zaharan, other suicide bombers who have been identified by the Sri Lankan authorities are all foreign educated and belong to rich families.


What does it mean?

The Christians were attacked as they were the soft target, but the anger was against the Buddhist who form the majority in Sri Lanka. The rise of radical groups such as Bodu Bala Sena and cases of attacks on Muslims and Mosques laid the foundation of these terrorist groups. This is evident as vandalism of Buddhist statues by members of National Thowheeth Jama’ath was the precursor to their terrorist activities. The Easter Sunday attack will make the minorities more vulnerable and further deepen the already existing rift among the religious and ethnic fault lines in Sri Lanka. Although this group has been banned after the attack, much of their whereabouts still remain unknown. In addition, their linkage with the ISIS will have larger implications not only on the countries' security but on regional security which extends well ahead to Southeast Asia from South Asia.

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