The World this Week

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The World this Week
Attacks in Oman Gulf, Protests in Hong Kong, Military Crackdown in Sudan, Modi's Visit to Male and Colombo, Abe's Peace Mission in Iran and the SCO Summit

  GP Team

Sourina Bej, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer, Harini Madhusudan, Lakshmi V Menon, Abigail Fernandez & Aparupa Bhattacharjee
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP), NIAS

 

The Gulf of Oman: Attack on Oil tankers

What happened?
Amid rising tensions in the Gulf, two oil tankers were allegedly attacked on 13 June 2019 in the Gulf of Oman, off the Iranian coast. The US navy's fifth fleet responded to distress calls from the two tankers over a reported attack. The ships belonged to a shipping firm in Japan and a Norwegian company operated another. The exact source of the fire remains unknown. However, reports and operators have suggested that a torpedo could have hit the ships.

The attacks immediately stirred up tensions in the region with a response coming in from many countries. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo went on to blamed Iran for the attacks stating that the US had evidence based on intelligence about the type of weapons used, the of expertise required to execute the operation and other similar assessments. The US military also released a video in which it shows Iran's Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded mine from the side of an oil tanker damaged in an attack in the Gulf of Oman. 

The Iranian were quick to respond, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the US making baseless allegations without any factual or circumstantial evidence. The rest of the world has also reacted to this incident. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also issued a statement where he said that the world could not afford a major confrontation in the Gulf region and he condemned the attacks. UK's foreign secretary said it would conduct its investigation to the attacks; however, the starting point for them is the claims of the US.  The EU called for what they termed as maximum restraint while Russia went out to state that no-one should jump to conclusions or use this incident to put pressure on Iran. 

What is the background?
Tensions have been high ever since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2015, which aimed at restricting Iran's nuclear activities and the tightened of US sanctions on Iran mainly targeting its oil sector in May. 

In recent months the US has strengthened its forces in the Gulf region, stating that there was a danger of Iranian attacks. This attack is the second incident since the heightened regional tensions following attacks on four ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in May near Fujairah, just outside the Strait of Hormuz.

What does it mean?
An escalation of tensions in this region is highly dangerous and worrying to both players in the regions as well outside. These attacks not only cause a further rise in tension, but it could have a ripple effect and cause several other problems. With waters becoming more unsafe, the supply of oil to the entire world could be at risk as 30% of the world's crude oil is transported through this region. 

Although both the US and Iran have stated that they have no interest in a large-scale war, these frequent clashed could have an impact on this statement. However, adequate measures would need to be taken to avoid a full-blown war situation and an agreement targeted to deescalate the issue needs to be done.   

 

The Protests in Hong Kong: Against extradition law or Beijing?

What happened?

The protests in Hong Kong was sudden, bet well attended. The anger is towards the plans of the government to allow extradition to mainland China. It all began with the gruesome murder of a teenager in Taiwan. Hence, the legislation was proposed to give China to enter into one-time agreements with places like Taiwan to transfer criminal suspects, such as the man from Hong Kong who escaped prosecution in the ‘Valentine’s Day Murder’ case by returning home. 

The decision to include China, whose justice system is separate from Hong Kong, led hundreds of thousands to protest and attempt to stop the bill’s passage. 

What is the background?

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's government, in February, proposes legal changes that aim to ease the transfer of criminal suspects between jurisdictions. These regions lack formal extradition agreements, among themselves including mainland China. This move triggered concerns among activists, lawyers and the business community. Many began to warn that, exposing Hong Kong residents to China's legal system could put the city's autonomy and status as a financial hub at risk.

Mid- March, US lawmakers meet pro-democracy lawmakers. This included co-chairmen of the US-China Working Group- Illinois Republican Darin LaHood and Washington Democrat Rick Larsen, where it was announced that the Bill could have ‘some impact’ on Hong Kong’s special trading status. By the end of the month, the authorities in Hong Kong scaled back the proposal. Here they removed nine categories of financial crimes, including bankruptcy, securities and futures, and intellectual property. These concessions did very less to silence the outcry. 

In May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke against the Bill, saying its passage would threaten Hong Kong’s rule of law. He also met with the pro-democracy advocates from Hong Kong for discussions on its autonomy and Beijing’s efforts to extend its reach. There were further amendments to the bill on 31 May 2019, where they chose to raise the proposed extradition limit to crimes that carry a maximum sentence of crime from the proposed law, this included criminal intimidation, giving firearms to unlicensed persons and some sex crimes. Ten days later, on 9 June 2019, hundreds of thousands of people march through central Hong Kong in opposition to the Bill. 

What does it mean?

The demonstrators surrounded Hong Kong’s legislature; the numbers ranged between 240,000 and 750,000 differing from official reports and those from the people protesting. The second hearing on the amendments which was initially scheduled for 20 June, was forced to be postponed indefinitely, owing to the pressure of the protests. What stands out is the international support, including strong opinions from world leaders, and government backing from Taiwan to the opposition of the Bill. Many countries across the world have extradition bills among themselves and something as harmless as this Bill is being projected as a threat to strategic autonomy. 


Sudan: The Military orders crackdown

What happened?
Amidst escalating diplomatic pressures from the US and African countries, on 14 June, Sudan’s military admitted to ordering the brutal crackdown on Khartoum sit-in protestors. According to the TMC it “regrets that some mistakes happened”. 

What is the background?
Protestors had staged in Khartoum, a weeks-long sit-in which eventually led to the military-overthrow of the long-time ruler, Omar al-Bashir in April. However, protests continued in hopes of a civilian-led government. Following the collapse of talks between Sudan’s military and the protest leaders, on June 3, military personnel orchestrated a deadly clampdown on the sit-in protest camp in Khartoum, leaving over 120 people dead. While the health ministry estimated the death toll at 61, over 40 bodies floated in the Nile River.

What does it mean?
Pro-democracy protesters are determined, and Sudan’s truly grassroots-protest is not going to be silenced. The struggle for a civilian-led transitional government is ongoing. TMC’s attempts to dwindle the protests have only called for international attention and has so far worked against them. The nation-wide civil disobedience movement demanding civilian rule has flamed political, geostrategic and humanitarian sentiments across the globe. 

Meanwhile, the economic picture is worsening, Sudan’s toppled Bashir has been charged with charges of corruption, social media across the world is turning blue in solidarity with the protestors and Sudan’s dream of democracy lingers.

 

Modi's Visit to Male and Colombo
 

What happened? 
After a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections, Narendra Modi reiterated the importance of India’s Neighbourhood First approach by completing his visit to two crucial Indian Ocean countries the Maldives and Sri Lanka on 8-9 June 2019. Continuing with India’s First Neighbourhood policy, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar simultaneously completed his visit to Bhutan.  

During the visit to the Maldives, Modi addressed the Majlis (Maldivian Parliament) and became the second Indian Prime Minister to do so. Agreements reached during the summit are: first to assist the Maldives in its development, second MoUs were signed for projects like water supply and sewerage, high impact community development projects, customs and white shipping, third, to consolidate people-to-people relations through cricket diplomacy and last, to enhance connectivity India planned to start a ferry service from Kochi to the Maldives.  

In his visit to Sri Lanka, Modi showed solidarity with Colombo on the recent attacks on Easter Sunday and held discussions with the Prime Minister, President, Leader of Opposition and the Tamil leaders.

What is the background? 
Modi’s visit to the two island countries is a continuation of India’s neighbourhood policy. Ties with South Asian neighbours has always remained a priority for India with the earlier message being the invitation extended to all SAARC leaders to attend Modi’s first swearing-in ceremony in 2014. However, the selection of the Maldives and Sri Lanka over any other South Asian countries could be understood to indicate the transformation that India-Maldives and India-Sri Lanka bilateral relations have undergone in the five years.   

Former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen pursued a rigorous pro-China stance in his foreign policy, and the result has been for Modi to wait till the domestic politics took its course and with the election of President Ibrahim Solih, Modi could visit the Maldives again in November 2018 briefly. Even then, Solih has undertaken a policy to balance old friends and a new friend - to balance India and China. However, Maldives relation with China underwent a shift after the Maldivian Finance Ministry took count of the $935m direct loans owed to Beijing over the four-lane China-Maldives Friendship Bridge. Now, as Modi visited the Maldives, Male is more receptive of India. Similar has been the case with Sri Lanka. The debt-weary has led Colombo to sign a deal with India and Japan to now jointly build a deep-sea container terminal at the Colombo port after China took it on a 99-year lease. 

What does it mean? 

Modi’s visit is full of rhetoric from the past and messages to the future. The visit indicates the cementing of the south and eastward tilt that India’s First neighbourhood policy has taken. To start with, this year’s swearing-in saw the invitation extended to the BIMSTEC countries who are also members of the SAARC. This was in line with the deteriorating relationship with Pakistan after the Pulwama and Balakot incidents. As against this, India’s cooperation with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Myanmar has been relatively on track. As a result, consolidating relation with the BIMSTEC countries was not a surprise. This received its end with Modi’s visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka when Indian leadership indicated a second message directed to China. The visit to the two countries came amid the deep inroads made by China. With the second visit in hand being the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Bishkek, on the one hand Jaishankar by visiting Bhutan took stock of the current thinking in Thimphu about Chinese overtures, Modi looked at the Indian Ocean neighbours.

The visit also demonstrated how India is now looking to invest more in short and impact-driven projects without hesitating to collaborate with other partners like Japan. This is in sharp contrast to China’s focus on infrastructure development and India extending ample financial assistance in the line of Credit basis and focus on people-centric welfare measures. Thus, when Modi said that India’s financial assistance to the nation would not push the future generations of Maldivians into ‘debilitating debt’, the veiled reference to China was evident.

The timing of visiting Sri Lanka was also prudent. The rhetoric of terrorism bore well with both the countries. Sri Lanka became the victim of serial bombing by National Thowheed Jama’ath on the Easter Sunday. Similarly, Maldives has faced the problem of radicalisation in youth. 


Japan and Iran: Abe’s Peace Mission
 

What happened?
From 12-14 June 2019, Shinzo Abe marked his visit to Iran becoming the first Japanese Prime Minister to the Islamic nation since the 1979 revolution. Japan and Iran are in the 90th year of their diplomatic relationship this year. It is also significant to note that the visit came shortly after US President Donald Trump made a state visit to Japan. Abe’s trip is a result of significant support and encouragement from the US and its Middle Eastern allies to ease the ongoing tensions between Tehran and Washington and, subsequently bringing peace to the region. 

What is the background?
US relations with Iran has taken a toll since Washington's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal over Iran's Nuclear Programme and imposing harsh economic sanctions. There has been a further escalation in tensions when the Trump administration sent an aircraft carrier to the region and moved to send additional troops indicating the possibilities of a military confrontation. While both the nations are still working on different pages, recently, the friction took a paradoxical shift when Trump announced his openness to holding diplomatic talks with Iran. 

What does it mean?
For the Japanese leadership, the bilateral meeting at Iran comes as an opportunity. In a multipolar world order, Abe’s interference into a possible war-like situation has become an honest effort to lift Japan’s influence on the global stage. Besides, this comes with strong support from Washington. While the continuation of conflict has hit hard on the Japanese economy. Japan has stopped oil imports from Iran under American pressure. Any further escalation in the region would primarily affect its energy trade in the region. 
On the other hand, Abe’s visit might not certainly create wonders as far as easing of tensions is concerned. While Japan continues to be a good friend of Iran, its close alliance with the US might make the process of peacemaking and arbitration more biased. After a long stint of little reaction, not to forget that Japanese efforts have also come in pretty late. This will undoubtedly make Tehran wary of Tokyo’s involvement in the conflict. 

 

The SCO Summit 2019: Narendra Modi in Bishkek

What happened?

Narendra Modi took part in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, held at Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan during 13-14 June 2019. 

On 14 June, PM Modi attended the India-Kyrgyz Business Forum, emphasizing growth in economic status and advancement in technology in India as the prominent reasons for global development. He was also expected to engage in bilateral talks with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. 

In the summit, India, along with the other members, the SCO condemned all forms of terrorism and manifestations. The Bishkek Declaration of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's Heads of State Council, the member states stressed the need for the international community to promote cooperation in combating this issue. The members urged the global community to work towards a consensus on adopting. 

What is the background?

The SCO is a China-led 8-member economic and security bloc with India and Pakistan were admitted to the grouping in 2017. Other members of the grouping are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.  This summit is Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance, the creation of which was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China.  

For India, the summit came at a crucial juncture, as Modi starts his second tenure as India's PM. Just before the summit, he had a fruitful visit to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, two crucial countries in Indian neighbourhood.  The on-going trade war between the US and China has also provided a background for the meeting between Modi and Jinping in the sideline of this summit.

What does it mean?

The SCO summit has provided a platform for India to maintain and reset the relationship with China, Russia, and Iran.  It was expected that this summit would give India three opportunities: first, the meeting for PM Modi with his Chinese and Russian counterparts. Meeting with Xi Jinping was important to India given the forthcoming visit of the Chinese President in October 2019. 

Second, the leaders of India and Iran were expected to address the energy issue, as the oil import from Iran has been stopped. One is not clear, whether Modi made was successful in this regard; there are no reports yet in the public domain on this.

Third, the Central Asia meetings are likely to be useful for India. With questions on energy imports from Iran looming large, Central Asia could become another source. Also crucial for India is the growing Chinese footprints in Central Asia.

Finally, contrary to the expectations, there was no substantial meeting between Modi and Imran Khan. Though the latter has been insisting on resuming bilateral dialogue, Modi seems to be reluctant. If Indo-Pak dialogue is likely to remain a non-starter, so would be India-Central Asia energy relations.

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