The World this Week

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The World this Week
India-China border standoff, Locust attack in India & the EU's Largest Recovery Fund 

  GP Team

The World This Week # 69, 30 May 2020, Vol 2 No 22

Ashna Joy, Rashmi B R, Sourina Bej and Aarathi Srinivasan

India-China border: Military tensions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC)
What happened?
Top military brass reviewed the situation at the three-day Army commander's conference on 28 May. India and China have entered into a standoff in Pangong Tso Lake, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulet Beg Oldie of Ladakh sector on 5 May. 

Amid the border skirmishes, Prime Minister Modi along with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the Chiefs of Defence forces in a closed meeting reiterated India's defence modernization policy in LAC and emphasized on diplomatic routes to de-escalate the crises. Since then, commanders of both the Indian Army and the People's Liberation Army (PLA) have met several times to normalize the crisis.

It all started in early May. The standoff ensued into a fistfight with several soldiers injured from both sides. On 9 May, another standoff erupted over Nathu La in the Indian state of Sikkim when the Indian soldiers stopped the Chinese patrol army from crossing the disputed boundary line. 

What is the background?
First is the road construction by India, that is central to the border standoff. The reason for current tension is over the completion of a road by India which connects the Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie Road in Galwan Valley. The Galwan valley was the focal point of the 1962 war and is close to the LAC. This triggered the transgression by Chinese PLA into Indian territory with setting up of a large number of tents and aggressive patrolling in Daulat Beg Oldie, Demchok, Galwan valley and Pangong Tso. However, India's construction and defence facilities at LAC is within the border management protocol, according to BDCA, 1999 and Wuhan Summit, 2018. 

Second is the unresolved territorial claims that lead to repeated border transgressions. The settlement of the India-China boundary is an uphill task where both countries have an overlapping claim on the territories. The series of border incursions between India-China has now become an annual affair with a repeated invocation of the historical memory from the 1962 war. The current standoff follows a similar incident of incursion in Ladakh during the visit of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping to India in 2014. 

Third is the border modernization as a power play. The tool of border road construction and modernization for territorial control has been frequently used by China for strategic counterbalance. China's infrastructural prowess was evident in Doklam, Bhutan where it constructed a road along with Tibet to Doklam plateau which is a disputed territory between Bhutan and China. The tri-junction became a serious concern for India because of its proximity to the strategically important Siliguri corridor connecting Northeast India and the state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is equally claimed by China. The 73-day standoff came to an end through diplomatic negotiation wherein both sides agreed to withdraw its armed forces. Even though the dispute has been resolved after every incursion, the more significant territorial concerns remain contested. 

What does it mean?
First, the present border crisis brings out a repeated pattern of Chinese strategy based on 'fang' and 'shou,' which means 'squeezing' and 'relaxing' which was also witnessed in the Doklam incident. After squeezing the Indian militarily through constructing infrastructure and increasing the defence personnel in the border, China subsequently relaxes its military presence to offset its aggressive attitude. As India goes on to construct a road along the border, the present impasse is a reflection of China's attempt to change the status quo on the border.

Second, the border impasse comes as a corollary to India's recent position towards Ladakh.  In 2019, the Indian government changed the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir by splitting it into two Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. This policy was criticized by China accusing it of changing the status of Ladakh unilaterally. And with the present completion of the road in the region, China seems to be leveraging India's border modernization policy to once again reassert its historical dominance in the Aksai Chin region. 


India: Worst locust attack in 30 years could be climate change-induced 

What happened?
Swarm of desert locusts have descended in India's western and northern states, adding to the woes of the farmers as well as the administration. Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are currently reeling under locust invasion. Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have sounded alerts about probable attacks. This being the biggest attack in more than two decades, the central government has stepped in to assist the states in fighting the swarms. 

What is the background?
First is the link to climate change. According to the experts in the UN Environment Programme, the current locust invasion has a climate change link. Studies point out that hotter climate gives rise to more damaging locust swarms. Climate has been unusually warm since the last five years in particular. It has also proven that rain helps the locusts breed in large numbers. In 2019, the Indian Ocean witnessed a phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, a condition where the western part of the ocean was unusually warm and the southeastern part cool. Warm waters in the western Indian Ocean caused unseasonal, persistent rainfall and flooding in parts of East Africa, which in-turn favoured the multiplication of locusts. 
Under normal conditions and 'quiet periods' (also known as recessions) the desert locusts are dispersed across arid and semi-arid regions of Africa. Their population in one particular area remains under control by either migration or natural mortality. 

Second is the expanse of the locust invasion. Swarms have adversely affected countries across East Africa and West Asia since 2019. Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Oman, Yemen and Iran have been severely affected. The swarms then moved towards South Asia, destroying farms in Pakistan and now in India. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned the countries of "a potentially serious food security crisis" due to persisting locust attacks. 

What does it mean?
First, the COVID-19 pandemic has induced a humanitarian crisis, with many countries facing extreme difficulties due to strained health infrastructure. The situation is certainly grim in developing countries. Additionally, the locust attack has taken a toll on the pandemic-hit countries in East Africa and Asia. The threat to food security during a health crisis and the already existing natural disasters like cyclones and floods in the eastern part of India explains the gravity of the situation.

Second, the quality of pesticides is a concern. The locusts seem to have developed some amount of immunity to the pesticides that are being used. It is, therefore, important to improve the quality of pesticides and fertilizers, while also ensuring that they do not cause food poisoning and harm consumers. 

Third, there is a need for a concrete plan for cooperation among the countries that have been affected by the locusts. Cooperation at the regional level through regional institutions will be much more effective, rather than increased dependency on FAO. India and Pakistan; Pakistan, Iran and Turkey have been working together at present, at bilateral and trilateral levels respectively. 

European Commission proposes a massive recovery fund of 750 billion euro

What happened? 
A recovery fund worth 750 billion euro has been proposed by the European Union (EU) executive Commission on 27 May to help the European economy recover from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The aid package will be made up of grants and loans for every EU member state, and of the 750 billion euro, 500 billion euro will be in grants and 250 billion euro will be in loans. In its official statement, the EU Commission called the recovery instrument as the 'Next Generation EU' which will integrate its recovery package with the next long-term EU budget. 

What is the background? 
First, the EU's collective step to rebuild economy. The economies across the 27-nations within the EU bloc have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, with several southern European states battling more national debts now than before. With nearly all member states breaching the EU deficit limits as they have rushed to spend on supporting healthcare systems, businesses, and jobs, this proposed plan will now allow the EU to borrow 750 billion euro on the financial markets, which would be repaid through future EU budgets.

Second, another institutional step by the EU in the post pandemic scenario. The large recovery fund comes at a time when the EU has been taking the institutional leader in the global search for the vaccine. The proposal for the recovery fund is another step towards how the institution envisions its response to the post-pandemic world. 

Last, bypassing the EU north-south divide. The proposal from the European Commission follows the European Union Finance Ministers' deal of 500 billion euro rescue package for the severely affected European economies in the pandemic. The deal was however announced amid an impasse between the southern countries of Italy, Spain, France and the northern countries of the Netherlands, Austria, and Finland that has divided the EU for long. 

What does it mean?
First, the EU's collective responsibility may not be as collective as it appears. The EC President Ursula von der Leyen has called the proposal "Europe's moment." But this moment represents a distinct and long drawn divide within the EU member states. While Spain and Italy with the highest number of deaths are particularly keen on grants rather than loans, the four 'frugal' states of Austria Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden have rejected the idea of cash handouts to relatively poorer countries. Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Lithuania, have refused to commit in either way until they've read the legal print.

Second, along with EU's proposal, a separate announcement by France and Germany together has brought the focus back on who is leading the bloc better. The Franco-German plan of a 500 billion euro aid package together will boost the EU recovery fund but at the same time will see competition for leadership between France and Germany. 

Last, the EU recovery plan is based on dangerous borrowing from the financial market. The question that now remains to be addressed is who is borrowing, is it the EU or the individual country? Massive borrowing by the bloc might push the bloc together into debt. Hence rather than having national debts, the region will have to address a future scenario of institutional debts and sharing of the debt which might deepen the economic divide. The best way forward for the recovery would be to focus on providing the grants as direct transfer to the most affected country out of its budget. 

Also, in the news…

Trump signs executive order to narrow protections for social media platforms
President Trump signed an executive order on 28 May, aimed at limiting the broad legal protections enjoyed by social media companies, two days after his confrontation with Twitter for fact-checking two of his tweets. The tech platforms are unhappy with the decision since it would make them responsible for billions of users around the world. There is scepticism that the order is largely political and toothless in terms of enforcement.

New cluster of COVID-19 cases in South Korea
South Korea witnessed a spike in COVID-19 cases this week with a record of 79 cases on 28 May, the highest daily figure in two months. Most of these cases have been linked to a distribution centre in Bucheon, the warehouse run by the country's biggest e-commerce firm Coupang. The government has responded by bringing back lockdown measures in the Seoul metropolitan area while limiting a number of pupils going to school.

Vocal China critic suspended from Australia's University of Queensland
Drew Pavlou - a vocal critic of the Chinese government and supporter of the Hong Kong independence movement is suspended for two years by the University of Queensland in Australia. The university, however, did not release details of the decision. Pavlou said he was given no reason for the move and it was to silence his criticism of the Chinese Communist Party's influence at the institution.

India responds to Nepal's call for dialogue over Kalapani dispute 
Nepal has been insisting on the diplomatic talks with India to address the Kalapani border issue. The Ministry of External Affairs of India on  28 May responded to Kathmandu's calls for dialogue after stating that it would do so in an environment of trust and confidence. However, Kathmandu indicated that India was yet to display proactive diplomacy towards Nepal. Meanwhile, the Nepali Congress has sought more time to consider the constitutional amendment bill on revising their new political map. The party will take a decision on 30 May.

Trump administration seeks to sell more arms to Saudi Arabia
The Trump administration is planning to sell nearly 500 million dollars in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, drawing objections from senior democratic lawmakers questioning the timing and justification for the deal. If the newest sale is carried out, Saudi Arabia will buy 7500 Paveway IV precision-guided munitions manufactured by Raytheon Technologies Corp. In addition, the proposal gives licenses to expand and manufacture additional weapons within Saudi Arabia.

Europe's tough response against China over security law in Hong Kong 
In response to China's decision on Hong Kong, the UK has urged China to reverse course over its new security law. The British foreign secretary said that the UK would extend the rights of up to 300,000 British national overseas passport holders in Hong Kong if China persisted with the law. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on 28 May criticized China's plan and called for an open dialogue with China, ahead of a conference between the EU foreign ministers. Maas said that the best way to influence China was for the EU to stand united in its response and to maintain dialogue with Beijing.

The US accuses Russia for deploying mercenaries in Libya
On 26 May, the US military operating in Africa, Africom accused Russia of deploying mercenaries in support of the Haftar's army which is fighting against the UN-backed government in Libya. The US claims that Moscow has recently sent fighter aircraft to support the Russian state-sponsored private military contractor, Wagner group which confirms the indirect support of Russia to renegade general Haftar's forces. However, Russia denies the state's involvement in the conflict and reiterated the call for a ceasefire in Libya.  


About Authors
Ashna Joy is a Research Scholar at the Department of Humanities of Social Science in IIT Madras. Rashmi BR is a PhD scholar with the Science Diplomacy Programme, School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Sourina Bej is a Project Associate at NIAS. Aarathi Srinivasan is a Research Intern at NIAS.  

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