The World this Week

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The World this Week
India-China Military Commanders meeting, India-Australia agreements, Anti-racism protests across the Atlantic and Pacific, and an Oil spill in the Arctic

  GP Team

The World This Week # 70, 6 June 2020, Vol 2 No 23

D. Suba Chandran, Aarathi Srinivasan, Sourina Bej, Rashmi B R and Harini Madhusudan

India-China Military Commanders meet in Ladakh to discuss the recent border differences
What happened?
On 6 June senior military officers from India and China held a meeting in the Chushul sector in Ladakh. The meeting was led by the Commanders of the 14 Corps based in Leh and South Xinjiang military region respectively on Indian and Chinese sides.

The two leaders held a lengthy meeting to discuss a series of border standoff between the two armies along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) during the recent weeks. While the decisions/conclusions of the 6 June meeting at the military commanders level is yet to made public, one could expect a lowering down of tensions across the LAC, as has happened before in the earlier meetings.

Since the first week of May 2020, there has been a series of physical but non-violent exchanges between the two militaries in two sectors - Ladakh and Sikkim. Within Ladakh, the exchanges took place between Pangong Tso in the Southeast and the Galwan valley up north.

What is the background?
Recent developments across the Ladakh and Sikkim sectors cannot be seen in isolation.

First is the series of border engagements between India and China during the last two decades. In the 2010s alone, there were four significant standoffs, including the latest one in Ladakh; Doklam (2017) was the biggest one. While there were “standoffs” involving the soldiers of both the armies, they did not escalate into an exchange of fire and the use of weapons.

Second is the nature of the border between India and China. The 3400 km plus LAC runs along a difficult terrain in the Himalayas from Aksai Chin to Sikkim. It includes mountain ranges, lakes, rivers and valleys; while most of it is demarcated in the map, a small section is not. And then the occupied territories in 1962. The clashes are taking place in these areas where there is no demarcation. The militaries across the world would want to protect and patrol their border; hence there would be incursions at undemarcated areas.

Third is the pursuit to build border infrastructure. Until the 1990s, a part of the LAC remained inaccessible for troops to use larger vehicles. Technology helped the Chinese to move into the border regions first; also, their strategic understanding of the need to build border infrastructure. On both, India was a late starter. The Chinese built the infrastructure on their side, while the Indians watched; now, the former object to the latter pursuing the same. The Chinese side sees the Indian efforts to build the border infrastructure as muscle-flexing and affecting the status quo.

Fourth is the growing anti-China jingoism within India, with the media (especially the electronic and social) fuelling it with half-baked truths and slogans – “teach them a lesson,” “ban the Chinese goods,” “2020 is not 1962” etc. While the border issues loom large for the Indian society, (thanks to the “breaking news” and “exclusive coverage” from their media), the same is not the case with the Chinese side.

Fifth is the broader India-China political and economic interactions. The political leadership in New Delhi and Beijing have not allowed the border to spill over. Trade and investments continue to expand and reach new heights every year. If Doklam and Depsang happened at the military level, there were also Wuhan and Mahabalipuram summits. However, the larger issue is the failure to settle the border issue and demarcating the same over a map.

What does it mean?
During the 2010s, despite three significant “standoffs” at the military level, none of them has escalated. The current exchange in Ladakh will also come to an end, or perhaps already ended, depending on what happened on 6 June at the Commanders level meeting.

However, unless the two countries agree to settle the border issue and demarcate it, the standoff would erupt again in Ladakh and Sikkim sectors.

India and Australia strengthens the bilateral strategic partnership; nine agreements signed, including a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement

What happened?
On 4 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison had a virtual summit;  the bilateral strategic partnership concluded in 2009 has been elevated as the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP). The leaders concluded nine agreements including a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and issued a joint declaration on a shared vision for maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. 

The MLSA would allow military ships and aircrafts to refuel and access maintenance facilities at each other’s military bases. Other agreements announced included a framework arrangement on cyber technology, an MoU on mining and processing critical and strategic minerals including rare earth minerals. 

What is the background?
First, the growing Australian interest in the Indo Pacific. Strategic ties between India and Australia have gained momentum in recent years as Canberra’s interest in the Indian Ocean and the Indo Pacific gained prominence over the years. There has been an increase in deployment of warships and submarines by China in the Indian Ocean, which has paved way for a strategic competition in the region.  Today, there is an Australian interest in seeking new partners of cooperation in the region. 

Second, a deepening strategic partnership. As India and Australia recommenced talks over the India-Australia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), the relationship has moved beyond the geo-economics to be all-encompassing. India has repeatedly sought Australia’s support for its candidacy for permanent membership in UNSC and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In return, Australia has looked to India as a key player in the Quad and the Indo Pacific. 

Third is increasing people to people linkages. The Indian diaspora is the second largest in Australia with Canberra hosting the most number in its educational institutions. 

What does it mean?
First, the cooperation between India and Australia will ensure a geopolitical advantage in the Indo Pacific. Australia’s strategic partnership with India is a step towards a rule-based governance in the region. 

Second, the benefits from economic cooperation may not be realized by either of the countries due to the economic downturn and further backlash from the pandemic. However, India would gain extensively, especially in the energy sector and in combating climate change. The joint exercises in the Indo Pacific will intensify the parternship. 

Black Lives Matter: Anti-Racist protests expand from the US into the Atlantic and Pacific

What happened? 
As the “Black Lives Matter” protests spread across the Atlantic to Pacific, the countries of Australia, New Zealand, France Germany, the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Canada are faced with a new challenge to upend its racist legacies that shape their political institutions and society. 

On 6 June thousands protested across Australia. More than 20,000  defied the order to join the protest in France. On 5 June, in Hamburg, Germany, around 4,500 gathered outside the US consulate. The protests later spread to Belgium, London, Amsterdam and Toronto in Canada. 

What is the background?
First, the globalized metropolis has become the seat of protests. A common pattern is the repeated segregation of the black community from the diversified and globalized populace of the cities. Even within the European Union, there is less representation from people of colour in Brussels’ corridors of power. Ethnic minorities in Europe are in their third, fourth, fifth generation;  yet they are often perceived based on their colour in spite of being Europeans and living in the region as a whole. 

Second, local causes elsewhere trigger the protests into a movement, proclaiming a common cause with George Floyd. The anti-racism protests elsewhere might have an external trigger, but the internal causes and marginalization are the primary causes. And they are translating the protests into a movement. It represents how the community has begun to equate a distant issue of police killing to their own everyday experience of losing someone to a similar atrocity. Hence it was not surprising when the protests in France demanded accountability over the 2016 death of Adama Traoré in police custody. Similarly, in Australia, it is the mistreatment, marginalization and custodial deaths of aboriginals that has unified the protesters. 

Third, racist profiling starts with faulted education.  Racism stems from a colonial legacy, but it continues in the form of profiling which is most prevalent in the education sector where the formative years of perception-building take place. The highest number of dropouts among the black community happens over name-calling and difficulty to continue in hostile mental conditions.  

A recent study concluded that a member of colour is more likely to be stopped by police for questioning with the highest such incidents in Italy and Finland.

What does it mean? 
First, the global protests movements have returned in a new theatre but with old issues of systemic discrimination. With COVID-19 as the interrupter, the protest movements had subsided at the beginning of 2020, but the same pandemic has also created conditions of unemployment, unequal access to health care and othering behaviour for the protest to be pronounced. 

Second, the anti-racist protests are reclaiming the public spaces by ousting the colonial symbolism that marks the urban spaces of Europe. The protests have revived calls to take down symbols of colonial oppression like in Belgium, which controlled Congo, calls are increasing to remove statues of King Leopold II, who established the colony. Similarly, the federal authorities in Berlin are forced to introspect on the street name ‘Mohrenstrasse’ which broadly translates to a black person or simpleton. 

A major oil spill in the Arctic; Russia declares emergency 

What happened?
The oil spill in the Ambarnaya River within the Arctic Circle has become a major concern for Russia.  The spill was reportedly caused by the collapse of a fuel tank at a power plant near Norilsk, a Siberian city and also one of the most polluted areas of the world. The leaked oil has drifted 12 kilometres from the accident site, and has affected 350 sq. km area. 

President Putin has declared the state of emergency, given the expanse of the oil spill and extra forces will now be going into the area to assist in the clean-up process. 

What is the background?
First, oil spills have been common occurrences. They are either caused by accident or deliberate. Such incidents come to the limelight if they occur in developed countries and mostly go unnoticed if they happen in the developing world. For example, the oil spill in Nigeria in 2006, led to 47 million gallons of oil leaking into Niger Delta Region. According to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation hundreds of spills happen every year. Similar incidents have been witnessed in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, which have affected the biodiversity and the indigenous communities to a very large extent. Technologically advanced countries and the ones having a formidable disaster management mechanism have dealt with oil spills better.

Second, the impact on the ecosystem from the Arctic oil spill. The ecologically sensitive region has faced several oil spills that have affected the Arctic Ocean as well as the rivers within the Arctic Circle. The current oil spill in the Russian Arctic is one of the biggest in the country’s history and is comparable to the Exxon Valdez oil spill (Alaska) of 1989, in terms of the consequences on the environment.

What does it mean?
First, the effect on biodiversity. Even though the government deployed extra forces for cleaning the river, it is expected to take no less than a few years to get the river back to pre-oil spill level. Certainly, the marine life and the biodiversity around along the river bank will be affected severely. Also, there seem to be some technical difficulties, in cleaning up, as the river is located in a remote area, with limited infrastructure and roads. 

Second, the critical state of the Arctic. Reports point out that the recent spill is also a result of climate change. Norilsk Nickel, the company owning the plant issued a statement saying that the fuel reservoir collapsed due to the melting permafrost. The permafrost of the Arctic is melting at a rapid pace due to climate change and has caused landslides, collapse of buildings, and loss of traditional methods of livelihood. The Arctic is at the brink, prone to more such “accidents” in the future, as excavation and drilling for hydrocarbons and minerals is increasing.



Trump invokes George Floyd’s name during his speech on unemployment
On 5 June, Trump referred to Floyd’s name in a press appearance to celebrate new jobs numbers. He said, “…Hopefully, George is looking down and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. (It’s) a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality…” after 11 nights since the death of George Floyd. Prior to this, his comments were mostly focused on praising the law enforcement in their response to the demonstrators. 

Berlin passes Anti-Discrimination Law 
On 4 June Berlin became the first German state to pass its own anti-discrimination law that prohibits public authorities from discriminating against anyone based on their background, skin colour, gender, sexual identity, religion, class, disabilities, worldview, age, or education. The law comes after the city has recently become the seat of anti-racist protests in the country.  

Tiananmen vigil held in Hong Kong 
Despite the announcement of a ban on mass gathering for the first time in 31 years, people took to the streets in thousands to participate in the candlelight vigil. Causeway Bay area saw the largest crowds but they were seen following the social distancing norms. The administration had placed 3000 troops to ensure the ban was upheld; however, the police did not engage with the crowds. 

EU- China summit in Germany postponed 
The first-ever summit between 27 leaders of the EU and Xi Jinping in September 2020 had to be postponed due to pandemic limitations. The summit was meant to be a geopolitical highlight for EU- China cooperation, which would discuss the reshaping of EU- China relations with a deal for companies investing in China and the issues related to Climate Change. 

Three- years since blockade on Qatar US pushes GCC to lift ban 
The US is now seen pushing Saudi Arabia and UAE to lift ban on Qatar Airways from using their airspace. In 2017, air, land, and sea blockade were imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt. Despite intensified efforts, there seems to be no end in sight for the political tensions in the region. 

The UN recognized Libyan government claims significant achievements in the ground 
The government troops have pushed Haftar’s back to pre-April 2019 lines. On 6 June, with the support of Turkish troops, the Government of National Accord (GNA) seized the city of Tarhuna which was the last stronghold of Haftar troops in north-western Libya. It is a serious blow to Haftar’s fourteen months campaign to siege the capital - Tripoli.


About Authors

D. Suba Chandran is a Professor and Dean at the School of Conflict and Security Studies at NIAS. Aarathi Srinivasan is a Research Intern at NIAS. Rashmi B R and Harini Madhusudan are PhD Scholars with the Science Diplomacy Programme, NIAS. Sourina Bej is a Project Associate at the Conflict Resolution and Peace Research Programme, NIAS. 

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