The World this Week

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The World this Week
Selecting Kamala Harris in the US, Arresting Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong and Facing the Second Wave in Europe

  GP Team

The World This Week # 80, 16 August 2020, Vol 2 No 33

N Jayaram, Shreya Upadhyay, Sourina Bej and Rashmi Ramesh

Hong Kong: Media arrests under the National Security Law

What happened? 
Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the publisher of one of Hong Kong's best-selling newspapers, Apple Daily, was arrested on 10 August for alleged "collusion with a foreign country or external elements". Several others from the daily as well as prominent pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow Ting were also arrested the same day on similar charges. They were released on bail over the following days.  

What is the background? 
First, the arrests took place under the National Security Law (NSL), imposed by Beijing early in July. Hong Kong activists had seen off an attempt by Hong Kong's own administration to adopt national security legislation in 2003 following a protest rally by more than 500,000 people. But in the aftermath of the even more spectacular protests throughout 2019 and early this year sparked by an attempt by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to legislate an extradition treaty that included extraditions to mainland China and violent clashes with the police, Beijing seems to have lost its patience. 

Second, under the NSL, passed by the Standing Committee of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress on 30 June, "secession", "subversion", "terrorism" and "collusion with foreign forces" incur maximum penalties of life imprisonment. Within hours of its coming into force, shops and restaurants began to take down posters and banners proclaiming their support to pro-democracy and pro-human rights causes, while public libraries and bookshops began removing "sensitive" texts from their shelves.

What does it mean?
Those who said that the imposition of the NSL by Beijing meant the end of "One Country, Two Systems", "A high degree of autonomy" for the territory and "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong" – which had been mantra ever since the signing of the Sino-British Agreement of 1984 that envisaged the handover of Hong Kong's sovereignty from Britain to China – stand vindicated. 

Add to this the postponement of elections to the Legislative Council which had been scheduled for 5 September – and which could have led to a massive show of strength by pro-democracy candidates – by a whole year on the specious pretext of the COVID pandemic, the people of Hong Kong stand deprived of protections envisaged under the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs Hong Kong since its handover in 1997. 

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international bodies have warned that the draconian NSL could lead to "discriminatory or arbitrary interpretation and enforcement which could undermine human rights protection". Global human rights organization Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin, said: "The authorities' allegation of 'foreign collusion' against Jimmy Lai and others – so far without explanation – highlights how this overly broad and vague provision of the national security law can be used to prosecute those with different political views."

Kamala Harris: The Running Mate to Joe Biden in US Presidential Elections
What happened? 
US Senator Kamala Harris has been chosen by Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden to be his running mate in the 2020 elections. Senator Kamala's nomination makes her the first African American and Indian American to become a vice-presidential candidate. 
What is the background 
First, Harris born to immigrant parents, and has made a career, reflects what the US stands for. She was born to an Indian mother and Jamaican father. She made a name for herself as a top lawyer and law enforcement official. 

Second, in 2019, she launched her candidacy for President that was met with initial enthusiasm. However, she could not garner much support and earned flak from the progressives side. 'Kamala is a cop' adage was used during her presidential campaign, spoiling her chances to win over progressive liberals. She ended her candidacy in December and later endorsed Biden for the post. 

What does it mean?
First, Senator Kamala's nomination brings to fore what the Democratic party stands for- young(er) and ethnically diverse. Kamala is 55-year-old, much younger than the 77-year-old white Joe. Her selection helps in balancing the overall age of the future democratic White House.

Second, her nomination has been celebrated by the party's African American, Indian American, women, immigrant, and liberal voter base. With the ongoing 'Black lives Matter' movement, the symbolism of Kamala as a candidate who has been an outspoken leader on racism and a woman of colour, will go a long way in attracting the voter base.  

Third, she needs to further up her game on specifics regarding tough questions on prison reforms, and health care reforms. Since the death of George Floyd, Harris has been outspoken in alleging police brutality and institutional racism in law enforcement and has advocated law-enforcement reform. 

Finally, the democratic party would need to devise a fresh plan on dealing with the current Covid-19 crisis which has left the incumbent weak but more aggressive. They would need to come up with robust ideas on the economy, immigration, globalization, and public health to device a winning deal. 

With rising Covid-19 cases, Europe at the brink of a second wave 
What happened? 
On 14 August France declared Paris and its port city Marseille as high-risk zones for the coronavirus as the government reported more than 2,500 new infections for the third day in a row.

On 13 August Germany recorded its highest daily number of new cases in three months, and infections from the COVID-19 are fast increasing in Spain, Netherlands Iceland, Belgium, Greece, and Luxembourg. 

The cases since July are increasing the stakes of a possible second wave reckoning in Europe. Spain has emerged to be the worst hit with more than 16,000 cases in the first week of August and two-thirds of cases are concentrated in the northern regions of Catalonia, Aragon, and Madrid. These emerging cases have led to the return of 14-days mandatory quarantine rules and travel warnings in the region. The apprehension has now led to a brief spat between the UK and Spain when the former placed Spain in its mandatory quarantine list. France was added to the UK's 'quarantine upon travel' list early this week. Wearing of masks, banning on smoking and cancelling of marathons are new measures put in place to curb the spread in the region. 

What is the background? 
First, tourism and holiday returnees are contributing most to the cases. After the first wave ended in June, Europe eagerly reopened its economies before the community virus load reduced permitting holidays with caution. Spain has become a good example of how tourism has become one of the many factors responsible for a spike in coronavirus cases in the region. In the rest of Europe, lifting of the three-month nationwide lockdown, the opening of bars, cafes, nightclubs have led to socializing, making new outbreaks potentially dangerous. As more return from holidays, countries such as Germany, where 1,200 cases are only from holiday returnees, are trying to balance the movement of people, businesses, and the contagion. 

Second, past lessons from national lockdown replaced with localized measures. Across Europe, governments are turning away from national lockdowns toward small scale and targeted restrictions in movement. These localized lockdowns are believed to avoid a devastated economy in spring 2021. In the UK, the city of Leicester was brought under lockdown, a model that is increasingly being followed in Catalonia, Madrid in Spain, and Aberdeen in Scotland. 

Last, young demography becomes the casualty in the second wave. One key difference from the cases registered in April and in August is that while case numbers are beginning to increase, new daily deaths remain low. This is because unlike the first wave of the pandemic, the epidemiologists have said, most of the new cases in Europe are among the youth, who are less likely to die from the virus. The youths are the holiday returnees and the most socializing group. Even though this appears to be a silver lining, the risk of the contagion to the old demography lies strong. 

What does it mean? 
First, Europe is still recuperating from the first wave both in terms of deaths and the economy. After the EU recovery fund was announced, the opening through the relaxation of national lockdowns was part of the region's policies against an economic free fall. Currently, the containment of the second wave through localized lockdowns will be another chance at saving the European economy from spiralling into recession. 

Second, while new daily cases are still several times lower than they were during Europe's peak in March and April, one thing one knows about COVID-19 is that it can spread exponentially if allowed to get out of control. There is a debate on whether it is a second wave as most cases are yet to translate into a region-wide spike. Lessons lie in tests and trace programme and Italy has become one of the examples who after being the worst-hit countries in the first wave have been able to keep its per capita daily case rate to one of the lowest levels on the continent. 

South Asia This Week

Sri Lanka: Mahinda Rajapaksa forms the new government 
SLPP led by the Rajapaksas scored big in the recent elections that were held on 5 August. Decimating the opposition completely, the party won 145 out of the 225 seats, plus five more seats from the allies. On 9 August, Mahinda Rajapaksa took an oath of office as the Prime Minister for the Ninth Parliament. 
The elections and the subsequent formation of the government have tightened the grip of Rajapaksas over the country. The family has retained key portfolios, indicating their growing influence on the political scene of Sri Lanka. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has retained the defence ministry, while PM Mahinda Rajapaksa has kept finance, urban development and Buddhist affairs ministries with himself. The latter named his son Namal Rajapaksa as the youth and sports minister and his eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa as the irrigation minister. 

The Maldives: India announces a new economic package 
India announced a $500 million package for the Maldives in the form of a slew of connectivity and infrastructural development projects. The announcement comes after the virtual meeting between the external affairs ministers of both countries. As per the package, India and Maldives have agreed to establish an air bubble that would facilitate easy movement of people and goods during the pandemic; a submarine cable for telecom connectivity; and direct ferry service. Additionally, India would also give assistance for the Greater Male Connectivity Project to ensure inter-island connectivity. 

Pakistan: The UN General Assembly President-elect visits Islamabad
Volkan Bozkir, the UN General Assembly President-elect visited Pakistan and held meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The meeting focussed on Pakistan's response to COVID-19, Kashmir and other issues relating to peace, security and development. 
During the course of the meeting, PM Khan highlighted the 'crisis' in Kashmir and the need for the international community and the UN, in particular, to "ensure people's right to self-determination as promised under the UNSC resolutions." Bozkir's visit also highlights the strong bonhomie between Pakistan and Turkey. 

Pakistan: China to supply COVID-19 vaccines
China will supply COVID-19 vaccines to Pakistan as part of an agreement for conducting trials there. State undertaking Sinopharm will reportedly work with Karachi University on vaccine trials and distributing them to the most vulnerable sections of Pakistan's population including health workers, senior citizens, people with comorbidities and infants. 

Afghanistan government releases more Taliban prisoners
The Loya Jirga or the grand assembly in Afghanistan approved the release of 400 Taliban prisoners. Sources say that the process of releasing them has begun and around 80 of them have been released. The Loya Jirga recommended the need to monitor the movement of the released Taliban fighters, to ensure that they do not return to the battlefield once again. 
The release of these prisoners is a move to start the intra-Afghan talks scheduled to be held in Doha in the coming week. However, President Ghani warned that this was a very risky move and will pose more danger to the US and to the world. 

India and Pakistan: Both countries celebrate Independence Day
India and Pakistan celebrated their Independence Day in a low keynote due to the pandemic. However, the rhetoric was high on both sides. India, in a veiled attack, condemned China for its expansionist policies and the standoff at the LAC on the eastern front. PM Modi highlighted the need for self-reliance in all sectors, including key supply chains, pharmaceuticals and defence. On the other hand, Pakistan PM Imran Khan, in his address to the nation, spoke about the economic difficulties that the country has been facing. and also expressed solidarity with the people of Kashmir and vowed to support them in the wake of abrogation of the special status. 

Southeast and East Asia This Week
A protest movement in Thailand led by the youths is finding roots. It wants to make the Monarchy accountable
Early this week, there were protests led by the youths, mostly students. The demands have been expanding. A student activist was arrested on 14 August 2020, for taking part in "Free Youth" rally earlier in July 2020. The rally is considered to be one of the largest since the military coup in 2014. A note from the Human Rights Watch fears that there would be more arrests of the youth activists. 

The cause of the protests vary. From the influence of the military in the Schools and society to the role of the monarchy and its expenditure, the students have multiple demands. The latest demand includes the disappearance of dissidents in Thailand. The primary demand is on making the monarchy accountable, allow criticism and revoke Lèse-majesté laws in Thailand. According to the Thai Criminal Code, "Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years."

Europe and the Americas This Week
The United States: Trump wants to block further funds to the US Postal Service (USPS) and questions the process of Mail ballots
Postal voting in the US has been an election practice, which is legally acceptable across the States. The ballot paper is mailed to the registered voter by post and is returned via post. With the COVID situation continuing to wreak havoc across the States, more Americans are expected to use the postal voting for the forthcoming Presidential elections.

Trump and the Democrats are divided on the issue. The Democrats want to expand the process, and increase the funding for the USPS to ensure the mail-in ballot process is smooth and on time. Trump wants to undermine the process but blocking the funds to the USPS. He is also against the idea; The Washington Post has quoted him saying: ""If we don't make a deal, that means they don't get the money…That means they can't have universal mail-in voting. They just can't have it." 

This issue of the postal ballot is likely to snowball further and question the credibility of the process.

Belarus: The protests against President Alexander Lukashenko intensifies
During the last one week, the protests against the President have only got intensified further. The primary demand of the protestors is focussed on the recent elections, in which the President is re-elected with a 80 per cent voting. The protestors want a revote and the President to step down. The Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who have lost the elections, has left to neighbouring Lithuania, fearing her safety. 

Later this week, the protests in the capital – Minsk got intensified and got one more demand – the brutal State response. One protestor was killed, and others were brutally attacked by the security forces. 
 On 13 August, the Presidents of Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and Estonia, who are the neighbours of Belarus (and the members of NATO and the EU) made an official statement, wanting "Belarus to be a stable, democratic, independent and prosperous country" have called upon the President of the Republic of Belarus to: "de-escalate the situation" and "terminate the use of force," stop violence, urgently release all detained protesters, and "immediately initiate a dialogue with the Belarusian people." The EU has held an emergency meeting, and is likely "initiate a process of sanctions against those responsible for the violence, arrests and fraud in connection with the election."

Russia, on the other hand, is likely to support Belarus.

Greece-Turkey standoff: France ready to deploy troops in Eastern Mediterranean 
President Emmanuel Macron on 12 August has ordered French forces to be deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean as the stakes are rising in the regional confrontation over energy explorations among Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt. France's decision follows Macron's visit to Beirut and also a series of aggressive exchanges of threats to Turkey over its involvement in Syria and Libya. 

Turkey has so far made claims on what Greece and Cyprus consider their own exclusive economic zones, and in the beginning of this week sent the Oruc Reis seismic exploration ship, accompanied by warships, into the contested area. 

Mr N Jayaram is a senior journalist. Dr Shreya Upadhyay is Nehru Fulbright scholar. Sourina Bej and Rashmi Ramesh are a Research Associated and PhD Scholar respectively in NIAS.

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