The World this Week

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The World this Week
Greece-Turkey Tensions, Iran and the UNSC, China and the South China Sea and Shinzo Abe's resignation in Japan

  GP Team

The World This Week # 82, 30 August 2020, Vol 2 No 35

Sourina Bej, Samreen Wani, Teshu Singh, Harini Madhusudan, Rashmi Ramesh

Greece and Turkey: Bilateral relations deteriorate beyond drilling rights

What happened? 

Three developments took place this week that has further worsened the relationship between Greece and Turkey amid a conflict over natural gas reserves. 

On 26 August, Greece announced that it would conduct military exercises with France, Italy, and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. The French Armed Forces Ministry confirmed France's participation, adding that it is contributing three French Rafale jets and one frigate equipped with a helicopter to the military exercises. In response, Turkey announced that it had carried out military drills of its own with the US Navy. Turkey's Defense Ministry said on Twitter that "Turkish warships and the USS Winston S Churchill destroyer had taken part in maritime training in the eastern Mediterranean."

The above developments came after Greece ratified an accord on maritime boundaries with Egypt in response to Turkey's operation in the region wherein the later had sent a seismic survey vessel to look for more natural gas reserves. 

The European Union (EU) is caught in the crossfire between Greece and Turkey. The EU, in an attempt to diffuse the conflict between the two NATO countries, has called for dialogue. It also threatened sanctions against Turkey. 

What is the background? 

First, the scramble for natural gas in the Mediterranean. The discovery of gas deposits in waters off the shores of Crete and Cyprus has reignited old rivalries between Greece and Turkey, as both countries counter claims over the energy resources. Both Turkey and Greece have got into agreements with Egypt and Libya to extend its maritime boundaries so as to lay claims over the Black Sea, Aegean, and the Mediterranean where hydrocarbon deposits have been discovered. The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis entered into an agreement with Cairo after Turkey started aggressively searching for natural gas reserves in the region on account of its agreement with Libya in 2019. Turkey has claimed that the Cairo-Athens accord overlaps with the continental shelf agreed in the Turkish-Libyan agreement which has been in turn decried as illegal by Greece.

Second, the EU's tough posture against Turkey. With a conflict brewing in Europe's periphery, the EU has tried to deescalate the conflict after German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas shuttled between Greece and Turkey on 25 August in an attempt to open channels for dialogue. At the same time, an informal meeting of European Union ministers took place on 27 August in Berlin where Greece mounted pressure on the EU to hit Turkey with sanctions. Until now, Greece's claim has the backing of the EU, but the bloc has refrained from any serious action against Ankara; the EU fears that Erdogan will follow through on threats to allow migrants currently living in Turkey to pass through into Europe. 

Third, a more assertive Turkey. Turkey's pursuits in the Mediterranean today is part of a larger assertive foreign policy by Erdogan to fulfill a regional ambition that extends from Libya to Syria. The Blue Homeland doctrine of Erdogan explicitly envisages these ambitions by crafting a much greater maritime role for Turkey to secure its own strategic waters. Equally, Turkey has locked horns with its Western NATO allies in Syria, steered its own course with Russia and Iran where necessary, and also intervened on the side of the UN-backed Libyan government while the UAE and Egypt backed the eastern front of Gen Khalifa Haftar. The Libyan conflict has also deepened the enmity between Turkey and Egypt. Extending from MENA, Turkey's current geostrategic involvement in the Mediterranean has come.

What does it mean? 

First, the crisis in the Mediterranean will deepen unless both Greece and Turkey take a step back and reevaluate their overlapping legal claims over the continental shelf. A compromise is the way forward but not likely as both countries engage in military exercises to drive home a message to the other. 

Second, the EU's role will be crucial in navigating itself out of the conflict. Sanctions have not deterred Ankara before and will not now. It is an assertive country with strong regional ambitions that the EU is dealing with. Unless an agreement is made with Turkey to resolve the migrant issue, Turkey will continue to use this sticking point as leverage against the later. 

Iran: The US gets snubbed at the UNSC, while Tehran agrees for IAEA inspection

What happened?

On 14 August, the UNSC rejected a US proposal to extend the arms embargo on Iran indefinitely, that is due to expire in October. Only the Dominican Republic joined the US in favour of the resolution that was vetoed by Russia and China. The rest of the 11 countries abstained from voting on the resolution. The Indonesian ambassador to the UN (also serving as the President of the UNSC) stated that he was in no position to take 'further action' due to lack of consensus in the Council. Reacting to the failure of the resolution, the US Ambassador expressed regret that the other members of the Council had chosen to stand 'in the company of terrorists'. The US further threatened to invoke the snapback clause of the JCPOA to keep the sanctions going.

On 26 August 2020, in another meaningful development, amid high-level talks between the IAEA chief and Iran, an agreement to allow inspections in two secret nuclear sites in Iran was reached. In return, Iran secured the IAEA guarantee that it would not pursue any further questions on the issue.

What is the background?

First, the embargo on arms. Resolution 2231 that endorsed the JCPOA, eased certain sanctions on Iran in return for the cessation of its enrichment activities. It also placed an arms embargo on Iran for five years and sanctions on its ballistic missile programme for eight years. Iran was to refrain from procuring or manufacturing ballistic missiles which were nuclear-capable. The joint commission on the JCPOA is to have a joint meeting on 1 September.

Second, the 'snap back' provision. The resolution was initially submitted by AIPAC to Mike Pompeo and gained majority support in the US Congress. In early August, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and UAE sent a letter to the UNSC urging it to keep the pressure on Iran by refusing to lift the arms embargo. Despite reneging on its JCPOA requirements, on 27 August, the US tried to invoke additional punitive measures on Iran by accusing it of violating the agreement. This move was rejected by the other signatories of the deal, who claimed that upon withdrawing, the US has also given up its right to invoke any clause of the agreement. The US, however, has pledged to keep the embargo in place by exploring other diplomatic options.

What does it mean?

The approval to participate and facilitate IAEA inspections comes as Tehran wants to come across as the more accommodative and receptive signatory to the deal. By securing the IAEA guarantee, it wants to solidify its credibility and put a stop to accusations of violation from Israel, US and their partners in the Gulf. 

The defeat at the UNSC is quite an attestation on how isolated the US is on the issue. That the abstentions and the vetoes by fellow council members got likened to support for terrorism and didn't even register in the US as a legitimate exercise in respective 'national interests' is hardly surprising. Committed and driven only by imposing its own militaristic will on countries and multilateral institutions, this latest tirade launched against Council members is a reaction to the fatigue with the US manipulation of geopolitics often to the detriment of the entire region. By riding roughshod on the deal and by placing conditions akin to complete strategic capitulation from Iran, the US has advertised that nothing short of the death of the deal is desirable.

South China Sea: China launches missiles in the disputed waters 

What happened?

On 26 August 2020, China launched two missiles; D-21 (range of around 1,800km) and DF-26 (Ballistic Missile with a range of 3000-4000 km) in the disputed South China Sea. The two missiles were launched from the northwest province of Qinghai and Zhejiang province into an area between Hainan province and the Paracel Islands. 

The above development comes immediately a day after, a U-2 spy plane of the US entered a "no-fly zone" at the time of ongoing Chinese live-fire naval drill in the Bohai Sea. 

What is the background?

First, there were prior indications, and China had shown intent to test the missiles. China also had, announced a travel exclusion zone in a part of the South China Sea. The missiles launch follows a series of military exercises that China was conducting. 

 Second, without providing the details, Colonel Wu Qian (spokesperson of the Ministry of National Defence) confirmed that China carried out long-planned drills in the area from Qingdao to the South China Sea. He added, "the above exercises are not directed at any country". Colonel Wu held the US responsible for the deteriorating situation between the two countries and reiterated, that the bilateral relations are facing an "unusually severe and complicated situation". He further added that "China's military will not dance to the US tune, but also we will not bow to its reckless behaviour". 

Third, the US sanctions as a retaliation against the missile launch. After the launch, the US government has imposed sanctions on 24 Chinese state-owned enterprises. These sanctions include several subsidiaries of China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) that are helping China in bolstering its territorial claims in the South China Sea. The companies will be added to the Commerce Department's Entity List, which inhibits American firms from selling US goods and technology to these companies without a special license. 

Subsequently, the US Department of State announced visa restrictions on Chinese individuals "responsible for, or complicit in, either the large scale reclamation, construction, or militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea, or the PRC's use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources." According to the restriction, the individuals will not be allowed entry in the US and their immediate family members could also be subject to restrictions. Amid the ongoing US-China trade friction, it is the first punitive action by the US over the disputed water. In all probability, it is likely to further escalate the tension between the countries.

What does it mean?

The missile tests come against the background of the ongoing annual RIMPAC (the Rim of Pacific Exercise) military drills in Hawaii. In a related development, Mark Esper said that the ruling Chinese Communist Party wants China to project power globally through its military. He further reiterated that "this will undoubtedly involve the People's Liberation Army provocative behaviour in the South and East China Seas, and anywhere else, the Chinese government has deemed critical to its interests."

Through the missiles test, China wants to emphasize its strategic dominance and sovereignty over the disputed region. The test will further destabilize the region. The Pentagon has reiterated that conducting military exercises is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintain stability. It is a violation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It also raises doubts about the motivation behind the ongoing negotiation for a Code of Conduct between China and ASEAN. Overall, the test has caused unease among China's neighbours and will further destabilize the already volatile disputed region.


Japan: Shinzo Abe announces resignation 

What happened?

Shinzo Abe put an end to speculations surrounding his health on 28 August 2020, announced that he would leave the office. The 65-year-old stated that his health began to decline from mid-July. Shinzo Abe's administration had been facing criticism for Japan's slowing economy and its handling of the pandemic. Abe is the longest-serving leader in Japan whose term was due September 2021. 

What is the background?

First, the announcement and its timing: At an unusually unmoderated press conference, Shinzo Abe announced his resignation. He said that the decision was taken to ensure that he does not fall short on his duties and decision-making, as he is now receiving regular treatment for his health condition. He had resigned from his duties in 2007 due to the same health reasons. Among his promises made while taking office, he mentioned that getting North Korea to return abducted Japanese citizens; sorting territorial dispute with Russia; and overhauling the constitution to give more power and autonomy to the military were his shortcomings. 

Second, the domestic political conditions in Japan: in the initial months of his term, in order to give a boost to Japanese stock indexes and the employment rate, Abe had introduced massive monetary easing and set the inflation target at two per cent, this is popularly called Abenomics and had shown good results. There have been a string of scandals money and accusations of favouritism against his cabinet members and him. However, the pandemic placed a huge impact on the Japanese economy and worsened its fiscal health undoing the benefits that came with Abenomics. 

Third, his potential successors. Abe announced that he would leave the office when a successor is chosen, which automatically has triggered a call for a vote within the Liberal Democratic Party. Taro Aso, the Deputy Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary and Fumio Kishida, the LDP Police Chief are rumoured to be the main contenders. 

Fourth, what it means to the world: Abe has been a familiar presence at myriad international gatherings and for his rapport with foreign leaders. He is also often regarded as a hawkish conservative, who sought to raise Japan's profile globally. However, the abduction issue with North Korea remained unsolved. Japan's relations with South Korea were soured, and the territorial dispute between Russia and Japan has remained stagnant for decades now. 

What does it mean?

The timing of Shinzo Abe's exit has certainly been a shock. The fact that he is resigning for a second time would cost heavy for his political career. The successor is unlikely to deviate from the existing policies of the government but would essentially be left with the management of the COVID crisis and deal with the prominent domestic and regional challenges. Shinzo Abe has announced that he will return to his political career before the next general elections.


by Harini Madhusudan and Rashmi Ramesh

Southeast Asia This Week

Twin Bomb attacks in the Philippines
On 24 August 2020, two bombs exploded in a town in Southern Philippines, leaving 14 dead. The first bomb is said to be a homemade bomb attached to a motorcycle and the other was carried out by a female suicide bomber. Reports suggest that a third unexploded bomb was discovered at a public market. 

Facebook bans a Thai group that was critical of the monarchy
A million-member group that was discussing the monarchy on Facebook was blocked in Thailand after the Thai government threatened legal action against Facebook. Criticism of the monarchy is illegal in Thailand and the group' Royalist Marketplace,' was run by a self-exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, from Japan. The ban has drawn criticisms by civil rights groups and adds to the ongoing protests against the monarchy. 

The Middle East and Africa This Week 

Mali: Former President released from detention

Mali's former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was released by the coup leaders of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People. Committee said that Keita was "is free in his movements, he is at home." His release was the primary demands of the international community, including Mali's neighbours, the African Union, and the European Union. Meanwhile, the Committee reportedly told the ECOWAS, West African Regional bloc that they intend to remain in power for three years, as a transitional government, until the elections are held.

Sudan: Mike Pompeo's visit 
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Sudan and held talks with Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok. Two main issues were discussed- first, Sudan's listing as a state sponsor of terrorism and second, the betterment of Arab-Israel relations. Sudan wants to be removed from the list, so that the sanctions can be lifted off the crumbling economy.

Pompeo hoped that the relations between the Arab countries and Israel would progress on a positive track, and he discussed the same with the Sudanese Prime Minister. However, Sudan reportedly said that "it does not have the mandate for normalization of relations with Israel." It requested the US to not place this as a condition for lifting the sanctions that have been there since the 1990s. 

Iraq: Downsizing of the US troops, and violent protests
First, the Trump administration is expected to downsize the US force in Iraq to about 3500 troops. This is an approximately one-third reduction in the troop size. The move is part of Trump's plan to withdraw from different countries across, particularly the war zones.  Second, protests in Iraq's Basra took a violent turn, as protestors torched the local parliament office and clashed with the security forces. The protestors demanded the resignation of Asad al-Eidani, Governor of Basra, after two activists were shot dead in the city.

Egypt: Medical aid shipment to those affected by the floods in Sudan
Amid the stalled negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Egypt lends a helping hand to Sudan, prioritizing winning over Sudan in the dam crisis. Egypt sent a medical plane with supplies to help the Sudanese affected by the torrential rains. There has been a failure to reach consensus on a binding agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the operation and filling of the dam. 

Europe and the Americas This Week

Sweden: Riots in Malmö

Violence broke out in southern Swedish city Malmö, when a Danish politician was not allowed to attend a Quran-burning rally. Asmus Paludan of the far-right, anti-Islamic, anti-immigration party Stram Kurs (Hard Line) was blocked from reaching the venue holding the rally. The Swedish authorities banned him from entering the country for a period of two years and detained him near Malmö. His supporters conducted the rally, and three of them courted arrest on the basis of racism and inciting hatred. 

Belarus: President accuses NATO of having aggressive plans against him.
Alexander Lukashenko on 27 August accused NATO of aggressively positioning forces along its borders with Poland and Lithuania. "They want to topple this government and replace it with another one that would ask a foreign country to send troops in support," he said. NATO flew nuclear-capable bombers over its member states and Russia, on the other hand, has been holding large naval exercises near Alaska. The EU has agreed to impose sanctions on 20 officials suspected of election fraud and in Vienna, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe offered to mediate between the two sides. 

The US: The Republican National Convention 2020
The convention was held between 24 and 27 August and saw an attendance of nearly 1500 people. The convention was aimed at proving the successes or that "things are getting better" of Trump's first term. Trump was seen stating that the pandemic management has been going well, and promised that the country would recover from it and make an economic comeback. Emphasis was laid on racial balance at the convention. Pence was seen saying that America would cease to be safe if Biden won. Among the attendees of the RNC, four are known to have tested positive for coronavirus. 

A BLM March in Washington to mark 57 years since Martin Luther's Speech
On 28 August 2020, thousands of people gathered in Washington to participate in the 'Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,' march against racial deaths, in commemoration of the 1963 march where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic 'I Have A Dream' speech. The ongoing "Black Lives Matter" protests have been against the police brutality and the White Silence to the disproportionate atrocities against the black community. 

About the Authors 
Sourina Bej is a Project Associate at NIAS. Teshu Singh is a Research Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation. Samreen Wani is a MA in International Studies from Stella Maris College. Harini Madhusudan, and Rashmi BR are PhD scholars at School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. 

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