Asia Pacific Focus

China and the EU meet virtually for talks
Asia Pacific Focus

China and the EU meet virtually for talks

The talks will be aimed at cooling some of the tensions from the previous months surrounding the pandemic, Hong Kong and investments.

The EU and China are sitting down together for the first time since their relationship turned sour in the wake of the global pandemic, when Brussels accused Beijing of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 crisis.

Beijing is still smarting from the fact that the EU called for an independent probe into the origins and spread of the coronavirus. Its 27 members co-sponsored a resolution that was submitted to the WHO’s decision-making body. Many other countries threw their weight behind the resolution.

The EU has also been under pressure from the US, asking it to take a tougher stand on China. Besides, EU officials have said that China is using social media to spread fake news about Europe’s handling of the crisis. China has, of course, been denying all these allegations and maintains that it has been transparent in sharing information.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will hold video conferences with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping today on several issues. No statement is expected to be released after the meet.

There is much on the table apart from the coronavirus, problems that predate and follow the pandemic. The EU has expressed “grave concern” for the new security laws in Hong Kong, which according to activists and businesses will damage the semi-autonomous nature of the city and its role as a global financial hub. The EU passed a resolution condemning this which China has reacted angrily to. There are also concerns in the EU that Beijing will attempt to buy up European companies weakened by the coronavirus crisis. In new legislation, specifically targeting Chinese companies, the European Commission has said it will block foreign firms backed by heavy state subsidies from skewing competition in Europe. This comes at the back of European anger that the Chinese haven’t opened by their economy despite a 2019 agreement to do so.

Hong Kong residents in India to be flown out
Asia Pacific Focus

Hong Kong residents in India to be flown out

The Galwan confrontation between the Indian and Chinese army has created an uncertain situation for Hong Kongers living in India. At least 20 Indian army men were killed in clashes with the Chinese military at the Galwan Valley in Ladakh region on June 15.

After clashes in Galwan tension between India and China has escalated, Hong Kong residents who have been residing in India would be evacuated.

The Chinese government has arranged to charter its nationals from parts of India to Hong Kong. All Hong Kong nationals would be evacuated from Chennai on June 20.

According to an advisory issued to all India states, the Ministry of Home Affairs, following a request from officials in Hong Kong, made immediate arrangements to facilitate their movement by June 20.

In that advisory, the travel to Hong Kong by the former colony residents should be treated as “essential.” It has been categorized as that to facilitate their movement across states.

According to reports, a substantial number of Hong Kong residents are based out of Tamil Nadu. They mostly work in IT, oil, and gas pipeline projects.

Following the advisory, state police officials are facilitating their travel. The residents would be issued special passes to travel through various check posts. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several travel restrictions are in place in different Indian states and cities.

On being asked if Chinese nationals in India would be moving out, a police source shared with the Hindu that, as of now, there is no such information.

The officer added that some flights had been arranged to move out Chinese nationals in India as students, tourists, or business visas. However, their return is more related to the rising COVID cases in India.

Following the Galwan confrontation, de-escalation talks have been going on between the military officials of two nations.

Satellite imagery shows that Chinese army men have mobilized hundreds of men and construction material along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

So far, border talks between Major Generals have failed to deescalate the issue. Reports add that the ground situation remains tense. More talks between the two sides are likely. Meanwhile, protests erupted in parts of India against Chinese action in Galwan Valley. Protesters have been demanding the boycott of Chinese goods and services and also ban on entry of any investments.

South Korea holds emergency meeting to discuss escalation with North Korea
Asia Pacific Focus

South Korea holds emergency meeting to discuss escalation with North Korea

South Korean leaders held an emergency meeting yesterday after the sister of North Korean supreme leader threatened severe action against South Korea. Tension have escalated between North Korea and South Korea in recent weeks.

Because of the recent escalation of tension, the sister of Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong on 13 June, said that the decision to use the military option against South Korea would be left to military leadership in North Korea.   

According to a spokesperson from the Blue House, the South Korean National Security Council held a meeting to analyze the emerging situation, post-Kim’s threat. The South Korean leaders will respond to the danger after discussing all available options.

Without sharing any details about North Korean action, Kim said it is “high time” to break ties with the South. The next course of action by Seoul would be announced soon.

Kim, in recent months, has emerged as a powerful voice in the North Korean power hierarchy.

In a separate announcement, the South Korean Defence Ministry said it has been reading into all movements by North Korea. South Korean military, according to the statement, is ready to respond to any situation.

The Unification Ministry deals with all North Korean affairs and says that all Pyongyang moves are being closely watched.

Earlier, North Korea had suspended all communications with South Korea. The Pyongyang regime was unhappy when defectors fled to the South. It was also angry with South Korean balloons carrying propagandist messages for defectors.

South Korean government tried to reassure the Pyongyang government that action would be against those involved in such propaganda.

Despite the escalation in tension, experts from the region believe the North Korean government might be trying to extract concessions from the South by creating this crisis.

So far, negotiations with the US have remained unsuccessful.

Talks to resolve nuclear issues with the US failed to garner any result after the summit between the US President Donald Trump, and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un failed in 2019.  The two Koreas had restarted hotline and other formal communication channels two years ago to de-escalate the tension.

North Korea suspends all communications with South Korea
Asia Pacific Focus

North Korea suspends all communications with South Korea

North Korea, on 9 June, announced that it is severing hotline communication with South Korea. Subsequently, it will sever other ties with South Korea. The announcement was reported in the North Korean state news agency KCNA.

Earlier last week, North Korea had threatened to close the liaison office with South Korea and other collaborative projects. The action was taken after North Korea accused Seoul of sending leaflets and other objectionable materials to North Korea.

The KCNA report adds that top North Korean officials, including Kim Yo Jong, sister of supreme leader Kim Jong Un, are for actions against South Korea.

The action will mean North Korea will shut down communication with inter-Korean liaison offices and hotlines connecting the two countries. Hotlines connecting the two heads of nations will also be suspended.

According to a South Korean spokesperson, North Korea refrained from customary calls to liaison offices or in the two hotlines.

The two Koreas are engaged in routine calls every day, which are a way to manage essential means of communication.

The South Korean unification ministry, which is responsible for managing affairs with North Korea, said that it would continue to work towards agreed principle to maintain peace and prosperity in the Korean peninsula.
Yesterday, North Korean officials did not attend the morning call. However, they responded to the afternoon call.

The two sides had set up this arrangement in 2018 to diffuse tension. In the same year, leaders of both the Koreas had met thrice to initiate dialogue.

The channels of communication are critical to the peace process, which aims to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program. International sanctions remain imposed against the regime in North Korea for its weapons program.

As per reports, influential Kim Yo Jong also wants to walk out of the military agreement signed with Seoul.

Analysts believe that the actions might be related to economic hardships caused by the sanctions rather than North Korean dissidents’ defection.

Relations with South Korea had deteriorated since last year when talks between US President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un failed to get any breakthrough in nuclear disarmament talks.

After the Korean war in 1950-53, the two Koreas, technically, remain in the war. Both sides ended the war by signing an armistice treaty rather than a peace treaty.

Protests against George Floyd’s death spread across Australia with mass rallies for “Black Lives Matter”
Asia Pacific Focus

Protests against George Floyd’s death spread across Australia with mass rallies for “Black Lives Matter”

Supporting “Black lives matter” thousands of people have been protesting in Australia, inspired by the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, U.S. last week.

Rallies in Australia are also about the long going mistreatment and marginalization of Australian Aboriginal people. Protestors in Sydney were ready to resist an order but it was overturned by a court appeal at the last moment. The New South Wales Supreme Court ruled against the protest holding on Friday under the social distancing rules in place due to coronavirus.

The mass protests are being seen in Melbourne, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide and many other Australian cities.

Banners saying “Black lives matter”, “I can’t breathe” and “Same story different soil” are the voice of protestors.

New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott said regarding the protest cancellation in Sydney, “Freedom of speech isn’t as free as we would like it to be at the moment. Rules at the moment are clear.”

Why is Australia protesting? Not just in solidarity, enough indigenous deaths.

To some it may feel Australia is protesting just in solidarity. But it is actually seizing in the US protests, because Australia too has a history of lot many indigenous deaths, and people have had enough.

According to Committee to Defend Black Rights in 1987, one indigenous person in Australia was dying in custody every 11 days. This led to a royal commission investigate into this, finally pronouncing in 1991 the widespread incarceration of Aboriginal people and provided the circumstances around 99 deaths. Apart from further recommendations, nothing much was done in this relation, leading to massive uproar and disapproval in people against the government. The Guardian reports that since the report in 1991 almost 432 indigenous Australians have died while in custody.

Protests have been long going at various episodes against the death of indigenous Australians, asking for action against the police officers responsible. But the lack of government’s actions in the required direction have led the fury rise.

The recent protests in US post George Floyd’s death in police custody has infuriated the people like never before. The mass protests are spreading across nations and Australia is witnessing massive rallies in support of the targeted communities.

In lieu of China imposing new law in Hong Kong, UK to offer “citizenship route” to HK citizens
Asia Pacific Focus

In lieu of China imposing new law in Hong Kong, UK to offer “citizenship route” to HK citizens

China has been facing criticism over the new law imposing on Hong Kong that would devoid the country of its “independent” status and freedom to “protest”, with HK coming directly under the jurisdiction of China mainland.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Times in an interview that UK would offer a route of citizenship to HK residents in case the security law by China is imposed on the country.

UK and other allies like U.S. and Australia are already discussing on the mode of action and change in relations with HK, if China imposes the new law on Hong Kong – in which case the same relations with HK would be unlawful as would be undermining Beijing’s authority.

On Wednesday, UK PM Boris Johnson confirmed that in case of law imposition, the Hong Kong citizens with BNO (British National Overseas) passports would be allowed to enter UK without any visa and allowed to stay up to a year, as against 6 months as per earlier laws. The passport holders would be further allowed to work in UK as an extension to immigration rights.

Approximately 350,000 Hong Kong citizens have a valid BNO passport and more than 2.6 million are eligible for it.

PM Boris Johnson clarified that if need be Britain would take this step for HK citizens willingly and would not “walk away”.

“If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative,” PM Johnson told the Times.

Lord Patten, the last British governor to Hong Kong supported UK’s stand as being “politically and morally right.” He accused China of its continuous “bullying” tactics. He said that it is not against China but the fact that China’s communist regime cannot stand the HK’s policies – that is everything which President Xi Jinping dislikes.

He further said that this is the “era marking beginning of realism with China.”

Hong Kong had been the colony of Britain which was handed over to China in 1997. According to the terms of treaty, Hong Kong enjoys certain freedoms which are devoid in China mainland. These set of freedom policies are set in a mini-constitution known as Basic Law.

BNO passports were granted to HK citizens who were born before handover to China in 1997. These passports allow holders to enjoy many perks and protection from UK foreign policies, they are still not eligible to work or stay for more than 6 months in UK.

The proposed action under immigration and citizenship route by UK for Hong Kong citizens is believed to offer some respite and opportunities for people fearing China law implementation.

The Philippines ‘unsuspends’ military pact with the US
Asia Pacific Focus

The Philippines ‘unsuspends’ military pact with the US

Earlier this year, the Philippines had said it will pull out of the Visiting Forces Agreement signed with the US but has now reversed this before the termination could come into effect.

The Visiting Forces Agreement, which allowed for the US and the Philippines to conduct joint training exercises, has been extended for another six months on the behest of President Rodrigo Duterte. This comes as a blow to China which has been hoping to capitalise on the rift between the two countries to increase its geopolitical power in the region. In benefits the US to maintain the status quo, as the Philippines is the only US treaty ally bordering the heavily contested South China Sea, home to some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Duterte had angrily signalled the end of the pact in February this year, triggered by the US’ refusal to grant a tourist visa to Senator and former police chief Ronald de la Rosa who is the architect of the Philippines’ controversial drug war and the associated extrajudicial killings. The Filipino administration had already been trying to distance itself from the US and warm up to China instead, in order to invite more Chinese investment.

But in light of China’s recent moves in the South China Sea and the economic consequences of the pandemic making it difficult for the Philippines to devote more resources towards defence, the administration probably thought it sensible to retain the deal. The administration announced that the decision was made “in light of political and other developments in the region”. Washington and Manila had 180 days, i.e until August, to reinstate the deal.

Under the pact, Philippines forces have been receiving training from Americans to combat terrorism and drug trafficking through the hundreds of large-scale joint exercises conducted annually. But Duterte had earlier criticised the terms of the 21-year-old deal as unfair, saying the Americans took their modern weapons and technology once the training concluded.

In South Korea, artificial intelligence is monitoring the health of the elderly
Asia Pacific Focus

In South Korea, artificial intelligence is monitoring the health of the elderly

The country is starting to channel its success in controlling the pandemic through technology into other aspects of healthcare.

South Korea was at one point an epicentre of the coronavirus. But with aggressive testing and extensive use of technology, they have been able to fight back. They have been lauded as a success story globally and this has also made their citizens more malleable to sharing their health data. This is apparent in the new enterprises springing up, like an experimental remote care service, where senior citizens are monitored 24/7 by voice-enabled smart speakers. This has especially become very popular since South Korea has an aging population, many of whom are poor and isolated from their families due to the virus.

Currently more than 3,200 people around the country have opted for this service, most of them are over 70 and living alone. The speakers listen to them throughout the day, monitoring for signs of danger while also using search words to look out for indications of loneliness or insecurity. The in-built artificial intelligence Aria also processes voice commands that can be used to look up news, music or general search. The devices can also quiz the residents to test their memory and cognitive functions, which can be used in recommending treatments.

Further, social workers who can also tap into the app if necessary and make calls or visits when something abnormal is detected or the device hasn’t been used in more than 24 hours. The government has exhibited keen interest in such technology as it can maintain quality welfare services for the elderly without the need for too much human involvement.

This is of course fraught with privacy concerns but the South Korean government is keen to allow businesses to access such information because they see data-driven enterprises providing a major boost to the pandemic-battered economy. Privacy activists and medical professionals who have been resisting such regulations so far have also been over-ridden by the mass adoption of such devices and apps in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

The public is now accustomed to handing over private health data for the benefit of both themselves and the community at large. Since the outbreak the government has been using mobile phone data, CCTV cameras and credit card records to find potential virus carriers. Tracking apps have been used to monitor quarantined individuals and the location history of patients have also been made publicly available.

China’s Hong Kong law escalates tensions for EU in the world order
Asia Pacific Focus

China’s Hong Kong law escalates tensions for EU in the world order

China’s handling of Hong Kong has raised grave concerns with the European Union governments, implying that it will affect the EU-China relations. Furthermore, the EU is facing potential complications with the United States over Washington’s unprecedented response to the tensions between China and Hong Kong. This dilemma has emerged for the EU amid inevitable efforts of post-pandemic recovery and continuing tussle with the UK on a major foreign policy issue since Brexit.

During a meeting with foreign ministers of the 27 nations of the bloc on Friday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for the need for dialogue over Hong Kong and to discuss with Chinese authorities about the repercussions of the move on some issues of mutual interest. EU’s cautious statement came after strong condemnation from the United States, Britain, Australia, and Canada against Chinese legislation against Hong Kong’s freedom.

Notably, EU’s relations with China have been facing certain strains amid the Coronavirus pandemic and ongoing Sino-US cold war which can pose adverse consequences in the world order.

Responding to China’s move in Hong Kong, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US will no longer treat Hong Kong as autonomous for trade and economic purposes, which will have drastic impacts on the economy of the city. Earlier, US President Trump also announced to impose sanctions on China over its Hong Kong approach. On the other hand, British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said that the UK will extend visa rights for as many as 300,000 Hong Kong British national (overseas) passport holders if China continues with the repressive laws. Meanwhile, Retaliating to international criticism of its national security law on Hong Kong, China on Friday threatened countermeasures against the UK and the US.

Significantly, the EU has been divided on China amid the ongoing circumstances. While European governments have been ensuring measures to tighten their defence against Chinese investment in Europe, certain leaders of the bloc raising questions against China’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. Even though world governments have been critical of China’s security law, the European Union has maintained a diplomatic stand. At the same time, the bloc is making efforts to steer clear from the US-China spat.

China’s National People’s Congress on May 28 approved a resolution to impose controversial national security laws on Hong Kong which would ban any activities that would endanger China’s national security, secession, and subversion of state power in the city. Critics have been calling China’s move as a big blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom that has been enshrined in the territory’s laws since 1997.

China approved Hong Kong security plan, 240 arrests among protesters
Asia Pacific Focus

China approved Hong Kong security plan, 240 arrests among protesters

Hong Kong police said they made about 240 arrests in the ongoing protests against the law protecting the Chinese national anthem, under discussion in the local parliament, and that on national security arriving from Beijing. The charge is of suspected participation in unauthorized demonstrations. Most of the latest arrests took place in the Mong Kok area. Many agents lined up in riot gear around the local parliament, where yesterday the second reading debate was held on the law protecting the Chinese national anthem, contested by pro-democracy activists. The call for mobilization has seen the participation of thousands of people. According to local activists, the agents fired stinging cartridges to disperse the activists.

The National People’s Congress, the legislative branch of the Chinese parliament, approved the adoption of the Hong Kong national security law. In the vote of the final session, the assembly also approved the first Civil Code of the People’s Republic. The council passed with 2,878 in favor, one against and 6 abstentions, the motion to impose on Hong Kong the controversial law that will punish secession, acts against authorities, terrorism, and actions that threaten national security.

The document approved yesterday is little known: the Congress Standing Committee will work on the specific modalities of the law and its application, possible by circumventing the vote of the local parliament. Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, laying the foundations for the removal of the special status of the city in its relations with the US.

U.S. policy toward Hong Kong, grounded in a determination to promote Hong Kong’s prosperity, autonomy, and way of life, is stated in the U.S.–Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which stipulated that the U.S. would continue to treat Hong Kong apart from the People’s Republic of China even after the 1997 transfer of sovereignty marking the end of British rule. The United States maintains substantial economic and political interests in Hong Kong. The United States supports Hong Kong’s autonomy by concluding and implementing bilateral agreements, promoting trade and investment, arranging high-level visits, broadening law enforcement cooperation, bolstering educational links, and supporting the large community of American citizens and visitors.

China must respect Hong Kong’s autonomy, the European Union also affirmed on Tuesday. “We attach great importance to the preservation of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy in line with the Basic Law and international commitments,” European Council President Charles Michel, who represents European governments, said. Speaking after a video conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, he said Europe and Japan “share the same ideas” on China. “We are not naive about Chinese behaviour.” Michel stressed, adding that Europe supported the “one country, two systems” principle that governs Hong Kong’s autonomy.

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