Asia Pacific Focus

Two Myanmar military conglomerates sanctioned by US, UK
Asia Pacific Focus

Two Myanmar military conglomerates sanctioned by US, UK

The United Kingdom and the United States, on Thursday, imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military giant conglomerates, following the February 1 coup and a deadly crackdown, with Washington terming the step response to “abhorrent abuses and violence”.

Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) control important portions of Myanmar’s economy, with impacts across many of the country’s important industries. The UK has imposed sanctions on MEHL.

The US Treasury has blacklisted the two companies, freezing assets they have in the US and placing a ban on all US individuals and businesses from indulging in trade with them.

“These actions target those who led the coup, the military’s economic interests, and the funding streams that are supporting the Burmese military,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. 

“These are not at all directed at the people of Burma,” he highlighted.

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Democracy activists and Human rights groups have pushed hard for sanctions against these two conglomerates, claiming that they are behind the funding of the military’s repression of protestors.

“These brutal acts and abhorrent acts against children, including the one who is a seven-year-old who was shot, further show the horrific nature of the Burmese military regime and its assault on its own people,” Ned Price, State Department spokesman, said in a statement.

Since all dollar payments get cleared via US financial institutions, the move kicks blacklisted companies away from the US banking system.

Blinken said that the Myanmar military “has taken very disturbing actions targeted at their citizens since February 1”.

The US, however, is the only major power yet to impose sanctions on these two businesses, while Myanmar’s major trade partners in Asia have negated posing any sanctions.

Critics are worried that the pressure won’t be enough to force a change. “The leverage is not really there,” said Richard Horsey, a Myanmar expert with the International Crisis Group.

North Korean Notorious Missile Testing Gives Japan-US Jittery
Asia Pacific Focus

North Korean Notorious Missile Testing Gives Japan-US Jittery

North Korea seems to have put the foot in its mouth as it fired two ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan, just before the Biden administration was trying to finalize its North Korean policy.

The so called ‘military exercise’ has also left Japan feeling insecure about the safety of players participating in the forthcoming World Olympics. No one in the neighborhood is happy with the way North Korea’s notorious act has left everyone feeling insecure around.

Japan was forced to lodge a formal protest through its embassy in China and said the test threatened peace and safety in the region, while South Korea’s National Security Council expressed deep concern.

Both were short range weapons. North Korea is known to have revamped its conventional warheads and is capable of striking the US with a war head. Till date, it holds more than 60 nuclear weapons. Despite UN Security Council sanctions and recent summits between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States on denuclearization, Pyongyang continues to test ballistic missiles, and is extremely proud of the military power.

Indeed, North Korea is considered as a grave threat to the US and its Asian neighours. As if well planned, the first launch was done at 7am in the morning, coinciding with the start of the Olympic torch relay in Japan that begins a four-month countdown to the summer Games in Tokyo which were delayed from 2020 because of the corona virus.

According to spokesperson in the White House, the short range missile firing should be considered as ‘business as usual’, and will not deter the Biden administration to consider engaging in a dialogue with Pyongyang. On its part, the Biden administration is keen to ensure the nuclear arsenal in North Korea is put on a curb, owing to the fact that the country has China has an accomplice as well.

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Biden’s diplomatic overtures to North Korea have gone unanswered, and the North said it would not engage until the United States dropped hostile policies, including carrying out military exercises with South Korea.

North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear and missile programmes throughout 2020 in violation of U.N. sanctions dating back to 2006, helping fund them with about $300 million stolen through cyber hacks, according to independent U.N. sanctions monitors. For Japan, that is a peaceful nation, even test firing of short range missiles, is a warning that cannot not be taken seriously.

North Korea carries out missile tests in a bid challenge Biden administration
Asia Pacific Focus

North Korea carries out missile tests in a bid challenge Biden administration

WASHINGTON: Officials in the United States on Tuesday claimed that North Korea fired multiple short-range missiles this weekend, what can be termed as “Kim Jong Un’s first open challenge to President Biden

Biden’s aides have not yet laid out their approach to the regime’s nuclear threat.

For weeks, U.S. defense officials kept warning the civil administration that North Korea might proceed with its missile tests. 

Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, had also recently warned that if the Biden administration “wishes for a peaceful sleep in the coming years, it better refrain from being the cause of a stink.”

An official belonging to the senior administration said North Korea’s move wasn’t a violation of the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council resolutions as it was “a very normal kind of testing that North Korea was doing” as he downplayed the significant challenge of dealing with Pyongyang. “We certainly have no illusions of the difficulty this task presents,” the official said.

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The tests renewed the pressure on the U.S to bring forth a strategy to address the nuclear threat that has assailed the Republican and Democratic administrations for years.

A senior official belonging to the administration said that a policy is in its “final stages” and soon the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will host his South Korean and Japanese counterparts to “discuss the possible outcomes.”

Ned Price, State Department spokesman, said that the Biden administration wants a completely “new approach” towards North Korea, but he offered very few details. U.S. diplomats informed its Asian allies, in recent weeks, that the upcoming strategy will be different of President Trump’s top-down approach of having a direct meeting with Kim Jong Un and Barack Obama’s bottom-up formulation, a swore off engagement till Pyongyang had to alter its behavior completely.

Australian PM Embarrassed Over Parliament Sexual Misconducts
Asia Pacific Focus

Australian PM Embarrassed Over Parliament Sexual Misconducts

The Australian PM Scott Morrison has expressed his disgust and disappointment over the ongoing saga of sexual misconduct in the Parliament House that was being shared shamelessly amongst the officers over a social media private group.

All hell has broken lose over the Morrison government as  a young Brittany Higgins came out in the open about being sexually exploited and violated by a male colleague in the Parliament in 2019. The man was sacked on other office violations but not his sexual misconduct. Her story has (probably) given similar cases the courage to come out in the open and raise their voices against such heinous exploitation under the guise of power. Most of them were committed by the same member of the cabinet. 

Out came from the closet also old misdeeds of the serving Attorney-General Christian Porter who has denied allegations of raping a minor in 1988, 33 years ago.  The Australian PM has communicated that this member of the cabinet has denied any involvement. 

The Morrison government does not have a face to hide. While Higgins had informed a senior female minister in the cabinet of what she had gone through, no action had then been taken. It seems Morrison’s government has been sitting on a ticking time-bomb, which has finally exploded in their face. 

As redemption, the serving PM has said, he wants to appoint more women to the Parliament and set the record straight. Indeed, the social media is coming to the conclusion that the environment in the parliament is indeed toxic and not conducive for women employees. 

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Currently, the staffer’s rape allegation has prompted a review of Parliament House workplace culture, ordered by Mr. Morrison and being carried out by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. The investigation will conclude in November 2021. 

Looking for a quick fix, Morrison has said that he would like his conservative Liberal Party to introduce a minimum quota of female candidates to run in elections to increase the number of women who serve as lawmakers. Apparently, the Center-Left opposition Labor Party has already got female quotas for years. But the conservative coalition parties argue that candidates should be chosen on merit.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin makes a surprise visit to Afghanistan as troops withdrawal deadline nears
Asia Pacific Focus

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin makes a surprise visit to Afghanistan as troops withdrawal deadline nears

On Sunday, Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul had a surprise visitor – US Defence Secretary Llyod Austin. Austin met Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul during the visit after winding up his visit to India meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Austin’s unannounced visit is timed as May 1 deadline for bringing back US troops in Afghanistan is nearing. The deadline was set by former US President Donald Trump and the Taliban last year after negotiations. Meanwhile, back in Washington President Joe Biden is experiencing pressure from lawmakers and leaders to bring back the troops. Dick Durbin, a senior Democratic Senate leader said, “We ought to consider a debate under the Constitution for authorization of the use of military force.”

President Biden said last week in an interview to the ABC News that it would be tough to meet deadline of withdrawing troops. He also noted that if extended, deadline wouldn’t be moved to lot longer. 

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Austin’s visit is crucial for US-Afghanistan peace talks as Biden reviews the diplomacy and foreign policies of the US. The Afghan presidential palace released a statement about Austin and Ghani’s meeting. The leaders discussed the ongoing peace process and rising violence in the country. Afghanistan government and the Taliban have blamed each other and the IS (Islamic State) group for a massive surge in bombings and assassinations in the country. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said in a letter to Ghani last month that if US and NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan then it is in high probability that Taliban troops would aggressively try to make territorial gains. 

An eight-page peace proposal has been provided by Washington to the Taliban and Afghanistan government that they are reviewing. The proposal calls for an “interim peace government” that would steer Afghanistan towards constitutional elections and reforms. Ghani has shown resistance for an interim government saying election alone is enough to bring in government change.  

US, China exchange barbs in Alaska talks
Asia Pacific Focus

US, China exchange barbs in Alaska talks

 

China and the United States exchanged sharp rebukes of each other’s policies in the first high-level and in-person talks, on Thursday, ever since President Joe Biden took office.

On rare public display, in the meeting’s opening session in Alaska, there was a deep strain in the relations between the two rivals.

China’s actions “have threatened the rules-based order that ensures global stability,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at the opening of the two-day meeting.

The US will “discuss its deep concerns with actions of China, including Xinjiang,” where Beijing has been accused by Washington of a “genocide” against Uighur Muslims, Blinken spoke to Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Communist Party’s top diplomacy official, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

He said that there would be a discussion on “Taiwan, Hong Kong, cyberattacks on the US, and economic coercion towards our allies.”Beijing was equally fierce in its response.

“China firmly opposes the US interference in China’s internal matters. We have expressed our strong dismay to such interference, and will take firm actions, if required, in response,” Yang warned.

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Speaking for approximately 16 minutes, a duration that was over the two minutes that had been agreed, he lashed out aloud about what he thought was the US’s struggling democracy and its unequal treatment of the minorities and criticized the US’s trade and foreign policies.

“The United States is accustomed to using its military force and financial dominance to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and pressing of other countries,” Yang said.

“It abuses notions of national security, obstructs normal trade exchanges, and incites countries to attack China,” he added.Wang said that he condemns the latest spree of US sanctions against Chinese officials over what Washington terms Beijing’s “quashing” of freedom in Hong Kong, that were announced on the eve of the talks.“This is never the way guests should be welcomed,” Wang concluded.

US terms Hong Kong’s electoral changes ‘assault on democracy’
Asia Pacific Focus

US terms Hong Kong’s electoral changes ‘assault on democracy’

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned China’s approval of changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, terming the move as a “direct attack” and an “assault on democracy” in view of the autonomy that was promised for the territory when it came under Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Hours after Beijing’s announced its plan to withdraw candidates for political office in Hong Kong, in a statement, Blinken said that the steps ran counter to the objective that the elections in Hong Kong “should progress towards universal suffrage”.

“These actions deny Hong Kongers a say in their own governance by curbing political participation, lessening democratic representation and suffocating political debate,” Blinken said.

He pressed Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to let the already delayed September Legislative Council elections to “ensure that all candidates are incorporated in a credible and transparent manner”. There have been various reports that the elections could be put to halt again as Hong Kong considers to change the vetting process of candidates.

Blinken did not mention if Washington was thinking of taking additional steps in response to the measures. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong leader, and other officials are already under sanctions following the clampdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2019.

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In a statement on part of the 27-nation bloc, Josep Borrel who is EU Foreign Affairs chief, said that the decision “will have a hefty impact on political pluralism and democratic accountability in Hong Kong”.

“The European Union condemns the curbs on fundamental freedoms, political pluralism, and democratic principles that are vital to Hong Kong’s identity and its prosperity is under ever-increasing pressure by the high-ups.”

There have been various discussions amongst the EU foreign ministers about the possibility of sanctions if the sitch in Hong Kong worsens.

Separately, the EU announced on Thursday sanctions on Chinese officials in connection to the reported rights abuses against Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Indonesia falls victim to deep political fragmentation, Moeldoko accused of staging a coup
Asia Pacific Focus

Indonesia falls victim to deep political fragmentation, Moeldoko accused of staging a coup

Indonesia has been battling with internal political crisis since Moeldoko was made the chairman of the Democratic Party on March 5 by a party faction. Moeldoko, who was Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s chief of staff, has been accused of staging a coup along with Widodo.

The retired general’s close association with the President and non-association with the Party in the past raised suspicion among many. The party’s founder and former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, questioned Moeldoko’s appointment and party’s fragmentation, which he believed was done to take the reigns of the party from his son, Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono.

In a recent televised speech, Yudhoyono said, “Many are in disbelief that the presidential chief of staff, Moeldoko, is conspiring with internal [party] members to heartlessly and coldbloodedly stage the coup. I feel ashamed … for giving him trust and a position in the past.”

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Harimurti, who otherwise holds the position of party’s chairman, objected to the legitimacy of Moeldoko’s takeover as party’s chairman and called it invalid and illegal. He stated that  party’s national board members were not present at the event and launched a formal complaint against this political disintegration.

Muhammad Rahmat, spokesman of the new faction, backed Moeldoko and voiced the existing dissatisfaction among party members, corruption and mismanagement as key issues which led to the move. “We were looking for a figure who can unite us, who has an extensive network and can perhaps revive the Democratic Party’s electability,” he said.

Ali Mochtar Ngabalin, a senior staffer at the office of the presidential chief of staff, also sided with Moeldoko and called it a “personal decision” than a coup conspiracy. He said, “How is the president expected to take a decision when an individual exercises his political right? [Moeldoko has been] asked, offered and supported to become the Democratic Party chairman.”

With regard to the country’s wobbling democracy, Fitch Solutions said that Indonesian democratic set up was still ‘immature’ and governed by political parties “dominated by personalities rather than issues”. The research group highlighting the South Asian country’s poor rank in its long-term political risk index, said that “with a relatively wide income gap, tensions among a diverse ethnic population, and high levels of corruption, the country still has formidable challenges to overcome.” It was in 1999 that the country witnessed its first democratic elections, with as many as 48 parties competing in national elections. The number gradually came down to 16 parties who took part in the recent election held in 2019. Out of those only nine could fulfil the 4% parliamentary limit.

What is Hong Kong’s new electoral system and why are G7 nation’s concerned?
Asia Pacific Focus

What is Hong Kong’s new electoral system and why are G7 nation’s concerned?

The G7 member nations have expressed serious concerns over China’s decision to officially change Hong Kong’s electoral system.

On March 11, China’s parliament decided to change Hong Kong’s electing system, one more move that explains Beijing’s dictatorial control over the city. 

With a vote of 2,895-0, the National People’s Congress cast a ballot to provide a pro-Beijing committee power to choose more lawmakers for Hong Kong, diminishing the extent of those elected directly and simply ensures that those faithful to Beijing are permitted to contest for office.

Under the new electing framework, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and NCP members, the nation’s top political advisory committee, will also be a part of the Election Committee and the selection process from now, detailed Xinhua news agency. 

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Beijing stated that only true patriots will be eligible to sit in the body, barring regime critics and anybody holding divergent views compared to Beijing’s program for the city.

The British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a G7 statement yesterday that the new changes to Hong Kong’s electing system would additionally sabotage global trust in China. Japan too expressed its worry over Hong Kong is increasing after the passing of a new electoral system and urged China to allow fair elections in the region. 

The G7 statement and the United States criticism came a day after the Chinese government passed the new election system for Hong Kong. The US strictly denounced the overhauling of Hong Kong’s electoral system.

“We censure the People’s Republic of China (PRC’s) continuingly attacking the democratic institution of Hong Kong,” US Department of State representative Ned Price stated during a press meet. 

On Friday, China slammed the United States and urged it to stay away from the internal affairs of the nation, particularly Hong Kong a foreign ministry representative stated ahead of Alaska meet.

Facebook news ban fears surge amid deal roadblock: Report
Asia Pacific Focus

Facebook news ban fears surge amid deal roadblock: Report

Facebook has not been able to sign deals with key media players in Australia amid tensions with govt

Days after Facebook signed a deal with the Australian government to pay news publishers for content on its platform, the tech giant has not been able to strike an agreement with big media entities in the country.

As per a report by The Guardian, the social network is either refusing to change its position on key clauses or freezing the media players out. Amid the ongoing tensions between the Australian government and Facebook, this roadblock can result in a second news feed ban by the social networking platform. Last month, Facebook signed an 11th-hour deal with the Australian government, following which the social media platform restored news for almost 18 million users in the country. Ahead of this deal, Facebook had blocked all forms of news, along with government pages such as health and emergency services, for millions of Australian users. 

At the same time, Facebook signed preliminary agreements with three independent news organizations in Australia, including Schwartz Media, Private Media, and Solstice Media. In February, Seven West Media, one of Australia’s largest diversified media conglomerates, announced that it has signed a letter of intent with Facebook to provide news content to the platform. Earlier, Seven West Media announced a deal with Google worth $30 million. 

However, it has failed to enter into an agreement with the three biggest media corporations in the country, including ABC, News Corp Australia, and Nine Entertainment.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been pushing for agreements as part of the legislation (News Media Bargaining Code) such that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they provide while contributing to sustaining public interest journalism in Australia. 

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“The government expects all parties to continue to work constructively towards reaching commercial agreements in the spirit of collaboration and good faith encouraged by the code,” Frydenberg told Guardian Australia.

While Nine Entertainment and News Corp have signed letters of intent with Google, The ABC has not decided on a deal with both Facebook and Google. As per reports, Facebook’s vice-president of global news partnerships, Campbell Brown, has signaled a new ban on news content in the future. Meanwhile, sources at Facebook have told the media that the tech giant has made progress in last month’s deals and is talking to other publishers for further prospects in Australian journalism.

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