Asia Pacific Focus

New Zealand: Farmers protest against government’s environment regulations
Asia Pacific Focus

New Zealand: Farmers protest against government’s environment regulations

Thousands of farmers in New Zealand carried out protests across several parts of the country on Friday against sweeping environmental regulations introduced by the Labour Government. Under the banner “Howl of A Protest”, farmers drove their tractors and pickup trucks across multiple towns and cities, demanding the government to ease environmental regulations and climate changes measures. As the protesting farmers took to the city, tractors, trucks, and other farm vehicles flooded major roads in different regions and brought traffic across New Zealand to a standstill.

Besides the demand for easing environmental protections, they have also called on the Jacinda Ardern government to loosen COVID-19 lockdown measures and restrictions in order to allow the entry of more seasonal overseas workers amid ongoing labour shortages faced by major industries.

The New Zealand government introduced a wide range of environmental regulations to address increasing concerns related to polluted waterways, harmful agricultural and industrial practices, protecting animal welfare and commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Last month, the new rules were introduced as part of the Clean Car Package aimed at encouraging consumers to buy electric vehicles (EVs).

Responding to the protests, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stressed the government’s commitment to tackle climate change and environmental issues in the country.

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Government’s response

“We cannot standstill, If we want to make sure that on the world stage our exports continue to fetch a high price and are high values, we have to make progress on the challenges New Zealand and the world is facing,” she said, as quoted by reports.

The government has also maintained that the regulations are necessary to tackle the degradation of freshwater resources and biodiversities in the country. Furthermore, New Zealand is working on achieving its goal to ensure net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050.

Farmer’s demands

New Zealand’s regional organisation Groundswell NZ which organised the nationwide protest noted that farmers across the country have been angry with the government’s interference in agricultural costing and private property rights.

“Farmers are not putting their heads in the sand and saying there isn’t a problem, they’re definitely working very hard to try and make things right. It’s hard to see why regulations [are] going to speed that process up,” Protest organiser and Gore farmer Bryce McKenzie told RNZ.

He noted that farmers are ensuring all possible efforts to protect the environment, adding that “unworkable regulations” are hampering their farming practices. The protests were joined by National MPs in a show of their objections against the Labour government’s Ute Tax.

US denies China’s unlawful maritime claims
Asia Pacific Focus

US denies China’s unlawful maritime claims

The United States has denied China’s “unlawful” maritime claims in the South China Sea and has reiterated its stand with Southeast Asian nations faced with Beijing’s “coercion”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an online meeting with his Association of Southeast Nations  (ASEAN) peers on Wednesday, said the US has “deep concerns” about the situation in Myanmar.

He urged the group to take prompt action to end violence and re-establish democracy in the country.

The top diplomat cleared Washington’s position that it will never accept China’s illegal maritime claims in the South China Sea, as per the State Department.

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High on the agenda was the political crisis in Myanmar, the answer to COVID-19 and disputes in the South China Sea, where China and its neighbours have mixed territorial claims and where it has armed artificial islands.

ASEAN leaders at a special meeting in April had pressed for an immediate halt to violence in Myanmar and agreed to send forth a special envoy to the country, but not much progress has been seen since.

Anthony Blinken, in a special meeting with his Brunei counterpart on the brink of a Group of Seven foreign ministers, meet in Britain in early May, asked ASEAN to hold Myanmar’s military accountable for not abiding by the agreed plan.

From Myanmar, Wunna Maung Lwin was present in Wednesday’s virtual meeting. He was designated foreign minister by the military, which grabbed power in February by dismissing an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

This US-ASEAN meeting also comes amid an increasingly assertive China, with the Biden administration terming the US-China rivalry as a conflict between democratic and authoritarian governments.

China, as per its vaccine diplomacy, has provided ASEAN countries with homemade jabs and held in-person foreign ministers meeting with ASEAN in the southwestern city of Chongqing early in June.

Japan PM Suga’s Cabinet at a record low in nationwide survey over many issues
Asia Pacific Focus

Japan PM Suga’s Cabinet at a record low in nationwide survey over many issues

Two public surveys were carried out in Tokyo from last Friday to Sunday, one by national telecaster NHK and the conservative broadsheet Yomiuri Shimbun. 

A feeling of tension is spreading among the government. The ruling party’s approval rating for PM Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet stayed at the lowest level in a nationwide survey begun by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The approval rating of PM Suga’s Cabinet stayed at a record lowest (37%) for the administration. The disapproval rating increased from last year 50% to 53% this year.

Both the surveys found opposition towards the Olympic Games. Four out of 10 in the nationwide poll desired the Olympics to be scrapped. Approximately three out of 10 disclosed to NHK that they were opposing the Games. 

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Around 28% said they have a high opinion on the authority’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. For the government’s immunization rollout, 36% have high hopes, while 59% “don’t have a high opinion. 

When asked regarding the party they would decide to vote for in the House of Representative’s elections, 39% would vote in favour of the Liberal Democratic Party. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan gathered the second most votes at 10%, down from 13% in the month of April. 

The percentage of votes on the cancellation of the Olympic games was high at 41% (48% was in the June survey), demonstrating that the public opinion is divided with almost no time left for the Olympics to begin. The number of people who might like to allow spectators to come for the Olympics was 17%. Moreover, around 74% said they would prefer to watch the Olympics on TV or other media. 

The facilitating of the Tokyo Games is unlikely to reinforce or generate support for the current administration; as per the Strait Times, some inside the Liberal Democratic Party are beginning to demand a Cabinet reshuffle. 

There is growing distrust in the Japanese government, and it has deteriorated since the minister responsible for economic renewal, Yasutoshi Nishimura, proposed squeezing eateries establishments that ignored calls to stop serving alcohol during the Covid crisis.

Attack on Philippine forces in South China Sea would go against us: Blinken
Asia Pacific Focus

Attack on Philippine forces in South China Sea would go against us: Blinken

The United States repeated a warning, on Sunday, to China that an attack on Philippine forces in the South China Sea would go against the 1951 US-Philippines mutual defence treaty.

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, made the comment in a written statement in the context of the fifth anniversary of a ruling by an arbitration tribunal declining China’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea.

China lays claim to most of the waters within a so-called Nine-Dash Line.

This claim is contested by Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan Malaysia, and Vietnam.

China reiterated, on Friday, that Beijing did not accept the ruling.

US President Biden’s administration stated that it stood by the Trump-era policy of Chinese claims to offshore resources in most parts of the South China Sea.

“We reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would adduce US mutual defence assurances under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” said the top diplomat.

That article of the treaty states in part that “each Party recognizes that an attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be critical to its own peace and safety, thus it is declared that the parties would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its legal processes.”

Blinken added that nowhere is the rules-based marine order under a bigger threat than in the South China Sea.

China holds most of the waters and sits on the key trading and shipping routes.

Blinken has made this point before, including in an April 8 conversation with the Philippine external affairs minister in which the State Department said that the US Secretary of State “reaffirmed the applicability” of the treaty to the South China Sea.

Tensions have been mounting in the region, with several countries accusing Beijing of bullying by sending vessels through the resource-rich waterway.

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Taliban leaders announce they now control majority of Afghan territory
Asia Pacific Focus

Taliban leaders announce they now control majority of Afghan territory

On Friday, The Taliban leaders stated that they now control a majority of Afghanistan’s territory as the United States military withdrawal proceeds.

He also announced that the US troop’s exit would end on 31 August – almost 20 years after it accomplished its goal. “I won’t send another age of Americans to battle in Afghanistan”, he added.

Recently, the Taliban propels numerous Afghan soldiers to flee from Afghanistan into Tajikistan, which has a Russian army base. Tajikistan thus called up 20,000 military reservists to reinforce its southern line of control with Afghanistan.

Russian authorities have shown concern over the growing surge of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It could destabilize the ex-Soviet Central Asian countries in the north of Afghanistan. Russia has good relations with both the Taliban and Afghanistan’s administration, facilitating a few rounds of dialogues for negotiations.

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The three Taliban authorities at a press conference tried to sooth those worries, exhibiting the group as ready for share powering.  And yet, they asserted the Taliban presently controls 85% of Afghanistan.

“We don’t desire to fight, we are interested in finding a political solution via dialogue. Negotiations of the sort are progressing in Doha,” Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban representative told columnists in comments cited by the Russian news agency Interfax.

The fast advances have developed tensions over the Kabul government’s capacity to withstand a Taliban assault after the U.S. troops make their final exit. It will also pose a threat to women’s rights, children’s education rights, and overall human rights.

The most important matter of concern for Afghanistan is that more than a thousand Afghan soldiers and refugees have escaped into Tajikistan this week as the Taliban took control of the majority of the districts.

Telenor to move out from Myanmar citing security risks
Asia Pacific Focus

Telenor to move out from Myanmar citing security risks

Norwegian telecoms group Telenor, on Thursday, said it is selling its subsidiary in Myanmar as a result of the military coup there.

Telenor is one of the major operators in the coup-struck company.

Telenor has, as per media reports, reached an agreement to give away its Myanmar mobile phone business to M1 Group, thus exiting a country that was plunged into chaos after the military grabbed power in a coup on February 1.

M1 is an investment holding firm headed by Lebanon’s richest man.

The $105 million deal will ensure continued operations of its wireless and fixed networks.

Analysts expressed concern that it might not bode well for freedom to use social networks.

Telenor chief executive Sigve Brekke, announcing the divestment, said, “The situation in Myanmar has been increasingly challenging for Telenor, its people security, regulatory and compliance over the past few months”.

“We have evaluated all possible options and have reached the solution that selling the company is the best possible option in this situation.”

The military, headed by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and several senior members of her elected government on February 1. The basis of this coup was fraud in November elections that Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won and several other cases of corruption.

The coup brought a sharp halt to 10 years of slow democratisation and spurred widespread protests as well as a mass civil disobedience movement, which the military responded to with lethal force. So far, nearly 900 people have been killed since the coup while 5,120 have been detained.

Telenor has had a complete commercial presence in Myanmar since 2014 and a workforce of around 750 was employed in the country.

Telenor said it invested in Myanmar in 2014 because it thought “access to good and affordable mobile services would support the country’s growth and development”. 

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Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration in dire straits as UMNO withdraws its support
Asia Pacific Focus

Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration in dire straits as UMNO withdraws its support

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has withdrawn its support for Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government and demanded his resignation, stated UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Wednesday.

In a press conference held after UMNO’s committee meeting, Ahmad Zahid criticized the government for the poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. UMNO had supported the PM on one condition that he could satisfy two significant guidelines established by the supreme council on 11 March 2020, Zahid added. 

UMNO will no more support Anwar Ibrahim as PM. His party will likewise not support any alliance along with Pakatan Harapan or the Democratic Action Party, he added. 

The Malaysian government should have immediately tried to control the economic crisis and should have planned effectively to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 However, these measures were not taken at the right time and therefore the government had failed in many aspects like pandemic administration, defending the country’s parliamentary democracy, and violating Malaysia’s state of crisis for political purposes.

In light of the situation, a unanimous decision was taken by delegates at UMNO’s 2020 Annual General Meeting. Ahmad Zahid added that the support for Muhyiddin has been withdrawn immediately.

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The announcement came following Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin reshuffled his Cabinet on Wednesday.

Moreover, the new Prime Minister would just zero in on citizen’s welfare during the pandemic, with a comprehensive approach, and ensuring the inoculation and vaccination cycle could be accelerated. 

During the UMNO general meeting in March 2021, the party decided to withdraw support for the PN administration if there were no signs of a general election in the future. We will not cooperate with Bersatu once the parliament is dissolved, the party added.

Singapore, Russia for resolving Myanmar crisis
Asia Pacific Focus

Singapore, Russia for resolving Myanmar crisis

Singapore’s foreign minister, on Tuesday, said that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is working to expedite the implementation of a five-point consensus that was reached by their leaders to settle the crisis in Myanmar.

Vivian Balakrishnan, in written replies to parliamentary questions, acknowledged that the implementation of the five-point consensus had been slow and a little disappointing.

He, however, said that Singaporean authorities are working within ASEAN to expedite this process, with a sense to alleviate the humanitarian situation, halt the violence in Myanmar, and set it on the path of direct negotiation by all stakeholders that, ultimately, will lead to normalcy.

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Myanmar has been in turbulence since the military deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1. The country has seen almost daily protests and fighting between the military junta and newly formed militias.

In April, ASEAN came forth with a five-point consensus towards settling the crisis. Since no timeframe was agreed upon, the progress has actually been slow.

On the other hand, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also expressed support for the Southeast Asian diplomatic effort to halt the political crisis in Myanmar.

While speaking during a visit to Jakarta, Lavrov said the five-point consensus agreed by the ASEAN bloc should be the base through which the situation in Myanmar can be resolved.

Lavrov said that Russia is in contact with Myanmar leaders, military leaders and is for promoting the position of ASEAN. “We are striving for resolving this crisis and return the situation back to normalcy,” Lavrov told reporters.

He was conversing at a video news conference after talks with his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi.

These comments are being viewed with importance as they come at a time when there is a deepening engagement between Russia and Myanmar’s military.

Significant global powers have sanctioned businesses and top leaders and have called for a global ban on arms sales to the Southeast Asian country.

Marsudi spoke of the importance of the five-point consensus and asked Russia to support its implementation.

Kim Jong Un believes North Korea’s food crisis could put state security at risk
Asia Pacific Focus

Kim Jong Un believes North Korea’s food crisis could put state security at risk

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un acknowledges that the food crisis is taking a dangerous turn in his nation. The coronavirus pandemic, floods, and progressing US sanctions have also added to the worst situation.

To handle the crisis, Kim had ordered the country’s leaders to resolve the current food crisis that occurred because of strong typhoons that hit the nation in summer, as per a state-media report.

However, Kim decided to replace his key officials as they failed to manage the extended food crisis, mentioning that the leaders had put the security of the state and the wellbeing of citizens in danger.

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In 2021, North Korea could confront a major food crisis of up to 1.35 million tons, as indicated by a May report from the Korea Development Institute, a research organization supported by the South Korean government. The report assessed the country’s food needs are about 5.75 million tons every year. 

Despite all the challenges, few experts believe that North Korea is on the verge of confronting a similar famine just like the 1990s. In the ’90s Pyongyang had made several appeals for food aid and the nation grappled with hunger. Two years prior, amid its most noticeably terrible drought in many years, North Korea criticized international sanctions for the food crisis.

Currently, North Korea’s economy has decreased by more than 10%. They are also confronting a more extensive financial crisis because of the pandemic and growing U.S. sanctions. 

Myanmar’s Junta intensifies crackdown on dissent
Asia Pacific Focus

Myanmar’s Junta intensifies crackdown on dissent

Myanmar’s armed forces have killed about 25 people in a crackdown on opponents of the military in a town in the Sagaing region, about 300km (200 miles) north of the capital.

This incident comes at a time when people increasingly have started to take up arms against the generals who grabbed power in a coup five months ago.

The Military’s spokesman has so far refrained from commenting on the violence at Depayin – the spree started on Friday and is still continuing.

The state-run news agency of Myanmar – Global New Light – said that “armed terrorists” had attacked security forces patrolling there that resulted in the killing of one and wounding of six. It said the attackers fled after the security forces retaliated.

On Friday, the US government announced a new series of sanctions against Myanmar’s military junta and notified of further “increasing costs” over “the suppression of democracy and campaign of brutal violence by the military” against anti-coup protesters.

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The US Department of Treasury, in a statement, announced to have blocked the assets of 22 individuals in link to the regime, including members of the State Administration Council (SAC), and four military-appointed cabinet members.

Similarly, 15 adult children or spouses of previously designated officials have also been sanctioned “whose financial arrangements have contributed to military officials’ ill-gotten gains.”

Myanmar has fallen into chaos by the February 1 coup against elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Since protests have flared across many parts of the country and important workers including nurses and doctors have joined a mass civil disobedience movement.

Senior foreign executives of significant telecommunications firms in Myanmar have been ordered by the junta that they should not leave the country without permission.

A confidential order from Telecommunications Department (PTD) and Myanmar’s Posts said senior executives, both Myanmar nationals and foreigners, must seek authorization to leave the country.

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