Asia Pacific Focus

Australia may not climb the zero emission Bandwagon
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia may not climb the zero emission Bandwagon

Australia has no intentions of increasing its targets to include a zero emission rate commitment, unlike some 121 nations that have already done so, according to an official statement made by the hosting country Britain in February over a climate meeting. This could also be due to the prolonged coronavirus led lockdown that has hit their economy in a big way.

According to environmentalist, Australia’s commitment to global emission rates is not enough to meet the world standards of minimal emissions and also does not adhere to the goals send down in the Paris Agreement.

The government received advice in 2015 from the Climate Change Authority that its fair share under a meaningful global deal over that time would be a 45% to 63% cut. But somehow, the parliament is not interested in lowering its emission rates and come to a figure of general consensus.

According to Mark Butler, Labor’s Climate Change and Energy spokesperson, the Morrison government should work towards a zero emission target. Setting a target help frame appropriate policy decisions and give investors confidence too. But he feels that the Morrison government isn’t serious about the kind of damage that not lowering emission rates would do to the overall public life.

The Australian government doesn’t believe everyone has climbed the zero emission bandwagon. It says it is committed to lowering its emissions though. The Morrison government has further, promised a long-term emissions reduction strategy. It intends to hold onto it, like a trump card and will only release it before the Glasgow meeting that has been postponed due to the pandemic. It also has communicated that Australia will work according to a well defined technology investment roadmap.

This includes small modular nuclear reactors that will be brought into play to meet Australia’s energy needs.

Ironically, this stand is different from what the Morrison government had communicated in 2019 at the Pacific Island Forum about Australia’s plans to include commitments and strategies to reach net zero by 2050, which now stands that this is not the government’s policy.

According to the Paris Agreement, countries have to review their environmental commitment every five years. This would mean that those who set targets for 2025 would need to relook them in 2020itself. Additionally, the agreement has also stated that existing commitments for 2025 and 2030 are not enough to limit average global heating to less than 2C. This has been a major target for the Paris agreement. Also, we need much deeper cuts will be needed to avoid that mark. It commits countries to act in accordance with “best available science”.

USA and Europe reject China’s Hong Kong move
Asia Pacific Focus

USA and Europe reject China’s Hong Kong move

On 21 May, a spokesperson for China’s National People’s Congress announced that the upcoming NPC session will deliberate on a draft bill to “establish and improve the legal framework and enforcement mechanism in order to safeguard national security in Hong Kong”. The European Union has a strong stake in the continued stability and prosperity of Hong Kong under the ‘One Country Two Systems’ principle. It attaches great importance to the preservation of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, in line with the Basic Law and with international commitments, as well as to the respect for this principle.

In a statement released on Saturday, the EU reaffirmed that democratic debate, consultation of key stakeholders, and respect for protected rights and freedoms in Hong Kong would represent the best way of proceeding with the adoption of national security legislation, as foreseen in Article 23 of the Basic Law, while also upholding Hong Kong’s autonomy and the ‘One Country Two Systems’ principle.

China will improve national security in Hong Kong, Premier Li Keqiang said, a day after China announced dramatic plans to rein in dissent by writing a new law into the city’s charter. “We will establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in the two special administrative regions, and see that the governments of the two regions fulfil their constitutional responsibilities,” Li said according to prepared remarks on Friday. He added that the government would push ahead with a plan to integrate the city with others in southern China.

According to “Bloomberg”, the Hong Kong dollar weakened the most in six weeks and an exchange-traded fund that invests in the city’s stocks fell the most in almost two months, as concerns built that China’s measures would revive street protests and potentially prompt the U.S. to reassess the city’s special trading privileges. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has delayed an annual report on whether Hong Kong still enjoys a “high degree of autonomy” from Beijing, telling reporters this week that he was “closely watching what’s going on there.” Dennis Kwok, an opposition lawmaker representing the legal sector, said that this move represents the end of Hong Kong. “I foresee that the status of Hong Kong as an international city will be gone very soon.” Kwok predicted.

Pompeo called for Beijing to reconsider the move and warned of an unspecified US response if it proceeds. Meanwhile, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said China risked a major flight of capital from Hong Kong that would end the territory’s status as the financial hub of Asia. Shortly afterward, the Commerce Department announced new restrictions on sensitive exports to China. The contentious measure, submitted Friday on the opening day of China’s national legislative session, is strongly opposed by pro-democracy MPs in semi-autonomous Hong Kong. Pompeo also called the proposal an effort to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong.

Chinese troops are increasingly transgressing into Indian territories: Report
Asia Pacific Focus

Chinese troops are increasingly transgressing into Indian territories: Report

Tension has been building up between India and China over recent intrusion by the Chinese army into Indian territory.

According to reports, there has been a new transgression by China in the Ladakh region in India. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been entering the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The report released by the government shows that from January to April 2020, there was 170 Chinese transgression across LAC. Out of 170 intrusions, at least 130 were inside Ladakh.

In 2019 during the same period, there were about 110 transgressions.

In recent years, China has continued transgression into Indian territory even though the leaders of two nations have met met twice last year. There was a 75 percent surge in such acts in 2019 compared to the previous year’s numbers.

Data since 2015 shows that three-fourths of transgression took place in Ladakh, the western side of LAC. The rest of the violations were in the eastern sector, comprising of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
In recent years, there is a marked surge in aerial transgression as well. In 2019, there were as many as 108 instances, in 2018 and 2017, there were 78 and 47 such cases, respectively.

Chinese military forces have been using most aerial transgression in the eastern sector. In 2019, 64 out of 108 was in the east front, and 42 out of 78 in 2017.

If one looks at both aerial and land transgression, the western sector has witnessed a spike by 75 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year. There was a spike of 55 percent in the eastern sector.

What defines Chinese transgression?
According to Indian officials, a transgression is added to data when the Indian border force (either ITBP or Army) in the bordering areas is reasonably “certain” that the Chinese army has crossed into the Indian side of LAC.

Aerial, land, or water transgression (in Pangong Tso Lake) by Chinese forces in recorded by India, if they are picked up by patrol teams, surveillance, or visually noted at border check post or locals report any movement with substantial proofs.

While not transgression is a threat to the territory, repeated and increasing trends can be alarming. At times, troops enter into other’s territory while patrolling.

In recent years Dokhlam standoff in 2017 had turned into a sore point in bilateral ties of the two neighbours. Both leaders mutually decided to disengage in the 2017 BRICS summit.

Smart cities in Australia, a step in the future
Asia Pacific Focus

Smart cities in Australia, a step in the future

The $50 million Smart Cities and Suburbs Program is supporting the delivery of innovative smart city projects that improve the liveability, productivity and sustainability of cities and towns across Australia. In 2019 the department sought stakeholder feedback on the challenges and opportunities to support smart cities, regions and towns across Australia. The Hon Alan Tudge MP, Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population, announced the outcome of Round Two of the Program on 19 November 2018. In Round Two, 32 projects located all around Australia will benefit from over $21 million of Australian Government funding. Round Two was highly competitive, according to Australian Government, 102 applications were received.

A smart city is a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare. They deploy ‘smart devices, sensors and software’ to equip existing infrastructure with ‘the equivalent of digital eyes and ears’ enabling ‘more efficient and effective monitoring and control of our energy and water systems, transportation networks, human services, public safety operations – basically all core government functions’.

Free public WiFi, intelligent transport systems and digital literacy programs demonstrate Brisbane City Council’s commitment to technology, data and innovation. Council has invested $5 million to establish a startup and innovation hub, has trained 3,500 school children in coding, released 130 datasets to help businesses and the community develop new customer experiences and solutions, and was the first city in Australia to implement a functional, large-scale Bluetooth monitoring system. The City of Ipswich has built a network for smart infrastructure and IoT. The city has built a 100 square kilometer IoT system that supports sensor-based data gathering, video analytics, remote asset management, safety, and security. The city is also partnering with Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads to run Australia’s largest cooperative intelligent transport system program.

Before Moreton Bay adopted the smart city concept, it was clear they had a great opportunity to kickstart their smart city strategy with the arrival of a full-scale University of the Sunshine Coast campus to the region. They had an excellent site for this plan: the decommissioned Petrie paper mill. A greenfield occasion. The campus opened in February 2020 with about 1,200 students and 200 staff. The site has a fully functioning smart city infrastructure based on the so-called “ENE.Hub” smart power poles. Asian Pacific magazine reports adding that they offer a range of internet of things (IoT) functionalities and include: EV charging, smart lighting, smart bins, environmental sensors as well as people, car and cyclist counters. Access to the information coming from this smart city structure will be available on a dashboard display. The poles are linked to a fibre network. The total network in stage one of the projects will include 150 poles.

Over the last two years, Moreton Bay has managed to negotiate a development agreement with NBN where they don’t take ownership of the pit and pipe – this is retained by the Council – but instead, NBN gets exclusive access to one of the eight ducts. Council also have arrangements in place or are negotiating them with other leading carriers to deliver fibre services to the Petrie paper mill precinct. Other smart-city projects are under development in Australia, including smart parking, road scanning and smart parks. According to the Council of Mayors South East Queensland, in recent years Australia ranked 60th in the world for internet speeds, with an average peak internet connection speed of 39.3 megabits per a second, revealing ‘large scope for improvement’. Internet connectivity and speeds seem to be a particular problem for regional cities and communities.

The Council of Mayors South East Queensland said access to high speed internet is a key challenge for the south east Queensland region: digital connectivity, speed on connection and improving access to communications and technology will make the region more attractive for investment.

China rejects an international resolution demanding to investigate the origin of COVID-19
Asia Pacific Focus

China rejects an international resolution demanding to investigate the origin of COVID-19

In the last days, more than 120 countries have supported a resolution to be presented at the next legislative assembly of the World Health Organization, which will be held between today and tomorrow, to ask for an independent investigation on the management of the coronavirus by the international community. The efforts of the promoters, including mainly western countries, have angered the Chinese government, which sees the resolution as an attempt to blame China for the global spread of the pandemic.

The motion will be presented during the annual World Health Assembly, the WHO legislative body, which will be held by videoconference. If approved, it could legitimize the creation of an independent commission of inquiry which aims to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and its path of transmission to humans, as requested in the resolution. “The origin of the virus is a serious scientific problem and should be handled by scientists and experts rather than politicized,” Chinese Foreign Minister spokesman Geng Shuang said on Monday.

China fears that the investigation could bring further damage to the country and legitimize some conspiracy theories, on the laboratory origin of the virus, openly supported by the US President Donald Trump. The scientific community currently doesn’t believe that the coronavirus has been created in a laboratory and spread among the civilian population due to an error, but it’s also true that the patient zero has never been found, and the hypothesis that the virus was born in the Wuhan market still raises some concerns.

The resolution is currently supported by 122 countries as it was written by the Australian government, led by a majority aligned with the US. The first draft explicitly named China and its alleged role in the early stages of the pandemic, but the text was modified after diplomatic pressures of the European Union, which in recent weeks has been rather careful not to complicate its already difficult diplomatic and commercial relationship with China.

It is not the first time that China receives criticism for the lack of transparency of its government, led by Xi Jinping for about seven years. Freedom of opinion and the press is not guaranteed in China, and getting information from the government is often extremely complicated, even for members of the international organizations and scientists. China is trying to avoid the resolution, pushing for an international investigation led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Australia pledges $48 million to meet COVID mental health challenges
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia pledges $48 million to meet COVID mental health challenges

The national cabinet made this announcement at a time when lockdown restrictions around the country are being eased.

Scott Morrison’s government announced a $48 million mental health package on Friday after the national cabinet met to discuss the lifting of several restrictions around the country, including the staggered opening of bars and restaurants, public spaces like beaches and phased resumption of elective surgeries. This announcement, made by national Health Minister Greg Hunt, comes on top of the $19.5 million already committed by the state of Victoria towards mental health measures.

This package includes outreach for at-risk communities pegged at $29.5 million, $7.3 million for collecting better data and another $10.4 million to maximise the impact of the information campaign which says “It’s okay not to be okay”. This is in addition to commitments from each state and territory, similar to Victoria’s approach. The nationwide mental health and wellbeing pandemic plan is expected to provide a consistent approach to mental health service delivery and support.

The National Health Commission’s CEO Christine Morgan has said the plan will build on existing successes like the increased engagement with mental health services compared to previous years. Hunt also pointed out that early information coming from states like Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania show no increase in suicide rates, something they wish to get ahead of.

“It is heartening to look at those figures and to say, ‘it hasn’t got worse.’ That doesn’t mean it couldn’t get worse,” she said. “It means that we are OK at the moment, and therefore we need to not only keep doing what we’re doing but make sure we accelerate it and embed it.”

Going ahead the plan will be built around the diversity of mental health illnesses and issues that the pandemic can trigger in people. This cannot be done without taking into consideration the context and social consequences, which the plan reflects.

Certain tell-tale behaviours and signs like gambling, domestic violence and drug abuse will be tracked in order to find people who may need help dealing with the upheavals in their mental health. It is especially young people in regional and rural Australia who are affected and it is very important to assure them that it’s okay to seek help in addition to ensuring they have the right kind of access. The first step is to connect with people dealing with these issues.

Not all Japanese companies are exiting China
Asia Pacific Focus

Not all Japanese companies are exiting China

Many countries, including Japan, South Korea, and the US, had expressed concern over China’s role in the spread of the Corona pandemic and had threatened to move their production bases out of China. The plan in the offing is to relocate to other alternate production bases.

The Japanese government, in its attempt to diversify its supply chain and ensure its continuity, had announced a series of incentives to Japanese companies to move out of China. The move was to relocate their production bases to the home country or in South East Asian countries.

According to a report that The South China Post carried, so far, there is no large scale exodus of Japanese companies from mainland China. At least five companies that the daily spoke to said that they are likely to continue to stay back in China. China remains an important market. The companies that spoke to the South China Post added that any shifting out would be expensive and can add to further disruption, as it would involve moving out of huge infrastructure.

One of the major companies which are against any changes in production is Toyota. In a statement, the automobile company said, “The auto industry uses a lot of suppliers and operates a vast supply chain, and it would be impossible to switch in an instant. We understand the government’s position, but we have no plans to change our production.”

A similar statement was issued by Lixil, the household, and construction material company.

Another company, which choose to remain anonymous said they did not think of moving out of the country as their products are designed specifically to keep Chinese consumers in mind.

Following the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, the Japanese government had announced 220 billion yen (US$ 2 billion) to woo companies back to Japan. In a similar move, a package of 23.5 billion yen was announced to incentivize companies to move to Southeast Asian countries.

Production in many of these Japanese companies was stalled when the Chinese economy came to a halt to check the spread of coronavirus since December 2019.

To move base for any major industry cannot be decided sooner as these production houses are heavily dependent on ancillary industries supplies. The future host countries should also ensure to clear many legal and regulatory norms to allow investments.

Analysts also believe Japanese industries might face new tariffs if there is an escalation of the US-China trade war.

New Zealand supports Taiwan’s participation in the WHO despite China’s opposition
Asia Pacific Focus

New Zealand supports Taiwan’s participation in the WHO despite China’s opposition

Taiwan is one of the few countries to ‘flatten the curve’ of Covid-19 without a national lockdown. Despite being geographically close to the initial coronavirus outbreak in China, the country may soon be relatively Covid-19 free. As of May 10, Taiwan only has 73 active cases and 366 recoveries from a total of 438 confirmed cases. It also has a low case fatality rate (CFR) of 1.3% or 1.36% deaths. Italy, Spain, the US, and New Zealand have CFRs of 13.9%, 10.1%, 5.9%, and 1.4%, respectively. Taiwan, with the strong support of the United States, has stepped up its lobby to be allowed to take part as an observer at next week’s World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO’s decision-making body – a move that has angered China.

Taiwan is banned from the WHO due to China’s opposition, considering the island as one of its provinces. Taiwan says this has created a dangerous gap in the coronavirus fight, also accusing the WHO of submitting to Chinese pressure. On Monday, the Foreign minister of New Zealand affirmed that the country has to stand up for itself after China rejects Taiwan’s entry in the World Health Organization (WHO), as it could damage bilateral relations. The move follows last week’s statements of senior ministers in New Zealand, demanding Taiwan’s participation in the international organization as an observer. China has rebuked New Zealand for its Taiwan support, suggesting it should stop making wrong statements.

“We have got to stand up for ourselves,” Winston Peters, New Zealand’s foreign minister, answering the questions of journalists about China’s response to New Zealand’s position on Taiwan. New Zealand did not think the issue would harm diplomatic ties with China, his biggest trading partner. So far, Taiwan has reported only 440 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths, relatively low numbers looking at other countries in the Asian Pacific region. New Zealand attributed this “tremendous success” to early prevention measures and controls made by local authorities. New Zealand’s Foreign Minister insisted that Taiwan’s response to novel coronavirus is an example to follow. Although in 2013, SARS didn’t hurt Taiwan’s citizens or economy, the outbreak urged the Taiwan Government to build better health infrastructure to be ready for future pandemics. Taiwan’s government invested a lot in new screening technology, checks at airports, training for front-line medical staff, and even reformed its legislation to allow for faster crisis response.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand’s position on Taiwan was only related to its health response to Covid-19. “We have always taken a One China policy, and that continues to be the case,” Ardern said. Ties between neighboring Australia and China have deteriorated in recent months after Australia, following the USA, called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, assuming that it may have been a laboratory error. China has rejected such allegations, reaffirming its transparency about the outbreak.

Lockdown, internal conflict cause double blow to Afghanistan’s recovery.
Asia Pacific Focus

Lockdown, internal conflict cause double blow to Afghanistan’s recovery.

COVID-19 pandemic lockdown is gravely damaging economies across the globe. More so for countries like Afghanistan, which has been embroiled in civil war for almost four decades. The country has a fragile political system; the peace process has been staggering, with no definite outcomes. The lockdown is proving to be a significant blow to the fragile country’s economy.

According to a report on 4 May, corona cases in the landlocked country is close to touching the 3000 marks. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned yesterday that the deadly virus might infect about 80 percent of the country’s 35 million.

Reports add that the infection rate among Afghan nationals might be one of the highest. And to make the situation more precarious, the nation has to safely bring back more than 250,000 citizens from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran; a similar lockdown in Pakistan and Iran triggered the return of hundreds of migrants back to their home country.

About 4.1 million people affected by the internal conflict live in urban and rural areas where the necessary facilities are lacking. These displaced people with no access to hygienic living conditions, remain vulnerable to contract COVID infection.

The civil war and prevailing security situation pose a severe risk for health officials to reach out to patients in the remote area for testing.

For Afghanistan, the road to fighting back the disease and to recovery is going to be long and challenging. The country’s public health care system is frail, and NGOs do not have access to several remote parts of the country.

Children and women will be more prone to exploitation and abuse due to lockdown and the economic hardship; the lockdown is going to impose.

The government is unstable as it remains embroiled in the debate over who won the last year’s presidential election. The US has frozen transfer of funds due to political uncertainty. The country would need economic aid and more relief as the landlocked country has a low tax base.

Taliban’s refusal to stop violence in pockets of Afghanistan has delayed the peace process.

Community chiefs and influential religious leaders must step in to spread awareness about the disease and help the marginalized.

Australia locks horns with China over investigation into corona origin
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia locks horns with China over investigation into corona origin

Wuhan sent supplies to Australia, but they have been lying unused in a storage facility. Australia showed its disdain and resentment against the callous way in which China handled a pandemic outbreak that could have been controlled, if the sickness originating from a wet animal market was taken care of in time.

It now wants to carry out independent investigations. But China’s ego has been rubbed the wrong way and it has been vocal about it last week when Chinese diplomats are said to have behaved in an “outrageous” manner with their open statements of economic sanctions on Australia.

Australian economic experts have reasons to reconsider their long standing relationship with Beijing after China had openly lashed out at Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week. This came after Morrison expressed the desire to carry out an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. In return, China said they disapprove for such intrusion and this would spark a travel and trade boycott on Australia.

Speaking about its power as Australia’s trade partner, China seemed to have warned in as many words to watch where Australia plans to make enemies. “But it’s also a super power, a country of 1.4 billion people — very different from Australia — run by a Leninist political system,” commented the Lowy Institute executive director Michael Fullilove while speaking to the local Australian media about how to perceive the power dynamics with China.

China is said to be using the ‘wolf warrior’ mentality with most nations that have shown resentment and dissatisfaction over its treatment of the virus outbreak resulting in loss of lives, livelihoods and a resulting economic slump. Countries up in arms against China include Nigeria, Sweden and Netherlands to name a few.

Apart from Australia, there are other nations demanding independent investigations around the origins of the virus and its handling. These include the UK, the United States, EU nations and Germany. China’s response to Canberra has been typical, but the war is just starting and it is not going to stop.

China can arm twist its trade partners to ensure investigations don’t fall through. But only time will tell, as the world limps back to normalcy in the midst of handling the pandemic and looking for a vaccine cure.

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