Asia Pacific Focus

Covid-19 arrests and restrictions leave Hong Kong’s opposition gasping for breath
Asia Pacific Focus

Covid-19 arrests and restrictions leave Hong Kong’s opposition gasping for breath

Hong Kong’s opposition parties are in severe financial crises, unable to raise donations for their protests as they are not allowed to do so in view of the anti-pandemic restrictions and the intensifying crackdown on members under the national security act. 

Two of the city’s major pro-democracy parties, as reported by local media, claim that social distancing rules have curbed their regular fundraising campaigns and their situation has worsened because of prosecutions over money laundering allegations.

These allegations are discouraging regular donors and imply an added need to pay legal costs for members, under detention, facing the charges.

Civic Party chairman Alan Leong Kah Kit said “the actual problem is that if you’re donating to a party accused of subversion, won’t you think multiple times before opening your purse?” 

Several members of the opposition are under detention and are dealing with allegations of national security offences. 

Alan revealed that the Civic Party, unless it receives some funding in the coming days, will last only for 4-5 months at the max. 

On the other hand, restaurant owners in Hong Kong are forced to subject their customers to contact tracing. Teachers, too, are ordered to get regularly tested for COVID-19 once schooling resumes after Easter. 

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In the city, whenever more than four protesters gather, they’re subjected to stiff fines by police for obstructing the set social distancing regulations.

“Hong Kong’s leaders have been under severe pressure from Beijing to curb the virus from spreading,” said Bruce Lui, veteran political commentator and senior lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University

“That’s the reason why they are ruling with an iron fist so that they deliver and the results could be shown to Beijing as they mean business,” he added.

The national security law, passed by Beijing last June, criminalizes protests and political organizing of most forms. 

China Talks Diplomacy Before Japan-US Summit
Asia Pacific Focus

China Talks Diplomacy Before Japan-US Summit

China feels it could have another arch enemy in its neighborhood. Beijing has now warned Japan that it does not want it meddling into its internal matters, saying ‘show some basic respect’.

In the words of China’s internal affairs, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Japan needs to mind its own business.

His counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi has been informed that Japan is not going to be allowed into meddling of internal affairs; much before the forthcoming US-Japan Summit.  Mr. Yi has used diplomatic words this time to ensure it has Japan well informed before Tokyo steps into any agreements with the US, without the biased stance over China.

Confrontation should not be an option and Mr. Yi reminded Mr. Motegi of the various discussions and agreements signed between Japan and China over the last few years.  The focus was more than anything on China’s stance over the Diaoyu Islands and South China Sea.

Wang also expressed opposition to Tokyo for its interference over China’s affairs on Xinjiang and Hong Kong. “We urged the Japanese side to abide by basic criteria of international relations,” Wang said. The whole world has opposed the lack of accountability of the human rights in both these places.

In a telephonic conversation, the Chinese foreign minister highlighted the four political documents between China and Japan in bilateral relations, and urged the two sides to abide by the principles and spirits established in the documents to ensure that bilateral relations do not flip-flop, stagnate or backpedal, and do not get involved in the so-called confrontation between major countries.

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China has also had flack with Australia for not having them allowed a full blown investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 virus. This has already led to souring of trade relations amongst the nations.

Extending an olive branch, the Chinese minister did say that it expected Japan to cooperate as Beijing was looking at supporting the sportsmen of both nations in hosting the Tokyo Olympic Games and the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. On his part, Montegi echoed Wang’s words by saying that Japan is willing to maintain communication with China, strengthen dialogue, enhance mutual trust and properly manage their differences, so as to create a sound atmosphere for jointly celebrating the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and China.

Protests surge in Myanmar against Junta coup
Asia Pacific Focus

Protests surge in Myanmar against Junta coup

Demonstrators in Myanmar have staged several protests across the country to demand the restoration of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and have called for coordinated nationwide dissent to defy the military’s latest steps to suppress attempts to rally opposition to its ongoing rule.

As per media reports, over the weekend nearly six people were killed as activists, police and soldiers had several skirmishes across the country. 

Security forces resorted to violence to enforce their writ on demonstrators who gathered for what they call a “spring revolution”.

The campaign against the martial law enforced to oust the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi has included civil disobedience, street marches, strikes and quirky acts of rebellion organised on social media. 

The army has sought to moves like shutting down mobile data and wireless broadband services.

Demonstrators were seen with placards of Suu Kyi, asking for international intervention as they marched through the streets of the city of Mandalay, according to images on social media.

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Protesters urged the international fraternity to recognise the ethnic minority armies that have gotten alongside the anti-coup movement, and youth demonstrators who have battled security forces in the streets to shield or rescue wounded protesters.

“We will clap for five minutes on April 5, 5 p.m. to pay tribute to Ethnic Armed Organisations and Gen Z defence youths of Myanmar including Yangon who are a part in the revolution fight on behalf of us,” said Ei Thinzar Maung, a protest leader, on Facebook.

Opponents of military rule released messages of protest on Easter eggs, like “get out MAH” and “we must win” – referring to junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

Nearly 557 people have so far been killed since he led a coup on February 1. This was just hours before a new parliament convened, to stop Suu Kyi’s party from initiating a second term in office.

Electoral reforms “very very dark” for Hong Kong: Emily Lau
Asia Pacific Focus

Electoral reforms “very very dark” for Hong Kong: Emily Lau

The former Democratic Party chairperson Emily lau, on Tuesday, said the passing of sweeping electoral reforms for Hong Kong will mean a degrading and humiliating process for prospective MPs.

She said Hong Kong doesn’t have any form of democracy but had a system that allowed people to be safe, free, and live under the rule of law. 

“Now all this is stumbling in front of us and it makes the people very scared that they are going to lose freedoms, personal safety, rule of law and this makes it a very dark day for Hong Kong,” she said.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said that there wasn’t a “one-size-fits-all” way of democratic procedures and vetting committee won’t screen out people on their political views. 

In its latest move aimed at tightening control over Hong Kong, China has set forth a controversial “patriot” plan to bring reforms to the city’s elections.

The recently passed electoral reforms will half the number of directly elected parliamentary seats and prospective MPs will first be shortlisted by a pro-Beijing committee make sure that their loyalty stays with the mainland.

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Beijing is of the opinion that the aim is to keep “unpatriotic” figures away from positions of power in Hong Kong.

Critics around the world warn that these sweeping changes would mean an end to democracy in Hong Kong, eradicating the air of disagreement or whatever opposition there is left.

Hong Kong, that once was under British control, was handed over back to China in 1997 that was promised to be governed under a “one country, two systems” principle.

This principle meant to protect freedoms for Hong Kong, which no part of mainland China enjoys: freedom of speech anf assembly, an independent judiciary, and a few freedoms of political nature.

Why China Has Shifted Focus To Africa From Australia?
Asia Pacific Focus

Why China Has Shifted Focus To Africa From Australia?

Australia and China are not doing business together. This news is getting to become more and more public as China is now moving towards elsewhere to meet its iron needs. It has now chosen Africa as its new partner.

Africa has been looking at lucrative business propositions as the continent becomes ready to create an environment of economic growth for its inhabitants.  While Beijing had tried to bully down Canberra in retaliation to the former’s assertion for a deep investigation into the origins of the Coronavirus, nothing productive has come about such arm twisting mundane tactics.

Instead, it has prompted Australia to move towards the Quad to meet its trade and other bilateral needs, China could see reason in why it needed to diversify its investments. While it has determined that it will respect the 2030 Sustainable goals set down by the UN for global reduction in carbon emissions, its investments in iron ore are continuing.

Beijing has been eyeing the South African untapped resources of iron ore, to combat its growing tension with Australia. Up until now, China was sourcing two-thirds of its iron ore from Australia, with this supply making up half of all iron ore consumed in China. 

But China has found greener pastures and its latest choice is Guinea. An agreement was signed in January 2021 between Rio Tinto that is currently, reviewing infrastructure costs that include port connections and more than 600 kilometres of railway. Full production of iron ore is not expected before 2027 or 2028.

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The southern blocks of the Simandou deposit are controlled by a joint venture between Rio Tinto, Chinalco and the Guinean government. Simandou represents one of the largest iron ore reserves in Guinea and in the world. Its mine is a large iron mine located in the Simandou mountain range of southern Guinea’s Nzérékoré Region. 

At the northern side, the control lies with the China-backed SMB-Winning Consortium which is closer to development having signed a $14 billion infrastructure contract

To this end, the Chinese state has been cultivating relationships with African leadership and providing robust practical and policy support for its companies to explore, develop, and exploit African mineral deposits. China’s domestic iron and steel policies strongly encourage and provide favourable funding for Chinese investment in overseas metal extraction and processing sectors, which have helped secure supplies and prices.

It had already donated vaccines to the residents of Guinea, the poor but mineral rich country in Africa. Vaccine diplomacy right now, is working in everyone’s favour. Meanwhile, as a member of the Quad, Australia is also shifting its focus in US-India and Japan as its new trade partners. Established in 2007, the Quad really came into existence only in 2017, in order to challenge China’s power games and develop a stronger network of Indo-Pacific trade equations amongst related nations.

China approves overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system
Asia Pacific Focus

China approves overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system

BEIJING: Chinese leaders endorsed, on Tuesday, a sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong’s political system cutting down its number of directly elected seats and ruling that majority of the city’s lawmakers will be hand-picked by a reliably pro-Beijing committee.

The changes were approved by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), which is the top decision-making body of China.

The new measures were imposed directly by Beijing and bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature. Experts term this as the latest move quashing the city’s democracy movement.

“President Xi Jinping has signed presidential orders to promulgate the annexes (amended),” said China’s official Xinhua news agency. 

These proposals were announced at the NPC meeting in March and were claimed to be the changes that were necessary in order to “improve” the electoral system and make sure that only “patriots” were to govern Hong Kong.

As per the plan, directly elected seats in the Legislative Council will come down to 20 in a legislature of 90 members, while 30 seats are said to be set aside for “functional constituencies” that will represent various industries.

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The Election Committee that chooses Hong Kong’s leader will hand-pick 40 representatives, said the paper, adding that the committee won’t include district councilors any long.

Prior to this, half the members of the 70-seat Legislative Council were elected directly by the public.

A new committee is said to be established to vet candidates for the territory’s prime elections. It will have less than 10 members and will be chosen by two groups keeping an eye on national security. 

Elections of the territory’s Legislative Council were to take place in September last year, but polls were delayed by the government because of the coronavirus pandemic.

China, in 1997, took control of Hong Kong back from the United Kingdom. It promised that the territory’s way of life will be maintained and its democratic freedoms will specifically be looked after for the next 50 years under the framework of “one country, two systems”.

Thousands run into Thailand in view of Myanmar air strikes
Asia Pacific Focus

Thousands run into Thailand in view of Myanmar air strikes

YANGON: Thailand authorities, along the border with Myanmar, are bracing the influx of Karen villagers escaping the airstrikes by the Myanmar military.

As per the reports, Myanmar aircrafts carried out almost three strikes late Sunday night.  

According to a humanitarian relief agency delivering medical and other assistance named Free Burma Rangers, the airstrikes injured one child severely but so far, no apparent fatalities have been reported.

Thai PM Prayut Chan-ocha acknowledged, on Monday, the problems on their western border and said that his government making preparations for a possible influx of people.

“We, of course, don’t want a mass migration of people into our territory, but we are definitely considering human rights, too,” Prayut said.

When inquired about people already fled into Thailand, he said, “We have locked preparations at some places, but for now we don’t want to talk about refugee centers at the moment. We certainly won’t go that far.”

Almost 2,500 people, including 200 students, have passed the Salween River into Mae Hong Son province in Northern Thailand, according to Burma Free Rangers. 

An estimate of 10,000 people is said to be displaced in northern Karen state, as per the agency.

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Video shots, surfacing on social media late Sunday, show groups of villagers, including young children, resting inside a forest after fleeing their homes. They can be seen carrying their possessions in baskets.

The bombings have been in retaliation to the Karen National Liberation Army for attacking and capturing Myanmar government military outpost, Saturday morning. The group is reportedly fighting for autonomy for the Karen people.

Leaders of the resistance to military coup that had toppled Myanmar’s elected government are looking to have the Karen and other groups join together and band them as allies, which would be an addition of armed element to their struggle.

According to Thoolei News eight government soldiers were reportedly captured in Saturday’s attack and almost 10 were killed. 

The airstrikes signify an escalation in a violent crackdown by the Myanmar government against the opponents of the Feb. 1 military takeover.

Australia Pushes Back Beijing Over Exorbitant  Wine Import Levies
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia Pushes Back Beijing Over Exorbitant Wine Import Levies

China is proving to be the worst choice for a trade partner yet again, as it tries to slap exorbitant percentage of levies on wine imports on Australia. In response, to the bullying, Australia has said to Beijing that it would pull the latter to World Trade Body. According to the Australian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan, “This is simply to ensure that Australian wine cannot compete with their Chinese counterparts.” China has threatened to slap as much as 200 percent levy on Australian wine.

According to the Chinese Commerce Ministry, these were temporary anti-dumping measures to stop subsidized imports of Australian wine. Since mid 2020, Beijing went on to systematically attack Australian imports including coal, sugar, barley and lobsters amid political tensions. The skirmish became a brawl after Australia insisted to send a team of experts from its end to Wuhan, in order to investigate the originations of the Coronavirus, a suggestion that China considered as a violation of its sovereignty and blatant intrusion.

In response, Beijing has been attacking Australia where it hurts the most- its various imports to China. According to official figures shared by Wine Australia, China is the biggest destination for Australia’s wine exports, accounting for as much as 39% in the first nine months of 2020.

In response now, the Australian trade minister is threatening to take China to task for pushing an escalated levy that would continue for the next five years. In response, China has said its move is justified as Australia is responsible for ‘dumping and subsidy’ coming its way, an allegation that Canberra has completely denied.

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In 2019, Australia had blocked Chinese investments in sensitive areas and felt cut off when China did not allow investigations into the origins of the Corona Virus. Australia also called for the WTO to investigate Chinese tariffs on barley imports, following a series of economic sanctions or disruptions to Australian products to China’s vast market. Everything since then it seems to be China’s ways to get back at Australia. It is more of ego gone wrong than any fair trade relation between the countries seeing the light of the day. Things are sour and at its lowest since the deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, where China had come down heavily imposing martial law on student protestors. Criticism came from both Western and Eastern Europe, North America, Australia and … “dismayed by the bloody repression” of “an unarmed crowd of demonstrators.

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.

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