Asia Pacific Focus

Afghanistan citizens join fight to protect land as Taliban aggresses its offensive
Asia Pacific Focus

Afghanistan citizens join fight to protect land as Taliban aggresses its offensive

This week as Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani makes his visit to the United States of America to meet President Joe Biden, Taliban aggravates its attacks dramatically in his country. The attacks that first began in the north have now spread across the country like wildfire. The extent of attacks by Taliban is so massive that Afghan defense forces are unable to stem the offensive. The concerns are raised by Afghanistan officials as US troops continue to withdraw from the country under September timeline. Fears are valid as this can leave the country more vulnerable than ever to be overtaken by Taliban. This has prompted villagers to come out and join the defense and security forces to protect their land from Taliban.

Jamshid Wahdat, 32, a law school graduate, returned to his village after the Taliban were overthrown in 2001. His village is a community of ethnic Tajiks that strongly opposed takeover by ethnic Pashtun Taliban. “I couldn’t recognize our house. They had burned everything to ashes,” he said. The rally of armed militia and citizens joining defense forces was “to show the armed forces that they are not alone. We need to defend our lands, our houses and ourselves.”

Kabul government has urged able Afghans, including former armed rivals and locals to join the fight against Taliban. This has surprisingly met with a successful response indicating that Ghani’s government, though not as successful in battlefield against Taliban, has a massive support from public over its anti-Taliban agenda. This also an attempt to convince Biden administration that Afghanistan deserves more help from the US in its fight against Taliban.

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Experts however, warn the Ghani government of its strategy of involving rival militia in the fight. The concerns are it can weaken government’s control and risk revival of abusive and predatory behavior by the groups. “Ghani came to power with an anti-warlord narrative and plan for disarming the people. Now his government is arming people,” said Hafiz Mansour, a legislator from the opposition Jamiat-i-Islami party that once led the anti-Taliban fight. “The government should show leadership and manage guns in a useful way. These forces should not become lawbreakers.”

Taliban is growing its attacks in the country and expanding its control over the provinces. Increasing conflict and fear are the impacts of assault by Taliban and its growing control. But as the Taliban grow their control from north to south, people of Afghanistan are determined to give it a strong fight. Mir Adil Shah, 57, a lifelong village resident, first fought occupying Soviet troops at age of 17, then he fought the Taliban before they seized power in 1996. He then fled north to the Panjshir Valley where he fought the extremists under the command of Afghanistan’s late militia leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. He said, “This is my motherland. I have been fighting for it since I was a kid. As long as I am alive, I will never lay down my gun.”

India, China to hold further talks to resolve Ladakh border standoff
Asia Pacific Focus

India, China to hold further talks to resolve Ladakh border standoff

India and China on Friday agreed on continuing military talks with the aim of achieving full-fledged disengagement in eastern Ladakh. The two sides on Friday held a virtual meeting (22nd) of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on India-China border affairs. During the meeting, India and China agreed on holding the next (12th) round of meeting between senior commanders of both armies at the earliest.

The last meeting between officials from the two sides took place on March 12.

According to a statement issued by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on Friday, both sides had a “frank exchange” of views on the border standoff along the LAC in eastern Ladakh that erupted last year. They also agreed on maintaining dialogue to find an early resolution to the remaining issues in line with the agreement reached in September 2020.

“The two sides agreed to hold the next (12th) round of the Senior Commanders meeting at an early date to achieve the objective of complete disengagement from all the friction points along the LAC in the Western Sector in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements and protocols,” the statement added.

The MEA added that in the interim, the two sides will continue to maintain stability on the ground and prevent any “untoward incident”.

India and China have been experiencing a deadlock in the disengagement process even after several rounds of talks. Furthermore, New Delhi and Beijing have entered into an unprecedented war of words after China said that it deployed troops at the border to prevent India from encroaching on the Chinese territory.

Without naming India, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Wednesday said that Chine deployed its military in the western sector along the border as a defence to prevent encroachment or threat by “relevant country”.

“This was the root cause of the tense situation along the borders,” he added. In response, India blamed China’s action of accumulating troops in LAC to change the status quo on the region for the border standoff. In a weekly news briefing, India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that it is the Chinese actions over the last year that have caused serious disturbances in the peace and tranquility in the border areas.

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New Zealand contemplating toughing its hate speech laws
Asia Pacific Focus

New Zealand contemplating toughing its hate speech laws

New Zealand is contemplating toughing its hate speech laws, adding much harsher penalties for those who drive or “normalise” discrimination or hatred.

The move comes forth post a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch attack on March 15, 2019, – in which a white supremacist killed 51 people – as it recommended changes to hate crime laws and hate speech. It said that these were weak deterrents for people targeting religious and distinct minority groups with hate.

The government has proposed new criminal offences for hate speech that it says would be clearer and more effective.

It has a majority in parliament, so can easily push through the changes if it is satisfied with the next round of consultation. But, as per experts, the proposals are likely to be highly contested as opposition political parties continue to raise concerns about freedom of speech and expression.

So far, New Zealand’s hate speech laws have resulted in only one prosecution and two civil claims, said the Royal Commission.

Currently, the highest penalty for hate speech in New Zealand is a fine of $7,000 and a maximum of three months’ imprisonment.

The suggested changes would increase that maximum to three years imprisonment and the fine will surge to a whopping $50,000.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi, at a press conference, said, “Protecting our right to freedom of expression while balancing it with protections against ‘hate speech’ is something that needs careful consideration and a broad range of input”.

“Sitting back and allowing people to keep on spreading hate by any means needs to be stamped out, otherwise more things like the March 15 attacks could happen,” he added.

For now, sexual gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or religion aren’t protected specifically under New Zealand’s hate speech regulations. As per the law, it is only an offence to use speech that “excites hostility” or “bring into contempt” a person on the grounds of their colour, ethnicity or race.

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India is engaging with Taliban to further Afghan peace talks
Asia Pacific Focus

India is engaging with Taliban to further Afghan peace talks

As the United States is withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, India is engaging with Afghan officials and Taliban members to establish a complete ceasefire in the landlocked country. As per media reports, an Indian delegation recently met Taliban’s political leadership in Doha to discuss the Afghan peace process.

At a webinar organised at the Arab center in Washington on Monday, a senior Qatari diplomat stated that the Indian officials paid a “quiet visit” to Doha to discuss issues related to mutual concern with Taliban officials.

“I understand that there has been a quiet visit by Indian officials…to speak with the Talibans… because Taliban is a key component of, or should be or is going to be a key component of the future of Afghanistan,” said Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, special envoy to Qatar for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution.

However, the Indian government has yet not responded to al-Qahtani’s statement.

Last week, Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar visited the Qatari capital Doha for the second time in one week. During his visit, he held talks with his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani as well as US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad to discuss matters related to the Afghan peace process among other diplomatic concerns.

Jaishankar’s stopover comes amid reports that India has for the first time opened channels of communication with Afghan Taliban leaders, including Mullah Baradar.

Earlier this month, India opened channels for communication for Afghan Taliban leaders, including the group’s deputy leader and negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. This move was seen as a major diplomatic shift from India’s previous position to not engage with Taliban over the Afghan peace process. External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi has also confirmed that New Delhi is in touch with various stakeholders in Kabul as part of its long-term commitment to ensure development and reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Indian National Security Advisory (NSA) Ajit Doval and his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib also reportedly met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Corporation Organisation (SCO) in Tajikistan capital Dushanbe.

On several occasions, India has reiterated its call for peace within and around Afghanistan to preserve constitutional framework in the country. New Delhi has also called on the international community to press for a permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan amid increasing incidents of violence. In recent years, India has emerged as the largest regional contributor to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan with enormous financial pledges of $3 billion.

US is the greatest creator of risks in the region: China
Asia Pacific Focus

US is the greatest creator of risks in the region: China

China has condemned the United States move of sailing its warship through the Taiwan strait and has termed it as the region’s “greatest creator of risks”.

Taiwan Strait is a strategically critical zone for China as the narrow waterway separates mainland China from the island of Taiwan.

The US Navy’s 7th fleet said that its Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur conducted a “routine” transit through the Taiwan Strait on Tuesday.

In a statement, it was said the “ship’s transit within the Taiwan Strait proves the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

China issued a warning after its forces monitored the vessel through the tense waterway.

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China claims sovereignty over Taiwan.

“The US is intentionally playing the identical old tricks and creating trouble in the Taiwan Strait,” the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command said.

This “shows that the US is the greatest creator of risks in terms of regional security, and we are firmly opposing this”.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry downplayed the scenario by saying that the “situation was as normal” and the ship had travelled in a northerly direction through the strait.

The US Navy has been handling such operations in the Taiwan Strait each month.

Military tension between Taiwan and Beijing have surged over the past year, with Taipei protesting against China for repeatedly sending its air force into its air defence zone.

A month ago, the same ship had transited the strait that has made China blame the United States for threatening peace and stability.

In the series of events, a Chinese aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, pervaded Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. This is the largest reported incursion to date that followed the Group of Seven leaders issuing a joint statement asking China for underscoring the importance of stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait.

China condemned these comments as “slander”.

South Asian diplomacy: India strategically nurtures its ties with Maldives
Asia Pacific Focus

South Asian diplomacy: India strategically nurtures its ties with Maldives

With India by its side, the Maldives won the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) presidency last week. Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid was elected as the 76th president of the UNGA by a large majority of 143 votes out of 191 ballots cast. As India helped Maldives canvass for the president of the UNGA, New Delhi welcomed Shahid’s win to the position with open arms.

Congratulating his Maldivian counterpart Shahid for his mammoth success, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar expressed India’s commitment towards strengthening multilateralism and necessary reforms to address mutual and global challenges.

For years now, India and Maldives have enjoyed cordial relations and bilateral ties. With the emergence of the Maldivian Democratic Party in 2018, relations between New Delhi and Male grew stronger as both countries overcame the challenges posed by former president Yameen’s regime.

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With Ibrahim Solih as the President, Maldives invested significantly in its relationship with India. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian government also walked the extra mile to foster its ties with Male as part of its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Maldives’ strategic bilateral cooperation with India emerged as a successful model for Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

In February 2021, Indian EAM Jaishankar visited the Maldives to review bilateral ties and development cooperation with his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid. During his visit, he lauded President Solih’s ‘India First’ foreign policy, noting that it reciprocated in full measure by Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

Amid the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, India and Maldives signed five agreements to boost development and partnership between the countries. As part of the vaccine Maitri initiative, India sent thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses to support Maldives’ effort to combat the COVID-19 virus in the country. Last month, India reportedly decided to open its second diplomatic mission in Maldives’ Addu City with the aim of intensifying its diplomatic presence in the archipelagic nation.

Along with the Maldives, India is looking forward to expanding multilateral relations with its other South Asian neighbours. As the geopolitics of regional cooperation continues to change, it is important for New Delhi to adapt to new changes and reforms in order to further its diplomacy.

US keen for ‘positive response’ on dialogue with North Korea
Asia Pacific Focus

US keen for ‘positive response’ on dialogue with North Korea

The United States’ new envoy for North Korea said in Seoul, on Monday, that he looks ahead to a “positive acknowledgement soon” on dialogue from North Korea.

The special envoy on North Korea, Sung Kim, has offered to meet Pyongyang officials “anywhere, anytime” amid a continued deadlock in negotiations between the two.

He is in South Korea for a five-day visit with no word of any designed efforts to contact the North.

Meanwhile, the US will keep on forcing United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea due to its nuclear weapons programme and ask other countries to do the same.

Kim, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, said he hopes that the DPRK will answer positively for his outreach and his offer to meet without preconditions.

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His arrival came on Saturday, a day after North Korean media reported that leader Kim Jong Un pressed preparation for both confrontation and dialogue.

To this, Kim said that the US will be prepared for either because “we are still waiting to hear from Pyongyang for a meeting”.

Kim’s appointment was announced last month in a meeting between US president Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

China, which is North Korea’s only major ally, is seen as a major player in any efforts to resolve tensions involving Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

Ambassador Li Jinjun, China’s top envoy to Pyongyang, has lately emphasised the long-standing ties between the two countries.

The Biden administration so far moved forth with a “practical, calibrated approach” towards North Korea, including diplomatic efforts, to convince the country to give up its outlawed nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

Kim doubles as ambassador to Indonesia. He held back-to-back meetings with South Korea’s top nuclear envoy, Noh Kyu-duk, and convened a trilateral session with his Japanese counterpart, Takehiro Funakoshi.

Noh and Kim discussed ways to facilitate the “prompt” resumption of dialogue with North Korea.

Australia seeks WTO action against China over wine tariffs
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia seeks WTO action against China over wine tariffs

Trade tensions between Australia and China further escalated on Saturday as Canberra announced that it is filing a formal complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over China’s imposition of brutal tariffs on its wine exports.

In a statement issued by Australia’s Trade Minister Dan Tehan, the decision to take action against China’s imposition of anti-dumping duties on Australian wine was taken after extensive consultation with Australia’s wine makers.

“Australia will defend the interests of Australian wine makers by taking action in the World Trade Organization over China’s imposition of anti-dumping duties on Australian wine,” the statement said.

Canberra also expressed willing to engage directly with Beijing to resolve the issue. The minister maintained that the government will continue to vigorously defend the interests of Australian wine makers through WTO’s established system to resolve differences. The minister added that Australia’s decision to use WTO aligns with its support for rules-based trading system.

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In November 2020, China imposed heavy taxes on Australian wine of upto 212%, alleging Canberra of trading malpractice. A statement by the Chinese commerce ministry said that the anti-dumping measures were introduced to stop subsidised imports of Australian wine after a year-long investigation found evidence of dumping.

Australia had denied the allegations, maintaining that there was no basis of the claims.

Noting that China has been the biggest market for Australian wine, the crackdown resulted in millions of dollar worth of loss to Australian wine makers and exports.

Addressing the media, Trade Minister Tehran said that the actions taken by the Chinese government have caused serious harm to the Australian wine industry. Canberra has pointed out that Beijing’s tariffs have surged the price of Australian wine to a triple rate, making the Chinese market unviable for the country’s wine makers and exporters.

As per reports, Australia’s wine exports to China fell to $20 million last month from $1.1 billion in November 2020.

In recent months, Beijing has imposed numerous economic sanctions on several Australian products and services, including coal, tourism, and agricultural goods. Earlier in December 2020, the Australian government lodged a formal complained at the WTO against China’s 80% anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs on Australian barley. This trade tiff has worsened geopolitical and economic relations between the two countries. Bilateral relations between the two countries became tense after Australia banned Chinese tech giant Huawei from 5G network in 2018. Later in 2020, Australia backed an independent investigation into the origins of Coronavirus in a major blow to its already-strained ties with China.

Japan’s political parties prepare for elections as Diet session ends
Asia Pacific Focus

Japan’s political parties prepare for elections as Diet session ends

As Japan’s parliamentary session concluded on Wednesday, the country’s ruling coalition and opposition parties are gearing up for the upcoming general elections. At the end of the 150-day ordinary session of the Diet, the ruling coalition rejected the opposition’s call for a three-month extension of the parliamentary proceedings to effectively handle the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

This development came a day after the lower house voted down a no-confidence motion against the cabinet led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The country’s main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party (CDPJ) and three other parties (Democratic Party for the People, Japanese Communist Party, and Social Democratic Party) had filed the no-confidence motion against Suga’s cabinet after the ruling coalition dismissed their proposal to extend the Diet session.

Opposition leaders have been highly critical of the prime minister and his cabinet for mismanagement of the pandemic and an array of controversies coming to light in recent months. In view of the COVID-19 response, Suga’s cabinet’s approval rate fell down to a record 32.3 percent in May 2021, as per a Jiji Press survey. At the same time, public disapproval increased 6.9 points to 44.6% for the fifth successive month.

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Speculations are rife that Suga might dissolve the House of Representatives and call for snap elections in the first week of September following the Tokyo Olympics Games (starting from July 23) come to an end.

However, responding to media reports, senior leaders of the ruling coalition have indicated that Suga will not be dissolving the Lower House ahead of the Metropolitan Assembly elections in Tokyo as well as the Olympics Games that are scheduled to take place next month.

Japan must hold its general election before the four-year term of the incumbent members of the lower house ends on October 21.

In addition, Suga will also face Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) leadership elections with his term as the party president ending on September 30. Suga is seeking re-election in the party elections in order to stay in power.

With about 40 days left for the Tokyo Olympics to kick off in the Japanese capital, prime minister Suga has assured to take all safety measures related to the novel Coronavirus to ensure the Games would be “safe and secure”. The Japanese government is scheduled to ease the COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and few other regions ahead of the Olympics. Meanwhile, the LDP and other political parties have begun their election campaign amid ongoing efforts to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Fresh military drills near Takeshima/ Dokdo islands stir sourness in Japan-South Korea ties
Asia Pacific Focus

Fresh military drills near Takeshima/ Dokdo islands stir sourness in Japan-South Korea ties

 Disputed territorial islands saw fresh rounds of annual military drills by South Korea near the waters of Dokdo islands, referred to as Takeshima islands in Japan. The military exercise began few days after meeting of both nations’ leaders on G7 Summit in Cornwall’s sidelines was cancelled as Japan raised objections over the military drills conduction. This long-running territorial dispute between the countries has further threatened Tokyo Olympics to be held this year.

Lasty weekend, the meeting between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and the Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga was cancelled after Mr. Suga raised concerns over South Korean drills near disputed islands. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, Moon was planning on attending Olympics opening ceremony on July and had plans of telling Suga about this during meeting. This would have been a starting point of relations improving between the two nations.

Moon expressed his disappointment over not being able to meet Suga during the G7. “My first encounter with prime minister Suga would have been a precious chance [for] a new start in the South Korea-Japan relationship, but I am sorry that it could not develop into a meeting,” he said in a Facebook post.

Japanese officials say that meeting had to be cancelled over scheduling problems.

Earlier in month of June, South Korea had raised concerns and lodged a complaint with IOC (International Olympic Committee) after organizers of Tokyo Olympics 2020 identifies the disputed islands as Japanese territories in an online map that displayed Olympic torch relay route. The fresh rounds of military drills by South Korea is expected to further stir in strains in an already sour relationship between Tokyo and Seoul over bitter war history.

The prime reason of bitterness in war history is because of disagreements around Japan’s indulgence in sexual slavery during wartime and forcing of laborers into mines and factories during and even before World War II. Nevertheless, both Japan and South Korea are key allies to the USA and share a common cause of ‘denuclearizing’ North Korea.

The South Korean Defense Ministry has relayed that military drills would be participated by naval, air and coast guard forces, while being limited at sea and minimum contacts between all troops citing coronavirus concerns. 

The chief cabinet secretary in Japan, Katsunobu Kato, said on Tuesday, “The drills are unacceptable and extremely regrettable. We have protested to the South Korean government and called for them to be halted.” Kato added that news around Moon having intentions of attending Olympic opening ceremony has “no truth”. Furthermore, Japan has dismissed all calls by South Korean officials of amending the Olympics torch relay map.

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