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Myanmar anti-coup protests grow stronger as public defy ban
Asia Pacific Focus

Myanmar anti-coup protests grow stronger as public defy ban

Myanmar anti-coup protests continue for 4th consecutive day even as military warns of action

Myanmar’s junta on Monday declared curfew in the country’s two biggest cities amid growing protests against last week’s military coup. As widespread demonstrations entered the third day, the new military rulers of the country banned public gatherings of more than five people in order to control the protesters. 

However, thousands of people defied the ban on public gatherings to join nationwide protests against the military removal of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Military moved soldiers with water cannons to Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, Yangon and other major cities in order to disperse the protesters. As soldiers entered to the cities, they blocked roads and forced protesters to retreat. 

Significantly, protesters have also taken over social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to voice their demands for the release of civilian leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi, and the withdrawal of the military from the government. 

Myanmar’s junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Monday issued the first televised address since the coup, vowing to hold fresh elections after the year-long state of emergency in the country. He further reiterated his claims of voter fraud in November’s election which was won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party (NLD) with a landslide majority. 

“We will have a multiparty election and we will hand the power to the one who wins in that election, according to the rules of democracy,” he said.

Justifying the military’s seizure of power, Min Aung Hlaing claimed that the country’s Election Commission did not allow fair poll campaigning by using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse. Calling the coup “unavoidable”, Min Aung Hlaing also asked the protesting public to cooperate with the military for the “good of the country.”

Meanwhile, the electoral body has rebuffed the army leader’s allegations, maintaining that any irregularities in election results would not have changed the overwhelming vicotry of Suu Kyi’s party. Min Aung Hlaing has declared the formation of a new election commission to inspect the voting procedure.

Suu Kyi, along with other senior members of the NLD party and government officials were detained by the military last week. In addition, several legislators and human rights activists have been detained since the coup. 

The military also issued Martial law in a number of cities, warning anti-coup protesters against further demonstrations. The first wave of protests were led by members of the Students Union across various regions, with engineers, teachers and monks joining in later days. Holding posters and banners with portraits of Suu Kyi’s face, thousands of protesters chanted anti-coup slogans while demanding the removal of military and release of detained elected lawmakers.

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After the coup, the army also intermittently blocked internet, mobile data networks, and social media websites to counter dissent across the country. 

Reportedly, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been reaching out to Asian governments to lead a collective and bilateral action for the reversal of the military coup in Myanmar. 

“The Secretary-General continues to follow the situation in Myanmar closely and with grave concern. He and his Special Envoy have been reaching out to key international actors, including regional leaders, in calling for collective and bilateral action to create conditions for the recent coup in Myanmar to be reversed,” Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric said on Monday. 

Joe Biden and Moon Jae-in pledged to boost US-South Korean relations
Asia Pacific Focus

Joe Biden and Moon Jae-in pledged to boost US-South Korean relations

On Thursday, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and the US President Joe Biden on a telephone call discussed strengthening the United States-ROK alliance and work towards achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula. 

After his first telephone conversation with the US President’s inauguration ceremony, President Moon Jae-in tweeted that he had an incredible conversation with President @JoeBiden @POTUS and that he welcomed the US’s return amidst challenges like environmental change, coronavirus pandemic, and economic polarization. 

We will consistently stand together as we work towards peace on the Korean Peninsula and also address global challenges. He expressed that the two nations have vowed to further upgrade the Republic of Korea-US partnership, an alliance that is secured in shared values.

Moon, became President of the Republic of Korea in 2017 and was once the motivating force behind the now-stagnant diplomacy between North Korean pioneer Kim Jong Un and former US President Donald Trump. The talks between Kim and Trump collapsed in mid-2019 when Washington dismissed North Korea’s calls for sanction reliefs in exchange for limited denuclearization measures.

As per Bloomberg, the ties between the allies were tried under former US president Trump, who kept blaming South Korea for fooling the U.S. furthermore, demanded a five-fold increase in fees to support US troops posted there.

The White House in a statement said that “president Biden in a conversation with Moon stressed his commitment to fortifying the US-(South Korea) alliance, which is the key part for promoting peace and prosperity in the Northeast Asia region.” It added that both presidents consented to intently coordinate on North Korea. 

Earlier on Thursday, Moon tweeted that he had a great talk with Biden. “We will stand together as we work for tranquility on the Korean Peninsula and tackle various worldwide challenges,” he added. 

Moon’s office stated that both the leaders agreed that the cooperation among Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo is significant for building regional peace, The Associated Press reported.

Brazil health minister quits as Corona cases continue to spike

Brazil health minister quits as Corona cases continue to spike

The resignation of Brazilian health minister yesterday has again raised questions about the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Nelson Teich resigned on 15 May just weeks after he was appointed to lead the ministry.

The country has now emerged as one of the worst hotspots of Coronavirus.

There were differences between the President and the minister’s views on reopening the economy and anti-malaria drugs to treat COVID cases.

President Bolsonaro has pushed to reopen the economy, and there has been less consultation with his health ministry on such moves. The President has also advocated the widespread use of Hydroxychloroquine – the anti-malarial drug to treat COVID positive cases.

According to reports, Brazil has more than 200,000 COVID cases as of 14 May 2020. As many as 13, 933 people have died.

Health experts believe that the number of cases is likely to be higher if tests are increased. Public Health experts have believed the numbers of corona positive cases are expected to go up as the country is yet to peak.

Teich is the second health minister to resign in recent weeks amid the COVID pandemic.

Opposition parties were quick to criticize the President. Opposition leader in Congress said Brazil is heading towards a public health catastrophe, and the President must be impeached.

Marcelo Ramos, Liberal Party Congressman, said the President would accept those who show disregard for science-based public healthcare policy.

Teich, an oncologist, was appointed as the minister on 17 April. The move was to ensure that the President and the health ministry have the same views on reopening the economy.

General Eduardo Pazuello, Teich deputy, and who has no experience in the health sector, will be made the next health minister. This is an interim arrangement.

Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Teich’s predecessor, was fired on 16 April, over differences on containment of the deadly disease with President Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro recently announced the opening up of gyms and parlors, which was not supported by Teich. The minister’s and the President’s view diverged over the widespread use of the anti-malaria drug to treat COVID cases.

There is a worldwide debate about the use of Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to treat the virus. Many data have revealed the use of HCQ can add to further complications.

Tension brewing between India, Nepal over road construction

Tension brewing between India, Nepal over road construction

There is growing discomfort between India and Nepal over road construction in a small patch of land. The Indian ambassador to Nepal was summoned by the Nepali government recently to launch a formal protest over the inauguration of the road in a disputed area.

Lipulekh, where India has constructed the road, lies on the north-western side of Nepal, at a tri-junction with India and China border. India claims Lipulekh, which sits at an altitude of 5,200 metres high as Indian territory.

The Indian government has maintained that patch of land as part of Uttarakhand. For Nepal, the road is a “violation of sovereignty.”

The Nepalese authorities claim that “the link road to Lipulekh of Nepal goes via Nepali territory.”

The Indian government inaugurated the road on 8 May 2020, via video conferencing. The 80 km long route is meant to facilitate the movement of pilgrims to Mount Kailash in Tibet. After the construction of this linking road, the travel time is reduced to one week to reach Kailash. Other routes to reach Mount Kailash it used to take two to three weeks.

This link road via Lipulekh Himalayan Pass is also one of the shortest routes to connect India and China and facilitate trade.

The response from Indian authorities has been the construction is completely within Indian territory.

The two sides are unlikely to meet and hold talks immediately due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a Ministry of External Affairs, India, a mutually agreeable date for formal negotiations will be set up soon.

Nepal has recently set up an armed outpost along the western border with India.

Relations of India with the Himalayan nation has been anything warm in recent years. India was reservations about Nepal’s new constitution. The imposition of the “unofficial” economic blockade of Nepal has also strained the ties.

The Nepalese government, in recent years, has reached out to China to reduce its economic dependence on India.

Bilateral ties between India and Nepal have been defined by past treaties, border alignment, ideology of the governments, geopolitical factors in the region and economy.

Tension over Lipulekh has been brewing since November 2019 when the government of India released a new map highlighting Lipulekh as Indian territory.

Can US polls be delayed? White House advisor does not rule out

Can US polls be delayed? White House advisor does not rule out

The US Presidential elections slated to be held in November this year is one of the most anticipated events. But there are reasons that it might get delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus issue.

According to a report, White House advisor Jared Kushner did not rule out the possibility of postponement of the US presidential elections.

Democratic party supporters have expressed concern that incumbent President Donald Trump might push for delaying the polls.

Kushner, while speaking to Time Magazine, shared, “I’m not sure I can commit one way or the other, but right now, that’s the plan.” Kushner was responding to the question if polls will be postponed due to the corona pandemic.

Corona pandemic has battered the US, causing severe disruption and massive economic losses. With 1.37 million positive cases and more than 82,000 deaths, the US is the worst affected country by the deadly virus.

As Kushner’s comments stirred things up, the White House officials tried to downplay by stating that the Congress is responsible for setting up the date for polls.

Since 1845, presidential polls have been held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Both President Trump and House of Representative Speaker have indicated that polls will be held on 3 November, regardless of more COVID-19 infection.

Recent surveys suggest President Trump’s popularity has taken a beating amid the corona crisis, compared to his opponent Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

According to a Reuters/ Ipsos opinion poll results declared on 12 May 2020, President Trump trails by eight percentage points from his Democratic challenger. About 41 % of American adults approve of Trump’s leadership. In a similar poll taken in April showed his approval ratings of 45%.

There is growing criticism of how Trump is handling the coronavirus crisis. Trump has wanted to open the economy from May against the advice of many epidemiologists and health experts.

Trump has resorted to criticizing China and WHO for the blame game. Hundreds of Americans have lost jobs.

Businesses are divided if to reopen the economy. The US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has expressed hope that the economy will bounce back in the next two quarters.

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.

Brexit Talks – Crucial UK-EU talks begin ahead of June summit

Brexit Talks – Crucial UK-EU talks begin ahead of June summit

As the EU and the UK begin to disentangle the Brexit process, talks between representatives of both sides began their talks over trade deal on 11 May 2020.

The success of these talks is crucial ahead of the summit next month. The summit is scheduled to take place on 30 June.

The latest round of talks, held virtually, will be closed by 15 May.

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the pace of talks has been slowed. However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants conclusive discussions and does not want the transition period to be extended beyond December this year.

For the British government, a free trade agreement is the most critical agenda on the discussion table. Other priority areas are air transport, energy and law enforcement, data sharing, and security. The EU wants all key areas should be dealt with equal importance. Licensing and regulation of medicines are also on the table.

During the previous round of talks, held in April 2020, differences emerged over fisheries, competition rules, and cooperation over law enforcement.

EU is also disappointed with British negotiations. According to a report, the UK representatives are only focusing on their priority areas.

Ever since the UK withdrew from the EU on 31 January 2020, the UK is under transition period where it will have to follow the EU regulatory framework.

In this transition period, till 31 December 2020, the UK has to finalize its trade deal and future rules of convergence over crucial areas.

In the event both sides fail to negotiate on any agreement, a further extension will have to be approved by the UK-EU joint committee.

The Labour party and other opposition parties in the UK want Boris Johnson government to extend the talks beyond the transition period of 31 December.

Prime Minister Johnson remains hopeful that the outcome of the talks, which began in March, will be conclusive, and any extension would not be required.

While for the UK, a free trade agreement, with no quotas, tariffs, or any other barriers, is the desired outcome from these talks. For the EU, all sectors of Brexit talks are of equal importance. Their concern also involves the deal after divorce with Northern Ireland, on which the UK remains non-committal.

Venezuela: Failed coup allows President Maduro to consolidate his position

Venezuela: Failed coup allows President Maduro to consolidate his position

The Venezuelan law enforcement officials have arrested three mercenaries and seized three Colombian boats recently. The arrests were made following the unearthing of a coup attempt against President Nicolas Maduro.

The arrest of 3 mercenaries and capture of boats are part of ongoing investigation to overthrow Maduro government.

The coup attempt was reported last week following the arrest of dozens of people, including a former Venezuelan army officer, a Bolivian national, and two ex-US special forces personnel. These 34 people arrested were plotting to kidnap the president.

The doomed attack began mudslinging between Maduro and opposition leader and the US government.

The move to dislodge the government has been planned by Ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau and Venezuelan army defector Gen. Alcala.

Following the crackdown on mercenaries, two American mercenaries have accepted their involvement in the 3 May coup attempt, in a program which was aired on television.

Both American soldiers arrested during the raid has been charged with “terrorism, conspiracy, illicit trafficking of weapons and criminal association.” The detained American nationals can face imprisonment of up to 30 years.

At a press meet on 9 May, the left leader of Venezuela Maduro accused opposition leader Juan Guaido of attempting to overthrow his government.

Maduro also accused his stanch critique and US President Donald Trump that he knew about this operation. President Trump, however, has denied any involvement.

The two American detainees are said to work for Silvercorp, which is run by former US army official Jordan Gourdeau. The US had announced a county of US$15 million for the arrest of President Maduro. The US has accused President Maduro of narco-terrorism.

Guaido has denied any claims of his association with Silvercorp.

For the past one year, the tension between Venezuela and the US has mounted due to drug trafficking. The US government has already frozen Venezuelan funds and assets.

Analysts believe two factors could be responsible for the botched attempt at the coup – the Maduro government gets intelligence from Cuban officials, which is considered as “superior and a step ahead of any opposition moves.” Secondly, the Americans limited access to ground sources in Caracas, which denies the coup-plotters from any real-time scenario.

While it’s a blow for Maduro’s opposition when Operation Gideon (launched to stage a coup against him) failed, this failed coup will allow Maduro to strengthen his position within the country.

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.

Covid Pandemic: Top Five trends which hint at reshaping of geopolitics

Covid Pandemic: Top Five trends which hint at reshaping of geopolitics

The Covid -19 pandemic has brought in unprecedented seismic changes in global and national politics, the economies, social behavior, and the way people work, and almost everything. Has the crisis drawn new geopolitical faultiness or just deepened the cracks which had developed over the years? Are we going to see a new world order emerging at the end of this crisis? Too early to conclude that. Are we going to be witness to the change in the status of superpowers in the power hierarchy? Could be it all depends on how states make a comeback during and after the pandemic crisis.

The COVID pandemic could be the first global crisis, which is “global” in nature. It has impacted almost every part of the globe, Global North as well South. In such circumstances, there is speculation about how the post-COVID world looks like. We attempt to share ten trends which are likely to have an impact on reshaping the geopolitics –

  • Building US-China tension – Tension between the US and China has only grown clamorous ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID pandemic. There are threats by the US and Chinese rebuttal. Beyond rhetoric, relations between the countries are likely to witness significant changes in the coming months.
  • The backlash against China – It’s not just the US; other European countries have voiced their concern over how China has handled the coronavirus infection. Australia, too has expressed its concern and called for an inquiry.
  • Foreign industries threatening to move out of China – There is a strong economic angle to the blame game, and China is under fire from its neighbours South Korea and Japan to shift away from its businesses from Chinese hubs.
  • Hunt for alternative manufacturing hubs – Taiwan, India, Vietnam, and other countries are trying to woo foreign companies, which are planning to shift bases from China with incentives.
  • Multilateral Institutions Might not be the same – After the US President Donald Trump withdrew funding and snapped association with WHO, the multilateral body might not be the same. The US has been the largest donor to the health agency.

Watch this space for more as we cover the pandemic crisis unfolds.

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