AP Journalist

Jacinda Ardern appears calling opposition leader a ‘Karen’ during parliamentary debate
Asia Pacific Focus

Jacinda Ardern appears calling opposition leader a ‘Karen’ during parliamentary debate

On Wednesday, during a hot debate in the Parliament over the hate speech laws. New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern said that the opposition leader Judith Collins could be called a “Karen”. 

Judith Collins, the head of the opposition party, has contended unequivocally against changes to the nation’s hate speech laws, saying the new laws could signify “individuals feeling offended having the option to condemn others who make them feel insulted.”

“Karen” is a term that became popular on social media, describing a working-class white lady who acts in an entitled, pushy, demanding, and privileged way. 

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Parliament had been discussing New Zealand’s new hate speech laws, with Ardern’s administration proposing more rigid punishments for provoking discrimination and violence. The proposal comes in light of the deadly 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks. later a Royal Commission inquiry concluded that the law didn’t satisfactorily manage hate crimes or hate speech and suggested more grounded measures.

The term or meme ‘karen’, which many references dictionaries listed as the word of the year in 2020, has divided reactions. Some believe it’s sexist, while others say it’s a placeholder for talking about the casual racism and privilege displayed by some white women.

Karen word went viral online due to a number of reasons including incidences when a White woman would call the police over small inconveniences caused in a mall, store, or cafe.

New Zealand‘s Jacinda Ardern stated that she couldn’t help contradicting “Collins remark on Twitter that in some way or another it will become illegal to consider calling somebody a ‘Karen’.” “It’s incorrect, and I am sorry that implies these laws won’t shield that part [Collins] from such a case, Arden added, The Independent reported.

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.”

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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How An Intelligent App Has Busted A Criminal Syndicate
Asia Pacific Focus

How An Intelligent App Has Busted A Criminal Syndicate

New Zealand and Australian governments worked in tandem to crack a racquet of criminals. In a mass cheat moment, they worked out a massive blow to a syndicate that was blow apart through a messaging app. Apparently; hundreds of criminals were tricked into using this messaging app that was being secretly run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

What has been busted is a syndicate of organized criminals ranging from those drug smuggling, money laundering and even planned killings. For months together authorities monitored millions of messages exchanged on the ANOM application.

Named as the operation Trojan Shield, the app was part of a worldwide sting led by the FBI and involved the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the EU’s police agency Europol, and law enforcement agencies in over a dozen countries.

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It is massive victory for the world against organized crime, amidst a raging fight against the unseen enemy called Covid-19. One reason that the pacific countries said this worked is because stripped-back mobile phones were used to attract their attention. The popularity of the app grew organically baiting in some high-profile underworld figures described as “criminal influencers,” vouching for the app.

Australia and New Zealand made public announcements for the criminal bust while other European nations made their independent announcements nationwide.

In Sydney, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said that the police had arrested 224 people and seized more than four tons of drugs and $35 million in an ongoing operation that dates back three years. With this, shutters were brought down on six clandestine laboratories and 21 death threats were stopped, including saving a family of five.

New Zealand police said they had arrested 35 people and seized drugs and assets worth millions of dollars.

The sting was put into action since 2018, when a similar application called the Phantom Secure was seen to be not than effective. ANOM app was then introduced and could see a great fan following building in no time amongst the criminal lot.

UN Member States Seek Investigation Into Origins Of Covid-19 For Future Preparedness
Asia Pacific Focus

UN Member States Seek Investigation Into Origins Of Covid-19 For Future Preparedness

Despite barking down trade restrictions on Australia for having asked for a probe into the origins of the Coronavirus, China has still been cornered by many other Western countries.

The United States along with other United Nations (UN) member states are seeking a detailed investigation into the Wuhan Wet Animal market. At the main annual meeting, US representative Jeremy Konyndyk told the World Health Assembly (WHA), “We underscore the importance of a robust comprehensive and expert-led inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.”

It is definitely not a chapter closed and China will not be able togo scot free for it. Those who are aggressively asking for an in-depth investigation includes the European Union, Australia and Japan among others, while the British representative urged thatany probe be “timely, expert-driven and grounded in robust science.”

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The general consensus for the investigation is to find ways to ensure such widespread pandemics do not occur again and can be prevented in the first place. No conclusive result seemed to be materialized after an expert team from the WHO visited the wet markets in February of this year. The investigative report said the virus jumping from bats to humans via an intermediate animal was the most probable scenario, while it said a theory involving the virus leaking from a laboratory was “extremely unlikely”

While not suggesting that a lab leak was necessarily the source, a number of prominent international scientists have said a deeper, more scientific look at the theory was needed. China has vehemently refused to co-operate over any other investigation, though the WHO has insisted that the idea of the investigation was not to demean or blame China for the outbreak.

At the meeting, Mr. Konyndyk has said that “The purpose of theinquiry is not to assign blame, but to be grounded in science, tofind the origin of the virus and the outbreaks, and to help us all prevent future global catastrophes from happening.”

But amid diplomatic sensitivities, their agenda contains no resolutions on the way forward.

China Tries To Throw Economic Fallout Blame On Australian Political Public Remarks
Asia Pacific Focus

China Tries To Throw Economic Fallout Blame On Australian Political Public Remarks

China is now accusing Australia for having spoilt their economic relations in the first place.  Surprisingly, one of its top diplomats in Canberra, Mr. Cheng Jingye went onto say that it was Australia that has messed the trade equation with China.

Australia has apparently engaged in economic coercion. The Chinese diplomat has issued a veiled warning that Chinese students and tourists will be reluctant to return post-pandemic to Australia because of a hostile environment.

According to Mr. Jingye, unless Australia changes the perception, China cannot look like an ally. In an hour long interaction with Australia China Business Council Members, Mr. Jingye did not name the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Five Eyes network. But he did say that, “teaming up in small groupings against China will not work at all. Playing the victim game will not change the nature of the problem.”

His rare public comments come after China’s Foreign Ministry slammed the head of Australia’s Home Affairs Department, Mike Pezzullo, as a “troublemaker” after the high-profile bureaucrat warned the “drums of war are beating” and Australia needed to be prepared to send its “warriors” to fight.

Tension has only intensified between China and Australia in the last few years. Australian businesses have had to bear the brunt of damage after China launched a series of trade sanctions. Australia has been one of China’s biggest exporters.  Chinese sanctions have literally crippled Australian business forcing it to seek alternate partnerships.

In a flip statement, China has accused Australia of economic damage instead. He said the Morrison government had adopted a “discriminatory” approach towards Chinese investment, which had slumped dramatically, while simultaneously Australian trade to China had held up.

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On the other side, America has been vocally appreciating Australia’s stand against China. For example, the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires, Michael Goldman has openly expressed “enormous respect” for Australia for having stood up to China’s “economic coercion” over the past year, and said the Biden administration wanted to reassure Canberra and other allies “that we have their backs”.

It seems the Chinese diplomat has used the same phrase and turned around a narrative to suit Beijing’s needs. A country known for hard action is finally started to manipulate words to meet its political and trade agenda. But it is not going to have the desired effect.  Something similar happened when Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian openly criticised Australian politicians for making remarks that ‘instigate confrontation’ after weeks of warnings of conflict in the Indo-Pacific. Australia is only looking after its own interest, once China shunned it over sovereignty breach issues post the Covid-19 pandemic started to worry the world. The skirmish has become a trade war when China felt Australia was crossing the line seeking a full blown investigation into the origins of the Corona virus, a request that pressed the ego button in China and led to a series of sanctions and economic falls outs between the nations.

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
Americas

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
Geopolitics

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.

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