Monica Aggarwal

Vietnam to get a new leadership as CPV Congress kicks off
Asia Pacific Focus

Vietnam to get a new leadership as CPV Congress kicks off

Community Party of Vietnam has begun the 13th National Congress to finalise its new leadership

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party has gathered on Monday with the aim of selecting its new leadership which will guide the country’s future policy over the next five years.

Amid the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and recovery efforts, around 1,600 leading members of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) have come together from all parts of the country to Hanoi for the 13th National Congress. 

The conclave takes place every five years to choose the new leadership and set key diplomatic and economic policies that will lead the way for the country in the world order. This year’s gathering is being dubbed as the most crucial conclave since its introduction in 1935, noting that it is taking place at a time when Vietnam is grappling with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During the 13th Congress, nationwide delegates of the Communist Party will be holding multiple meetings over the next nine days to decide the new leadership team for Vietnam, formulate socio-economic policies for the next five years, and set the course for the country’s international diplomacy. Beginning on Monday, the conclave will come to an end on February 2 when Vietnam’s new leadership will be announced. 

Another focus will be on the fate of Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong, who has been keeping unwell for some time now. As the Communist Party’s general secretary, 76-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong took charge of the country’s presidency in October 2018 and is currently in his second term. Over the past two years, Trong has gained massive popularity owing to his record on Vietnam’s economic growth and fight against corruption.

The new leadership of the Communist-ruled nation will be facing major challenges in reviving its economy in the wake of the pandemic crisis and stabilize strategic and diplomatic relations with countries across the world, particularly with China and the US.

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Reportedly, there is intense competition among leading members of the party for the top posts, including the “four pillars” – the Party chief; State president; Prime Minister; and National Assembly Chair. The Communist party’s general secretary holds the most power in Vietnam, followed by the president, who is regarded as the head of government. 

Interestingly, as Vietnam’s largest trade partners, the US and China are expected to keep a close eye on the selection process for the new leadership. Vietnam is targeting to become a developed nation before 2045 by targeting its average annual growth between 6.5% and 7.0% in the next five years. 

Trump administration imposes more sanctions on Venezuela

Trump administration imposes more sanctions on Venezuela

Trump administration has imposed more financial sanctions on Venezuela to limit its oil sales

A day ahead of leaving the White House, the outgoing Trump administration imposed an array of strict financial sanctions on a network of oil trading companies and individuals in Venezuela. 

As per reports, the US targeted the network for allegedly assisting Venezuelan state-run oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) sell crude to Asia and other countries across the world, in a violation of US sanctions on the oil sector in the South American country. 

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned 14 companies, three individuals, and six vessels for helping the President Nicolas Maduro-led administration in evading sanctions and selling oil from Venezuela to other countries for millions of dollars.

As per a statement released by the US Treasury, the three primary targets of the sanctions are Francisco D’Agostino, Alessandro Bazzoni, and Philipp Apikian, along with oil trading companies Swissoil Trading SA and Elemento Ltd. The sanctions have been imposed on these businesses and individuals for operating a sanction-evasion scheme to benefit the illegitimate Maduro regime and PDVSA, the statement added. 

“Those facilitating the illegitimate Maduro regime’s attempts to circumvent United States sanctions contribute to the corruption that consumes Venezuela,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the release.

Over the past two years, Trump has time and again regarded Maduro as an illegitimate leader of the South American country, exerting pressure on him to leave the office. Slamming Maduro for Venezuela’s political and economic crisis, the Trump administration recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate President of the country. 

After Maduro’s re-election in 2018, which was dubbed as fraudulent, the US has imposed massive sanctions on the country to curb its oil exports. PDVSA was sanctioned by the Trump administration in early 2019 in a bid to limit its oil sales. Last year, the United States had warned of more sanctions on the Venezuelan oil sector to choke off finances to Maduro’s government. 

Amid escalated tensions with the US, the Maduro-led Venezuelan regime has received support from China and Russia. 

At the same time, the US President also halted the deportation of thousands of Venezuelan nationals from the country for 18 months, citing “deteriorative condition” in the South American country. According to a 2017 estimate by Pew Research Center think tank, there are almost 130,000 Venezuelans living illegally in the US.

China tightening its hold on Hong Kong elections: Report
Asia Pacific Focus

China tightening its hold on Hong Kong elections: Report

Hong Kong elections: China is planning to take further actions to curb pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong elections

A week after Hong Kong authorities arrested 53 pro-democracy activists in the territory, media reports are pointing at a further crackdown by China in the country to curb dissent.

These lawmakers, lawyers and activists were arrested under Hong Kong’s six-month-old National Security Law, on the charges of participating in unofficial primaries for pro-democracy candidates for the territory’s elections last year. Beijing termed the primaries “illegal” and a “provocation” of the electoral system in the semi-autonomous territory.

Amid this development, the People’s Daily newspaper, mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party, on Tuesday said that those people who will be found disloyal would not be allowed to run for the office. Chinese state media added that actions will be taken to ensure that anti-China and trouble-making forces are out of Hong Kong elections. 

In the aftermath of the imposition of the controversial security law in June 2020, authorities have targeted the media, arrested tens of political figures and activities, disqualified lawmakers, frozen their assets, seized their documents, phones and computers. Hundreds of activists have also fled into exile to avoid arrests.

World governments and international institutions have condemned Beijing’s actions to subvert democracy in the territory. The United Nations also raised alarming concerns over the arrest of 53 leading figures in Hong Kong, calling for their immediate release. 

Meanwhile, Beijing has continued to deny its action to curb freedom and human rights in the Asian financial hub.

As a report by the South China Morning Post newspaper last month, Chinese authorities are aiming to curb the limited influence of pro-democracy leaders on the 1200-person election committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive, such that candidates will require Beijing’s approval to contest in the elections. With the Chinese authorities seeking other changes in the electoral structure of Hong Kong, elections are expected to be delayed further.

While the Legislative Council elections were scheduled to take place in September 2020, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam postponed them citing health risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the legislative council has largely reduced to a pro-Beijing body after mass resignations, arrests and disqualification of pro-democracy lawmakers since the introduction of the security law.

As per reports, the standing committee of the National People’s Congress is scheduled to hold meetings between January 20 to 22 to decide the fate of elections in Hong Kong. 

French politics is set to witness return of Michel Barnier

French politics is set to witness return of Michel Barnier

French politics: EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says he is going to return to French politics in coming weeks

Former European Commissioner and EU’s chief Brexit negotiator is planning to return to French politics. Weeks after the EU and UK agreed on the much-awaited post-Brexit trade deal, Barnier has expressed his intentions to go back to France and take his place in the Les Républicains party. The 69-year-old politician, who had previously served the French government as a Foreign Minister and agriculture fisheries minister, has been a member of the party for over 55 years now.

For the last five years, Barnier has been leading the EU’s team in numerous rounds of negotiations with Britain with the aim of reaching a Brexit trade deal. 

In a recent video interview, Barnier stated that he will go back to his home country in a few weeks to take back his place in French politics. The veteran politician also confirmed that he will not be joining President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist movement La République en Marche (LREM), instead would return to the right-wing Les Republicains. 

“I will try to add my stone to my political family which needs to be rebuilt, and to the French political debate,” he told French radio. 

However, he chose not to answer a question related to speculations that he is looking to challenge Macron in the 2022 presidential elections. 

With France’s presidential elections less than two years away, President Macron’s popularity has suffered a substantial downfall in recent months. Amid this development, he is seeking re-election in 2022 after his LREM defeated Les Républicains in the 2017 presidential polls. Notably, the main center-right party of the European nation, Les Républicains, has been in chaos in the absence of a prominent leader. 

After years of working on Brexit, Barnier is all set to retire from the European Commission on January 31. However, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen can reportedly ask him to stay back to carry out parliamentary ratification of the Brexit deal, noting that MEPs are yet to approve the trade agreement in the coming weeks. Ursula von der Leyen and Barnier have not yet discussed when the final ratification can take place.

Meanwhile, EU and UK negotiators concluded the long-running talks and agreed on a post-Brexit trade deal on December 24. With a trade deal in place, Britain left the single market and customs union of the EU on December 31.

Trump concedes poll defeat, vows orderly transition to Biden

Trump concedes poll defeat, vows orderly transition to Biden

Trump concedes poll defeat: A day after Capitol violence, Trump accepted defeat, pledged smooth transition of power to Biden

In a massive development, US President Donald Trump finally conceded defeat in the November 3 elections. On Thursday, a video statement with Trump’s remarks was released his Twitter account in which he acknowledged that he will not serve a second term. Trump also noted that there will be an orderly transition for the new administration under President-elect Joe Biden, with just 12 days left for his inauguration.

“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th,” Trump said in the statement.

In the video, he also condemned the violence caused by his supporters at the US Capitol a day earlier. This development came moments after the US Congress officially certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the election. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 elections’ results were in vain after the US Congress confirmed Biden’s 306-232 victory.

In the wake of chaos and destruction caused by Trump supporters on the Capitol Hill, his social media accounts were blocked by Mark Zuckerberg-led tech giant over concerns that his messages might escalate the violence. While Trump returned to Twitter with the video statement on Thursday, his Facebook and Instagram still remains blocked.

Trump’s acknowledgment of his loss has come amid increased calls for his removal from office. There were also demands for a new impeachment inquiry, calls for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke Constitution’s 25th Amendment to oust the President.

His video was followed by a series of resignations from his cabinet. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were among the first to submit their resignation over the riot caused by pro-Trump supporters in the US Capitol. As per reports, a number of other Trump administration aides are looking at a potential mass resignation as a sign of protest against Trump’s stance regarding the Capitol Hill violence. 

Meanwhile, in the video, Trump has hinted at continuing his political life to “make America great”, even as his supporters assaulted the seat of the country’s democracy. There are speculations that he may run for the President’s seat again in 2024.

“While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!” Trump said in the video.

According to Washington DC Police, at least four people died during the violence caused by the mob at the Capitol. Security forces were forced to fire tear gas and extensive control measures during the four-hour operation to clear the agitated mob at the Capitol. According to historians, this was the first time since 1814 that the Capitol was taken over by protesters. 

Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia resume talks over Nile dam dispute
Middle East & Africa

Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia resume talks over Nile dam dispute

Nile dam dispute: Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have agreed on resuming negotiations to settle the Nile dam dispute

Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt on Sunday agreed on resuming talks to resolved the long-running dispute over the massive dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa. 

According to Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Hafez, foreign and irrigation ministers of the three countries met online to hold fresh talks to negotiate the deal. The meeting was called by the current head of the African Union (AU), South Africa. As per a statement released by Sudan’s water ministry, officials, experts and observers from the three countries, AU and the United States participated in the virtual conference.

The statement also confirmed that this week’s discussions are aimed at concluding the negotiations to reach a deal by the end of January 2021. 

“The talks will pave way for the resumption of tripartite negotiations on Sunday, January 10 in the hope of concluding by the end of January,” the ministry said, as quoted by reports. 

Earlier attempts to initiate three-way negotiations to enter an agreement between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia failed after Khartoum did not attend the talks called by South Africa in November 2020.

The dispute refers to a 2011 hydropower project centering to the filling and operation of the huge reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The largest hydroelectric dam in Africa has caused unprecedented tensions between the three countries in the region. 

Egypt is fearing that the dam would gravely impact its source of water, noting that 97 percent of its drinking and irrigation water come from the Nile. Sudan, on the other hand, has warned that several lives would be affected in the region in the absence of a concrete deal.

Egypt and Sudan have also expressed concerns over the amount of water Ethiopia will release downstream in case of a multi-year drought. In this regard, both countries have called for a legally binding agreement to resolved the dispute.

However, the Addis Ababa government has insisted that downstream water supplies to these countries will not be affected. In its defence, Ethiopia, the second-most-populous country in Africa, has also maintained that its 110 million people is significantly dependent on the hydroelectric power produced at the $4.6 billion dam.

After weeks of boycotting the talks, Sudan urged the African Union to intervene in the negotiations to reach a deal. 

In July 2020, Ethiopia has announced that it successfully reached its first-year target for filling the dam’s reservoir. 

In Japan, Shinzo Abe’s scandal can negatively impact Suga
Asia Pacific Focus

In Japan, Shinzo Abe’s scandal can negatively impact Suga

Shinzo Abe’s scandal: Shinzo Abe’s involvement in Cherry blossom scandal can threaten Yoshihide Suga’s political career

Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was interrogated by prosecutors earlier this month over a funding scandal which could have harmful implications for the current leader of the country, Yoshihide Suga. While prosecutors decided not to charge Abe in the scandal over unreported political funds, the controversy could negatively impact the political future of Yoshihide Suga, who previously served as his chief Cabinet secretary.

On December 21, Abe volunteered to be questioned by Tokyo prosecutors over his alleged role in a funding scandal involving his political support group headed by former secretary Hiroyuki Haikawa. Despite previous denials, Abe admitted that his political support group had attempted to cover illegal transactions in official reports by paying a portion of expenses.

Tokyo prosecutors, who were investigating Abe’s alleged involvement in the funding scandal, decided not to pursue formal charges against the former prime minister due to lack of evidence to secure a conviction.

As per reports, Abe’s support group hosted lavish banquets for his constituents from Yamaguchi prefecture during his term as the prime minister. Constituents were charged only ¥5,000 per person for dinner at expensive hotels which cost at least ¥11,000 per person.

Haikawa has already been indicted for his role in the case catering to irregularities in political funding. He has been ordered to a ¥1 million fine by the prosecutors. 

Amid mounting criticism, Abe provided an apology during a Diet session, stating that he is aware of the significance of his political responsibility.

This investigation has come as a major setback for current Japanese Prime Minister Suga at a time when he is facing criticism for his mismanagement of the Coronavirus crisis in the country.

Suga is going to face an LDP presidential election in September 2021, in addition to a lower house election. Suga’s mishandling of Japan’s COVID-19 crisis and scandals in the ruling party have resulted in a downfall of his approval ratings. According to latest survey conducted by Nikkei financial newspaper, Suga government’s approval rating has sunk more than 30 points to 42% in November than 74% in September.

Even as Japan struggles with rising COVID-19 cases, the Prime Minister has yet not declared a state of emergency to combat the new wave of infection. Not only this, Suga is also facing heat of voters for attending public dinners despite urging the public to participate in year-end parties.

Climate change and impact on Asia’s growth and security

Climate change and impact on Asia’s growth and security

Impact on Asia’s growth: Climate change is adversely impacting water distribution, regional security and growth in Asia

Climate change is causing major shifts in weather patterns, resulting in a disruption of weather events. Unprecedented changes in weather events are altering water cycle patterns, as a result of which oceans are experiencing major transformations, threatening coastal ecosystems and agricultural areas.

Disaster-prone Indo-Asia Pacific is facing challenges from climate change in the form of a potential surge in geopolitical competition and interstate conflicts over the distribution of resources. Climate change is expected to reshape the strategic security environment in the region.

Being highly exposed to climate change, the Indo-Asia Pacific region is expected to face major water scarcity due to negligent management of water resources. At a time when countries across the region are struggling to revive from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, competition for essential resources such as water and energy between agriculture and industry will create hurdles for growth. 

As per a report by the Australian Water Partnership and water resource advisory firm Aither, immediate action is required to enhance the current water infrastructure in a bid to complete ongoing developmental projects.

Climate-related changes in the oceans are a major focal point for experts. Asia’s coastal megacities and island nations are highly vulnerable to an unprecedented rise in sea level and rapid depletion in the stocks of fishes, which is impacting food security across the countries in the region.

Rising temperatures can increase deadly pathogens in freshwater sources which will further the scarcity of drinking water for people. Climate-related weather events such as cyclones, storms and hurricanes have put the lives of more than 500 million children in danger. 

Climate impacts in Southeast Asia can also affect regional and international security issues. As climate change will exacerbate water stress between various regions, areas of limited water resources can rise to conflicts due to increased competition for safe water. For instance, any changes in the water flow in the Himalayas and Indus river can stress the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan amid the already-tensed relationship between the two neighbouring countries

 As Indonesia’s urban population will exceed in the next few years, it will have to step up its water supply by 30 to 50 percent. A number of populated cities in the Southeast Asian region, including Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta will also face massive water crisis due to rising sea levels.

Evidently, governments in the Indo-Pacific region are required to ensure a timely and appropriate response against the impact of climate change. It is important to reinforce the engagement between government entities and affected communities to tackle prevailing challenges such as degrading quality of life, large-scale migration, and lack of opportunities. It is also important for security communities across the Indo-Asia Pacific to address the risks created by climate change in a comprehensive manner in a bid to achieve their goals in the near future. 

One of the most crucial tasks for Indo-Pacific countries is to address climate threats by reducing emissions to the lowest level. Essentially, the degree of climate impact will drive regional instability in the Indo-Asia Pacific region as a result of which future regional investment decisions will be taken.

Stop censuring dissent: MENA activists to Facebook, Twitter
Middle East & Africa

Stop censuring dissent: MENA activists to Facebook, Twitter

Stop censuring dissent: Activists write open letter to Twitter, Facebook, urging to stop silencing critical voices in MENA

Marking the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring, around 17 human rights organizations from Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have issued a letter to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, condemning their actions to silence critical opinions from marginalised and oppressed communities in the region.

During the Arab Spring, citizens and activists across MENA countries used social media to raise voices and push for social justice and political change. For years now, thousands of peaceful protesters and activists have relied on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to draw the attention of the world to various causes including police brutality and climate change in their respective countries. 

However, in recent years, social media platforms have introduced a number of policies and content moderation policies that have resulted in silencing and effacing dissent voices. 

In the letter, the signatories have alleged that Facebook and Twitter have censored key activists, journalists, and other changemakers throughout the region. 

The signatories including journalists,  activists, and human rights organizations said that they have come together to voice their frustration and dismay at the practices of social media platforms in suppressing the opinions of marginalized and oppressed communities across Middle East and North Africa.

“These platforms often fail to protect human rights defenders when concerns are raised,” the statement said.

They added that arbitrary and non-transparent account suspension and removal of political and critical speech have become frequent acts. They have enlisted a number of incidents where Facebook and Twitter disabled the accounts of activists and journalists in countries like Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and Palestine to silent their voices.  

“The MENA region has one of the world’s worst records on freedom of expression, and social media remains critical for helping people connect, organize, and document human rights violations and abuses,” the statement added. 

In the letter, human rights organisations urged the social media giants to not “be complicit in censorship and erasure of oppressed communities’ narratives and histories.”

They further suggested a number of measures to Facebook and Twitter to ensure that users are treated fairly and they are able to voice their opinion freely.

They called on the social media giants to actively engage activists, local users, human rights defenders and civil society members from MENA countries in a bid to address the concerns of unfair discrimination. In addition, they called on the social media platforms to invest in regional expertise to design and implement context-based content moderation decisions in line with the prevailing human rights frameworks across the MENA region. 

Human rights defenders also appealed the platforms to pay special focus on such incidents related to war and conflict zones in a bid to ensure that content moderation procedures do not target marginalized communities in the region. It will also help in ensuring greater transparency across the platforms. 

Climate change: Protecting world’s oceans need of the hour

Climate change: Protecting world’s oceans need of the hour

Climate change: Developing a robust mechanism for safeguarding global oceans has never been more necessary

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for better managing the fading relationship between humans and the natural world that has resulted in accelerating loss of ocean habitat due to climate change. In this regard, the need for developing new and more effective marine protected areas (MPAs) has grown exponentially.

It is important to note that two-thirds of the international waters fall outside jurisdictions of countries across the world. These water bodies provide shelter to millions of marine species and wide ranging natural resources. However, they are facing severe damage due to climate change and human activities.

A 2019 global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services stated that 66 per cent of the world’s oceans are facing increasing challenges due to increasing human activities such as fishing and commercial trading. Earlier this year, scientists reported that almost half of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals have died off since 1995. In September, it was reported that two of Antarctica’s largest glaciers were close to collapsing. Similar incidents are being recorded from various parts of the world as rapidly-developing impacts of an impending climate catastrophe. 

The United Nations plays a crucial role in ocean governance and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has emerged as a key international agreement that grants coastal and island states authority over massive oceans termed as exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

While UNCLOS has been in place to regulate human activities in the high seas, this international legal agreement appears to be failing to protect the marine ecosystems.

Taking note of the deteriorating conditions of the world’s oceans, leaders from 14 countries recently pledged to sustainably manage the oceans under their national jurisdictions by 2025. Led by The Ocean Panel, these countries  have also vowed to designate 30 percent of the seas as marine protected areas in the next 10 years, in line with the United Nations campaign – 30 by 30. 

Currently, MPAs are covering only 7.66 per cent of the water bodies across the world, noting that most of these areas come under the jurisdiction of a country such that they are effective protected. 

In the absence of a full-fledged UN treaty on marine life, these 14 countries are working on a series of commitments to establish the world’s biggest initiative on ocean sustainability.

Combined, these 14 countries including Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico among others represent 40 percent of the world’s coastlines, 30 percent of the offshore exclusive economic zones (EEZs), 20 percent of world’s shipping fleet, and 20 percent of the world’s fisheries. Meanwhile, these nations have invited other world governments as well to join the initiative to protect the ocean biodiversity.

Research have indicated that if oceans were managed sustainably, there could be six times more food fished from these waters. It could also provide favourable social, economic, health and environmental benefits, in addition to creating 12 million new jobs. 

A new ocean treaty

In December 2017, the UN General Assembly decided to convene negotiations towards designing a new comprehensive international treaty to conserve and sustainably use the marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction named as the high seas. The treaty is aimed at establishing a global legal mechanism to develop MPAs in international waters. 

While three negotiation sessions have taken place in the past three years, the fourth session – scheduled for March 2020 – had to be postponed due to restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic. With only one round of negotiation left for the UN treaty to take shape, it is highly anticipated to see how these new layer to the ocean governance framework will bring change.

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