Monica Aggarwal

UK won’t be participating in EU coronavirus vaccine scheme: Report

UK won’t be participating in EU coronavirus vaccine scheme: Report

The British government has reportedly rejected an opportunity to join the European Union Coronavirus vaccine scheme amid concerns over ‘costly delays’. According to media reports, Business Secretary Alok Sharma appears to have turned down the EU’s scheme for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine expressing concerns over lack of assurance that the vaccines will be delivered to the UK on time.

Over the past few weeks, the UK and Brussels have been in talks over the EU vaccine scheme. At the same time, world governments have intensified their efforts to develop viable vaccines and treatments for the virus. Different pharmaceutical companies across the world are carrying out vaccine trials amid fierce competition.

On behalf of the 27-member bloc, the European Union has planned on spending around €2 billion (£1.8bn) on the advanced purchase of the vaccines which are currently going through trials. An announcement on the matter from the European Commission is expected soon.

According to a report by The Daily Telegraph, sources have suggested the government officials are concerned about the delay in rolling out of the vaccine through the scheme for the UK which could take up to 6 months.

However, it is important to note that the decision to withdraw support to the EU vaccine scheme might not work in favour of the British government in view of the backlash from opposition MPs. Notedly, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been facing the heat from Opposition over his failure to join the EU’s ventilator and PPE procurement schemes in March. Oppositions MPs have been alleging the British government of withdrawing support to EU projects after Brexit.

Meanwhile, London has signed a bilateral deal with Cambridge-based AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University for procurement of a vaccine. The UK government’s Vaccines Taskforce is also carrying out efforts of research and development to produce a safe vaccine.

However, there are concerns that initial vaccines might be ineffective for use. One the other hand, the European Commission has maintained that its vaccine scheme is formulated on the basis of solidarity and efficiency in a bid to ensure that all member states and their population have access to the vaccine.

After months of pandemic struggle, here’s how Europe has evolved

After months of pandemic struggle, here’s how Europe has evolved

It has been more than six months since the Coronavirus outbreak hit the world starting from China’s Wuhan city. The rapidly spreading COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in early March, following which it has infected more than 11.4 million people globally and over 534,000 people have died from the disease. From businesses to governments, COVID-19 has impacted billions of people across several countries in the world.

The epicenter of the virus moved from China to Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain, in the first half of Marsh itself, making the lives of more than 440 million citizens across the 27-nation bloc difficult. The EU entered into a crisis mode – lockdown was imposed, free movement of people and goods was restricted, medical supplies were stockpiled and internal and external borders were closed by the government. With businesses shut down, European economy faced the worst recession since the Second World War.

However, after weeks of shut down and intensive efforts of the medical professionals to combat the virus infected patients, Europe is emerging from the severe socio-economic impact of the pandemic. After battling the Coronavirus outbreak, several European countries including Germany, Italy, Space, Greece, and Portugal have relaxed their restrictions in a bid to resume their economic activities. While the virus is here to stay, Europe is trying to settle down in a new normal. Evidently, returning to normal life is slow and less dynamic with some restrictions still in place. People are wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing in public spaces to ensure health safety.

Significantly, European leaders are also taking all precautionary measures while reopening the economy amid concerns of a fresh wave of transmission.

Notedly, European Union countries initially failed to establish a collective preventive response against the pandemic in a bid to ensure an effective domestic response. But, with continuous efforts, European Union leaders pledged to join hands in response to the novel Coronavirus while addressing issues of regional and international interest. From providing essential medical supplies to handling economic crisis, EU leaders have announced close cooperation in tackling the crises.

The seriousness of the pandemic has changed the way governments will respond to a crisis in the future. Better preparedness and effective decision-making in the public interest will lead the way for administrations in handling complex situations such as pandemics and climate-induces disasters like floods, cyclones, and earthquakes.

As governments have started easing their lockdown restrictions, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has also warned that the pandemic is “speeding up” and the “worst is yet to come”. Noting that the virus to control the COVID-19 infections is a long way to go, he suggested five priorities for governments to focus on to ensure public health and safety amid the ongoing pandemic. From regular washing of hands to ensuring wearing masks in public places, he called on the government to improve surveillance to find infected cases and accelerate research to find ways to suppress the transmission. Finally, he laid emphasis on the need for global solidarity in political leadership to combat the pandemic.

EU and Venezuela engage in diplomatic spat

EU and Venezuela engage in diplomatic spat

The European Union on Tuesday condemned Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s decision to expel the bloc’s envoy Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, calling the Maduro government to reverse the move. Responding to the move by Caracas, the bloc further summoned Venezuela’s ambassador to the EU headquarters in Brussels.

Releasing a statement on June 29, the EU further warned the South American country of international isolation.

“The EU firmly condemns this decision and profoundly regrets the further international isolation that will result. We call for this decision to be reversed,” the statement by the EU bloc read.

In the statement, the EU further asserted that the ongoing deep political and socio-economic crisis in Venezuela can only be addressed through a peaceful and negotiated solution among Venezuelans.

“The EU reaffirms its commitments to support the Venezuelan people and contribute to resolve the political crisis and alleviate the suffering of the population through its humanitarian assistance,” the EU added.

Taking to Twitter, Josep Borrell, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, also condemned Maduro’s actions and said that Europe will respond reciprocally.

On Monday, Venezuelan President Maduro ordered the EU envoy to leave the South American country within 72 hours in the wake of fresh financial sanctions imposed by the 27-nations bloc on 11 Venezuela officials including Juan Guaido who is the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly.

“Enough, enough. This is why I have decided to give 72 hours to the European Union ambassador in Caracas to leave our country, and we demand respect from the European Union,” the Venezuelan President said in a televised address on Monday.

Meanwhile, the EU maintained that the sanctions have been imposed on the Venezuelan officials over their “role in acts and decisions undermining democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela”. This move by the bloc brought the total number of Venezuelan officials under European sanctions to 36 wherein their assets will be frozen and they will be banned from travelling to Europe.

These recent turn of events have sparked a diplomatic war of words between Caracas and Brussels. The United States, with support from leaders in Europe and Canada, has been pushing for Maduro’s removal. However, Maduro has been in power with control over the Venezuelan military with support from China, Russia, and Iran. Venezuela has been facing a political and economic crisis amid increasing inflation, deteriorated public healthcare structure, and soaring food insecurity.

Mexican President López Obrador plans Washington visit to meet Trump amid criticism

Mexican President López Obrador plans Washington visit to meet Trump amid criticism

Mexican President López Obrador has announced that he will meet US President Donald Trump during his visit to Washington early next month to celebrate the much-awaited US-Mexico-Canada free trade deal or USMCA, which is set to come into force on July 1.

During a press conference on Thursday, López Obrador justified his trip to Washington by asserting that the relationship between the United States and Mexico is based on friendship. He has stated that his meeting with Trump is a matter of economic necessity for Mexico. At the same time, Obrador has also affirmed to take a neutral stand in the US Presidential election, maintaining that his meeting with Trump has nothing to do with it. Mexican officials have also stated that July’s meeting is particularly to promote the new trade agreement.

However, López Obrador’s decision to meet Trump has invited massive criticism in Mexico, as per media reports. Significantly, US President Trump has been an unpopular leader in Mexico due to the remarks he has made against the country in terms of immigration, crime, and border issues.

Expressing optimism towards the meeting, López Obrador said: “This visit has to do with the start, I’ll say it again, of the trade deal. I think this is going to help Mexico and that’s why I’m going.”

Interestingly, Trump and Obrador have been saying positive things about each other on public platforms, despite differences in their ideologies.

At the same time, the Mexican President has extended an invitation to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the meeting. If the Canadian PM decides on attending the meeting, it will be the first time the three key North American leaders will share a stage together. Furthermore, this will be the first foreign visit of López Obrador since he took office as the Mexican President in December 2018. However, a date has yet not been announced by Mexico for the meeting.

It is important to note that the Mexican President is planning a visit to the US at a time when the virus-infected cases continue to surge in both countries. While the US has reported more than 2.47 million Coronavirus positive cases, in Mexico, the pandemic has infected over 203,000 people.

Amid this development, Trump recently took his first trip to the US-Mexico border wall following which he claimed that ‘his wall’ stopped both undocumented immigrants and Coronavirus from entering America. In the wake of surging virus-infected cases, US Customs and Border Protection also announced extending travel restrictions at the US-Canada border and the border with Mexico till July 21 to curb the spread of the virus.

What is US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)?

US-Mexico-Canada Agreement coming into effect on June 1, 2020, will replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) seeking to promote free, balanced, and reciprocal trade. This agreement will significantly impact the automotive industry with the shifts in rules and policies. It has also been characterized as NAFTA 2.0. Proposed Trump, the agreement was signed by the US President, (former) Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau on November 30, 2018, as part of a side event during the 2018 G20 Summit in Buenos Aires.

US: Latinos worst-hit by COVID-19, health officials alarm concerns

US: Latinos worst-hit by COVID-19, health officials alarm concerns

Novel Coronavirus is rapidly increasing among the Latino communities across America over the past few weeks. Public health experts are raising concerns that infections among Latinos are outnumbering other racial and ethnic minorities, adding there is a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases among Latinos in nearly every state. Doctors and healthcare officials are also reportedly witnessing a rise in the hospitalization of Latino patients across the country.

In San Diego country, for instance, Latinos are being disproportionately impacted by the virus as official data suggests almost two-thirds of the total cases belong to the Latino community. In North Carolina, Latinos account for 45 percent of coronavirus cases even though they make up just 10% of the total population in the state. Health experts in Maryland and North Carolina are stating that they have witnessed a severity of infection among Latino patients than other cases.

From California to Wisconsin, Latino communities are worst-affected from the pandemic crisis. According to media reports, Latinos account for almost 34% of the total reported COVID-19 in America, which is significantly higher than any other racial and ethnic minority group. At the local and state levels, the disproportion is even more striking.

“Our community is dying,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, while speaking to local media.

At the same time, many of the US states are also missing the race and ethnicity of data of their COVID-19 cases, according to reports.

Factors such as higher exposure to the disease, lack of basic amenities, and limited access to medical care among the Latino communities are alarming concerns among the public health officials.

With the US states beginning to reopen their business operations, health officials are asserting that the disease can pose more threat to the communities if adequate steps such as targeted contract tracing are not taken by the administration.

Notedly, Latinos largely work in essential service jobs such as hospitality, construction, and meat processing plants. Amid surging infection, Latino workers are also reportedly facing discrimination in meat processing plants and warehouses after they contracted the virus. Dozens of Latinos in the US have been infected with the virus and many have died due to poor health and safety protocols at the warehouses. Due to fear of contractions, many workers are dealing with racism at their workplaces. Meat-processing plants and warehouses have been operating across all parts of the country amid pandemic lockdown.

Lack of paid sick leave and the need for salaries to survive families have been forcing the Latino workers to return to their jobs due to which they are becoming more exposed to the virus. Many of the people who may contract the disease do not visit the hospital fearing high cost or potential concerns of deportation. This fear is prominent among those living in mixed-status families or undocumented immigrants.

With 2.27 million Coronavirus infected cases, the United States is the worst-hit country in the world. More than 1.21 lakh people have died due to the disease.

In US anti-racism movement, role of Russia’s hybrid warfare

In US anti-racism movement, role of Russia’s hybrid warfare

The onset of protests against racism across the United States in the wake of the death of George Floyd is a potential example of a hybrid war against the administrative leadership in the country. Amid the growing turmoil across several countries, experts are exploring possibilities of involvement of Russian intelligence in inciting racial unrest in the United States.

According to a report in the International Policy Digest, Russian organization namely Internet Research Agency has been creating large volumes of websites with content related to the Black Lives Matter movement and police violence in America in recent times. Furthermore, it has been stated that Russian secret services are working on setting the stage for social unrest on racial grounds in the US through various ways of hybrid warfare in a bid to control the actions at the time of such a conflict.

Reportedly, representatives of the American far-right are being recruited by Russia to mobilize groups against each other. Moreover, Russian has been reportedly setting up a network of free combat training centers for African-Americans in the US to radicalize American society. At the same time, a POLITICO analysis indicates that Russia and China have been targeting the ongoing racial tensions in the US with swamp of posts on social media platforms. Aiming at inducing conflict, experts have warned that both countries are pushing disinformation and stepping up their online-game targeting the upcoming US presidential election.

Significantly, this cannot be regarded as the first instance of Russia using hybrid war tactics against the US. Western countries have been witnessing aggressive methods used by Russia against NATO for a long period of time. Russia has been using criticism of American racism for its propaganda since the Cold War era.

While experts have a different understanding of Russian hybrid war activities such as influence campaigns which can be hostile in nature, they pose a serious threat to the power dynamics in the global political discourse. Nevertheless, the 21st century is witnessing an evolution of hybrid warfare which has the potential to cause paramount impact on society with the least usage of conventional ways of war. Taking note of changing perspectives across several parts of the world, a geopolitical paradigm shift is in all likelihood evident in the world order.

China’s Hong Kong law escalates tensions for EU in the world order
Asia Pacific Focus

China’s Hong Kong law escalates tensions for EU in the world order

China’s handling of Hong Kong has raised grave concerns with the European Union governments, implying that it will affect the EU-China relations. Furthermore, the EU is facing potential complications with the United States over Washington’s unprecedented response to the tensions between China and Hong Kong. This dilemma has emerged for the EU amid inevitable efforts of post-pandemic recovery and continuing tussle with the UK on a major foreign policy issue since Brexit.

During a meeting with foreign ministers of the 27 nations of the bloc on Friday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for the need for dialogue over Hong Kong and to discuss with Chinese authorities about the repercussions of the move on some issues of mutual interest. EU’s cautious statement came after strong condemnation from the United States, Britain, Australia, and Canada against Chinese legislation against Hong Kong’s freedom.

Notably, EU’s relations with China have been facing certain strains amid the Coronavirus pandemic and ongoing Sino-US cold war which can pose adverse consequences in the world order.

Responding to China’s move in Hong Kong, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US will no longer treat Hong Kong as autonomous for trade and economic purposes, which will have drastic impacts on the economy of the city. Earlier, US President Trump also announced to impose sanctions on China over its Hong Kong approach. On the other hand, British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said that the UK will extend visa rights for as many as 300,000 Hong Kong British national (overseas) passport holders if China continues with the repressive laws. Meanwhile, Retaliating to international criticism of its national security law on Hong Kong, China on Friday threatened countermeasures against the UK and the US.

Significantly, the EU has been divided on China amid the ongoing circumstances. While European governments have been ensuring measures to tighten their defence against Chinese investment in Europe, certain leaders of the bloc raising questions against China’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic. Even though world governments have been critical of China’s security law, the European Union has maintained a diplomatic stand. At the same time, the bloc is making efforts to steer clear from the US-China spat.

China’s National People’s Congress on May 28 approved a resolution to impose controversial national security laws on Hong Kong which would ban any activities that would endanger China’s national security, secession, and subversion of state power in the city. Critics have been calling China’s move as a big blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom that has been enshrined in the territory’s laws since 1997.

Landlocked Paraguay advancing in global political discourse

Landlocked Paraguay advancing in global political discourse

While the world grapples the Coronavirus pandemic, South America’s landlocked country of Paraguay has emerged to be a success story in the region. Imposing strict lockdown and aggressive social distancing measures in early March, the country recorded the least number of cases as compared to nations in South America. As the citizens remain in total quarantine, police and military kept a stringent watch over the streets and punished those violating the lockdown restrictions.

However, the economy and income of several people was hit hard due to shutdowns. In an attempt to mitigate the implications of the pandemic, the government raised $1 billion in sovereign bonds as an aid to finance the health emergency. The Parliament also approved a anti-crisis fiscal package which includes investments on programs catering to health and social protection, support to small businesses and a subsidy for informal workers. After being able to effectively curb the spread of COVID-19 virus in the country, the Paraguay government is planning on easing its lockdown by May through a ‘smart quarantine’.

It is important to note that before the pandemic hit the globe, the country was effectively recovering from the weather-induced recession in 2019. While Paraguay is vulnerable to domestic economic slowdown due to the ramifications of nationwide lockdown, the country’s economy is expected to recover and grow by 2021. According to a report by the World Bank, the landlocked nation has a strong macroeconomic framework based on flexible exchange rate mechanism, inflation targeting, and fiscal rules. Recently, the IMF also approved the disbursement of USD 274 million to support the country’s fight against the Coronavirus outbreak.

Prior to the pandemic woes, Paraguay stood out as an emerging-market democracy, receiving appreciation from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for its transition to democracy which has served as an inspiration to the South American region. Over the past few years, the small landlocked country has went through some notably economic and political reforms. Over the past decade, its economy has grown at an annual average of 5%, which is significantly higher than those of its neighbours. It has worked with the United States to tackle illicit cross-border activities including improving counter-narcotics cooperation.

Taking their friendly relations ahead, the US and Paraguay signed a trade and investment framework agreement in January 2017.
Furthermore, at the December 2019 White House summit meeting, US President Donald Trump and Paraguay President Mario Abdo Benitez expressed joint commitment to deepening the partnership between the two countries. They also agreed upon strengthening their defence and security cooperation.

In conclusion, the relationship between the US and Paraguay is progressing in world politics and will continue to do so with the joint efforts.

Global defence spending hits $1.92 trillion in 2019; US, China top spenders

Global defence spending hits $1.92 trillion in 2019; US, China top spenders

Global defence saw the biggest spike in its spending in the year 2019, according to a report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Countries across the world spent a total of $1.92 trillion on their military capacities last year, showing a rise of 3.6% from 2018. The reported noted that 2019’s expenditure on the global military is highest since the 2008 global financial crisis.

As per the report, 2019’s top five spenders were the United States, China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia, which accounted for 62% of the total expenditure. The US spent a whopping $732 billion constituting the largest share at 38% of the global defence spending. This is the second year when the US increased its military spending after seven years of decline previously. For the first time, two Asian nations secured positions in the top three with China at second position recording 14% share at $261 billion, followed by India’s $7.1 billion expenditure at 3.7%. Russian contributed 3.4% to the global expenditure by spending $65.1 billion, with Saudi Arabia at the fifth spot after it spent $61.9 billion at 3.2%.

Besides China and India, Japan ($47.6bn) and South Korea ($43.9bn) also witnessed huge military expenditure in Asia and Oceania regions in 2019 where there has been a paramount rise in defence budget every year since 1989. Germany’s military spending recorded the largest increase among the top 15 at 10% to $49.3 billion. Interestingly, the UK has sunk to 8th place in the list of global military spending, having been overtaken by Germany at 7th spot.

Senior researchers at SIPRI noted that increased tensions with Pakistan and China is one of the major drivers due to which India emerged as the world’s third-largest defence spender. The Modi government earmarked Rs. 4,71,378 crore (US$ 66.9 billion1) for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) while presenting the 2020 Budget in February, emphasising its top priority to be national security.

The United States, significantly, increased military expenditure after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Furthermore, there’s growth in US military spending as part of its 2018 National Defense Strategy. The Chinese in the last 20 years have increased their official budget by 850%. Russia has also continued to increase spending in its military capabilities over the last two decades. As compared to its expenditure in 2000, it has risen 175% in 2019. Saudi Arabia has by far invested the most on its military capacity of all the countries in the middle east.

It is, however, important to note that amid the fight against Coronavirus pandemic, experts are anticipating a shift in world government’s spending from weapons and military to domestic welfare projects such as healthcare and education.

Strategizing its maritime security post-Brexit should be UKs top priority

Strategizing its maritime security post-Brexit should be UKs top priority

From a decelerated economy to trading norms, Brexit has had a profound impact on the relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Years after the beginning of the Brexit (“British exit”) process on June 23, 2016, the UK officially left the EU on January 31, 2020. Among the many agendas in focus after Brexit, maritime security is of crucial importance to the UK.

Being an island nation, the UK marine area consists of 298 thousand square miles. As per a 2014 report by the UK government, the maritime industry directly contributes up to £13.8 billion to its economy and indirectly contributes a £17.9 billion. Over 90% of Britain’s imports and exports are facilitated through the seas using over 400 ports. However, this maritime infrastructure and fishing arenas pose many challenges to its security such as illegal fishing, smuggling, human trafficking, and prospects of a terrorist attack at the sea.

During the Brexit transition period that will last until December 31, 2020, the seas are managed by the UK within the EU maritime governance framework and under its regulations. The need for this transition period is to allow new UK-EU negotiations to materialize. Therefore, the UK has to strategize its action-plan for internal/national regulations and frameworks.

As per research by the University of Bristol, Brexit can potentially intensify maritime security risks after the shifts in the collective EU maritime governance, as there will be a soaring need for the UK to protect its waters against illegal activities and threats. These dramatic changes can also affect the fisheries sector which is currently managed by a Common Fishing Policy. Once the UK regulates its seas, the Common Fisheries Policy can come to an end.

It is also important to note that even if the UK is a major maritime force, its independent capacities of naval power outside the EU are insufficient which can lead to increased threats to its waters. However, Brexit can help Britain in developing its maritime security over time. The UK is working on strengthening the dimensions of its maritime security and governance infrastructure. In 2019, the British government formulated the Joint Maritime Security Centre which is strategizing a new UK maritime security plan. It is also important for the UK to work in hands with different government agencies to ensure maritime security and manage potential risks to its waters.

Meanwhile, amid the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the UK government and European Union have been engaging in post-Brexit talks over video link, to discuss division on fishing rights and trade.

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