Rashmi Sacher

US strengthens defence ties with Taiwan to shore up its guard against China
Geopolitics

US strengthens defence ties with Taiwan to shore up its guard against China

On Wednesday, the US State Department confirmed that it would be selling $1.8 billion of weapons and defence systems to Taiwan, including its advanced air-to-surface cruise missiles. Last week, Reuters reported that Washington has been working towards sale of five separate military equipments to Taipei amounting to about $5 billion.

The US State Department approved sale of 135 of the precision-guided, air-launched AGM-84H SLAM-ER cruise missiles, made by Boeing Co (amounting to $1.008 billion) along with six MS-110 air reconnaissance pods and 11 M142 mobile light rocket launchers (together costing around  $367.2 million). Besides, in order shore up Taiwan’s coastal defence, US would also be sending drones made by General Atomics and land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles, made by Boeing.

“This arms sale shows that the United States attaches great importance to the strategic position of the Indo-Pacific region and the Taiwan Strait, and is actively assisting our country in strengthening our overall defense capabilities.”

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry

The arms talks between the two nations started in September, when Taiwan raised the call for global coalition against China’s rising military aggression in the region. Last month, Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu said that his country was “on the front-line defending democracies from being taken over by the communist China” and was in need of support from other countries. He added China “has been intensifying its military threat against Taiwan” in recent years and had increased military exercises intruding its air and naval space.

With regard to the current arms deal, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said, “This arms sale shows that the United States attaches great importance to the strategic position of the Indo-Pacific region and the Taiwan Strait, and is actively assisting our country in strengthening our overall defense capabilities.”

US President Donald Trump has been trying build arms agreement with Taiwan, not much for saving its democracy, but to impede its arch enemy, China, from imposing its muscle might in the region. Beijing has been conducting rampant expansive and invasive military drills in the South East China Sea.

Taiwanese defence and foreign ministry has welcomed the deal but many analyst criticised US approach of using Taiwan in its battle against China, without showing its true commitment to the South Asia country. Trump has been trying to corner China from all ends ranging from pressing trade talks, to disrupting its regional influence. Taiwan and US still need to settle its economic ties in a manner which proves to be beneficial for both the parties. Taiwan has opened its market to US beef and pork — a move which was risky and unpopular for its domestic market but Washington has not yet reciprocated in the same manner.

Shelley Rigger, an expert on China and Taiwan politics at North Carolina’s Davidson College, said that despite all the aid and help from Trump administration, Taiwan is actually at a disadvantage here as, “the (Trump) administration has been full of people who are vehemently anti-China, and they are willing to pull Taiwan into that conflict as a pawn.” She added, “I don’t think you are ever a good friend when you are throwing your pal in front of a bully because you are looking for a way to slow him down.”

Venezuelan opposition raises united call to boycott elections and bring down Maduro’s regime
Americas

Venezuelan opposition raises united call to boycott elections and bring down Maduro’s regime

Venezuela’s opposition has been trying to build a united front to oppose and bring down President Nicolas Maduro‘s government. The entire movement has been building up to convince most of the citizens to boycott the upcoming congressional elections of the country, scheduled for December 6.

During the recent press conference, Blanca Marmol, a former supreme court magistrate who is one of the leading figures organizing the boycott movement, said, “This is, I want to emphasize, the last resource we have in the constitution. We have been fighting for 20 years, making use of all the resources that the constitution establishes, which have been systematically snatched (from us).”

The opposition leaders justified that one of the key reason they all are stepping away from the elections is that the parliamentary vote is rigged and biased towards the ruling Socialist Party. The opposition alliance, with support of many of former officers and political leaders, has been planning to organise a consultation, though the date for raising united call against Maduro’s regime have not been fixed yet. The issues around which the opposition has build up its case is the Venezuelan economic crisis, which has been eroding the country for years. With the ongoing pandemic the country’s financial health has only grown worse.

According to these opposition leaders, the key onus of this economic catastrophic goes to highly corrupt Venezuelan leaders who had been dragging the country into hyperinflation and recession with their mismanagement for past six years.

Much to the disadvantage of the country’s opposition, it has been broken in two main fragments. This fragmented set up is most likely to benefit Maduro, who is contesting for his second term in the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections. One faction of the opposition alliance is led by Juan Guaido, who wants to boycott the elections altogether as a mark of resistance towards Maduro’s corrupt and repressive regime.

Besides his own country, Guaido also holds backing from external partners including US and an alliance of over 60 democratic nations, who recognises his as the country’s rightful leader (or even President). He believed that with participating of opposition leaders in the elections Maduro’s dictatorship, which has been wearing a veil of democracy, would gain legitimacy. Guaido called it a rigged vote. He strongly feels the need for a strong and united opposition to combat Maduro’s web of tyranny.

The other faction is headed by Henrique Capriles, who along with his followers have been planning to run their own candidates in the elections. But Capriles needs Turkish government to act as a mediator between Maduro and him for taking things forward. Contrasting goals and scattered opposition leaves Venezuela far more vulnerable and susceptible of losing its democracy to military rule.

China and South Korea urges Japanese PM to not glorify aggression
Asia Pacific Focus

China and South Korea urges Japanese PM to not glorify aggression

On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reacted to Japanese  Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s recent offering to the controversial Yasukuni shrine. China and South Korea considered the shrine in Tokyo as a symbol of Japan’s World War ll military aggression as it honours 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal as well as war dead. Lijjan criticises Japanese leader’s actions and called it a “negative action” and asked Tokyo to reflect on its war history.

The South Korean government “expresses deep regret that Japan’s government and congressional leaders have again dedicated an offering to the Yasukuni Shrine which glorify Japan`s past invasions,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Seoul urges Japanese leaders to show “humble and genuine reflection” of past events through action with the launch of a new cabinet.

With the two countries (Vietnam and Indonesia), we plan to exchange opinions over how to handle the regional and global impending agendas such as cooperation for realising a free and open Indo-Pacific South China Sea issues and North Korean situations.

Japanese Cabinet Secretary, Katsunobu Kato

South Korea and Japan have a history of strained ties owning to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula, where as tensions between China and Japan started building recently since China sent is military ships around Japans islands called Senkaku island. The Chinese vessel remained there for the record time, symbolising the ownership claims and in doing so, directly provoked Japan. Hence, Japan has been trying to shore up support from other regionals powers to build a united front against China, through defence and trade deals. It’s recent agreements include military and economic ties with Vietnam and Indonesia.

On Sunday evening Suga flew to visit Vietnam. The visit marked Suga’s first trip abroad since he took over the office. His foreign policy clearly echoed Japanese intensions of building stronger military alliance with the South East Asian countries in order to strategically combat Chinese growing aggression in the region.

During the recent visit, Japanese Cabinet Secretary, Katsunobu Kato, said, “With the two countries (Vietnam and Indonesia), we plan to exchange opinions over how to handle the regional and global impending agendas such as cooperation for realising a free and open Indo-Pacific South China Sea issues and North Korean situations.”

Japanese PM is flowing the footsteps of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, and has been under pressure from his ruling party members who expect Suga to take a tough stand against China. The key agenda of Suga’s Vietnam’s visit was to diversify Japan’s supply chain, just like India, and Australia, in order to establish parallel trading ties with other countries and reduce its dependence on China. The recent pandemic lockdown, which led to cutting supplies form China, made the nations realise the need for establishing alternative channels.

Former Mexican defence minister arrested in LA on account of drug trafficking and money laundering
Geopolitics

Former Mexican defence minister arrested in LA on account of drug trafficking and money laundering

On Thursday, US Federal police arrested former Mexican defense minister General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda at Los Angeles International Airport on account of drug trafficking drug trafficking and money laundering. His arrest warrant was issued by US Drug Enforcement Administration in August 2019. On Friday, Federal court ordered that Zepeda would remain in custody of US authorities till his formal detention hearing is held, which is scheduled for next Tuesday. US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York has asked for the transfer of Mexican General to New York.

Federal prosecutors issued a letter supporting detention against Zepeda, which said, “The defendant abused that public position to help the H-2 Cartel, an extremely violent Mexican drug trafficking organization, traffic thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States, including New York City.” It added, “In exchange for bribe payments, he permitted the H-2 Cartel — a cartel that routinely engaged in wholesale violence, including torture and murder — to operate with impunity in Mexico.”

Zepeda, also nicked name El Padrino, or The Godfather, served as Secretary of National Defense in Mexico from 2012 to 2018, under President Enrique Peña Nieto. He was one of the supreme leaders responsible for Mexico’s war on drugs. He has been the first former Mexican defense minister to be indicted and detained by US authorities but not the first former Mexican minister to live this fate.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter that Thursday he received the news of Zepeda’s detention from US Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau. Reacting to the news during his daily press briefing on Friday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, “It is a very regrettable fact that a former defense secretary is detained, accused of drug trafficking.”

AMLO added that he would suspend anyone inside his government caught involved in the drug and corruption scandal. He said, “We won’t cover up for anybody.” He even hinted at his predecessors who were in power and abused it leading to a debilitating increase in corruption in Mexico, which for years has been infested with strong and deadly drug cartels, resulting in horrific rise in drug gang violence.

“If we’re not talking about a narco state, one can certainly talk about a narco government, and without doubt, about a government of mafiosi,” Lopez Obrador said. “We’re cleaning up, purifying public life.”

Could Japan-Vietnam arms deal be a direct hit at Beijing’s militarisation of South China Sea
Asia Pacific Focus

Could Japan-Vietnam arms deal be a direct hit at Beijing’s militarisation of South China Sea

On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that he would be visiting Vietnam and Indonesia in the coming week. The highlight of Suga’s upcoming visit is Japan-Vietnam arms deal. As part of the deal, Japan would be exporting defence equipments and advance military technology to the country, to strengthen its capabilities. It is believed to be Tokyo’s response to Beijing’s rising maritime drills in the Indo-Pacific region. Besides Vietnam, Japan is also holding negotiating with Indonesia and Thailand for arms agreement, including defense equipment transfers.

It was only few years ago that Japan ended its ban over overseas arms sales in 2014, to help enable the region’s not so powerful nation in strengthening their military. Besides, it would also help Tokyo in reducing the unit cost of home-built military equipments. But so far the country doesn’t lead in this sphere and has struggled to strike export deals for final products.

The project will provide the Vietnam Coast Guard with financing to procure vessels, supporting an improvement in maritime rescue operations and maritime law enforcement. It will also enhance freedom of navigation

Japan International Cooperation Agency

The Nikkei Asia reported that Japan’s only export deal for a finished defence product has been with Philippines, which was signed in August. The deal included the export of a warning and control radar system developed by Mitsubishi Electric.

In July, Japan singed its first maritime patrol ship deal with Vietnam. The deal included a a ¥36.6 billion ($345 million) loan agreement with Vietnam to giving latter six patrol boats to boost its maritime law enforcement capabilities, amid Beijing’s rampantly rising claims in the South China Sea.

With regard to the deal, signed in Hanoi, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) said, “The project will provide the Vietnam Coast Guard with financing to procure vessels, supporting an improvement in maritime rescue operations and maritime law enforcement. It will also enhance freedom of navigation.”

Japan has strongly condemned China’s militarization of disputed areas, as well as its territorial expansion in the maritime and aerial domains, in the South China Sea. It said that such aggressive moves by Beijing represented its unilateral attempts to alter and strengthen its geopolitical status by coercion. Japan was joined by the United States in its toughened stance against China. Washington called Beijing’s maritime moves “completely unlawful” and slammed its “bullying” of Vietnam and other states in a bid to control offshore resources.

UK steps forward to meet Ukrainian arms requirement to address its security concerns w.r.t Belarus and Russia
Europe

UK steps forward to meet Ukrainian arms requirement to address its security concerns w.r.t Belarus and Russia

On Thursday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Downing Street for the signing of UK-Ukraine Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement. The UK government’s press report said, “The two leaders welcomed the new Agreement, which lays the foundation for an intensified bilateral relationship.”

The report added, “The two leaders discussed the importance of working together to counter Russia’s malign influence, both in Ukraine and in the wider region. They also expressed their shared concern about the situation in Belarus.” During the meet, Johnson also emphasized the steps UK took against the recent human rights abuses in Belarus, including the imposition of sanctions.

Ukraine has been battling Russian influence and Moscow-backed militants on its eastern border since 2014 war. With the recent eruption of political unrest in the neighbouring Belarus, its security has been further threatened. The country has been seeking arms help from US and European Union for years but both preferred to avoid any commitment in order to steer clear of offending Russia. Hence, the UK’s confirmation to sell lethal weapons to Ukraine is likely to pave way for a key strategic partnership between the two, especially in the post-Brexit era. UK also committed to loan £1bn to help Ukraine in strengthening its naval defence in the Black Sea,

Andriy Yermak, the head of office to Zelenksy, clarified that his country doesn’t intend to use the arms deal as an excuse to target Russia, but only to strengthen its own defences, He said, “The strategy is not organise large military parades and not to go on the TV to blame the Russians for all our misfortunes – that does not save the lives of Ukrainians. We need to be careful and cold minded to advance Ukraine’s interests and to use all possible platforms for talks, reduce tension and save lives.”

Meanwhile, Yermak strongly expressed his country’s worry about rising tensions in Belarus, where over 12,000 got detained since President Alexander Lukashenko gained power through what was described as rigged elections. He said: “Under a worst case scenario we face a very direct threat to our independence and territorial integrity. We are on the front lines. We should act specifically to counteract such threats without any diplomatic subtleties.”

Yermak also raised the need for fresh rough of talks with Russia, urging the leaders of France and Germany for a peaceful resolution.

Besides, Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that Zelensky also pushed Johnson to set a timeline for Ukrainian Nato membership, which the nation has been aspiring for years. “Our president was very clear. He said Ukraine needs a Nato membership action plan. Nato membership will contribute to Ukrainian security and defence,” Kukeba said.

UK: Johnson’s keynote speech was full of assurance but lacked concrete plan to lead through crisis
Europe

UK: Johnson’s keynote speech was full of assurance but lacked concrete plan to lead through crisis

UK prime minister Boris Johnson in his virtual keynote speech delivered on Tuesday, at the Conversation party conference sold his country the rose-tinted image of future with his over optimistic words. He emphasised about life in post-covid era and how his administration would bring in better changes to make UK “the greatest place on Earth”. Unfortunately, he did not share any details of how exactly he planned to reach that prosperous state.

He said, “After all we have been through, it is not enough just to go back to before. We have lost too much, we have mourned too many,” he said. “We have been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo and to think that life can go on as before the plague, and we will not.”

Many analysts believed that his plan appeared to be no-plan for Brexit and go-plan for private sector. But both the things contradict his statements, and states the obvious lack of plan, as UK has been facing huge job losses and the country’s businesses depend on Brexit deal, which doesn’t seem to be getting through anytime soon. Labour Party accused the British PM of delivering pure “bluster”. 

We have been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo and to think that life can go on as before the plague, and we will not.

Boris Johnson

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “The British people needed to hear the prime minister set out how he and his government will get a grip of the crisis. Instead we got the usual bluster and no plan for the months ahead.

“We end this Conservative conference as we started it: with a shambolic testing system, millions of jobs at risk and an incompetent government that has lost control of this virus and is holding Britain back.”

Johnson was slammed by his critics for leaning his economic recovery policy way too much on private players. He said that free enterprise would be at the centre of future growth. He added,“There comes a moment when the state must stand back and let the private sector get on with it. We must not draw the wrong economic conclusion from this crisis.”

His assurance to protect private sector falls in vain as the decision on Brexit deal still stood in air. The country is much closer to a no-deal scenario than a deal, which could be catastrophic for UK. During his recent interview with BBC’s Andrew Marr, Johnson said that he can “more than live with” a no-deal Brexit, which would mean UK would have trade with his biggest trading partner, EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms.

Johnson told Marr, that he didn’t “want the Australian, WTO-type outcome particularly, but we can more than live with it”. WTO trading terms would be disadvantageous for UK as it would lead to cross-border disruption, higher prices and a shortage of essential goods. The UK officially exited the Union on 31 January, 2020, and as per the exit agreement it was given a a transition period to settle its trade ties until 31 December.

How China uses its resurgence from Coronavirus and economic slump as its strongest geopolitical ploy
Geopolitics

How China uses its resurgence from Coronavirus and economic slump as its strongest geopolitical ploy

Since the onslaught of coronavirus all the nations have been battling to get their economies back on track but the closest they can hope is to reduce the negative growth rate. There has been only one nation which stands as an exception to this global phenomenon, China, the first to be hit by the pandemic outbreak. Beijing’s resurgence from both coronavirus and economic slump evidently gives it a huge advantage and upper hand in bringing out a stronger geopolitical strategy.

The Communist country has been single-mindedly focusing on becoming a global hegemon. And one can clearly sense so from a decade old confrontation between former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and then Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, where later said, “China is a big country, and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact.” The current crisis has provided Beijing the best space to prove this statement true.

China has been using all the possible tactics ranging from: mask diplomacy to make more allies or rather buy more allies, aggressive wolf warrior diplomacy to silence its critics, rampant building and militarisation of islands to establish its dominance over disputed waters of South China Sea to controlling dissent at home with repressive laws like national security law, steering the nation far away form democracy.

As Henry Kissinger said, China has been trying to ‘shift the world’s centre of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific’. If we observe closely China is getting successful in doing so. Despite both the US presidential candidates raising the call for ‘decoupling’ with China very few US companies have actually followed the call. Beijing’s strong economic pull has still kept big US financial service firms, such as JP Morgan, BlackRock, Vanguard etc., on its land. Even the US technology giant, Apple, despite making few shifts to India has not been able to pull its foot out of the Chinese soil completely as it still counts China as its major manufacturer and assembler of smartphones.

When the world economies finally heal from covid-driven recession, they might need to alter their geopolitical strategies to deal with a bigger, and far more powerful China.

Pompeo’s visit to convince Vatican for adopting harder line approach against China bears no fruit
Geopolitics

Pompeo’s visit to convince Vatican for adopting harder line approach against China bears no fruit

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, arrived in Rome for a two-day trip, mainly to meet Pope Francis and to convince him for a tough stand against China, citing latter’s human rights violations. Before his meeting with the pontiff, Pompeo met with various clergymen and dignitaries who didn’t believe in Pope Francis’ vision for American catholics. That could be called a rough started which led to no meeting with the Pope. Vatican officials said that the Pope declined to meet any ‘political figures ahead of the elections’.

Instead, Pompeo held meeting with Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and its foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. With regard to the 45-minutes long meeting with the two, Pompeo told Fox News, “We had a constructive discussion. We have a shared objective. The Chinese Communist Party is behaving in ways that are reminiscent of what’s only happened in centuries past in terms of human rights violations. We’ve watched them oppress not only Muslim Uighurs but Christians, Catholics, Falun Gong, people of all faiths.”

“I know that the Catholic Church, the Vatican, the Holy See all care about these issues deeply. We’ve urged them to take a stronger view, to express their moral witness against these depredations that are taking place there in China,” He added.

Many linked US-Vatican tensions mainly to US elections and differences over China strategy but there was one more reason for Vatican’s resentful attitude towards US. The US President Donald Trump sided with conservative American Catholic, who have been critical of Francis and his soft-tone strategy towards China. Besides, Pompeo recently shared an essay critical of Vatican’s decision to renew an agreement with China with the Chinese government on Church operations in China. He promoted the article in a tweet, saying, “The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.”

For decades Vatican tried to establish link with Chinese Catholic religious institutions but the Communist Regime specified that Beijing, not the Vatican, had the power to appoint bishops in its country. It was only with the 2018 agreement that China recognized some papal authority and in turn the Vatican acknowledged the legitimacy of bishops chosen by Beijing. Vatican doesn’t want to endanger its newly build ties with the Asian giant.

Responding to the reports that he was not able to meet the Pope, Pompeo said that he wasn’t much worried about not being able to meet the pontiff. He said, “Oh, he’s a busy man. We scheduled this a little bit late. He doesn’t always meet with foreign ministers too. They’ve made clear on my next trip we’ll be able to do it, and I’m hopeful I’ll get back before too long and have a chance to engage with him.”

Netanyahu claims Hezbollah hides its arms depots in Beirut’s residential areas
Middle East & Africa

Netanyahu claims Hezbollah hides its arms depots in Beirut’s residential areas

On Tuesday, in an address to UN General Assembly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Lebanese Iran-backed radical political party, Hezbollah, was hiding missiles and other armaments in Beirut’s residential neighborhood. Israeli leader highlighted that it was a disaster waiting to happen. As a proof to his statement against the militant group, he showed the UN exact locations on the map with pictures of entrances to the depot.

He said, “Here’s where the next explosion will take place, right here… You’ve got to act now, you’ve got to protest this, because if this thing explodes, it’s another tragedy,” Netanyahu in his message to the Lebanese people said, “You should tell them, ‘Tear these depots down.”

Last month Lebanon witnessed the worst blast in its history as about 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut’s port, which killed nearly 200 people, and injured  thousands. Post blast investigations revealed that the unprecedented catastrophe was result of Lebanese oblivious and highly corrupt political leaders, among whom many were aware of the deadly explosives stored at a warehouse on the port.

Israel has long accused Hezbollah of hiding explosives and armaments in residential areas especially southern Beirut and Southern Lebanon, where apparently its majority support base resides.

To add weight to Netanyahu’s claims the Arabic spokesperson of the Israeli Armyreleased a video on Twitter highlighting Hezbollah’s Precision Guided Missle (PGM) manufacturing sites in Beirut

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah denied Israeli leader’s allegations, and said, “Whoever wants to go can go now. If Hezbollah is storing missiles in this facility, then there is not enough time to remove them We don’t store missiles at the port or near gas facilities. We know where to store missiles.”

“We will allow media outlets to enter the facility so that the world knows that Netanyahu is lying,” he added. Following his address many journalists, including Associated Press photographer visited one of the factory site as mentioned by Israeli leader and reported about large pieces of iron and steel, heavy machinery and oxygen canisters – but no missiles or weapons.

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