Uttara J Malhotra

How the pandemic has redefined diplomacy world wide
Geopolitics

How the pandemic has redefined diplomacy world wide

Personal interactions have a way with relationship building in the diplomatic circuits. The walks, the tea sessions, the dining and meeting with spouses- there are many examples which help build bonds of trusts amongst the leaders of great nations.

But with the pandemic having restricted much of social meetings, virtual meetings are ruling the roost. But is virtual diplomacy really working out its way into the hearts of the leaders?

Indeed, there are consequences of social distancing and then virtual diplomacy. You have to depend on the earlier effect you might have left on the other person. It is difficult to give the same kind of impression and feeling again. According to Sven Jurgenson, Estonia’s ambassador to the U.N., “Face-to-face interactions are a key aspect of building diplomatic relations.

Right now, diplomacy seems to have been put on halt due to the pandemic and social distancing protocols which have to be adhered to. We will have to learn to adapt to this.”

Social distancing requirements and restrictions on movement have been seen to have effect on decision making processes at many levels. While virtual meetings are doing their work, the effectiveness maybe put to question.

For example, the functioning of the 15-member Security Council and the 193-member General Assembly, the two most important bodies in the multilateral system isn’t as effective as they would want it to be. The council has indeed, made a number of important procedural decisions, such as the prolongation of mandates for peacekeeping missions.

But what has been affected is strategic actions like inability to remotely cast and verify votes. Currently, the remote voting process takes up to three days. Xavier Sticker, the French ambassador to the U.N. in Vienna for example feels that sensitive issues are difficult to be addressed without in person interactions. “Diplomats have to be careful about discussing sensitive topics over phone or in a videoconference,” he explains.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) again found it difficult to get Iran on the same page, virtually. They are intending to be able to start atleast some partial personal meetings by June end.

The pandemic seemed to have hit the diplomatic channels in EU the worst. As a bloc, they are accustomed to many meetings. Many ministers admitted to a particular news agency that first few weeks were paralyzing. Videoconferences only started becoming functional when there was no other option to be seen. But that also, among European ministers was seen to be not that efficient as face-to-face meetings in Brussels are most popular to get things done. During in-person meetings, representatives of the bloc’s member states sit around a table and are able to get up and make progress on other issues while statements are made that do not concern them directly.

There is a lot of simultaneous and informal work which is also done over the personal meetings. That has been stopped and many EU ministers feel less efficient on virtual set ups.

Indeed multilateral negotiations have become slow and painful for many nations. But many leaders and governments are also forced to accept that evolution is the only way to move ahead in such times of restrictions and safe keeping.

Trudeau takes a firm stand against gun use in Canada
Americas

Trudeau takes a firm stand against gun use in Canada

Amidst getting back on tracks against a war with an unseen enemy, the coronavirus led pandemic, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has had to take some hard decisions which might not have gone well with the gun lobby.

Trudeau has now banned the use of 1500 different types of assault style gun use in Canada. This comes after a sad incident of a gunman opening fire and going on a killing spree in Nova Scotia where 22 innocent people lost their lives.

According to an Ipsos general study, most public is in support of Trudeau’s decision. Making a format announcement the government agrees that the intent is not to target rifle users and hunters but on the use on general public.

Protestors who have been victims to gun shooting in the past are not happy with the PM’s decision because they feel a complete ban would be the right thing to do that to only hold a ban on 1500 assault style guns only.

Currently, 52percent Canadian citizens feel any use of guns should be made illegal. Some believe it is an eye wash decision which is politically driven and will not have any effect on the crime rate in the country. Surprisingly hand guns are not covered in the ban, though statistics shows more instances of them being used in homicides in 2018. They accounted for almost 58 percent of such cases.

According to the ban now, effective immediately, there is a ban on buying, selling importing, exporting or dealing in any kind of military styled assault arms in Canada. This has put many gun owners in a corner and they may not even have the advantage of a buy in as of now. The gun lobby has not put in their right foot forward but that might just happen in the coming months, as not all variety of guns have been placed under the ban.

Australia may not climb the zero emission Bandwagon
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia may not climb the zero emission Bandwagon

Australia has no intentions of increasing its targets to include a zero emission rate commitment, unlike some 121 nations that have already done so, according to an official statement made by the hosting country Britain in February over a climate meeting. This could also be due to the prolonged coronavirus led lockdown that has hit their economy in a big way.

According to environmentalist, Australia’s commitment to global emission rates is not enough to meet the world standards of minimal emissions and also does not adhere to the goals send down in the Paris Agreement.

The government received advice in 2015 from the Climate Change Authority that its fair share under a meaningful global deal over that time would be a 45% to 63% cut. But somehow, the parliament is not interested in lowering its emission rates and come to a figure of general consensus.

According to Mark Butler, Labor’s Climate Change and Energy spokesperson, the Morrison government should work towards a zero emission target. Setting a target help frame appropriate policy decisions and give investors confidence too. But he feels that the Morrison government isn’t serious about the kind of damage that not lowering emission rates would do to the overall public life.

The Australian government doesn’t believe everyone has climbed the zero emission bandwagon. It says it is committed to lowering its emissions though. The Morrison government has further, promised a long-term emissions reduction strategy. It intends to hold onto it, like a trump card and will only release it before the Glasgow meeting that has been postponed due to the pandemic. It also has communicated that Australia will work according to a well defined technology investment roadmap.

This includes small modular nuclear reactors that will be brought into play to meet Australia’s energy needs.

Ironically, this stand is different from what the Morrison government had communicated in 2019 at the Pacific Island Forum about Australia’s plans to include commitments and strategies to reach net zero by 2050, which now stands that this is not the government’s policy.

According to the Paris Agreement, countries have to review their environmental commitment every five years. This would mean that those who set targets for 2025 would need to relook them in 2020itself. Additionally, the agreement has also stated that existing commitments for 2025 and 2030 are not enough to limit average global heating to less than 2C. This has been a major target for the Paris agreement. Also, we need much deeper cuts will be needed to avoid that mark. It commits countries to act in accordance with “best available science”.

AstraZeneca Funded By America For Mass Production Of Covid-19 Vaccine
Geopolitics

AstraZeneca Funded By America For Mass Production Of Covid-19 Vaccine

An Anglo-Swedish company has received a whopping order of 400 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine that is still in the testing phase. The testing has been supported by a US vaccine agency. The drug maker is AstraZeneca that has confirmed having received $1 billion from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for the development, production and delivery of the vaccine.

The vaccine has been developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, working with the Oxford Vaccine Group that. AstraZeneca has now joint hands with the British government and is also roping in potential partners to roll out mass production of the vaccine.

Known as the AZD1222, the company has now finalized this vaccines license agreement with Oxford University too. Currently, the company is in the position of manufacturing almost 1 billion doses. This vaccine has already been tested in England over a 1000 patients in the age group of 18-55 years. However, it is still under trial and does not guarantee that it would work on humans, as it even could not control the virus when tested on monkeys.

The delivery of the vaccine once tested and results positive will start by September 2020. Earlier this month, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said that if Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate proves successful, up to 30 million doses could be available by September for the most vulnerable in the UK.

Previously, private biotechnological companies in Israel and Germany have also been contacted by the US for first doses of a potential corona virus vaccine they were developing. It is worth noting that the German company had been willing to share the formula for the greater good of humanity. However, those vaccines are also in testing phase.

Speaking over the public spending of funds from the US, Margarida Jorge, the campaign director of the pressure group, Lower Drug Prices Now has said that the U.S. Congress should insist that any drugs developed with taxpayer investments be provided at no additional cost. Also, putting in money into a vaccine that has not yet been proven successful is complete misuse of tax payers’ money.

How anxious children in Spain and Italy can teach us something about prolonged lockdown damage
Europe

How anxious children in Spain and Italy can teach us something about prolonged lockdown damage

In the lockdown situation worldwide, a UNICEF report has warned against long term emotional and psychological damage that it would do to children of all age groups.

Spain which has seen the longest lockdown period since the beginning of March has started to relax it a little bit. But while the grown-ups are getting to go out and dogs can also be walked, the children have been seen to be the worst affected.

Parents have reported medical conditions of stress in their children. Some are so afraid and nervous of stepping out that they are refusing to come out of the confines of home space. Others are nervous about encountering police tracking devices which blare out warning signs, in the middle of play time.

Play time has been restricted to certain number of hours and to a radius closest to the child’s home. Spain and Italy has also observed instances where police is said to have shone flood lights into homes in the middle of the night just to check on residents.

According to a New York Times report, a study conducted by Miguel Hernández University (under review by the journal Frontiers in Psychology) has examined the psychological impact of the confinement on children in Spain and Italy. The reports are startling. About 90 percent of 431 Spanish parents surveyed described emotional and behavioral changes in their kids, including difficulty concentrating, irritability and anxiety.

According to child psychology experts’ world over, the lockdown situations are going to have the worst effect on older people and children. The longer this situation goes on, the more of a concern it is, WHO reports say, adding that while we are still living through it, there are simple and effective ways to help children cope.

The Spanish chapter of Save The Children has already interviewed nearly 2000 Spanish families and found that more than 40 percent children are showing signs of pent us stress and anxiety. According to psychologist, post traumatic disorders can show immediate reactions. But denial can have long term impact on individuals. These can include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.

These are things which can definitely affect children as much. While Italy has been able to do some justice and allow time out to children for short walks, Spain has not done so. According to Anne-Sophie Dybdal, senior child protection adviser at the mental health and psychosocial support unit of Save the Children, “People who are outside regularly have a lower activity in the part of the brain that focuses on repetitive negative emotions. This is one of the reasons children can slide into negative feelings or even depression during the circumstances they are living in now.”

According to a UN report, “Children today face anxiety about the negative impact of the pandemic on their lives and their communities, and uncertainty regarding the future. Further, for children facing extreme deprivations in the sense of food security or freedom to socialize, acute stress is a resultant that can impair their cognitive development and trigger longer-term mental health challenges.”

From what is happening in Spain, there are lessons to be learnt by nations across the world. Countries, will seriously need to think out their citizen betterment strategies placing utmost importance on the mental health and well being of children.

UAE shows solidarity towards migrant workers stuck in coronavirus outbreak
Middle East & Africa

UAE shows solidarity towards migrant workers stuck in coronavirus outbreak

Amidst many tales of ill treatment of migrant workers in the Middle East at Coronavirus times, the United Arab Emirates has ensured it can show its solidarity of all those that work in its land.

Confirming its commitment in a letter to Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, ILO, H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the health, safety and welfare of all people around the world and necessitates a comprehensive global response addressing health, labor, the economy, and human rights.”
Showing his sense of responsibility to protecting the rights of migrant workers, he has said that UAE continues to uphold a commitment to protect the rights of all workers in the country and ensuring their health and safety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sheikh Abdullah has sent many examples of showing international solidarity in the past when he went out of his way to speak to Syria and Singapore about ways UAE could contribute in mitigating a fight against the virus.

The UAE Central Bank has implemented a US$27 billion targeted economic support scheme to alleviate liquidity issues faced by businesses and ensure that migrant workers could be paid and taken care of, unless they are repatriated by their respective nations.

Furthermore, the UAE Foreign Minister described a series of measures to promote worker safety, noting that the UAE is partnering with private sector employers to provide protective equipment, ensure social distancing and encourage remote work, sterilize work facilities, and issue mandatory certification prior to restarting economic activity.

The UAE Government has also outlined requirements for private sector workplaces, transport, and accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic and is conducting inspections to ensure compliance.

By providing a bilingual information centre especially for COVID-19, the government has ensured migrant workers get the required information and can seek help if need be. A proactive educational outreach program is ongoing to provide information to workers on COVID-19 safety and healthcare options.

Sheikh Abdullah affirmed that the UAE Government is committed to the Sustainable Development Goals principle of “leave no one behind,” noting the country’s support for assistance programs among vulnerable communities. H.H. referenced the 10 Million Meals campaign; the provision of support for medical, food, education and other basic needs; and the provision of support to the families of those who succumb to COVID-19, regardless of nationality and for the
duration of the pandemic.

Other measures include the automatic renewal of work permits, free COVID-19 testing and treatment for those who require it, and voluntary repatriation to workers’ home countries with no impact on employment.

To go one step further, UAE is not shying away from teaching itself about best practices as its administration is undertaking study from UN agencies, civil society, businesses, and local administrations that has helped it form an Ad Hoc Working Group to strengthen partnerships in advance of the Global Forum on Migration and Development Summit in 2021.

How Fissures Reappear Amongst EU Nations In Pandemic Times
Europe

How Fissures Reappear Amongst EU Nations In Pandemic Times

The pandemic led lockdowns is redefining the European Union’s interpersonal relationships in different ways.

According to Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform, there is tension brewing from all directions of EU. The pre-existing east-west division has widened at the time of Covid-19 disease breakout across the European Union.

It is a known fact that there has been a growing rift between Hungary, Poland and at times other central European states with the rest of the Europe union. Both countries have been in logger heads with EU nations as they went out to reshape their countries’ court system and public service media.

The other facts that have led to bad blood includes the distribution of irregular immigrants (in the recent past some eastern countries have even refused to take any), targets for reducing carbon emissions, with the easterners tending to depend on coal; and the rule of law.

When the whole world is trying to forget its differences and come together, central Europeans are once again refusing to help with sharing funds with those worst effected in the Southern parts of the European Union. The former don’t wish to lose money from the EU budget to the southern countries most afflicted by the virus.

Sadly so and putting aside all sense of compassion, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has gone all out to say that the pandemic is being used as a justification for introducing rule by decree, exacerbating fears that he is creating a de facto dictatorship.

Additionally, the virus has been seen widening a European Union north-south gap as well. The pandemic has indeed taken this part of the EU back by a decade, it seems. This was time when the eurozone crisis had emerged. Germany, the Netherlands and their northern allies were reluctant to give substantial help to the southern countries in difficulty then.

History is repeating itself now and strangely, as the trend can be seen, the pandemic has struck the EU asymmetrically. The southern countries, particularly Italy and Spain, have suffered more coronavirus deaths than most others. No wonder, they have to cry out as they suffer from higher debt levels. Their suffering is further exasperated as their economy heavily depends on tourism, a sector badly hit by the pandemic.

The northerner does not want to help in the form of financial help, southerners are looking for the same. The south is looking for more Eurobonds or loans. But then, the south EU has already got a lot of loan to repay. The EU as a whole still plans to borrow money and then disburse it in the form of grants to the worst-affected countries.

EU leaders have agreed to set up a recovery fund to support the worst-affected regions. But it might be forced to provide more in the way of loans than grants, because the northern governments remain opposed to large-scale transfers to the south – a rather selfish strategy to not help. Wonder what would happen if the equation was to turn and the pandemic was to suddenly move to the North to the South!

Should EU treat coronavirus as the new normal?
Europe

Should EU treat coronavirus as the new normal?

Europe is desperate to get its tourism industry back into action. But the pandemic is not stopping itself from spreading. The European Union greatly depends on its tourism industry and is said to be trying to save millions of jobs that depend on this industry. It is estimated that in spending in 2020 before the lockdowns, cross-border vacation travel had been expected to generate 1.3 billion euros, or $1.4 billion.

It is confirmed that the European Union has now set out plans for a phased restart of travel this summer. The EU border controls have been gradually lifted with measures to minimise the risks of infection kept under check. These include wearing face masks on shared transport.

Iceland plans to open its economy by June 15. It depends heavily on revenue from its tourism industry. They are putting some restrictions in place. For example, international travelers must decide on arrival whether they want to pay for a corona virus test or spend 14 days in quarantine, according to a government plan presented.

Other EU nations are trying desperately to come back to work. Other countries around the world are also grappling with how to reopen businesses after the pandemic has forced half of the planet into some form of lockdown and ground the global economy to a near-halt. Most nations are figuring out innovative ways to get back work going but for industries like tourism and travel, there is no way out except to the conventional open and travel.

As EU finds the courage to open up, numbers of cases of contraction continue to escalate. Russia, now the country with the second-highest number of virus cases, recorded more than 10,000 new infections after authorities this week eased restrictions to allow some people back to work.

United Kingdom is one of the few nations which is trying to go back to normal and allowing people to go back to work. France, Italy and Spain are also opening up, but the danger of a second wave of contraction cannot be ruled out.

A recent statement by WHO officials warns the world that “Corona virus could be reality that never goes away.” That just means that this is going to be the new normal around which EU nations will learn to adapt and ensure their tourism industry continues to thrive.

UAE prefers to work with nations together to defeat pandemic spread
Geopolitics

UAE prefers to work with nations together to defeat pandemic spread

While UAE continues to strive responsibly to keep its economy healthy and people safe, it has shown exemplary sense of brotherhood by going out of its way to help other nations fight the coronavirus led economic hardships and challenges.

Maintaining a sense of decorum and responsibility around, the UAE has gone to great lengths to show its solidarity towards getting back to a normal course of events, despite corona virus pandemic gripping the world.

Amidst the corona virus spread in war torn Syria, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahya made a phone call to show his support for the Damascus army inching closer to win the war against foreign-backed terrorist groups. This was applauded by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In fact, Al Nahya has been recorded as the first Arab leader that has maintained contact with Assad since Syria plunged into foreign-sponsored militancy in 2011.

On his part, Assad welcomed the UAE’s initiative and praised the Persian Gulf country’s humanitarian stance in light of the pandemic that is wreaking havoc in the region and the world. The UAE has long been a supporter of anti-Damascus terrorists fighting to topple the Syrian government.

The country also cooperated with 14 other nations in order to ensure that more than 20,000 foreign nationals could return back safely to their respective countries. Since April, under the aegis of the Crown Prince Al Nahya, he UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) has made the movement of 22,900 foreigners possible through 127 land and air operations amid the COVID-19 outbreak. It also confirmed that 27 more repatriation operations have been carried on since then.

His also was able to speak to the Indonesian President Joko Widodo recently, where they discussed ways to work together accepting the fact that it was imperative to intensify international cooperation and coordination in order to contain the spread of the global pandemic. Both decided to work on containment efforts together. Even with South Korea, their interpersonal relations were able to help both countries in strategic ways. In February- March, while cases of infection were spiking, UAE continued to facilitate movement of infected South Koreans in Arab or other countries via air.

Speaking to the media later, Ambassador of South Korea, His Excellency Yongwoo Kwon said that “I am happy to note that the UAE has become a paragon of international solidarity, actively providing much-needed medical and humanitarian assistance to many hard-hit countries in this region and beyond.”

Australia locks horns with China over investigation into corona origin
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia locks horns with China over investigation into corona origin

Wuhan sent supplies to Australia, but they have been lying unused in a storage facility. Australia showed its disdain and resentment against the callous way in which China handled a pandemic outbreak that could have been controlled, if the sickness originating from a wet animal market was taken care of in time.

It now wants to carry out independent investigations. But China’s ego has been rubbed the wrong way and it has been vocal about it last week when Chinese diplomats are said to have behaved in an “outrageous” manner with their open statements of economic sanctions on Australia.

Australian economic experts have reasons to reconsider their long standing relationship with Beijing after China had openly lashed out at Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week. This came after Morrison expressed the desire to carry out an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. In return, China said they disapprove for such intrusion and this would spark a travel and trade boycott on Australia.

Speaking about its power as Australia’s trade partner, China seemed to have warned in as many words to watch where Australia plans to make enemies. “But it’s also a super power, a country of 1.4 billion people — very different from Australia — run by a Leninist political system,” commented the Lowy Institute executive director Michael Fullilove while speaking to the local Australian media about how to perceive the power dynamics with China.

China is said to be using the ‘wolf warrior’ mentality with most nations that have shown resentment and dissatisfaction over its treatment of the virus outbreak resulting in loss of lives, livelihoods and a resulting economic slump. Countries up in arms against China include Nigeria, Sweden and Netherlands to name a few.

Apart from Australia, there are other nations demanding independent investigations around the origins of the virus and its handling. These include the UK, the United States, EU nations and Germany. China’s response to Canberra has been typical, but the war is just starting and it is not going to stop.

China can arm twist its trade partners to ensure investigations don’t fall through. But only time will tell, as the world limps back to normalcy in the midst of handling the pandemic and looking for a vaccine cure.

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