Categories
Business and Economy

India-US Bilateral Defense Trade To Reach $18 Billion By Year End: Pentagon

According to the Pentagon, the bilateral defense trade between the two countries is expected to reach USD 18 billion by the year end. The relationship marks a slow but sure drift in India’s sourcing of defense procurement on one hand and defense partnership on the other. This is expected to get further fillip in the forthcoming ninth India-US Defence Technologies and Trade Initiative or DTTI group in New Delhi next week. This trend is clearly reaffirmed by a recent statement of Ellen M Lord, Undersecretary Of Defense For Acquisition And Sustainment that  the US is committed to strengthen its partnership with India while furthering military-to-military relationships and cooperation.

India –US bilateral defense trade shows a rising trend since 2008, rising from a negligible level to an estimated $18 billion by the end of 2019. This indicates diversification in the source of defense procurement of India. India had been traditionally procuring defense related products mainly from Russia. This is also an evidence to India’s increasing realism in military partnership given fast changing geo-political scenario. This is also an evidence of India’s interest in acquiring state of the art modern technology based defense equipment. In the quest for increased military partnership with India, the US granted the India Strategic Trade Authority Tier 1 designation in  August 2018, providing New Delhi with greater supply-chain efficiency by allowing American companies to export a greater range of dual-use and high-technology items to India under streamlined processes. This is said to have granted India the same authorisation as NATO allies Japan, South Korea and Australia. Earlier the Pentagon in its defense policy related documents substituted “Asia-Pacific” by “Indo-Pacific” clearly Indicating that United States is interested to give more importance to India in its Asia policy and interest in working together in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Indo-US partnership, however, requires a clever balancing its relationship with its traditional partners like Russia. India is the second largest market for the Russian defense industry. In 2017, approximately 68% of the Indian Military’s hardware import came from Russia, making Russia the chief supplier of defense equipment. Russia has stated publicly that it supports India receiving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. In addition, Russia has expressed interest in joining SAARC with observer status in which India is a founding member. Russia with 68%, USA 14% and Israel 7.2% are the major arms suppliers to India (2012-2016), and India and Russia have deepened their Make in India defense manufacturing cooperation by signing agreements for the construction of naval frigates, KA-226T twin-engine utility helicopters (joint venture (JV) to make 60 in Russia and 140 in India), Brahmos cruise missile (JV with 50.5% India and 49.5% Russia) (Dec 2017 update). Under the leadership of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi  and President Vladimir Putin, the bilateral relationship has seen further growth and development. An informal meeting between them in 2018 at Sochi helped accelerate the partnership, displaying the role of interaction and cooperation between India and Russia.

Categories
International Current Affairs

Looking forward after Trump-Kim summit breaks down

Hanoi Summit

A summit between Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended (February 28, 2019) without agreement after the US refused North Korean demands for sanctions relief. The Hanoi Summit, was a two-day summit meeting between North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, held at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. According to US President North Korea wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but the US did not want to do that. On the other hand North Korea claimed that it had made “realistic proposals” at the summit. The summit had been called with an aim that the two leaders would announce progress on denuclearization, but expectations were belied as the talks broke. Later the US President said, “Sometimes you have to walk and this was one of those times.”

According to a BBC report, the original White House programme for the day had planned for a “joint agreement signing ceremony” as well as a working lunch for the two leaders, but expectations were abruptly dashed with the cancellation of both. Even after this the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was very hopeful that officials from both sides could resume talks before too long.

The two countries were not able to resolve the differences as they were rigid on their stances, but negotiations require proportionate give and take to succeed. The media reports pointed out that Mr Kim made a significant offer – to dismantle all of the Yongbyon complex, the research and production facility at the heart of North Korea’s nuclear programme and in lieu it wanted all sanctions on North Korea lifted, something the US was not prepared to offer. US thinks that there are nuclear network of facilities that extend beyond Yongbyon. Earlier, Stephen Biegun, the US state department special representative for North Korea had claimed that North Korea had committed in pre-summit talks to destroy all of the nation’s plutonium- and uranium-enrichment facilities, dependent on unspecified US measures in return. Yongbyon is North Korea’s only known source of plutonium but the country is believed to have at least two other facilities where uranium is enriched.

After the talks break down

The Guardian reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin in his meeting with Kim who was visiting Russia on April 25, 2019 said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would require “security guarantees” in order to abandon his nuclear program, following the first ever summit between the two leaders. Putin and Kim promised to forge stronger ties during a two-hour meeting in the Russian city of Vladivostok, where the Russian president also offered to help break the deadlock over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. Kim, who arrived in Russia on April 24, by armoured train, called the talks “very meaningful”. The leaders did not immediately announce any agreements and analysts cautioned that Russia could only offer modest diplomatic and economic support to North Korea. But the friendly tone contrasted with that of the failed summit between Kim and the US president, Donald Trump, in February.

Firing of two missiles without any provocation

North Korea fired two rounds of missiles on May 2, 2019, its second launch in a week. According to the South Korean authorities the missiles were fired east “from Sinori area located in Northern Pyongan Province” about 4:29 p.m. and 4:49 p.m. local time on May 2 . The launch came just days after North Korea on Saturday fired what were described as several short-range projectiles. A South Korean military official has said that the launch was thought to involve multiple rocket launchers, including “new tactical guidance weapons.”After Pyongyang’s firing of missiles, the president of South Korea said he believes his country’s northern neighbor is unhappy that a summit with President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, fell apart earlier this year. South Korea President Moon Jae-in said in an interview that “If they have any discontent, North Korea should talk about it,” Moon said. “By acting like this, misinterpretations can accumulate, and this could aggravate the dialogue or negotiation mood, and we would like to let them know about this message.”

Revival of Six-party dialogue: An option?

It may be recalled that President Vladimir Putin was reportedly considering (proposing a revival of the six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program while meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on April 25.Russia has reportedly informed the United States and China of its intention to make the proposal. It may be recalled that the six-party talks were chaired by China and started in 2003. The other participants are the US, North Korea, Japan, South Korea and Russia. But the US and North Korea became increasingly at odds over how to verify Pyongyang’s commitment to scrap its nuclear development program. The talks have been stalled since December 2008.

Notwithstanding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call for multilateral dialogue to provide an international security guarantee for North Korea through resuming six-party talks, experts opine that this is highly unlikely.US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, however, rejected a return to six-party talks just after Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held their first summit in Vladivostok. He said that the US president was not trying to exclude other countries from the nuclear talks but “I think it’s not our preference.” He expressed hope that there is still possibility of a third summit with Kim.

Uncertain future

The future still looks uncertain although nuclear power falling into the hands of impulsive leaders or irresponsible hands is a real fear. The US regime is taking tough stands on many issues in the belief that it will get the desired results on its own terms. The geopolitics, nevertheless, is now not uni-polar. Negotiations are not possible in a hegemony framework. Powers like Russia and China have their own reasons to back North Korea in a subtle way. Meanwhile the nucler issue with North Korea and Iran are again appearing to have slipped at the same level of uncertainty.

Categories
International Current Affairs

Mueller report: Trump cleared of conspiring with Russia?

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been the cause of political confusion ever since it was submitted to Attorney General William Barr on 22 March 2019.  According to the summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report US President Donald Trump’s campaign did not conspire with Russia during the 2016 election. The allegation clouded the first two years of Mr Trump’s presidency and his allies see the report’s finding as a boost to his re-election chances.

But Attorney General William Barr’s summary is inconclusive as to whether Mr Trump obstructed justice. Opposition Democrats are demanding full access to Mr Mueller’s report. Having repeatedly described the inquiry as a witch hunt, Mr Trump said it was an “illegal takedown that failed”. Despite the inconclusiveness of the report regarding allegations he obstructed justice, the president said it constituted “complete and total exoneration”.

Mueller’s summaries took on special significance on 30 April 2019 when a letter he wrote to Barr the month before became public. Mueller wrote in that letter that he was dissatisfied with Barr’s own initial summary of the report because it “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions,” so Mueller requested Barr release Mueller’s own summaries to the public.

While Mueller made this request on 25 March 2019, the day after Barr released his four-page summary of the report, Mueller’s summaries weren’t available to the public until the full, redacted version of the report was publicly released on 18 April 2019. However, Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice could not clear President Donald Trump, according to a redacted version of the special counsel’s report, which provided new details of Trump’s efforts to influence the investigation into his campaign and Russia. The report details numerous cases in which Trump asked his aides to take actions that would have obstructed the investigation, but stated they were unsuccessful because the aides refused his orders.The report claims that “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,”

The 448-page report, which includes two volumes and appendixes, paints a starkly different picture than the one laid out by Attorney General William Barr. Barr said that Mueller’s investigation did not establish a conspiracy with the Russian government and that Mueller did not make a decision on obstruction. But the full report lays out a significantly more complicated picture as Mueller’s team weighed whether to prosecute cases.

The report includes multiple episodes that were previously unknown, stemming from both the collusion and obstruction investigations, which are likely to fuel investigations in Congress into Trump. It’s also likely to add to the wave of criticism Barr has faced from Democrats, who were infuriated that he held a press conference.

Mueller wrote he accepted the Justice Department opinion that a sitting President cannot be indicted. But the special counsel report rejected the Trump team’s legal argument that a President cannot commit obstruction of justice, leaving the door open for Congress to continue to investigate Trump.”With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” the report says

On May 16, 2017, Mueller interviewed with Trump to again serve as the Director of the FBI but was not hired. The next day, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to serve as special counsel for the United States Department of Justice. On May 17, 2017, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to take over the previous FBI investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Categories
International Current Affairs

Major highlights of Annual Conference 2019 of Boao Forum for Asia

The 2019 forum was held in Hainan, from 26–29 March 2019. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made the keynote speech at the opening of the annual conference. The forum intended to conduct around 50 official sessions, including the opening ceremony, sub-forums, CEO dialogues and roundtables are expected, categorized into five modules – Open World Economy; Multilateralism, Regional Cooperation and Global Governance; Innovation-Driven Development; High-Quality Development; and Critical Issues. It must be noted that:

  • The Boao Forum is a useful vehicle for China to propound its world views.
  • That importance has been heightened by the Trump Administration’s apparent turn to insularity.
  • The Forum ties in closely with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, being in the vanguard of Hainan Province’s ties with the ASEAN countries.
  • Hainan’s geographic location, coupled with the Forum’s increased salience, could make it the model for similar Chinese initiatives in the future.

At the opening ceremony, BFA Chairman Ban Ki-moon delivered a welcoming speech. Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon of the Republic of Korea, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg, Prime Minister Jorge Bom Jesus of Sao Tome and Principe and representatives from the business circle successively delivered speeches.

Keynote Speech by Premier Li Keqiang

On the morning of March 28, 2019, Premier Li Keqiang attended in Boao of Hainan Province the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2019 and delivered a keynote speech titled “Jointly Tackling Challenges for Common Development”. Over 2,000 representatives from political and business circles and scholars from think tanks of more than 60 countries and regions in five continents were present. Li Keqiang expressed that the BFA, with its founding focus on Asia and a global perspective, has evolved into an influential high-level dialogue platform for Asia and beyond. At the opening of its annual conference last year, President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech. The conference this year has chosen a highly relevant theme of “Shared Future, Concerted Action, Common Development”. I hope various parties will build consensus and actively contribute to promoting peace and development in Asia and the world.

Major highlights of his speech are:

State of Chinese economy and major developments

Li Keqiang briefly introduced China’s economic situation, and pointed out that this year, the Chinese economy has maintained a steady momentum and showed some positive changes that have improved market expectations, with the increase of uncertainties and destabilizing factors as well as externally-generated risks. We will carry on with our policies and will not resort to massive stimulus measures, or return to the old approach of expansion in scale and inefficient growth. We will make greater efforts to ensure full delivery of our policies, firmly depend on opening-up and innovation, make good on the promises of larger tax and fee cuts, energize market entities, boost internally driven growth, and counter the downward pressure, so as to keep the economic performance within a proper range, and ensure the long-term, positive and stable development of the Chinese economy.

Need for mutually beneficial international cooperation amid today’s complex changes in the international landscape and economic headwinds

  Li Keqiang said that we meet at a time of profound and complex changes in the international landscape. In the face of world economic headwinds and other common challenges, no country can stay immune. It is time to jointly seize the opportunities and rise to the challenges, and seek an inclusive path of mutually beneficial cooperation. All parties need to jointly uphold the international system with the United Nations as the core and the rules-based multilateral trading system, and work together for common development. It is time to actively advance reform in the global governance system to move it toward a fairer and more equitable direction.

Taking regional integration to a higher level

Li Keqiang pointed out that Asia is an important force for world peace and stability, and a strong engine for global growth. In a complex and fast-changing world, Asian countries should, like passengers on the same boat who need to help each other, work together for common development. We must jointly uphold the overall environment of peace and development, deepen strategic mutual trust and preserve the sound momentum of peace and development in Asia. All parties concerned must jointly elevate regional integration to a higher level, work for an all-win outcome from the negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as early as possible, and advance the synergy between the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative and development strategies of other countries. We need to jointly break new ground in innovation-driven development, and make our business environment open, fair, transparent and predictable.

China’s commitment to opening up and institutional reforms

Li Keqiang stressed that opening-up is China’s fundamental state policy. The Foreign Investment Law is a crucial step toward building a world-class and business-friendly environment governed by a sound legal framework. He assured that China will move quickly to formulate relevant matching regulations soon and to complete drafting of regulations by the end of this year to implement  the new regulations as of 1st January next year. He also assured to widen market access further for foreign investment. He revealed that the management system of pre-establishment national treatment plus a negative list will be implemented across the board. The opening up, according to Li will also extend to China’s financial sector and modern services sectors wider. All companies registered in China, be it domestic or foreign-invested, will be treated as equals. The premier also assured that China will strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights and safeguard the lawful rights and interests of foreign investors.

Maintaining stability and continuity of policies

Li said that China will maintain the continuity and stability of its policies for investors from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and continue to support their development. We will also promote trade facilitation at a faster pace. We will notably reduce the customs clearance costs this year and make the process more efficient.

Conclusion

The 2019 annual Boao Conference thus intended to highlight China’s intentions and policies with regard to Openness, multilateral cooperation and innovation. It also released four major academic reports including the annual reports of BFA Progress of Asian Economic Integration, BFA Asian Competitiveness, and BFA Development of Emerging Economies, a routine practice of the BFA. Furthermore, the forum had a plan to issue a new report on Asian financial cooperation this year, jointly compiled by the BFA Academy and three international organizations in Asia. Notably, in recent years, China has used the opportunity of scientific revolution and industrial transformation to promote the booming development of emerging industries, accelerating the upgrade of traditional industries. China said that it intends to continue to innovate new technology for its own growth and growth of other Asian Nations. The country has contributed over 30 percent to global economic growth for years, with innovation playing a significant role. According to China’s position expressed in the conference innovation-Driven Development module the major innovations on which China is working include 5G, artificial intelligence, and big data. It also showcased and used intelligent Connected Vehicle, one of China’s newest technologies, in Boao, the conference’s host city, to better serve the event.The technology combines the Internet of Vehicles and smart automobiles, and is equipped with advanced sensors and monitors. It can obtain information exchanges among the drivers, vehicles, roads and the system, and make driving safer, more comfortable and energy-friendly.

Background

The Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) is a non-profit organisation that hosts high-level forums for leaders from government, business and academia in Asia and other continents to share their vision on the most pressing issues in this dynamic region and the world at large. BFA is modelled on the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland. Its fixed address is in Bo’ao, Hainan province, China, although the Secretariat is based in Beijing. The forum, sometimes known as the “Asian Davos”, takes its name from the town of Boao, located in China’s southern Hainan province, which has been the permanent venue for its annual conference since 2002.

The Forum is committed to promoting regional economic integration and bringing Asian countries even closer to their development goals. Initiated in 1998 by Fidel V. Ramos, former President of the Philippines, Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia, and Morihiro Hosokawa, former Prime Minister of Japan, the Boao Forum for Asia was formally inaugurated in February 2001. The founding of the BFA was driven by the People’s Republic of China and founded by 26 Asian and Australasian states on 27 February 2001. The organisation held its first meeting from 12–13 April 2002.

Discussions at the BFA focus on economics, integration, cooperation, society and the environment. In the past the forum also addressed China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, as well as Southeast Asia’s economic crisis during the 1990s. The geopolitical strategy ‘China’s peaceful rise’ was a topic of discussion for the forum in 2004. In addition to its annual meeting, the BFA also sponsors other forums and meetings related to Asian issues.

Categories
International Current Affairs

Spain General election 2019: Socialists win

The 2019 Spanish general election was held on Sunday, 28 April 2019, to elect the 13th Cortes Generales of the Kingdom of Spain. All 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies were up for election, as well as 208 of 266 seats in the Senate. Under an high turnout of 75.8%, the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez won a resounding victory, the first for the party in a nationwide election in eleven years, with 28.7% of the share and 123 seats, an improvement of 38 over its previous mark which mostly came at the expense of left-wing Unidas Podemos. the People’s Party (PP) under Casado suffered a spectacular collapse and scored its worst result in history after being reduced to 66 seats and 16.7% of the share in what was dubbed the worst electoral setback for a major political party in Spain since the collapse of the UCD in 1982. Cs saw an increase of support which brought them within 0.8 points and 9 seats from the PP, overcoming them in several major regions throughout the country. The far-right Vox party, the political novelty of the election, saw a strong perfomance but failed to fulfill expectations by scoring 10.3% of the share and 24 seats; nonetheless, the division of the centre-right vote into three parties ensured Sánchez’s PSOE would be the only political party able to command a majority in the Congress of Deputies throughout alliances.

Background

Following the 2016 election, the People’s Party (PP) formed a minority government with confidence and supply support from Ciudadanos (Cs) and Canarian Coalition (CC), allowed by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) abstaining in Mariano Rajoy’s investiture after a party crisis resulted in the ousting of Pedro Sánchez as leader. The PP’s term of office was undermined by a constitutional crisis over the Catalan issue, the result of a regional election held thereafter,coupled with corruption scandals and protests with thousands of retirees demanding pension increases. In May 2018, the National Court found in the Gürtel case that the PP had profited from the kickbacks-for-contracts scheme and confirmed the existence of an illegal accounting and financing structure, since 1989, kept separate from the party’s official accounts. Sánchez, who was re-elected as PSOE leader in a leadership contest in 2017, brought down Rajoy’s government in June 2018 through a motion of no confidence. Rajoy resigned as PP leader, and was succeeded by Pablo Casado.

Presiding over a minority government of 84 deputies, Pedro Sánchez struggled to maintain a working majority in the Congress with the support of the parties which had backed the no confidence motion. The 2018 Andalusian regional election, which saw the PSOE losing the regional government for the first time in history, resulted in a sudden and strong rise of the far-right Vox party and this Regional election result translated to nationwide opinion polling shortly thereafter. After the 2019 General State Budget was voted down by the Congress of Deputies on 13 February 2019 as a result of Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) siding against government, Sánchez called a snap election to be held on 28 April, just one month ahead of the “Super Sunday” of local, regional and European Parliament elections scheduled for 26 May.

Political Uncertainty for quite sometime

Spain has been witnessing political uncertainty for quite some time. The general election in June 2016 had resulted in the People’s Party (PP) gaining votes and seats relative to its result in the December 2015 election and a round of coalition talks throughout the summer saw Mariano Rajoy obtaining the support of Ciudadanos (C’s) and Canarian Coalition (CC) for his investiture, but this was still not enough to assure him re-election. On the other hand,  Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party(PSOE) leader Pedro Sánchez  opposing Rajoy’s investiture led to his ouster from the left part and a caretaker committee was appointed by party rebels led by Susana Díaz, who subsequently set out to abstain in Rajoy’s investiture and allow a PP minority government to be formed, preventing a third election in a row from taking place. However, Díaz’s bid to become new party leader was defeated by party members in a party primary in May 2017, with Sánchez being voted again into office under a campaign aimed at criticising the PSOE’s abstention in Rajoy’s investiture. Pressure on the Spanish government increased after a massive constitutional crisis over the issue of an illegal independence referendum unravelled in Catalonia. Initial actions from the Parliament of Catalonia to approve two bills supporting a referendum and a legal framework for an independent Catalan state were suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain. The government’s crackdown on referendum preparations—which included police searches, raids and arrests of Catalan government officials, as well as an intervention into Catalan finances—sparked public outcry and protests accusing the PP government of “anti-democratic and totalitarian” repression.

Mishandling of the Catalan Crisis and the allegations of corruption

Public outcry against government’s high handedness with Catalan protestors and corruption led to decline in the image of PP. After Ctalan crisis, Rajoy immediately dissolved the Catalan parliament and called a regional election for 21 December 2017, but it left his PP severely mauled as Cs capitalised on anti-independence support in the region. The scale of PP’s collapse in Catalonia and the success of Cs had an impact on national politics, with Ciudadanos skyrocketing to first place nationally in subsequent opinion polls, endangering PP’s stand as the hegemonic party within the Spanish centre-right spectrum. Massive protests by pensioners groups, long regarded as a key component of the PP’s electoral base, demanding pension increases, further undermining the PP’s standing. On 24 May 2018, the National Court found that the PP profited from the illegal kickbacks-for-contracts scheme of the Gürtel case, confirming the existence of an illegal accounting and financing structure that had run in parallel with the party’s official one since 1989 and ruling that the PP helped establish “a genuine and effective system of institutional corruption through the manipulation of central, autonomous and local public procurement”.

No-confidence Motion

This event prompted the PSOE to submit a motion of no confidence in Rajoy and in Cs withdrawing its support from the government and demanding the immediate calling of an early election. An absolute majority of 180 MPs in the Congress of Deputies voted to oust Mariano Rajoy from power on 1 June 2018, replaced him as Prime Minister with PSOE’s Pedro Sánchez. On 5 June, Rajoy announced his farewell from politics and his return to his position as property registrar in Santa Pola, vacating his seat in the Congress of Deputies and triggering a leadership contest in which the party’s Vice Secretary-General of Communication, Pablo Casado, defeated former Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and became new PP president on 21 July 2018.

For most of his government, Sánchez was reliant on confidence and supply support from Unidos Podemos and New Canaries (NCa), negotiating additional support from Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) on an issue-by-issue basis. ERC, PDeCAT and En Marea withdrew their support from the government in February 2019 by voting down the 2019 General State Budget, with the government losing the vote 191–158 and prompting a snap election being called for 28 April.

The New Government’s Commitment

In his victory speech, Mr Sánchez said the party’s big challenges were to fight inequality, advance co-existence and halt corruption. “The future has won and the past has lost,” he told cheering supporters. During his time in office he has raised the minimum wage, appointed a female-dominated cabinet and promised to strengthen rape laws, defining it as sex without clear consent.

Categories
International Current Affairs

Sri Lanka: Ghastly Easter attacks

On Easter Sunday, i.e., April 21, 2019, suicide bombers killed at least 253 people and injured some 500 at churches and top-end hotels across Sri Lanka. Starting from  08:45 Six blasts took place within a short space of time. Three were at churches – in the Kochchikade district of the capital, Colombo; in Negombo, to the north; and in the eastern city of Batticaloa. The other three blasts rocked the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo. Two further explosions were reported later as police searched for suspects – one in Dehiwala in southern Colombo, and another one near the Colombo district of Dematagoda, during a police raid. And again on April 22 another blast rocked a street near a church in the capital. Police were attempting to defuse explosives in a vehicle used by the attackers when it blew up.

Most victims were Sri Lankans, but at least 38 foreigners are among the dead, including British, Indian and US citizens.The official death toll had reached 359 by April 25. However, the Sri Lankan government then revised the figure down, blaming a calculation error. The confirmed international casualties are from the UK, Denmark, Portugal, India, Turkey, Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, Spain, Bangladesh, the US and China.

The doubt for this terrorist bloodshed was raised on local jihadists linked to the Islamic State (IS) group and police have made a number of arrests. Sri Lankan authorities said on April 22 that they believed a little-known local militant Islamist group known as National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) was to blame. On the same day, police raided the  a house in the eastern town of Sainthamaruthu where relatives of the bombers’ suspected mastermind, Islamist preacher Zahran Hashim were hiding. About 15 relatives of the alleged mastermind were killed. Although, Sri Lankan officials pinned the blame on the NTJ at a news conference one day after the attacks, the  NTJ did not admit carrying out the wave of bombings.

 The NTJ is believed to have splintered off from another hardline Islamist group in the country, the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamath (SLTJ).It was founded by Zahran Hashim, the suspected leader of the suicide bombers who blew himself up at a hotel in Colombo. However, Hashim is said to have been expelled from the NTJ after making hate speeches and may, in turn, have founded another splinter group. While still relatively unknown, the SLTJ is a bit more established. Its secretary, Abdul Razik, was arrested in 2016 for inciting hatred against Buddhists. He later issued an apology. But the NTJ is an extremist fringe group within an already small religious minority – only 9.7% of Sri Lanka’s population of about 21 million are Muslim. Its social media presence is sparse, too. Although it has a Facebook page, it is only updated every few weeks or so. The NTJ Twitter feed has not been updated since March 2018.

Meanwhile, On April 29, Sri Lanka banned its citizens from wearing face coverings under an emergency law, after terrorist attacks at prominent churches and upscale hotels left hundreds dead in the small island nation. President Maithripala Sirisena said the ban was meant to ensure national security, helping authorities to identify people. He did not specifically mention the niqab and burka, types of facial coverings worn by Muslim women across the world, but critics say the new measure violates their rights. Amid heightened safety concerns, a body of Islamic scholars in Sri Lanka advised last week that Muslim women “should not hinder the security forces in their efforts to maintain national security by wearing the face cover (Niqab).”

Categories
National Affairs

Dance of Indian Democracy: The major national issues of Lok Sabha 2019  Election Campaigns on which India votes

Apart from eliminating corruption, boosting growth of GDP and the Industrial sector and improvement in infrastructure, the political parties across the board are trying to cajole the voters on several issues- some are populist issues, some long protracted ideological and political issues and some socio-economic problems looking into the face of future of emerging Indian society and polity. The voters find it difficult to decide how various issues may figure in their priority to determine their voting decisions. It is helpful to know the prominent issues that are being raised during election campaigns before people make up their minds to vote. However, it is best to leave it on the electorate how do they rank these issues in their voting decisions.

Following are the prominent issues raised by various political parties during 2019 election campaign:

Agrarian Crisis

The recent marches to New Delhi  and Mumbai by thousands of farmers reflect that things are not good with the sector and it doesn’t bode well for rural demand in the coming months. Although agriculture contributes less than one-third of the output of the entire economy, it employs more than 50 percent of the work force which constitutes rural consumption demand, in turn which can boost the sales of manufacturing sector. Consumption demand from the rural economy also needs to hold up for the overall growth rate to remain above 7%. The figures of farmer suicides are troubling and the main reason behind it is, continuously increasing cost of cultivation and low farm gate prices for crops. Government has promised doubling the farm income by 2022, but it is stupendous task.

Poverty

From any yardstick, poverty ratio is still very high, which prevents unleashing of vast potential of human capital in India, despite a continuous fall in it due to direct measures taken to eliminate poverty since 1970s (poverty has been more than halved). As per the methodology of the Suresh Tendulkar Committee report, the population below the poverty line in India in 2009-2010 was 354 million (29.6% of the population) and that in 2011-2012 was 269 million (21.9% of the population). The Rangarajan Committee said in 2014 that the population below the poverty line in 2009-2010 was 454 million (38.2% of the population) and that in 2011-2012 was 363 million (29.5% of the population). Deutsche Bank Research estimated that there are nearly 300 million people who are middle class. If former trends continue, India’s share of world GDP will significantly increase from 7.3% in 2016 to 8.5% by 2020. In 2015, around 170 million people, or 12.4%, lived in poverty (defined as $1.90 (Rs 123.5)), a reduction from 29.8% in 2009.

Unemployment

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) report,” The unemployment rate in India rose to 7.2 percent in February 2019, the highest since September 2016, and up from 5.9 percent in February 2018, And, according to CMIE, nearly 11 million people lost jobs in 2018 after the demonetisation of high value notes in late 2016 and the chaotic launch of a new goods and services tax in 2017, hit millions of small businesses.

Health

According to the National Health Profile, 2018, released by union minister for health and family welfare, JP Nadda, on 19 June, 22018 at 1.02 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP)–a figure which remained almost unchanged in nine years since 2009–India’s public health expenditure is amongst the lowest in the world, lower than most low-income countries which spend 1.4 percent of their GDP on healthcare. The equivalent proportion of GDP spent on healthcare in the Maldives is 9.4 percent, in Sri Lanka 1.6 percent, in Bhutan 2.5 percent and in Thailand 2.9 percent. The National Health Profile covers information on demographic, socio-economic, health status and health finance indicators, and on health infrastructure and human resources. The amount India spends on public health per capita every year is Rs 1,112, less than the cost of a single consultation at the country’s top private hospitals. The National Health Policy 2017 talked about increasing public-health spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2025, but India hasn’t yet met the 2010 target of two percent of GDP, IndiaSpend reported in April 2017. India’s low public-health spending is one reason why patients turn to the private sector for healthcare. Indians are the sixth biggest out-of-pocket (OOP) health spenders in the low-middle income group of 50 nations, IndiaSpend reported in May 2017. These costs push around 32-39 million Indians below the poverty line every year, according to various studies.

Without a significant increase in its healthcare budget, India’s health targets seem difficult to achieve: Reducing the infant mortality rate from 41 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015-16 to 28 by 2019 and maternal mortality ratio from 167 deaths per 100,000 births in 2013-14 to 100 by 2018-2020 and eliminating tuberculosis by 2025.

Education

Education is considered to be a fundamental human right. As per Teach for India statistics, “4 percent of our children never start school. 58 percent don’t complete primary schools. And 90 percent don’t complete school”. These numbers are shocking from almost any standpoint. The Indian Government passed the Right to Education Legislation in 2009 at a time when close to 8 million children were out of school. For those who do attend school, the problems are no less. Lack of disabled friendly schools, clean and adequate drinking water, separate toilets for girls and boys and playgrounds, lack of smart classrooms that can provide interactive and high quality learning at a level playing field across the country. Access to quality teachers is not a problem localized to rural areas only. Even in urban areas the poor quality of teachers has given rise to the coaching industry. There is a massive deficit of access to high-quality education both at the primary & high school level. The cost of educating one of the world’s greatest populations has been increasing at a steady pace. The biggest gap is the impact on quality of learning outcomes. Even after the massive effort put in by students, parents and teachers the pass rate and improvement in performance of students are at an all time low. For instance, 38.07 percent of 8th standard students could not count numbers from 1 to 99 in Maharashtra as per a recent survey.

Social justice

Regional parties like the SP, BSP and RJD harp on the issue of reservation to protect it as it is given in the Indian constitution. The BJP has offered a bill to give reservation to economically weaker sections at the fag end of its tenure. Senior Congress leader and former Minister of Social Justice Kumari Selja is critical of the Constitutional Amendment Bill brought by the Centre to ensure reservation for economically weaker forward castes in jobs and in educational institutions. She said while people belonging to the SC, ST and OBC communities do not have reservation in private and self-financing higher education institutions, the new Bill has kept quota for the poor in such institutions.

Uniform Civil code

Uniform civil code is the ongoing point of debate within Indian mandate to replace personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in India with a common set of rules governing every citizen. Article 44 of the Directive Principles expects the state to apply these while formulating policies for the country. Apart from being an important issue regarding secularism in India & fundamental right to practice religion contained in Article 25, it became one of the most controversial topics in contemporary politics during the Shah Bano case in 1985. Although Article 44 of the Indian Constitution guarantees UCC to all citizens,the debate arose when the question of making certain laws applicable to all citizens without abridging the fundamental right of right to practice religious functions. The debate then focused on the Muslim Personal Law, which is partially based on the Sharia law and remains unreformed since 1937, permitting unilateral divorce, polygamy in the country and putting it among the nations legally applying the Sharia law. The Bano case made it a politicised public issue focused on identity politics—by means of attacking specific religious minorities versus protecting its cultural identity.Personal laws are distinguished from public law and cover marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance.

Article 370

BJP chief Amit Shah is saying in election campaign that  BJP will scrap Article 370 of the Constitution which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir and introduce National Register for Citizens across the country if voted to power again. “It is our commitment to bring in NRC across the country to chuck out each and every infiltrator.” Hours after BJP, in its election manifesto, promised to scrap Article 35A and Article 370 if it comes to power, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference warned that such a move will pave way for ‘Azadi’ (freedom) of Jammu and Kashmir). Reacting sharply to the BJP’s promise to revoke Article 370, NC president and former union minister Farooq Abdullah said, “Do they (New Delhi) think that they will abrogate Article 370 and we will be quiet? They are wrong. We will fight against it.” In line with the sentiments in the valley for article 35A, J&K PCC chief GA Mir said any tinkering with the special the special status of J&K would further alienate the people and asked BJP not to “even think about touching it”  as the consequences would be “disastrous”. He said in a statement that special status granted to J&K is a settled issue an and “any misadventure with regard to Article 35A would further deepen the alienation among the people, the fire of which will engulf the entire J&K state”.

Terrorism

Milan Vaishnav, the director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that the the Pulwama crisis offers Modi an opportunity to show strength on the world stage. “With general elections just weeks away, the conflict gives Modi and the [Bharatiya Janata Party] a clear advantage.” According to him “Modi’s calling card is projecting strength, decisive leadership, and nationalism. This crisis allows him to tap into all three.” Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Asad Majeed Khan, meanwhile, told a group of reporters Feb. 27 in Washington that Modi’s government is “using this incident to draw political mileage at home.” The same charge is being leveled on the ruling government by the opposition parties. The opposition parties, especially the Congress Party opines that India saw big wars in 1965 and 1971 and under the leadership of the Congress Party, it decisively won the wars. Whatever followed after it was skirmishes and not wars! Many people believe that for winning election, the armed forces should not be dragged into politics.

Competitive Patriotism

The two big political parties are trying to prove that they are more patriotic than the other to take advantage in the lok sabha election. This is competitive patriotism. Some right wing leaders doubt the patriotism of the Muslims while the centrist parties are blamed to indulge in pseudo secularism to create a vote bank among the Muslims. The human resource Ministry gave an advisory (September 2018) to the vice Chancellors of all Indian universities to commemorate September 29 as surgical strike day. HRD minister Prakash Javadekar  said,      “This is not politics but patriotism. Students needed to informed about the surgical strikes, and what military and and civil works soldiers do. The ministry issued a programme only on the basis of suggestions received from teachers and and many students.”
On March 01, 2019 two days after India’s air strikes on a terrorist camp in Balakot in Pakistan, district magistrates across Madhya Pradesh received a letter from the state culture department asking them to organise functions to commemorate the sacrifice and valour of the soldiers who died in the Pulwama attack. To many of the officials, it was clear where this was coming from. Having been at the receiving end of sharp attacks by the BJP for questioning the cross-border surgical strike in 2016, the Congress had this time changed its strategy in a bid to deny the BJP any gains from nationalistic muscle-flexing in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election. On March 4, a programme called Bhartiyam’ was organised across MP’s district headquarters. Held under the aegis of the culture department, it was old-style Congress nationalism on display, with freedom fighters being feted, patriotic songs being sung and war veterans being sent invites for the shows. Optics-wise, it was no match for the high-decibel campaign launched by the BJP post-Balakot nor was there much footfall, given the sarkari nature of the programme. But it was evident that the Congress was making a conscious effort to strike a nationalistic chord.

Categories
Uncategorized

Benjamin Netanyahu wins election in Israel; to form government 5th  time with right wing parties

As the right wing total seats have turned out to be 65 in poll results, despite Benjamin Netanyahu getting a tie at 35 with opposition leader Benny Gantz, he is set to serve a fifth term as Israel’s prime minister after his main rival conceded that he had lost the election. His number two, Yair Lapid, said while the party “didn’t win in this round, we will make Likud’s life hell in the opposition”. Despite three impending corruption indictments, the prime minister emerged as the winner from a tight election race to continue his 10-year stretch in high office. Thus far (till April 10) 97 percent votes have been counted.  Netanyahu has already begun to broker deals with religious and far-right parties to form Israel’s next government. The 69-year-old former commando, who first became prime minister in 1996, is on track to become Israel’s longest-ever serving leader this summer.Several world leaders, especially nationalists, rushed to congratulate Netanyahu. US president Trump had called him to congratulate and the two leaders agreed to continue working in the coming years in the closest way for Israel and the United States. Trump said, “ “The fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace.” Trump has already tasked his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with drafting a Middle East peace plan. Palestinians have preemptively rejected it, citing overt Trump bias, while Netanyahu has shown open disdain for peace efforts. India’s Narendra Modi tweeted to his “dear friend”, and said he hoped to “take our bilateral partnership to new heights”.

On the campaign trail, Gantz had sought to capitalise on the corruption allegations, presenting himself as a clean, centrist alternative to Netanyahu. But by daybreak on Wednesday, the results showed the plan had backfired somewhat as Israelis saw the election as a referendum on “King Bibi”. Although they tied, the Likud party performed better than ever, possibly buoyed by its election campaign warnings that the right wing was in danger of falling to “leftists” and Arab parties. By presenting the election as a binary choice between the two main candidates, leftwing parties were decimated, leaving Gantz with few potential coalition partners. And while Netanyahu will have to offer concessions – such as ministerial posts – to rightwing parties to back him, the religious factions he already has agreements with gained seats. Meanwhile, some of his more demanding ultranationalist allies lost their bargaining power. Unofficial results showed former education minister Naftali Bennett, a political partner of necessity rather than choice, may not make it back into the Knesset. Solidifying Israel’s drift towards the right, a Netanyahu fifth term is expected to entrench the occupation over more than 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the severe blockade on 2 million more in Gaza. A far-right alliance is expected to be in government, although its candidate from Jewish Power – whose members have called for the expulsion of Arabs and have been internationally condemned – did not make it into the Knesset.

Categories
International Current Affairs

33rd ASEAN Summit 2018

Singapore hosted the 33rd ASEAN Summit and Related Summits at Suntec Singapore Convention Centre from 11 to 15 November 2018. The Summits were chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. PM Lee had a Working Dinner with ASEAN leadersm as well as Summits with China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States. He also had Bilateral Meetings with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Australian PM Scott Morrison, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and Indian PM Narendra Modi. He also had pull asides with New Zealand PM Jacinda Arden, and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. Apart from leaders of all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, heads of 8 key partner nations of ASEAN also participated. Over 400 companies from over 100 countries took part as exhibitors in the summit. The leaders of ASEAN’s 10 member countries reviewed ASEAN’s achievements in the year 2018 while mapping out a new course for the year ahead.

The Summit began on November 13, 2018. The opening ceremony of the summit was addressed by Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, Chairman of this year’s Summit. In his speech, Lee Hsien Loong called on ASEAN members and partners to uphold multilateralism and international cooperation and tackle common challenges including terrorism and climate change.

The Summit saw the presence of leaders of partner countries such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

However, the US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were not in attendance. The Vice President Mike Pence represented the US, while the Chinese side was represented by Premier Li Keqiang.

Key Highlights

  • ASEAN members reaffirmed their commitment to the full and effective implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the ASEAN Leaders’ Vision for a Resilient and Innovative ASEAN.
  • The members exchanged views on recent global and regional developments, and discussed how to take ASEAN forward at a time of rapid change.”
  • Singapore Prime Minister, the outgoing Chairman, in his statement said, that the member countries have reviewed ASEAN’s progress in building a resilient and innovative Community, and deepening links with the rest of the world.
  • The members also resolved to fully tap the opportunities arising from the digital revolution, while staying responsive to emerging issues, including non- traditional security threats and environmental challenges, and ensuring sustainable development.
  • The ASEAN leaders adopted the ASEAN Smart Cities Framework and took stock of ASEAN’s achievements in 2018 in strengthening ASEAN’s resilience and innovation.
  • The ASEAN leaders, along with their counterparts from countries participating in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), discussed the process of the RCEP negotiations at the 2nd RCEP Summit.
  • The leaders also exchanged views on regional and international issues with their counterparts at the 21st ASEAN Plus Three Summit and 13th East Asia Summit.
  • Singapore PM Lee handed over the ASEAN Chairmanship to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

 Background

The ASEAN Summit is a semiannual meeting held by the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in relation to economic, political, security and socio-cultural development of Southeast Asian countries. In addition, it serves as a prominent regional (Asia) and international (worldwide) conference, with world leaders attending its related summits and meetings to discuss about various problems and global issues, strengthening cooperation, and making decisions. The league of ASEAN is currently connected with other countries who aimed to participate on the missions and visions of the league. Apparently, the league is conducting an annual meetings with other countries in an organisation collectively known as the ASEAN dialogue partners. ASEAN +3 adds China, Japan and South Korea. The First ASEAN summit was held February 1976 in Bali, Indonesia. At this summit, ASEAN expressed its readiness to “develop fruitful relations” and mutually beneficial co-operation with other countries of the region. The ASEAN leaders signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. On 2nd ASEAN summit held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1977 was the occasion for the first summit meeting between Japan and ASEAN. Japan expressed its intention to promote co-operation with ASEAN.

Categories
International Current Affairs

France: ‘yellow vest’ protests

The yellow vests movement  is a protest movement that started online in May 2018 and led to demonstrations that began in France on Saturday, 17 November 2018 and rapidly spread to Wallonia, the formerly heavily industrialised southern part of Belgium. France has experienced social unrest and massive protests across the country since then. The demonstrations were initially held to protest planned hikes in fuel taxes, but have since widened into a movement against the government’s economic policies. The next day Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says the government will not back down.

Why yellow vest?

The yellow vest was chosen as a symbol, because all motorists had been required by law (since 2008) to have high-visibility vests in their vehicles when driving (as a safety measure should the driver be required to exit the vehicle on the roadside). As a result, reflective vests have become widely available, inexpensive and symbolic. By early December 2018, the symbol had become increasingly common from Europe to Iraq, as different groups made use of their high-visibility vests to draw attention to their agendas.

Causes

Motivated by rising fuel prices, the high cost of living and claims that a disproportionate burden of the government’s tax reforms were falling on the working and middle classes (especially those in rural and peri-urban areas), protesters have called for reductions in fuel taxes, the reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, the raising of the minimum wage, and the resignation of the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. Seizing on the momentum from the protests, students start demonstrating over education reforms, disrupting dozens of high schools every day from December 3.

Nature of the protest

The protests are being described by observers as spontaneous, and not organised by political parties or unions. The protest did not stop and spread to next week. The next protests took place the following Saturday, November 24 followed by December 01  and December 08. Thousands of demonstrators clashed with police on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.  The next day (December 02) Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government will not back down. Subsequently, violence broke out in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, led mainly by armed youths. The third day of protests took place on Saturday, December 1, with widespread violence erupting particularly in Paris around the Arc de Triomphe and several upscale neighbourhoods. The government estimated that some 136,000 people protested across the country.

The efforts of government to quell the movement

On his return from the G20 summit in Argentina, Macron immediately calls a crisis meeting at the Elysee Palace on December 2. Philippe meets with political party leaders on December 3. Later, “Yellow vests” representatives announced they will not go to a meeting with Philippe planned the following day – later cancelled – as some say they have received death threats. Still tensions due to blockages of roads, shopping centres and fuel depots continues

Tax Increases suspended by six months

On December 4, the government decided to address the issue of proposed hike on petrol and diesel taxes. Next day (December 5), Macron announces that all planned fuel tax hikes for 2019 will be scrapped. The prime minister announced that planned tax increases on petrol and diesel on January 1 will be suspended for six months and hikes in regulated electricity and gas prices will be frozen during the winter. However, he ruled out re-imposing a “fortune tax” on high-earners. These announcements were insufficient to quell the protests. The “yellow vests” reject the moves as insufficient and press ahead with plans for a fourth day of protests on Saturday, December 8.The government fears the new protests could lead to a new explosion of violence, anticipating participation by the far left and far right. Meanwhile Farmers say they are planning to hold demonstrations next week, to support their own demands.

The Fourth day of protests

The Fourth day of protests took place on December 8, despite announcement by the government to address petrol and diesel price issue. For the fourth day of protests on Saturday, 89,000 security force members were deployed, including 8,000 in Paris. Armoured vehicles were also mobilised in the capital. The government, as well as most opposition parties and unions, called for calm. On the eve of a demonstration, “yellow vest” representatives had advised against demonstrating in Paris where museums, monuments, big shops and many metro stations will be closed.