Current Affairs - International Relations
Recently, the Philippines has taken action to remove a floating barrier installed by China in the South China Sea, which was blocking Philippine fishing boats from accessing a disputed area.
- Barrier Removal: The Philippines, under the instructions of President has removed a 300-meter (1,000-foot) floating barrier placed by China in the Scarborough Shoal, an area contested by both nations.
- Fishing Rights Violation: Manila alleges that China violated its fishing rights by erecting the barrier in the Scarborough Shoal, which is considered an integral part of the Philippine national territory.
- China's Claims: China claims over 90% of the South China Sea and took control of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, leading to tensions in the region.
- International Concern: Japan has urged calm in the South China Sea, emphasizing the region's importance to regional stability and expressing opposition to actions that heighten tensions.
Background on South China Sea Dispute
- Location: The South China Sea is a body of water in Southeast Asia, situated south of China, east and south of Vietnam, west of the Philippines, and north of the island of Borneo.
- Bordering States & Territories: The South China Sea is bordered by several countries and territories, including the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.
- It connects to the East China Sea via the Taiwan Strait and to the Philippine Sea via the Luzon Strait.
- China's territorial claims in the area have led to disputes with neighbouring countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.
- China has supported its claims through activities like island-building and naval patrols.
- The United States has conducted "freedom of navigation" operations near disputed islands in the South China Sea.
- The Scarborough Shoal was seized by China in 2012, affecting Philippine fishermen, but access was later partially restored during a period of improved relations between the two countries.
- Strategic Importance: Due to its location, the South China Sea serves as a crucial link between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Malacca.
- Approximately one-third of global shipping passes through this region, facilitating trillions of dollars in trade and making it geopolitically significant.
- The South China Sea is a significant fishing ground and is believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves.
Reasons for Dispute in the South China Sea
Contesting Claims Over Islands
- China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim the Paracel Islands.
- China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, and the Philippines assert claims over the Spratly Islands.
- The Scarborough Shoal is claimed by the Philippines, China, and Taiwan.
- China asserts sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, encompassing the Paracel Islands.
- Multiple countries, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam, have competing claims in the region, which is believed to contain valuable oil and gas resources.
- China accuses the USA of violating its sovereignty by entering the territorial waters around Xisha (Paracel) Island without permission, thus harming regional peace.
- The USA argues that its naval exercises in the South China Sea adhere to international law and are intended to safeguard freedom of navigation, particularly in light of conflicting territorial claims by China and other nations.
- These actions align with the USA's ongoing efforts to counter China's assertiveness in the South China Sea, as evidenced by recent deployments of aircraft carrier groups to the region.
- Undefined geographic scope of the South China Sea.
- Disagreement over dispute settlement mechanisms.
- Ambiguity in the legal status of the Code of Conduct (COC).
- Different histories of remote, mostly uninhabited archipelagos in the region contribute to the multifaceted nature of the dispute.
- India maintains it is not a party to the South China Sea dispute and its presence in the region aims to secure its economic interests, particularly energy security.
- China's expanding role in the South China Sea prompts India to reassess its approach, leading to internationalization of disputes in the Indo-Pacific to counter China's assertive tactics.
- India leverages its Buddhist heritage to strengthen ties with Southeast Asia.
- Indian Navy collaborates with Vietnam in the South China Sea to protect sea lanes of communication (SLOC) and counter Chinese assertiveness.
- India plays a pivotal role in initiatives like the Quad (India, US, Japan, Australia) and advocates for the Indo-Pacific concept, which China views as containment strategies.
On 22nd September, 2023, the Foreign Ministers of the Quad nations – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – convened in New York during the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, where they underscored their dedication to a "free and open Indo-Pacific."
- Common Ground Reinforced: During the meeting, the four top diplomats reemphasized their shared objectives and assessed the progress of the Quad's ongoing initiatives.
- Initiatives like the Quad Infrastructure Fellowships Program and the Quad Partnership for Cable Connectivity and Resilience were discussed.
- Secure Telecommunications Network: Efforts to develop a secure and trustworthy telecommunications network were addressed.
- Maritime Domain Awareness: The ministers discussed the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, designed to assist regional countries in combating illegal maritime activities and responding to climate-related events.
- Counter-terrorism: Counter-terrorism efforts were among the topics of discussion, reflecting the Quad's commitment to regional security.
- Geopolitical Crises: The ministers addressed various geopolitical crises, including ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Myanmar, as well as North Korea's ballistic missile launches.
Ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have recently alleged ceasefire violations by Azerbaijan as peace negotiations commence, while Baku vehemently denies the claims as "completely false."
- Talks amid Tensions: Delegations from both sides engage in talks in the Azeri city of Yevlakh, following a recently reached ceasefire agreement that could potentially end decades-long aspirations for Nagorno-Karabakh's independence from Baku.
- Nagorno-Karabakh's Status: While Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, it is predominantly inhabited by 120,000 ethnic Armenians.
- The region has been a longstanding point of contention between Baku and Yerevan, resulting in two previous wars.
- Casualty Figures: The Nagorno-Karabakh office for human rights reports over 200 ethnic Armenian deaths, including 10 civilians, during the recent fighting. Independent verification of the death toll remains pending.
- Disarmament and Integration: Azerbaijan demands that separatist political authorities in Karabakh disband before discussing the region's future, aiming for full integration.
- Uncertain Future: The question of how Azerbaijan will address the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh remains a central concern amid claims of Azerbaijani victory over the region.
- Historical Context: Nagorno-Karabakh's tumultuous history includes periods under the influence of Persians, Turks, Russians, Ottomans, and Soviets, adding complexity to the region's dynamics.
Recently, military leaders from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have jointly signed a mutual defence pact, known as the Liptako-Gourma Charter, with the aim of establishing a collective defence and mutual assistance framework against terrorism and insecurity in the Sahel region.
- Formation of Alliance of Sahel States (AES): Military leaders from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have signed the Liptako-Gourma Charter to establish the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).
- Shared Goal: The AES aims to create an architecture of collective defence and mutual assistance to benefit the populations of these Sahel countries.
- Region of Concern: The Liptako-Gourma region, where the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger converge, has faced significant challenges due to jihadist activities in recent years.
- Primary Objective: The key priority is to collectively combat terrorism within the territories of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
- ECOWAS Concern: The West African regional bloc ECOWAS had threatened military intervention in Niger following a coup in July.
- Declaration of War Warning: In response, Mali and Burkina Faso warned that any such operation would be considered a "declaration of war" against them.
- Mutual Defence Commitment: The Liptako-Gourma Charter binds the signatory countries to provide mutual assistance, including military support, in the event of an attack on any of them.
- Security Challenges: Mali has been dealing with jihadist threats from groups linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, as well as renewed hostilities by predominantly Tuareg armed groups.
- Complex Security Landscape: The escalation of military activities in the region presents challenges for Mali's stretched army and raises questions about the junta's claims of improving security.
- Peace Agreement Status: The 2015 peace agreement between Mali and Tuareg armed groups is considered largely ineffective.
- Jihadist Presence: Besides Tuareg-related conflicts, the region faces threats from jihadist organizations like the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM).
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un recently travelled to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin, an unusual meeting of two isolated leaders seeking support in their confrontations with Western nations.
- Mutual Needs: North Korea Leader is anticipated to request economic assistance and military technology for North Korea, while Russian President seeks munitions for Russia's ongoing conflict in Ukraine, creating an opportunity for both leaders.
- However, any arms deal with North Korea would breach past sanctions that Russia supported.
- Strategic Importance of Relations: North Korea’s leader emphasized the significance of his visit to Russia, marking his first foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic, as a demonstration of Pyongyang's prioritization of its relationship with Moscow.
- Potential Arms Supply: North Korea possesses aging artillery shells and rockets based on Soviet designs that could significantly aid the Russian army in Ukraine. Experts suggest that such supplies could be a key topic of discussion.
- Other Possible Agendas: North Korea may also seek energy and food supplies, and discussions on humanitarian aid are possible.
- Additionally, discussions about North Korean efforts to acquire spy satellites and nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines might take place.
- International Concern and Monitoring: South Korea's Foreign Ministry is closely monitoring Kim's visit and maintaining communication with Moscow to ensure that no U.N. member state violates sanctions against North Korea.
On 7th September, 2023, Britain announced its decision to participate in the European Union's flagship Horizon science research program and the Copernicus earth observation program. However, it declined to join the Euratom nuclear research initiative.
- EU's Scientific Research and Innovation Program: Horizon Europe is the European Union's primary funding program for scientific research and innovation, boasting a budget of 95.5 billion euros ($102.3 billion).
- Five Main Missions: The program focuses on five main missions, including adapting to climate change, creating climate-neutral cities, combating cancer, and restoring oceans and soil.
- Costs Incurred: Britain has agreed to cover costs starting from January 2024, as it did not contribute financially during the period when UK researchers were excluded, starting from 2021.
- Clawback Mechanism: A new automatic clawback mechanism ensures that the UK will be compensated if UK scientists receive significantly less funding than the UK contributes to the program.
- EU's Earth Observation Component: Copernicus, formerly known as GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), is part of the EU's Space program and focuses on Earth observation.
- Data Gathering: It collects data from satellites and other measurement systems to monitor climate changes, land use shifts, ocean information, and atmospheric conditions such as air quality.
- Benefits for Britain: Britain's association with Copernicus will provide its earth observation sector with access to valuable data for early flood and fire warnings, as well as the opportunity to bid on contracts that had been inaccessible for three years.
- Complementary to Horizon Europe: Euratom Research and Training program is described by the EU as a complementary funding program to Horizon Europe, concentrating on nuclear research and innovation, using similar instruments and participation rules.
- Britain Opts Out: Britain has chosen not to participate in Euratom, citing its preference for pursuing a domestic fusion energy strategy instead. This decision aligns with the preferences of the UK fusion sector.
On 5th September, 2023, during the 10th meeting of the Ministers of Law and Justice of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), India reiterated its dedication to the SCO charter's principles and highlighted its ongoing legal reforms and digital data protection efforts.
- India's Commitment to SCO Principles: India restated its commitment to the SCO charter, emphasizing principles like mutual trust, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and mutual benefit.
- Streamlining Legal Framework: India has abolished 1486 archaic laws, simplifying the legal framework and improving citizens' quality of life and the business environment.
- Promoting Alternative Dispute Resolution: India encourages 'mediation' as a primary means of conflict resolution.
- Adapting to Modern Realities: India is modernizing colonial-era laws like the Indian Penal Code (1860) and Criminal Procedure Code (1898) to cater to contemporary needs.
- Drawing from Legal Heritage: New laws draw inspiration from India's rich legal heritage.
- Digital Ecosystem: India emphasized the importance of protecting digital data and creating a secure digital ecosystem worldwide.
- Enhancing Cooperation: Commitment to enhance legal and judicial cooperation among SCO member nations.
- Implementation of Cooperation Agreement: Pledge to continue implementing the Co-operation Agreement.
- Facilitating Exchange: Plans to organize conferences and legal cooperation forums for experience sharing.
- Expert Working Groups: Commitment to sustain the work of Expert Working Groups on Forensic Expertise and Legal Services.
On 1st September, 2023, Indian-origin economist Tharman Shanmugaratnam has achieved a significant victory in Singapore's presidential election, triumphing over two Chinese-origin competitors in the nation's first contested presidential polls since 2011.
- Tharman Shanmugaratnam's Electoral Success: He secured an impressive 70.4% of the votes, he emerged as the clear winner.
- About President-Elect Tharman Shanmugaratnam: Tharman Shanmugaratnam, aged 66, ventured into politics in 2001 and launched his campaign for the presidency in July.
- During his campaign, he vowed to cultivate Singapore's culture, ensuring it remains a shining example globally.
- Tharman had previously served as Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister from 2011 to 2019 and held various ministerial roles.
- His election victory marks a momentous occasion, as Singapore experienced its first competitive presidential race since 2011.
Recently, a military coup in Gabon has plunged the nation into chaos, removing President Ali Bongo Ondimba from power just minutes after he was declared the winner of a contentious election.
Bongo had held the presidency for nearly 14 years, following in his family's decades-long rule over the country.
- Coup Unfolds: The military coup occurred immediately after Gabon's election authority announced Bongo's re-election.
- Soldiers in army uniforms took control of national television, invalidating the election results, closing borders, and dissolving key government institutions.
- Transitional Leader: Gen. Brice Oligui Nguema, once the bodyguard of Bongo's late father, was named the transitional leader by the junta.
- Oligui stated that Bongo was being treated as a normal citizen and enjoying all rights.
- Immediate Measures: The junta plans to temporarily reinstate the constitutional court, resume domestic flights, and establish transitional institutions.
- A curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. has been imposed, and borders remain closed.
- International radio and television channels have been restored.
- Coups in Africa: Recent coups in African countries, including Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Tunisia, and now Gabon, signal a resurgence of military takeovers.
- These coups often stem from issues like corruption, mismanagement, and poverty, resonating with disillusioned populations.
- International Responses: The African Union suspended Gabon from its activities due to the coup.
- The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) condemned the takeover and seeks a path to return to civilian rule.
- International leaders, including the UN Secretary-General and the US State Department, expressed concerns and opposition to the coup.
- Military Coups in Africa: Since 1950, there have been a total of 486 military coups attempted or carried out globally.
- Africa accounts for the largest share of these coups, with a total of 214 incidents, of which at least 106 have been successful.
Notable Recent Coups in Africa
- In July 2023, President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger was apprehended by members of the presidential guard within his palace.
- They subsequently made a televised announcement, declaring their intention to assume control in order to address the "worsening security conditions and governance issues."
- In January 2022, Burkina Faso witnessed a military intervention where the army removed President Roch Kabore.
- The army cited Kabore's failure to contain violence by Islamist militants as the reason for the coup.
- Later in September of the same year, another coup occurred when army Captain Ibrahim Traoré forcibly deposed Paul Henri-Damiba.
- In September 2021, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, commander of the special forces, overthrew President Alpha Conde.
- The coup was triggered by Conde's change of the constitution, allowing him to stand for a third term, which led to widespread rioting.
- In April 2021, Chad's army seized power following the death of President Idriss Deby on the battlefield while visiting troops in the north.
- In August 2020, a group of Malian colonels removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
- The coup followed anti-government protests related to deteriorating security, contested legislative elections, and allegations of corruption.
- Nine months later, a countercoup took place, with Assimi Goita, who was named vice president after the first coup, leading the second and becoming the head of state.
- In October 2021, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan led a military takeover in Khartoum.
- The coup dissolved a ruling council that shared power between the army and civilians, causing turmoil in Sudan's democratic transition.
Reasons for Coups in Africa
Questioning Democracy amid Economic Challenges
- A decline in the quality of life has led to skepticism about the benefits of democracy.
- Citizens face rising living costs due to inflation and armed group attacks in the Sahel and Great Lakes regions.
- The World Bank predicts a further drop in economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa from 3.6% in 2022 to 3.1% in 2023.
- Despite the focus on democratic governance by leaders and the international community, civilian leaders are losing support.
External Factors Fueling the Desire for Change
- Most recent coups occurred in former French colonies, with France facing some blame.
- Coupmakers often use anti-French rhetoric to gain popular support.
- France has been criticized for its continued influence in its former colonies and support for authoritarian governments.
- However, attributing all blame to outsiders may oversimplify the issue.
The Role of Democratic Dividends
- Lack of democratic benefits for citizens is a significant reason why coups find support.
- Despite hopes for a better future, military governments may also fail to deliver these benefits.
- Military rule may provide temporary relief but worsen the overall situation, akin to scratching an itchy wound.
Recently, China has unveiled its official "standard map," asserting territorial claims over Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin, Taiwan, and the South China Sea, a move that has drawn strong reactions from India and other nations.
- Strong Indian Reaction: India's Foreign Minister criticized China's act of releasing the map, referring to it as "absurd claims" that would not alter the status of these territories.
- India lodged a strong protest against China's map.
- India's External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson reiterated that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India and dismissed China's claims.
- Previous Incidents: This incident follows earlier attempts by China in April to rename 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh, which were similarly rejected by India.
- BRICS Summit Interaction: Last week, during the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, Indian Prime Minister and the Chinese President had a brief interaction where they discussed "unresolved issues" along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and agreed to work towards early disengagement and de-escalation.
- Standoff Situation: India and China have been in a standoff for the past three years, with deteriorating relations due to tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
- The two nations have held 19 rounds of talks to address boundary issues in eastern Ladakh since 2020.
Basis of Chinese Claims on Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh
- Tibetan Claims Leading to Chinese Assertions: The Chinese claims over Aksai Chin, Ladakh, and Arunachal Pradesh are deeply rooted in Tibet's historical claims. China argues that if Tibet is an integral part of China, any territorial demands made by Tibet over these regions are inherently China's claims.
- Tibetan Claims Post-Independence: In 1959, India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, revealed to the Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament) that shortly after India's independence in 1947, the Tibetan government had put forward territorial claims.
- China's Perspective on Ladakh and Arunachal: China's stance on Ladakh is centered on the belief that it forms an integral part of the western region of Tibet. In the case of Arunachal Pradesh, China considers it part of southern Tibet. The key to this claim lies in the Tawang monastery, a significant Buddhist institution located in Arunachal Pradesh.
- Tawang Monastery and Historical Influence: From a broader Tibetan viewpoint, the Tawang monastery is regarded as an indispensable element of the Tibetan Gelug theocratic institution. Consequently, it is argued that Tawang should remain closely linked to Tibet. Historical records suggest that Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, continued to wield both spiritual and temporal authority over Monyul (Tawang).
- British India's ability to enforce the Simla Convention in the region remained limited until 1938, as documented by Phunchok Stobdan in his book "The Great Game in the Buddhist Himalayas: India and China's Quest for Strategic Dominance."
Territorial Claims and Disputes: A Comprehensive Overview
- Bhutan: China's territorial claims on Bhutan have expanded beyond the 2017 standoff in Doklam Plateau.
- Nepal: China's territorial disputes with Nepal trace back to the Sino-Nepal War in 1788-1792, during which Beijing asserted that these regions were part of Tibet and, by extension, China.
- The Yellow Sea and the East China Sea: China faces Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) disputes with North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea and with South Korea and Japan in the East China Sea. Additionally, it claims the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands of Japan in the East China Sea.
- South China Sea: China asserts ownership of nearly the entire South China Sea, citing "historic rights." This region is vital for maritime trade, handling annual trade worth $3.5 trillion. Multiple disputes over islands, boundaries, and waters involve Taiwan, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, and Vietnam.
- Koreas: China claims the entire Korean peninsula due to historical ties, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty. Tensions also exist over the Baekdu Mountain.
- Russia: Despite agreements, China unilaterally asserts control over 160,000 sq km of Russia's territory, particularly in Far East Russia, which is rich in resources. Recent controversies arose over Vladivostok's history, with some claiming it belonged to China during the Qing Dynasty.
- Tajikistan, Laos, Cambodia, and Mongolia: Historical Precedents: China cites historic precedents, particularly under the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, to claim parts of Tajikistan, most of Laos, segments of Cambodia, and all of Mongolia.
- Tibet: An Ongoing Controversy: China claims Tibet as part of its sovereign territory, referencing its rule during the Yuan Dynasty. Modern Tibet is divided, with the Tibet Autonomous Region under direct Chinese control.