Fortnightly Review & Analysis: ASEAN, Indo-Pacific, East Asia, Japan & China (Vol 2 Issue X)

May 16-31, 2017

Zakir Naik’s unhindered public activities in Southeast Asia

Zakir Naik’s unhindered public activities in Southeast Asia raise serious concerns. Of great concern is his travel and speeches in the politically charged climate prior to the gubernatorial elections in Indonesia. In the run-up to the election, radical Muslim groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir argued that Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, “Ahok”, second non-Muslim Governor of Jakarta responded by saying those making such an argument were misleading Muslims — a statement that was interpreted by some as insulting the Quran. In later turn of events, the popular governor Ahok lost by nearly 58% votes to Anies Baswedan in a religiously tinged election and was sentenced to two years in prison for “blasphemy”. While it may be difficult to infer the direct impact of Naik’s speeches on the election results, the provocative and conservative reinforcing content of Naik’s speeches is worth noting. On April 2, in a university in Bandung, Zaik argued that Muslims should always choose one of their own rather than a non-Muslim as a friend or leader. On April 8, in front of a 20,000 strong crowd in Bekasi suburb in Jakarta, Naik preached that Indonesians should elect only a Muslim leader.

Naik has moving around between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, African and Southeast Asian countries after the Indian authorities initiated efforts to compel Interpol for issuance of a Red Corner Notice (RCN) against him. He is now reportedly seeking Malaysian citizenship after being granted permanent residency five years back (as disclosed by Malaysia’s Home Ministry). However, a decision has yet to be made about his Malaysian citizenship application. He was also reported in May by a Middle East press agency to have been granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia though the information has yet to be verified by any authority. Naik is also a central figure in a March 1 civil lawsuit filed by Malaysian human rights group Hindraf against the federal government, which it accused of failing to protect the country from Naik whom they claim to be a security threat to public order, morality and peaceful co-existence of multi-racial Malaysia.
Indonesian Police link IS to Jakarta Bombings

Indonesian Police confirmed that the dual suicide bombings in Jakarta on May 24 that killed three police officers and injured 10 were linked to the Islamic State (IS) group. Indonesia's national police spokesman, Setyo Wasisto, said pressure cookers packed with shrapnel, such as nails and metal, were used in the attack, and confirmed links to IS. A similar bomb was used in February in the city of Bandung by a lone attacker, killed by police, whom authorities suspected of having links to a radical network sympathetic to Islamic State. The May 24 attack came just two days after the May 22 suicide bombing in Manchester, and police believe it could have been a potential trigger. According to police reports, police may have been the target of the attack as extra officers were deployed in the area to guard a torch rally to mark the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Speaking after the attacks, Wasisto said the attack was linked to the growing global terror spread across Europe to neighboring country Philippines. There has been a series of low-level attacks linked to IS in Indonesia since January 2016, when four militants mounted a gun and bomb assault in the heart of Jakarta. Eight people were killed in that attack, including the militants. Authorities in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation are increasingly worried about a surge in radicalism, driven in part by a new generation of militants inspired by IS. On the contrary, Indonesian analysts assert that many of the country's militants lack the capacity to launch serious attacks. According to them, a sustained crackdown has weakened many Islamic militant networks but the emergence of IS may prove proved a potent new rallying cry for radicals. Authorities believe about 400 Indonesians have gone to join the militant group in Syria, and could pose a more lethal threat if they come home.

IS, Foreign Fighters, Mindanao Violence and Duterte’s Martial Law

In recent years, small militant groups in Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have begun unifying under the banner of Islamic State (IS). As IS sees setbacks in other regions, Southern Philippines, with porous borders and separatist violence, is becoming the center of gravity of IS expansion into Southeast Asia. Large numbers of foreign jihadis joined IS sympathizers against security forces in Marawi city on the island of Mindanao in late May indicating that the restive region. According to Reuters, authorities in Jakarta believe 38 Indonesians travelled to southern Philippines to join IS-affiliated groups, with about 22 of them joining the fighting in Marawi City. Philippines intelligence sources estimate that in the 400-500 fighters who overran Marawi city, 40 fighters came from overseas. They include Indonesians, Malaysians, at least one Pakistani, a Saudi, a Chechen, a Yemeni, an Indian, a Moroccan and one man with a Turkish passport.

The violence began on May 22 when dozens of gunmen went on a rampage throughout Marawi after security forces attempted to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant regarded as the local leader of IS. But street-to-street battles and a relentless military bombing campaign has failed to end the crisis in Marawi, one of the biggest Muslim cities in the mainly Catholic Philippines, and authorities have expressed alarm about the fate of those trapped. On May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the southern third of the Philippines shortly after the fighting erupted, warning the gunmen were involved in an effort to set up a local caliphate. Duterte indicated that he will ignore the Supreme Court and congress as he enforces martial law, despite the constitution giving them oversight. The Philippine Constitution, adopted in 1987, imposed limits on martial law to prevent a repeat of the abuses carried out under the Marcos regime, which ended a year earlier.


Second Session of 21st Century Panglong Conference Concludes without Much Gains

The second session of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference ended on May 29 after having been extended by one day. The Federation of Ethnic Nationalities recently showed up at the second session of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in Naypyidaw, but they could not participate in the main event as they are not signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). However, they had separate meetings with the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but nothing much came out of the meetings.

The ethnic armed organizations (EAO) led by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) have been questioning the government and the military on their approach to the peace process. The Northern Alliance comprising of UWSA, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA) had held their conference in mid-April to coordinate their approaches. These EAOs are the major hold outs and have not joined the Panglong conference in a meaningful way. They have also formed the “Federation of Ethnic Nationalities”. Tatmadaw sees them as an obstacle on the path to peace and reconciliation. This is the group which has not signed the NCA and therefore, they could take part in the political dialogue among other things.

Federalism and its nature and structure that needs to be ushered in remains the bone of contention between the government, Tatmadaw and NCA-signatory ethnic armed groups. A major issue that received lot of attention and which was the subject of heated debates was the question of including ‘non-secession’ as one of the abiding principles or guidelines for ongoing peace process. While military and the government insist on its inclusion, the ethnic armed groups feel that there is no need for that as it is already implicit in the ongoing process. Some NCA signatory groups have also argued that that by signing the NCA text, the signatory groups had demonstrated trust in what are referred to as the state’s—and previously the military regimes’—Three Main (National) Causes: “non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national solidarity and perpetuation of sovereignty.” However, the government circles apparently feel less assured in case ‘non-secession’ is not specifically mentioned in the agreement because of historical implications of this term as it was part of the Panglong 1947 Agreement. Since the armed groups were against inclusion of ‘non-secession’ therefore, according to the government officials, there was no agreement on the questions of having own state constitutions or self-determination.

India – Pacific Islands Countries Sustainable Development Conference

In keeping with the view of growing ties with the Pacific Island nations, Government of India hosted the ‘India – Pacific Islands Sustainable Development Conference’ in Suva, Fiji on the 25th & 26th May 2017. The Conference was held under the aegis of the Forum for India Pacific Islands Co-operation (FIPIC), which was created in 2014 during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Fiji in order to foster closer co-operation between India and fourteen Pacific Island countries. The conference marks another crucial step in India’s engagement with the Pacific Island countries. The objective of the meeting is to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience, and initiate partnerships and collaborations for the benefit of all participating countries. Issues discussed include blue economy, international solar alliance initiatives and climate change adaptation, mitigation and disaster preparedness.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his message to the conference, expressed hope that the conference would enable a better understanding of opportunities and the challenges faced by the region. It was also declared during the conference that India will contribute USD 1 million to Fiji’s Trust Fund for their Presidency of COP-23 to be held in November 2017. Several Memoranda of Understanding were signed by India with Pacific Island Nations to deepen co-operation across a variety of fields. These include MoUs for setting up of Centres of Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT) with Fiji, Cook Islands, Nauru, Samoa and Niue. India and Fiji also signed three MOUs for cooperation in the field of youth development, broadcasting agencies of two countries, renewable energy etc.


India-Singapore Conclude SIMBEX 2017 Bilateral Naval Exercise

The Indian Navy and the Singapore Navy concluded its 24th edition of bilateral military exercise in the South China Sea from May 18–24, 2017. SIMBEX is an acronym for “Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercises”. Bilateral cooperation between Singapore and India was first formalised when RSN ships began training with the Indian Navy in 1994. Over the years, the SIMBEX has grown in scope and complexity, expanding beyond its conventional emphasis on anti-submarine warfare to today’s mission based exercise – incorporating scenarios with threats from surface, sub surface and in air. This year’s edition of SIMBEX-17 was the 24th in the series and was aimed to increase interoperability between the two navies as well as develop common understanding and procedures for maritime security operations. The scope of the current exercise includes wide-ranging professional interactions during the Harbour Phase was held from 18 May to 20 May, 2017 at Singapura – Changi Naval base and a diverse range of operational activities at sea during the Sea Phase was exercised from May, 21 – 24, 2017 in the South China Sea. This year, the thrust of the exercises at sea was on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), integrated operations with Surface, Air and Sub-surface forces, Air Defence and Surface Encounter Exercises. For SIMBEX 2017 India deployed its strategic assets like INS Shivalik, INS Sahyadri, INS Jyoti and INS Kamorta along with one P8-i Neptune Patril and ASW Aircraft. The Singapore Navy was represented by Ships Supreme, Formidable and Victory and Maritime Patrol Aircraft Fokker F-50 in addition to the RSAF F-16 aircraft.

The two navies share a long standing relationship with regular professional interactions that include exchange programs, staff talks and training courses. In January 2017, India and Singapore renewed an agreement to allow Royal Singapore Air Force to continue joint military training at Kalaikunda Air Force Station, West Bengal, for further five years providing an opportunity for RSAF pilots to train with India’s advanced Su-30 combat jets.
China reacted to SIMBEX 2017 in South China Sea by saying it has “open attitude” towards exchange between countries that benefits regional peace and security.

The Koreas

Two Missile Tests by North Korea: Experts Give Varying Verdicts

This fortnight, North Korea conducted two missiles tests on May 21 and May 29 after an earlier test on May 14 that was seen as a leap by analysts. According to US and South Korean officials, May 21 test was of a medium-range, solid fueled ballistic missile (KN-15/ Pukguksong-2), while May 29 test was most certainly a Scud missile (intermediate range and liquid fueled). The May 29 test came just days after the Group of Seven (G-7) leaders issued a statement calling on North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapon and missile development programs. According to Pyongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), May 29 test proved North Korean ability to launch and guide a warhead equipped "with control wings." Such a warhead, also known as a "maneuverable re-entry vehicle," enables it to make corrections in midflight for greater accuracy. Kim Jong Un was also quoted to have said that the reclusive state would develop more powerful weapons in accordance with its timetable and send a bigger 'gift package' to the Yankees" in retaliation for American military provocation. KCNA cited a day later the May 29 exercises of US Air Force flying B-1 bombers over South Korea calling them "a grave military provocation."

As per some news reports, the US Navy has reportedly ordered a third nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (USS Nimitz) to join the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan off North Korea amid the increasing tensions. Earlier in May, Reuters reported that United Nations experts investigating violations of sanctions on North Korea suffered a “sustained” cyber-attack by unknown hackers with “very detailed insight” into their work. On the contrary, Bruce Bennett, a senior international defense researcher at the Rand Corp, remarked that the frequency of Kim's missile testing in view of Chinese disapproval may indicate some instability in North Korea, perhaps discontent with the regime from North Korean elites. May 29 missile test drew immediate protests from Japan and South Korea. US President Donald Trump tweeted that North Korea showed "great disrespect" for longtime ally China with the test. China has called on Pyongyang to suspend its nuclear and missile testing while calling on the US to stop military exercises on and near the Korean Peninsula.

John Delury, a professor at Seoul's Yonsei University, quoted that "to some extent this is more a missile crisis than a nuclear crisis. What the Americans are really worked up about is the ICBM capability," he said. On May 30, the US military tested its ground-based mid-course defense (GMD) system which includes a five-foot "kill vehicle" released from a larger ground-based interceptor missile to obliterate a mock ICBM. The mock threat was launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshall Islands, and met by an interceptor launched from a silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The test was led by the Missile Defense Agency, and also included the Air Force's 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg and US Northern Command, which oversees the defense of the United States at home.

South Korea Approves Civilian Contact with North Korea

South Korea, on May 26, 2017, authorized a civic group to contact North Korea over aid programs. It is the first of its kind good will gesture shown by South Korea since North Korean nuclear test in January 2016. It underscored the newly established government of President Moon Jae-in’s commitment to find ways to improve strained ties with North Korea. The Unification Ministry also said that the Seoul-based Korean Sharing Movement would be allowed to communicate with North Korea to discuss how to deal with malaria in North Korea. The civic group confirmed that it will contact North Korea via fax or email to provide North Korea with mosquito nets and repellent. Moon’s government supports expanding inter-Korean civilian exchanges. It is however anticipated that, Moon won’t push for any major rapprochement projects because North Korea has gone too far on its aggressive missile and nuclear program.

South Korean Budget 2017

South Korean parliament, on May 27, 2017 approved a 400.5 trillion won ($341.4 billion) budget bill for next year after the government and parties resolved their differences over a controversial free child care program. The total approved by lawmakers is 200 billion smaller than proposed by the government. The 2 trillion won child care program for those age three to five was the crucial point in the budget negotiations. Political parties demanded the central government fund 1 trillion won for the program, with the remainder backed by provincial education offices. The government, however, claimed it could only provide up to 700 billion won. It marks the first time in 16 years for South Korea's income tax rate to reach 40 percent. The highest rate bracket, which hovered around 70 percent in the 1970s, continued to decline over the past decades to reach 36 percent in 2002 and then went up to 38 percent in 2012, which currently applies to those earning more than 150 million won per year. The latest change is expected to enable the government to collect around 600 billion won more annually.

The new budget plan also slashed funding on projects presumed to be linked with President Park Geun-hye's confidante Choi Soon-sil, who has been at the center of the influence-peddling scandal that has rocked the country over last two months. For strengthening South Korea's defense capabilities, the parliament and the government decided to spend 1.6 trillion won on the development of key systems, namely the "Kill Chain" strike system, and the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) and Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) programs. The budget plan moreover increased the amount of funds to be spent on establishing counter-earthquake systems by 140.3 billion won. Government projects that have proved ineffective in creating jobs will be scrapped or downsized, while industries that young Koreans prefer working in, such as gaming and technology, will receive more government investment next year.

The budget assumed the economy will grow by a real 3.0 percent next year, versus a projected 2.8 percent expansion for this year and last year's actual 2.6 percent growth. In its medium-term fiscal management plans for 2016 to 2020, the ministry said government spending would grow by an average 3.5 percent each year.


Restarting of more Nuclear Reactors amidst persistent Concerns

Japan is accelerating efforts to restart its reactors after shutting down all for safety checks post the triple disasters in 2011. Six years later, only three of 42 operable reactors have come online: Kyushu Electric’s Sendai 1 and 2 (restarted in 2015), and Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata 3 (restarted in August 2016). Kansai Electric (KEPCO) Takahama 3 and 4 were restarted but later idled after a March 2016 court injunction lodged by anti-nuclear activists. However, earlier in March this year, the Osaka High Court ruling removed the injunction. KEPCO restarted the No. 4 reactor at its Takahama nuclear plant earlier this month. It also intends to resume operations at the Takahama plant's No. 3 reactor next month. KEPCO’s two other reactors at Oi Nuclear Power Plant also gained Nuclear Regulatory Authority’ (NRA) clearance to restart in May. However, seismologist Kunihiko Shimazaki who was a former commissioner of the NRA, has warned that the authority may have underestimated quake hazards at the Oi plant. The number of reactors to get NRA clearance presently stands at 12 reactors in six power stations.

Abe administration has been promoting the restart of nuclear reactors to strengthen Japan’s energy security. However, the rush to restart them has highlighted Japan’s lack of final repository for its high-level radioactive waste. Original plans to first reprocess spent fuel at the Rokkasho facility in Aomori Prefecture before final disposal have long been stalled. The Rokkasho reprocessing plant’s commercial operation has been delayed 23 times, and the fast reactor program to consume the plutonium is still moribund. At present, there are about 18,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored in about 40,000 canisters at Japan’s nuclear power plants.

Sale of Toshiba Semiconductor Unit: Tensions with Western Digital

Toshiba Corporation's plan to sell off its semiconductor unit suffered a major blow after its US (semi-conductor) partner Western Digital Corporation asked the International Court of Arbitration on May 14 to block the sale of the unit. The US firm claims while rejecting the sale of the semiconductor unit to any outside company, has put its name forward in the bidding process. Notably, Western Digital's bid of about 1.6 trillion yen is lower than Toshiba's desired amount of 2 trillion yen or above. At a press conference on May 15, Toshiba President Satoshi Tsunakawa hit back at Western Digital, insisting that the firm's move to sell off its semiconductor unit has "not infringed any contractual obligations." On the same day, Toshiba announced a negative net worth of 540 billion yen as of the end of March 2017. This has raised strong fears that Toshiba might be delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange unless it regains a capital account surplus by selling off its successful semiconductor unit by the end of March 2018. However, with Western Digital impeding the sale with its request to the International Court of Arbitration, there are now concerns that the sale will not be completed in time as it could take several years for the case to settle.

The Japanese government wants to sell the company’s semi-conductor business to a domestic buyer given concerns about security around systems already using Toshiba’s memory chips. But foreign bidders are proving highly aggressive. Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (or Foxconn), South Korea’s SK Hynix Inc. and US chipmaker Broadcom Ltd. have all submitted preliminary bids for the Toshiba unit as per media sources. The government-backed Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, and Development Bank of Japan are expected to enter later bidding rounds as part of a consortium, anonymous sources have said
Nationwide Protests over Anti-Conspiracy Bill

Protests erupted across Japan this fortnight in response to the forced passage of the “anti-conspiracy” bill. In the capital Tokyo, protesters gathered at the National Diet Building. Protests were also held in three major cities in the prefectures of Aichi, Gifu, and Mie, later spreading to the farthest reaches of the country in Hokkaido and Okinawa. The bill that would criminalize preparations for terrorism and other crimes by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy, entered the House of Councilors on May 29. The controversial bill was passed in the House of Representatives on May 23 despite vehement opposition. The Japanese government states that the bill must be passed in order for Japan to sign on to the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC). Becoming a CTOC signatory would enable Japan to enjoy mutual cooperation in investigations and extradition of criminals. If passed, the anti-conspiracy legislation would make 277 offenses subject to conspiracy charges, in their planning and preparatory stages. The government has said that only organized crime groups would be subject to such charges.

However, concerns remain that everyday people will be subjected to police investigation, opening the way to a surveillance society. Such concerns saw three past conspiracy bills fail to clear the Diet. Besides when the Liberal Democratic Party's Judicial Affairs Division drafted a sub-committee proposal on anti-conspiracy measures in 2007, the number of crimes was limited to 128. In comparison, the number of offenses Spain included under its legislation to sign the UN treaty was 46, while Switzerland listed roughly 100 crimes.

China & Taiwan

Chinese Couple Kidnapped from Quetta

Two Chinese teachers were kidnapped on 24 May 2017 from Quetta, the capital city of southwest Baluchistan. The couple taught the Chinese language at the language center. Gunmen dressed as police stopped the couple’s car and shot and wounded a man who intervened after he rescued a third person who was in the car. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

On 25 May 2017, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said, “The Chinese government attaches great importance to the safety of overseas Chinese citizens and condemns the abduction of personnel in any form. After the incident happened, the Chinese government, along with relevant departments, the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan and the Chinese Consulate General in Karachi, immediately launched the emergency response mechanism. We keep close communication with Pakistan, request relevant Pakistani authorities to take more effective measure to rescue the abducted while ensuring their safety, and take more effective measures to secure the safety of Chinese citizens and organs in Pakistan.”

China’s Ministry of Commerce Published Research Report on China-US Economic and Trade Relations

On 25 May 2017, the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China issued a 117 pages report titled, “Research Report on China-US Economic and Trade Relations”. It is divided into four parts; the historical background of China-US Economic and trade relations, the mutually beneficial nature of China-US economic and trade relations, major concerns about China-US economic and trade relations and promoting the development of China-US trade and economic cooperation. It provides an overview of economic and trade engagement and brings out China’s concern on the certain issue.

The report lists major concerns from both the sides. For the US, its trade deficit with China, RMB exchange rate, excess capacity, market access and protection of intellectual property rights are major areas of concerns. For China, fulfillment of the obligations under Article 15 of China’s protocol on the accession of the WTO, US export control against China, fair treatment of Chinese enterprises investing in the US and abuse of trade remedy measures of the US are the areas of concerns vis-a-vis the US. It also offered to enhance infrastructure cooperation with the US, opening up more market access and help create more jobs for Americans through its e-commerce platforms. It also draws up a list of concessions that can help deliver a “win-win” trade relationship with the US.

It is the first time that China has officially released research report on China-US economic and trade relations. The main purpose of the report is to enhance communication between the two countries.

China’s Reaction to G7 Communique

The G7 meeting took place on 26-27 May 2017 in Taormina, Italy. On 27 may 2017, the G7 countries issued the joint communiqué. The communiqué issued a statement on the East and South China Sea, “We affirm our commitment to maintaining a rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principle of international law, including as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes through diplomatic and legal means, including arbitration. We remain concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly opposed to any unilateral actions that could increase tensions. We urge all parties to pursue demilitarization of disputed features.”

China condemned this statement and asked the group to “stop making irresponsible remarks”. The China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, "We are strongly dissatisfied at the G7 Summit gesticulating over the issues of the East and South China seas under the guise of international law." He said China's position on the East and South China seas issues is "clear and consistent". He urged, “We hope the G7 and countries outside the regions will clearly understand the situation, observe their promises of not taking positions on the disputes, fully respect regional countries' efforts to manage disputes, stop making irresponsible remarks and play a constructive role for regional peace and stability.”

This is not the first time the issue was discussed at G7 summit. Even in 2016, the G7 Summit adopted a joint declaration which touched upon the South China Sea issue. On 27 May 2016, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “China’s action in the South China Sea, which are justifiable, lawful and beyond any reproach, fall entirely with China’s sovereignty. China has long been an upholder of the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. However, the freedom of navigation does not give others a license to do whatever they want. China is firmly against certain countries slinging mud at China under the pretext of upholding the freedom of navigation. The fact is that more countries and organisations are showing understanding and support to China’s settlement of South China Sea disputes with relevant countries through negotiation and consultation following bilateral agreements and regional consensus, opposing intervention from countries outside the region and endorsing China’s efforts to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

The European Union Refuse to Endorse Belt and Road Initiative Trade Statement

The European Union (EU) refused to sign a trade statement at the Belt and Road Forum for the International Cooperation held in Beijing. The rejected statement related to a trade panel held during the Beijing summit that was attended by representatives of countries including Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Hungry, Italy, and Spain. The EU members decided not to support China’s trade statement because a series of concerns they had raised with the Chinese government were not incorporated into the draft text, one of three prepared to mark the end of the convention.

The EU members had reservations over Beijing’s ambitious plans to create a New Silk Road for inter-continental trade and infrastructure, demanding guarantees from China on free trade. The EU members wanted assurances that projects would be economically and environmentally sustainable and subject to fair tendering process. However, these were not incorporated into the draft text released. German Economy Minister, Brigitte Zypries said, “EU countries are determined not to sign a joint statement on trade unless China meets their demand. Further, he said, “So far the demands of the EU countries in areas such as free trade, setting a level playing field and equal conditions have not been met.” The German government wants to see that German companies have the same kind of access to the Chinese market as Chinese companies have in Germany and that they can be 100 percent active as investors. Another EU diplomat said that for Europe, the BRI can only be a success if it’s based on transparency and co-ownership.

China’s Reaction to Dhola-Sadiya Bridge

On 26 May 2017, the 9.15 km Dhola-Sadiya Bridge was inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi. The bridge is built over river Lohit, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, and links Dhola in Assam to Sadiya in Arunachal Pradesh. It is proposed to ensure smooth connectivity between upper Assam and the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh. According to Press Information Bureau Government of India Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, “The Bridge will ensure 24x7 connectivity between upper Assam and Eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh, making a major transformation from the ferry-based, day-only connectivity that collapsed during floods. It will also reduce the distance and travel time between the two states. The distance between Rupai on NH-37 in Assam to Meka/Roing on NH-52 in Arunachal Pradesh will be cut down by 165 KM. The travel time between the two places will come down from the current six hours to just one hour- a total five hour reduction.”

The bridge will enhance India’s overall defence capabilities in the northeastern region and give the army a shorter and smoother access to the border areas in Arunachal Pradesh. It will also benefit the army, with convoys requiring less time to travel from Assam to the posts along the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh. The new bridge will give a quicker access to the army and even withstand the movement of battle tanks. At present, the army enters Arunachal Pradesh via Tezpur in Assam. It takes almost two days from Tezpur to reach the border in Arunachal Pradesh.

China has reacted to the inauguration of the bridge asking India to be “cautious” and exercise “restrain” over building infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated, “We hope India adopts a cautious and restrained attitude on the issue before the final settlement of the border issue with China to jointly control disputes, safeguard peace and tranquility in the border areas.”

World Health Assembly rejects Taiwan’s Observer Status

The 70th session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) has rejected Taiwan as the permanent observer. Taiwan is not a United Nation member but had been a WHA observer since 2009. In 2009, under the Ma Ying-jeou government (KMT), Taiwan was granted observer status at the WHA on recommendation from China as cross-strait relations were warming. According to Li Bin, the health minister of China, “From 2009-2016, the central government made arrangements for Taiwan to attend the assembly as an observer under the name “Chinese Taipei,” in accordance with the “1992 consensus” reached between the Chinese mainland Taiwan.” The WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said, “Cross-strait understanding between Taiwan and China has been the basis for the invitation for the Taiwanese representatives as observers since 2009. To my understanding, the understanding hasn’t been reached until now…. To my understanding the ‘one China’ policy is a UN accepted policy; Beijing is representing the one China.”

Evidently, the reason for the Taiwan’s exclusion is mainly because of Taiwan’s ruling party Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) refusal to recognise the 1992 Consensus. On Monday, the director of Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhang Zhijun, said, “the Tsai government’s refusal to recognize the 1992 Consensus was responsible for the breakdown of communication channels between Beijing and Taipei and for Taiwan’s ineligibility to participate in the World Health Assembly. China’s health minister stated that the door would remain shut to Taiwan until the DPP made concessions.”

Taiwan rejected this unilateral and inaccurate characterization by the WHO and expressed strong dissatisfaction to the WHO. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan said, “We are the sole government representing the people of Taiwan, and take responsibility for the health and welfare of the Taiwanese people. The politically motivated exclusion of Taiwan violates the WHO Constitution, and is tantamount to depriving Taiwan’s people of their rights. We look for the WHO and related parties to recognize the justice and importance of Taiwan’s participation in the WHA, such that there be no gap in the disease prevention network, and that together, all might work for the advancement of human health worldwide.”