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India, Australia Could Sign Pact For A Military Base In Andaman’s and Cocos Islands – Experts

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Indian military base in Cocos (Keeling) Island could be a reality. Amid flaring tensions with China, India and Australia could sign pact to gain strategic access to Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Cocos Island to counter Chinese aggression.

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The upcoming virtual bilateral-summit between the Indian PM Narendra Modi and Australian PM Scott Morrison could lay the ground for signing a pact on the mutual use of India’s Andaman and the Nicobar Islands and Australia’s Cocos Islands for military purposes.

It had been reported in January when the Australian PM was originally scheduled for a visit to India that the top leaders intend to discuss upon maritime security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region.

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“For India, Australia is a key partner in its Indo-Pacific strategy and for Australia, the Indo-Pacific is of strategic importance. This will be on the agenda for talks between the two sides as well as dialogue on Quad which involves countries including India, Japan, US and Australia,” according to experts.

Even as a trade route, both India and Australia acknowledge the importance attached to it. Moreover, Marie Izuyama a Japanese scholar believes that “the importance Australia places on the Indian Ocean can be observed in the 2013 Defence White Paper.”

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“The white paper expresses the view that the Indian Ocean is developing into a trade corridor surpassing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and states that as Australia has a vital interest in the security of the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean which will be featured in its defence and security planning,” wrote the scholar.

Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Cocos Islands

India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands lie close to the straits of Malacca and Australia’s Cocos islands to the Indonesian straits of Sunda, Lombok, and Ombai-Wetar. Strategically placed, these straits are together the entry and exit points between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans which forms an advantageous prospect in the favour of both India and Australia

In March this year, the Indian Naval forces found that Beijing had deployed about 12 underwater drones in the Indian Ocean to gather oceanography data. This kind of data is generally employed for naval intelligence purposes and primarily submarine warfare. China has often been accused of carrying out similar operations in the Pacific as well.

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The islands in question, India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Australia’s Cocos Islands are already been used for surveillance purposes. However, a joint effort that involves a coordinated effort would enable New Delhi and Canberra to strengthen their presence in the region and function more efficiently together.

Experts believe that if the India-Australia pact is signed then New Delhi would find it easy to monitor the area extending between Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the north to Cocos Islands in the south. Similarly, Canberra would not only be enabled to expand its influence in the eastern Indian Ocean but will also have access to a platform for strengthening its military presence in the area.

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The multiple chokepoints would also allow efficient tracking of hostile submarines which can lead to joint anti-submarine warfare missions. India-Australia pact around a group of strategic islands which have historically been closed to each other sends a clear message of intensifying trust between two key players of the Indo-Pacific,” writes Darshana Baruah.

Reviewed By Vipasha Kaushal, New Delhi

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BUSTED: Xi Jinping Asks Army To Be ‘Battle Ready’ Againt India As China Evacuating Its Citizens

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India-China border tensions are increasing but Beijing has accused the Indian media of adding fuel to the fire by reporting fabricated news. China is planning to evacuate its citizens from India and the media have directly linked it to India-China border conflict, says Beijing. 

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The evacuation program should be seen as a regular service provided by the embassy to its citizens. Yet, some Indian news outlets have deliberately connected the evacuation to the border tension between China and India, fueling a new round of reckless speculation that China may be preparing for war, a report in Global Times says.

It is logical that Beijing would assist its citizens to return to their home country, given the challenges in the aviation sector. India stopped all incoming international flights in late March, and its ongoing coronavirus lockdown has stranded students, visitors and businessmen, explains the GT.

GT says the New Delhi should not misunderstand the evacuation move by China this time. After all, it was not long ago that the Indian government repatriated its citizens from various nations.

Still, any attempt to increase the confusion between the two nations is extremely incorrect at present. GT says that the Indian economy is now suffering from crippling lockdown while poor people are facing the threat of famine. China has no intention of heightening the border disputes with India, so its support to its citizens during Covid-19 should not be over-interpreted.

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Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 26 called on the Chinese Army – PLA “to think about worst-case scenarios” and “scale up battle preparedness”. Xi commented during his annual meeting with the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) representatives attending the National People’s Congress.

However, Xi’ had also referred to “battle preparedness” during his meeting with the PLA in 2019. This year, his speech centred on the post-pandemic situation, as he heard the PLA members of Parliament reporting on “strengthening training amid the epidemic, and accelerating capacity building on biosecurity defence”.

India, Australia Could Sign Pact For A Military Base In Andaman’s and Cocos Islands – Experts

President Xi said the Covid-19 epidemic “brought a profound impact on the global landscape and on China’s security and development as well”. He “ordered the PLA to think about worst-case scenarios, scale up training and battle preparedness, quickly and efficiently manage with all sorts of complicated circumstances and firmly protect national sovereignty, security and interests,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.

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South Asia

India-China ‘Attempting’ To Resolve Border Dispute Locally; But Indian Army Will Not Back-Off

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The border dispute between India and China remains one of the most intense after the Doklam standoff. The latest news coming from the border is that the Indian Army will hold its ground firm remain in eastern Ladakh until a peaceful and diplomatic resolution is achieved. 

TOI quoting government sources said that India will continue to protect its interests resolutely, deploy appropriate resources and work towards a peaceful resolution of the border dispute with China while opposing Chinese intrusions in the contentious region.

India will soon recommence border infrastructure development which was hindered by the Covid-19 pandemic, but will remain “open and flexible” in diplomatic talks with Beijing in a bid to resolve the India-China border, TOI quoted the source.

The source calls Chinese as intruders and claims that all activities and border patrols by the Indian Army were being done within its own side of the LAC. “But despite that, the Chinese restrained the Indian patrols. Delhi and Beijing are working out the matter diplomatically but there won’t be any compromise when it comes to the defence of our territory.”

Meanwhile, Indian Express reports that India and China have initiated the “working mechanism” at the diplomatic level. This has been initiated beside the army-to-army dialogue to “dis-engage” and “de-escalate” the border dispute.

The “Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs” was founded in January 2012 after border talks between then-National Security Adviser (NSA) Shivshankar Menon and his counterpart Dai Bingguo, and is headed by joint secretary-level officials from both sides.

While joint secretary (East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Naveen Srivastava, heads the Indian side, Beijing is represented by Hong Liang from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China.

Srivastava is believed to be heading the border dialogue as the mandate of the mechanism is clear: “aim for up-to-date communication of information on the border situation” and “for competently managing border conflicts”.

India’s evaluation is that the Chinese are involved in what is known in military parlance as “holding the line”. While there is no accepted Line of Actual Control (LAC), both Chinese and Indian army soldiers patrol up to their “assumed lines” and then return.

In the present border dispute, it looks like the Chinese have breached the perceived border and are now dwelling-in, in an attempt to “hold the line”.

Although the attempt is to fix the border dispute “locally”, where soldiers move back to their original positions in the next “7 to 10 days”, Indian position is that the “Chinese PLA soldiers who have trespassed into Indian terrority must pull back while emphasizing that Indian soldiers were on their side of the LAC.

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Expert Reviews

How The Draconian ‘Digital Security Act’ Of Bangladesh Is Muzzling Press Freedom, Secular Voices?

At the heart of the attack against activists, bloggers and journalists is the Digital Security Act which came into effect in 2018 in Bangladesh.

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With the Digital Security Act in Bangladesh, journalists, bloggers, critics and even doctors are under fire as the Dhaka continues to muzzle freedom of expression. EurAsian Times analyses the Digital Security Act implemented by the Bangladesh government. 

While the Bangladeshi Constitution under Article 39 safeguards freedom of expression and speech and freedom of the press, the current government with its Digital Security Act does little to uphold it.

The South Asian nation is reeling from the coronavirus, however, this has not stopped Bangladesh from going after journalists who are unearthing stories about the government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

At least 20 journalists have been charged or arrested by Bangladesh in the last one month. Action against the media persons has been taken under the controversial and draconian Digital Security Act (DSA). According to reports from Bangladesh, arrests are based on social media posts critical of the government and its dealing of the coronavirus pandemic.

Digital Security Act

At the heart of the attack against activists, bloggers and journalists is the Digital Security Act which came into effect in 2018. The government introduced it as an improvement on the Information Technology Act under which nearly 1200 people were arrested.

However, Amnesty International has labelled the Digital Security Act even more repressive than the IT Act and claims that vague and overly broad provisions of the DSA could be used to intimidate and imprison journalists and social media users, silence critics and carry out invasive forms of monitoring.

In a nutshell, the Digital Security Act of Bangladesh gives police the power to arrest journalists and confiscate their equipment without a court order, carry out searches without a warrant, ask service providers and other intermediaries for data without requiring a court-obtained warrant or subpoena and places a 60-day window on the investigation.

The Bangladeshi government claims that the law is enacted to prevent cybercrime and not to control the role of the media but the reality on the ground says otherwise.

Nearly 60 cases have been filed against more than 100 people, including 22 journalists, under the Digital Security Act this year until May 6, according to a study by Article 19, a UK-based human rights body.

The Dhaka Tribune reports that it is not just voices journalists that are being muzzled. Medical professionals are barred from speaking to the media, the government is keeping a tab on social media and government officials have been directed not to share, like or comment on any social media post that is critical of the government.

Government cronies have not been shy in displaying their brutal tactics as physical attacks against journalists have surged too. According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, 15 journalists have been attacked in the last few weeks for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

German Broadcaster Deutsche Welle covered the plight of Sajal Bhuiyan, a journalist based in Narsingdi district. Bhuiyan was beaten up for reporting on misappropriation of food grains and was prevented from being taken to a hospital by his attackers.

Although he wants to see the attackers behind bars, the culprits backed by the Awami League are likely to escape unscathed.

Dhaka has made sure that even journalists based out of Bangladesh are not spared. A Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil and US-based journalist Shahid Alam have been charged with under the Digital Security Act.

Khalil claims that three officers of the intelligence wing have questioned his mother about his reporting. He says that it was an attempt to intimidate him and dissuade from being critical of the government in his reporting.

The case of senior journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol is perhaps in the most chilling example of misuse of the state power. Kajol disappeared on March 10 after a defamation case was filed against him by a politician from the Awami League.

It would be 53 days before Kajol was seen again. He reappeared on May 8, near the border with India and now faces up to 7 years in prison for posting “false, offensive, illegally obtained and defamatory” content on Facebook and for trespassing into his own country.

Police Defends Actions

Police officials in the country have defended their actions and say that investigation would go in accordance with the law. Masudur Rahman, Dhaka Metro Police deputy commissioner media, spoke to Al Jazeera, confirmed that the arrests were made by the Rapid Action Battalion for various social media posts and that the fate of the journalists remains with the courts.

More than 1,000 cases have been filed in Bangladesh under the Digital Security Act since it was implemented in 2018. On May 6, at least 11 people, including a cartoonist, two journalists, and a writer, were charged with “spreading rumours and carrying out anti-government activities.”

Bangladesh National Press Club (BNPC) and  Bangladesh Editors’ Council (BEC) have voiced their concerns over the arrests of journalists and activists for exercising their freedom of speech.

General secretary of the BNPC, Farida Yeasmin, said that the Digital Security Act should only be used for handling cyber crimes and not for detaining and targeting media persons. The BEC also issued a statement and said that no concern is being shown over the merit of the complaints before making arrests.

Bangladeshi human rights monitor Odhikar claims that the Digital Security Act is mostly being used by businessmen and politicians for targeting critics. Statistics from Odhikar, a Bangladeshi Human Rights monitor, shows that 550 people have disappeared in the country since the Awami League government was sworn in 11 years ago.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called on Bangladesh to urgently revise the Digital Security Act to ensure that it complies with international human rights laws.

Press Freedom is relatively poor in South Asia. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal are all ranked above 100 while Bhutan and Maldives are the only two countries ranked below 100 in the Press Freedom Index.

The latest Press Freedom Index Reports by RSF ranks Bangladesh at 151 out of 180 countries. It has the lowest ranking compared to neighbours India and Myanmar who rank 139 and 142 respectively. In fact, since 2013 the press freedom ranking for Bangladesh has been consistently poor and in 2020 it was the lowest in the last 7 years.

OpEd By : Armaan Srivastava. Views Personel
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