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US Will Either Have To Leave The Middle-East Or Dare To Fight Iran: OpEd

The coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout may rewrite the security as well as the political and economic map of the Middle East. The crisis will probably color Gulf attitudes towards the region’s major external players: the United States, China, and Russia. Yet, Gulf states are likely to discover that their ability to shape the region’s map has significantly diminished.

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The United States faces a stark choice in the Middle East if it continues its maximum pressure campaign against Iran: confront the Islamic republic militarily or withdraw from the region.

Trita Parsi, Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute in Washington and a former head of the National Iranian American Council, recently drew that harsh conclusion. No doubt, Mr. Parsi may be correct in the ultimate analysis. US-Iranian tensions could easily spin out of control into an all-out war that neither Iran nor the United States wants.

There are, however, lots of shades of grey that separate long-standing tit-for-tat attacks on US targets – primarily in Iraq, occasional Iranian harassment of US naval vessels in the Gulf, and sporadic US responses, from all-out war.

The United States and Iran have been engaged in tit-for-tat with varying degrees of intensity for years.

The United States and Iran have been engaged in tit-for-tat with varying degrees of intensity for years and so far have avoided an uncontrolled escalation despite incidents such as the 1988 downing of Iran Air flight 655, that killed 274 people, and the targeted assassination earlier this year of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Leaving aside potential black and grey swans, a more likely scenario is that a US desire to reduce its commitment to Gulf states, increased Gulf doubts about US reliability as a regional security guarantor, and a new world in which Gulf and Western states struggle to come to grips with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, create an environment more conducive to a multilateral security arrangement. One that would reduce the risk of war, even if multilateralism globally seems to be on the retreat.

US President Donald J. Trump’s threat in early April to cut off military sales to Saudi Arabia, if the kingdom did not bury the hatchet in its oil price war with Russia – sparking the collapse of oil markets, is an inevitable epic battle for market share.

More immediately, it drove the message home in Riyadh that US security guarantees were conditional and reinforced Saudi perceptions that the United States was getting disproportionately more out of its close ties to the kingdom than Saudi Arabia.

The Trump administration, in a little-noticed sign of the times, put Saudi Arabia in late April on a priority watch list for violations of intellectual property rights because of its pirating of sports broadcasting rights owned by Qatar’s beIN television franchise. The listing threatened to complicate Saudi Arabia’s already controversial bid to acquire English soccer club Newcastle United.

It is still too early to assess the geopolitical impact of the global economic downturn. Depressed demand and pricing for oil and gas could enable China to diversify its sourcing and potentially reduce its dependence on the Middle East, a volatile region with heightened security risks. China imported 31 percent more oil from Russia last month while its intake of Saudi crude slipped by 1.8 percent compared to March 2019.

Low oil prices that make US production commercially less viable could temporarily increase Washington’s interest in Gulf security.

At the same time, low oil prices that make US production commercially less viable could temporarily increase Washington’s interest in Gulf security.

Fundamentally, and irrespective of what scenario plays out, little will change. The US will still want to reduce its exposure to the Middle East. For its part, China will still need to secure oil and gas supplies as well as its investments and significant diaspora community in the region while seeking to avoid being sucked into intractable regional conflicts.

By the same token, the gradual revival of economic life, including a probable phased revitalization of supply chains and international travel, combined with a need to rethink migrant worker housing and create local employment, could alter Middle Eastern perspectives of China’s way of doing business.

China’s Belt-and-Road projects often have a China-wins-twice aspect to them that may have always been problematic but has become even more so in a post-pandemic economic environment. China-funded projects rely upon and large on Chinese labour and materials supply rather than local sourcing.

The People’s Republic’s “China First” approach extends beyond economics and commerce. In an environment in which the United States is an irreplaceable but unreliable partner, Gulf states may look differently at Chinese hesitancy to co-shoulder responsibility for regional security with the risk of having to involve itself in multiple conflicts it has so far been able to stay aloof from.

The coronavirus pandemic constitutes a watershed that will colour Middle Eastern attitudes towards the region’s external players.

The coronavirus pandemic constitutes a watershed that will colour Middle Eastern attitudes towards all of the region’s foremost external players: the United States, China, and Russia. Prior to the crisis, Russia, the weakest of the three, was playing a weak economic hand well but may find that more difficult going forward.

Gulf states are likely to conclude that assertive go-it-alone policies are risky and only work in specific circumstances where big powers are either part of the ploy or look the other way. Though such were easier to pursue in a stable economic environment in which their oil and gas revenue base appeared secure.

The United Arab Emirates appears to have read the writing on the wall. It began a year ago to hedge its bets by reaching out to Iran in a bid to ensure that it would not become a theatre of war if US-Iranian tensions were to spin out of control. Still, that has not stopped its support for rebel forces in Libya led by renegade Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar in violation of an international arms embargo.

Mr. Trump’s threat of a cut-off in military sales to Saudi Arabia should have driven the point home. Yet, financially and economically weakened, less able to play big powers off against one another, and deprived of any viable alternative options, the kingdom and other Gulf states may find that a multilateral security arrangement that incorporates rather than replaces the United States’ regional defence umbrella is the only security straw they can hold on to.

Nevertheless, in eventually attempting to negotiate a new arrangement, they may also find that they no longer have the kind of leverage they had prior to a pandemic that in many ways has pulled the rug from beneath them.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. 

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How China Has Used COVID-19 To Escalate Military Conflicts & Crush ‘Democratic’ Voices?

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COVID-19 has brought the entire world to a standstill except for China which is finding it a perfect time to escalate military conflicts, intensify border disputes and curtail democratic freedom. 

Experts talking to the EurAsian Times agree that many nations are using the cover of the coronavirus to take advantage of the situation and forwarding their political agenda as the world remains distracted.

China has been the most active in promoting its regional interests during COVID-19 pandemic with Hong Kong and India facing the brunt of Chinese hostilities.

China was one of the first countries to shut its border and bring the entire country to a standstill in a bid to curb COVID-19, however, this did not stop China from making provocative moves in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, India Ocean and even the Himalayas.

Near the Strait of Taiwan, Chinese naval vessels and airforce have regularly engaged in military drills aimed at invading Taiwan, which Beijing calls a renegade province. As reported by EurAsian Times earlier, experts believe that military drills were conducted to test the response of Taiwan, as well as the US, in case China invaded the island nation.

Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous region of China under the ‘One China-two system’ framework, is also facing Chinese hostility. The National People’s Congress (NCP) has proposed a new national security law that aims to curtail HK’s freedom and potentially arrest critics for treason, secession, sedition and subversion.

The new law not only overrides Hong Kong’s constitution but threatens pro-democracy supporters. As expected, the move has drawn international criticism and violent protests from citizens in Hong Kong. Many experts have called it ‘perfect timings’ in reference to COVID-19 pandemic.

China has also been accused of bullying the ASEAN nations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea and COVID-19 did not stop Beijing from its hostile, aggressive manoeuvres.

China tracked Malaysian ships, took control of Islands claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines and even sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel. China lays claims to almost 80% of the South China Sea and has regularly made provocative moves in the region.

Although thousands of miles, the United States was quick to stand up Chinese bullying tactics. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force conducted naval and aerial exercises in the region to reassure allies and stay committed to unrestricted movement through the waterway.

US and China are already involved in a trade dispute and the coronavirus has only intensified tensions between the two powerhouses. The US has consistently blamed China for spreading the virus and threatened to cut ‘all ties’ with Beijing.

Deep in the Himalayas’, India was the next country to witness Chinese aggression. New Delhi has not only locked horns in the high reaches of the Himalayas but also the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Soldiers from India and China have exchanged blows at Pangong Lake in Ladakh and Naku-La Pass in North Sikkim. Currently, both countries are involved in a bitter border conflict in Galwan Valley in Aksai Chin along the Line of Actual Control (LaC). Experts have called it the worst stand-off between India and China since 2017 Doklam dispute.

Prior to border tensions, India also witnessed increasing Chinese hostilities in the Indian Ocean region. China has regularly mapped the ocean, conducted patrols and has redeveloped an island in the Maldives.

In response, the Indian Navy flexed its muscle by sailing destroyers and naval ships in the area. The Navy has also fired a warning at intruding Chinese vessels and stated that Indian Navy remains ‘battle-ready’ despite the pandemic.

Tensions with key Chinese ally – Pakistan have been on the rise. India has seen in an increase in violence as cross-border shelling, insurgency and counter-insurgency operation in Kashmir. According to South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP), 24 members of the armed forces have lost their lives and 49 militants have been eliminated since March 2020.

Towards the east, Nepal has been a staunch ally of India and acts as a natural buffer between New Delhi and Beijing. However, Indo-Nepalese relations are under duress as the normally friendly neighbours are currently engaged in a territorial dispute.

Both Kathmandu and New Delhi claim Kalapani to be an integral part of their country and this dispute has soured ties between them. Nepal claims to be acting on its own and standing up for itself while India suspects Chinese involvement behind Nepalese claims.

When it comes to furthering political interest, it would be wrong to only point fingers at China. Playing the same game are countries including Iran, Israel and Russia.

One of the oldest unresolved issues in international politics involves Israel-Palestine conflict. The Israel-Palestine dispute is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode as the planned West Bank annexation by Israel nears.

During the pandemic, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will not miss the “historic opportunity” to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank. Palestine, Jordan, European Union, United Kingdom disagree with Jerusalem but Israel has the full backing of Donald Trump – the US president.

While discussing increasing Russian strength in eastern Europe, political analysts believe that Ukraine could lose more territory to Russia as Crimea faces a severe water shortage. Despite the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, Vladimir Putin is hardly a man that would be deterred from pursuing his political ambitions.

Much like the annexation of Crimea, more Ukrainian territory could meet a similar fate. With most of Europe busy dealing with the outbreak, Putin will not have such an opportunity again.

Although countries facing threats from other nations can depend on allies for support, Australia finds itself in an awkward position. The Kangaroos have managed to become entangled in the dispute between US-China. Canberra finds itself in a situation where it must choose between the US – the strategic defence ally and China – its biggest trading partner.

The post-COVID world could likely bring a new world order where countries become increasingly wary of each other. The era of globalization as we know could come to an end as countries become more self-sufficient and reduce their dependence on one another. A cold war seems likely, so does rise in protectionism and nationalism.

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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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Asia Pacific

Tibet Then, Hong-Kong Now & Taiwan Tomorrow: Why US, EU Must Stop China? OpEd

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China’s new draft law to crack down Hong Kong’s fire of pro-democracy protests raises international concerns amidst a fury of criticism against Beijing’s intention to strike off the historic “one country, two systems” framework.

Russia Could Annex More Parts Of Ukraine Over ‘Crimean Dispute’: US Reports

The semi-autonomous Hong Kong, recently dubbed as the ‘City of Protests’ went silent for a few months due to the stringent lockdowns imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak, only to return back with their demands as firm as before.

The previous month, as reported by EurAsian Times, China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) had issued a statement that asserted that China’s central government led by President Xi Jinping will not sit idle “with this recklessly demented force” that aims to attain independence from Beijing.

Beijing’s Final Blow To Hong Kong

Against the backdrop of over 6 months of pro-democracy protests, China’s Parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC) has now proposed a new national security law that aims to ban “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” that overrides Hong Kong’s constitution.

The Chinese lawmakers put forward a law that would effectively “prevent, stop and punish any act to split the country, subvert state power, organise and carry out terrorist activities and other behaviours that seriously endanger national security”.

The law attempts to also obstruct “activities of foreign and external forces” interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs. The document says that “when needed, relevant national security organs of the central people’s the government will set up agencies in to fulfil relevant duties to safeguard national security.”

The Communist Party’s efforts to bring upon this national security law is widely interpreted by critics as a bid to finally remove all traces of the “one country, two systems” framework.

The state-run tabloid the Global Times called Hong Kong “it was like a city in an undeveloped country engulfed in turmoil,” and applauded the decision that aimed to“prevent internal and external forces from using the region as a tool for creating situations that threaten national security”.

Hong Kong Crisis

With an independent judiciary and civil liberties that extend far more than mainland China, Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous political structure had allowed it to enjoy a sense of autonomy since decades. Unlike China, Hong Kong is also a part of many international treaties that effectively guarantee multiple civil liberties.

The previous year, the city erupted with mass protests as plans to allow extradition to mainland China were uncovered, that could actually endanger the non-supporters of Chinese policies and threaten their judicial independence.

With the new anti-sedition law that is soon to be passed, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders find their civil and judicial liberties in question. The punishments such as secret detention and blatant political prosecution rendered quite often in the mainland seem outrageously unacceptable to the residents of Hong Kong.

Some pro-Beijing leaders like Carrie Lam have supported the ‘draft law’ and told Hong Kongers “to understand why at this point in time Hong Kong needs this piece of legislation.” The police commissioner of Hong Kong had also told media that the new law will “help combat the force of ‘Hong Kong independence’ and restore social order.”

While the others like Nathan Law, a former pro-democracy lawmaker, told Hong Kongers not to be disheartened and told them to realise that they had achieved “miracles” in the past.

The pro-democracy supporters began a peaceful protest in the city on Sunday, where just in the first 25 minutes, police fired the first round of tear gas. Later, baton charges and water cannons were also used against unarmed protesters.

Global Response

The inhumane crackdown on the protests by Beijing had led to global outrage. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had criticized China’s plans for the new law and called it a “death knell” for Hong Kong’s freedom.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi had replied “some political forces in the US” were pushing the two countries “to the brink of a new Cold War”. He continued that the legislation should be brought in “without the slightest delay”.

Washington and China have already frozen relations due to the trade war and the more recent issues like the pandemic and the Taiwan’s invitation to WHA.

An editorial in the state-backed Global Times said that “China’s latest announcement showed its strategic contempt for Washington’s tactics of pressuring Beijing. As long as the US dares to play its cards, China will play the game without hesitation.”

Other countries like the UK which ruled over Hong Kong till 1997, Australia and Canada have also expressed their “deep concern” for Hong Kong.

The former Hong Kong Governor Christopher Patten and former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind drafted a statement which said that China was breaching the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1977, according to which Hong Kong was returned to China.

The statement details that “if the international community cannot trust Beijing to keep its word when it comes to Hong Kong, people will be reluctant to take its word on other matters.”

Calling the bill a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms,” the statement is signed by 186 policymakers and politicians from 23 countries. However, critics suggest that historically, China is not known to succumb to international pressure on internal matters.

Other international experts have lamented the Chinese move and said that it was ‘Tibet then, Hong Kong now and Taiwan tomorrow’. If the world especially the US and the EU do not vociferously oppose the Chinese actions, everyone should be prepared for Beijing’s hegemony.

OpED By: Vipasha Kaushal. Views Personel

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