- India – China begin disengaging in one sector of Ladakh
- China publicly admits that 4 soldiers including an officer of the PLA died at Galwan on 15 June 2020
- Biden has telephone conversation with Xi but meeting of Quad Foreign Ministers also takes place
- China prepares for its annual Parliament meeting or “Two Sessions”
- US Navy ship sails through Taiwan Strait; China says this undermines stability
- Japan appoints a Minister for Loneliness
- Seiko Hashimoto takes charge of Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee
- Japan’s economy recovers from pandemic slump
- Japan renews claims on South-Korea held island
- South Korea expected to approve Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
- US President Biden calls South Korean President Moon
- South Korea Trade Minister drops bid to become WTO Director General
- Dozens of leading HK democrats charged with subversion
- 70% of HK teachers support revamp of liberal studies
- President Tsai says Taiwan’s freedom and democracy are not to be traded
II Developments in China
1. India – China begin disengaging in one sector of Ladakh
After yet another round of talks in Ladakh between the army commanders of the two sides (assisted by diplomats from each country) the two armies commenced a disengagement process at the Pangong Tso part of Ladakh – on both the north and south banks. It was later revealed that a detailed agreement had been signed to this effect by both sides in order to ensure that verification procedures were also agreed and accepted. The Chinese side began withdrawing its tanks first and then troops as spelt out in the agreement which aimed at ensuring that the mistakes of 15 June 2020 at Galwan would not be repeated. A kind of buffer zone has been agreed to on the north bank of Pangong Lake between Fingers 3 and 8, where troops from the two armies had had scuffles on many previous occasions since it is hotly contested. No patrolling will take place in this area till an agreement to this effect is reached by both sides. It was also agreed that in such areas, any new structures erected in the past few months would be demolished. This has been verified. There was much analysis in the Indian media of whether India had got a good deal or not, but it appears that COAS General Naravane hit the nail on the head when he described the post-disengagement situation at Pangong Tso as a ‘win-win” for both India and China. Talks have now commenced for similar disengagement at other sectors in Ladakh including Depsang and Gogra/Hot Springs amongst others. There has also been a lot of speculation as to why the Chinese have agreed to disengage and withdraw when most Indian analysts had predicted that there was little probability of them doing so. Since we do not have all the inputs from the Chinese side it is difficult to speculate why they have done so, just as much as it is difficult to reason why they violated all peace and tranquility agreements between our two countries and moved their troops into the area in the first place. However, the utter lack of trust between the two sides is now a reality and India cannot rest on these laurels. We must assume that China will go back to the drawing board, study why it was not able to achieve the goals and objectives it had laid down for its army and perhaps strengthen themselves and come back at us in 2-3 years. India has to prepare for such an eventuality and the planning must start now.
2. China publicly admits that 4 soldiers including an officer of the PLA died at Galwan on 15 June 2020
Almost simultaneously with the announcement of the disengagement at Pangong Tso in Ladakh, the Chinese authorities also publicized that they had lost 3 soldiers and 1 officer at the clash in Galwan on 15 June 2020. All of them, as also 1 other soldier who had been badly injured but survived the clash, were given awards for heroism and bravery. This led to an outpouring of national pride tinged with sadness in China particularly on social media sites – which is how ordinary Chinese express their views. There was a lot of hate mail addressed to the Indian Embassy in Beijing which was also directed at New Delhi. There were a few people in China who questioned the numbers of the dead put out by Beijing and who made their views known on social media. 6 arrests of such persons were made stating that they had grossly hurt national sentiments. In India, on the other hand, some persons continued to question the low numbers claimed by China saying that PLA deaths were higher. Be that as it may, these are the first battlefield casualties taken by the PLA in many decades.
3. Biden has telephone conversation with Xi but meeting of Quad Foreign Ministers also takes place
US President Joe Biden had a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on 11 February 2020. The readouts from both sides indicate that differences between the two countries will persist under the Biden Presidency even if the new US President’s approach may differ in terms of tenor but not in substance. What was interesting is that a few days later on 18 February 2021, at the instance of the US Secretary of State the Foreign Ministers of the Quad countries – the U.S., India, Japan and Australia – held a virtual meeting further underlining their convergence in ensuring that the Indo-Pacific would remain free and open rather than become an authoritarian space.
4. China prepares for its annual Parliament meeting or “Two Sessions”
In China itself, the stage is being prepared for the annual physical meeting of China’s Parliament or what are referred to as the “Two Sessions” namely the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The meeting is expected to commence around 5 March 2021 and last for 10 days to 2 weeks. This is the annual session of what can be termed as China’s Parliament which will rubberstamp decisions already taken by the Communist Party of China leadership. For example, the NPC and CPPCC are expected to approve the Party’s version of the next 5 Year Plan and the long term trajectory for the Chinese economy. It will be remembered that these targets have already been approved by China’s Politburo as well as Central Committee.
5. US Navy ship sails through Taiwan Strait; China says this undermines stability
The US Navy destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur sailed through the Taiwan Strait on 24 February 2021 demonstrating US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. China’s military spokesperson criticized the US action stating that it undermined regional peace and stability by creating risk factors in the Taiwan Strait.
III Developments in Japan
1. Japan appoints a Minister for Loneliness
Japan has appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto as Minister for Loneliness in the central Cabinet of PM Suga following a recent rise in the number of suicides to 20,919 in 2020 an increase of 750 over 2019. Apparently, the corona virus has exacerbated the problem particularly amongst the youth of the country. There has been a rise in the number of suicides amongst young women in Japan.
2. Seiko Hashimoto takes charge of Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee
Seiko Hashimoto, seven-time Olympian and LDP lawmaker, formerly Minister for the Olympic Games in the Suga Cabinet as also Minister for Women’s Empowerment has taken over as the President of the Tokyo Olympic Games Organizing Committee, the first woman to be appointed to this position. Incidentally, Hashimoto has participated in both Summer and Winter Olympics in the past having represented Japan in cycling as well as speedskating. Her predecessor as Olympics Committee President Yoshiro Mori stepped down for sexist comments. Polls show that 80% of Japan wants the Olympic Games to be cancelled or postponed again.
3. Japan’s economy recovers from pandemic slump
In the October – December 2020 quarter, the Japanese economy grew at an annualized rate of 12.7%, marking the second straight quarter of growth. This indicates it has made a smart recovery from the corona virus pandemic induced slump. There has been positive growth in consumption, government spending as well as exports.
IV Developments in South Korea
1. Japan renews claims on South-Korea held island
At an annual event held each February, Japan renewed its claim on an island in the Sea of Japan which has been held by South Korea. The uninhabited island called Takeshima in Japan, while the South Koreans call it Dokdo, lies in rich fishing grounds and has been held by the Koreans since the 1950s. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry denounced Japan for continuing “futile provocations” by holding the annual event. Tensions between the two countries have skyrocketed as a result.
2. South Korea expected to approve Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
South Korea is expected to soon approve the Oxford – AstraZeneca vaccine for use in vaccinating the elderly. It is this same vaccine that is being produced by the Serum Institute of India. It is also being made on license by a Korean pharmaceutical firm.
3. US President Biden calls South Korean President Moon
President Biden called on telephone his ally South Korean President Moon Jae-in in early February 2021. They discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula and discussed how to ensure lasting peace and denuclearization. The two leaders are reported to have agreed on the need to chalk out a comprehensive strategy on North Korea. Later, the White House stated that the call aimed at stressing commitment to strengthening the US – South Korea alliance. They also discussed the need for trilateral cooperation amongst Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. The two leaders also called for the immediate restoration of democracy in Burma.
4. South Korea Trade Minister drops bid to become WTO Director General
South Korea’s Minister for Trade Yoo Myung-hee dropped her bid to become Director General of the World Trade Organization which then paved the way for former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to take the post. She will assume the position from 1 March 2021. The South Korean Trade Minister had been a strong candidate and eventually just the two ladies were left in the running. However, the change of Presidency in the United States seems to have convinced the South Koreans that their candidate did not hold all the cards required. Perhaps, this awareness lead to her decision to opt out of the race.
V Developments in Hong Kong
1. Dozens of leading HK democrats charged with subversion
47 HK democrats and activists were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the new China-imposed national security law. This is the single largest crackdown on the democratic opposition in Hong Kong. They were charged with organizing and participating in an unofficial “primary election” last July.
2. 70% of HK teachers support revamp of liberal studies
A poll conducted by a pro-establishment teacher’s union in HK showed that about 70% of teachers support the revamp of the controversial liberal studies subject in high schools in the Special Administrative Region. Some earlier subjects are likely to be trimmed while issues like national security, lawfulness and patriotism will be added to the curriculum.
VI Developments in Taiwan
1. President Tsai says Taiwan’s freedom and democracy are not to be traded
In a major speech on 28 February at Kaohsiung, President Tsai Ing-wen stated that the island nation’s freedom and democracy are not bargaining chips to be traded. This was a thinly veiled hint to Beijing that Taiwan considered itself different and would not negotiate away values which its people held dearly.
(The views expressed are personal)