The dawn of crises and confrontations | Daily News


The dawn of crises and confrontations

Firefighters hose down trees as they battle against bushfires around the town of Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales.
Firefighters hose down trees as they battle against bushfires around the town of Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales.

The year that has dawned sees the continuance and emergence of crises and conflagrations, the rise of significant political changes, a higher emphasis on Climate Change and the environmental hazards, and the development of more powerful weapons of war.

The deployment of a new hypersonic nuclear missile by Russia, the widening anti-government protests in India, the further protests and violence in Hong Kong, the continuing fires in parts of Australia, and the attack on the US Embassy in Iraq by people are the highlights of world affairs as the new year dawns.

A new hypersonic nuclear missile that Russia says it has deployed is fuelling concerns of a new arms race with the US, after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said the new weapon could penetrate any defensive shield. This comes when both countries are close to the expiry of the treaty limiting the scope of strategic arsenals of the two former Cold War foes.

The new weapon has gone into service amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of a landmark 1987 treaty banning deployment of short- and medium-range missiles, accusing Russia of being in breach of its terms. The Kremlin, which withdrew from the pact in response, denied the allegation.

Russia and the U.S. are also confronting each other over alleged Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, and Iran’s nuclear programme.

The two sides are deadlocked over the future of the 2010 New START - Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, effective since December 1994 - that limits their nuclear arsenals and is due to expire in February 2021. The Trump administration has so far rebuffed Russian calls to begin talks on extending the treaty, saying that any new accord should include China, which refuses to accept limits on its much smaller nuclear capability.

The deployment of the new hypersonic Russian missile and the delay in extending the START treaty poses a major threat to the world that has so far been protected against nuclear weapon battles, despite the spread of them to many countries. This also raises the importance of China being drawn into future nuclear weapon agreements and treaties, as a rising economic and military force.

India - protests continue

The protests in India over the controversial legislation passed in December last year, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that extends easier citizenship facilities to refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsees who arrived before Dec. 31, 2014, continues with wider expansion to several states, and many key cities and universities. The protests are mainly against what is seen as the exclusion of Muslims from this category of would-be citizens, and that the CAA violates the secular nature of the Indian Constitution.

India’s government — headed by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — holds that the CAA will make it easier for people from “persecuted minorities” in the related foreign countries, currently in India illegally, to obtain Indian citizenship. It states the CAA is an important improvement to the Citizenship Act of 1955, which left people in the country illegally present without any avenues to become citizens, and thus vulnerable to detention and deportation.

However, protesters say the CAA may leave millions of Muslims in India, which has a Muslim population of nearly 200 million, without citizenship, and also affects non-Muslim tribal people in certain states.

Students have been at the forefront of the urban protests, along with academics, authors, civil activists, and wider political activists. They say the CAA by excluding Muslims, violates the country’s secular principle — and risks turning India into a majoritarian state. Many also express concerns that the country’s Muslim community already experiences political and socioeconomic marginalization.

The police have been strong in cracking down on the protesters. So far over 25 protesters have lost their lives, and large numbers of them, especially university students, have been arrested.

As the protests spread, the government has suspended mobile communications and the Internet in many affected states and cities, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has condemned the protests and tweeted that “no Indian has anything to worry regarding this Act.” Home Minister Amit Shah said that “Muslims have no need to fear or worry.” But these have meant little to those who are concerned that the BJP is trying to create a “Hindu nation” in India, a country that is 80 percent Hindu.

New political coalitions have also given rise to the rising protests and demonstrations. This is of concern to the ruling BJP, which won a huge majority in the Lok Sabha at the last parliamentary elections in May 2019, but has lost control in at least four Indian states since then, which shows dangers to the BJP in state elections lined up this year. These protests also raise issues over the BJP-led Central Government’s actions in Jammu-Kashmir last year. These protests are showing signs of a new political unity among opposition forces that would pose a major political threat to Prime Minister Modi and the BJP and its Hindu dominated policies in the coming months.

Hong Kong crisis worsens

The New Year has seen the continuance and a marked rise in the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

A march drawing tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong on New Year's Day spiralled into chaotic scenes as police fired several rounds of tear gas and water cannon at crowds, including families, before halting the event. The violence broke out during the largely peaceful march as masses of citizens pressed the authorities for further concessions.

In one district some protesters had spray-painted graffiti and smashed cash machines in an HSBC bank branch when riot police moved in, pepper-spraying crowds in a tense face-off. The protesters, some with gas masks and clad in black, regrouped and formed their own lines as police blocked roads to prevent large crowds from completing the march as night fell.

The situation grew tense in several districts of Hong Kong island, as hundreds of protesters dug in, forming roadblocks, setting fires and throwing a few petrol bombs. Human chains formed down roads to help ferry supplies to people on the frontlines, including umbrellas and bricks.

Hong Kong has been embroiled in more than six months of anti-government protests that have now spilled into 2020, with protesters demands including full democracy and an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality.

The Hong Kong protests have now drawn international attention, especially formal protests by the US, where the Congress has passed legislation seeking action against the alleged violations of Human Rights, and supportive of the protesters. The US House of Representatives passed The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act by 417 to 1, after the US Senate unanimously adopted the measure that backs protesters in the territory that has seen nearly six months of pro-democracy demonstrations.

China has protested against the US Congress move and has cautioned of unspecified retaliatory steps if the bills are passed into law by the US President’s signature. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “This bill sends the wrong signal to those violent criminals and its substance seeks to throw Hong Kong into chaos or even to destroy Hong Kong outright,'’ during a visit from US Defence Secretary William Cohen. “If the US continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The US legislation, requires the US State Department to annually review whether the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong retains enough freedoms to qualify for special trade status that helps support the city's status as a financial centre. It also threatens sanctions against officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

The situation for the Hong Kong’s Beijing backed Authority worsened when it lost all but one seat in the recent local authority elections, which seemed to place the Chief Executive Ms. Carrie Lam, in a weaker position against protesters. However, in a subsequent visit to Beijing she did show she continued to receive the support of the Communist Party leadership of China.

The Hong Kong protests show all signs of continuing to be a major obstacle to the city’s economic progress, with its own impact on China. Beijing is now reportedly looking at developing an alternate trading centre in the Macau area, an autonomous region on the south coast of China, across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong, also controlled by Beijing.

The continuing Hong Kong protests are raising new concerns about the rise of confrontations within and outside China, and with the military and naval strength of China on the situation in the South China Sea.

Anti-US protests in Baghdad

The situation in the Middle East worsened with angry demonstrations at the American embassy in Baghdad last week, which are the latest in a deepening confrontation between the US and Iran for influence in Iraq. President Trump has accused Iran of “orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy,” and the White House said he would decide “how and when we respond to their escalation.”

The American compound was attacked by a crowd of angry demonstrators furious over the deaths of militia members killed by US airstrikes.

President Trump tweeted on New Year's Eve that Iran “will pay a very big price” for any damage or loss of life. “This is not a warning, it is a threat,” he said.

The Iraqi government is angry at the US strikes, which have added one more crisis to its increasing political problems. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi declared three days of mourning for the victims of the airstrikes, which he described as outrageous.

The new confrontation in Iraq shows the country is at risk of becoming a failing state. It's already wracked by popular protest, crippled by political paralysis and threatened by renewed terrorism.

Australia fires

The environmental situation in Australia continues to worsen with fires in the states of New South Wales, Queenslad and Victoria posing increasing worry to the populace. Australian military aircraft and vessels will be deployed to help emergency services in the fire-ravaged states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria. Thousands of people fled to beaches in the south-eastern states on Tuesday as emergency-level fires spread.

In Mallacoota, Victoria, about 4,000 people sought shelter on the coast.

The fires in NSW brings the fire-linked death toll to 12.

The Australian Defence Force will send Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and navy vessels to Victoria and NSW, the two worst-affected regions.

The military is expected to provide humanitarian assistance and carry out evacuations if needed in the coming days.

The US and Canada have also been asked to provide “specialist aviation resources” to help the emergency effort.


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