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India gains seat on UN Security Council
Statement from Asia Program Deputy Director, Michael Kugelman
"India's overwhelming triumph in its quest to secure a non-permanent UN Security Council seat is another indication of its rising stature on the world stage, and of the respect it enjoys in global forums. It also provides a timely reputational boost at a moment when it has attracted international criticism for its Hindu nationalist policies at home, and when it is bogged down in a bitter border dispute with China.
As big a diplomatic victory as this is for New Delhi, it has its eyes on the biggest prize: a permanent seat on the UN security council. This is a much more ambitious goal, and one it's unlikely to achieve anytime soon given that China would almost certainly wield its veto power on the council."
China and India Clash along Border
Wilson Center Experts React to the News
Abraham Denmark, Asia Program Director:
"This will likely be a watershed moment in India-China relations and the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. We’ve already seen the deadliest clash on the China-India border in over 50 years, both countries are led by men who have embraced nationalism, and both countries are facing tremendous domestic and international upheaval as a result of COVID-19 and other long-standing problems.
The main questions now are if either side is capable of finding an off-ramp to de-escalation, and of India’s nascent friends — such as it’s Quad partners of Australia, Japan, and the United States - will come to its aid.
This isn’t World War 3 by any stretch, but it is a highly volatile and dangerous situation between two nationalistic, nuclear powers at a time when American influence has badly diminished."
Robert Daly, Director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the US:
"Neither China nor India has a vital interest at stake in Ladakh and both nations’ leaders are keenly aware of the need to avoid war. The killings are a worrisome escalation of tensions, but little is known about the immediate causes or results of the fight in Galwan and it is not possible, at this point, to assign blame.
The United States’ role is to express alarm at the loss of life, monitor the situation closely, and encourage both Asian powers to stand down and manage border disputes through peaceful negotiation. If the U.S. wishes to take further action, it should do so through the United Nations."
Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program:
"What had been a slowly deescalating standoff has suddenly escalated to the biggest crisis India and China have confronted in decades. With two bitter rivals not only staring each other down on their disputed border but also reeling from a deadly encounter with mass casualties, this crisis isn’t about to end anytime soon.
Conflict is unlikely, but climbing down the ladder will be neither quick nor easy. What I’ll be looking for are deescalatory signals: Will the two sides return to the high-level dialogue launched earlier this month? Will government messaging be conciliatory? If the answer is no, all bets could be off and more escalation could be on the horizon."
Putin Sets Date for Vote
Statement from William Pomeranz, Deputy Director of the Kennan Institute
"President Vladimir Putin has announced that the plebiscite for approving the 2020 constitutional amendments will now take place on July 1, 2020. These amendments famously allow for the extension of Putin’s presidency until 2036 as well as further centralize Kremlin control. Several steps will be taken to increase turnout. The plebiscite will be spread out over a week so that ballots can be cast from June 25-July 1. Alternative voting procedures, including online voting in some regions, are also being considered. With this plebiscite, Putin will seek to regain the political momentum that he has lost because of the coronavirus."
SPACEX Crew Dragon Launch
Statement from Meg King, Director of the Science and Technology Innovation Program
“The use of a public-private partnership between NASA and Space-X for today’s Demo-2 launch allows America to deploy start-up style technology - from automation to the use of virtual reality in training for this mission - while offering more independence and a routine foothold in space for the United States. It will certainly boost interest by other nations to adopt similar models and raises the ante for more investments and missions beyond the ISS.”
China moves to impose Hong Kong security law
Statement from Asia Program Director, Abraham Denmark
"This signals a clear effort by Beijing to further erode 'One Country, Two Systems' in Hong Kong. China's leaders seek to make Hong Kong a normal Chinese city and apparently refuse to tolerate any effort to maintain any sense of its autonomy. Yet by announcing it in a session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, there's a chance that Beijing is testing the waters to gauge international reaction. The CPPCC doesn't have any real power to make policy, but rather can at times be used to air ideas or preview upcoming policies.
Only the U.S. and UK have the clout and interest to try to dissuade China from going down this road. They would need to work in tandem diplomatically, with a clear idea of what they can use as leverage with Beijing. Unfortunately, the U.S. doesn't have a lot of good levers when it comes to Hong Kong."
President Trump Tweets About Afghanistan
Statement from Asia Program Deputy Director, Michael Kugelman
"President Trump's tweet underscores the deepening levels of impatience, frustration, and urgency within his administration about Afghanistan. In that regard, his message is perfectly predictable--and in line not only with his own thinking but with many of the key administration officials that focus on Afghanistan.
In recent days, senior US officials have signaled their growing impatience with Afghanistan's unsuccessful efforts to launch a peace process that was meant to be set in motion several months ago, after the US signed its deal with the Taliban. Washington is keen for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to begin because that deal requires them to begin-but even more so because the US would much prefer to be withdrawing troops while peace talks are going on.
For the US, the optics of withdrawing under fire, amid intensified battles between Afghan forces and the Taliban, are far from ideal. And that's because Trump's critics, just in time for the US presidential election, would gain ample ammunition to accuse him of staging a surrender in Afghanistan."
Reaction to FBI-CISA Statement on the Targeting of COVID-19 Research Organizations
Statement from STIP Program Director, Meg King
"While health technology tools are more powerful and impactful than ever before - possibly holding the keys to ending the COVID-19 pandemic - they offer more cyber attack surfaces and options for adversaries. Both nation-states and criminals seek this information for geopolitical advantage or financial gain, and the Department of Homeland Security’s warning to the industry to address cybersecurity vulnerability at all levels - from startups to pharmaceutical giants - is critical. Just as the medical community protects patient data, research advances must also be safeguarded."
Gilead Announces Results of NIH Trial of Remdesivir
Statement from Dr. Lawrence Altman
"While a new study offers a glimmer of hope that an experimental drug, remdesivir, has an effect against COVID-19, determination of its benefit for the general population must await release of pertinent details to evaluate the study’s findings and scientific analysis comparing them to other studies of the drug that have shown mixed results."
US Oil Futures Fall to $0
Statement from Senior Scholar Jan Kalicki
"The further reduction of oil prices highlights sharply the inadequacy of the production reductions agreed by the Saudis and the Russians. Oil demand is at historic lows because of COVID-19, and President Trump will have to intervene again to persuade Putin, MBS and the OPEC+ group to cut production further and save the US oil patch."
Elections in South Korea
Statement from Abraham Denmark, Asia Program Director
"The South Korean people have demonstrated the strength of their democracy by turning out to vote in record numbers in the middle of a pandemic. The key to this success was to embrace early voting, have a robust test-track-isolate system in place, and build distancing and other safety measures into polling station operations. Provisions were even made for thousands under quarantine and treatment to vote.
Just as the United States should have learned from South Korea in formulating an initial response to COVID-19, we have another opportunity to follow South Korea’s example. There is no reason the US cannot be ready to do the same thing in November."
South Korea Dealing with COVID-19
Statement from Jean Lee, Director, Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy
“The United States and South Korea confirmed their first cases of COVID-19 on the same day: Jan. 20. Yet how the two countries responded could not be more different. Learning from the lessons of SARS and MERS, South Korea had emergency legislation and a plan of action ready to go. The plan relied on fast and thorough testing, tracing and tracking of the infection, as well as coordination at national, regional and local levels on the sharing of data. That data has been shared with the public, thanks to partnerships with the tech sector. Messaging on social distancing has been clear and consistent; monitoring of self-quarantine has been strict. The country was not shut down, and provinces were not placed under shelter-at-home orders.
With South Korea flattening the curve, the country is cautiously moving toward normal life. Students are still attending classes online but the baseball season is tentatively set to begin in early May.
South Koreans have relinquished a remarkable degree of privacy in the fight to contain the COVID-19 outbreak but most seem to subscribe to the belief that allowing the government to track their health and whereabouts and share the details publicly is beneficial for the public good. It’s an example of transparency in a democracy, and public trust in a government.”
Canada Appoints Ambassador to the US
Statement from Canada Institute Director Christopher Sands
“Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision to formally appoint Kirsten Hillman as Canada’s Ambassador to the United States was a smart decision, and overdue recognition for a career diplomat and trade negotiator who was serving as the Deputy Ambassador throughout President Trump’s term in office and is well-respected in Washington with strong relationships with the key players in the White House, Congress, and the administration. When Ambassador David MacNaughton left Washington last August, Hillman became the acting ambassador, and the consensus among Canada-watchers in the United States has long been that Trudeau should ask her to take on the job permanently as he did today.
“Ambassador Hillman is the first career foreign service officer to hold the most important Canadian ambassadorship since Michael Kergin, who served during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and their aftermath. Trudeau’s appointment of another foreign service professional now is a recognition that the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis with similar potential to reshape the U.S.-Canadian relationship. Kirsten Hillman is a first-rate intellect and public servant, and the smart choice for Canada’s Ambassador in Washington now.”
Europe’s Distinctive Approaches to Containing COVID-19
Statement from Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar Diana Villiers Negroponte
Astonishing the distinct approaches taken by the UK, French and German governments to containing, testing and caring for those infected with COVID-19.
The best organized is the German government. After diagnosing the virus among skiers returning from Italy and Austria in January, Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged independent laboratories to develop tests for COVID-19. Early testing plus the assurance that 25,000 critical care beds with respirators were available ensured the German public that contracting the virus was not a death knell. Of the 10,999 cases diagnosed on March 19, only 20 people have died from COVID-19, representing 3.1 for every 1,000 infected. As a result, Germans have greater equanimity in confronting and containing the virus. The British government took a contrary approach with a wait and see the policy.
PM Boris Johnson waited until March 16 before closing pubs and clubs. The degree of social spacing neither extends to schools nor to transportation. Instead, he asked scientists to produce an antibody test to measure an individual's resistance to the virus. Tests to determine the existence of COVID-19 are only offered to symptomatic patients inside the National Health System (NHS) hospitals. When deaths from the virus jumped from 55 last Monday to 144 on Thursday, representing a mortality rate of 44.05 per 1,000 infected, Johnson added restaurants to his list and promised to develop a COVID-19 test akin to pregnancy tests, only this time blood would be drawn not urine.
President Macron of France has imposed fines on those breaking his order than no one leave their homes, except for runs to the grocery, pharmacy, paper kiosk and banks. This order came after Parisiens ignored last week’s call for social spacing and enjoyed weekend strolls through Paris, enjoying a Pernod at the local cafe. In the face of 6,012 positive cases for COVID-19, the mortality rate jumped from 127 to 264 in 3 days representing 28.9 per 1,000 infected. None of these numbers compare to the 82.9 per 1,000 infected in Italy, but the distinct paths of European governments demonstrate who understands the nature of this pandemic and who is ready to take draconian measures to protect their citizens.
Dealing with the Reality of COVID-19
The Latest from Wilson Center Scholar, Dr. Lawrence Altman
"As COVID-19 forces us to hunker down in our homes, telecommute, stock up on staples, limit visits to relatives and friends, and disrupt our lives in many other ways, we are paying a steep price for not heeding the advice of health officials who, for decades, repeatedly urged government officials to prepare for another pandemic resembling the one from influenza that killed 20 to 100 million people from 1917-1920. Millions more like President Woodrow Wilson, for whom our institution is named, were sickened but recovered in that pandemic. Lack of adequate monetary investment in public health institutions and political will to support them has resulted in the lack of state and federal governments being ill-prepared for confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. We face monumental challenges of caring for COVID-19 patients and preventing further expansion of the novel virus. Because Nature is hiding many more infectious agents, some likely to emerge in the coming years, it is imperative to financially and politically support public health institutions to avert the next pandemic."
Canada and US Agree to Restrict Border Crossings
Statement from Canada Institute Director, Christopher Sands
"The most significant aspect of the decision to restrict crossings at the US-Canadian border is that it was mutual, with both Washington and Ottawa taking coordinated action that allows for essential shipments and individuals to cross. That was not the approach taken by the United States with China nor Europe, and it is the fruit of nearly two decades of efforts by the United States and Canada after the September 11 attacks to adopt a shared border management approach that is data-driven utilizing risk management to allocate personnel and technology to keep the border open to legitimate trade and travelers in an emergency.”
China to Expel US Reporters
Statement from Robert Daly, Director of the Kissinger Institute
"In its broad contours, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ announcement was expected and, from the Chinese Communist Party’s viewpoint, proportionate. But the statement is either blinkered or bullying in its refusal to acknowledge that Xi Jinping himself, in declaring that 中国媒体都性党 (“Chinese media are all surnamed ‘Party’”), announced that Chinese journalists are not journalists in the same sense as those who work for free commercial media organs outside of China. The work of Chinese media directed by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China, which, until recently, was known as the Ministry of Propaganda. Chinese media’s job is to “tell China’s story to the world” in ways that support the CCP’s master narrative.
This is not to imply that the men and women who work for Chinese Party media are incapable of performing as journalists. Many are first-rate reporters and analysts, but they can show their mettle only when covering issues not deemed sensitive by the Party. Those who operate outside of Party strictures risk severe punishment. Chen Qiushi, who posted video blogs from Wuhan during the height of its coronavirus crisis, was “quarantined” and hasn’t been heard from in over a month.
China’s decision to kick American journalists out of the PRC is the latest evidence of a broader trend. China and the United States—China and much of the free, developed world—have begun decoupling not only their integrated supply chains and financial systems but their integrated information and knowledge systems as well. Our media, higher educational institutions, think tanks, and creative classes are gradually becoming estranged from and hostile to each other.
What does this alienation portend? It’s an imperfect analogy, but think of how Fox News and MSNBC depict disparate realities for separate audiences and the costs those disconnects have for the United States. We don’t need our imaginations to know how this plays out on a global scale. It’s happening now. Chinese and American leaders are wasting time and energy on a futile, infantile coronavirus blame game—arguing over where the pathogen originated and what to call it—rather than marshaling their resources and expertise to find common solutions to the crisis. We can expect more of the same in relation to other transnational issues—combatting climate change, regulating emergent technologies ethically and effectively, arms control."
The Latest from the Far East
Statement from Abraham Denmark, Asia Program Director
"The recent back-and-forth of accusations and name-calling between Chinese and American leaders is counter-productive and distracts from the cooperation we need to fight this virus together. This virus should be an opening for enhanced cooperation with Beijing, and the United States should be able to get the help we need from China while remaining true to our democratic values.
Taiwan's Defence Ministry said late on Monday that Chinese J-11 fighters and KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft flew into the waters southwest of Taiwan for night-time exercises (this could also be in response to reports that DoD is reducing exercises as a reaction to coronavirus): the world will not just pause and wait for the United States to sort itself out. There are tens of thousands of US men and women in uniform deployed around the world, and they now must continue to fulfill their normal missions while also reacting and adjusting to the threat posed by this pandemic. US Forces in Korea, for example, has done a terrific job of maintaining deterrence against North Korea while at the same time responding on the front-lines of the coronavirus outbreak while living and working in South Korea."
Russia & Eurasia Respond to the Pandemic
Statement from Kennan Institute Program Assistant Morgan Jacobs
“The response to the coronavirus in the post-Soviet region remains fluid.
Russia has now adopted measures similar to many other nations across the globe to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The cabinet is also set to unveil a stimulus package to offset the expected economic hit the country will take. While Moscow has recorded a low number of cases thus far, rates of infection continue to increase at a rapid clip and an overflow hospital is currently being built in the city’s outskirts to handle the expected influx of patients.
While Ukraine has few confirmed cases of the virus compared to the rest of Europe, Kyiv has taken a preventative approach toward containment. The government has imposed what amounts to a lockdown on the entire country. All public spaces will be shuttered and many modes of domestic and public transportation between cities will be stopped. Kyiv is also working on a litany of measures to combat the expected economic fallout.
Some Central Asian nations have also begun to report cases of the virus. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have implemented emergency measures including school closures, barring foreigners from entry, and canceling events. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have confirmed no cases of the virus thus far and have taken extremely limited measures.”
COVID-19 in Mexico
Statement from Mexico Institute Director Duncan Wood
"The Mexican government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the problems that exist in Mexico between a president who is resistant to the advice of experts and a government bureaucracy that continues to try to improve conditions within the country. President Lopez Obrador perhaps wants to downplay the severity of the crisis because he fears that widespread anxiety or panic will further damage the country’s economic performance. Social distancing in Mexico will prove to be complicated because Mexico’s is a highly tactile culture. more worryingly the Mexican public health system appears to be poorly prepared for the outbreak of this pandemic. We have already seen shortages of medicine and basic supplies at Mexican hospitals and problems in the government procurement process for medication."
Digital Privacy in the time of COVID-19
Stuart Brotman Comment on Digital Privacy
"As much of the nation switches from office-based activities to remote work, it’s unclear how well we are prepared for such a seismic shift. Several potential problems come quickly to mind. Many company networks, particularly those supporting small and medium-sized businesses, are not protected from system contamination—viruses of a different kind that may be spread to company employees working at home(and vice versa).
The private devices these employees are using also may be unprotected, leaving open greater opportunities for foreign and domestic hackers to create digital disruption at an unprecedented scale, including fake news alerts that induce greater public panic. Finally, increased social isolation among new mandatory home-based workers will mean that more sensitive personal information beyond the business context will be sent to family and friends so that a feeling of daily normalcy can be maintained."
COVID-19 in Syria & Egypt
Amy Austin Holmes comments on COVID-19 in Syria & Egypt
"Northeast Syria, the area under SDF control where US troops are still located, does not have a single testing machine for the Coronavirus. There was one testing facility in Serekaniye, but it was put out of operation when Turkey intervened and occupied the area in October after Trump's phone call with Erdogan.
In Egypt, the over-crowded prisons are a potential breeding ground for the virus. Many people are in prison simply for Facebook posts or journalistic reporting, such as former Wilson Center fellow Ismail Alexandrani."
COVID-19 in the Shia Crescent
Statement from Marina Ottaway, Middle East Fellow
"The Shia crescent (Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon) is turning into a crescent of contagion. All countries in the arc are seriously weakened by political and economic crises and have been slow to react. The virus is spreading rapidly. The situation will turn particularly dramatic in Syria, where a large number of refugees from the fighting in Idlib are living in the open, without assistance. People weakened by hunger and lack of shelter in freezing temperature will have little resistance to COVID-19."
Canada Passes USMCA
Statement from Christopher Sands, Canada Institute Director
“Canada’s approval of the NAFTA replacement, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) was never in doubt: it had the support of the two largest party caucuses in Parliament, the Liberals who negotiated the agreement and the Conservatives who supported it and led Canada into NAFTA and the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. Moreover, all ten provincial premiers signed a letter calling for its swift ratification.
“Now all three governments can begin making changes to regulations and working out the details of how to implement tricky provisions such as the newly-complex automotive rule of origin. President Trump has called for the USMCA to take full effect by July 1, which is ambitious but at least now the work can begin.”