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Could the EU Make its ASEAN Breakthrough with the Emerging Indo-Pacific Strategy?

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The Indo-Pacific policy guidelines that was announced by the German Federal Foreign Office last week, is a clear signal from Berlin in becoming a shaper for the international order in the volatile region. Entitled “Germany-Europe-Asia: Shaping the 21st Century Together”, the policy guidelines is the second of such document in the European Union (EU) after the Macron administration released its own Indo-Pacific strategy back in August 2019. But considering that Germany is the current president of the EU Council, this policy guidelines has been ever more significant. For one, Berlin has made clear its intention to lead Europe into this new Indo-Pacific charge as the ‘third power’ after the US-led coalition and China ⸺ an aim that is highlighted not just by this German government’s policy guidelines but also, incisively described by the French as the ‘mediating power’.

The release of such document, of course, reverberates different responses from political observers outside of Europe. For instance, Sebastian Strangio sees the German latest move as part of Europe’s reassessment of its approach to China and boldly predicts that other EU nations are to follow suit with their new stand on China. Prominent Filipino expert, Richard Javad Heydarian, meanwhile, is of the view that Germany’s pursuit as the shaper of international order is deliberately focused on the key regions which bear strategic importance to Europe overall. On the other hand, Xin Hua, adopts a pessimistic view on the ability of Europe to influence the Indo-Pacific region. With Berlin’s policy guidelines, the Chinese scholar sees Europe’s reliance on soft power (such as norms diffusion)to influence the Indo-Pacific region, in contrast to the US that projects its hard power in the region through military prowess in the region, will make it less than what it aimed as the shaper of international order.

Be it applause or skepticism, the observers are in the same view that Berlin’s latest move is a drastic shift from its previous ambiguous position on the Indo-Pacific region which has become the hotbed for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision pushed by the US and its military allies such as Japan and Australia. With this policy guidelines in place, it signals the seriousness of the German government in joining the Indo-Pacific region with the rest of the EU, as a third power that is independent from the US camp and China. What is left is the forming of a full European-level Indo-Pacific strategy and its implementation in the years ahead.

The ASEAN Context

In the ASEAN context, Germany’s move has created two questions that are worthy to ponder. First, how will this emerging Indo-Pacific strategy be different to Europe’s current cooperation policy toward ASEAN as a whole? This is the foremost question to ask among ASEAN member states as the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy  guidelines singled out the Southeast Asian bloc as the country’s focused cooperation partner in different areas of cooperation: climate change, marine pollution, rule of law and human rights, culture, education, science, trade and technology. That said, this is not the first time ASEAN appeared as the important partner for the EU.As a matter of fact, two-way cooperation has been ongoing since the establishment of dialogue relations in 1977.

As of 2020, two EU-ASEAN Action Plans have been agreed upon, implemented and in the middle of enforcement. Within the Action Plan (2018-2022) that runs through the year 2022, a myriad of cooperation areas has been outlined, spanning across political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars. In particular, those areas of cooperation identified in Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines are within the trans-regional plan as well. What is new is that Berlin has set security policy as a special focus area for Indo-Pacific cooperation ⸺ a point that is emphasized by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas in his press release following the announcement of the country’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines. In line with such niche orientation, Germany can readily lead the European initiative to assist ASEAN in the two sub-areas of non-traditional security that do not have substantial cooperation but chiefly important in the coming months and years: cybersecurity and public health security. These two sub-areas will be the best start for the EU’s Indo-Pacific push in the ASEAN region.

Second, how will the EU’s Indo-Pacific approach be different from its current dogmatic approach in its cooperation with ASEAN? By all means, it is no secret that dogmatic adherence to rules and norms remained to be the greatest obstacle for the EU’s full amelioration of ties with ASEAN in the past years. As of today, the EU’s ban of Indonesian and Malaysian imports as well as its unease on Filipino President Duterte and Burmese junta’s human rights records, are the contentious issues that prevented the European bloc to go past its finishing line in negotiating a full free trade pact with ASEAN. From such case alone, it is clear that the European bloc’s normative stance predicated upon Brussels’ strictly defined rules, norms and values on climate change and human rights issues, is in play when comes to international cooperation with ASEAN.

Having said that, Germany’s latest Indo-Pacific policy guidelines do not precisely highlight of its normative stance apart from maintaining the international rules-based order in the volatile region. But on the other hand, Germany’s aim for the EU to become the shaper of such order also sparks an open-ended question of whether its strict adherence to rules, norms and values (as in the present) will continue to be the defining feature of its cooperation with ASEAN. From the Indo-Pacific policy guidelines, this question is yet to be answered by the German government and perhaps, this dilemma is to betackled in the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy. Should a pragmatic approach is adopted by the EU ⸺ as has been recently demonstrated by the conclusion and enforcement of the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement despite human rights concern in the ASEAN member state ⸺ it will definitely clear the normative obstacle for the eventual conclusion of a free trade pact with the Southeast Asian bloc. More than that, it stands to facilitate greater cooperation in all areas of partnership between the two regions.

All in all, the EU’s emerging Indo-Pacific strategy should need to address these two questions that have surfaced fromthe former’s past and current experiences with ASEAN. While the German government’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines have set new tone to Europe’s engagement with the volatile region, such document has yet to tackle these two difficult questions. Only by tacklingthese two questions will the EU be able to make its much-needed ASEAN breakthroughwith the emerging Indo-Pacific strategy.

ANBOUND Research Center (Malaysia) is an independent think tank situated in Kuala Lumpur, registered (1006190-U) with laws and regulations of Malaysia. The think tank also provides advisory service related to regional economic development and policy solution. For any feedback, please contact: malaysia[at]anbound.com.

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European sanctions against Turkey are more likely than ever

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Another scandal erupted in relations between Turkey and the EU – on November 22, the Turkish merchant vessel, Roseline A, was detained and fully inspected by personnel of German frigate Hamburg in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, 160 nautical miles north of the Libyan city of Benghazi.

Since no weapons were found on board, Ankara received moral satisfaction which would later turn into notes of protest demanding an apology and compensation, as well as statements about European “Turkophobia”. Turkey for sure will use this cause in all possible ways – necessary protests will be made; lawsuits will be filed. This very issue will be included in the agenda of Turkey’s activities in NATO and the UN. The Turkish side has already declared its official protest, and the EU ambassadors have been invited to the Turkish Foreign Ministry for “talks”.

It is worth noting that this incident occurred shortly before the next EU summit scheduled on December 10, devoted to possible imposing of sanctions against Turkey for its actions in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. EU top officials are once again trying to make it clear to Turkey that its activities in the region are unacceptable and “sanctions are more likely than ever.”

Moreover, on November 26, MEPs voted by an absolute majority in favor of a draft resolution calling on the EU member states to impose tough sanctions on Ankara. The document emphasizes that relations between Turkey and the EU have reached a “historical minimum” due to Ankara’s actions in the Mediterranean, Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Europe sends constant signals to Turkey that its position is contrary to European values, interests, and understanding of regional and global security.

What will happen at the summit on December 10, when the EU will, once again, discuss sanctions against Turkey? How far the EU will be ready to go and what steps Ankara will take in the near future to prevent it? Now Turkey provides a more restrained policy trying not to give a leverage to Europe, Paris, or Berlin.

France still may be the most anti-Turkish country in the EU, but now Berlin is starting to act more openly against Ankara. The incident in the Eastern Mediterranean was approved by the German leadership in advance for sure. This means that the situation for Turkey is changing for the worse on the eve of the EU summit, so important for Erdogan.

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More pressure on Republic of Srpska

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Recently, Bosnian High Representative Valentin Inzko, who is tasked with overseeing the civilian implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the Bosnian war, presented his 58th report on the situation in the country to the UN Security Council. He again accused Bosnian Serb and Croat leadership of secession, disruptive actions and attempts to make Bosnia appear dysfunctional.

“Republic of Srpska authorities are undermining Bosnia`s institutions and threatening its sovereignty, attacking the High Representative and foreign judges, and refusing to accept migrants. The Serbian member of the Presidency, Milorad Dodik, is the loudest in disputing Bosnia and Herzegovina, which he calls an impossible state“ – Inzko told the representatives of the states of the UN Security Council.

Such selective attacks on Serbs could not remain without a diplomatic response. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Security Council, Vasily Nebenzya stated:

– We have listened carefully to Mr. Inzko and we are sorry that the quality of the High Representative’s report has not been improved. Criticism of Serbs in Bosnia has become a standard way of writing the Report. Instead of accusations, the OHR should offer solutions. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve to create solutions themselves – Nebenzya emphasized at the United Nations. Nebenzya also called for a revision of the conditions and criteria for closing the office of Bosnia’s international administrator. The Russian position on this issue is well known and logical.

Because what should an international administrator or a High Representative do in a democratic country in the 20th century?! What kind of country is Bosnia and Herzegovina if someone can make decisions outside the Constitution and the law. Unfortunately, this undemocratic practice continues primarily due to the intensified aspirations of certain Bosniak officials to rewrite the Dayton Agreement in favour of the centralization and unitarization of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The High Representative’s persistent desire to shift all responsibility for the failed process of interethnic reconciliation to Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina is obvious. They are baselessly called Dayton (Peace Agreement) ‘destroyers’. The High Representative wants to scare the international community with the possibility of a dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina while completely ignoring the real situation in the country. Its obvious that some “international factors” support these aspirations and that no political views from the Serbian or Croat side can`t be considered.

What is important to point out is that the statements of Bosnia`s High Representative Valentin Inzko are in line with the statements of US ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recently US ambassador to Bosnia, Mr. Eric Nelson stated that he advocates “reforms” for both Dayton agreement and the Bosnian constitution.(2) From decades of experience in the Balkans, when a US ambassador in the Balkans starts advocating for “reforms”, it actually represents an announcement of stronger US engagement, ie, as it is now fashionable to say – at least in the US – interference in internal things of that state.

In the 1990s, when United States was the only super power as a  Cold War winner, the word “reform” had an almost mythical meaning that could not, and should not, be questioned. It was understood that the system of the so-called liberal democracy, was the ultimate winner of the entire process of human history (which Francis Fukuyama proclaimed urbi et orbi in his world-famous essay “The End of History”, published just a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall)  the only one that can set standards for the rest of the world. Therefore, the word “reform” could mean only one thing – changes in the direction of the ideal, only legitimate and acceptable model for US.

Who was not in favor of “reforms” in the direction of an absolutely victorious and, therefore, the only legitimate order of the so-called liberal democracy – political and economic isolation awaited him.  From such a totalitarian and exclusive view of the world, the roots of future “humanitarian” interventions around the world sprouted very quickly.

Donald Trump gained the sympathy of the Serbs because he had promised not to interfere in the internal questions of other countries and because the entire mandate, including the just-concluded elections, he was under attack by the establishment, the deep state and the big media. However, objectively his administration continued to bother Serbia with the recognition of Kosovo and Republic of Srpska with a united Bosnia. He blocked the gas pipelines and the Silk Road to the Serbian protectors, the Russians and the Chinese. However, the change in the US administration towards the Serbs was obvious. During the Trump administration, the facts were taken into account that Serbs and Americans were allies in the two world wars and that certain Serbian interests in the Balkans should be taken into account.

On the other side, Bosniaks are celebrating Biden’s victory as if it were an election in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reason is simple, Joe Biden was one of the main lobbyists for the bombing of Serbs in the 1990s. And when NATO started the bombing, Joe Biden celebrated publicly. It was the NATO bombing of Republika Srpska in 1995 that forced Serbs to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosniak political leaders now hope that when Biden become president of the United States, he will force Serbs to “compromise“ again.

However, it should be borne in mind that this is no longer a unipolar world in which the United States is the only superpower. And that Trump’s policy is not the cause but an expression of the crisis of American society. That Trumpism will outlive Trump, which means, turning America away from the world towards itself, returning industry from abroad to the country for domestic unemployment and not interfering in the internal affairs of other states. In other words, America can no longer pursue the policies it pursued in the Balkans in the 1990s. However, without a doubt, with the arrival of Biden, the American administration, in accordance with its power, will put additional pressure on the Serbs in favor of Bosniaks and unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Covid-19 Started in Italy, in September 2019, Not in China in December

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The covid-19, or coronavirus-19, virus didn’t start in Wuhan China in December 2019, as has been widely reported till now. This new or “novel” virus was first infecting people in Italy, by no later than September 2019, according to researchers at the Italian Association for Cancer Research, and published on November 11th, as Current Research, by the National Tumors Institute of the Italian Ministry of Health.

This study is titled “Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the pre-pandemic period in Italy”. It reports that:

“The first surge of positive cases was identified in September-October 2019. Evaluation of anti-SARS-CoV-2 functional NAbs identified positive samples in CPE-based microneutralization tests already collected in October 2019. Given the temporal delay between infection and antibody synthesis, these results indicate that the virus circulated in Italy well before the detection of the declared index patient in February 2020. In addition, most of the first antibody-positive individuals lived in regions where the pandemic started.”

In other words: though the first officially noticed covid-19-infected Italians were in February 2020, there had been covid-19-infected people in Italy starting by no later than September 2019. Consequently, one reason why Italy was one of the three most covid-19-infected nations as early as 1 March 2020 (right behind China and South Korea), might be that China and South Korea were the first two countries that noticed this new virus. On 31 January 2020, Italy suspended all flights to and from China and declared a state of emergency, but 26 February 2020 was the first date when Italy reported covid-19 cases, and there were already 147 in Italy on that date. The Italian Government explained its sudden cessation of air-flights by saying that a Chinese couple from Wuhan had arrived in Italy on January 23rd and became diagnosed with the new disease on January 30th. China had started reporting cases already a month earlier, on 23 January 2020: 259 of them. Within two weeks thereafter, China’s leaders established total  lockdown and intensive nationwide searches to find possible cases that they had previously missed; so, on February 12th, there was an enormous spike in China’s known cases, 14,108 of them, reported on that date. That number declined down to 573 new daily cases on February 29th. No number even close to that number (573) has been reported after that date in China.

Two weeks after 1 March, on 15 March 2020, Italy had by far the world’s highest intensity of coronavirus infections as calculated at that time, at the rate of 409.3 cases per million residents, and China had 56.2 cases per million. (U.S. had 11.1 per million.) However, the tiny nation of San Marino, which is surrounded within Italy, had 109 total cases, and only 34,232 population (which was too small for that nation to have been included among the ones which were then being calculated); so, that’s a per-million rate of 3,184 infections per million, which was actually (and by far) the world’s highest rate of covid-infections, at that time. Consequently: the first person who became infected by this virus could well have been a San Marinan, instead of an Italian.

As more research is done, regarding this virus, the actual geographical source of it could turn out to be any country, because international travel and tourism are now commonplace, which was not formerly so. Maybe the Italian cases in September 2019 had resulted from a foreign visitor, instead of from an Italian. In the future, global pandemics will likely be far more frequent than in earlier history, but technology (such as vaccines) and the world adjusts so that there might not be a higher percentage of the global population dying from plagues than has been so in the past. Making predictions on the basis of the latest prior mega-pandemic, which was the Spanish flu of 1918-1920, might not be entirely appropriate. The Spanish flu most likely started in America, not in Spain, but, according to Wikipedia, “To maintain morale, World War I censors minimized these early reports. Newspapers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain, such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII, and these stories created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit. This gave rise to the name ‘Spanish’ flu. Historical and epidemiological data are inadequate to identify with certainty the pandemic’s geographic origin, with varying views as to its location.” In other words, what the masses of the public believe at any given time can be shaped by the government and by its newspapers and broadcasters, simply by hiding facts that the people who actually control the country don’t want the public to know. Censorship is the core of dictatorship, and almost all countries are actually dictatorships, but the news-media there censor-out that fact, instead of publishing it. So, the reality of censorship is, itself, hidden from the public, in order for the people who control the government to control the masses so that the nation can be called a “democracy.” That’s important for them to do in order to minimize the percentage of the population they’ll need to imprison. However, the United States already has a higher percentage of its residents in prison than does any other country; and, so, its news-media are especially highly censored, in order to be able to prevent an outright revolution. Forcing both the body and the mind could turn out to be too much, but apparently the individuals who are in control feel they need to go that far, in order to remain in control.

But, regardless, any politician who calls covid-19 “the Wuhan virus” or “the China virus” is expressing that person’s agenda, instead of anything about reality, since the actual first case of this disease could have appeared anywhere.

(NOTE: The “gain-of-function” hypotheses, and evidence of Chinese bio-warfare research being funded by the Pentagon and participated in by Canada, do raise questions, which should be answered; but more basic than whether this virus was natural or instead man-made, is precisely where and how it first got released out into the public. We don’t yet really know the answer even to that extremely important question — a question which must be answered BEFORE one can even begin to address the question of whether that event was natural or instead military. This is the basic question, and its answer is still unknown. It’s the first question that must be answered before anything else can become known about how the global pandemic started.)

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