Asian Affairs: August 15-31, 2023
India became the fourth nation to successfully land on the moon while BRICS convened in Africa and a controversial development in Fukushima drew mixed reactions around the world.
India Becomes Fourth Country to Successfully Land on the Moon
India’s Chadrayaan-3 lunar mission placed a lander (Vikram) and a rover (Pragyan) on the surface of the moon on Aug. 23, 2023. Initially launched on July 14, the mission involved 22 days of travel before the mission entered lunar orbit on Aug. 5. A further nine-days in orbit followed before Vikram landed on the lunar surface on Aug. 23 to deploy Pragyan.
As India’s first lunar landing, the objectives of the expected two-week-long mission are succinct and straightforward.
Firstly, the mission aims to successfully place and maintain a lander on the moon in working condition. Secondly, Pragyan’s driving capabilities must be tested and demonstrated on the lunar surface. Naturally, these two objectives will lend practical merit to India’s lunar ambitions. The third objective of the mission is to “carry out experiments on the lunar surface” according to India’s Department of Space.
With Chadrayaan-3’s successful landing, India joins the United States, Russia (then the Soviet Union), and China as nations who have successfully soft landed, that is to land without crashing or notably damaging the landing vehicle, on the moon. India is the first country to deploy a vehicle near the moon’s south pole, where Russia’s Luna-25 mission recently crashed into the lunar surface after experiencing a failure during pre-landing maneuvers. China’s most recent lunar landing, Chang’e 5, landed on the moon on Dec. 1, 2020, and returned samples of lunar material to Earth on Dec. 16, the first to do so since 1976. Chang’e 6 is expected to launch in 2024.
India, along with Japan, South Korea, Singapore and other nations around the world, is a signatory to the Artemis Accords, which aim to establish common principles for lunar exploration and further international endeavors in space. Neither China nor Russia are signatories to the Accords at time of press.
Release of Treated Water From Fukushima Plant Met With Ambivalence From International Community
Over 13 years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster rocked Japan and captured the attention of the world, the release of treated radioactive water from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean has once again put Japan in the international spotlight as the international community provided a mixed reaction to the plan.
While the International Atomic Energy Agency has endorsed Japan’s stance that the level of radiation in the released water is negligible, widespread concerns remain over the presence of tritium, a radionuclide which cannot be eliminated with great reliability by Fukushima’s Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS). The Japanese public remains overwhelmingly concerned regarding international reactions to the decision, with a majority opposing the dumping as a separate issue from international reaction, according to The Asahi Shimbun.
Likewise, the decision has been met with expressions of opposition and/or concern from North Korea, South Korea, Russia, and others. The United States, France and Australia rank among countries which have expressed support for the plan.
The release of more than a million metric tons of treated, radioactive water from the plant began on Aug. 24, drawing the most fervent reaction from China.
The disposal of the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water is a major issue about nuclear safety. Its impact goes beyond Japan’s borders, and the issue is by no means a private matter for Japan. Since humanity began using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, there has been neither any precedent nor universally recognized standards for discharging nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean. The Fukushima nuclear accident which took place 12 years ago was a major catastrophe that already caused the leakage of large amounts of radioactive substances into the ocean. There could be a man-made secondary disaster to the local people and the whole world if Japan chooses to dump the water into the ocean just to serve Japan’s selfish interests.
-Wang Wenbin, Spokesperson - Ministry of Foreign Affairs
In recent years, Japan has adopted a firmer stance regarding growing Chinese power and influence in the Asia-Pacific region, and it can be reasonably argued that this decision will serve as a setback for the island nation’s recent efforts to establish itself as a force for democracy and balance in the region. China quickly moved to ban all seafood imports from Japan after the release began.
Historical Trilateral Summit
Earlier this month, the United States, Republic of Korea, and Japan made history with a summit at Camp David that was as sweeping in its agenda as it was ambitious in its goals. Amid escalating regional tensions, the leaders tackled a range of issues from economics and defense to COVID-19, human rights, and climate change.
According to an official White House statement, the summit aimed to inaugurate a "new era of trilateral partnership" at a critical juncture in history. The leaders committed to aligning their collective efforts to advance security, prosperity, and democratic values. One of the most concrete outcomes was the establishment of new communication mechanisms. The leaders agreed to hold annual trilateral meetings among their heads of state, foreign ministers, defense ministers, and national security advisors. They will also add annual trilateral meetings between their finance, commerce, and industry ministers. Additionally, they will launch an annual Trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue to coordinate the implementation of their Indo-Pacific approaches.
We will hold trilateral meetings between our leaders, foreign ministers, defense ministers, and national security advisors at least annually, complementing existing trilateral meetings between our respective foreign and defense ministries. We will also hold the first trilateral meeting between our finance ministers as well as launch a new commerce and industry ministers track that will meet annually. We will also launch an annual Trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue to coordinate implementation of our Indo-Pacific approaches and to continually identify new areas for common action
The geopolitical implications of the summit have been the subject of much analysis. Both the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and The Wall Street Journal emphasized that an unspoken but clear objective was to align the three nations against China's growing influence. The leaders expressed concerns about actions "inconsistent with the rules-based international order," a veiled reference to China's activities in the South China Sea.
South Korea finds itself in a particularly precarious position, as reported by AP News. The country is trying to balance its alliance with the U.S. against its economic ties with China, its largest trading partner. The summit provided South Korea with a platform to articulate its complex geopolitical stance, including its commitment to "consult with each other in an expeditious manner to coordinate our responses to regional challenges, provocations, and threats."
The summit also committed to promoting democracy and protecting human rights. It reaffirmed the leaders' commitment to the "complete denuclearization of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)" and condemned its ballistic missile launches. The summit also committed to promoting democracy and protecting human rights. Building on this foundation of cooperation, the leaders also outlined plans to extend their collaborative efforts beyond their own borders.
They intend to coordinate regional capacity-building initiatives targeted at ASEAN and Pacific Island countries. The aim is to ensure these efforts are mutually reinforcing and maximally beneficial to their valued partners. This will include capacity-building in critical areas such as cybersecurity and financial integrity, all under the umbrella of a new Trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation Framework.
On the economic front, the leaders announced cooperation on supply chain resilience, particularly focusing on semiconductors and batteries. They also committed to enhancing policy coordination on possible disruptions to global supply chains and confronting economic coercion. New initiatives include the Partnership for Resilient and Inclusive Supply-chain Enhancement (RISE) and the Trilateral Economic Security Dialogue to advance shared objectives in technology security and standards, clean energy, biotechnology, and more.
New Challenger Emerges Ahead of 2024 Taiwan Presidential Election
Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Foxconn, has thrown his hat into the ring for Taiwan's 2024 presidential election, adding a new layer of complexity to an already intricate political landscape. Running as an independent candidate, Gou's entry could potentially fracture the pan-Blue vote and disrupt the traditional two-party system that has long dominated Taiwanese politics.
Gou's candidacy comes at a time when Taiwan is grappling with escalating tensions with China. The 72-year-old business magnate recently lost out on the nomination for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party. However, with KMT nominee Hou Yu-ih struggling in the polls, Gou has decided to go it alone. His promise to bring "50 years of peace to the Taiwan Strait" in exchange for four years as president has grabbed attention, but it also raises questions about the role of business acumen in politics.
The KMT has been plagued by questions over Hou's competence and strategy. Hou, the popular mayor of New Taipei, has been unable to shake questions about both his competence and his approach to Taiwan's cross-strait relations. This uncertainty within the KMT has inspired Gou to run as an independent, a move that requires him to secure 290,000 signatures, or 1.5% of the electorate, to get his name on the ballot.
Gou's entry into the race also poses a challenge to Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-je, who has been polling in second place. Ko has attempted to capitalize on voter disillusionment with traditional partisan divides, branding his TPP as a new "White camp." However, Gou's candidacy could siphon some of that support away, further complicating the electoral dynamics.
On the other side of the aisle, the ruling Democratic People’s Party (DPP) candidate William Lai is currently the front-runner with about 40% support in the polls. Lai, who has experience at the highest levels of government, has combined cautious pragmatism with previous hints of support for Taiwanese independence.
Gou's candidacy is not just a reflection of the divisions within the KMT; it's also an indicator of the broader political uncertainty that Taiwan faces. With the election less than five months away, the opposition seems to lack the time to unify behind a single candidate, which could strengthen Lai’s chances.
BRICS States Hold 15th Annual Summit in South Africa
BRICS, a group of nations categorized as fast-growing economies held its 15th annual summit in South Africa in August. The event was marked by a major announcement regarding membership expansion and abnormalities surrounding the participation of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
The major announcement of the summit was that six new states will be invited to join BRICS, effective Jan. 1, 2024. The move aims to strengthen the collective influence of these nations on the global stage, in what many observers have described as an attempt to challenge the American-led world order and necessitate the world’s acceptance “the multipolar reality.” Included in the expansion are: Argentina, Egypt, Iran, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his enthusiasm for expanding BRICS and suggested that more countries might join in the future once the core nations agree on membership criteria. However, there were disagreements among the leaders about the number and speed of new members, leading to last-minute discussions and a surprise addition of a sixth country. Putin, speaking from Russia due to concerns related to an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court, criticized Western powers' "neo-liberalism" and their threat to traditional values and the emergence of a multi-polar world.
Xi did not appear to give his scheduled speech to the BRICS business forum, instead having his statement delivered by Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao. No explanation was given for Xi’s absence. Xi did, however, address the Summit on its second day with a speech emphasizing the importance of cooperation among the BRICS countries,
Strengthening global governance is the right choice if the international community intends to share development opportunities and tackle global challenges. International rules must be written and upheld jointly by all countries based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, rather than dictated by those with the strongest muscles or the loudest voice. Ganging up to form exclusive groups and packaging their own rules as international norms are even more unacceptable. BRICS countries should practice true multilateralism, uphold the UN-centered international system, support and strengthen the WTO-centered multilateral trading system, and reject the attempt to create small circles or exclusive blocs.
-Xi Jinping, Seeking Development Through Solidarity and Cooperation and Shouldering Our Responsibility for Peace - delivered to 2023 BRICS Summit
Despite the expansion, some suggest that BRICS will not evolve into a geopolitical rival to the United States, as the new members are not viewed as anti-American states, signifying more of a complementarity than a replacement of existing global institutions and norms. Overall, the expansion reflects the shifting dynamics in global politics, with BRICS positioning itself as an alternative and influential bloc on the international stage.
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