Plus: India likes free movement of people; Taiwan learns from Ukraine; politics behind judges’ departure; Indonesia combats sexual violence; no tourists for cherry blossom time
Imran Khan’s fate is apparently being decided via the tortuous processes of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. It stepped into the brawl that ensued when Khan faced a parliamentary no-confidence motion he was bound to lose and thwarted his opponents by having the National Assembly dissolved.
The court has been meeting throughout the week. Yet from reading media commentaries by people who know and understand Pakistani politics, it seems the verdict of the army might be more important than that of the legal system. In Pakistan, the military is a fourth arm of government.
A key factor in the Pakistani power play is the country’s relations with the US.
Commentator Sunil Sharan, writing in the Indian newspaper The Statesman, says relations between Pakistan and the US have already hit rock-bottom, largely because of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. President Joe Biden has not called Khan, prime minister of a traditional ally, since taking office.
Khan visited Russia in February and has not criticised its invasion of Ukraine.
Retired Major-General Harsha Kakar, also writing in The Statesman, says army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has backed better ties with the US and criticised the invasion.
Pakistan has always been a hybrid democracy, he says. The army controls foreign and defence policy and the civilian government is a front. “Imran and General Bajwa are not on the same page,” he says.
Khan says the US tried to push him out of office through behind-the-scenes support for the no-confidence motion (often called a “no-trust motion” in the local media).
Russia, not surprisingly, picked up this line of argument. Dawn newspaper reported a Russian Foreign Ministry statement saying the US had decided to punish the disobedient Imran Khan.
But the idea of US interference gained support in the media. The Cradle, a new website reporting on West Asia, published an opinion piece by M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former senior Indian career diplomat, calling the no-confidence motion an attempted coup. It was as though it had followed an Anglo-American script, he said.
“According to Khan,” Bhadrakumar said, “it was his official visit to Moscow… that provoked Washington the most – apart from his independent foreign policies and stubborn refusal to set up US military bases in Pakistan.”
The Cradle also published an article headed “Imran Khan takes on America.” The no-confidence motion, the website said, was masterminded in Washington.
Whether the US was directly involved or not, the result might be the same. General Kakar, in The Statesman, says Khan’s anti-US approach has pushed away any possible reconciliation with the generals. “It is unlikely the generals would consider bringing Imran back to power,” he says.
And Dawn reported late on Thursday that the Supreme Court decided the parliament must sit again on Saturday and vote on the no-trust motion.
Free trade, free movement of people
The new Australia-India economic co-operation agreement provides for wide-ranging tariff reductions on products being traded between the two countries. But a point highlighted in some of the Indian reporting was the free movement of people: visa concessions for professionals, students and young travellers.
The Times of India said mutual recognition agreements would lead to the qualifications of Indian medical professionals being recognised in Australia.
The paper also listed chefs, yoga teachers, IT professionals, engineers, architects and accountants as people who would benefit.
It quoted Government officials as saying the visa concessions were a big win for India. The Government would use the Australian agreement in trade negotiations with the UK.
In an editorial on India’s deft diplomacy, Singapore’s The Straits Times said the deal would help alleviate the effect of China’s restrictions on Australia imports.
But it saw a wider implication. “The swiftness with which [the deal] was concluded suggests another trade-off,” the paper said. “India wants to use its markets as leverage for easing pressure from its Western strategic partners to ease back on its strong ties with Russia.”
Taiwan goes to school on Ukraine defence
What lessons is Xi Jinping drawing from the Russia-Ukraine war? Does it make him more, or less, likely to invade Taiwan? We are free to speculate. But we can be sure of one actor’s interest: Taipei is going to school on Ukraine’s stunning defence.
Lawrence Chung, the Taiwan reporter for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, says Taiwan marine, air force and army units have carried out a series of drills in southern Taiwan in recent days.
“The Taiwanese government is watching the war in Ukraine closely,” Chung says. “[It is] drawing lessons from it in the hope of enhancing its own combat readiness.”
The main lessons, Taiwanese Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng says, is that Ukraine has been able to use its unique domestic battlefield and its asymmetric capabilities to resist a giant enemy. In this context, asymmetric warfare involves using movable, easy-to-operate weapons against more formidable conventional weaponry.
Chung says the Taiwanese military has been training with Javelin “tank-killer” missiles – the type Ukraine has used to destroy Russian armoured vehicles.
The army and the marine corps have about 1000 Javelin missiles and have bought 400 more from the US.
Judges’ departure driven by politics
Hong Kong has a common law legal system inherited from the UK, unlike the rest of China. The Chinese system, former HK Governor Chris Patten liked to say, amounted to “rule by law.”
Hong Kong’s system has an unusual feature – the presence of judges from the UK, Canada and Australia on the Court of Final Appeal. This is meant to reassure international companies and foreign governments that the courts are free from political interference.
But the court suffered a setback late last month when two British judges – Lord Robert Reed and Lord Patrick Hodge – resigned from the court, citing concerns over the national security law Beijing imposed on HK almost two years ago.
China Daily, Beijing’s official English-language newspaper, called the resignations a political stunt. It said in an editorial many UK politicians disliked the national security law.
“This is because the law has effectively thwarted their efforts to keep Hong Kong as a handy operational base for their subversive endeavors targeting China by means of local proxies,” it said.
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said in an editorial the resignations were a cause of sadness and regret. But the decision was driven by politics rather than legal considerations.
“Reed and Hodge have faced a campaign from British politicians for them to withdraw and their decision was made ‘in agreement with the British government’,” the paper said.
The court still had 10 retired judges on its list. “[it] is to be hoped they say,” the editorial said. “But Hong Kong’s legal system would not collapse without them.”
The Post also published an opinion piece by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. She said the position regarding HK’s rights and freedoms had never been worse.
“[B]ritish judges have played a valuable role since 1997… acting as a bulwark safeguarding the rule of law,” she said. “However, the great benefit they bring to the court as jurists is now outweighed by the risk of legitimising a system that enforces Beijing’s laws which run contrary to our values.”
(It might be noted that SCMP remains free to publish an anti-Beijing opinion by a senior member of an often-antagonistic government – DA)
Indonesia outlawing nine forms of sexual violence
Indonesia is pushing ahead with a sexual violence law after deliberations on a bill had languished for almost a decade.
The Jakarta Post in a prominent story has reported discussion of the bill was revived after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appealed to the parliament in January to pass the bill immediately, amid public outrage over a rise in sexual assault cases.
The bill covers nine forms of sexual violence. They are: physical and non-physical sexual harassment; sexual torture; forced contraception; forced sterilization; forced marriage; sexual slavery; sexual exploitation; and cyber sexual harassment. The bill would set up a victim trust fund to provide compensation for victims.
But the bill does not cover rape or forced abortions. The Post says the Government wanted to avoid overlapping with proposed amendments to the criminal code.
The bill is expected to be passed by mid-April, the paper says.
Cherry blossoms bloom but Japan still says No to travellers
March going into April is cherry blossom time in Japan – peak tourism season. But this year, says The Japan Times, Japanese people largely have the spectacular display to themselves.
Unlike Australia and many Asian countries, Japan has not eased travel restrictions. Japan, the paper says, has the tightest restrictions on travellers among the Group of Seven (G7) countries.
The Times says the reason is political. It says:
“As much of the rest of the world has decided to pretend the pandemic is over, Japanese politicians and the public have maintained a more cautious approach. While there is no definitive evidence that the border controls have kept case numbers low, they have been enormously popular with the people at home. More than 65% of respondents in a recent poll by public broadcaster NHK approved of the measures or felt they should be strengthened.”
Japan will hold parliamentary elections in July and the country’s leadership is unlikely to do anything that would harm its chance – like risking a rise in COVID cases by opening up to tourism.
“Even then,” the paper says, “policy makers… are likely to remove the restrictions bit by bit.”