Global Eye

Befriending Cuba and Iran

The past couple of months <g data-gr-id="105">mark</g> an interesting chapter in global diplomacy. In two successive deals, the US has restored diplomatic ties with Cuba and Iran – two of its oldest foes. While the Iran deal was a major breakthrough after several months of negotiations with major global powers and United Nations, restoration of normalcy with Cuba is a historic step as well. On 20 <g data-gr-id="111">July,</g> 2015, both countries restarted their respective embassies in each other’s countries to formalise the new relations. 

History of US-Cuba relations
The trajectory of Cuba’s relations with <g data-gr-id="92">US</g> is quite similar to those with Iran. 

In 1898, after several years of Spanish rule, Cuba finally gained independence. The liberation war for independence started in <g data-gr-id="126">1895,</g> but given America’s millions of dollars investments in businesses in Cuba, it intervened and helped it win the battle. Following the war, the US occupied Cuba until <g data-gr-id="125">1902,</g> when it withdrew troops following the Platt amendment, and Estrada Palma was chosen as the First President in 1902.  Guantanamo Bay, the US naval base was created in 1903. Following the infamous 9/11 attacks, the Guantanamo Bay naval base was used as a detention facility for terror suspects. Cuba has given the land on lease to <g data-gr-id="123">US</g> for about $4,085 a year.

Both countries shared good relations until the Cuban government led by President <g data-gr-id="107">Fulgecio</g> Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro, who staged a successful communist revolution. Batista was a staunch US loyalist, which resulted in <g data-gr-id="109">US</g> dominating a significant portion of Cuban trade and businesses. During the 1950s, he started becoming unpopular as crime syndicates increased and American companies strongly dominated the Cuban economy.

Following Castro’s elevation as President, the relations took a reverse turn. Cuba nationalised about $1 billion of American property in the country, in response to which, <g data-gr-id="113">US</g> imposed several trade sanctions which affected Cuba. The relations soured to such an extent that both the countries almost entered into a war when Cuban exiles backed by the US government invaded the Bay of Pigs island. However, the exiles suffered a massive defeat.

As Castro was a vocal critic of US and its capitalist policies, the relations between US-Cuba remained bitter for several decades.

Snapshot of US-Iran relations
Though I discussed the history of US-Iran relations in depth in an earlier column, let’s have a quick snapshot.

Iran and US had shared a cordial relationship since a long time. But the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 saw a major shift in bilateral relations, with <g data-gr-id="102">US</g> providing support to deposed leader Reza Shah, who had to leave the country as his government was overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeini became the leader.

In retaliation to America’s support to Shah, a group of Iranian students attacked the American Embassy in Tehran and took hostages, to which the then US President Jimmy Carter responded sharply. Billions of Iranian assets, gold properties and bank deposits were frozen.

Throughout their bitterness, US continued to impose sanctions and even pressurised other western nations to do so.  Sanctions were imposed through the “Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA)” in <g data-gr-id="118">1996,</g> but was renamed as “Iran Sanctions Act (ISA)” in 2006 as they no longer applied to Libya.

Finally, last month, a deal was reached between Iran and P5+1 group (<g data-gr-id="121">United States</g>, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China) plus Germany. As a part of the deal, US would lift several economic sanctions and Iran would significantly reduce its nuclear programme and Uranium enrichment. Though the deal has been vehemently opposed by Saudi Arabia and Israel, Obama has strongly stood by his stand.

Renewal of friendly relations with Iran gives <g data-gr-id="115">US</g> a massive edge in the Middle-East and Asian region, as now it has both the major powerhouses on its side – Iran and Saudi Arabia. Though the rivalry between Saudi and Iran is another matter.

China’s growing hostilities 
Being an emerging global power, China has been trying to assert its authority. However, in the recent past, China has run into fierce hostilities and fights with almost each of its neighbour. Throughout its history, it has attempted to annex territories by either making encroachments or fighting battles. It has a dispute with India over the Line of Actual Control in Jammu & Kashmir and McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh, Senkaku and Diaoyudao Islands’ dispute with Japan in the East China Sea and regular encroachments and territorial claims on its border with Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

The recent South China Sea dispute has dragged China into strong disagreement with all countries – Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Brunei, etc. It has constantly ignored its neighbours’ interests and concerns, in addition to their insecurities about <g data-gr-id="119">US</g> encouraging Japan, Vietnam and Philippines to lead the ASEAN countries to become more dependent on it. 

Relations with Myanmar
Myanmar, which has been one of the oldest strategic allies of China, is now drifting away from it. The relations between the two countries have strained over several issues, from junta (a term used for Myanmar government) becoming more open to western powers and welcoming them.

The reversal of power from the military to a civilian government has led to this change of stance. Furthermore, China’s perfidious hunger for Myanmar’s natural resources has led to rising nationalism and anti-Chinese sentiments linked to the oppressive and exploitative nature of its projects affecting its local people. The increased interest of US in Myanmar has also immensely worried them. <g data-gr-id="116">US</g> has allowed international trade, removed several sanctions, restored bilateral relations, and relaxed many other bans. 

Recently, a local court in Myitkyina, the capital of the Kachin state, 153 Chinese nationals were handed life imprisonment after they were found being allegedly involved in illegal logging as per official reports. Such a scenario was unimaginable a few years back, but this highlights the increasing rift between the two countries. Post the sentences, China’s foreign ministry lodged a diplomatic protest with Yangon over the ruling and urged the country to “take China’s concerns seriously, take all the factors into account and properly handle this case.” However, last week, Myanmar released all of them, terming it as a “goodwill” gesture following intense lobbying from Beijing in a mass amnesty that also freed several political prisoners.

On its part, China has been aggressively looking to expand its military bases with one being already underway in Djibouti, Africa, in response to which, even US has been rapidly scaling up its military strength. In May, the United States Department of Defense released its annual report to Congress on China’s military and security developments, which says that US’ threat perception of China’s military and the issues that are primarily shaping U.S. strategic thinking and it is primarily concerned with China’s naval modernization, according to a report in The Diplomat.

Therefore, the recent diplomatic developments by US convey a deeper message. Given China’s rising power and growing legitimacy to challenge the US as the supreme global power, in all probability, by restoring relationships with its old foes, US is gearing up to counter China.

Furthermore, with China’s growing hostilities with other Asian countries and US inching closer to them, the time is ripe. Clearly, a milder version of the Cold War might have already begun, which has the strong potential to escalate further. 

Note: Facts and information taken from newspaper and government reports
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