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Myanmar’s ‘Military Government’ versus ‘National Unity Government’: Which One is Ahead? – Modern Diplomacy

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On February 1 this year, the military overthrew the Aung San Suu Kyi-led national government and seized power in Myanmar, reversing more than a decade of democratic reforms. In the last eight months since, Myanmar’s junta has killed at least 1,243 anti-military protesters and detained 9,000 others in the wake of a popular uprising following the military coup. Since independence in 1948, Myanmar’s military with the help of Bamar, has continued to persecute various ethnic groups (Rohingya, Kachin, Karen, Shin, etc.). After the mass movement of 1989 and the Saffron revolution of 2007, this time the military is brutally killing its own Bamar tribes, including other minority ethnic groups. The CRPH (Exiled Legislature) was formed on 5 February 2021 by the NLD’s exiled parliamentarians as resistance and opposition, and later on 16 April, the NLD formed the National Unity Government (NUG) with representatives of various ethnic groups. The military, on the other hand, transformed their State Administrative Council into a “caretaker government”. Now the military and the government of national unity; both sides are continuing their efforts to gain legitimacy. But only time will choose the triumphant.
Internal Situation
After nine months since the coup, Myanmar is still far from being stable. Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, is now facing layers of mass resistance: fighting the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) on all sides of Myanmar, with an exception of Rakhine. The earlier nonviolent Civil Disobedient Movement (CDM) was brutally crushed by security forces, only to be replaced by a proliferation of PDFs all over Myanmar. NUG’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) has very recently been able to declare a formal command structure to facilitate coordination between more than 340 PDF militia groups (varying in sizes) and allied EAOs. The ‘shadow government’ has officially declared a “People’s Defensive War” on 8 September. Attacks have intensified since then with bombs exploding at Military Procurement Department, CID office, Military Intelligence Office, Power Supply Authority offices. So far, more than a thousand soldiers have been killed. In addition, about 3,000 members of the military and police defected and joined the PDF. PDFs are mostly active in Western Myanmar whereas EAOs continue their resistance in rugged borderland of the East.
Tatmadaw, on the other hand, has brought out plans for an all-out anti-insurgency operation known as Operation Anawrahta, a military campaign of unprecedented scale. As of early November, the junta’s clearance operation has resulted in extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and displacement. Internet and mobile services in different regions are being shut down. Lieutenant General Thanh Hlaing, one of the most brutal military commanders has been appointed to crackdown the PDF in Sagaing, Chin, Mandalay, Magwe states. Since the primary focus of Operation Anawratha is to eradicate PDF resistance from Bamar heartlands of Western Myanmar, on 26 September, the junta declared a five-month unilateral ceasefire with the ethnic armed groups, however, with little to no impact on ground.
Although Kachin, Karen and Shan rebel groups are training PDF soldiers, these influential EAOs are far from being loyal to NUG. The Wa State Army, Myanmar’s largest armed group, is playing a silent role. The Arakan Army of Rakhine, another formidable EAO, is in an unspoken understanding with Tatmadaw, moving ahead with its agenda of expanding control over Rakhine facing little opposition from the military.
Economic Situation
Since the coup, the US, UK and EU have imposed sanctions on senior military officials and their family members, as well as military-controlled companies. Multinational companies such as Kirin, Telenor, British American Tobacco, India’s Adani Port and others are withdrawing their businesses. There has also been an impairing cash crunch in banks. According to the World Bank, Myanmar’s economy will shrink by 10 percent by the end of 2021. Asian Development Bank has put the number at 18.4 percent. The junta is now facing a huge dollar crisis as the United States withholds about 1 billion of foreign reserves. NUG demands access to this frozen reserve, claiming itself as the legitimate authority of Myanmar. Myanmar’s currency Kyat has lost 60 percent of its value as 2700 Kyat now equals to one dollar. With new foreign direct investment (FDI) being almost non-existent, unemployment reached at record 50 percent.
ASEAN
Since the coup, the Myanmar issue has become a divisive one in ASEAN. Thailand’ pseudo-democratic government has already addressed Myanmar’s junta chief as ‘Head of Government’. ASEAN countries that are under heavy influence of China, such Cambodia and Laos maintained silence in Myanmar issue. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, on the other hand, openly expressed their dissatisfaction with the junta regime.
A special ASEAN meeting on Myanmar was held on 24 April 2021 which was attended by the junta chief. Since no representative of the pro-democracy CRPH was invited, it led to a de-facto recognition of the coup regime. However, the 5-point resolution adopted in the meeting failed due to non-cooperation of the military. Junta has also denied ASEAN envoy access to Aung San Suu Kyi. As a result, the junta chief was not allowed to attend the latest ASEAN summit in October, a major blow to the military which is facing crisis of legitimacy also at home.
International Perspective
Instead of accepting the junta’s nominee at the 76th UN General Assembly, UN Credentials Committee, based on an understanding reaching between the US and China, has kept NLD-appointee Kyaw Moe Tun as permanent representative to the UN although he was not allowed to speak during Session. The UK is also yet to receive the new ambassador appointed by Junta.
NUG, on the other hand, has established representative offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic, Australia, and South Korea. On October 6, the French Senate unanimously voted to recognize the NUG. If the lower house of the French parliament approves the vote, France will be the first country to formally recognize Myanmar’s shadow government. On October 7, the European Parliament passed a resolution supporting the shadow government and its parliamentary committee as the legitimate representative of Myanmar.
China
Although China has been persistent in support for the junta, it is also liaising with all parties: both NUG and anti-junta EAOs. At the core of China’s stance is to fend off any effective western or Indian influence on Myanmar.
In return for China’s support and recognition, junta is approving ambitious Chinese infrastructure projects, most of which did not receive go-ahead from NLD government. However, due to its support for junta, anti-China sentiment is at all-time high, leading to arson attacks on Chinese-owned factories, causing a loss of millions of dollars.
Russia
Since the path to Kremlin’s heart leads through lucrative arms deals, Myanmar’s junta chief visited Moscow in June and signed a number of military hardware procurement deals. Russia’s support for junta regime is solely based on commercial interests. Although Moscow is not in touch with NUG, it has not addressed Min Aung Hlaing only as the Head of State or Government during his visit.
India
India has been maintaining a strategic silence when it comes to Myanmar, abstaining from voting in all UN resolutions against Myanmar since the Rohingya genocide. Although India has made some statements apparently favoring the restoration of democracy, it has not taken a stand against the coup or in favor of the NUG. According to watchdog Justice for Myanmar (JFM), Indian arms maker Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) exported a remote-controlled air-defense station to Myanmar in July and continues to trade arms.
Since the coup, more than 8,400 Myanmar refugees crossed over into India, entering northeast Indian states Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur.
Covid-19 and Vaccination
A total of 6 percent of the population has been covered by the military’s immunization program. On the other hand, NUG announced in the last half of August that it would collect 6 million doses of vaccine from the UN Covax program for its own inoculation program. They have already formed the National Health Committee in coordination with the Ethnic Health Organizations. NUG’s finance minister, Tin Tun Naing, announced in late September that US 300 million raised from online lotteries and the Burmese Diaspora fund would be used to secure vaccinations for about 1.1 million civilians living in the occupied area of armed ethnic group.
Rohingya Issue
In the wake of coup, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing made obscure hint that it is willing to continue repatriation talks, possibly in hopes of international recognition. However, as it continues to consolidate power, Hlaing turned the tide in an interview with China-based Phoenix TV on May 20, dismissing any possibility of repatriation. On the other hand, on June 3, in a bid to win global recognition, NUG revealed its policy of granting citizenship to the Rohingyas. Moreover, NUG declared that it would continue to co-operate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to hold Tatmadaw accountable for atrocities against the Rohingyas.
Analysis of possibilities
In terms of troops strength and fire power, the Tatmadaw is in much advantageous position than all PDFs and EAOs combined. However, war is never a number’s game. Access to field intelligence and knowledge of the terrain enables resistance guerillas to conduct hit-and-run operations, damaging Tatmadaw’s foot soldiers’ morale. However, external help and recognition is necessary for the NUG to sustainably continue its resistance. Unless the NUG, through victories of PDFs and EAOs, managed to establish its control over some territory or a permanent base, the chances of getting meaningful external support are quite slim. If the number of defections rises considerably, there is a possibility of coup within the Military, Min Aung Hlaing being replaced by another military regime, as happened in the aftermath of 1988 Uprising.  
Lastly, in the hope of strengthening its position within the country as well as gaining recognition from the international arena; the military and the NUG are both adopting their own strategies. Due to the use of violence, the internal situation is currently occupied by the military; the NUG-backed mass resistance forces also seem to have made a bet not to give up. Democracy or dictatorship; which one wins, so it remains to be seen.
Push for civil registration set to hit key milestone in Asian and Pacific countries
Tonmoy Chowdhury is a Bangladesh based independent researcher and freelance writer. He is interested in Refugee and Migration, Human Security Issues, South Asian Politics and Economic Diplomacy. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at ctonmoy555[at]gmail.com
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Authors: Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana and Gillian Triggs*
Most countries in the Asia-Pacific region are on track to reach universal birth registration by 2030: an incredible achievement and a significant milestone in realizing human rights and equality. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, many weaknesses remain in official recording systems, creating gaps in knowledge about the population and affecting how authorities respond to crises and reach those in greatest need.
Civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems record births and other key life events such as deaths and marriages. Birth registration is fundamental for accessing a wide range of social services, benefits and rights. It provides an individual with a legal identity and a proof of age, which are often requirements to enrol in school, receive healthcare, apply for formal work, register to vote, inherit property, obtain a passport and social protection, or open a bank account. And often it is the hard-to-reach and marginalized populations that are least likely to receive official documentation, including those living in rural, remote, isolated or border areas; minorities; indigenous persons; migrants; non-citizens; asylum-seekers; refugees and people who are stateless or of undetermined nationality.
As regional leaders gather this week for the 2nd Ministerial Conference on Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Asia and the Pacific, the focus will be on regional and country-level achievements, obstacles and challenges in realizing the shared commitment that all people in the region will benefit from universal and responsive CRVS systems by 2024. It marks the midpoint of the Asia-Pacific CRVS Decade (2015-2024) and is an important milestone in the pursuit of creating national CRVS systems that are universal and responsive to the needs of entire populations.
Since 2014, more than 70 million more children in the region have greater access to education, health and social protection because their birth has been officially recorded and recognized through the issuance of a birth certificate. This is a notable achievement and testament to the resolve and commitment of governments to the shared goals made in 2014, the strength of regional cooperation, and the support of 13 development partners, including the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Still, there is work to do. Robust and universal marriage registration systems are needed to prevent girls from being coerced into early marriage, which often threatens their lives and health. The region also has an opportunity to reduce the risk of statelessness and human trafficking, as well as to promote solutions for refugees and asylum seekers by documenting links to the country of origin. UNHCR’s work with national governments to strengthen and broaden civil registration systems to formally register people considered stateless or of undetermined nationality has led to profound policy changes across Central Asia and the legal recognition of every birth, irrespective of parents’ status.
Furthermore, as we have witnessed during the global pandemic, when civil registration systems fail to reach everyone in the country and not everyone is counted, a public health crisis intensifies. Whereas robust CRVS systems enable governments and health authorities to track the pandemic and respond quickly and in an informed manner, a poorly functioning civil registration system masks the true impact of a crisis: deaths go uncounted — especially among the poorest and most vulnerable — and individuals are unable to access humanitarian relief or benefit from financial stimulus measures and, more recently, national vaccination programmes.
Governments that are unable to account for the entire population face barriers to creating and implementing effective public policy and responding to a crisis in an equitable manner. A comprehensive approach to civil registration, with timely and accurate data that are put to the right use, has the power to benefit every individual and inform public policy simultaneously, including by reducing statelessness across the region.
Leaving no one behind through universal birth and death registration demands bold and ambitious outcomes from the upcoming ministerial conference. We have the knowledge, experience and technical ability to create registration systems that are responsive to the needs of the population and can guide us through current and future challenges.
*Gillian Triggs is Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, UNHCR
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Indonesia is a country that has a richness in natural resources, besides Mineral Resources, Indonesia is also rich in spices which have high value and the spices have been recognized by many countries. Indonesian food is well known for its special spice preparations. There are several Indonesian foods that are already identical. It is “Nasi Padang” which has a special characteristic with an authentic taste of spices. Nasi Padang is still a favorite food for Indonesia and abroad. Based on a survey in 2017, Indonesian Food, especially Nasi Padang, was nominated as the best food in the world, followed by fried rice in second place (Anugerah, 2019). Nasi Padang is a typical food originating from Minangkabau, West Sumatra. So far, Padang Restaurant itself has spread to many regions in Indonesia and has been recognized by many countries after being nominated as the best food in the world (Lestari, 2020). It feels incomplete to eat Nasi Padang, without Rendang menu. Rendang is a traditional West Sumatran food made with beef with a special sauce containing high amounts of coconut milk.
With a tasty taste, Nasi Padang has several menus that are usually served at Padang Restaurant, including Beef usually called “Rendang”, Chicken Balado, grilled fish, and chicken curry. The menus available at Padang Restaurant, it feels incomplete to eat Nasi Padang without trying Indonesian beef dishes called “Rendang”, it makes Rendang still a favorite menu in Nasi Padang. Rendang is a traditional West Sumatran food made with beef with a special sauce containing high amounts of coconut milk. Meanwhile, one of the things that make Nasi Padang have a delicious taste is addition of the curry sauce which contains real coconut milk instead of instant coconut milk. According to the West Sumatera people, the original coconut milk releases a lot of oil so that it adds a distinctive taste. There are another additional complements in Nasi Padang such as Cassava leaves and green chili sauce. Both complement that makes Nasi Padang taste very delicious. Coupled with cassava leaves and green chili sauce then doused with yellow curry sauce which has a distinctive slightly sour taste and skin crackers served on a plate with a special curry sauce, making Nasi Padang a food that is well known in various regions in Indonesia and even abroad.
Reporting from Kompas.com Indonesia stated that Indonesian food, namely Nasi Padang, was included in the Expo 2020 Dubai located at Wasl Plaza, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) on November 4, 2021 which was attended by 192 countries. At the Expo, Nasi Padang became the most popular food by visitors with a price of 60 United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) (Saptoyo, 2021). Therefore, this indicates that Indonesia has succeeded in presenting its country by serving Indonesian food that is rich in spices. While spices are owned by Indonesia, the spices are not owned by other countries. Not only introducing Indonesian food, but with food exhibitions through Dubai Expo 2020, it can be Indonesia’s strategy in maximizing its Public Diplomacy to build the good country’s image abroad. Public Diplomacy is an activity carried out by non-state actors that influence the international community as a strategy to build a good image of a country. Through the promotion Nasi Padang to the International society, it can be Indonesia’s first step in maximizing and promoting its natural wealth in the form of spices because Indonesia is a tropical country with abundant natural products that are of high value in foreign markets so that Indonesia is called as “The Mother of Spice” (Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2021). With the liking of Nasi Padang by the International society, the international society can feel that Indonesia has its own natural wealth and unique spices that can become a national identity of a country. Due to building a characteristic and identity of a country, a country is needed to highlight the superior and differences of the country it has, where these differences can be a special characteristic that other countries do not have. Currently, Nasi Padang which is a typical Indonesian food has spread to various countries including the Netherlands, Australia, and Singapore (Aprilia, 2017). These three countries are countries that are famous for serving Indonesian food, especially Nasi Padang. However, to maximize in maintaining the characteristics of Indonesia, a wider reach is needed in promoting it to other countries. Because in promoting Indonesian food, Indonesia is still lacking in promoting its food to other countries. With the lack of Indonesia in promoting its country’s excellence, especially in terms of food, it can make Indonesia’s identity slower to build the characteristics of the country.
In addition to strengthening Indonesian identity through introducing Nasi Padang to the international community, Indonesia must also pay attention to the superiority possessed by the state, these superiorities should be used as potentials that must be developed. Especially Indonesia in the aspect of food. Indonesia is rich in spices which makes Indonesia have a variety of foods with distinctive flavors that other countries do not have. Indonesia is needed to maximize this potential which can be used as a strategy to strengthen the country’s identity and introduce the superiority possessed by a country to foreign countries. By introducing Indonesia’s superiority, especially in the food aspect, it can strengthen Indonesia’s public diplomacy activities in building a better country’s image to the international world. Where the public diplomacy activity can be carried out by anyone, especially the international community which can be an instrument in introducing special foods of Indonesia. In carrying out Public Diplomacy activities through promoting Indonesian food abroad, the role of state actors also needs to be fully contributed in participating in promoting the typical food of a country in the representative institutes abroad. Indonesia needs a wider expansion in introducing Indonesian food to other countries so that Indonesian food can be recognized by many people and the superiority of Indonesia, which is rich in spices, will be felt by many people in the world. Not only Indonesia, but each country can also promote the superiority possessed by each country, and with the existence of Public Diplomacy cooperation, it can be a strategy in increasing cooperation among countries closer and peace will be achieved.
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For a prospective Indian tourist researching Australia, there is much interesting and surprising information online. It is the “world’s smallest continent and largest island.” According to the World Bank 2020 Report, Australia has a population of 26 million. This is a little higher than the population of India’s capital, New Delhi. “Australia is a land of dreams. From the sacred legends of the Aboriginal Dreamtime, when the great spirits conjured the coral reefs, rainforests, and red deserts, to armchair travelers who describe Australia as their dream destination, the Land Down Under deserves all the hype” (planetware.com).
Tourism is a key source of economic income for Australia, bringing considerable foreign exchange to the treasury. Tourism contributes “$34 billion – that is 2.6% of Australia’s GDP” and “provides around half a million jobs” to her citizens (tourism.australia.com). It must be noted that the Covid-19 worldwide lockdown hit the Australian tourism industry hard, causing a loss of almost $7 billion and its implications are therefore serious for the job market.  
“Tourism is a strategically important sector, for India and Australia” (aes2020.in).  However, to attract Indian tourists, the Australian department of Tourism must undertake great initiatives. In this article, the author will focus upon the importance of Indian tourists to Australia and upon how Canberra can attract more Indians.
Every year Indian visitors to Australia have been increasing. It is expected that in 2035 Indian tourists to Australia will “grow four-fold, from 300,000 in 2017 to nearly 1.2 million, worth around $9 billion each year to the Australian economy” (dfat.gov.au). Yet, to achieve this, both Australia and India should work more closely in the department of Tourism. More of the private players in the industry should contribute to bring about this transformation. The Australian government must meet all the necessary requirements to achieve this ambitious target.
It is understandable that the rich, the upper middleclass of society and business people always value tourism. Still, if the Australian government only targets this customer market in India, its tourism sector will not take off to the next level. To grow, Australia should concentrate on the growing middle class in India. The youth of this class are very ambitious. Attracting them will not be an easy. It shall require meticulous action and strategy. The ambitious middleclass have increasingly sought to better the quality of their children’s education, to better their health care, to obtain better jobs and better training programmes. The business of this class is moving towards India’s metropolitan cities, causing its emerging cities to increase in size. The Covid-19 pandemic halted this phenomenon; however, it is expected that it will resume once the world emerges from the pandemic. The ‘new normal’ will occur once vaccination reaches everyone globally and the world economy revives and prospers. It is good that the policies of the world governments are sailing in this direction.   
Jeba, an international tour operator at Trivandram, said, “Australia can attract Indian middleclass society as tourists. However, first, they should operate more direct flights from South India’s cities to Western Australia’s major city Perth. This policy approach will reduce the travel duration to just 7-8 hours from Chennai to Perth. Moreover, increasing the direct flights to Perth from South Indian major cities not only lowers the ticket price; it will attract more travel agents like me to reach out to common people including schools and colleges. Second, the European model of cheap flights connecting their cities is a good strategy that can be adopted in Australia.”
Jeba’s point suggests that many of India’s middleclass believe that travelling to Australia is too expensive and that connecting the Australian cities would likewise be too costly. A right articulation of policy between India and Australia can break this mentality in India. The Australian policy makers should be involved in this process to correct the issue.
The tour operators are the bridge between the two countries facilitating an improvement in mutual international travel and tourism. These agents are doing all the required paperwork to obtain visas for tourists, arranging hotels according to their purpose, such as for medical and educational reasons, for school and college students. Hence, the Australian Tourism department should organize annual meetings and conferences, provide inviting incentives, to encourage tour operators and resolve the challenges and difficulties they encounter.  
Medical tourism can attract more tourists from India if Australia realized its potential and significance. Healthcare is one of Australia’s areas of expertise, for which it is globally recognized. This sector can bring more Indians to Australia, even though India can provide cheaper treatment. Those Indians who visit the U.S. for medical treatment shall only be diverted to Australia if both countries increase their direct travel connections.
A related point can be found in the sport of cricket. Young cricketers often travel to the UK to play for its clubs. These young Indians look towards the West in such a manner because it possesses an image of prosperity. Australia must build a similar image in India; the Indian youth must feel that Australia can benefit them. For instance, for promotional purposes, Australia’s local cricket clubs could accommodate India’s youth. Moreover, the MRF Foundation can also be utilized for better promotion. Australia could particularly market its cricket pitches, given that these are famous for fast bowling.
Higher education is another growth area. There are already over 37,000 Indian students in Australian universities. This will increase annually according to the employment opportunities in Australia. Once they settle down with a job, they shall likely invite their families to visit Australia, benefitting the economy.
Three decades ago, Australia had an image of racism amongst many Indian students as they considered choosing Australia for higher education. Now, this has changed dramatically. A Computer teacher, Ranjit Alyousis, an Indian-Australian, shared with the author that a decade ago, all these issues were due to the strict policies of the Government. Now that there is more tolerance, increasing multiculturalism has been recognized as a growing part of Australia. These changes in Australia should be utilized.
Thus, Australia and India should celebrate the year ahead by focusing on promoting Tourism. If so, they should simplify mutual international travel. The visa process should be simplified. Australia ought to provide Indian travellers with a one-month ‘Visa on Arrival.’ This will encourage even a simple, middleclass Indian family with the hope that they can visit Australia in their lifetime. If not, Australia shall regret, even for the next decade, that they have missed the Indian tourist bus once again. In my experience, most of my friends would still prefer to visit Europe or America, even though America is much farther than Australia. Hence, this article has shown the importance of Indian tourism to Australia and it has articulated several concrete steps that Australia can take to this end. Australia must attempt to remove the barriers which hinder Indians from visiting Australia.
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