Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 20 September – 26 September 2021

China electricity shortage: industrial production grinds to halt and traffic lights fail amid rationing

China is in the midst of a power supply crisis that has turned critical in recent days – threatening entire power grids and prompting analysts to slash economic growth forecasts for the year. In the past month, 16 out of 31 provincial jurisdictions – from industrial powerhouses in the south such as Guangdong to the rust belt in the northeast – have rolle d out electricity-rationing measures, triggering widespread alarm among much of the population and plunging the nation’s industrial sector into chaos. On Sept 23, some traffic lights in Shenyang, the capital of the Liaoning province, suddenly stopped working, resulting in severe traffic jams. The local government said during a meeting on Sept 26 that they had to ration power “to avoid the collapse of the entire grid”, according to an article in the state-run People’s Daily. Analysts have pointed to both a shortage of coal and Beijing’s push to meet emission-reduction targets, and they warn that further disruptions risk aggravating inflation while pummeling production. Meanwhile, some analysts are suggesting that the power rationing measures could help reduce demand for upstream raw materials that have been in short supply in China. Click here to read

U.S. grants licenses for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions

The United States on Sept 24 further paved the way for aid to flow to Afghanistan despite U.S. sanctions on the Taliban, who seized control of the country last month, issuing general licenses amid concern that Washington’s punitive measures could compound an unfolding humanitarian crisis. The U.S. Treasury Department said it issued two general licenses, one allowing the U.S. government, NGOs and certain international organizations, including the United Nations, to engage in transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network – both under sanctions – that are necessary to provide humanitarian assistance. The second license authorizes certain transactions related to the export and re-export of food, medicine and other items. “Treasury is committed to facilitating the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support their basic human needs,” Andrea Gacki, director of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement. She added that Washington will continue to work with financial institutions, NGOs and international organizations to ease the flow of agricultural goods, medicine and other resources while upholding sanctions on the Taliban, Haqqani Network and others. Click here to read

China’s rare-earth giants forming ‘super group’ in merger for high-quality devt, deal with price abnormalities

China’s rare-earth giants are mulling a restructuring, and a super group in the medium-heavy rare-earth sector is expected to be born soon. Analysts said the move will help enhance market concentration to better guide industry development and contribute to improving competitive edge. China Minerals Rare Earth Co Ltd said on Sept 23 that its parent China Minerals Corp, Aluminum Corp of China and the government of Ganzhou, East China’s Jiangxi Province, are planning a strategic restructuring of rare earth assets. “The relevant plan has not yet been finalized, and needs approval from relevant authorities,” said a filing to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. The two groups are among the “Big Six” state-owned enterprises that dominate the industry in China, while Ganzhou is a major rare-earth resource hub where another Big Six company South China Rare Earth Group Co is based. The three parties own mining output quota for medium and heavy rare earth metals of 9,870 tons in total, accounting for 85.9 percent of the first batch of quotas set for 2021. This means that their restructuring will establish a super group focused on medium-heavy rare-earth products, according to experts. Click here to read

China blasts Taiwan’s bid to join CPTPP trade pact

China on Sept 23 said it “strongly opposes” Taiwan’s bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a day after Taipei applied for membership in the 11-country trade bloc. “There is only one China in this world, and Taiwan cannot be separated from China. We strongly oppose Taiwan’s participation in any official agreement or organization. China’s stance on this is very clear,” Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters. Taiwan submitted its application to join the Japan-led trade bloc on Sept 22, less than a week after China announced its own surprise bid for membership. Earlier on Sept 23, the island’s top trade representative warned that if China were to be admitted to the grouping first, Beijing would attempt to block Taiwan from joining. “China has been obstructing Taiwan’s international presence. If China is admitted into CPTPP ahead of us, it will definitely risk Taiwan’s entry to the trade bloc”, top Taiwan trade negotiator John Deng said. “Taiwan’s application is mainly for our own interests, our companies’ interests and for our own long-term economic planning purposes, and it has nothing to do with other countries’ goals [or with] China’s comments on our application,” Deng said. Click here to read

EU split on Taiwan question as it fears fraying China ties

A China backlash appears to be taking shape in the European Union, where this month the foreign affairs committee of parliament issued a report calling on the 27-nation bloc to begin preparing a bilateral investment agreement (BIA) with Taiwan. The move came after the recent European Parliament session passed an amendment that calls for changing a trade office’s name on the island to the European Union Office in Taiwan, a step that indicates the EU feels the need to “move away from [its] solely economic” relationship with Taiwan, according to the BIA report’s rapporteur. Charlie Weimers, a Swedish politician and member of the European Parliament and the report’s rapporteur, said that by the end of this year preparations have to be made for an impact assessment, public consultations and a scoping exercise so the EU and Taiwan can start negotiations and “deepen our economic ties.” In 2020, the EU was Taiwan’s largest foreign investor, accounting for 38.8% of the island’s total. Yet it accounted for only 2% of Taiwan’s foreign direct investment. The EU is Taiwan’s 5th largest trading partner. The EU first broached the idea of a BIA with Taiwan back in 2015 but later dropped the plan. Click here to read

Sri Lanka’s vital EU trade privileges hang in the balance

When a special five-member European Union delegation arrives in Colombo on Sept 27, its review of a vital trade concession could lead to substantial export losses for Sri Lanka, which has already suffered a steep drop in foreign reserves. The European delegation will confer with stakeholders to learn more about something else many believe to again be in decline in the South Asian island nation: human rights. “They will meet with all stakeholders to obtain information, and verify the commitment made by the government in relation to matters pertaining to human rights, international labor conventions and the environment,” Denis Chaibi, the EU ambassador to Sri Lanka, told Nikkei Asia. The delegation will scrutinize Sri Lanka’s adherence to its commitments on human rights, labor laws and environmental protection, as well as enforcement of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The PTA legislation to counter terrorism and separatism was enacted in 1979 but remains in force and is regarded by many as a political weapon to stifle dissent and debate. The investigation will determine whether the European trading bloc continues to provide a Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) concession on imports that has been highly favorable to Sri Lanka. Click here to read

Lebanon’s inflation rate is worse than Zimbabwe’s and Venezuela’s

Lebanon’s annual rate of inflation has risen to the highest of all countries tracked by Bloomberg, surpassing Zimbabwe and Venezuela, as the financial meltdown in the Middle East nation worsens. The consumer price index rose 137.8% from a year earlier in August, compared with 123.4% in July, according to the Lebanon Central Administration of Statistics. Consumer prices rose 10.25% from a month earlier while food prices rose 20.82%. Lebanon’s inflation has skyrocketed in the past two years as the country’s financial and economic crisis spirals out of control, with politicians doing very little to mitigate its impact. The currency has lost nearly 90% of its value and plunged three quarters of residents into poverty. Authorities have in recent months started reducing subsidies, as most items are now priced at the black-market exchange rate. The central bank is running out of cash and has repeatedly warned the government about continuing subsidies. After nearly 13 months of paralysis, billionaire and former premier Najib Mikati formed a new government that seeks to resume stalled bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund and creditors to restructure the debt. Lebanon defaulted on $30 billion of Eurobonds last year. Click here to read

Chinese official calls for ‘high-level’ security reassurance for CPEC

A senior Chinese official called for “high-level” security guarantees for further high-quality development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), during a bilateral meeting on the development of the major project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). At the 10th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which was held via video link on Sept 23, Ning Jizhe, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planner, said that high-quality operation under high-level security guarantees are needed to turn the corridor into a demonstration project for the high-quality development of the BRI. The meeting, which was delayed partly by the Dasu terror attack, conveyed some very important information about the CPEC’s future development pattern, including the new practical move on joint cooperation in information technology, said Liu Zongyi, secretary-general of the Research Center for China-South Asia Cooperation at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. As part of the effort to help Pakistan tackle its domestic security situation, it may include sectors such as database development, Liu told the Global Times on Thursday. “If the CPEC is to advance smoothly, it is necessary to ensure that the domestic security situation in Pakistan is stable,” said Liu. Click here to read

UAE, India look to double trade to at least $100B over five years

The United Arab Emirates and India are seeking to more than double non-oil trade to at least $100 billion over five years as the Gulf Arab state works to deepen ties with fast-growing economies beyond the Middle East. The two governments are set to start talks on an economic pact aimed at boosting business, investment and jobs, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi said on a visit to New Delhi for talks with Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal. “Both sides have drawn up a very aggressive and ambitious time-frame and aim to conclude negotiations by December 2021,” Goyal said at a press conference on Sept 22. “We hope to sign formal agreements in early 2022.” The UAE is trying to burnish its credentials as a global hub for business and finance in the face of growing regional competition from Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, the government said it plans to work on comprehensive economic agreements with countries showing high potential for growth, mainly in Asia and Africa. Last week, it said it plans to invest up to $14 billion in Britain. India is seeking better trade links to revive its economy after a deadly second wave of the pandemic this year. Click here to read

Joint Statement from Quad Leaders: September 24, 2021

We, the leaders of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, convened today in person as “the Quad” for the first time. On this historic occasion we recommit to our partnership, and to a region that is a bedrock of our shared security and prosperity—a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is also inclusive and resilient. Just six months have passed since our last meeting. Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused continued global suffering; the climate crisis has accelerated; and regional security has become ever-more complex, testing all of our countries individually and together. Our cooperation, however, remains unflinching. The occasion of the Quad summit is an opportunity to refocus ourselves and the world on the Indo-Pacific and on our vision for what we hope to achieve. Together, we recommit to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. We stand for the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states. We commit to work together and with a range of partners. Click here to read

Kissinger’s ‘secret’ China trip recalled as Wall Street veteran meets key Chinese leaders, visits Xinjiang

As official US-China exchanges slowed amid rising tensions, a Wall Street veteran visited Beijing for talks with a top leader – acting as a powerful backchannel for the two nations, the Post has learned. John Thornton, executive chairman of Barrick Gold Corp and a former Goldman Sachs president, met Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng in Beijing in late August, according to a person familiar with the details of the meeting. The key issues discussed included climate change, Xinjiang and conditions for resuming bilateral talks. Thornton, also co-chair of the China-US Financial Roundtable, acted as an unofficial channel for US-China exchanges during his six-week trip, which included a three-week stay in Shanghai before his meetings with senior Chinese officials in the capital in late August. This was followed by a week-long trip to Xinjiang, the far-western region where the US accuses China of having committed genocide of the ethnic minority Uygur population. Thornton was given unprecedented access at a time when China is still largely closed to most foreigners since the Covid-19 pandemic first broke out. “Thornton’s trip was similar in nature to [Henry] Kissinger’s secret trip to China [in 1971],” said the person familiar with the matter, requesting anonymity. Click here to read

Russia’s Lavrov says Taliban recognition ‘not on the table’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sept 25 that international recognition of the Taliban was not currently under consideration. Lavrov was speaking on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. His comments come after the Taliban nominated a U.N. envoy, setting up a showdown over Afghanistan’s seat at the world body. “The question of international recognition of the Taliban at the present juncture is not on the table,” Lavrov told a news conference. Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on Sept 26 nominated the Islamist group’s Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador. The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last month. Ghulam Isaczai, the current U.N. ambassador who represents the Afghan government ousted by the Taliban, has also asked to renew his U.N. accreditation. Russia is a member of a nine-member U.N credentials committee – along with China and the United States – which will deal with the competing claims on Afghanistan’s U.N. seat later this year. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition is the only leverage other countries have to press for inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan. Click here to read

No crime and no punishment as Meng Wanzhou admits wrongdoing without guilt

US prosecutors depict the deal that allowed Meng Wanzhou to leave Canada and fly home to China as a victory – but if so, it is an odd one after so much thwarted effort to secure her for trial. Ultimately, the Huawei Technologies Co executive has been convicted of no crime, will serve no sentence and pay no penalty. Instead, Meng admits wrongdoing without admitting guilt. “In entering into the deferred prosecution agreement, Meng has taken responsibility for her principal role in perpetrating a scheme to defraud a global financial institution,” said acting US attorney Nicole Boeckmann in a press release. A deferred prosecution agreement typically includes both an admission of wrongdoing, and a requirement for some sort of cooperation from the accused, in return for the dropping of charges at a future date. Meng’s deal includes admissions that she lied to HSBC, but that is as far as her obligations go – there is no cooperation requirement. The deal is a scant five pages long. The main requirement is that Meng agree to a statement of facts (a further four pages long) that describes a meeting she held in Hong Kong in 2013 with an executive for “Financial Institution 1”, identified as HSBC in Meng’s now-dropped Canadian extradition case. Click here to read

‘Finally, I am home’: Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou lands in China to hero’s welcome

Huawei Technologies’ executive Meng Wanzhou landed in China on Sept 25 evening, after nearly three years under house arrest in Canada, to a hero’s welcome cheered by supporters in a homecoming state media portrayed as a sign of a strong country and a diplomatic coup for Beijing. State broadcaster CCTV showed a teary-eyed Meng, wearing a red wraparound dress, receiving a bouquet of roses and being greeted by an assembled crowd waving mini national flags on the tarmac of the international airport of Shenzhen, Huawei’s base, after her flight landed at 9.50pm. Meng waved to the 100-strong crowd and acknowledged the shouts of “Welcome home”. She then gave a brief speech, addressing Zhang Xin, deputy provincial governor of Guangdong, and Shenzhen mayor Qin Weizhong, and beginning by saying: “Finally, I am home.” She mentioned President Xi Jinping twice in her speech on the airport tarmac, referring to him as Chairman Xi. “Chairman Xi cares about the safety of every Chinese citizen, and he also has my situation in his heart, I am deeply touched by this,” she said. The reception for 49-year-old Meng, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was unusually grand even by Chinese standards. Red carpets were rolled out on the tarmac, and state television, including CCTV, provided live coverage for hours. Click here to read

From relentless war to relentless diplomacy, Biden declares new chapter

After two decades of war in Afghanistan, the U.S. is ready for a new chapter — one that will focus on intensive diplomacy and only turn to force as a last resort, President Joe Biden said at his debut address to the United Nations Sept 21. In line with his Aug. 16 speech after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the president expressed his distaste for military arm-twisting to achieve American foreign policy goals, further narrowing down the conditions of the use of force to missions that are clear, achievable and have the “informed consent of the American people.” In his 33-minute speech, the president did not mention China by name once, as opposed to his predecessor Donald Trump who mentioned “China” or “Chinese” 12 times in 2020 and 14 times in 2019. Instead, the U.S. president made clear he does not want a new cold war with Beijing. “All of the major powers of the world have a duty, in my view, to carefully manage their relationships so we do not tip from responsible competition to conflict,” Biden said. ” We’ll stand up for our allies and our friends and oppose attempts by stronger countries to dominate weaker ones, whether through changes to territory by force, economic coercion, tactical exploitation, or disinformation.” But the U.S. is “not seeking a new cold war or a world divided into rigid blocs,” he emphasized. Click here to read

Taiwan axes symbols of authoritarian past in push to rebrand

Taiwan is undertaking a sweeping drive to remove all symbols of its authoritarian past in a bid to create a new global brand for the island. The latest move is a plan to pull down a towering bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek — the generalissimo who ruled the Republic of China (Taiwan’s formal name) with an iron fist from 1949 to his death in 1975 — from an iconic central Taipei memorial hall dedicated to the former dictator. The step comes on the recommendation of the Transitional Justice Commission, which addresses crimes committed during the era of martial law, or “White Terror.” Since taking power in 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party have ramped up efforts to distance themselves from the past. With Taiwan being squeezed out of formal diplomatic space by an assertive China, the DPP has set out to rebrand Taiwan’s international identity. Some moves may seem superficial, such as changing the name on its passport and Western consulates to emphasize the colloquial name of Taiwan and minimizing references to the ROC — the baggage-laden name of China before Chiang’s nationalist Kuomintang was forced to flee to the island from Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949. Click here to read

China’s Xi warns of ‘grim’ Taiwan situation in letter to opposition

The situation in the Taiwan Strait is “complex and grim”, Chinese President Xi Jinping wrote in a congratulatory letter on Sept 26 to the newly elected leader of Taiwan’s main opposition party, who has pledged to renew talks with Beijing. Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT) elected as their leader on Sept 25 former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu, who said he would rekindle stalled high-level contacts with China’s ruling Communist Party. In Xi’s letter, a copy of which was released by the KMT, he said both parties had had “good interactions” based on their joint opposition to Taiwan independence. “At present, the situation in the Taiwan Strait is complex and grim. All the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation must work together with one heart and go forward together,” wrote Xi, who is also head of the Communist Party. He expressed hope that both parties could cooperate on “seeking peace in the Taiwan Strait, seeking national reunification and seeking national revitalisation”. Chu, who badly lost the 2016 presidential election to current President Tsai Ing-wen, responded to Xi that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait were “all the children of the Yellow Emperor” – in other words, all Han Chinese. Chu blamed Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for tensions with Beijing after pursuing anti-China policies. Chu had met Xi in China in 2015. Click here to read

Attacks on Myanmar military spike following call for revolt

Clashes between the Myanmar military and a growing resistance movement called the People’s Defense Force have intensified following calls for open uprisings by the parallel government formed by ousted politicians and activists. The PDF consists of militias that have been formed throughout Myanmar since May by citizens opposing military rule. The National Unity Government, launched by Myanmar’s democratically elected leaders pushed out by the military in February, has limited direct control over these groups, which each make their own military decisions. About 120 to 300 militias under the PDF now exist across Myanmar, with a total estimated membership of 20,000 to 30,000 fighters, according to experts who have closely monitored the escalating attacks. The Chinland Defense Force, a leading resistance group within the PDF, and a local ethnic armed organization clashed with the military in Chin state on Sept 25, local news outlet Myanmar Now reported. No major skirmishes have broken out in Yangon. But six explosions occurred in Hlaingthaya township in Yangon where many garment factories locate on Sept. 14. Trained militants are believed to be waiting in the city for the right time to strike. Click here to read

Erdogan: Turkey intends to buy 2nd batch of Russian S-400s

President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey still intended to buy a second batch of S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, a move that could deepen a rift with NATO ally Washington and trigger fresh U.S. sanctions. Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defense systems. Turkey says it was unable to procure air defense systems from any NATO ally on satisfactory terms. “In the future, nobody will be able to interfere in terms of what kind of defense systems we acquire, from which country at what level,” Erdogan said in an interview aired on Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan at CBS News on Sept 26. “Nobody can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions.” The United States imposed sanctions on Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate, its chief Ismail Demir and three other employees in December following the country’s acquisition of a first batch of S-400s. Talks continued between Russia and Turkey about the delivery of a second batch, which Washington has repeatedly said would almost certainly trigger new sanctions. Erdogan will visit Russia next week to meet President Vladimir Putin to discuss issues including the violence in northwestern Syria. Click here to read

Iran’s nuclear program has crossed ‘all red lines,’ PM Bennett tells UNGA while hinting at Israel taking action

The Iranian nuclear program has reached a “watershed” moment and Israel’s tolerance on the matter is running out, PM Naftali Bennett has said, calling on the international community to recognize the gravity of the situation. Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Sept 26, Bennett said that Iran had made “a major leap forward” in recent years and that its “weapon program is at a critical point.” Bennett argued that Iran is now enriching uranium to 60%, many times greater than permitted under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which put restraints on Tehran’s nuclear development. It’s “one step short of weapons-grade material – and they’re getting away with it,” he added. The Israeli leader contended that Iran’s nuclear program had now hit a “watershed moment” and words would not be enough to stop its centrifuges. But Bennett said that while the rest of the world either considered Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons inevitable, or they’re just tired of hearing about it, Israel didn’t have that privilege and its tolerance was running out. “Iran is much weaker, much more vulnerable than it seems,” he noted, adding that Israel would not tire on the matter and would not allow Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. Click here to read

U.S. to Iran: Grant inspectors access to workshop or face action at IAEA

Iran must stop denying the U.N. nuclear watchdog access to a workshop making centrifuge parts as agreed two weeks ago or face diplomatic retaliation at the agency’s Board of Governors within days, the United States said on Sept 27. The workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, and was hit by apparent sabotage in June in which one of four International Atomic Energy Agency cameras there was destroyed. Iran removed them and the destroyed camera’s footage is missing. TESA Karaj was one of several sites to which Iran agreed to grant IAEA inspectors access to service IAEA monitoring equipment and replace memory cards just as they were due to fill up with data such as camera footage. The Sept. 12 accord helped avoid a diplomatic escalation between Iran and the West. “We are deeply troubled by Iran’s refusal to provide the IAEA with the needed access to service its monitoring equipment, as was agreed in the September 12 Joint Statement between the IAEA and Iran,” a U.S. statement to the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Sept 27 said. Click here to read

Meet Olaf Scholz, the German Best Placed to Succeed Angela Merkel

A politician who built his popularity on his response to Covid-19 and styled himself as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s true heir is now best placed to succeed her as leader of Europe’s largest economy after scoring a narrow win in Sept 26’s election. Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party won a small majority over Ms. Merkel’s conservatives. But with just a quarter of the votes, he is also the first leading politician in the country’s postwar history to need support for three parties to build a stable majority in parliament. Adding to the complexity of the three-way negotiations, Ms. Merkel’s conservatives have said they, too, would court Mr. Scholz’s prospective partners—the pro-market Free Democrats and the Greens—with a view to forming a government. Under unwritten rules of German politics, the election winner has the first shot at trying to form a coalition but has no guarantee of becoming chancellor if the effort fails. Mr. Scholz said a government under his leadership would serve the interests of workers and focus on fighting man-made climate change. Signaling continuity in foreign policy, he said that he would work for a more united European Union and, like Ms. Merkel, refrain from aligning too closely with the U.S. Click here to read

Mali approached Russian military company for help: Lavrov

Mali has asked Russian private companies to boost security in the conflict-torn country, Moscow confirmed as the Malian leader accused France of abandoning Bamako by preparing a large troop drawdown. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Sept 25 private Russian military contractors have a “legitimate” right to be in Mali because they were invited by the country’s transitional government – but he insisted that the Russian government was not involved. Meanwhile, in his address to the UN General Assembly, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga accused France of abandoning his country with its “unilateral” decision to withdraw troops. With France preparing to reduce its military presence in the Sahel region, the Malian government estimated that “its own capacities would be insufficient in the absence of external support” and initiated the discussions, Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of the UNGA. “This is an activity which has been carried out on a legitimate basis,” he said. “We have nothing to do with that.” Lavrov’s comments came after European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that the bloc’s ties with Mali could be seriously affected if it allows Russian private military contractors from the controversial Wagner Group to operate in the country. Click here to read

Sudan transitional government says coup attempt has failed

Sudanese authorities have reported a failed attempt to overthrow the country’s transitional government, blaming “military officers and civilians” from the former government of deposed President Omar al-Bashir. Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok addressed the attempted coup, which took place early on Sept 21, as “an extension of previous attempts” to overthrow the transitional government created after al-Bashir was removed from power in 2019 by the military follow months of mass protests against his rule. “They tried to take advantage of the situation in different towns by closing the ports and the roads. They took advantage of the national crisis and tried to stop us from moving forward during this transitional period,” Hamdok said. Earlier on Sept 21, Information Minister Hamza Baloul said military officers and civilians linked to al-Bashir had attempted a coup but were swiftly brought under control. “We brought under control a coup attempt by military officers early Sept 21,” Baloul said. Authorities “have arrested leaders of the failed plot, which involved military officers and civilians belonging to the defunct regime”, he added. The military said “most” of those involved in the coup attempt had been arrested, including 11 officers. Click here to read

Pfizer begins study of oral drug for prevention of COVID-19

Pfizer said on Sep 27 it has started a mid-to-late-stage study testing its investigational oral antiviral drug for the prevention of COVID-19 infection among those who have been exposed to the virus. The company and its rivals, including US-based Merck & Co and Swiss pharmaceutical Roche Holding AG, have been racing to develop the first antiviral pill for COVID-19. Pfizer said it would study the drug, PF-07321332, in up to 2,660 healthy adult participants aged 18 and older who live in the same household as an individual with a confirmed symptomatic COVID-19 infection. The trial would test PF-07321332 with a low dose of ritonavir, an older medication widely used in combination treatments for HIV infection. Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said earlier this month they had begun enrolling patients in a late-stage trial of their experimental drug molnupiravir for prevention of COVID-19 infection. Pfizer had also said earlier this month it started a mid-to-late-stage trial of PF-07321332 for the treatment of COVID-19 in non-hospitalised, symptomatic adult patients. Click here to read

US authorizes Pfizer booster for the elderly and high-risk

The US on Sept 22 authorized the use of boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for people aged over 65, as well as adults at high risk of severe disease and those in high-exposure jobs. The announcement means a significant part of the population, amounting to tens of millions of Americans, are now eligible for a third shot six months after their second. “Today’s action demonstrates that science and the currently available data continue to guide the FDA’s decision-making for COVID-19 vaccines during this pandemic,” said Janet Woodcock, acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, in a statement. The decision was expected and came after an independent expert panel convened by the regulatory agency last week voted in favor of recommending the move. The panel, however, rejected an initial plan by the White House to fully approve Pfizer boosters to everyone aged 16 and over, in what amounted to a rare rebuke of President Joe Biden’s administration. The group of vaccinologists, infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists concluded that the benefit-risk balance differed for younger people, especially young males who are more susceptible to myocarditis. Click here to read

New York hospitals face staff shortages as COVID-19 vaccine mandate kicks in

New York hospitals were preparing to fire thousands of healthcare workers for not complying with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate taking effect on Sep 27, with some in the upstate region curtailing services to cope with staff shortages. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference that hospitals in the city were not seeing a major impact from the mandate, but that he was worried about other areas of the state where vaccination rates are lower. Catholic Health, one of the largest healthcare providers in Western New York, had said it would postpone some elective surgeries on Sept 27 as it works to boost its vaccination rate, which reached 90 per cent of workers as of Sept 26 afternoon. New York’s state health department issued an order last month mandating that all healthcare workers receive at least their first COVID-19 shot by Sep 27, triggering a rush by hospitals to get their employees inoculated. Of the 43,000 employees at the New York City’s 11 public hospitals, about 5,000 were not vaccinated, Dr. Mitchell Katz, head of NYC Health + Hospitals, said at the news conference. Click here to read

Japan on track to see state of emergency lifted on schedule

The government plans to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency for all 19 prefectures that will end on Sept. 30 as scheduled, sources said. It wants to avoid issuing pre-emergency measures for those prefectures once the emergency ends since the infection situation in Japan has been recently improving. “I think that we can lift the state of emergency at the end of September if the current infection situation continues (to trend downward),” health minister Norihisa Tamura said during a Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) TV debate program on Sept. 26. The government will effectively decide on its plan at a Sept. 27 meeting to be attended by ministers responsible for responding to the health crisis. If the government’s expert panel on countermeasures against COVID-19 discusses and approves the plan on Sept. 28, the government will make its official decision at the task force meeting. It will make the final call after hearing opinions from local governments and experts, with an eye to lifting pre-emergency measures for all eight prefectures and the state of emergency for all 19 prefectures. As of Sept. 23, the hospital bed occupancy rate for COVID-19 patients in those 19 prefectures have dropped below 50 percent, the criteria for lifting the state of emergency. Click here to read

COVID-19 vaccine boosters could mean billions for drugmakers

Billions more in profits are at stake for some vaccine makers as the U.S. moves toward dispensing COVID-19 booster shots to shore up Americans’ protection against the virus. How much the manufacturers stand to gain depends on how big the rollout proves to be. U.S. health officials late on Sept 23 endorsed booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for all Americans 65 and older — along with tens of millions of younger people who are at higher risk from the coronavirus because of health conditions or their jobs. Officials described the move as a first step. Boosters will likely be offered even more broadly in the coming weeks or months, including boosters of vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. That, plus continued growth in initial vaccinations, could mean a huge gain in sales and profits for Pfizer and Moderna in particular. Wall Street is taking notice. The average forecast among analysts for Moderna’s 2022 revenue has jumped 35% since President Joe Biden laid out his booster plan in mid-August. Most of the vaccinations so far in the U.S. have come from Pfizer, which developed its shot with Germany’s BioNTech, and Moderna. They have inoculated about 99 million and 68 million people, respectively. Johnson & Johnson is third with about 14 million people. Click here to read