Tag Archives: Afghan

China: Daily Scan, December 30, 2021

Beijing raises NEV quota in 2022 new car plate allocation: Xinhuanet
December 29, 2021

Beijing Municipality will raise the quota of new-energy vehicles (NEVs) in the new car license plate allocation next year, authorities announced Wednesday. The city will allocate 100,000 new car plates in 2022, and the quota for NEVs will be increased from 60,000 to 70,000, according to the municipal office for car quota allocation management. Click here to read…

China unveils five-year plan to boost raw materials industry: Xinhuanet
December 29, 2021

Chinese authorities on Wednesday unveiled a plan to facilitate the development of the country’s raw materials industry during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025). By 2025, a new development pattern for China’s raw materials sector that features higher quality, better profitability and distribution, low carbon, and more security will take shape, said the plan. It was issued jointly by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and two other government bodies. Click here to read…

Former senior provincial official indicted for graft, sheltering mafia-like gangs: Xinhuanet
December 29, 2021

Wang Like, a former senior Party official in east China’s Jiangsu Province, has been indicted on charges of taking and offering bribes, harboring and conniving mafia-like organizations, and forging identity documents, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) said Wednesday. Click here to read…

Egypt to join BRICS New Development Bank: People’s Daily
December 30, 2021

The BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) announced Wednesday that it will add Egypt as its new member. “We are delighted to welcome Egypt into NDB’s family. We look forward to supporting its investment needs in infrastructure and sustainable development,” said Marcos Troyjo, president of the NDB. Click here to read…

China, Russia to sign new 5-year space cooperation program, build intl lunar station by 2035: Global Times
December 29, 2021

China and Russia will sign a new space Cooperation Program for 2023-2027 next year, which will include a plan to create an open and inclusive International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) by 2035, Russia’s national space agency Roscosmos told the Global Times in an exclusive interviewClick here to read…

China standardizes names of 15 more places in Zangnan based on sovereignty and history: Global Times
December 30, 2021

China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs announced on Wednesday that it had standardized in Chinese characters, Tibetan and Roman alphabet the names of 15 places in Zangnan (the southern part of China’s Xizang), in accordance with regulations on geographical names issued by the State Council. Click here to read…

Chinese customs fully prepares for the implementation of RCEP: Global Times
December 29, 2021

Chinese customs said it has fully prepared for the implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), days ahead of the formal implementation for the largest trade agreement. In terms of rules of origin and tariff concessions, the General Administration of Customs said on Wednesday that it has completed 38 specific tasks to ensure the full implementation of the rules of origin and the agreed tax rate, and established the shared information system of visa data and customs clearance data. Click here to read…

Afghan officials discuss digital currency with Chinese businessmen: Global Times
December 29, 2021

Amid a deepening financial crisis that is putting Afghanistan’s financial system on the brink of collapse, Afghan Taliban officials have approached Chinese businessmen and discussed topics concerning digital currency, a possible solution that some said could provide short-term relief to the capital crunch of the war-torn country, sources told the Global Times on WednesdayClick here to read…

China to speed up use of next-generation tech like 5G, AI in rare-earth industry: Global Times
December 29, 2021

A senior Chinese official on Wednesday called on rare-earth companies to accelerate their digital transformation and carry out mergers and reorganizations, as the country has moved swiftly to upgrade the crucial sector and build an efficient, robust industry cluster. The use of high technologies marked by 5G, artificial intelligence and the industrial internet should be integrated with the rare-earth industry to enhance production efficiency and product quality, Chang Guowu, an official from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), said at a press conference in Beijing. Click here to read…

China’s jobseekers search for ‘stability’ as coronavirus and regulatory crackdowns take toll: South China Morning Post
December 30, 2021

Zhang Qijing left China for the United Kingdom last October to pursue a master’s degree she hoped would help her change career. Business at the inbound travel agency she worked for was decimated by pandemic travel restrictions and she wanted a fresh start. A higher degree would give her an edge in the labour market and help secure a more stable job as a public school teacher, she said. Pursuing further education seemed like an efficient way to wait out the pandemic too. Click here to read…

Tattoos targeted as Chinese authorities seek to set ‘good example’: Reuters
December 30, 2021

Chinese authorities have banned footballers from getting tattoos and instructed national team players who have been inked to remove or cover them up to set a “good example for society”. A growing number of high-profile Chinese players have been sporting tattoos, including international defender Zhang Linpeng, who has previously been told to cover up while appearing for both the national team and club side Guangzhou FC. Click here to read…

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 04 October- 10 October

Economic

China’s housing bubble fuelled its spectacular growth, but is the country ready for a day of reckoning?

China’s indebted property developers are symptoms, rather than the cause, of its housing problem. The nation’s real estate boom, which started in 1999 when then premier Zhu Rongji privatised home ownership, is one of the most spectacular economic phenomena in recent history. It has profoundly changed China’s urban landscape and improved living standards for hundreds of millions of people. But it has also titled wealth towards the state and capital over labour, and, more importantly, changed the notion among many Chinese that wealth is built by saving, not borrowing. China’s property machine has been sustained by three key ingredients: a land supply system borrowed directly from Hong Kong, where the municipal government has a monopoly; an extraordinary monetary easing cycle where broad money supply has increased 20 times over the past two decades; and a nationwide zeal to invest household wealth into property, rather than other assets. It is no secret that authorities depend on revenue from land sales to property developers to meet operational costs. Chinese cities would be in a terrible state if these funds dried up. The banking system’s exposure to the property sector is another interesting point of debate. Click here to read…

China raises cap on electricity prices to tackle power shortage

China will take further steps to ensure sufficient electricity supplies for the coming winter and spring, including raising the cap on prices, China’s cabinet said in a statement after an executive meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang on Oct 09. The State Council also said it will prioritize winter coal and natural gas supplies to ensure people’s livelihoods in northern China, particularly residential heating in north-eastern provinces, according to the statement. The measures come as China grapples with large-scale power shortages that since September have affected 10 provinces, including Heilongjiang and Jiangsu. High coal prices — amid government-mandated cuts to coal production capacity and carbon-reduction measures — combined with a relatively low cap on electricity prices meant that power generators were selling below cost. This meant they cut power output at a time when an economic recovery is driving factories to consume a lot more electricity. In late September, China’s state planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), urged miners and power companies to sign additional long-term contracts to guarantee the thermal coal supply. This week, dozens of coal mines in Inner Mongolia were told to boost their production by more than half. Click here to read…

EU Commission should buy gas on behalf of member states, Spanish PM suggests as solution to spiralling energy prices

Spain’s prime minister has proposed that the European Commission (EC) negotiate gas contracts on behalf of all EU member states in order to strengthen cooperation amid soaring gas prices on the global marketplace. Speaking on Oct 06, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez proposed a novel solution to the spiralling cost of gas in Europe, suggesting the EU’s executive body could buy on its member states’ behalf. “The proposal our government is making is that the EU Commission negotiate on behalf of all 27 member states,” Sanchez told reporters after an EU summit held in Slovenia. “Then what we propose is a strengthened cooperation, in which the countries who want it can join and the Commission would negotiate.” Sanchez added that this proposal involved the EC negotiating in collaboration with private companies. The concept has been backed by Italy. Earlier on Oct 06, the EU said it would review the way the bloc’s power market is organized and consider a revamp of the regulations. On Oct 06, European gas prices reached record highs, rising sharply to above $1,900 per 1,000 cubic meters, equivalent to $186 per megawatt-hour in household terms. Click here to read…

Energy crunch: Qatar says LNG production ‘maxed out’

Qatar, the world’s largest seller of liquefied natural gas (LNG), told consumers it was powerless to cool energy prices as steelmakers in the United Kingdom said they could be forced to halt output in the face of soaring costs. The global rebound in economic activity after the easing of coronavirus lockdowns has laid bare a shortage of natural gas stocks and other fuel supplies, squeezing consumer budgets and causing blackouts in some countries. To keep factories open and homes heated, industry executives and governments are having to pay much more for energy and revert to coal and oil, the most polluting fossil fuels. As some generators switched to burning oil, crude futures jumped to multi-year highs on Oct 11, with analysts predicting that prices will stay strong.LNG prices, which sank to record lows at the height of pandemic lockdowns, have surged this year to record highs, but Qatar said it has no supplies available to calm the market. “We are maxed out, as far as we have given all our customers their due quantities,” said Qatar Minister of Energy Saad al-Kaabi. “I am unhappy about gas prices being high.”Across the globe, the high prices are pressuring governments and industry, which has warned of the risk of job losses and costs being passed on to customers and consumers. Click here to read…

Afghan food prices soar as imports from Pakistan squeezed

Food prices are spiralling in Afghanistan as the local currency plummets under selling pressure and imports from Pakistan decline steeply due to a U.S. dollar shortage that prevents traders making payments. Zia-ul-Haq Sarhadi, vice president of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJCCI), told Nikkei Asia that food shipments from Pakistan to Afghanistan have reduced to a trickle largely because of the Taliban limiting weekly bank withdrawals to $200 — about 20,000 Afghanis. According to Sarhadi, only cement shipments paid for before the Taliban returned to Kabul are crossing the border at Torkham, Pakistan’s northwest border post with Afghanistan. He told Nikkei that less than 200 trucks were coming across each day compared to more than 1,000 a few weeks ago. The Taliban’s withdrawal caps are meant to prevent a currency flight while the U.S. continues to block access to Afghanistan’s dollar reserves of around $9.5 billion in American banks. The IMF and the World Bank have also stopped dollar-denominated aid, which amounted to around 43% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020. Click here to read…

Hong Kong to build 1m homes near China border to speed integration

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced plans to create a new “metropolis” of up to 2.5 million people near the border with mainland China, looking to tie the former British colony closer to neighbouring cities to boost regional development and tackle a chronic housing shortage. In the fifth and final annual policy address of her term on Oct 06, Lam defended the national security law and political overhaul imposed by Beijing in the wake of widespread antigovernment protests in 2019, emphasizing the need to strengthen pride in and loyalty to China for Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity. The new “Northern Metropolis” would cover nearly 300 sq. km along the city’s border with Shenzhen. Envisaged as an international information and technology hub, it would include up to 926,000 apartments and a new rail link to Shenzhen’s Qianhai district. Beijing last month announced plans to expand the area of the Qianhai zone, where it has been experimenting with financial and other reforms, by eight times to boost integration with Hong Kong. Click here to read…

Pakistan and China unveil ambitious plan to develop Karachi coast

In an ambitious turn, Pakistan and China have agreed to develop the Karachi coast, possibly shifting away from Gwadar as the center stage of the Belt and Road project in Pakistan, following ongoing problems at the south-western province of Balochistan. A memorandum of understanding was signed for the Karachi Coastal Comprehensive Development Zone project during the recently held 10th Joint Cooperation Committee meeting of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, after a gap of almost two years. Based on details shared by Pakistan, China will invest $3.5 billion, separately confirmed by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, in the project which includes adding new berths to Karachi port, developing a new fisheries port and a 640-hectare trade zone on the western backwater marshland of the Karachi Port Trust. The project also envisages building a harbor bridge connecting the port with the nearby Manora islands. Gwadar has proved to be a problematic area for Chinese investment. In August, a suicide bombing targeting a vehicle carrying Chinese nationals in the area killed two children and wounded three. Separatist militants have waged a long-running insurgency in Balochistan. Click here to read…

HSBC boss Noel Quinn: Complex geopolitical landscape a ‘fact of life’ for global banks

Navigating a complex geopolitical landscape that includes financial sanctions is a “fact of life” for international banks and one that can continue to be managed in today’s charged environment, according to Noel Quinn, the CEO of HSBC. There remains a need for financial institutions, such as HSBC that can act as bridge between East and West for commerce and trade, said Quinn in a wide-ranging keynote session at the Sibos 2021 conference. “Our clients still want to be international. They still have needs on a global basis and they’re asking us to help them with those global needs,” Quinn said. “My job is to help this organisation navigate those geopolitics, be very focused on helping our clients navigate their business model needs and remaining focused on the long term, not just the short term.” As Hong Kong’s biggest currency-issuing lender, London-based HSBC has found itself caught in the middle of rising tensions between China and the United States in the past three years, from the arrest of Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou to the implementation of a controversial national security law for Hong Kong last year. Click here to read…

China’s Xinjiang faces hidden risk from debt-heavy XPCC, with spending tipped to rise after US withdrawal from Afghanistan

Spending on public security and poverty reduction in China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is expected to increase after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, but indebted state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including the sprawling Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), are already putting pressure on local government finances. Washington has targeted Chinese officials and Xinjiang-based companies, including XPCC, for what it alleges are serious human rights abuses in the region – something Beijing has repeatedly denied. XPCC is at the heart of international tensions over Xinjiang because of its influential position in the local economy and its central role in ensuring social stability and security. Established in 1954, XPCC – which is also known as “Bingtuan” – operates as a business and paramilitary entity. Today, it controls at least 20 per cent of Xinjiang’s gross domestic product (GDP), with cotton one of its most important goods, and has about 2.7 million members, accounting for 12 per cent of the region’s total population. But the organisation’s massive spending on projects ranging from poverty alleviation and surveillance to re-education camps to counter “religious extremism” make it a potential contingent risk for the Xinjiang government, some observers say. Click here to read…

Japan’s new PM Fumio Kishida defends pro-nuclear stance in parliamentary debut

Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Oct 11 defended his pronuclear energy policies, saying that restarting nuclear power plants mothballed since the 2011 Fukushima disaster was vital. Energy became a key issue during the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) recent leadership race, during which Kishida beat Taro Kono, a former vaccine minister who had spoken out against nuclear energy, to become prime minister. “It’s crucial that we restart nuclear power plants,” Kishida said as he faced opposition questions in parliament for the first time since becoming prime minister last week. Kishida was responding to questions from Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), on the government’s policy for sustainable energy and if nuclear power would be part of the plan. Nuclear energy has been contentious in Japan, especially since a 2011 earthquake off the coast triggered a tsunami that smashed into a nuclear power plant in the Fukushima region north of Tokyo, causing one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents. All of Japan’s nuclear power plants were shut down after the disaster, which highlighted failings in regulation and oversight. While some reactors have been coming back on stream, most remain shut. Click here to read…

Global tax deal seeks to end havens, criticized for ‘no teeth’

A group of 136 countries on Oct 08 set a minimum global tax rate of 15% for big companies and sought to make it harder for them to avoid taxation in a landmark deal that U.S. President Joe Biden said levelled the playing field. The deal aims to end a four-decade-long “race to the bottom” by setting a floor for countries that have sought to attract investment and jobs by taxing multinational companies lightly, effectively allowing them to shop around for low tax rates. The 15% floor agreed to is, however, well below a corporate tax rate which averages around 23.5% in industrialized countries. Some developing countries that had wanted a higher rate said their interests had been sidelined to accommodate richer nations, while NGOs criticized the deal’s many exemptions, with Oxfam saying it effectively had “no teeth.” The accord also promises to be a tough sell in Washington, where a group of Republican U.S. senators sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen saying they had serious concerns. Negotiations have been going on for four years, with the deal finally agreed when Ireland, Estonia and Hungary dropped their opposition and signed up. Click here to read…

Thanks to sanctions, Iran loses foreign investors

As the Raisi administration continues to refuse to chart a clear path for the resumption of the stalled nuclear talks with world powers in Vienna, and the removal of the daunting sanctions on Iran remain improbable, things are getting worse for the average Iranian. The naked truth about the oil-rich country is the unchecked entrenchment of poverty has been worsened by the government’s soaring budget deficit and the withdrawal of foreign investors who once helped prop up different sectors of the economy. In 2019, and in a bid to incentivize the influx of foreign capital and resources into Iran, the moderate Rouhani administration proposed an initiative whereby international investors lending credit to Iranian banks and financial institutions worth $250,000 or more or investing a similar amount in Iran’s infrastructural and industrial projects, would be granted five-year residency permits as well as other educational, healthcare, employment benefits and public services. Now, in a rare admission of the failure of the ambitious plan, Iran’s deputy minister of interior Babak Dinparast revealed in late September that after more than two years, “not even a single” foreign investor has signed up to benefit from the scheme, and that it hasn’t paid off as first thought. Click here to read…

New plan to bolster China’s standard-setting ability in crucial technologies

China aims to boost standard-setting in many crucial technological sectors, including high-speed rail, new-energy and smart vehicles and robots, as part of efforts to bolster innovation, opening-up and high-quality growth, according to a development plan jointly issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, the cabinet, released on Oct 10. Analysts said the plan is conducive to China’s strategy of high-quality development, and it will make China’s standardization work more internationalized. It will also pave the way for a greater role for Chinese companies in the global markets once the issue of differences among standards is ironed out, they said. By 2035, China’s standardization work will be an open and integrated system driven by market forces and guided by the government, with full participation by companies and the public. The development plan calls for scientific and research fruits in 50 percent of all projects concerned with shared key technologies and applied science and technology, and for the time required for setting national standards to be reduced to under 18 months from currently two years. Click here to read…

Economics Nobel honours ‘natural experiments’, from minimum wage to migration

Economists David Card, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens won the 2021 Nobel economics prize on Oct 11 for pioneering “natural experiments” to show real-world economic impacts in areas from minimum wage increases in the U.S. fast-food sector to migration from Castro-era Cuba. Unlike in medicine or other sciences, economists cannot conduct rigidly controlled clinical trials. Instead, natural experiments use real-life situations to study impacts on the world, an approach that has spread to other social sciences. “Their research has substantially improved our ability to answer key causal questions, which has been of great benefit to society,” says Peter Fredriksson, chair of the Economic Sciences Prize Committee. Past Nobel Economics prizes have been dominated by U.S. institutions and this was no exception. Canada-born Card currently works at the University of California, Berkeley; Angrist, a dual U.S. and Israeli citizen, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Dutch-born Imbens at Stanford University. Click here to read…

Strategic

13th round of India-China Corps Commander Level Meeting

The 13th round of India-China Corps Commander Level Meeting was held at Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on 10th October 2021. During the meeting the discussions between the two sides focussed on resolution of the remaining issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. The Indian side pointed out that the situation along the LAC had been caused by unilateral attempts of Chinese side to alter the status quo and in violation of the bilateral agreements. It was therefore necessary that the Chinese side take appropriate steps in the remaining areas so as to restore peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the Western Sector. This would also be in accord with the guidance provided by the two Foreign Ministers in their recent meeting in Dushanbe where they had agreed that the two sides should resolve the remaining issues at the earliest. The Indian side emphasised such resolution of the remaining areas would facilitate progress in the bilateral relations. During the meeting, the Indian side therefore made constructive suggestions for resolving the remaining areas, but the Chinese side was not agreeable and also could not provide any forward-looking proposals. Click here to read…

Tsai says Taiwan will not bow to Chinese pressure

President Tsai Ing-wen said Oct 10 that Taiwan won’t bow to pressure to give up its sovereignty, a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to bring the democratic island under Beijing’s control. “The more we achieve, the greater the pressure we face from China,” Tsai said during a national holiday speech to an audience of thousands outside the presidential building in Taipei. “We hope for an easing of cross-strait relations and will not act rashly, but there should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure.” Taiwan faces a growing threat from China, but the world is waking up to the island’s importance as a democratic partner on the front lines of Beijing’s authoritarian expansion, Tsai said. She pointed to the recent and ongoing dismantling of democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong as proof of Beijing’s threat to free societies. “I want to remind all my fellow citizens that we do not have the privilege of letting down our guard,” Tsai said. Later in the day, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office denounced Tsai’s speech, saying it incited confrontation and distorted facts, according to Reuters. Click here to read…

French senators meet with Taiwan’s Tsai at tense time

A group of French senators visiting Taiwan as part of a regular parliamentary exchange met with President Tsai Ing-wen on Oct 07 morning during a trip that comes in a particularly tense moment between Taiwan and China.Tsai spoke briefly before their meeting, giving France’s former defense minister, Alain Richard, the Order of Propitious Clouds, a distinction recognizing “his contributions to Taiwan-France relations.” She thanked him for leading an effort in the French Senate to pass a resolution in support of allowing Taiwan to participate in international organizations like the World Health Organization.China tried to discourage the French senators’ visit, with its embassy in France saying ahead of the trip that it would undermine China-France relations.Richard along with the three other senators also plan to meet Taiwanese economic and health officials and the Mainland Affairs Council on their five-day visit. This is the third visit to Taiwan for Richard, a former French defense minister, who previously visited Taiwan in 2015 and 2018. He heads the Taiwan Friendship group in the French Senate.The senators’ trip is a recurrent one that French lawmakers make as part of the Taiwan Friendship group; especially as new senators are elected every three years. Click here to read…

U.S. does not deny involvement in training Taiwan troops

The U.S. has not denied reports that it has sent troops to train military forces in Taiwan for at least a year, working to bolster the island’s ability to defend itself amid growing concerns of an armed conflict with China.Marines and a special operations unit have been training ground and maritime forces there on rotational deployments, the Wall Street Journal reported Oct 07. A Pentagon spokesman did not deny the training of Taiwan’s forces when asked, declining to comment on “specific operations, engagements or training.”China “has stepped up efforts to intimidate and pressure Taiwan, including increasing military activities conducted in the vicinity of Taiwan … which we believe are destabilizing and increase the risk of miscalculation,” the spokesman said. This move toward signalling U.S. involvement in Taiwan’s defense seems intended to curb recent provocations by China that have ratcheted up tensions around the Taiwan Strait. “My understanding is that the United States has been doing training like this for many years. We just don’t publicize it,” a former senior U.S. military official said. The Pentagon had dismissed similar reports last November of planned exercises involving U.S. Marines in southern Taiwan as “inaccurate.” Click here to read…

Malaysia summons Chinese ambassador over South China Sea vessels

The Malaysian government summoned China’s ambassador to formally protest alleged encroachment into its South China Sea waters by Chinese vessels, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Oct 05. Despite overt displays of warm ties earlier this year, Putrajaya registered its strong objection in a meeting with Ambassador Ouyang Yujing on Oct 04. The ministry said it had detected the presence of Chinese vessels, including a survey ship, in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone off the coasts of its Bornean states. “Malaysia’s consistent position and actions are based on international law, in defense of our sovereignty and sovereign rights in our waters,” the ministry said in a statement. “In determining Malaysia’s position and course of action with regard to the South China Sea issue, which is complex and involves inter-state relations, Malaysia’s national interests will remain of paramount importance.” The flare-up in the dispute takes the new Malaysian government of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob into difficult territory. While standing by its maritime rights, Kuala Lumpur has sought positive relations with China of late, including in the fight against COVID-19. Click here to read…

CIA creates working group on China as threats keep rising

The CIA said Oct 07 it will create a top-level working group on China as part of a broad U.S. government effort focused on countering Beijing’s influence.The group will become one of fewer than a dozen mission centres operated by the CIA, with weekly director-level meetings intended to drive the agency’s strategy toward China. China is an especially difficult challenge for the U.S. intelligence community given the insularity of its Communist Party leadership, its large military and security services and its development in advanced technologies that can counter spying. In a statement Oct 07, CIA Director William Burns called the Chinese government “the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century.” “Throughout our history, CIA has stepped up to meet whatever challenges come our way,” Burns said. “And now facing our toughest geopolitical test in a new era of great power rivalry, CIA will be at the forefront of this effort.”As part of agency reorganization, the CIA will fold mission centres on Iran and North Korea into existing groups covering each country’s respective region. Both country-specific mission centres were created during President Donald Trump’s administration. Click here to read…

Biden and Xi explore ‘recoupling’ as advisers meet in Zurich

U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan will travel to Switzerland to meet China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi, the White House announced Oct 05, a sign that the two sides are seeking to lower the temperature after years of rising tensions. Bloomberg reported Oct 05 that Chinese diplomats have informed their G-20 counterparts that Xi does not currently plan to attend the summit in Italy. But a potential trip to an African forum could provide an opening for a Biden-Xi Rome summit. China is preparing to hold the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Senegal in the first week of November. Eight months into his presidency, and after a bruising exit from Afghanistan, Biden is seeking a new phase of “relentless diplomacy.” His trade representative Katherine Tai told the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies on Oct 05 that the administration will be looking for a “recoupling” with China rather than decoupling. At the Zurich meeting, the two sides “will follow up on President Biden’s Sept. 9 call with President Xi as we continue to seek to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” the White House statement said. Click here to read…

As US returns to the UN Human Rights Council, it confronts an increasingly forceful China

The latest US effort to challenge China’s expanding global footprint will take place on Oct 06 when Washington is expected to return to the United Nations Human Rights Council at a time when Beijing is working overtime to blunt criticism over its crackdown in Xinjiang and revamp the UN in line with its world view. But Washington faces risks, added Limon, a former British diplomat at the council from 2006 to 2012. “China is now the biggest player in town, has exploited the vacuum, upped their game and introduced a lot of initiatives to try and give a Chinese flavour to things.” The US left the council in 2018 under former president Donald Trump, a vocal sceptic of multilateral organisations. The Biden administration has prioritised returning, arguing that democracies must confront authoritarian states at the UN and elsewhere in concert with partners and allies. In theory, nations on the 47-seat Geneva-based council are elected. In reality, seats are often determined in advance within geographical blocs, frequently involving “back room deals, closed slates, and secret ballots”, according to a Brookings Institution report. The 18 seats up for election on Wednesday are uncontested, and Italy has relinquished its seat for the US. Click here to read…

Taliban calls for improved ‘diplomatic relations’ with US after ‘candid talks’ in Doha, welcomes humanitarian aid

The Taliban has said that the US agreed to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, insisting it should come with no strings attached after talks in Qatar. Washington called the meeting “candid” and “professional. In a statement released in the wake of two-day talks with US officials in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban said that the US promised to “give humanitarian assistance to Afghans” and “provide facilities for other humanitarian organizations to deliver aid.” The US delegation and representatives of the Taliban discussed “all relevant issues” during the meeting that took place over the weekend, the group said, without elaborating further. Despite US President Joe Biden’s administration refusal to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government, the group said that it was ready to mend relations with Washington. The US State Department struck a similarly optimistic tone, describing the talks as “candid and professional,” but added that the US was not taking the Taliban at its word. In a statement that was short on detail, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the “security and terrorism concerns,” the evacuation of stranded American citizens and allies, as well as women’s rights, dominated the agenda of the meeting. Click here to read…

U.S. F-35B jets used in test for MSDF’s future aircraft carrier

U.S. F-35B fighter jets took off from and landed on the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s destroyer Izumo in a test off the Shikoku region on Oct. 3, the Defense Ministry said Oct. 5.The ministry plans to convert the helicopter-carrying destroyer into an aircraft carrier, and the test was designed to check the heat-resistance of the renovated deck. The F-35B is a stealth fighter capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings. The ministry plans to deploy the aircraft to Air Self-Defense Force’s Nyutabaru Air Base in Miyazaki Prefecture. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi revealed the test at an Oct. 5 news conference after the Cabinet meeting. It was the first time for F-35Bs to use an MSDF naval vessel for takeoffs and landings. The F-35Bs used in the test belong to the U.S. Marine Corps. “This will improve interoperability between Japan and the United States, leading to strengthened deterrence and responding abilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Kishi said. At the end of 2018, the defense program outline and midterm defense program included plans to convert Izumo-type destroyers into virtual aircraft carriers to strengthen air defense on Japan’s Pacific side, where there are fewer airfields. Click here to read…

Muqtada al-Sadr set to win Iraq vote, former PM al-Maliki second

Shia Muslim religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s party is set to be the biggest winner in Iraq’s parliamentary election, increasing the number of seats he holds, according to initial results, officials and a spokesperson for the Sadrist Movement. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki looked set to have the next largest win among Shia parties, the initial results showed on Oct 11. Iraq’s Shia groups have dominated governments and government formation since the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Sunni leader Saddam Hussein and catapulted the Shia majority and the Kurds to power. Oct 10’s election was held several months early, in response to mass protests in 2019 that toppled a government and showed widespread anger against political leaders whom many Iraqis said have enriched themselves at the expense of the country. But a record low turnout of 41 percent suggested that an election billed as an opportunity to wrest control from the ruling elite would do little to dislodge sectarian religious parties in power since 2003. Click here to read…

‘Looming disaster’: Oil ship leak threatens millions of Yemenis

A team of researchers from Stanford University, Harvard University, and UC Berkeley released the findings of their models on the impact of an oil spill from the FSO Safer in a paper published on Oct 11 in the Nature Sustainability journal. The researchers stressed urgent action was required to stop a “looming disaster” that would affect an estimated nine million people who would be without drinking water, and shut down Yemen’s main ports, thereby worsening the country’s humanitarian crisis. About 68 percent of humanitarian aid to Yemen enters through the ports of Hodeidah and Salif, which lie near to the stricken Safer, and more than half of Yemen’s population depends on humanitarian aid. “The spill and its potentially disastrous impacts remain entirely preventable through offloading the oil,” the study said. FSO Safer has not been maintained since the start of the conflict in Yemen in 2015, and negotiations between the United Nations and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who control the ship and the area of Yemen’s coast nearest to it, remain at a standstill.However, it also contains 1.1 million barrels of oil, an amount that is four times the amount spilled in the world’s most environmentally damaging oil spill – the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. Click here to read…

ASEAN ministers weigh excluding Myanmar junta leader from summit: Envoy

Southeast Asian countries are discussing not inviting the head of Myanmar’s junta to a summit this month, due to the military’s failure to make progress on an agreed roadmap to restore peace in the strife-torn country, a regional envoy said onOct 06. The junta’s inaction on a five-point plan it agreed in April with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was “tantamount to backtracking”, Erywan Yusof, the bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar, told a news conference. Erywan, the second foreign minister of ASEAN chair Brunei, said the junta had not directly responded to his requests to meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose government was overthrown in a Feb 1 coup led by military chief Min Aung Hlaing. Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and prompted outrage at home and abroad at the return of military rule. Click here to read…

Germany: SPD, Greens and FDP resume coalition talks after tight election

Germany’s election-winning Social Democratic Party (SPD) kicked off a second round of “in-depth exploratory coalition talks” with the third-place Greens and fourth-place Free Democratic Party (FDP) in Berlin on Oct 11 morning. The three parties previously met Oct 07 and scheduled 10 hours of negotiations for Oct 11. Four more hours of talks have been scheduled for Oct 12 morning, before SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz departs for a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Washington, DC. More talks between the leaders of the so-called “traffic light” coalition parties — a reference to their party colours — are set to take place on Oct 15 after Scholz returns to Berlin from the United States. No statements on the progress of the talks were expected on Oct 11, with all parties underscoring the need for discretion. Party representatives said they hope to present initial results toward the end of the week. Thus far, none of the negotiators have given details as to the state of talks, only that there are differences of opinion in a number of areas, the two most fundamental being finance and the environment. Click here to read…

Germany, France and Russia may hold summit on Ukraine conflict

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Oct 11 regarding a solution to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Zelenskyy’s office said the four countries may soon meet for a summit on the conflict, in what is known as the Normandy format. The German and French governments have previously mediated between Russia and Ukraine as part of this diplomatic arrangement. The Kremlin also called for a summit on the conflict but did not mention whether Ukrainian officials would take part in the meetings. The Russian government said European leaders have asked their respective foreign ministers to “intensify their contacts” and work on the “difficult” situation in Ukraine. A concrete date for the meeting has not yet been determined, though Merkel spokesperson Steffen Seibert did confirm plans for the gathering. Merkel visited Ukraine and Russia in August and expressed hope that peace negotiations between Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists would continue after she left office. Click here to read…

Medical

China PCR test orders soared before first confirmed COVID case

Purchases of PCR tests in China’s Hubei Province surged months before the first official reports of a novel coronavirus case there according to a report by Australia-based Cybersecurity Company Internet 2.0. About 67.4 million yuan ($10.5 million at current rates) was spent on PCR tests in Hubei during 2019, nearly double the 2018 total, with the upswing starting in May, according to the report. Internet 2.0 collected and analyzed data from a website that aggregates information on public procurement bids in China. The analysis team consists of former officials from intelligence agencies in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and other countries. The report casts further doubt on China’s official line about the origins of the virus, a topic that has fuelled tensions between Beijing and Washington. China’s foreign ministry has disputed the report’s findings. The report alleges the unusual uptick likely signals awareness of a new disease spreading in and around Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province.Orders doubled from universities, jumped fivefold from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and surged tenfold from animal testing bureaus. Purchases from hospitals declined by more than 10%. Click here to read…

Over 50 million people suffered from major depressive disorders in 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic, new global study estimates

The coronavirus pandemic added to the burden of depressive and anxiety disorders in over 200 countries last year, a new study shows, saying the impact of Covid-19 has increased the number of depressed people by nearly a third. While “mental disorders were leading causes of the global health-related burden” even before the pandemic, the spread of the dreaded virus and subsequent restrictive measures to fight the disease have considerably added to the load, a study published in The Lancet medical journal on Oct 08 suggests. An extra 53.2 million cases — an increase of 27.6% — of major depressive disorders and 76.2 million cases of anxiety disorders have added to the number of people suffering from mental health issues, according to researchers. To measure the pandemic’s impact on any given area, the team analyzed daily SARS-CoV-2 infection rates, restrictions on human mobility, and daily excess mortality rates. It turned out that the locations hit hardest based on the first two criteria corresponded to those with a documented spike in depressive and anxiety disorders, with the study concluding that increasing infections and decreasing mobility are “significantly associated” with worsening mental health. Click here to read…

WHO backs Covid-19 booster jab for people with weak immune systems

The World Health Organization has recommended booster shots for people with weak immune systems as they are less likely to respond adequately to the standard course of vaccinations. On Oct 11, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) vaccine advisory group said that people with compromised immune systems should be given a Covid-19 booster shot. “Moderately and severely immune-compromised persons should be offered an additional dose,” the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization said. “These individuals are less likely to respond adequately to vaccination following a standard primary vaccine series and are at high risk of severe Covid-19,” they added. The WHO has previously warned developed nations against administering booster shots, claiming that they should be focusing on sharing their vaccines with poorer nations around the world to ensure a larger proportion of the global population is inoculated. Last week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that people with a weak immune system receive a third dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. Click here to read…