Tag Archives: NATO

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

Economic
China consolidates 3 rare earth miners into ‘aircraft carrier’

China on Dec 23 announced the merger of three state-owned rare earth miners into a company that will control nearly 70% of the country’s output of key metals. The new entity, China Rare Earth Group, brings together the rare-earth operations of Aluminum Corp. of China, China Minmetals and Ganzhou Rare Earth Group. The last is under the government of the Jiangxi Province city of Ganzhou, an area rich in these metals. Beijing is tightening its grip on the country’s supply chain for rare earths, which are essential for a wide range of high-tech products, in preparation for prolonged tensions with the U.S. The news follows the announcement of a strategic partnership between China Northern Rare Earth (Group) High-Tech and China Rare Earth Holdings. China Rare Earth Group will be among the roughly 100 “central companies” directly overseen by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, which controls 31% of the new enterprise. Aluminum Corp., China Minmetals and the Ganzhou company each hold a 20% interest. Chinese media reporting on the merger plans have called the combined company an “aircraft carrier” in reference to its sheer scale. It will hold almost 70% of China’s production quota for medium and heavy rare earths, and nearly 40% for rare earths as a whole including light elements, according to information released by Beijing. Click here to read…

Standard-bearer: China races U.S. and Europe to set tech rules

Whether it is something as complex as a computer or as simple as a screw, standards help to ensure products are reliable, safe and work across borders. Many are set by global bodies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), after discussions by “technical committees” comprising experts from around the world. China’s presence on these panels has increased significantly. From 2011 to 2021, its secretariat positions in ISO technical committees and subcommittees — influential roles in the development of specific standards — rose by 58%, while its comparable IEC positions doubled from 2012 to 2021. Over the same period, secretariat spots occupied by the U.S., Germany and Japan in both organizations remained relatively flat, according to the U.S.-China Business Council (USCBC). While China remains behind the more established players, some critical observers stress it is focusing its efforts on strategic sectors. No company, for example, had more technical contributions approved for 5G than China’s Huawei Technologies, according to a November 2021 report by market intelligence company IPlytics. New technologies yet to be standardized — drones, lithium batteries, data security, artificial intelligence and so on — are also key targets. Click here to read…

Japan, Taiwan agree to boost economic security cooperation

Lawmakers of the ruling parties of Japan and Taiwan agreed Dec 24 to bolster cooperation in the field of economic security with an emphasis on supply chain resiliency for semiconductors and other crucial goods. During online talks attended by members of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party, the Taiwanese side showed strong interest in a planned bill to promote economic security which Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government aims to submit to parliament next year. “We must make it effective legislation,” said Akimasa Ishikawa, head of the LDP’s Economy, Trade and Industry Division. The meeting was held as the LDP has stepped up exchanges with the Taiwanese ruling party, with the self-ruled island facing military pressure from an increasingly assertive China. In the meeting, the LDP welcomed Taipei’s bid to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement between 11 Pacific Rim countries, which China has also applied to join, Masahisa Sato, chief of the LDP Foreign Affairs Division, told reporters. Japan, a member of the TPP, said earlier it welcomes Taiwan’s application to take part in the trade deal and it sees no technical problem with it, while Beijing has expressed strong opposition to Taipei’s move and has lodged a protest to it. Click here to read…

Japan’s cabinet approves largest-ever budget for next fiscal year

Japan’s cabinet approved Dec 24 a 107.60 trillion yen ($940 billion) draft budget for fiscal 2022, the largest ever, to finance measures against the coronavirus pandemic, swelling social security costs and record defense spending. Compared to fiscal 2021’s initial 106.61 trillion yen, the budget for the new fiscal year starting in April will be a record high for the 10th year in a row. The largest policy spending component is social security, growing by around 440 billion yen to a record 36.27 trillion yen and accounting for more than a third of the overall budget, as the aging population continues to push up medical costs. The budget includes 24.34 trillion yen in debt-servicing costs, up from 23.76 trillion yen a year ago. The government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expects a record-high tax revenue of 65.24 trillion yen, larger than 57.45 trillion yen originally projected for the current fiscal year when compiling the year’s initial budget, as the government expects the domestic economy to continue recovering from a pandemic-triggered slump. Defense outlays will rise to the largest-ever amount of 5.40 trillion yen, a record high for the eighth successive year. The national security costs include 291.10 billion yen of research and development expenditures such as a next-generation fighter jet development. Click here to read…

SpaceX Starlink satellites twice came too close, China tells UN chief

China has complained of “close encounters” with Elon Musk’s space programme, with SpaceX Starlink satellites twice approaching the Chinese Space Station (CSS) in orbit. The two events, on July 1 and October 21, forced the Chinese spacecraft to undertake avoidance manoeuvres to avoid collision. Both times there were crew members on board, “which could constitute a danger to the life or health of astronauts”, the Chinese delegation said in a diplomatic note presented to the United Nations secretary general earlier this month. China said in the note that it wanted the UN to remind all state parties to the Outer Space Treaty of the pledge to “bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space … whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities”. The CSS “Tiangong” has stayed in a near-circular orbit at an altitude of around 390km on an orbital inclination of about 41.5 degrees since it was launched on April 29. From May 16 to June 24, the Starlink-1095 satellite maintained a steady descent from its original 555km-altitude orbit to around 382km, and then stayed there, posing the risk of potential collision. Click here to read…

Space project seeks to explore origins of universe, search for exoplanets

The world’s most powerful space telescope on Dec 25 blasted off into orbit, headed to an outpost 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) from Earth, after several delays caused by technical hitches. The James Webb Space Telescope, some three decades and billions of dollars in the making, left Earth enclosed in its Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana. “What an amazing day. It’s truly Christmas,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of scientific missions for NASA, which together with the European and Canadian space agencies, ESA and ACS, built the telescope. ESA chief Josef Aschbacher said he was “very happy to say that we’ve delivered the spacecraft into orbit very precisely… that Ariane 5 performed extremely well.” This was key since placing the spacecraft in orbit helps economize on the fuel the telescope will need to reach its final destination and perform well after that. It is expected to take a month to reach its remote destination. It is set to beam back new clues that will help scientists understand more about the origins of the universe and Earth-like planets beyond our solar system.Click here to read…

Biden pushes ‘aggressive’ green mileage standard

The rule, announced Dec 20, will see the standard raised to 40 mpg in 2023 and up every year from there. It is a 25% increase over the Trump administration standard of 36 mpg announced last year, and 5% above the 38 mpg the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed in August. “We are setting robust and rigorous standards that will aggressively reduce the pollution that is harming people and our planet – and save families money at the same time,” EPA chief Michael Regan said in a statement. The rule was “a giant step forward” in delivering on President Joe Biden’s agenda to combat climate change, he added, “while paving the way toward an all-electric, zero-emissions transportation future.” According to the EPA, the rule will help slow climate change, improve public health, and lower the cost of driving through improved fuel efficiency. The agency estimates it will lower the consumption of gasoline by about 360 billion tons, prevent the release of 3.1 million tons of carbon dioxide through 2050, and save drivers about $1,080 over the lifetime of their new vehicle. The new rules will start applying to 2023 vehicle models and ratchet up the emissions standard every year through 2026, much faster than previous rules. Click here to read…

US population growth at lowest rate since nation’s founding

U.S. population growth dipped to its lowest rate since the nation’s founding during the first year of the pandemic as the coronavirus curtailed immigration, delayed pregnancies and killed hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents, according to figures released Dec 21. The United States grew by only 0.1 percent, with an additional 392,665 added to the U.S. population from July 2020 to July 2021, bringing the nation’s count to 331.8 million people, according to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The U.S. has been experiencing slow population growth for years but the pandemic exacerbated that trend. This past year was the first time since 1937 that the nation’s population grew by less than 1 million people. ”I was expecting low growth but nothing this low,” said William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s metropolitan policy program, Brookings Metro. Once there’s a handle on the pandemic, the U.S. may eventually see a decrease in deaths, but population growth likely won’t bounce back to what it has been in years past because of fewer births. That will increase the need for immigration by younger workers whose taxes can support programs such as Social Security, Frey said. Click here to read…

Harvard professor found guilty of hiding ties to China

A Harvard University professor charged with hiding his ties to a Chinese-run recruitment program was found guilty on all counts Dec 21. Charles Lieber, 62, the former chair of Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology, had pleaded not guilty to two counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of making false statements, and two counts of failing to file reports for a foreign bank account in China. The jury deliberated for about two hours and 45 minutes before announcing the verdict following five days of testimony in Boston federal court. Lieber’s defense attorney Marc Mukasey had argued that prosecutors lacked proof of the charges. Prosecutors argued that Lieber, who was arrested in January, knowingly hid his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Plan — a program designed to recruit people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property to China — to protect his career and reputation. Lieber denied his involvement during inquiries from U.S. authorities, including the National Institutes of Health, which had provided him with millions of dollars in research funding, prosecutors said. The case is among the highest profile to come from the U.S. Department of Justice’s so-called “China Initiative.” Click here to read…

Strategic
Japan, U.S. draft operation plan for Taiwan contingency: sources

Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military have drawn up a draft joint operation plan that would enable the setup of an attack base along the Nansei island chain in the country’s southwest in the event of a Taiwan contingency, according to Japanese government sources. Japan and the United States will likely agree to begin work to formalize an operation plan when their foreign and defense chiefs meet in early January under the “two-plus-two” framework, the sources told Kyodo News by Dec 23. The development will likely draw a backlash from China, which regards the self-ruled island of Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary. Under the draft plan, U.S. Marines will set up a temporary attack base at the initial stage of a contingency on the Nansei Islands, a chain stretching southwest from the Japanese prefectures of Kagoshima and Okinawa toward Taiwan. Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military installations in Japan. The U.S. military will get support from the SDF to send troops to the islands if a Taiwan contingency appears imminent, the sources said. Such a deployment, however, would make the islands the target of attack by China’s military, putting the lives of residents there at risk. Legal changes would be needed in Japan to realize the plan, the sources said. Click here to read…

Moscow considering NATO proposal to hold talks on Jan 12: TASS

Russia has received a NATO proposal to commence talks on Moscow’s security concerns on Jan. 12 and is considering it, TASS news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying on Dec 26. Russia, which has unnerved the West with a troop buildup near Ukraine, last week unveiled a wish list of security proposals it wants to negotiate, including a promise NATO would give up any military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. “We have already received this (NATO) offer, and we are considering it,” TASS quoted the foreign ministry as saying. The United States and Ukraine say Russia may be preparing an invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbour. Russia denies that and says it is Ukraine’s growing relationship with NATO that has caused the standoff to escalate. It has compared it to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the world came to the brink of nuclear war. President Vladimir Putin said on Dec 23 Russia wanted to avoid conflict but needed an “immediate” response from the United States and its allies to its demands for security guarantees. Moscow has said it expects talks with US officials on the subject to start in January in Geneva. Click here to read…

China keeps an eye on the skies as US Space Force marks 2nd anniversary

The US Space Force celebrated its second anniversary this week while China closely watches its development. The eighth and youngest branch of the US armed services was established on December 20, 2019 to “help the United States deter aggression and control the ultimate high ground,” as for US president Donald Trump put it when he signed the law establishing the force. The USSF now has about 6,500 uniformed personnel and operates missile detection networks and the Global Positioning System (GPS), as well as monitoring more than 4,500 active satellites in space for their safety. It is also in charge of technology with offensive uses, such as a satellite jamming system. “The USSF has presented an impressive big picture – grand projects with great expectations since establishment – but so far they are still working on constructing its organisational structure and command chain, and the implementation of their master plans will take at least a few more years,” said Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing. China National Defence News, an official military publication, has warned that the space force can already claim some achievements that Chinese military must note, including a missile surveillance system. Click here to read…

Ultra-leftist voices are making themselves heard in China, but at what cost?

First, China’s ultra-left opinion leaders battled outspoken media, liberal intellectuals and NGOs, then foreign governments, corporations and moderate liberals. But lately they have found new ideological opponents to take on. Leftist bloggers are targeting private tech firms, entrepreneurs and capital markets, as well as misbehaving celebrities, in combative essays pushing a socialist agenda in the name of patriotism. Ultra-leftist sentiment riding on the rising tide of nationalism is gaining popularity on the Chinese internet. Deng Yuwen, a former editor of Study Times, a paper run by the party’s top academy, said widening wealth gaps and corruption arising from China’s reform and opening up gave oxygen to the ultra-leftists who dreamed of a return to the Mao era. However, analysts warn that leftist tendencies that build on irrational and misguided policy interpretation could threaten China’s progress of reform and opening up if left unchecked. Zhan Jiang, a retired professor of journalism and communications from Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the ideological tensions created could lead to uncoordinated development in politics and the economy. In one of the latest attacks, Sima Nan accused Lenovo, China’s largest PC maker, of allegedly selling state assets for less than they are worth and paying top executives unreasonably high salaries, among other things. Click here to read…

South China Sea code of conduct may miss 2022 deadline, PLA adviser warns

A China-Asean code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea is likely to miss its 2022 deadline, a Chinese military adviser has warned. Yao Yunzhu, a retired People’s Liberation Army major general, put the expected delay down to unresolved disputes on the code’s scope and range, as well as intense US-China geopolitical rivalry and the Covid-19 pandemic. China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) remained divided on a number of contentious issues, Yao pointed out in the latest World Affairs journal, a monthly publication affiliated with the Chinese foreign ministry. This included whether the agreement should be legally binding, its geographic and maritime activities scope, as well as the role of extra-regional powers, Yao wrote. “As the negotiations deepen, bargaining will become more intense and interference from the US and other extraterritorial powers will intensify, making it more difficult to reach a consensus,” she said. “There is still great uncertainty on whether China and the Asean would be able to complete the negotiations by the end of 2022 as scheduled.” Click here to read…

Hong Kong University Pulls Down Monument to Tiananmen Massacre Victims

The governing body of the city’s oldest university removed a statue commemorating the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, felling one of the most prominent monuments to the incident on Chinese soil. The Council of the University of Hong Kong said in a statement Dec 23 that it made the decision based on legal and risk assessments. It said that no party had ever obtained approval from the university to display the statue on campus. The “Pillar of Shame,” a contortion of 50 torn bodies and faces, stood on the campus of the university for more than two decades until it was removed in the early hours Dec 23. The sculpture was created by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt to symbolize those who died during China’s crackdown of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Mr. Galschiøt, who in recent months has said the statue is his personal property and has made requests to the university to retrieve the sculpture, said he was shocked by the university’s actions. The removal comes amid a crackdown on civic freedoms more than a year after the imposition of a sweeping national-security law, which has also cast a chill over the local academic landscape. Commemorations of the June 4 crackdown in Tiananmen are gradually being extinguished in Hong Kong. Click here to read…

Taiwan’s opposition KMT rushes to regain lost voice in America

Taiwan’s main opposition party has stepped up plans to reopen its liaison office in Washington, as it seeks to rebuild US ties after a 13-year hiatus. The move from the Kuomintang, which is largely Beijing-friendly, comes at a time of rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait and warming ties between the administrations of US President Joe Biden and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen. As a result, new KMT chairman Eric Chu Li-luan, wants to swiftly reestablish the party’s presence in the US capital, to have its voice heard by American policymakers and think tanks, according to officials. The party’s US-educated deputy international affairs director, Eric Huang, was dispatched to Washington late last month, tasked with reopening the office that was first set up in 2004 with the KMT’s pro-mainland ally, the People First Party. The office, which closed in 2008 after Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT became president of Taiwan, was due to reopen earlier this year but kept getting stalled by successive Covid-19 outbreaks in the US. However, while the KMT remained unrepresented in the US following the Ma years, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party retained its office in Washington even after its chairwoman Tsai was elected president in 2016 and has won the trust and support of Americans in the years since. Click here to read…

China replaces Xinjiang Communist Party chief Chen

China has replaced Chen Quanguo, who as Communist Party chief in the Xinjiang region oversaw a security crackdown targeting ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in the name of fighting religious extremism. Chen, in his post since 2016, will move to another role and Ma Xingrui, governor of the coastal economic powerhouse Guangdong province since 2017, has replaced him, the official Xinhua News Agency said on Dec 25. It gave no other details. United Nations researchers and human rights activists estimate more than one million Muslims have been detained in camps in western China’s Xinjiang region. China rejects accusations of abuse, describing the camps as vocational centres designed to combat extremism, and in late 2019 said all people in the camps had “graduated”. Chen, 66, is a member of China’s politburo and is widely considered to be the senior official responsible for the security crackdown in Xinjiang. He was sanctioned last year by the United States. On Dec 23, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law a ban on imports from Xinjiang over concerns about forced labour, provoking an angry Chinese condemnation. Some foreign lawmakers and parliaments, as well as the U.S. secretaries of state in both the Biden and Trump administrations, have labelled the treatment of Uyghurs genocide. Click here to read…

China has multiple military basing options in Africa, analysts say

China is reportedly looking to build a military presence in Equatorial Guinea, which would be its second such facility in Africa and the first along the Atlantic Ocean. But China’s options are not limited to the small country, analysts say. Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Angola and Seychelles are strong candidates, each with different reasons. “If we look at China’s operational patterns of behavior, there will be a number of considerations that the Chinese government will take into account,” Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies said. First, China will likely opt for partners with which it enjoys the highest strategic level of relations, Nantulya said. Of the five tiers of partnerships it has, the “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership” is the highest. Those that fit that category are Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. But politically unpredictable Zimbabwe, for instance, will not be considered an option, Nantulya said. “Even when relations are strong, whenever there are signs of instability, China has shown to be very cautious and very conservative.” Beijing will also favor countries that have clout in the African Union and will be able to mobilize support and mitigate resistance to a Chinese base, Nantulya said. Click here to read…

Turkish elections may hinge on short window of lira calm

The new set of policy measures announced on Dec 20 included a guarantee to compensate any loss of value in lira deposits due to currency depreciation by the treasury and the central bank. The moves are designed to encourage the de-dollarization of existing forex accounts while creating a chance of increasing central bank reserves, as well as discouraging further forex buying by individuals, easing pressure on the lira, and thus tame inflation. According to opposition politician Umit Ozlale, an economist, “the critical thing is external financing requirements. If they can create a current-account surplus and high debt rollovers, that may be successful up to one year.” The one-year time frame may have political implications, Ozlale said, suggesting that it may be a move with an eye on an early election. Erdogan has until now vehemently denied such speculation and insists that the elections will be held on time in June 2023. Ozer Sencar, head of leading pollster Metropoll, said, “All signs lead to a snap election by Erdogan,” pointing to the 50% minimum wage hike announced this month, the promised wage hike for public servants and now the new deposit scheme to prop up the lira. Click here to read…

Manchin rejects Biden’s $1.75tn ‘Build Back Better’ investment bill

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who is key to President Joe Biden’s hopes of passing a $1.75 trillion domestic investment bill, said on Dec 26 he would not support the package. “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” Manchin said during an interview with the “Fox News Sunday” program, citing concerns about inflation. “I just can’t. I have tried everything humanly possible.” The White House called Manchin’s remarks a breach of commitments he made to find common ground and said it would find a way to move forward with the legislation in 2022. Many Democrats feel passage of the bill is essential to the party’s chances of maintaining control of Congress in next year’s elections. The exchange marked the first sharp public break between the White House and a senator who many top allies of Biden privately regard as damaging the Democratic president’s political future. Manchin has been a key holdout on the White House’s “Build Back Better” plan, which aims to bolster the U.S. social safety net and fight climate change and is the cornerstone of Biden’s legislative agenda. In a statement released after the “Fox News Sunday” interview, Manchin said that increasing the U.S. debt load would “drastically hinder” the country’s ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and geopolitical threats. Click here to read…

U.N. Plans $8 Billion Fund to Restart Afghanistan’s Economy

The United Nations is planning an $8 billion program of aid and services in Afghanistan for next year, taking on many government functions at a time when the Taliban regime remains under economic sanctions and lacks diplomatic recognition, according to international officials. From providing hot meals for children in schools, to generating jobs or finding ways to pay Afghanistan’s energy bills to its neighbors, the U.N.’s plan would move beyond its current humanitarian mission to rebuilding governing systems and social services. “A human being needs more than being handed a piece of bread. They need dignity, they need hope,” said Ramiz Alakbarov, deputy special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General and the humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan. “We do not want to become an alternative government of Afghanistan. But is it important to support systems, not lose the gains made in past years.” The Afghan economy has shrunk by at least 40% since the Taliban took over in August. The U.S. froze some $9 billion in Afghan central-bank assets and financial sanctions have paralyzed the country’s banking system. Half the country is on the verge of starvation, according to the U.N. International donors have already given more than $1 billion since the Taliban takeover to meet emergency needs for the rest of 2021. Click here to read…

Belgian military hit by cyberattack

The security breach was initially detected last week, but only publicized on Dec 20 by ministry spokesman Commander Olivier Severin, according to a local media report. “[The Defense Ministry] on Dec 16 discovered an attack on its computer network with internet access,” Severin said, adding that “all weekend our teams have been mobilized to control the problem, continue our activities and warn our partners.” A spokesperson for Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder also told Politico that the ministry was “working hard” to secure the network, though officials have yet to comment on the origin of the attack. The breach reportedly targeted a security flaw in a widely used utility known as Log4j, a fault that was first observed by cyber experts earlier this month, stoking fears that hackers could use the vulnerability to compromise millions of devices. While many attackers have exploited the flaw to install cryptocurrency mining software on computers without the owners’ knowledge, others have taken aim at businesses and even government agencies, according to Check Point, an Israel-based cyber security firm. Click here to read…

Iran holds extensive military drills in 3 provinces

Iran fired missiles from land and sea on Dec 21 as part of five days of military exercises in three provinces, including near its only nuclear power plant, the Revolutionary Guards said in a statement. The military maneuvers come after the US said it was preparing “alternatives” in case negotiations to revive a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program collapse in Vienna. “We have carried out exercises to destroy the enemy before they approach the Hormuz islands,” Guards navy commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said, quoted by the Guards’ Sepah News website. The military drills dubbed Payambar-e-Azadm, or “Great Prophet,” began on Dec 20 in Bushehr, Hormozgan and Khuzestan provinces, each of which touch the Gulf. They included biological warfare exercises. The maneuvers also saw the deployment of Iranian-made boats that are capable of launching high-precision missiles and reaching speeds up to 75-95 knots. At dawn on Dec 20, “in order to increase the defense capability of the armed forces, an exercise was held over the Bushehr nuclear power plant,” Mohammad-Taghi Irani, Bushehr’s deputy governor for political and security affairs, told Fars news agency. Click here to read…

Landslide in Myanmar mining area leaves dozens missing

A landslide at a remote jade mine in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state killed one person and left at least 70 missing Dec 22 and a search and rescue operation was underway, rescue officials said. Reports were scant from the area in Hpakant, which is the center of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. It’s a region where sporadic fighting has broken out between the Myanmar army and ethnic guerrilla forces. Gayunar Rescue Team official Nyo Chaw, who was coordinating the effort, said more than 70 miners who were digging for jade were swept into a lake a couple of hours before dawn when the landslide hit. Earth and waste from several mines around Lonekhin village slid 60 meters (about 200 feet) down a cliff and struck the miners, he said.. Hpakant is a mountainous and remote area in Kachin state, 950 kilometers north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon. A ceasefire in the region has been disrupted since a Feb. 1 coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government. It has some of world’s richest jade deposits, making the industry a hotbed for corruption. Click here to read…

Sri Lanka shuts three foreign missions as dollar crisis worsens

Sri Lanka has announced the closure of three overseas diplomatic missions in a bid to save foreign currency reserves, as the country’s Central Bank slaps tighter controls on dollars needed to finance essential imports. The Sri Lankan High Commission in Nigeria and consulates in Germany and Cyprus will be closed from January in the restructuring, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Dec 27. “The restructuring is undertaken with a view to conserving the country’s much needed foreign reserves and minimising expenditure related to maintenance of Sri Lanka’s missions overseas,” the ministry said in a statement. The island’s tourism-dependent economy has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic. In March last year, the government imposed a broad import ban to shore up forex reserves, triggering shortages of essential goods such as fuel and sugar. The closure of the three missions came on the same day the Central Bank of Sri Lanka tightened restrictions on foreign currency remittances received by locals. It ordered all commercial banks to hand over a quarter of their dollar earnings to the government, up from 10 percent. Sri Lanka had foreign reserves of just $1.58bn at the end of November, down from $7.5bn when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office in 2019. Click here to read…

Malaysia government under fire over slow clean-up after deadly floods

Malaysia’s government was under fire on Dec 27 as residents accused it of responding too slowly after the country’s worst floods in years. Days of torrential rain caused rivers to overflow last week, swamping cities, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. Damaged appliances and soaked furniture were piled up on the streets and outside homes in flood-hit areas as residents and volunteers continued a massive clean-up drive. Many were frustrated with the authorities. “I am angry. There is no assistance from the government … We need cash to rebuild our lives,” said Asniyati Ismail, who lives in a residential enclave in Shah Alam, the capital of Selangor state. “There is mud everywhere, everything has been destroyed,” she told AFP as her two children helped her clean. The mounds of rubbish left in the area after the floods have also sparked fear of disease outbreaks. Selangor, which encircles the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, was the state hit hardest by the floods. Many in Shah Alam were left stranded in their homes with barely any food for days, before being evacuated on boats in a chaotic rescue operation. “The government has been absolutely slow in the rescue mission,” resident Kartik Rao told AFP. “And now they are slow in the clean-up operation. Click here to read…

Conflict between Korea, USFK simmers

Deep-seated tension between the South Korean government and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) is coming into public view, as a former American four-star general has belittled the Moon Jae-in administration’s security pledges, struck back by Cheong Wa Dae and the defense ministry. Robert Abrams, who led the USFK from 2018 to 2021, told Voice of America, Dec 25 (local time), that South Korea’s military capabilities were not sufficient to take over wartime operational control (OPCON) of South Korean forces from the United States, while questioning the intentions of the Moon administration’s push for an end-of-war declaration. In 2014, Seoul and Washington agreed upon a conditions-based OPCON transition, and President Moon had sought to complete the task before his term ends in May 2022, although the plan has fallen through due to a lack of adequate assessment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “What we do say publicly is that condition one is the Republic of Korea must acquire the critical military capabilities to lead the combined defense that translates into 26 discrete systems. In addition, there’s a couple of additional tasks for condition one, which includes certifying that the future CFC (Combined Forces Command) led by a Korean four-star general would be capable of leading the combined defense,” Abrams said. Click here to read…

Korea grants special pardon to ex-President Park Geun-hye

South Korea’s government on Dec 24 announced a special pardon for Park Geun-hye, the former president currently serving a 22-year prison term for corruption, saying that pardoning Park would help bolster national unity. Park has been serving a combined 22-year prison sentence since March 2017 after being impeached and removed from office over far-reaching corruption charges and an influence-peddling scandal. The 69-year-old former president was included in a list of 3,094 pardon beneficiaries who are scheduled to be released on New Year’s Eve. The amnesty was decided in consideration of her deteriorating health. This year, Park was hospitalized three times due to chronic shoulder and lower back pain. In 2019, she received shoulder surgery. She will be released directly from Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul, where she is currently staying for treatment, according to officials. Granting a pardon to Park is expected to have a significant impact on next March’s presidential election, as Park has commanded the support of voters in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, a stronghold of the main opposition People Power Party. Click here to read…

Somalia’s president suspends prime minister amid election spat

Somalia’s president said on Dec 27 he had suspended the prime minister for suspected corruption, a move the prime minister described as a coup attempt, escalating a power struggle between the two leaders The raging, months-long dispute has seen both leaders trade allegations over the holding up of parliamentary elections, and is widely seen as distracting the government of the Horn of Africa country from fighting an Islamist insurgency. It will also raise concerns about the prospect of renewed clashes between factions in the security forces allied to each side, prompting the United States to call for calm. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed accused Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble of stealing land owned by the Somali National Army (SNA) and of interfering with a defence ministry investigation. “The president decided to suspend [the] prime minister … and stop his powers since he was linked with corruption,” the office of the president said in a statement, accusing Roble of interfering with an investigation into a land grabbing case. In response, Roble said the move was unconstitutional and aimed at derailing an ongoing election. He also ordered the security forces to start taking orders from him, instead of the president. Click here to read…

Israel plans to double settlement in Golan Heights

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Dec 26 the country intends to double the amount of settlers living in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights with a multimillion-dollar plan meant to further consolidate Israel’s hold on the territory it captured from Syria more than five decades ago. Bennett said the new investment in the region was prompted by the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the swath of land and by the Biden administration’s indication that it will not soon challenge that decision. “This is our moment. This is the moment of the Golan Heights,” Bennett said at a special Cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights. Bennett’s office said the government would invest some 1 billion shekels (over $300 million) into developing the Golan, including the establishment of two new settlements as well as investments in tourism, industry, clean energy and technology that would create several thousand jobs. Entrenching Israeli control over the territory would complicate any future attempt to forge peace with Syria, which claims the Golan Heights. Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed the territory, promoting settlement and agriculture there as well as creating a thriving local tourism industry. Click here to read…

Medical
China puts 13m residents in lockdown ahead of Beijing Olympics

China is redoubling efforts to control new virus outbreaks with a lockdown of the 13 million residents of the northern city of Xi’an following a spike in coronavirus cases. The measure comes just weeks before the country hosts the Winter Olympics in Beijing, roughly 1,000 kilometers (6,210 miles) to the west. There was no word on whether the virus was the newly surging omicron variant or the far more common delta. China has recorded just seven omicron cases – four in the southern manufacturing center of Guangzhou, two in the southern city of Changsha and one in the northern port of Tianjin. China has also been dealing with a substantial outbreak in several cities in the eastern province of Zhejiang near Shanghai, although isolation measures there have been more narrowly targeted. Authorities have adopted strict pandemic control measures under their policy of seeking to drive new transmissions to zero, leading to frequent lockdowns, universal masking and mass testing. While the policy has not been entirely successful while leading to massive disruptions in travel and trade, Beijing credits it with largely containing the spread of the virus. The Xi’an restrictions are some of the harshest since China in 2020 imposed a strict lockdown on more than 11 million people in and around the central city of Wuhan. Click here to read…

China tightens border with Vietnam, stokes trade worries

China has tightened its land border with Vietnam amid worries over the omicron variant of COVID-19, dealing a blow to trade from the Southeast Asian country as it battles to get its economy back on track in the face of the pandemic. Beijing informed Vietnam on Dec 23 that foreign drivers would be barred from crossing the border between the two countries from Dec 24 due to a request from Chinese health authorities, with similar measures also affecting China’s borders with Myanmar and Laos. China is Vietnam’s second-largest export market and its biggest source of imports. The customs process on the Chinese side of the border had already slowed from November, with authorities taking steps such as mass testing after a COVID case was discovered in a town near the border in China. As of Dec 23, over 6,300 trucks carrying industrial goods and agricultural produce such as jackfruit, watermelon, mango and dragon fruit were queuing for kilometers along Vietnamese roads to the four main border gates, waiting for customs clearance. Some had been there for over 20 days, while around another 3,000 trucks were also stuck on the Chinese side. Hanoi-based economist Le Dang Doanh said initial estimates show that Chinese border controls over the last few weeks have cost Vietnamese trade some $174 million. Click here to read…

Omicron less likely to put you in the hospital, studies say

Two new British studies provide some early hints that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus may be milder than the delta version. Scientists stress that even if the findings of these early studies hold up, any reductions in severity need to be weighed against the fact Omicron spreads much faster than delta and is more able to evade vaccines. Sheer numbers of infections could still overwhelm hospitals. Still, the new studies released Dec 22 seem to bolster earlier research that suggests Omicron may not be as harmful as the delta variant, said Manuel Ascano Jr., a Vanderbilt University biochemist who studies viruses. “Cautious optimism is perhaps the best way to look at this,” he said. An analysis from the Imperial College London COVID-19 response team estimated hospitalization risks for Omicron cases in England, finding people infected with the variant are around 20 percent less likely to go to the hospital at all than those infected with the delta variant, and 40 percent less likely to be hospitalized for a night or more. That analysis included all cases of COVID-19 confirmed by PCR tests in England in the first half of December in which the variant could be identified: 56,000 cases of Omicron and 269,000 cases of delta. Click here to read…

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 13 December – 19 December 2021

Economic
Belt and Road sit-in at Pakistan port shows no sign of ending

A massive sit-in protest has engulfed the Pakistani city of Gwadar, home to the country’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative port project in the country, severely damaging prospects for more Chinese investment in Gwadar, experts say. The monthlong sit-in, led by Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, a local political leader, has drawn thousands of people to the Give Rights to Gwadar Movement. The demonstrators, many of them women, are camped at the entrance to the Chinese-controlled port, where they listen to Rehman’s fiery speeches. The protest has generated headlines in Pakistan and touched off a debate in the media. The demonstrators are demanding an end to deep-sea fishing by trawlers in nearby waters, removal of security checkpoints in the city and freer trade with neighboring Iran. The port in Gwadar is the centerpiece of $50 billion in projects that make up the Pakistan portion of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, known locally as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan acknowledged the protests on Dec 13, tweeting, “I have taken notice of the very legitimate demands of the hardworking fishermen of Gwadar. Will be taking strong action against illegal fishing by trawlers & will also speak to [the chief minister of] Balochistan.” Click here to read…

Spotlight on trade gateway as India hosts talks with Central Asia

An India-backed project to transform an Iranian port into a trade gateway to Central Asia is expected to be high on the agenda as New Delhi hosts annual talks with countries from the region on Dec 19. The foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will join the meeting, looking to push ahead with plans to energize trade and cooperation even as chaos in neighboring Afghanistan threatens to overshadow their economies. Analysts say India sees the meeting as a prime chance to promote trade to and from Central Asia through Iran’s Chabahar Port, which it has spent years helping to develop. India initially started discussions with Tehran on the port around 2003. But major progress came in 2016, when New Delhi announced during a visit to Iran’s capital by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it would invest $500 million in a mega project to develop the site. The first phase of that was inaugurated in late 2017. Chabahar sits on the Gulf of Oman, to which India has direct maritime access. The port could also open opportunities for Indian companies in Iran itself and countries beyond Central Asia such as Russia. Under the first phase of the port contract, India is required to equip and operate two berths on a 10-year lease. Click here to read…

South Korea fights supply-chain risks with economic security team

South Korea is ramping up efforts to identify and mitigate supply-chain risks as shortages and restrictions at key exporters loom large over the country’s most important industries. To this end, South Korea will launch a center dedicated to economic security and diplomacy under its foreign ministry as early as February. The ministry in its 2022 budget has set aside 2.55 billion won ($2.16 million) for the center, slated initially to comprise about 10 researchers. Responding to “global shifts in supply chains,” the center will ascertain which parts and materials the country relies on imports and suggest ways for South Korea to diversify its supply, the ministry said. It will also place staff at South Korean diplomatic missions in strategically significant countries to conduct research. A similar team is expected to take shape under South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, South Korean news outlets report. It will work with the foreign ministry center to obtain and analyze timely information regarding countries that provide key materials. China accounts for 80% or more of South Korea’s supply in 1,850 materials, including rare earths. The U.S. comes next with 503, followed by Japan with 438. Click here to read…

Japan to require cyber defenses at infrastructure companies

Japan looks to require that companies in key infrastructure sectors such as finance, telecom and transport have plans for coping with cyberattacks, in response to a rise in such incidents globally. The government will urge corporate managers to take the lead in making organizational changes and devising these plans, in addition to ensuring that equipment is secure. Tokyo will spell out these steps by April as it makes the first full revision of the country’s key infrastructure action plan since 2017. The new rules, which focus on economic security, will take effect in fiscal 2022. Countries worldwide are scrambling to bolster defenses, viewing an all-hands-on-deck approach as necessary to deal with increasingly sophisticated attacks. Japan regards roughly 1,700 financial institutions as key infrastructure, according to official data as of the end of fiscal 2020. About 1,300 telecommunications operators, 22 railways and 29 utilities also would be covered by the new rules. The other sectors are airlines, airport operators, gas providers, government services, medical institutions, waterworks, logistics, chemicals, credit and oil. Japan’s cybersecurity plan previously has been part of government guidelines, but not legally binding. The anticipated revision will make the plan more effective, as measures would be clearly based on cybersecurity laws. Click here to read…

China’s central bank cuts benchmark LPR to 3.8% to bring down financing costs

China’s central bank decided to lower the benchmark loan prime rate (LPR) for the first time in 20 months, following a 50 basis-point universal cut in the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) on December 15, in line with the policy guideline released by the Central Economic Work Conference to accelerate economic growth in 2022. The one-year LPR was set at 3.8 percent compared with 3.85 percent over the past 20 months, while the five-year LPR remains unchanged at 4.65 percent, according to a statement released by the People’s Bank of China on Dec 20. The central bank decision to trim LPR will reduce the financing cost of Chinese enterprises in order to better stimulate their vitality and stave off downward economic pressure at the end of 2021, analysts said. China has kept the LPR unchanged for 20 months. The last time that the country adjusted the LPR was in April 2020, when the one-year LPR was cut from 4.05 percent to 3.85 percent. The LPR is a lending reference rate announced monthly by the central bank, taking in account of 18 commercial lenders which submit a monthly quotation by adding a premium over the Medium-term Lending Facility rate. It is also seen as the de facto benchmark reference rate for lending by Chinese banks. Click here to read…

With US-China trade deal set to expire, insiders reveal what’s really happening behind the scenes

With the phase-one trade deal between the world’s two largest economies due to expire at year’s end, Chinese scholars say supply-side issues are an impediment to China’s ability to meet purchasing targets. Multiple sources in China also told the Post that the two countries have engaged in phase-one discussions at various levels and with more frequency than has been publicly disclosed. And before the Xi-Biden summit in November, they say, the China side vowed to “buy whatever the US can ship over”. But for now, China continues to lag behind in its commitment to buy at least US$200 billion worth of additional American goods and services, relative to the 2017 level, including US$162.1 billion worth of physical goods. China’s total purchases of US goods from January 2020 to October 2021 reached only 60 per cent of the pledged total, according to a report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE). Supply-chain disruptions, which intensified this year, have inevitably weighed on China’s imports of American goods, according to analysts. However, such disruptions have not been a determining factor, and neither is politics. For some products, China is more than willing to use its state power to stockpile amid volatility in the commodities market. But for others, China simply does not need, or is unwilling to buy, so much. Click here to read…

China and Russia to establish independent financial systems: Russian media

Russia and China have agreed to develop shared financial structures to deepen economic ties in a way that will not be affected by pressure of third countries following talks between the top leaders, Russian media outlet RT reported on Dec 15. The move will help both countries deter the threat of the US government’s long-arm jurisdiction based on the US dollar denominated international payment network, experts said. During the talks on Dec 15, top leaders of the two countries called for increasing the share of national currencies in mutual settlements and expanding cooperation to provide Russian and Chinese investors with access to stock markets, said Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy advisor, according to RT. Ushakov said that “particular attention was paid to the need to intensify efforts to form an independent financial infrastructure to service trade operations between Russia and China.” “We mean creating an infrastructure that cannot be influenced by third countries,” Ushakov added. The move appears to be Russian’s response to a series threats that the US could push to disconnect Russia from the Brussels-based SWIFT financial system as a form of sanctions, Li Xin, Director of the Center for Russian and Central Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the Global Times on Dec 16. Click here to read…

ByteDance overtakes Ant Group as the world’s most valuable unicorn, Hurun rankings show

TikTok-owner ByteDance surpassed Ant Group to become the world’s largest unicorn, with start-ups from the US and China continuing to dominate the landscape, according to the latest Hurun Global Unicorn Index. This is despite Chinese companies coming under regulatory scrutiny both at home and in the US. Of the 1,058 unicorns – start-ups valued at more than US$1 billion – globally as of November this year, China had 301 start-ups, the most after the 487 in the US, according to this year’s index released by Shanghai-based Hurun Research Institute on Dec 20. Beijing-based ByteDance, whose flagship app TikTok has 1 billion monthly active users globally and is viewed as a serious challenger to Facebook, saw its valuation surge nearly 30 per cent to US$350 billion, from US$270 billion last year. Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding and operator of online payment platform Alipay, was valued at US$150 billion. The top 10 largest global unicorns made up 25 per cent of the overall value of the world’s unicorns of US$3.7 trillion, according to the report. Four of them were from the US, three from China, while Australia, UK and Sweden had one each. Click here to read…

Warnings about DJI drones over spying expand US-China tech war beyond tech giants Huawei, Tencent and ByteDance

On Dec 16, the Biden administration blocked American investment in the company, a year after President Donald Trump prohibited it from sourcing US parts. Now, lawmakers from both parties are weighing a bill that would ban federal purchases of DJI drones, while a member of the Federal Communications Commission wants its products taken off the market in the US altogether. In many ways, DJI has become the poster child of a much wider national security threat: The Chinese government’s ability to obtain sensitive data on millions of Americans. Chinese President Xi Jinping has been far ahead of the West in realising the importance of data in gaining both an economic and military advantage, according to Matt Pottinger, a former deputy national security adviser in the Trump Administration. In the drone world, no firm is more prolific than DJI: The Chinese company commands more than 50 per cent of the US drone market, the FCC said in October, and research firm DroneAnalyst estimates it sells about 95 per cent of the unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, priced between US$350 and US$2,000 targeted at consumers. Click here to read…

China’s Growing Access to Global Shipping Data Worries U.S.

China’s expanding grip on data about the world’s cargo flows is sparking concern in Washington and among industry officials that Beijing could exploit its logistics information for commercial or strategic advantage. Even cargo that never touches Chinese shores often still passes through Beijing’s globe-spanning logistics networks, including through sophisticated data systems that track shipments transiting ports located far from China. Control over the flow of goods and information about them gives Beijing privileged insight into world commerce and potentially the means to influence it, say cargo-industry officials. With ports clogged globally and shortages plaguing many industries, shipping data has become an enormously valuable commodity. Foremost among China’s cargo-data systems is Logink, a digital network that links shippers internationally and describes itself as a “one-stop logistics information service platform.” Logink says it draws on a mix of public databases and information input by more than 450,000 users in China and at dozens of giant ports world-wide, including across the Belt and Road initiative, China’s trillion-dollar international infrastructure project, and as part of what Beijing calls the Digital Silk Road. Logink’s international reach highlights a field critical to the world economy where the West lags behind China. Digitization of cargo data has been a dream of shippers for years. Click here to read…

Turkish, Qatari companies sign MoU to operate 5 Afghan airports

Turkish and Qatari companies inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly run five airports in Afghanistan, including Kabul airport, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Dec 20. A Turkish delegation will travel to Doha on late Dec 20 to discuss the deal for operating the Afghan capital’s airport, and later they will head to Kabul together to have talks with the interim government of Afghanistan, Cavusoglu said at a press conference. “We will present joint proposals to the Afghanistan interim administration,” he noted. “If our conditions are met, we can operate the airports with Qatar. If the conditions are not met, there is no obligation for us to operate them,” he said. The Taliban group have taken control of Afghanistan after the U.S. forces withdrew from the country in summer. Click here to read…

Turkish lira hits turbulence as Erdogan cites Islam as reason for monetary policy

Turkey’s lira dropped further on Dec 20 before recovering slightly following a speech by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on state television that cited Islam as a reason for not raising interest rates despite a rapidly depreciating currency and rampant inflation. Erdogan has repeatedly called on the central bank to lower borrowing costs despite an annual inflation rate of more than 20%. Mainstream economists believe the outcome of Erdogan’s Islamic-infused experiments with the currency could result in consumer inflation reaching 30% or higher in the months ahead. However, in his remarks on state television, Erdogan insisted it was Islam that guided his decision in demanding the central bank keep interest rates low. He also promised aid to exporters and increased government contributions to pension funds. “As a Muslim, I will continue doing what our religion tells us. This is the command,” Erdogan said. At one point in Dec 20’s trading, the lira dropped more than 11% against the dollar to around 18.40, an all-time low, before recovering some of those losses later in day. Many Turks are struggling to afford basic goods and services. Click here to read…

Strategic
China, Russia eye supercharged energy ties as shield against U.S.

Russia and China appear to be making headway toward a new gas pipeline that analysts say would help both countries hedge against growing tensions with the West. On Dec 15, presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping held a video call in which they presented a united front on issues ranging from the U.S.-led AUKUS partnership, the Biden administration’s recent Summit of Democracies and NATO’s expansion to the east. Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy adviser, said the leaders also spoke about the Power of Siberia-2 project — a proposed mega-pipeline through Mongolia that could deliver up to 50 billion cu. meters of Russian gas to China annually. Just one day later, Putin hosted Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh at the Kremlin to discuss the progress being made on Power of Siberia-2 among other issues. Although Moscow and Beijing still have to agree on pricing for Power of Siberia-2 before construction can begin, industry watchers predict that the long-awaited pipeline will not only significantly boost Russian gas exports to China — which has faced severe energy shortages this year — but also reduce Moscow’s dependence on European markets and Beijing’s reliance on maritime routes controlled by U.S. warships. Click here to read…

Kremlin: Xi supports Putin’s pursuit of guarantees from West

Chinese President Xi Jinping supported Russian President Vladimir Putin in his push to get Western security guarantees precluding NATO’s eastward expansion, the Kremlin said Dec 15 after the two leaders held a virtual summit. Putin and Xi spoke as Moscow faces heightened tensions with the West over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine’s border. In recent weeks, Western nations engaged in diplomatic efforts to prevent a possible invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin has denied harboring plans to storm its neighbor. Putin, meanwhile, demanded guarantees that NATO will not expand to Ukraine or deploy troops and weapons there. He told Xi on Dec 15 about “mounting threats to Russia’s national interests from the U.S. and the NATO bloc, which consistently move their military infrastructure close to the Russian borders,” Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said. The Russian leader stressed the need to hold talks with NATO and the U.S. on legally binding security guarantees, according to Ushakov. Xi responded by saying he “understands Russia’s concerns and fully supports our initiative to work out these security guarantees for Russia,” Ushakov said. He said Moscow’s proposals have been passed on to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried, who visited Moscow on Dec 15 and met with Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov. Click here to read…

China welcomes US competition but is not afraid of confrontation, Wang Yi says

Beijing welcomes mutually beneficial cooperation and healthy competition with the United States but is not afraid of confrontation, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said. “China’s attitude is consistent and clear,” Wang said on Dec 20. “Dialogue is OK, but it should be equal; cooperation is welcome, but it should be reciprocal; competition is not harmful, but it should be healthy. [China] is not afraid of confrontation and will [persist] to the end.” The comments were made at a symposium in Beijing on China’s diplomacy, two weeks after the US hosted a democracy summit without China and announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China over the country’s human rights record. Noting that 2022 would be 50 years since former US president Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China that broke the ice between the two countries, Wang said on Dec 20 that Beijing and Washington should again work to achieve a thaw. The speech outlined China’s diplomacy priorities for the next year, listing the Olympics as the top item and briefly covering Beijing’s plans for its ties with Russia and European nations before turning last to US-China relations. Click here to read…

UAE tells U.S. it will suspend F-35 talks following Huawei unease

The United Arab Emirates has informed the United States that it will suspend discussions to acquire F-35 fighter jets, a UAE official said on Dec 14, part of a $23 billion deal that also includes drones and other advanced munitions. The sale of 50 F-35 warplanes made by Lockheed Martin to the UAE had slowed amid concerns in Washington over Abu Dhabi’s relationship with China, including use of Huawei 5G technology in the country. “Technical requirements, sovereign operational restrictions, and cost/benefit analysis led to the re-assessment,” the UAE official said in a statement to Reuters that confirmed a report in the Wall Street Journal. “The U.S. remains the UAE’s preferred provider for advanced defense requirements and discussions for the F-35 may be re-opened in the future,” the official said, adding there were discussions to “address mutual defense security conditions for the acquisition”. A person briefed on the negotiations said for several months sticking points between the United States and the UAE revolved around how the stealthy jets can be deployed and how much of the sophisticated F-35 technology the Emiratis will be allowed to take advantage of. Click here to read…

Japan Foreign Ministry to create senior post on Taiwan

The Japanese Foreign Ministry plans to create a senior position dedicated to Taiwan-related issues in fiscal 2022, reflecting Tokyo’s concern over rising tensions between Beijing and Taipei. The senior coordinator for Taiwan affairs will work under the ministry’s First China and Mongolia Division, according to a proposal presented to members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Dec 17. “We’re seeing a growing number of tasks related to Taiwan in national security, foreign policy and economic security,” Masahisa Sato, director of the LDP Foreign Affairs Division, said in announcing the planned role to reporters. “It’s a big step.” The official also will handle diplomatic issues tied to the East China Sea including the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims as the Diaoyu. The proposal comes amid tensions in the Taiwan Strait. China repeatedly sends warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, raising concerns that Beijing may be rehearsing for a military invasion of the island. “It looks a lot like them exploring their true capabilities,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California earlier this month. Click here to read…

Chinese spies have penetrated Taiwan’s military, case documents reveal

For more than 20 years, Xie Xizhang presented himself as a Hong Kong businessman on visits to Taiwan. He now stands accused of having another mission: Recruiting spies for China. On one trip in 2006, Xie met a senior retired Taiwanese navy officer, Chang Pei-ning, over a meal, according to official documents accusing the pair of espionage. Chang would become one of Xie’s agents, the documents allege, helping him penetrate Taiwan’s active military leadership as part of a long-running Chinese operation to build a spy ring among serving and retired military officers. This comes amid a series of convictions for military espionage in Taiwan in recent years. Those cases reveal that China has mounted a broader campaign to undermine the democratic island’s military and civilian leadership, corrode its will to fight, extract details of high-tech weapons and gain insights into defence planning, according to senior retired Taiwanese military officers and current counterespionage agents, as well as former US military and intelligence officers with experience in Taiwan. Taiwan’s spy catchers are battling a campaign that has compromised senior officers at the heart of the island’s armed forces and government agencies, a steady stream of convictions handed down in the courts shows. Beijing has even penetrated the security detail assigned to protect Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. Click here to read…

U.S. defense bill triples Indo-Pacific fund and heads to Biden’s desk

Congress wants the U.S. military to further strengthen its posture in the Indo-Pacific region to fend off Chinese aggression. That was the message sent when the Senate passed the annual defense spending bill Dec 15, taking a more hawkish stance than the White House’s budget request from May. The bigger spending bill allows the Pentagon to build more ships and retire fewer. A fund specifically aimed at the Indo-Pacific was tripled from the year before. The $778 billion bill for fiscal 2022, up 5% from the prior year, cleared the House earlier this month and will be signed into law soon by President Joe Biden. Lawmakers’ hawkish tilt toward China was underscored by the $7.1 billion earmarked for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) — more than the $5.1 billion requested by the administration. The U.S. looks to disperse its Pacific forces along the “first island chain,” which spans Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines, as concentrating them in just a few locations risks leaving them vulnerable to a Chinese missile strike. The PDI will be used to ramp up construction and updating of base infrastructure and military facilities, as well as improve supply lines for resources such as ammunition and fuel. Part of the PDI funding is expected to go toward missile defense. Click here to read…

UN talks on killer robots fail

UN talks aimed at thrashing out rules on the use of fully autonomous weapons systems have stumbled on stiff opposition from countries that invest heavily in military AI, leaving a legal vacuum. On Dec 17, the sixth review conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) failed to arrange further negotiations on the use of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS). Parties to the convention merely agreed to continue discussions instead. Despite calls for an “ambitious plan” made earlier by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the five-day gathering in Geneva bore little fruit, after nations that are investing heavily in the development of ‘killer robots’ blocked a decision on the establishment of legally-binding rules. According to Reuters, citing unnamed sources, among the vetoing countries were the US, Russia, and India. A number of states and NGOs have expressed dismay at the lack of progress in Geneva. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and New Zealand Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Phil Twyford have pointed out the importance of developing new international laws regulating autonomous weapons. Click here to read…

Iran begins technical, security inspection of cameras to be installed in Karaj site

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) on Dec 19 began technical and security inspection of cameras which are to be installed at Iran’s Karaj centrifuge producing plant by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the AEOI announced. Iran had set three conditions for the replacement of damaged cameras in Karaj, which are “carrying out judicial and security investigations on the dimensions of sabotage, condemnation (of sabotage act) by the IAEA and technical and security inspections of the cameras before installation,” Kamalvandi told Iran’s state TV in an interview. “Iran’s voluntary act to issue a license to replace these cameras was not due to a new agreement (with the IAEA), but it was done after these three preconditions are met,” he said. On Dec 26, Kamalvandi said that following exchange of views between the AEOI and the IAEA, it was decided that the agency should cooperate duly with the AEOI to ensure that the cameras would not be used for acts of sabotage at TESA Karaj Complex, a centrifuge component manufacturing workshop in north-central part of the country. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Dec 15 that reinstallation of surveillance cameras at the facility is an important development for the IAEA’s verification and monitoring activities in Iran. Click here to read…

Security Council extends mandate of team monitoring sanctions against Taliban-linked entities

The UN Security Council decided on Dec 17 to extend for 12 months the mandate of the team monitoring sanctions against individuals and entities associated with the Taliban, as well as other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with the Taliban in constituting a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan. Unanimously adopting Resolution 2611, the 15-member council directed the monitoring team to gather information on instances of non-compliance with the measures imposed in Resolution 2255, and to facilitate, upon request by member states, capacity-building assistance. It further directed the monitoring team to provide recommendations to the committee on actions taken to respond to non-compliance. The council highlighted the importance of ensuring that the monitoring team receives the necessary support to effectively, safely and in a timely manner fulfil its mandate. The council also decided to actively review the implementation of the measures outlined in this resolution and to consider adjustments, as necessary, to support peace and stability in Afghanistan. Click here to read…

Islamic countries pledge fund to stave off Afghanistan ‘chaos’

Islamic countries pledged on Dec 19 to set up a humanitarian trust fund for Afghanistan as, with millions facing hunger and a harsh winter setting in, Pakistan’s prime minister warned of chaos if the worsening emergency was not urgently addressed. The crisis is causing mounting alarm but the international response has been muted, given Western reluctance to help the Taliban government, which seized power in August. “Unless action is taken immediately, Afghanistan is heading for chaos,” Prime Minister Imran Khan told a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Islamabad. The trust fund, announced by Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, will be set up under the aegis of the Islamic Development Bank. Allowing Afghanistan access to reserves frozen outside the country would be key to preventing economic collapse, participants in the meeting – which included representatives from the United Nations, United States, European Union and Japan – said in a statement. But it was unclear how much the fund would contain and the meeting did not provide official recognition to the Taliban government. Acting Afghan foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said the government had restored peace and security and done much to address demands for more inclusiveness with respect for human rights, including the rights of women. Click here to read…

Pro-Beijing candidates sweep ‘patriots’-only Hong Kong vote amid low turnout

Pro-Beijing candidates swept to victory in an overhauled “patriots”-only legislative election in Hong Kong that was deemed regressive by critics, with turnout hitting a record low amid a crackdown on the city’s freedoms by China. The turnout of 30.2 percent was almost half that of the previous legislative poll in 2016, with the latest results showing almost all of the seats being taken by pro-Beijing and pro-establishment candidates. Some of these candidates cheered on stage at the central vote counting center and chanted “guaranteed win.” When asked if her political party lacked a public mandate given the low turnout, Starry Lee, the head of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) that won half of the directly elected seats, said the electoral revamp would improve governance. “I do not believe this (the low turnout) is directly related to citizens not agreeing with this electoral system. I believe it needs some time for people to get adapted to this system,” she told reporters at the vote counting center. The election–in which only candidates screened by the government as “patriots” could run–has been criticized by some activists, foreign governments and rights groups as undemocratic. Mainstream pro-democracy parties did not participate, saying they could not endorse any candidates for a poll that was undemocratic. Click here to read…

2,500 Myanmar villagers flee army troops into Thailand

Fighting between Myanmar government forces and ethnic guerrillas has sent about 2,500 villagers fleeing across the border into Thailand, a Thai army officer said Dec 17. The exodus was the biggest since April, when several thousand villagers from Myanmar’s eastern state of Karen fled to Thailand following airstrikes by Myanmar government forces in territory held by the Karen ethnic minority. They were allowed to stay for a few days then returned to Myanmar. The Karen are one of several ethnic minorities who have been battling for decades for greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government. Fighting between the two sides is intermitten but heated up after the military in February seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. A Thai army officer in the western border province of Tak told The Associated Press that around 2,500 villagers from Myanmar had crossed the Moei River, which marks the border, since Dec 16 to seek shelter in Thailand’s Mae Sot district. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information, said Thai authorities provided the evacuees ― mostly women and children ― with humanitarian assistance including shelter and food, and tested them for COVID-19. Click here to read…

US announces new ‘special coordinator’ for Tibet

The United States named a new “special coordinator for Tibetan Issues” on Dec 20, who will be tasked with restarting dialogue between the Dalai Lama and China, as well as promoting “respect for the human rights” of Tibetans. By assigning the role to a high-ranking official – Under Secretary Uzra Zeya – the Biden administration was demonstrating its commitment to addressing Tibetan issues, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an announcement. While continuing to serve in her current role, Zeya will “promote dialogue between the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Dalai Lama, his representatives, or democratically elected Tibetan leaders”, Blinken said. The announcement will likely increase tension between the United States and China. President Joe Biden had been pressed to act after a bipartisan group from Congress wrote to him in mid-December, requesting that he meet with the Dalai Lama, 86, and press China to restart negotiations which ended over 12 years ago. China’s lack of interest in dialogue has led many observers to believe that Beijing is waiting out the Dalai Lama, hoping that the global movement he has built for greater rights in Tibet will wither away without the leadership of the Buddhist monk turned cultural iconClick here to read…

Erdogan seeks to boost ties at Turkey-Africa summit

Turkey is aiming to deepen economic and military ties on Africa, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in remarks at a major summit of African heads in Istanbul and called for a seat representing the continent at the UN Security Council. Heads of state from 16 African nations, along with more than 102 ministers and representatives of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States are attending the summit in Istanbul. The Third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit follows a flurry of activity by Turkey aimed at boosting ties with the continent. In October, Istanbul hosted business leaders and dozens of ministers from African states for a summit aimed specifically at increasing trade. The same month, Erdogan visited Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. “One-point-three billion people live on the African continent, and it is not represented at the Security Council,” Erdogan said on Dec 18. “This is a huge, flagrant injustice. I am still excited and thrilled every time I visit the continent,” Erdogan said, adding that he had made more than 50 trips to the continent and visited more than 30 countries since 2004. “This summit is a testament to the fact that Turkey is interested in Africa and Turkey’s interest in Africa is not a temporary interest, it is a maintained commitment. Our African brothers and sisters are showing they are interested in better cooperation with Turkey.” Click here to read…

Biden administration puts North Korean nuclear issue on backburner

The North Korean nuclear issue appears to have lost priority with the U.S. government, which is focusing heavily on ending China’s control of global supply chains, cross-strait relations and other issues. As Washington shows signs of preserving the status quo with the Kim Jong-un regime, which has in recent years refrained from testing nuclear and long-range missiles, the issue, described as “unproductive,” is feared by some to remain shelved. In April, after its months-long policy review of the totalitarian state, the Joe Biden administration came up with a “calibrated practical approach” to North Korea’s decades-long nuclear problem. However, combined with Pyongyang’s nonresponse to U.S. overtures and U.S. refusals to offer enticements to engage the reclusive state, negotiations on denuclearizing the North have made little progress. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan admitted, Dec 17 (local time), that the U.S. “had not gotten traction in diplomacy with North Korea on that over the course of this year.” “The North Korean nuclear issue was already low on Biden’s agenda as the Kim regime has remained unresponsive to U.S. calls to return to the negotiating table,” said Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National StrategyClick here to read…

Medical
WHO sounds warning over fast-spreading Omicron

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading faster than the Delta variant and is causing infections in people already vaccinated or who have recovered from the COVID-19 disease, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Dec 20. WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan added it would be “unwise” to conclude from early evidence that Omicron was a milder variant that previous ones. “With the numbers going up, all health systems are going to be under strain,” Soumya Swaminathan told Geneva-based journalists. The variant is successfully evading some immune responses, she said, meaning that the booster programmes being rolled out in many countries ought to be targeted towards people with weaker immune systems. “There is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the briefing. “And it is more likely people vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 could be infected or re-infected,” Tedros said. Their comments echoed the finding of study by Imperial College London, which said last week the risk of reinfection was more than five times higher and it has shown no sign of being milder than DeltaClick here to read…

Novavax’s Covid-19 Vaccine Approved by EU

Novavax Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine was recommended for use by the European Medicines Agency, marking the first endorsement by a major regulator of a shot that uses an established technology. A scientific committee said the Novavax shot, dubbed Nuvaxovid, was safe and effective. The European Commission almost immediately granted conditional marketing authorization in the European Union. The approval applies to adults only. The endorsement broadens the EU’s Covid-19 vaccine menu to include a technology that is widely used against other diseases, including in some routine childhood immunizations, for example against hepatitis B. The use of a long-established vaccine technology may help overcome concerns among people who have been hesitant to take up shots so far. Novavax Chief Executive Stanley Erck said the authorization came “during a critical time when we believe having choice among vaccines will lead to increased immunization.” The shots also can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, averting the need for the freezers required for some other Covid-19 vaccines. The shot’s efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19 in clinical trials was around 90%, said the EMA. It is the fifth vaccine to win the endorsement of the EMA, and the first to use a traditional approach to vaccination. Click here to read…

S. Korea plans restrictions as it sets new virus record

Halting its steps toward normalcy, South Korea will clamp down on social gatherings and cut the hours of some businesses to fight a record-breaking surge of the coronavirus that has led to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths. Prime Minster Kim Boo-kyum confirmed the government’s intent to restore stricter social distancing measures during a virus meeting on Dec 15 as the country set another new one-day record in infections with 7,850 cases, the fourth time this month the daily tally exceeded 7,000. The country’s death toll is now 4,456 after 70 virus patients died in the past 24 hours, while a record 964 patients were in critical or serious condition. Officials previously said the country’s medical system could buckle if the number of serious cases topped 1,000 because it would greatly hamper hospitals’ ability to respond not only to COVID-19 but also to other medical conditions. The virus surge has been a rude awakening for South Korea, which significantly eased social distancing rules and fully reopened schools in November in what officials had described as a first step toward restoring pre-pandemic normalcy. Click here to read…

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 06 December – 12 December 2021

Economic
G7 fires warning shots over China’s ‘coercive economic policies’ and Russia’s military build-up

The Group of Seven (G7) voiced concern on Dec 12 about what it called China’s “coercive economic policies” and the challenges posed by Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, as two days of meetings between G7 foreign ministers drew to an end in Liverpool. As well as efforts to align their approach to Beijing, the gathering of G7 delegates also focused on Russia’s increased military build-up on the border with Ukraine, discussions that resulted in a warning of “massive consequences” if Moscow attacked Kyiv. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the discussions on China covered a “range of issues and challenges”, including Hong Kong and Xinjiang, where Beijing is respectively accused of trampling democratic freedoms and launching a far-reaching crackdown on ethnic minority groups. The ministers also discussed Beijing’s actions in the East and South China seas and the “importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and expressed their “concern about [China’s] coercive economic policies”, Truss, who chaired the meetings, said in a statement. Beijing hit back Dec 13 by calling the G7 discussion of China “interference in its domestic affairs” and “vilification of China’s image”. Click here to read…

Caution on carbon as ‘China realises key role of coal’ in energy mix

Addressing a forum in Beijing on Dec 11, former finance minister Lou Jiwei said that while China had said it would “strive to” reach peak carbon emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060, there was a difference between this and “ensuring [those targets would be achieved]”. “We are a developing country. We should bear common but differentiated responsibilities that are different from developed countries,” Lou told the gathering organised by the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges. Top economic policymakers led by President Xi Jinping and the Politburo, met during the week for the central economic work conference to review Beijing’s economic work over the last year and to set the tone for the country’s path in the year ahead. In a statement released on Dec 10, the officials said: “Achieving carbon peak and carbon neutrality goals require unwavering efforts but it can’t be achieved in just one battle.” According to the statement, fossil fuels should be phased out “based on” safe and reliable alternative sources of energy. China should also make clean and efficient use of coal, given the fuel’s dominant role in the country’s power generation and consumption, it said. Click here to read…

China goes after monopolies, promotes budget housing

China on Dec 10 vowed to beef up anti-monopoly regulations and expedite construction of affordable homes among a slew of economic measures designed to prop up economic stability in the coming year.In a statement released by Xinhua, the state news organization, the government warned of a “more complex, grim and uncertain” external economic environment amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “While recognizing our achievements, we should be aware of the triple pressures in the form of weaker demand, supply-chain interruptions and faltering outlook,” said the report summarizing a three-day Central Economic Work Conference that ended on Dec 10. Led by President Xi Jinping, the annual conference outlined policy directions for economic development in the coming year. Dec 10’s statement underscores government efforts to cushion an economic slowdown. China’s growth is expected to slow to 5.3% in 2022, from 8% this year, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, an official think tank, said on Dec 13. Click here to read…

Ties that bind Kazakhstan to China are starting to unravel

When President Xi Jinping launched China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, he chose to do it in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana, where the concept of connectivity with China has been playing out for years. Since then, Astana has changed its name to Nursultan, and Kazakhstan’s view on its connections to China is not as rosy as they were when the Silk Road Economic Belt was launched. Nearly a decade later, Kazakhstan is finding binding itself tightly to Beijing comes with as many problems as benefits.In mid-November, Kazakh authorities reported that the water level in Lake Balkhash will fall to a critical point by 2040 unless something urgent is done, in particular at the consumer end of the river Ile in China. Kazakh authorities are developing plans, but most of them involve requiring China to curb its water consumption. Shrinking aquifers are not a new problem, but it has a growing urgency. This is not the only waterway that Kazakhstan has problems with. Its shared rivers with Russia and Uzbekistan also suffer from similar problems, but the Chinese water consumption is causing the drying up of a critical lake. But while too much Kazakh water is flowing into China, not enough Kazakh goods are. According to Kazakh data, between January and September 2021, food exports to China dropped 78%.Click here to read…

Israel heads ‘hack simulation’ on global financial markets

Israel has taken point on a 10-country exercise which simulated a crippling cyber-attack on financial markets around the world, attempting to create a realistic scenario of the panic and chaos that would ensue, Reuters reported. Dubbed ‘Collective Strength’ and carried out on Dec 09, the international cyber drill was conducted alongside the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries, as well as major financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, according to the outlet. Treasury officials from the participating nations were shown a film to outline the simulated events, in which a narrator states that sensitive data was stolen and shared on the Dark Web, “creating havoc in the financial markets” over a period of 10 days. The exercise – reportedly dubbed a “war game” by the Israeli Finance Ministry – ran through a number of different kinds of attacks, including breaches that affected foreign exchange and bond markets, liquidity and the security of data shared between exporters and importers around the world. It also examined the impact of misleading news reports on the would-be crisis, as well as what steps governments would be expected to take. Click here to read…

US Space Force holds war game to test satellite network under attack

The United States is testing satellite resiliency to threats from China and Russia miles above the earth’s surface, just weeks after Russia shot down an aging communications satellite.The computer-aided simulations included potential shooting down of U.S. missile-tracking satellites, satellite jamming, and other electronic warfare “effects” that are possible tactics in space warfare. Actual satellites are not used. During a visit to Schriever Space Force Base in Colorado, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks saw the ‘Space Flag’ simulated space training exercise hosted by U.S. forces. It was the thirteenth such exercise, and the third to involve partners such as Britain, Canada and Australia. Pentagon leaders are touring U.S. bases this week while the Biden administration’s draft 2023 budget takes shape. The Department of Defense hopes to move budget dollars toward a military that can deter China and Russia. The 10-day-long space war game attempts to simulate the cutting edge of the U.S. capability in space. The training exercise involved an adversarial group working to simulate an aggressor nation with space capabilities like Russia or China. Satellites are vital to military communications, global positioning navigation, and timing systems that are needed in the event of war. Click here to read…

China plays down Lithuania rift as Belt and Road Initiative investments rise in Central, Eastern Europe

China has shrugged off the trade implications of souring diplomatic ties with Lithuania and pressure from the United States, as a senior economic official pointed to strong engagement with Central and Eastern Europe. “Although Lithuania has jumped out and sent a token of loyalty to the US, countries such as Croatia, Serbia and Hungary … they continue to proactively get closer with us without caring about [pressure from] the US,” said Ning Jizhe, deputy head of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planning agency.China’s relations with Lithuania have dramatically cooled down this year after the Baltic state pulled out of the China-led 17+1 mechanism with Central and Eastern European (CEE) nations earlier this year. And last month, Beijing formally downgraded its diplomatic relations with Vilnius after it allowed Taipei to open a de facto embassy. Subsequently, Lithuanian exporters reported earlier this month that they were unable to send shipments to China, citing technical problems. Four days later, they had again been granted access to the Chinese market, but Lithuania’s largest trade body warned that cargos to and from the European Union member country still faced extended procedures and delays. Click here to read…

South Korea joins China, Taiwan in bid for CPTPP entry, but concerns remain over Japan’s stance

South Korea is seeking to join the 11-member CPTPP trade pact citing “fast changes to the economic order in the Asia-Pacific region”, raising questions about whether its tense relations with Japan, the largest economic power in the bloc, will get in the way. “South Korea will initiate the relevant procedures based on discussions with various interested parties to push the membership of the CPTPP,” Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said on Dec 13 at a policy meeting in Seoul. Originally meant to be for Asia-Pacific nations, the CPTPP has been gaining significance as a global agreement, recently attracting interest from Britain as well as mainland China and Taiwan. The pact links Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore. China and Taiwan’s applications to join the trade bloc came after the US, Australia and Britain struck a security alliance which includes an agreement to help Canberra secure a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. In 2019, the 11 economies imported a combined US$126 billion of South Korean goods, which corresponded to 23.2 per cent of the country’s total exports that year. They also sold US$124.9 billion of goods and services to South Korea, accounting for 24.8 per cent of its imports in 2019. Click here to read…

South Korea, Australia sign $930m deal to build howitzer plant

South Korea and Australia on Dec 13 signed a $930 million deal to build a howitzer factory in Geelong, Victoria, that will supply 30 self-propelled howitzers to Canberra, paving the way for defense cooperation between the two countries in the Indo-Pacific region as China continues to expand its military presence. Hanwha Defence’s Australian unit agreed with the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group to build a production base in Geelong by 2040 to supply K-9 Thunder howitzers and 15 ammunition carriers. To date, Hanwha has supplied about 600 K-9 howitzers to six countries. The signing ceremony was part of a summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Moon is the first foreign leader to visit Australia since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Morrison also welcomed the deal, saying it will help develop Australia’s defense industry and create 300 jobs in the region, and praised South Korea’s willingness to transfer defense technology to the country. The announcement comes as an arms race heats up in Asia. Click here to read…

Arms Sales Unaffected by Pandemic

The pandemic doesn’t seem to have affected the global demand for weapons, according to a new report, which reveals the defense industry’s top 100 companies made $531 billion in 2020 – 1.3% more than in the previous year. Arms sales have been steadily growing for six consecutive years, and the economic hurdles caused by Covid-19 couldn’t reverse this trend, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) pointed out on Dec 06. “The industry giants were largely shielded by sustained government demand for military goods and services,” with some countries even accelerating payments to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, Alexandra Marksteiner from SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Program said. The US maintained its lead in the sector in 2020. The total earnings of US arms manufacturers last year reached $285 billion, growing by 1.9% compared to 2019. Chinese firms took second place, with total earnings of $66.8 billion, or 13% of the global arms sales in 2020. SIPRI attributed this success to Beijing’s military modernization program, which turned the local defense companies into “some of the most advanced military technology producers in the world.” The downward trend that began in 2018 continued for Russian arms manufacturers last year, the report claimed. Click here to read…

U.S. consumer prices post biggest annual gain since 1982

U.S. consumer prices rose solidly in November as Americans paid more for food and a range goods, leading to the largest annual gain since 1982, posing a political nightmare for President Joe Biden’s administration and cementing expectations for the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates next year. The report from the Labour Department on Dec 10, which followed on the heels of a slew of data this month showing a rapidly tightening labour market, makes it likely the U.S. central bank will announce that it is speeding up the wind-down of its massive bond purchases at its policy meeting next week. With supply bottlenecks showing little sign of easing and companies raising wages as they compete for scarce workers, high inflation could persist well into 2022. The increased cost of living, the result of shortages caused by the relentless COVID-19 pandemic, is hurting Biden’s approval rating. The White House and the Fed have characterized high inflation this year as transitory. Rising inflation is eroding wage gains. Inflation-adjusted average weekly earnings fell 1.9% on a year-on-year basis in November. Biden acknowledged the increased burden on household budgets from the high inflation, while trying to reassure Americans that the country was pushing ahead with efforts to ease supply bottlenecks. Click here to read…

As Turkey’s Currency Collapses, Erdogan’s Support Sinks Even in His Hometown

Tea farmers of the Black Sea coast town of Rize have been hit hard by the falling lira and soaring inflation. ‘We are at the bottom of the well.’ Turkey’s economic troubles are largely the result of Mr. Erdogan’s own policies, economists say. After firing a series of top officials who disagreed with him, the president has pressured the central bank into cutting interest rates despite high inflation; part of an unorthodox strategy he says is designed to encourage exports and economic growth. The situation worsened Dec 13 when the lira plunged to a record low during an investor selloff triggered by comments from Turkey’s finance minister that raised concerns that the central bank could cut interest rates again when it meets on Dec. 16. The central bank then intervened to arrest the lira’s slide, selling foreign currency for the fourth time in recent weeks.Central banks normally raise interest rates to control inflation. In Turkey, inflation stood at more than 21% in November according to official figures. Mr. Erdogan’s strategy has also sparked a dizzying slide in the lira, which lost some 30% of its value in November alone. Click here to read…

Strategic

Biden rules out U.S. troops in Ukraine as Putin masses forces

U.S. President Joe Biden said Dec 08 that sending American troops to defend Ukraine if Russia invades is “not on the table,” underscoring Washington’s limited deterrence options against Moscow. This followed Dec 07’s virtual summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which Biden said he told Putin there would be “economic consequences like none he’s ever seen or ever have been seen” in response to an invasion. The two-hour meeting came as Russia masses tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, in what the U.S. and Europe fear could herald another invasion like that which preceded the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Moscow looks to leverage this position to force Washington, Ukraine’s most prominent backer, to accept its conditions — binding pledges that NATO will not expand further eastward and that no offensive weapons systems will be deployed in countries neighbouring Russia. These demands are unacceptable to the U.S. and Europe. The Biden administration has previously warned of severe economic consequences if Russia invades Ukraine, and U.S. media reports indicate that blocking Russia from the SWIFT financial payments system used by banks worldwide is on the table. Click here to read…

Russia says it may be forced to deploy mid-range nuclear missiles in Europe

Russia said on Dec 13 it may be forced to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe in response to what it sees as NATO’s plans to do the same. The warning from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov raised the risk of a new arms build-up on the continent, with East-West tensions at their worst since the Cold War ended three decades ago. Ryabkov said Russia would be forced to act if the West declined to join it in a moratorium on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe – part of a package of security guarantees it is seeking as the price for defusing the crisis over Ukraine. Lack of progress towards a political and diplomatic solution would lead Russia to respond in a military way, with military technology, Ryabkov told Russia’s RIA news agency. “That is, it will be a confrontation, this will be the next round,” he said, referring to the potential deployment of the missiles by Russia. Intermediate-range nuclear weapons – those with a range of 500 to 5,500 km (310 to 3,400 miles) – were banned in Europe under a 1987 treaty between then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. Washington withdrew from the pact in 2019. Click here to read…

Macron lays out agenda for ‘powerful, sovereign’ EU

President Emmanuel Macron vowed on Dec 9 France would work towards a strong and “sovereign” European Union when it takes over the bloc’s rotating presidency that coincides with France’s presidential election. Macron, a centrist who portrays himself as a champion of democracy against populism, may aim to use the six-month EU mandate to fill the gap in European leadership left by the departure of German chancellor Angela Merkel, analysts say. But the president, who was elected in 2017 demanding reform in both France and Europe, will also face a battle to be re-elected in April although he remains the clear favourite for now. France’s aim is “to move towards a Europe that is powerful in the world, fully sovereign, free in its choices and in charge of its own destiny”, Macron said at a rare sit-down meeting with media in Paris that lasted more than three hours. “Faced with all these crises that are hitting Europe, many people would like to rely only on the nation state. These nations are our strength, our pride, but European unity is their indispensable complement,” he said. He called for new mechanisms to protect the EU’s borders, with thousands of migrants gathering on the border between Belarus and Poland in recent months. Click here to read…

At democracy summit, Biden says world faces battle against autocracy

Democracies need champions, said U.S. President Joe Biden as he opened up the first ever Summit for Democracy on Dec 09, bringing together political leaders and civil society actors from over 100 countries. The gathering is “not to assert that any one of our democracies is perfect or has all the answers, but to lock arms and reaffirm our shared commitment to make our democracies better,” and to push back on authoritarianism, Biden said. The framing fits with the president’s overall foreign policy, of uniting like-minded nations to create a position of strength to stand up to rivals such as China and Russia. But Biden was quick to acknowledge that the U.S. itself faces mounting challenges to its democracy. The summit has been criticized for its list of invitees, many of whom are not classified as democracies according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Some invitees, like Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are even considered authoritarian regimes by the metric. Pakistan, perhaps the most criticized recipient of an invite, declined to attend the conference. It is widely believed that Pakistan was uncomfortable that China, with which it has close ties, was not invited, while Taiwan was. Click here to read…

Taiwanese minister’s map disappears during US democracy summit

A slide show by a Taiwanese minister caused consternation among US officials during President Joe Biden’s democracy summit on Dec 10, when it included a map showing the self-ruled island in a different colour to the Chinese mainland. Taiwanese Digital Minister Audrey Tang’s video feed was cut during a panel discussion on “countering digital authoritarianism” and replaced with audio only, at the behest of the White House, according to sources familiar with the matter. The White House offered no formal comment, but the State Department said “confusion” over screen-sharing resulted in Tang’s video feed being dropped, calling it an “honest mistake”. The sources, who asked not to be identified because of the issue’s sensitivity, said the White House was concerned that differentiating between Taiwan and China on a map during a US-hosted conference could be seen to be at odds with Washington’s one-China policy. Tang’s presentation included a colour-coded map from South African NGO Civicus, ranking the world by openness on civil rights. Most of Asia was shown, with Taiwan coloured green, making it the only regional entity portrayed as “open,” while all the others – including several US allies and partners – were labelled as “closed,” “repressed,” “obstructed” or “narrowed”. Click here to read…

Taiwan loses diplomatic ally Nicaragua to China

Taiwan lost Nicaragua as a diplomatic ally after the Central American country said it would officially recognize only China, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory. “There is only one China,” the Nicaraguan government said in a statement Dec 09 announcing the change. “The People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government that represents all China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory.” “As of today, Nicaragua breaks its diplomatic relations with Taiwan and ceases to have any official contact or relationship,” it added. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “sadness and regret” and said it would immediately recall its diplomatic staff. The move leaves Taiwan with 14 countries globally that officially recognize it. China has been poaching Taiwan’s diplomatic allies over the past few years, cutting down the number of countries that recognize the democratic, self-governed island as a sovereign nation. China is against Taiwan representing itself in global forums or in diplomacy.The Nicaraguan government signed an official communique to re-establish diplomatic ties with China in Tianjin on Dec 10, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. Under the agreement, Nicaragua promises not to have any official contact with Taiwan going forward. Click here to read…

US seeks closer ties with ‘key player’ Indonesia as Blinken set to make Indo-Pacific speech

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Dec 13 arrived in Indonesia as part of his first Southeast Asia tour, meeting President Joko Widodo in Jakarta, where he pledged to increase economic ties with Indonesia, particularly in investments and infrastructure development. Blinken will deliver a speech about Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy on Dec 14, including its plans for deeper engagement with the 10-member Asean bloc. After meeting key Indonesian officials, he will head to Malaysia and Thailand later in the week. The Biden administration has yet to elaborate on its vision for stronger economic engagement with the region, although the top US diplomat for Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, said recently there would be a focus on trade facilitation, the digital economy, supply chain resilience, infrastructure, and clean energy and worker standards. Blinken is the latest in a string of senior US officials who have travelled to Southeast Asia in recent months, as the region shapes up to be a battleground in the US and China’s ongoing competition for influence. US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondosaid that her trip to Asia last month was designed to “assess appetite” for economic dialogueClick here to read…

Australia drops European helicopters for U.S. Black Hawks

Australia’s military said Dec 10 it plans to ditch its fleet of European-designed Taipan helicopters and instead buy U.S. Black Hawks and Seahawks because the American machines are more reliable.The move comes less than three months after Australia cancelled a deal to buy French submarines in favour of building nuclear-powered submarines that use U.S. and British technology in a switch that deeply angered France. Australia has 47 Taipan helicopters that were designed by Airbus and were supposed to last until 2037 but have been plagued with groundings. Australia will stop using them and buy 40 Lockheed Martin-designed helicopters in a switch that will cost 7 billion Australian dollars ($4.8 billion). Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was improving its defense capabilities and had built good partnerships, particularly with the U.S.Defense Minister Peter Dutton said the Black Hawks are much cheaper to fly and that officials have had concerns about the Taipan program for the past decade. He said the new helicopters would bring Australia’s fleet more in line with that of the U.S., an important consideration given the instability in the region. Click here to read…

Germany’s new government is set to take a tougher line on China

One of the most pressing questions for Olaf Scholz, Germany’s newly elected chancellor, is the extent to which he shifts Europe’s largest economy away from China. With Scholz’s center-left Social Democratic Party entering a coalition with the Greens and the pro-business Free Democratic Party, the new government is likely to be less cozy with Beijing than its predecessor under Angela Merkel.During her 16-year chancellorship, Merkel shied away from outright confrontation with Beijing. This was partly due to business ties — one out of three German cars are sold in China, and Germany is China’s most important partner in the European Union, with an annual mutual trading value of 212.9 billion euros (about $250 billion). Chinese leader Xi Jinping was the first foreign leader to congratulate Scholz, according to Germany’s public-broadcasting radio station Deutschlandfunk, but the coalition agreement points to several potential points of friction between Berlin and Beijing. The coalition agreement names China a dozen times, using terms such as “system rivalry,” “human rights,” and “fair rules of the game.” The document also calls for the international participation of “democratic Taiwan,” points to human rights violations in Xinjiang, and demands a restoration of the “one country, two systems” policy in Hong Kong. Click here to read…

New satellite images, expert suggest Iran space launch coming

Iran appears to be preparing for a space launch as negotiations continue in Vienna over its tattered nuclear deal with world powers, according to an expert and satellite images.The likely blast-off at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Spaceport comes as Iranian state media has offered a list of upcoming planned satellite launches in the works for the Islamic Republic’s civilian space programme, which has been beset by a series of failed launches. Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel programme that successfully put a satellite into orbit last year. Conducting a launch amid the Vienna talks fits the hard-line posture struck by Tehran’s negotiators, who already described six previous rounds of diplomacy as a “draft”, exasperating Western nations. Germany’s new foreign minister has gone as far as to warn that “time is running out for us at this point”. But all this fits into a renewed focus on space by Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who studies Tehran’s programme. Satellite images taken Dec 11 by Planet Labs obtained by Associated Press show activity at the spaceport in the desert plains of Iran’s rural Semnan province some 240km (150 miles) southeast of Tehran. Click here to read…

Israel preparing military option against Iran – media

Israel’s military is preparing a possible strike against Iran, the country’s media has reported, citing defense and diplomatic sources. Tel Aviv has already notified the US of its plans, facing “no veto” on such preparations. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about preparations for a potential military strike against the country’s arch-nemesis Iran during his visit to the US, multiple Israeli outlets reported on Dec 11. Gantz met top US officials, including Lloyd and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on Thursday. “The defence minister told Americans that he had instructed the military to prepare for military option,” a senior security source said, as quoted by Israel’s Army Radio. The same source claimed that while Tehran was “close to producing enough fissile material for a single nuclear bomb,” it would not push through the “threshold” because it understands the gravity of such a step. While Israel has repeatedly accused Iran of seeking to obtain nuclear weaponry, Tehran has consistently rejected such allegations, maintaining that its nuclear program served solely civilian purposes. A separate diplomatic source told Israeli media that the announcement did not meet any objections from the American officials. Click here to read…

New friends – UAE de facto ruler, Israel’s Bennett in “historic” meeting

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan hosted Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Dec 13 in the first-ever public meeting between the United Arab Emirates’ de facto ruler and an Israeli leader. Israel’s ambassador to Abu Dhabi, speaking ahead of the meeting, said the issue of Iran would “certainly come up”. The meeting follows the formalisation of Israel-UAE relations last year under a U.S.-led regional initiative. While shared concern about Iranian activity was among reasons for the diplomatic moves, the UAE has also been trying to improve relations with Tehran. Releasing photographs of Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed smiling and shaking hands, the Israeli leader’s office described the meeting as “historic”. Before he flew home later in the day, Bennett’s office said in a statement that Sheikh Mohammed had accepted an invitation to visit Israel. There was no immediate confirmation from UAE officials. A statement on state news agency WAM said Sheikh Mohammed voiced hope for “stability in the Middle East” and that Bennett’s visit would “advance the relationship of cooperation towards more positive steps in the interests of the people of the two nations and of the region”.Click here to read…

Russian, Iranian FMs support original version of Iran nuclear deal

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian held a phone conversation on Dec 13 to discuss the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The top diplomats reaffirmed their common position to restore the nuclear deal in its original balanced text, approved by the United Nations Security Council, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. They stressed that this is the only correct way to ensure the rights and interests of all participants in the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Multilateral negotiations to save the Iran nuclear deal resumed on Nov. 29 in Vienna of Austria. Click here to read…

Bangladesh protests US sanctions of its security chiefs

Bangladesh on Dec 11 called in the US ambassador to protest sanctions by Washington against its top security officers after seven people including the country’s national police chief were accused by the Joe Biden administration of human rights abuses. Washington imposed sanctions against the Rapid Action Battalion, which is accused of involvement in hundreds of disappearances and nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018. Seven current or former officials of the Rapid Action Battalion were also sanctioned. They include Benazir Ahmed, previously the RAB chief and currently the national head of the South Asian country’s more than 200,000-strong police force. “We are determined to put human rights at the centre of our foreign policy, and we reaffirm this commitment by using appropriate tools and authorities to draw attention to and promote accountability for human rights violations and abuses,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Bangladesh officials were quick to denounce the move, with foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen summoning the US ambassador “to convey Dhaka’s discontent” over the decision, his ministry said. Click here to read…

Medical
China further lowers nucleic acid test prices amid new COVID-19 cases

A number of Chinese cities have lowered the prices of COVID-19 nucleic acid tests at public hospitals, while some plan to do so soon, as part of Chinese authorities’ efforts to guide prices to a more affordable range amid a new wave of cases in some places. Starting from Dec 10, the cities of Luoyang and Jiyuan in Central China’s Henan Province will cut the price to 30 yuan ($4.73) a person for a single test and the price for a group will be lowered to 10 yuan per person, from 15 yuan. Cities in South China’s Hainan Province, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province and North China’s Tianjin Municipality have also reduced prices. This is not the first time that local health authorities have cut testing prices, to help reduce costs for residents. In mid-November, China’s National Healthcare Security Administration launched a third round of national price adjustments, requiring local authorities to reduce prices in public hospitals by December 15. After the adjustment, the price shall not exceed 40 yuan per person for a single test or 10 yuan a person for group tests. Massive nucleic acid testing is a key tool to prevent and control the COVID-19 epidemic in China. Click here to read…

South Korea to test AI-powered facial recognition to track COVID-19 cases

South Korea will soon roll out a pilot project to use artificial intelligence, facial recognition and thousands of CCTV cameras to track the movement of people infected with the coronavirus, despite concerns about the invasion of privacy. The nationally funded project in Bucheon, one of the country’s most densely populated cities on the outskirts of Seoul, is due to become operational in January, a city official told Reuters. The system uses a AI algorithms and facial recognition technology to analyse footage gathered by more than 10,820 CCTV cameras and track an infected person’s movements, anyone they had close contact with, and whether they were wearing a mask, according to a 110-page business plan from the city submitted to the Ministry of Science and ICT (Information and Communications Technology), and provided to Reuters by a parliamentary lawmaker critical of the project.Governments around the world have turned to new technologies and expanded legal powers to try to stem the tide of COVID-19 infections. South Korea already has an aggressive, high-tech contact tracing system that harvests credit card records, cellphone location data and CCTV footage, among other personal information. Click here to read…

US COVID-19 deaths approach 800,000 as Delta ravaged in 2021

The United States on Dec 12 reached 800,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to a Reuters tally, as the nation braces for a potential surge in infections due to more time spent indoors with colder weather and the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus. The milestone means the US death toll from this one virus now exceeds the entire population of North Dakota.Even with vaccines widely and freely available, the country has lost more lives to the virus this year than in 2020 due to the more contagious Delta variant and people refusing to get inoculated against COVID-19. Since the start of the year, over 450,000 people in the United States have died after contracting COVID-19, or 57 per cent of all US deaths from the illness since the pandemic started.The deaths this year were mostly in unvaccinated patients, health experts say. Deaths have increased despite advances in caring for COVID-19 patients and new treatment options such as monoclonal antibodies. It took 111 days for US deaths to jump from 600,000 to 700,000, according to Reuters analysis. The next 100,000 deaths took just 73 days. Click here to read…

India’s Serum Institute let Africa down on vaccines: Africa CDC

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, let Africa down by pulling out of talks to supply COVID-19 vaccines, creating distrust that has affected demand, according to the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control. John Nkengasong on Dec 09 denounced recent comments from Serum that uptake of its COVID-19 shots had slowed because of low demand from Africa and vaccine hesitancy, saying the real problem was that Serum had acted unprofessionally. Nkengasong said Serum had engaged in discussions last year with the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), and that at one point he had believed a deal was very close, but then Serum abruptly ended the talks. “Serum just decided to act in a very unprofessional manner and stop communicating with AVATT team, so that created a situation where we found ourselves extremely unhappy … and then engaged with Johnson & Johnson,” he said. African countries had agreed to buy 400 million doses of COVID vaccines from J&J, abandoning efforts with Serum, he saidClick here to read…

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 29 November – 05 December 2021

Economic
Retreat From Globalization Adds to Inflation Risks

While supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages and fiscal stimulus have all been blamed for the rise in short-term inflation, another long-term force could also be at work: “deglobalization.” Economists and policy makers have long argued that globalization helped to lower prices. As trade barriers fell, domestic companies were forced to compete with cheaper imports. Technology and trade liberalization encouraged businesses to outsource production to low-wage countries. Generally liberal immigration policies allowed many lower-wage workers to move to richer countries, although the link between immigration and wages isn’t clear-cut. Economists Robert Johnson of the University of Notre Dame and Diego Comin of Dartmouth found in a 2020 paper that international trade had the effect of reducing U.S. consumer prices by an annual 0.1 to 0.4 percentage point between 1997 and 2018. The share of foreign content in global manufacturing production surged from 17.3% in 1995 to 26.5% in 2011, according to Asian Development Bank data analyzed by the Conference Board. It has since declined to 23.5% in 2020. Global foreign direct investment, a key gauge of cross-border business expansion, peaked at around $2 trillion in 2015 and fell to $1.5 trillion in 2019, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Click here to read…

China forms new state-owned China Logistics Group

China formally established a new state-owned logistics group on Dec 6, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Dec 06, to strengthen domestic and global supply chains amid widespread disruptions caused by the pandemic. China Logistics Group aimed to become a “global supply chain organiser” by developing international trade links and freight services, as well as cross-border e-commerce, CCTV said. The new company was formed through a merger of China Railway Materials, China National Materials Storage and Transportation Group, Huamao International Freight Limited Company Shenzhen Branch, China Logistics, and China National Packaging Corporation, CCTV said. The newly-formed group will also include as strategic investors the parent firms of China Eastern Airlines, COSCO Shipping, and China Merchants Group, who will respectively hold share percentages of 10 per cent, 7.3 per cent, and 4.9 per cent. China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) and China Chengtong Holdings Group will evenly split the remaining shares. Chengtong Holding is centrally managed by SASAC, giving the state asset regulator control over all the remaining shares. The new state-owned logistics giant currently covers 30 Chinese provinces, has a presence in five continents, and operates 3 million vehicles, CCTV said. Click here to read…

Chinese Tariffs Fuel Boom in U.S. Trade With Tech Exporter Taiwan

U.S. trade with Taiwan is booming, as the self-governing island cashes in on surging demand for its computer chips and lures factories back from China, where many exports to the U.S. including electronics are subject to 25% tariffs. Taiwan is now ranked No. 8 globally in trade with the U.S., just behind the U.K. and ahead of Vietnam. It exported a record $72 billion in goods to the U.S. in the 12 months through September. That is up about 70% since 2017, the year before the Trump administration imposed the Chinese tariffs. U.S. exports to Taiwan have climbed about 35% from pre-tariff levels to $35 billion annually, also a record, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The increase has largely been driven by purchases of American crude oil, machinery and cars. Expanded commerce between Taiwan and the U.S. comes as they move to strengthen their trading ties formally over the objections of Beijing, which considers Taiwan a part of its territory. Taiwan is a major supplier of semiconductors for the U.S., and its sharp increase in exports reflects more demand for chips across many industries. Still, the biggest trigger for the rising trade between Taiwan and the U.S. has been the tariffs on Chinese goods, which the Biden administration has kept in force. Click here to read…

China-Pakistan Belt and Road Initiative hits buffers

“China only procures sand and gravel locally for construction projects,” said Nasir Sohrabi, president of Gwadar’s Rural Community Development Council. “All other raw materials are imported from China leaving very little for local industry.” CPEC is a $50 billion flagship BRI component that includes power plants, industrial clusters, and road and rail upgrades. About half the money pledged by China has already flowed in with investments and intergovernmental lending, pushing Pakistan’s economic growth above 5% in 2017 and 2018. But those who have yet to benefit from Chinese largesse are losing hope and becoming restive. The main road leading to Gwadar Port has been blocked since Nov. 15 by thousands of locals in a sit-down protest demanding basic amenities, including water and power, as well as access to the sea for fishermen. Pakistan has seen a decline in direct investment from China. According to the State Bank of Pakistan, the central bank, Chinese FDI in the quarter that ended in September was just $76.9 million compared to $154.9 million in the same quarter last year. Islamabad is alarmed by the costliness of Chinese projects. Tabish Gauhar, Pakistan’s special assistant to the prime minister on power and petroleum, stated in cabinet in August that a CPEC power project is 25% more expensive than the international norm. Click here to read…

More evidence China on high alert for monetary policy changes from US and EU

The Chinese authorities want “more effective” monetary coordination with developed countries to ensure a “fairer” international environment, a foreign exchange official said on Dept 03. The warning from Lu Lei, deputy head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, is the latest evidence that Beijing is on high alert for a policy turnaround from the US Federal Reserve despite repeated assurances that it is well prepared. “Countries lying at the core of the international monetary system often have a big say,” he told the annual conference of the International Finance Forum in Guangzhou. “Spillover effects from their policies deserve our close attention.” Major economies, including the United States and the European Union, have resorted to unprecedented fiscal and monetary policies to fight the coronavirus pandemic, and these have already pushed up global inflation. The policy divergence with the West is likely to continue as it is going to become more accommodative next year to prevent an economic hard landing, compared with the US tendency for policy tightening to contain rising inflation. Beijing and Washington have expressed their respective concerns over financial issues – the Fed is worried about the risk from Evergrande – but the two sides have not yet started formal discussions. Click here to read…

China seeks tripling of big data industry to $470bn by 2025

China aims to triple the size of its big data industry to 3 trillion yuan ($470 billion) in the five years through 2025 under a five-year plan announced Nov 30. The plan, released by the Ministry of Industry and Information The industry already swelled to 1 trillion yuan during the previous five-year plan, but China did not make sufficient progress in terms of data technology, markets and security under that framework, the ministry found. With three major pieces of data-related legislation over the past few years — the 2017 Cybersecurity Law and this year’s Data Security Law and Personal Information Protection Law — Beijing has tightened control over data flows and clamped down hard on cross-border transfers. The new plan aims to build a data industry that can withstand headwinds such as foreign sanctions. The government will look to support corporate and social applications for big data, encouraging wider use in four broad industrial sectors — raw materials, manufacturing equipment, consumer industries and digital information. Telecommunications, finance, medicine, agriculture, public security, transportation and power were singled out as areas of focus. The plan also calls for active involvement in setting international data standards. The document also recommends stepping up the use of data in governance and social administrationClick here to read…

Kirin seeks arbitration to end venture with Myanmar military

Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings asked on Dec 06 the Singapore International Arbitration Centre to resolve a dispute over ending its business partnership with the Myanmar military, the company said. Kirin announced on Dec 06 that it had filed for arbitration with the SIAC, hoping involvement by a third-party body would help end the impasse. Kirin is also counting that having its argument heard on the international stage will help its case and add pressure on the military-backed venture partner. At issue is the fate of Myanmar Brewery, operated by Kirin and Myanma Economic Holdings (MEHL). The Japanese brewer decided to unwind the partnership after Myanmar’s military took control of the country, but it still hopes to continue operating the business after MEHL gives up its stake. But it is unclear whether MEHL will abide by whatever ruling the SIAC will issue. Kirin owns 51% of Myanmar Brewery, with MEHL holding the rest. Kirin had obtained a provisional injunction from Singapore’s high court On Dec. 2, ordering MEHL to suspend proceedings to dissolve the partnership, the company said in the Dec 06 announcement. Click here to read…

US world’s biggest contributor to plastic pollution: report

The US is by far the biggest contributor to global plastic waste in the world, according to a new report submitted to the federal government Dec 01 that called for a national strategy to tackle the growing crisis. Overall, the US contributed around 42 million metric tons (MMT) in plastic waste in 2016 – more than twice as much as China and more than the countries of the European Union combined, according to the analysis. On average, every American generates 130 kilograms of plastic waste per year, with Britain next on the list at 99 kilograms per person per year. Entitled “Reckoning with the US Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste,” the report was mandated by Congress as part of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, which became law in December 2020. Global plastic production rose from 20 million metric tons in 1966 to 381 MMT in 2015, a 20-fold increase over half a century, the report said. Research has shown nearly 1,000 species of marine life are susceptible to plastic entanglement or to ingesting microplastics, which then make their way through the food web back to humans. Click here to read…

Population drop of nearly 1 million over five years, Japan census shows

Japan’s population declined over five years by nearly one million to reach 126,146,099 as of Oct. 1, 2020, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, citing the results of the national census taken that year. The latest tally, which includes resident foreign nationals, was released Nov. 30. It shows that there were 948,646 fewer inhabitants compared with the previous census in 2015, representing a 0.7-percent decrease. It marked the second consecutive decrease in population as measured by censuses. The number of Japanese nationals living in the country stood at approximately 123,399,000, down about 1,783,000 from five years ago, or 1.4 percent lower. However, the number of foreign nationals living in Japan came to a record 2,747,000, up about 835,000 from 2015, or 43.6 percent more. Chinese comprise the biggest share among foreign nationals at about 667,000, followed by ethnic Koreans, about 375,000, and Vietnamese, about 321,000. The number of people aged under 15 stood at approximately 15,032,000, or 11.9 percent of the total, which is among the lowest ratios in the world. In contrast, the number of people aged 65 or over stood at a record 36,027,000, or 28.6 percent of the total population, marking a continuous increase. Click here to read…

Group of 67 nations in WTO agree to cut red tape in services trade

Sixty-seven World Trade Organization members agreed on Dec 02 to pare back regulations such as licensing requirements placed on service providers operating in foreign countries, a move that could save $150 billion in annual trade costs. The group of developed and some developing countries from Peru to the Philippines committed to greater transparency, legal certainty and an easier regulatory process with electronic applications and clear and reasonable fees. The signatories, also including the United States, China and EU members, are a minority of the WTO’s 164 members, but represent 90% of all services trade. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has estimated that implementing looser regulations in the larger G20 countries could reduce trade costs by up to 6%, with annual savings rising to $150 billion. Banking, information technology, telecoms, architecture and engineering would be among the service sectors benefiting most. The deal aims to provide clarity to services companies that are often obliged to submit multiple paper documents to regulators and are left in the dark how their applications are processedClick here to read…

Strategic
Biden, Putin set video call Dec 07 as Ukraine tensions grow

When Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin meet virtually on Dec 07 the two presidents will have to negotiate a history of mutual suspicion as they take up the urgent issue of a major Russian military build-up on the Ukraine border. The key question hanging over the talks – and the subject of keen debate among analysts and political leaders – is whether Putin might actually launch a cross-border offensive, or whether he is using the troops to pressure Biden for guarantees ex-Soviet Ukraine will never become a Nato launch pad. The two have a daunting list of other differences to air, from Russia’s harsh treatment of dissidents to the presence of ransomware hackers on Russian soil to Moscow’s support for the repressive regime in Syria. But the magnitude of the Russian build-up near Ukraine – the Kremlin may be planning an offensive early in 2022 involving up to 175,000 troops, according to US intelligence obtained by The Washington Post and other outlets – has raised red flags in Washington and across Europe. Many analysts doubt that Putin would carry through with an invasion – which would inevitably prompt international condemnation and probably new sanctions – but at least some take a darker view. Click here to read…

Russia to unveil security pact proposals in bid to restrain NATO

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Dec 02 that Moscow would soon put forward proposals for a new European security pact which he said he hoped would stop NATO from expanding further eastwards. Lavrov was speaking at a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Stockholm ahead of talks with his U.S. counterpart Antony Blinken expected to focus on tensions around Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin this week complained about Western military aid to Ukraine and what he called NATO’s expansion closer to Russia’s own borders. He warned NATO against placing missile defence systems in Ukraine. In a speech to the OSCE, Lavrov said that Europe was returning to what he called the nightmare of military confrontation and said he hoped that Russia’s proposals on a new European security pact would be carefully considered. “The architecture of strategic stability is rapidly being destroyed, NATO refuses to constructively examine our proposals to de-escalate tensions and avoid dangerous incidents,” Lavrov told the OSCE. “On the contrary, the alliance’s military infrastructure is drawing closer to Russia’s borders. The nightmare scenario of military confrontation is returning.” Lavrov said Moscow also feared that intermediate-range U.S. missiles could appear in Europe. Click here to read…

China Seeks First Military Base on Africa’s Atlantic Coast, U.S. Intelligence Finds

Classified American intelligence reports suggest China intends to establish its first permanent military presence on the Atlantic Ocean in the tiny Central African country of Equatorial Guinea, according to U.S. officials. Principal deputy U.S. national security adviser Jon Finer visited Equatorial Guinea in October on a mission to persuade President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his son and heir apparent, Vice President Teodoro “Teodorin” Nguema Obiang Mangue, to reject China’s overtures. World-wide, the U.S. finds itself maneuvering to try to block China from projecting its military power from new overseas bases, from Cambodia to the United Arab Emirates. In Equatorial Guinea, the Chinese likely have an eye on Bata, according to a U.S. official. Bata already has a Chinese-built deep-water commercial port on the Gulf of Guinea, and excellent highways link the city to Gabon and the interior of Central Africa. The “most significant threat” from China would be “a militarily useful naval facility on the Atlantic coast of Africa,” Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, testified in the Senate in April. “By militarily useful I mean something more than a place that they can make port calls and get gas and groceries. I’m talking about a port where they can rearm with munitions and repair naval vessels.” Click here to read…

U.S. Hope for Iran Nuclear Talks Now Rests on China, Russia

Even as U.S. tensions mount with Russia over Ukraine and with China over Taiwan and other issues, Western officials acknowledge that the fastest route to increasing economic and political pressure on Tehran’s new hard-line government runs through Moscow and especially Beijing. China helped Iran stabilize its economy after the U.S. reimposed sanctions in 2018, pushing it into a severe slump. China has imported up to 700,000 barrels of Iranian oil a day in recent months, according to energy analysis firm Vortexa. Yet bringing Russia and China on board a concerted new multilateral pressure campaign against Iran will probably be slow and difficult. For Chinese diplomats, dealing with Iran combines an exceptionally complex set of national interests, including energy security, nuclear nonproliferation, Beijing’s relationship with the U.S. and ties with other, competing Persian Gulf powers. “It’s wishful thinking to expect that the China of 2014 and 2015 is going to return to Vienna,” said Daniel Russel, the State Department’s top diplomat for East Asia affairs during the Obama administration, now at the Asia Society. “I think those days are over.” Click here to read…

As U.S. promotes democracy, China touts its own version

As U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to host more than 100 participants in the initial “Summit for Democracy”, China – which was not invited – has increasingly talked up the advantages of its own “whole-process democracy”. Chinese state media and diplomats in recent weeks have ramped up criticism of democracy in the United States, touting what they describe as preferable outcomes in its system of “socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics” on measures ranging from COVID-19 management to social mobility. Communist Party-ruled China, widely considered to have become increasingly authoritarian under President Xi Jinping, first used the phrase “whole-process democracy” in 2019, and the concept was enshrined in law this past March. China was not asked to take part in the Dec. 9-10 event hosted by Biden, but Beijing-claimed Taiwan was. China, which will release a white paper on democracy on Dec 04, defines its version as consultative, with voting permitted at the very local level and public feedback collected before any law is implemented. The definition does not include an independent judiciary, free media, or universal suffrage for national office. Click here to read…

EU’s ‘Global Gateway’ Infrastructure Push Offers Counter to China’s ‘Belt and Road’

The European Union will seek to mobilize 300 billion euros ($340 billion) in public and private infrastructure investments by 2027 to offer developing countries an alternative to China’s massive Belt and Road program. The EU’s “Global Gateway” project unveiled on Dec 01 outlines spending on digital, transport, energy and health projects. And while the proposal doesn’t mention China directly, it offers a counter to Beijing’s overseas development plan that critics say has pushed countries to unsustainable levels of indebtedness. To finance the project, the EU will use its European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus, which can make available 40 billion euros in guarantee capacity, and will offer grants of up to 18 billion euros from external assistance programs. The program will also seek to “crowd-in private capital” to boost investments, according to the final draft. Further adding to its financial tool kit, the EU is exploring the option of creating a European Export Credit Facility to complement existing credit arrangements at member states, and increase the bloc’s overall firepower in this area, according to the statement. The aim would be to help ensure a more level playing field for EU businesses in third-country markets. Click here to read…

Kishida puts military strike option on table for Japan, in ‘show of standing up to China’

Japan will strengthen its national defences in the face of growing regional threats, including through the possible acquisition of the ability to attack military facilities in other countries, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a policy speech to the Japanese parliament on Dec 06 afternoon. Kishida promised to revise the key components of national security, laid out in the National Security Strategy, the National Defence Programme Guidelines and the Medium-term Defence Programme, within the next 12 months. The prime minister also used his address to suggest that parliament had “a responsibility to seriously consider” whether the constitution should also be revised, with changes to the most fundamental elements of national law potentially giving Tokyo more leeway in the deployment of its armed forces. Perceived as a dove when he served as foreign minister under former prime minister Shinzo Abe, Kishida has nonetheless adopted many of his former boss’s hardline positions on defence and security, analysts say, with Japan’s spending on its military also rising. In late November, the cabinet earmarked 773.8 billion yen (US$6.7 billion) for defence outlays under the 2021 supplementary budget. Kishida has indicated that he is planning to increase defense spending to 2 per cent of GDP. Click here to read…

Japan starts to extend range of its missiles to over 1,000 km

Japan is planning to upgrade and extend the capability of its cruise missiles to hit objects over 1,000 kilometers away, Nikkei has learned. The defense ministry aims to deploy such missiles by the second half of the 2020s. These missiles, to be developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, can be launched from land and also fitted on fighter planes and warships. Japan’s missiles are now only capable of reaching 100 km to 200 km from launch point. This plan by the government, which it sees as a form of deterrence, comes amid increasing competition in missile development in the Asia-Pacific region. Tokyo says it has little choice but to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities. Close neighbors China and South Korea are likely to frown on Japan’s plans despite expanding their own programs. China has been increasing the number of intermediate-range ballistic missiles that can reach Japan and Guam. Beijing has, reportedly, increased the number of launchers it owns by eight times over a decade, to 82 as of 2020. Amid rising concern over the escalation of military activities by China, a report by U.S. Congress recommended a dialogue to encourage partner countries to accept the deployment of U.S. intermediate range missiles in the region, in preparation for a Taiwan emergency. Click here to read…

China antenna turns Earth into giant radio station, with signals reaching Guam

The biggest antenna on the planet is up and running in central China, opening up long-distance communications with submarines as well as civilian applications, according to engineers and scientists involved in the project. The exact location of the facility has not been revealed but is believed to be somewhere in the Dabie Mountains, a protected natural reserve straddling Hubei, Anhui and Henan provinces. The project’s lead engineer Zha Ming and his colleagues, from the Wuhan Maritime Communication Research Institute, said the facility was designed to maintain underwater communications over a total range of 3,000km (1,9000 miles) – enough to reach Guam, the biggest US military base in the western Pacific Ocean. A joint experiment with Russia confirmed a ‘ping’ from the facility can also travel effectively underground. The idea of building an Earth-bound low frequency antenna dates back to the 1960s. The US navy’s Project Sanguine, for instance, planned an antenna spanning more than two-fifths of Wisconsin to command submarines around the world. The project was terminated in 2005, after failing to live up to the military’s expectations. The US turned its focus to alternative technologies, such as manipulating the atmosphere with lasers to generate low frequency waves. Click here to read…

1st ASEAN-Russia navy drills send messages on AUKUS, China

Russia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations launched their first-ever joint naval exercise on Dec 01, marking a new security twist in a region roiled by territorial disputes with China and the emergence of the U.S.-led AUKUS alliance. The drills, scheduled to run until Dec 03, feature warships from seven of the 10 ASEAN member states and the Russian Pacific Fleet’s Admiral Panteleyev destroyer. The exercise consists of an online and at-sea component, with the latter taking place in Indonesia’s territorial waters off North Sumatra. Collin Koh, a maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said that although the Russia-ASEAN naval exercise was unlikely to feature “high intensity war-fighting elements,” it did send an important political message about the bloc’s intentions. After largely disappearing from Southeast Asia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow has moved over the past two decades to restore its military footprint. Between 2000 and 2019, Russia sold $10.7 billion worth of arms to Southeast Asia countries, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data compiled in a report published by Singapore’s ISEAS — Yusof Ishak Institute. That made it the region’s largest weapons supplier by a significant marginClick here to read…

Middle East players move to detente as U.S. turns focus on China

U.S. President Joe Biden’s rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, shift of focus toward China and desire for rapprochement with regional powerhouse Iran have sparked a series of diplomatic efforts by countries in the Greater Middle East to reset relations and put aside long-standing feuds. Those political tectonic shifts began last year near the end of Republican Donald Trump’s presidency, as the U.S. brokered the “Abraham Accords” that led to the normalization of ties between Israel and both the UAE and Bahrain, the first such deal since Jordan normalized relations with Israel in 1994. The shifts accelerated under Biden, as the Democrat followed through with Trump’s earlier decision to fully withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In January, Gulf countries and Egypt ended their three-year siege against Qatar and restored ties, just two weeks before Biden took office. Even arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in talks brokered by Iraq. Ankara also aims to mend fences with regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “Current regional dynamics including the rapprochement efforts and normalizations process between several regional players are positive, but I don’t think the motives of different players behind this development are genuine,” Ali Bakir, an assistant professor at Qatar University saidClick here to read…

UAE’s top security official visits Iran to develop ‘warm ties’

The UAE’s top national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan is on a visit to Iran for high-level talks that are seen as a possible sign of thawing relations between the two countries. Sheikh Tahnoon, a brother of the country’s de facto ruler and Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed, discussed improving bilateral ties and developments in regional affairs in the capital Tehran on Dec 06. He first met his counterpart Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), before meeting Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi. According to an Iranian readout of the meeting, Shamkhani said developing “warm and friendly” ties with neighbours is Iran’s top priority in foreign policy. Shamkhani proposed that the two countries should form expert working groups that would identify potential areas of boosting economic, transit, energy, and health sector relations and possible obstacles that would need to be removed. The visit comes after Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani, visited Dubai in late November to meet several senior Emirati officials. Click here to read…

Western countries express concern over Afghan reprisals, Taliban reject accusations

The United States and a group of Western countries including Germany, France and Britain have expressed concern over reported killings and disappearances of former members of the Afghan security forces after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August. In a joint statement issued over the weekend, the 21 countries plus the European Union referred to reports of such abuses documented by Human Rights Watch and others. “We underline that the alleged actions constitute serious human rights abuses and contradict the Taliban’s announced amnesty,” said the statement, issued by the German Foreign Ministry. “Reported cases must be investigated promptly and in a transparent manner, those responsible must be held accountable, and these steps must be clearly publicized as an immediate deterrent to further killings and disappearances,” it said. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sayed Khosti rejected the accusation of reprisal killings, saying no evidence had been presented. “We have had some individual cases of killings of ex-government members, but these were due to private enmity and we’ve arrested those involved.” Human Rights Watch said in a report on Nov. 30 that Taliban forces in Afghanistan have executed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 former police and intelligence officers since taking over the country on Aug. 15, despite the proclaimed amnesty. Click here to read…

France, Europeans working to open joint mission in Afghanistan – Macron

Several European countries are working on opening up a joint diplomatic mission in Afghanistan that would enable their ambassadors to return to the country, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Dec 04. Western countries have been grappling with how to engage with the Taliban after they took over Afghanistan in a lightning advance in August as U.S.-led forces were completing their pullout. The United States and other Western countries shut their embassies and withdrew their diplomats as the Taliban seized Kabul, following which the militants declared an interim government whose top members are under U.S. and U.N. sanctions. “We are thinking of an organisation between several European countries… a common location for several Europeans, which would allow our ambassadors to be present,” Macron told reporters in Doha before heading to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.”This is a different demarche than a political recognition or political dialogue with the Taliban … we will have a representation as soon as we can open,” he said, adding that the still needed to iron out security issues. In a statement following talks with the Taliban a week ago, the European Union suggested it could open a mission soon. Click here to read…

Myanmar court sentences ousted leader Suu Kyi to 4 years

A special court in Myanmar’s capital sentenced the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to four years in prison on Dec 06 after finding her guilty of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions, a legal official said. The sentencing was the first in a series of cases in which the 76-year-old Nobel laureate is being prosecuted since the army seized power on Feb. 1, preventing her National League for Democracy party from starting a second five-year term in office. The incitement case involved statements posted on her party’s Facebook page after she and other party leaders had already been detained by the military, while the coronavirus charge involved a campaign appearance ahead of elections in November last year which her party overwhelmingly won. The army, whose allied party lost many seats in the election, claimed massive voting fraud, but independent election observers did not detect any major irregularities. The court’s ruling was conveyed by a legal official who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities. Suu Kyi’s trials are closed to the media and spectators, and her lawyers, who had been the sole source of information on the proceedings, were served with gag orders in October forbidding them from releasing information. Click here to read…

Myanmar military joining hands with Indian rebels

When separatist rebels launched a lethal ambush in India’s northeastern state of Manipur on November 13, the shadowy attack acted to bring India and Myanmar’s hot-and-cold bilateral relations to a new boil. India shares a 1,600 kilometer-long, porous border with Myanmar and the mountainous terrain makes it easy for rebel fighters to slip back and forth undetected by authorities. Ethnic Naga, Manipuri and Assamese rebels from northeastern India have for years maintained bases in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region, from where they often launch attacks on Indian forces and then fade back across the border. Those sanctuaries have long been a heated point of bilateral contention, but Myanmar’s long-held policy of benign neglect appeared to shift when the Myanmar army, known as the Tatmadaw, overran one of the rebels’ main camps in January 2019. That clearance operation, which drove Naga, Manipuri and Assamese rebels from their de facto headquarters at Taga in northern Sagaing, markedly improved India-Myanmar military relations. Now, it seems that the Tatmadaw is not only again tolerating the presence of the rebel groups in Myanmar’s border areas, but is also using them to fight anti-military People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) resistance groups that have spread across the country since the coupClick here to read…

Taiwan’s Tsai hosts Baltic lawmakers, seeking closer cooperation

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met Nov 29 with visiting lawmakers from three Baltic nations, as all sides agreed to cooperate more closely in their shared fight against authoritarianism. Tsai received the parliamentarians from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia at the Presidential Office. Taiwan currently holds no formal diplomatic relations with any of the three Baltic states. “Taiwan and the Baltic states share a common history. We all endured authoritarian rule and, in the course of fighting for our freedom, learned how precious democracy is,” Tsai said at the meeting. Tsai appeared to condemn China without mentioning the Asian power by name. “Now, as the world faces an expansion of authoritarianism and threats from disinformation, Taiwan is more than willing to share our experience in combating disinformation with our European friends,” she said. “We must cooperate to safeguard our shared values and protect our free and democratic way of life.” Tsai and the delegation, led by Lithuanian parliamentarian Matas Maldeikis, agreed to work toward stronger ties. “You managed to build your democracy while balancing … a very complicated geopolitical environment,” Maldeikis said. “We are here to express our solidarity with you.” Click here to read…

Record EU defense spending masks failure to collaborate, report says

European Union states spent nearly 200 billion euros ($225 billion) on defense in 2020, the most since records began in 2006, but joint investment by governments fell, the European Defence Agency (EDA) announced in a report on Dec 06. The EDA, an EU agency that helps the bloc’s governments to develop their military capabilities, said the total spending of EU countries except for Denmark – which opts out of EU military projects – reached $198 billion, a 5 percent increase on 2019. The defense expenditure amounted to 1.5 percent of the 26 EU states’ economic output, a welcome figure for the US-led NATO alliance, which has sought a 2 percent spending goal for its allies. Most EU members are also part of NATO but want to be able to act independently of the US when necessary. Proponents of stronger EU defense say the warnings have been many, from Britain’s departure from the bloc to former US president Donald Trump’s “America First” priorities and failing states on Europe’s frontiers. However, the EDA report noted a slump in collaborative spending despite an EU defense pact signed in late 2017 to try to pool resources and end the competition between national industries that has weakened past defense efforts. Click here to read…

Ball in Kim Jong-un’s court for ‘end of war’ declaration

President Moon Jae-in’s proposal of declaring an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War now appears to hinge on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as the U.S. and China seem to have indicated their support for such a quadrilateral declaration, which could entice Pyongyang to return to talks on its denuclearization. During a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Dec 02, Moon said, “Our administration has proposed the end-of-war declaration in order to pass on a situation, in which the U.S., South Korea and North Korea are in talks, to the next administration. Close cooperation between Seoul and Washington is more important than anything else.” In a separate meeting between Austin and his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook, also on Dec 02, the two sides shared the two countries’ ideas on the declaration, sources said, though it was not mentioned in a joint statement released after their meeting. The comment was interpreted as South Korea and the U.S. seeking to include a clause that the declaration will not affect the armistice status of the two Koreas, thus allowing the United Nations Command in South Korea and U.S. Forces Korea to remain as they are today. Click here to read…

Medical
China frets over Olympics headwinds as omicron spreads

With just two months to go until the Beijing Olympics, China is grappling with growing uncertainty over the Winter Games, including the threat of the new omicron coronavirus variant and international calls for a diplomatic boycott. At a daily briefing on Nov 30, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said omicron would “certainly bring some challenges in terms of prevention and control.” China maintains strict anti-virus travel restrictions and has said it will not allow overseas spectators at the Games. China has also faced growing criticism for its alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. In the latest flare-up of tensions, the Women’s Tennis Association on Dec 02 decided to suspend all tournaments in China out of concern for the safety of tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. China has fought back on this front, accusing the U.S. and its allies of politicizing the Olympics. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi tried to shore up support for the Olympics in a phone call with his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis on Dec 03. Switzerland is where the International Olympic Committee is basedClick here to read…

Europe Sees Boost in Uptake of Covid-19 Shots but Vaccine Mandates Are Still on the Table

Relentless pressure to raise vaccination rates in Europe is beginning to bear fruit as governments make delivering more Covid-19 shots the core of their strategies to slow rising infections, but pockets of resistance to the shots mean some countries are leaning toward general vaccine mandates. So far, Europe’s vaccine campaign is mainly stick and no carrot. For the past few weeks, authorities have introduced new restrictions, barring the unvaccinated from most nonessential aspects of public life and forcing them to take frequent, sometimes expensive, Covid-19 tests to carry out more activities, including going to work. In most cases, vaccination numbers have risen, though the increase can also be credited to vaccinated people getting booster shots, access to which has been eased almost everywhere. About 67% of Europeans now are fully vaccinated. Despite such progress, resistance from determined opponents of vaccines and concern about the recently discovered and potentially highly infectious Omicron variant of the virus are prompting more governments to consider making Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for all. In Germany, parliament will debate a general vaccine mandate in the coming weeks. The country had mandatory smallpox vaccination until the 1980s and recently reintroduced mandatory vaccination for measles. Click here to read…

COVID-19 disruptions caused surge in malaria deaths: WHO

Pandemic-related disruptions caused tens of thousands more malaria deaths in 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Dec 6 but added that urgent action had averted a far worse scenario. In a fresh report, the UN health agency found that COVID-19 had reversed progress against the mosquito-borne disease, which was already plateauing before the pandemic struck. There were an estimated 241 million malaria cases worldwide in 2020 – 14 million more than a year earlier – and the once rapidly falling death toll swelled to 627,000 last year, jumping 69,000 from 2019. Approximately two-thirds of those additional deaths were linked to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic, the WHO said. But it stressed that the situation “could have been far worse”. The UN agency pointed to its projection early in the pandemic that the service disruptions could cause malaria deaths to double in 2020. “Thanks to the hard work of public health agencies in malaria-affected countries, the worst projections of COVID’s impact have not come to pass,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. Click here to read…

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 11 October- 17 October

Economic

China’s Xi calls for progress on property tax in drive for prosperity

In an essay in the ruling Communist Party journal Qiushi, published by the official Xinhua news agency on Oct 15, Xi called for China to “vigorously and steadily advance” legislation for a property tax. China has mulled such a tax for over a decade but faced resistance from stakeholders including local governments themselves, who fear it would erode property values or trigger a market sell-off. Such a tax could curb rampant speculation in the housing market, which is currently under intense global scrutiny as developer China Evergrande Group struggles with a debt crisis. Xi also warned against government over-promising on social welfare amid a push to achieve what he called “common prosperity” by mid-century.”Common prosperity” is a broad policy drive to narrow the gap between rich and poor. It has involved a wave of regulatory crackdowns on excesses in industries including technology and private tuition. The gap between people’s income and consumption should be narrowed to a “reasonable range” by mid-century, Xi said. But Xi also said that the government should not make promises it could not deliver on and avoid the “trap” of “welfarism” and helping the lazy. “The government cannot take care of everything,” he said. Click here to read…

China’s Li Keqiang acknowledges slowing economic growth, but says Beijing has the ‘tools’ to cope with headwinds

China has “adequate tools” to tackle the economic challenges facing the country, including the nation’s current power crisis and high commodity prices, Premier Li Keqiang said on Oct 14. Though economic growth has slowed in the third quarter due to a number of factors, the government was confident China could meet its growth target of “above 6 per cent” for 2021, Li said at the opening of the Canton Fair in the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou. “We have adequate tools in our toolbox to cope with such challenges, including the energy and electricity supply strains,” he said, adding policymakers would also strive to keep inflation in check. China would promote innovation in cross-border e-commerce and logistics and boost international cooperation in trade digitisation, including by building a number of related enterprises in the Greater Bay Area. The provincial secretary for Guangdong read out a letter from President Xi Jinping in which he said China is willing to join hands with the rest of the world to uphold true multilateralism and build an open international economy. Before Covid-19, the 2019 spring session of the trade expo attracted 195,454 foreign buyers from 213 countries and regions across the world. The top five sources of buyers were from Hong Kong, India, the United States, South Korea and Thailand. Click here to read…

Kishida launches flagship panel to look into wealth redistribution

Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida launched a flagship council on Oct 15 to work out a strategy to tackle wealth disparities and redistribute wealth to households, in what he describes as a “new form of capitalism.” The move is a crucial part of Kishida’s economic policy that combines the pro-growth policies of former premier Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” stimulus measures and efforts to more directly shift wealth from companies to households. It also came in the wake of Kishida’s decision on Oct 14 to dissolve parliament and set the stage for an election where fixing the pandemic-hit economy will be the focus. “In order to achieve strong economic growth, it’s not enough to rely just on market competition. That won’t deliver the fruits of growth to the broader population,” Kishida told a news conference on Thursday, calling for the need for stronger government-driven steps to distribute more wealth to households. The panel will hold its first meeting later this month and aim to come up with interim proposals by year-end so they can be reflected in tax reform discussions for next fiscal year, Economy Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa told reporters on Oct 15. Click here to read…

Gas Crisis Prompts Fresh Proposals From EU

The European Union is considering new measures, including joint purchases of gas to build up the bloc’s strategic reserves, to help alleviate future energy crises like one the continent now faces. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, laid out various actions on Oct 13 that could be taken at EU or national level to prevent energy price shocks. The measures include emergency income support for families who can’t afford their energy needs, tax and levy cuts, industry-wide support for companies and efforts to work with international partners on gas supplies to ease price pressures. EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said the bloc was tightening its surveillance work alongside member states to clamp down on any possible gas market “manipulation or speculation”. The Commission is also tabling ideas for steps the EU might implement in the coming months to help cushion future supply shocks. Ms. Simson said the EU would also look at voluntary joint procurement of gas to build up storage reserves, which currently cover around 20% of the EU’s annual demand. She ruled out for now setting minimum storage requirements for gas—as there currently are for oil reserves. Click here to read…

Inflation Surges Worldwide as Covid-19 Lockdowns End and Supply Chains Can’t Cope

Rising inflation is triggering anxiety around the world as a surge in demand following the easing of Covid-19 lockdowns has been confronted by supply bottlenecks and rising prices of energy and raw materials. The sharpest consumer-price increases in years in many countries have evoked different responses from central banks. More than a dozen have raised interest rates but two that haven’t are those that loom largest over the global economy: the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. Their differing responses reflect differences in views about whether the pickup in prices will feed further cycles of inflation or will instead peter out. Which view is right will do much to shape the trajectory of the global economy over the next few years. The large central banks are relying on households showing faith in their track records of keeping inflation low, and the expectation that there are enough under-utilized workers available to keep wage rises in check. Other monetary authorities aren’t sure that they have yet earned that kind of credibility as inflation. In poorer countries, a larger share of spending usually also goes to essentials such as food and energy that have seen the largest price rises, so policy makers are quicker to tamp down on inflation. Click here to read…

G-20 pledges help for Afghan humanitarian crisis at special summit

The Group of 20 major economies is determined to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, even if it means having to coordinate efforts with the Taliban, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Oct 12 after hosting an emergency summit. U.S. President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many European leaders took part, but Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not dial in, suggesting differing international positions on the emergency. Draghi said the absence of the latter two leaders did not undercut the importance of the meeting organized by Italy, the current G-20 chair. “This was the first multilateral response to the Afghan crisis … multilateralism is coming back, with difficulty, but it is coming back,” Draghi said. There was unanimous agreement among the participants about the need to alleviate the crisis in Afghanistan, where banks are running out of money, civil servants have not been paid and food prices have soared, leaving millions at risk of severe hunger. Much of the aid effort will be channelled through the United Nations, but there will also be direct country-to-country assistance, despite a refusal by most states to officially recognize the hard-line Taliban government. Click here to read…

G7 finance officials say CBDCs should support, ‘do no harm’ to monetary and financial stability

G7 finance officials on Oct 13 endorsed 13 public policy principles for retail central bank digital currencies, saying they should be grounded in transparency, the rule of law and sound economic governance, the US Treasury Department said. “Innovation in digital money and payments has the potential to bring significant benefits but also raises considerable public policy and regulatory issues,” Group of 7 (G7) finance ministers and central bankers said in a joint statement. “Strong international coordination and cooperation on these issues helps to ensure that public and private sector innovation will deliver domestic and cross-border benefits while being safe for users and the wider financial system.” The finance officials met in person, with some joining by video, in Washington on Oct 13 during the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank under the leadership of British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak. Any CBDC must support, and ‘do no harm’ to, the ability of central banks to fulfil their mandates for monetary and financial stability. In their joint statement, the G7 officials said central bank money in the form of central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs, would complement cash and could act as a liquid, safe settlement asset and an anchor for the payments system. Click here to read…

‘Made in China’ chip drive falls far short of 70% self-sufficiency

The Chinese government’s goal of meeting 70% of its semiconductor needs through domestic supply remains a long way off, private-sector research shows, with an estimated self-sufficiency rate of 16% last year despite an all-out government push to boost production. The government has laid out a slew of measures to achieve one of President Xi Jinping’s policy priorities, including stepping up investment by state-backed funds focused specifically on the industry. The largest of these is the China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, dubbed the “Big Fund,” set up in the fall of 2014 and tasked with supporting Made in China 2025. The Big Fund has boosted the profile of NAND flash-memory maker Yangtze Memory Technologies. It has also invested heavily in material and equipment supply chains for Semiconductor Manufacturing International, or SMIC, helping to grow the company into a leading Chinese chip foundry. The government also rolled out tax and other incentives for chipmakers last year. Yet China sourced only 16% of its semiconductors domestically last year, data from market research firm IC Insights shows. The figure is even lower, at 6%, after excluding foreign companies with facilities in China, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix. Click here to read…

Indonesia turns to state coffers as China-led rail project’s costs soar

When Indonesia awarded the contract for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway to a Chinese consortium six years ago, the project was supposed to be completed by 2018 with no financial contributions or guarantees required from the Indonesian government. But with construction years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo issued a decree Sept. 6 that lets the government put state funds into the project — negating one of the biggest perks that had led Indonesia to choose the Chinese proposal over a Japanese alternative. Much of the rail link’s woes stem from poor initial planning, which failed to identify all the ways the project could go wrong. Indonesia originally expected construction to cost $5.5 billion but had increased its projection to $6.07 billion as of January, five years since the project broke ground. A more recent review by Kereta Cepat Indonesia China, a joint venture among Indonesian state-owned enterprises, Chinese rail companies and the operator of the project, pegged the cost at no less than $7.97 billion. Before China secured the project, Japan had proposed building a shinkansen-style rail link from Jakarta to Bandung costing $5.29 billion at current rates, via 40-year official development assistance (ODA) loans. Click here to read…

Japan needs secret patents to guard national security: LDP’s Amari

Japan needs a way to keep patents with national security implications from being made public, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s new secretary-general told Nikkei on Oct 12, bringing intellectual property into Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s economic security push. This should be included in economic security legislation set to be submitted to parliament in 2022, Akira Amari said, warning that current law could “become an obstacle to securing a technological advantage.” While patent filings in Japan are generally made public after 18 months, other countries can block the release of applications involving technology with potential military uses, to keep them out of the hands of foreign countries or terrorist groups. In certain cases, the authorities provide compensation for forgone revenue from licensing, for example. Amari also advocated replacing nuclear power facilities nearing the end of their 40-year life span with small modular reactors, which are reputed to be safer and to take less time to build. The latest draft of the government’s basic energy plan calls for nuclear to be 20% to 22% of the power generation mix in fiscal 2030 but provides no details on the number of facilities needed for that goal. Click here to read…

Nuclear hawks under Kishida threaten Suga’s renewables push

Pro-nuclear lawmakers now hold key positions under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, sparking concern that he will stray from the prior administration’s focus on renewables to help achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. New ministers in charge of Japan’s efforts to fight climate change and energy issues under the Kishida administration have vowed to stick with the net zero targets. In October 2020, then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to achieve the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 amid fanfare. He upped the ante in April by announcing that Japan would aim for a 46-percent reduction by 2030 from fiscal 2013 levels in the run-up to a session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Japan had previously targeted a 26-percent reduction. The Suga administration also spelled out the principle of prioritizing renewables such as solar and wind power over all other energy sources in government programs. The new Basic Energy Plan drafted by the Suga administration made no mention of nuclear power-related projects despite pressure from pro-nuclear lawmakers within the LDP and the nuclear industry. LDP lawmakers who support nuclear energy are unhappy about the Basic Energy Plan, which said Japan will “reduce its dependence on nuclear energy as much as possible.” Click here to read…

Strategic

US accuses China of deviating from ‘minimal nuclear deterrence’ strategy

China is deviating from its minimal nuclear deterrence strategy, the US State Department charged on Oct 18, after a report that Beijing had recently tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile. “We are deeply concerned about the rapid expansion of the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China’s] nuclear capabilities, including its development of novel delivery systems,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing about a Financial Times report on Oct 16 that China had launched a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August. Denying the FT report earlier on Oct 18, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman called the launch “a routine test of a space vehicle to verify the technology of their reusability” and said that the launched object “was not a missile” with a military purpose. Price declined to comment on what information the US government had concerning the test but appeared to dismiss any attempts to play down its significance. He cited a US count of “at least” 250 ballistic missile launches by China in the nine months through September. “This is especially concerning … given the PRC’s lack of transparency into its evolving nuclear posture. Click here to read…

Time for a harder defence line on China’s borders amid ‘challenges on almost every side’

China faces increasingly serious challenges at its land and sea borders on almost every side and must urgently reinforce its defences in these regions, according to a Chinese military researcher. The assessment from Ouyang Wei, a retired professor with the PLA National Defence University, comes as the US steps up its military presence in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, and uncertainties grow on China’s land borders with India, Afghanistan, Myanmar and North Korea. In a report published by Beijing-based think tank the Grandview Institution, Ouyang said the country was facing encroachment, secession and terrorism in some border areas. “The struggle to safeguard national unity and territorial integrity, to fight against secession and terrorism in border areas, tends to be a long game, and will be even more so now with a new period of instability in the Taiwan Strait,” he said. Ouyang said that to address the challenges, China could upgrade defence infrastructure along the coast, including its air defence identification systems and underwater warning facilities. Click here to read…

Israel claims ‘right’ to strike Iran ‘at any moment’ to prevent it from obtaining nukes, FM Lapid says after meeting with Blinken

Israel reserves the right to attack Iran at any time of its choosing, under the pretext of stopping it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, Tel Aviv’s FM Yair Lapid said after meeting with his American and Emirati counterparts. Addressing reporters after a sit-down with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed in Washington on Oct 13, Lapid insisted that Tehran must not be allowed to obtain the bomb, saying the issue was at the “center” of his visit. Though Iran has long maintained it has no interest in developing nukes, Lapid vowed that Israel would stop its supposed “race to the bomb” by any means necessary. “Israel reserves the right to act at any given moment and in any way. That is not only our right, but also our responsibility,” he said. “Iran has publicly stated it wants to wipe us out. We have no intention of letting this happen.” While the FM also spoke of improved ties with Arab neighbours through a series of normalization deals struck last year and noted that Israel had “turned the cold peace with Egypt and Jordan into a warm peace,” much of his prepared remarks focused on Iran. Click here to read…

Israel greenlights deal to double freshwater supply to Jordan in major new sales agreement between the two states

Israel’s minister of infrastructure, energy and water, Karine Elharrar has announced that Tel Aviv has formally signed off on a deal to double its freshwater supply to Jordan, in a bid to bolster “good neighbourly relations.” The deal comes months after Israel announced plans to sell 50 million cubic meters of water to Jordan, as part of renewed efforts to build cooperation between the neighbouring states by addressing a major area of disagreement which has persisted since the 1994 peace deal. Having travelled to Jordan for a signing ceremony, Elharrar said in a tweet that the deal was “an unequivocal statement” that Tel Aviv wants to secure “good neighbourly relations” with Amman. Landlocked Jordan, much of whose lands are desert, is believed to be the second-most water-insecure country in the world, according to the US-based think tank Century Foundation. The country has relied on water-supply cooperation with Israel and its antecedents dating back over a hundred years. Under the 1994 peace deal agreed between them, Israel agreed to sell Jordan 45 million cubic meters of water a year at a reduced price, with more available at 65 cents per cubic meter for one year, and then at a higher price again for a further two years. Click here to read…

Iran, Venezuela to sign 20-year cooperation accord

Iran will sign a 20-year cooperation accord with Venezuela when President Nicolas Maduro visits Tehran “in the next few months”. In a joint press conference with his Venezuelan counterpart Felix Plasencia in Tehran on Oct 18, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian announced the news and added that a joint economic cooperation commission, which will be formed in Iran’s capital before the end of the year which, will finalise the details of the agreement.“All of this confirms that relations between the two countries are on the rise,” Amirabdollahian said, adding that some of the agreements made earlier on cooperation on a wide range of issues, including energy, are currently being implemented. Plasencia’s visit to Iran came shortly after Reuters news agency reported on Oct 16 that an Iran-flagged super tanker, carrying two million barrels of heavy crude provided by the Venezuelan state-run oil firm, was about to set sail for Iran. The vessel had reportedly arrived in Venezuela last month carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian condensate. Click here to read…

Syrian government, opposition to start drafting constitution

The Syrian government and opposition groups have agreed to start drafting new constitutional provisions during renewed United Nations-mandated negotiations in Geneva this week. “The two co-chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting the constitutional reform,” UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen said at a brief news conference on Oct 17. The drafting committee is comprised of 45 members from the Syrian government, opposition, and civil society. They have not met since last January. “We concluded that we were not making sufficient progress, and that we could not continue the way we have been working,” Pedersen said. “Since then, close to nine months, I’ve been negotiating between the parties, trying to establish a consensus on how we are going to move forward.”In January 2018 at the Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in Sochi, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution until September 2019, equally represented by the Syrian government, political opposition, and civil society. A smaller committee of 45 individuals of that same proportion is tasked with negotiating and drafting the new constitutional provisions. Click here to read…

Analysis: How Judge Bitar’s probe shook Lebanon leaders

When the Lebanese government announced more than a year ago that the probe into the devastating explosion in Beirut’s port would be conducted domestically, few expected that senior officials would be charged. But even fewer expected that the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, could rattle the country’s entrenched leadership, which for decades has reigned with impunity and routinely quashed legal investigations that may hold it accountable. More than 200 people were killed and some 6,500 wounded when hundreds of tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate fertiliser stored in the port for years ignited on August 4, 2020. The explosion wrecked large parts of Beirut and continues to haunt Lebanon, as the country struggles with an economic meltdown that plunged three-quarters of its population into poverty. No officials have been convicted yet. Bitar’s persistence to pursue senior political and security officials, despite their attempts to de-legitimise and remove him, has put the country on notice. On Oct 14, a protest in Beirut by Hezbollah and Amal supporters calling for Bitar’s removal turned into a bloodbath when unidentified snipers fired at the crowd from rooftops, triggering a gun battle that last for more than four hours. Seven civilians and combatants died. Click here to read…

Saudi Arabia ‘at the top’ of China’s Middle Eastern diplomacy

Relations with Saudi Arabia are at the top of China’s Middle Eastern diplomacy efforts, the Chinese foreign minister told his Saudi Arabian counterpart in a call on Oct 17. Wang Yi said China had always given priority to its relations with Saudi Arabia and was willing to be a long-term and reliable partner, according to a readout issued by the Chinese foreign ministry soon after his conversation with Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. Wang said China was ready to work with Saudi Arabia to deepen connections between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030”. He added that China would continue to play a constructive role in promoting the resumption of negotiations on the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. “China has always maintained an objective and fair position on the Iran nuclear issue and committed itself to maintaining the international nuclear non-proliferation system and safeguarding the security and stability of the Gulf region in the Middle East, without any self-interest or geopolitical considerations.”At a meeting in Tashkent in July, Wang told his Saudi Arabian counterpart that China opposed external forces pointing fingers at Saudi Arabia under the banner of human rights and democracy. Click here to read…

Russia suspends NATO mission after staff expelled

Russia will suspend the activities of its diplomatic mission to NATO and close the alliance’s offices in Moscow in response to its expulsion of eight Russians in a row over spying. The moves, announced on Oct 18 by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, are set to plunge relations between Moscow and the transatlantic security body to new depths when they take effect at the start of next month. Lavrov also announced that NATO’s military liaison and information offices in Moscow would be closed, saying accreditations would be recalled at the beginning of November. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile said the expulsions were not linked to a particular event but claimed the eight individuals’ activities were not in line with their accreditations. He said NATO needed to be vigilant in the face of “malign” Russian activity and described relations with Moscow as at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Stoltenberg cited Russia’s military build-up along Ukraine’s border and what he said were violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as evidence of “aggressive actions”. However, the council has been largely non-functioning since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Click here to read…

U.S. calls Cambodia opaque over Chinese activity at navy base

The United States on Oct 13 accused Cambodia of lacking transparency about Chinese construction activities at its biggest naval base and urged the government to disclose to its people the full scope of Beijing’s military involvement. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Oct 13 made public what it said were satellite images showing construction in August and September of three new buildings and the start of a new road. U.S. embassy spokesperson Chad Roedemeier in a statement said that any foreign military presence at Ream would violate Cambodia’s constitution and undermine regional security. “The Cambodian people deserve to know more about the project at Ream and to have a say in this type of military agreement, which has long term implications for their country.”Cambodia’s ties with the United States have frayed in recent years over U.S. allegations its ruling party is persecuting its opponents, and concerns about China’s growing influence. A year ago, Cambodia said it had razed a U.S.-funded facility at the Ream naval base to allow for further expansion. The United States said Cambodia had a year earlier turned down its offer to repair the base. Click here to read…

China’s top leaders set date for key meeting next month

The Politburo on Oct 18 decided to hold the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee from November 8 to 11, state news agency Xinhua reported. It said the leadership had sought feedback on the resolution on the party’s “major achievements and historical experience” and it would be reviewed during the plenum. The leaders concluded that while much progress had been made over the past 100 years since the party was founded, it must stay vigilant to achieve the goal of “national rejuvenation” by the middle of this century, according to the report, which called it an “irreversible process”. The November meeting will be important for President Xi Jinping to reinforce the official narrative of the party’s rule and his leadership status ahead of next year’s twice-a-decade national congress, when a major reshuffle is expected. According to observers, the resolution will become an important political document that could chart the direction of China’s ruling party for the next few decades – it has previously adopted just two similar resolutions, both at critical junctures in its history. Click here to read…

Analysis: The man who knew too much of Xi’s power plays is out

On Oct. 2, a major heavyweight with direct knowledge of President Xi Jinping’s long power struggle abruptly fell from grace. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Chinese Communist Party’s top anti-graft body, announced that former Justice Minister Fu Zhenghua has been placed under investigation on suspicion of “serious disciplinary violations.” Fu, 66, is an incumbent member of the party’s elite Central Committee. The crackdown on an influential figure who has overseen the judiciary and police has sent immeasurable shock waves through China’s political world. Fu was behind the investigations that put countless people behind bars. Now that Fu himself has been placed under investigation, doubts could also arise about the legitimacy of his past investigations. It is a momentous development. “My impression was that he was a technocrat who started with case investigations and rose through the ranks,” said one party source. “But this is a case of a man who knew too much. He was forced to leave, in quite a ruthless manner. Now, anything could happen.” One example of Fu’s work was the investigation into Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the party’s top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee. Click here to read…

U.S. carrier hosts 12 senior Indian officers at Malabar ‘Quad’ drill

Members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — the U.S., Japan, Australia and India — wrapped up joint defence drills in the Indian Ocean on Oct 14, further strengthening their security partnership amid China’s growing military clout in the region. The second phase of the annual Malabar exercise, which included all four Quad members for the second straight year, had begun Oct 11, according to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. On the final day, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, the U.S. Navy’s top commander, hosted 12 senior Indian Navy officers aboard the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier. Those visiting included Indian Chief of Naval Staff Adm. Karambir Singh and Vice Adm. A.B. Singh, commander in chief of the Eastern Naval Command. “This visit to Carl Vinson during Malabar was an important opportunity to see firsthand the integration between our two navies at-sea,” Gilday said in a U.S. Navy news release. “By our navies continuing to exercise together, as we are doing right now alongside Japanese and Australian naval forces, there is no doubt our partnership will only continue to grow. Cooperation, when applied with naval power, promotes freedom and peace, and prevents coercion, intimidation and aggression,” he said. Click here to read…

Kishida includes Quad, China in first calls; South Korea on hold

The Quad security alliance took center stage in new Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s first phone calls with foreign leaders, leaving South Korea in the cold. Kishida spoke first with U.S. President Joe Biden, followed by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, both on Oct. 5. He talked with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Oct 08 before participating later that day in a teleconference with all three of them, bringing together the leaders of the Quad nations. Biden is the first leader Kishida would like to meet face to face, the prime minister said on a TV Tokyo program Oct 11. Kishida also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct 07 and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Oct 08. The Xi call occurred prior to the conversation with Modi, avoiding the appearance of Kishida consulting with the entire Quad before speaking to the Chinese leader. But the Japanese prime minister has yet to call South Korean President Moon Jae-in, underscoring the deep deterioration in relations between the two countries. Kishida will speak with leaders of more than 10 countries over roughly a month. Click here to read…

Countries call for urgent action on biodiversity with ‘Kunming Declaration’

More than 100 countries pledged on Oct 13 to put the protection of habitats at the heart of their government decision-making, but they stopped short of committing to specific targets to curb mass extinctions. Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu told delegates to a U.N. Biodiversity Conference in the city of Kunming that the declaration they adopted was a document of political will not a binding international agreement. The Kunming Declaration calls for “urgent and integrated action” to reflect biodiversity considerations in all sectors of the global economy but crucial issues – like funding conservation in poorer countries and committing to biodiversity-friendly supply chains – have been left to discuss later. With plant and animal species loss now at the fastest rate in 10 million years, politicians, scientists and experts have been trying to lay the groundwork for a new pact on saving biodiversity. In a previous agreement signed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010, governments agreed on 20 targets to try to slow biodiversity loss and protect habitats by 2020, but none of those targets was met. At the heart of efforts to save nature is a call by the United Nations for countries to protect and conserve 30% of their territory by 2030 – a target known as ’30 by 30,’ which the conference acknowledged though it was not clear to what extent host China backed it. Click here to read…

Kishida says Fukushima wastewater release can’t be delayed

Japan’s new prime minister on Oct 17 said the planned mass disposal of wastewater stored at the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant cannot be delayed, despite concerns from local residents. Speaking at his first visit to the facility since taking office, Fumio Kishida said his government would work to reassure residents nearby the plant about the technical safety of the wastewater disposal project. “I felt strongly that the water issue is a crucial one that should not be pushed back,” Kishida told reporters after the tour. The government and TEPCO announced plans in April to start releasing the water into the Pacific Ocean in the spring of 2023 over the span of decades. The plan has been fiercely opposed by fishermen, residents and Japan’s neighbours, including China and South Korea. Contaminated cooling water has continued to leak from the damaged reactors since the disaster. The water has been pumped up from basements and stored in about 1,000 tanks which the operator says will reach their capacity late next year. Japanese officials say disposal of the water is indispensable for the plant cleanup, and that its release into the ocean is the most realistic option. Click here to read…

ASEAN downgrades Myanmar presence in summit in major rebuke

Southeast Asian foreign ministers have agreed to downgrade Myanmar’s participation in an upcoming summit in their sharpest rebuke yet of its leaders following a Feb. 1 military takeover. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations will invite a non-political representative instead of Myanmar’s military leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the grouping’s chair Brunei said Oct 16. ASEAN foreign ministers held an emergency meeting late Oct 15 after Myanmar refused to cooperate with the bloc’s crisis envoy, Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof. He was appointed in August to mediate in the crisis but abruptly cancelled a trip to Myanmar this week after he was told he would not be able to meet with Suu Kyi and others as he wanted. Myanmar contended Erywan could not meet with people facing legal proceedings such as Suu Kyi and deposed President Win Myint or with entities that have been declared illegal, Brunei said in a statement. The statement from the ASEAN ministers said they were concerned about the impact of the Myanmar crisis on regional security and about the “unity, credibility and centrality of ASEAN as a rules-based organization.” Click here to read…

Air strikes target capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray; 3 civilians dead

Ethiopian military air strikes hit the capital of the Tigray region and killed at least three people, witnesses said on Oct 18, returning the war abruptly to Mekelle after several months of peace. Ethiopia’s government, however, dismissed the reports.The raids, confirmed by two humanitarian workers, came days after a new military offensive was launched against the Tigray forces who have fought Ethiopian and allied forces for nearly a year. Kindeya Gebrehiwot, a spokesman for the Tigray authorities who lives in Mekelle, told The Associated Press a market was bombed on a busy shopping day and many people were wounded. Another resident, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said the first air strike occurred just outside the city and three children from the same family were killed. The resident said at least seven people were wounded in the second attack, which also badly damaged a hotel. Mekelle has not seen fighting since late June, when the Tigray forces retook much of the region and Ethiopian troops withdrew. Since then, Ethiopia’s federal government has called all able citizens to crush the Tigray fighters who dominated the national government for 27 years before being sidelined by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Click here to read…

Nigeria’s Gangs Raised Millions by Kidnapping Children. Now the Government Can’t Stop Them

In the forests of northwest Nigeria, loosely organized criminal gangs that raised funds kidnapping schoolchildren are now flush with arms and operating beyond the reach of an increasingly fragile state. In some instances, government officials in Africa’s most populous nation have been paying the gangs to return stolen weapons and kidnapped personnel, according to confidential documents and interviews with senior military officials, soldiers and independent mediators, and one of the gang leaders. Nigeria’s government—still battling Islamic State militants in the northeast—refers to the lesser-known criminal groups in its northwest as “bandits.” But soldiers, intelligence officers and mediators who have visited their camps describe a surfeit of munitions. “Criminal factions appear to be better equipped with larger-capacity advanced weaponry than national security agencies,” said a confidential internal report presented to the president in July. Nigeria’s Air Force said in a statement that allegations it had made payments to armed bandits were “fake news.” Several senior security officials described mass kidnapping for ransom as Nigeria’s primary new security crisis. Click here to read…

Medical

G20 officials back fairer vaccine distribution

G20 trade ministers on Oct 12 promised to work towards a fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by lifting export restrictions and making the trade system more transparent. Their final statement, adopted after a meeting in southern Italy, was a sign of the return of multilateralism, said Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio.”We have to ensure that there is greater circulation of vaccines and that there are production factories in the developing countries,” French trade minister Franck Riester said. While more than 6 billion vaccine doses have been produced and administered worldwide, only 1.4 percent of people in poor countries have been fully vaccinated, compared to 58 percent in rich countries, World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said earlier in October. Ahead of the WTO’s ministerial conference set for November 30 to December 3 in Geneva, she called on members to agree on a strong response to the pandemic based on a fairer sharing of the vaccines. Riester said another issue was getting vaccine-makers to waive intellectual property rights to allow production around the world. Click here to read…

EU becomes largest Covid vaccine exporter, shipping ‘over one billion’ doses worldwide

Having shipped at least a billion jabs since the global rollout began in December 2020, the bloc has been the biggest exporter of Covid vaccines, European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen has announced. Delivering a statement on Oct 18, von der Leyen outlined the scale of the EU’s Covid vaccine distribution scheme. It has so far shipped doses to more than 150 countries. “Very clearly, the European Union is the largest exporter of Covid-19 vaccines,” she stated, marking the bloc’s “important milestone” of having delivered “over one billion” doses in the past 10 months. The EU has been working to send Covid vaccines around the globe since December 2020, primarily to larger nations, but also to smaller, poorer ones that are vulnerable to the virus. The milestone has been passed despite the EU having introduced a mechanism that monitors and potentially limits vaccine exports, with the measure being extended from an initial September deadline to the end of 2021. According to the EC, the EU is currently sending at least every second dose produced in the EU abroad. Last month, the bloc agreed to send a further 200 million doses to Africa and to low-income countries. Click here to read…