Tag Archives: Russia

China: Daily Scan, January 19, 2022

Xi stresses further promoting full, strict Party governance: Xinhunaet

January 18, 2022

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, on Tuesday stressed rigorous and unswerving efforts in further promoting full and strict Party governance. Xi, also Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks while addressing the sixth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Commission for Discipline InspectionClick here to read…

Xi stresses full, strict Party governance, vows zero tolerance on corruption: Xinhunaet
January 18, 2022

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, on Tuesday stressed rigorous and unswerving efforts in further promoting full and strict Party governance. Xi, also Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, vowed to maintain a zero-tolerance stance on corruption while addressing the sixth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). Click here to read…

China pledges to further support employment of people emerging from poverty: Xinhuanet
January 18, 2022

In an effort to consolidate its poverty elimination achievements, China will strive to ensure that at least 30 million people who have been lifted out of poverty are employed this year, a senior official said on Tuesday. In 2021, some 31.45 million people lifted out of poverty found jobs, Liu Huanxin, deputy chief of the Office of the Central Rural Work Leading Group and head of the National Rural Revitalization Administration, told a video conference. Click here to read…

China urges U.S. to compensate victims of secret experiments: Xinhuanet
January 18, 2022

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Tuesday urged the United States to offer apologies and compensation to victims of secret experiments. Spokesperson Zhao Lijian made the remarks at a daily press briefing when asked to comment on a Danish Radio documentary which exposed the secret human body experiments practiced on 311 Danish children in the 1960s, allegedly funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Click here to read…

China unveils plan to improve transportation networks by 2025: Xinhuanet
January 18, 2022

China has unveiled a plan outlining major targets for transportation network development in the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025). High-speed railways will stretch to a total length of 50,000 kilometers in 2025, up from 38,000 kilometers in 2020, and 250-km ones are expected to cover 95 percent of cities with populations above 500,000, per the document released by the State Council. Click here to read…

China’s ex-senior provincial political advisor prosecuted: Xinhuanet
January 18, 2022

A public prosecution has been initiated against Xiao Yi, a former senior political advisor in east China’s Jiangxi Province, over suspected bribe-taking and abuse of power. The Hangzhou Municipal People’s Procuratorate in Zhejiang Province recently filed a lawsuit with the Intermediate People’s Court of Hangzhou, an official statement said Tuesday. Click here to read…

Former official feels ‘liberated’ behind bars: China Daily
January 19, 2022

One-time Beijing vice-mayor yielded to enticement of corruption and bribery. To fulfill a dream, Chen Gang, a former member of the Leading Party Members Group of the China Association for Science and Technology, asked real estate developers to build a private garden for him in Huairou, Beijing, from 2002 to 2014. Click here to read…

PLA Xinjiang Military Command gets new air defense missiles, artillery, rocket launch systems: Global Times
January 18, 2022

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Xinjiang Military Command recently commissioned a large batch of advanced air defense missiles, artillery and multiple rocket launch systems, which analysts said on Tuesday are expected to enhance the troops’ emergency response capabilities under complicated situations. Click here to read…

China, Russia, Iran to hold joint maritime exercise: Global Times
January 19, 2022

China, Russia and Iran will hold a maritime joint exercise, media reported on Tuesday, citing the Russian navy’s Pacific Fleet, without releasing a specific time for the drill. It is not the first time for the three countries to hold similar joint exercises. In 2019, the Chinese Navy, together with its Russian and Iranian counterparts, conducted a four-day military drill on the Gulf of Oman to deepen cooperation between the navies of the three countries. The drill also conveys a goodwill gesture and exhibits China’s ability to maintain world peace and maritime security, according to Chinese military officials. Click here to read…

Africa Now – Weekly Newsletter (Week 2, 2022)

Welcome to Africa Now, your weekly newsletter for Africa, presenting the most important developments in the continent – news that matters.

COMMENTARY

Africa: Looking Back at 2021 and Likely Trends in 2022

For the second year in a row, countries across the world battled to cope with the negative economic impacts of covid. Though African continent handled the initial impacts of Covid-19 relatively well, in 2021 it suffered immensely from Covid-19 outbreaks and the resulting lockdowns. While governments across the continent took several measures including complete economic lockdown to stop the spread of the mutating virus, people struggled to come up with the devastating loss of life and livelihoods.Click here to read…

NEWS

Russian Troops Deploy to Timbuktu in Mali After French Withdrawal

Russian soldiers have deployed to Timbuktu in northern Mali to train Malian forces at a base vacated by French troops last month, Mali’s army spokesperson said Thursday. Click here to read…

China plans peace envoy for conflict-riven Horn of Africa

China said on Thursday it would appoint a special envoy to foster peace in the turbulent Horn of Africa and wanted to shift focus on the continent to trade over infrastructure. Click here to read…

Morocco and China agree to implement the Belt and Road initiative

Morocco and China have enhanced their cooperation as they signed on Wednesday the joint Belt and Road implementation plan. Click here to read…

Why Equatorial Guinea May Host China’s First Atlantic Naval Base

Since mid-2021, U.S. defence officials have warned that China is considering whether to build a naval base in the Central African nation of Equatorial Guinea. If built, it would be China’s second such facility in Africa and its first in the Atlantic. Click here to read…

Chinese, Comorian FMs hold talks over bilateral relations

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday met with Comorian Foreign Minister Dhoihir Dhoulkamal in Moroni, capital of the Comoros.
Click here to read…

Wang Yi’s Kenya trip shows importance of bilateral ties, offsets US’ ’empty checks’ and ‘politicized schemes’

Concluding a visit to Eritrea, where Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi signed a joint statement on opposing hegemonic interference, Wang’s new year trip moved on to Kenya. Click here to read…

Fire burns South Africa’s Parliament building in Cape Town

Firefighters battled a blaze at South Africa’s national Parliament complex on Sunday that sent a dark plume of smoke and flames into the air above the center of Cape Town. Click here to read…

Ethiopia releases several political prisoners

Ethiopia released several political prisoners on January 7 in a bid to jumpstart a “national dialogue” amid a gruelling civil war. The unexpected move to release political prisoners, including some from Tigray, the region whose forces are at odds with the federal government in Ethiopia, comes amid a pause in the conflict. Click here to read…

What next for Sudan after PM Hamdok’s resignation?

Amid mounting unrest, analysts expect ruling military to co-opt new civilian figure to avoid missing out on crucial foreign aid.’ Click here to read…

Three Chinese nationals abducted in Nigeria, police say

Police in Nigeria said gunmen abducted three Chinese nationals working in the country’s north central region, the latest incident in a cycle of violence in Africa’s most populous nation. Click here to read…

Morocco has advanced weaponry, so Algeria wants a Chinese defence system

The Algerian army has bought a sophisticated Chinese electronic warfare system because Morocco has obtained advanced weapons systems from Turkey and other sources. The Chinese system is capable of blocking enemy communications and detecting radar at a range of hundreds of kilometres. Click here to read…

Two years of COVID-19 in Africa: lessons for the world

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa’s rapid and coordinated response, informed by emerging data, was remarkable. Now, in 2022, as vast vaccination campaigns have enabled the global north to gain some control over the pandemic, Africa lags behind.Click here to read…

Foundation stone laid for $1.1bn deep water port in Senegal

Macky Sall, the president of the West African country, laid the foundation for the 300ha facility on Monday. The ceremony follows a concession agreement signed in December 2020 between the Dubai-based logistics company and the government of Senegal. Click here to read…

Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana and UAE join Security Council

Albania is joining for the first time while Brazil is taking an 11th turn. Gabon and Ghana each have been on the council three times before and the UAE once. Click here to read…

INDIA IN AFRICA

Egyptian, Indian FMs discuss furthering cooperation, urge boosting coordination on int’l issues

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, discussed continuing to boost and expand bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Click here to read…

Agri trade is booming this fiscal, but April-Oct basmati exports fell 23% since last year

APEDA says basmati exports have dipped due to stock pile-up. But a top industry leader says high freight charges and issues over maximum residue levels in pesticides are to blame. Nepal, Bangladesh and African nations like Benin, Senegal and Togo were top importers for India’s non-basmati rice. Click here to read…

Indian Navy Ship lands in Comoros to provide technical assistance

Indian Naval Ship Kesari arrived at the port of Moroni, Comoros on Friday to extend technical assistance to the Comorian Coast Guard. Click here to read…

Congo Hold-Up: A Group of Indians in Spotlight for Illicit Money Transfers

Some of the chief operators of the alleged illicit money transfers are persons of Indian origin based in Congo, according to analysis of a data leak by Radio France International. Click here to read…

Karnataka: Ugandan national caught carrying Rs 1.5 crore worth drugs in Cerelac boxes

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has arrested a Uganda national and have seized methamphetamine worth Rs 1.5 crore in Karnataka on Friday.Click here to read…

India, Somalia and Madagascar may join to become one continent in 200 million years: Study

The collision will lead to the ‘formation of a long mountain range along the modern west coast of India’ which the team named ‘Somalaya’. Click here to read…

China: Daily Scan, December 30, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 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, 22 November – 28 November 2021

Economic
Record 2.1m Chinese sit civil service exam as economy slows, youth jobless rate climbs

A record number of Chinese are sitting the national civil service examination this year, in hopes of landing a secure government job amid slowing growth and high youth unemployment. More than 2.12 million applicants registered for Nov 28’s exam, known as guokao in Mandarin, according to the state-owned China News Service. That is 35 per cent higher than last year’s 1.57 million, and the first time the number has crossed 2 million. That also gives applicants just a 1-in-68 chance of success, even though 31,200 government jobs are open at 75 central government agencies and 23 attached institutions. Successful candidates will take up their positions early next year. More than a million applicants have taken the exam every year since 2009. This year’s surge in numbers comes amid a slowdown in economic growth, caused in large part by the Covid-19 pandemic, and a persistently high youth jobless rate. And job security is now back on top of the government agenda. Last week, Premier Li Keqiang re-emphasised the focus on “ensuring security in employment, people’s livelihoods and market entities”, a government catchphrase not seen for a while but often used when it launches policies to support the economy – much required now as the country weathers the worst of the pandemic’s impact. Click here to read…

Biden’s Economic Plans Collide With Inflation Reality

President Biden took office with a raft of economic plans to better position the U.S. to compete on the world stage and jump-start a labor market ravaged by the pandemic. Ten months into his term, Mr. Biden is facing a new set of economic challenges. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a 52-year low last week, available jobs are trending near record highs and consumer spending is rising. But those positive economic developments have been complicated by supply-chain bottlenecks and the highest inflation in three decades. Now, Mr. Biden is racing to show the public that he is taking action to address rising prices and bottlenecks amid mounting anxiety among some of his advisers about political fallout heading into next year’s midterm elections. He has instructed his most senior economic advisers to focus on the issues, White House officials said, setting up an internal task force that is tracking granular data such as how many containers are sitting in the country’s ports and how long they have been there. Many economists are skeptical that efforts under way by the White House, including releasing petroleum reserves and prodding ports to operate longer hours, can meaningfully change the short-term path of inflation.Click here to read…

US-EU press on with plan to tackle ‘dirty’ Chinese steel flooding markets

China’s “unfair trade practices” are once again in US crosshairs, with Washington indicating it will use a new metals alliance with the European Union (EU) to prevent Chinese dumping amid uncertainty over the next phase of bilateral trade talks. In an op-ed published on Nov 28 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo took aim at cheap Chinese metals flooding global markets, lowering prices for American manufacturers and leading to the loss of 16,000 steel jobs in the US between January 2015 and October 2016. To tackle the problem, the United States will begin negotiations with the EU to create “the world’s first carbon-based sectoral agreement on steel and aluminium trade.” “The United States produces some of the cleanest steel in the world, while China produces some of the dirtiest,” they said. Late last month, Brussels and Washington announced a new metals deal that US President Joe Biden said would “restrict access to our markets for dirty steel, from countries like China”. The agreement notably combined climate and trade policy, while ending a years-long trade dispute over steel and aluminium tariffs. But the latest criticism by two senior US officials comes at a critical point, with the phase one trade deal set to expire in about one monthClick here to read…

US-China tech war: Beijing’s efforts to catch up in advanced chips on hold as country’s attention turns to mature nodes

China has been forced to make a course correction in its drive for semiconductor self-reliance, focusing instead on boosting production of mature technologies while putting the goal of catching up with the world’s most advanced chip makers on the back burner, according to analysts and industry insiders. Despite strong political will from President Xi Jinping, generous financial support from the government, and the enthusiasm of domestic players, China is facing the harsh reality that its chances of becoming self-sufficient in advanced chips are remote. On the one hand, China is able to ease the supply shortage by boosting production of lower end chips used in automobiles and home appliances, but on the other, it has to rely on wafer fabs such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) and Samsung Electronics for advanced chip manufacturing in the coming years, if not decades, even if China’s own IC design firms are able to design these high end chips. “In the leading edge, it is going to become more difficult for Chinese companies to catch up,” Gokul Hariharan, co-head of Asia-Pacific TMT Research at US investment bank J.P. Morgan, said in an interview with the South China Morning Post. However, he added that the market for older generation technology remains promising and Chinese companies have potential there. Click here to read…

U.S. puts Chinese firms helping military on trade blacklist

The U.S. government put a dozen Chinese companies on its trade blacklist on Nov 24 for national security and foreign policy concerns, citing in some cases their help developing the Chinese military’s quantum computing efforts. The government also said several entities and individuals from China and Pakistan were added to the Commerce Department’s Entity List for contributing to Pakistan’s nuclear activities or ballistic missile program. The latest U.S. action on Chinese companies comes amid growing tensions between Beijing and Washington over the status of Taiwan and trade issues. In total, 27 new entities were added to the list from China, Japan, Pakistan, and Singapore. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement that the new listings will help prevent U.S. technology from supporting the development of Chinese and Russian “military advancement and activities of non-proliferation concern like Pakistan’s unsafeguarded nuclear activities or ballistic missile program.” China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Commerce Department wants to stop the Chinese military from developing its counter-stealth technology, which could include equipment like advanced radars, and counter-submarine applications such as undersea sensors. Click here to read…

Property tax concerns for China’s homeowners, buyers amid Xi Jinping’s common prosperity drive

After China announced plans to roll out a nationwide property tax to help address wealth inequality, concerns were raised if it will become the last straw to break the back the beleaguered real estate sector and become a move that would deal a blow to the domestic economy that could trigger a domino effect worldwide. The policy will not take immediate effect and China will first carry out pilot schemes for the next five years in several selected cities. “We must actively and steadily push forward property tax legislation and reform, and carry out pilots well,” President Xi Jinping said in August when spelling out his vision to lead the Chinese people to so-called common prosperity, with property tax one of the few specific policies mentioned. After years of debates on the first recurring property tax, with only property transactions currently taxed in mainland China, a property tax law will be “promptly” drafted once the pilot schemes have been completed. Under the law, both residential and non-residential properties will be taxed based on their values, but rural households will be excluded. While no other details of the taxation plans have been revealed, the pre-announcement highlighted the determination of China’s top leadership to launch the nationwide property tax. Click here to read…

India, Israel aim to boost ties through defense tech and trade

India and Israel are pushing to strengthen ties by deepening cooperation in the fields of defense and information technology, as well as resuming long-stalled negotiations over a free trade agreement. That comes as New Delhi looks to access Israel’s advanced military technology and to indirectly reinforce its relationship with Washington, a close ally to Israel. In turn, Israel hopes to unlock huge new markets for its companies. The Defense Research and Development Organization of India and Israel’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development signed a bilateral agreement earlier this month to promote the development of technologies for both military and commercial use. Under the move, Indian and Israeli startups will work together on tech such as small, unmanned aircraft and artificial intelligence. That follows an October agreement between Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid aiming to complete a bilateral FTA by June 2022. Negotiations originally started in 2010 but have long been suspended. Now, for the first time, the two governments have specified a target date for concluding the deal. The bilateral FTA would enable the two countries to promote the development of IT-based technological innovations on top of India’s access to Israel’s advanced weaponry. Click here to read…

New omicron COVID variant throws wrench into pandemic recovery

Worries over the new coronavirus “variant of concern” have triggered a flight from risk in financial markets around the world as investors scramble to assess the implications for the global economic recovery and monetary policy. Following sell-offs in Asian and European stocks with the detection of the omicron variant, the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Nov 26 fell 2.5% for its steepest decline of the year. Economically sensitive energy and financial stocks were particularly hard hit. Meanwhile, benchmark West Texas Intermediate oil futures dropped below $70 a barrel in New York for the first time in roughly two months, down by more than 10%. Investors sold off risk assets, from stocks and oil to cryptocurrencies, and streamed into the relative safe haven of U.S. Treasuries. The benchmark 10-year yield fell to the 1.48% level at one point Nov 26 in the sharpest decline since March 2020 — when the initial wave of the pandemic threw markets into turmoil. Yields and bond prices move in opposite directions. With economies reopening and earnings rebounding, investors had been pouring money into risk assets, sparking a global stock rally this yearClick here to read…

Sri Lanka awards port project to China after dropping Japan, India

Sri Lanka will tap a Chinese company for a port project in Colombo, its largest city, that had been awarded to Japan and India before the partnership was scrapped early this year. The decision highlights Colombo’s balancing act and comes a month after Indian conglomerate Adani Group was awarded another deal worth over $700 million to develop the West Container Terminal at the Colombo port. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said he wants to be “neutral” in Sri Lanka’s relations with India and China as the nation struggles with a shortage of foreign currency. His cabinet on Nov 23 agreed to have state-run China Harbour Engineering develop the Eastern Container Terminal while stipulating that local authorities would handle all operations. It cited recommendations by a cabinet-appointed committee as the basis for the decision. The apparent pro-China tilt of Rajapaksa’s government is seen as a factor in the change of plans. Beijing has invested heavily in projects on the strategically positioned island under its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Sri Lanka had signed a memorandum of understanding with Japan and India in May 2019, under previous President Maithripala Sirisena, to jointly develop the Colombo terminal. Click here to read…

Turkey, UAE sign financial cooperation deals as ties warm

Turkey and the United Arab Emirates signed accords on energy and technology investments on Nov 24 after talks between President Tayyip Erdogan and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Ankara. Sheikh Mohammed’s meeting with Erdogan, the first such visit in years, comes as the two countries work to mend frayed ties after a period of bitter regional rivalry, and amid a currency crisis in Turkey. The memorandums of understanding were signed between the Abu Dhabi Development Holding (ADQ), Turkish Wealth Fund (TVF), and the Turkish Presidency Investment Office, as well as with some Turkish companies. The agreements highlight the pivot towards economic partnership after a battle for regional influence since the Arab uprisings erupted a decade ago. The disputes have extended to the eastern Mediterranean and Gulf, before Ankara launched a charm offensive in the region last year. ADQ signed an accord on investing in Turkish technology firms and on establishing a technology-oriented fund, while Abu Dhabi Ports also signed an agreement on port and logistics cooperation. The UAE announced it was establishing a $10bn fund to support mainly strategic investments in Turkey, including in the health and energy fields, its state news agency WAM said. Click here to read…

Strategic
U.S.-China defense talks: Biden seeks channel to Xi’s inner circle

Efforts to secure early talks between U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs show how both sides see a military channel as a bare minimum to avoid accidental confrontations. The U.S. and China are working to arrange a phone call or a virtual meeting of top defense officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, before the end of the year, multiple American officials have said. With Chinese President Xi Jinping tightening his grip on power, Austin will seek to build ties with officials at the Communist Party’s core who are close to the leader. “China attaches great importance to the development of relations between the two militaries and is willing to maintain exchanges and cooperation with the U.S.,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian told reporters Nov 25, suggesting Beijing is interested in the idea as well. Austin looks to meet with Xu Qiliang, vice chairman and Xi’s deputy in the Chinese Communist Party Central Military Commission. “Xu is essentially in charge of day-to-day operations of the People’s Liberation Army,” according to a source with knowledge of the PLA. The U.S. defense secretary in the past has frequently engaged with China’s defense minister. But the Communist Party, not the government, is behind key political and military decisions in ChinaClick here to read…

U.S. invitation of Taiwan to democracy summit angers China

The Biden administration has invited Taiwan to its Summit for Democracy next month, the State Department announced, prompting sharp criticism from China, which considers the self-ruled island as its territory. The summit makes good on a pledge President Joe Biden made during his campaign, and it reflects his emphasis on returning the U.S. to a global leadership position among world democracies. The event is aimed at gathering government, civil society and private sector leaders to work together on fighting authoritarianism and global corruption and defending human rights. The invitation list features 110 countries, including Taiwan, but does not include China or Russia. The inclusion of Taiwan comes as tensions between the U.S. and China have ramped up over America’s approach to the island nation. The United States’ “One China” policy recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. The democracy summit invite list set off a new round of criticism from Beijing. “What the U.S. did proves that the so-called democracy is just a pretext and tool for it to pursue geopolitical goals, suppress other countries, divide the world, serve its own interest and maintain its hegemony in the world,” said Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Click here to read…

Pentagon Plans to Improve Bases in Guam and Australia to Confront China

A Pentagon review of military resources world-wide plans improvements to bases in Guam and Australia to counter China but contains no major reshuffling of forces as the U.S. moves to take on Beijing while deterring Russia and fighting terrorism in the Middle East and Africa. Known as the global posture review, the assessment—whose results haven’t been previously reported—plans for improvements to the airfields and other infrastructure at U.S. bases in Guam and Australia, defense officials said. Force posture in the Middle East, Europe and Africa will continue to be analyzed, the official and others in the Pentagon said. Afghanistan underwent a separate interagency review, they said, and cyber and nuclear capabilities are also being reviewed under separate initiatives. A China-specific review, of which much of the results are classified, was completed earlier this year. Another senior defense official said that, despite expectations that it would result in strategic changes, the global posture review didn’t find a need for large adjustments. More changes may follow a new national-defense strategy due early next year, the official said. Click here to read…

Russia, China sign roadmap for closer military cooperation

Russia’s defense chief on Nov 23 signed a roadmap for closer military ties with China, pointing to increasingly frequent U.S. strategic bomber flights near both countries’ borders. During a video call, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe “expressed a shared interest in stepping up strategic military exercises and joint patrols by Russia and China,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry. “China and Russia have been strategic partners for many years,” Shoigu said. “Today, in conditions of increasing geopolitical turbulence and growing conflict potential in various parts of the world, the development of our interaction is especially relevant.” Shoigu pointed to increasingly intensive flights by the U.S. strategic bombers near Russian borders, saying that there were 30 such missions over the past month alone. “This month, during the U.S. Global Thunder strategic force exercise, 10 strategic bombers practiced the scenario of using nuclear weapons against Russia practically simultaneously from the western and eastern directions”. Wei praised Russia for successfully countering what he described as U.S. pressure and military threats. Shoigu and Wei hailed a series of maneuvers that involved Russian and Chinese warplanes and naval ships, and signed a plan for military cooperation for 2021-2025. Click here to read…

Meeting near Russian border, NATO weighs response to Moscow’s military maneuvers

Polish President Andrzej Duda has said the Belarus border issue and the Ukraine buildup cannot be seen separately. Duda visited NATO headquarters last week to ask for “strengthening of the air policing mission…strengthening of observation, surveillance and strengthening of the readiness of NATO units along the eastern flank of the alliance.” So the stakes are particularly high for the meeting of NATO foreign ministers starting on Nov 30, coincidentally taking place in Riga, Latvia. Speaking to the press on Nov 27, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg pointed out it was “the second time this year that Russia has amassed large and unusual concentrations of forces in the region…heavy capabilities like tanks, artillery, armored units, drones and electronic warfare systems as well as combat-ready troops.” Stoltenberg said the move is “unprovoked and unexplained. It raises tensions and it risks miscalculations.” He also warned that “any use of force against Ukraine will have consequences [and] costs for Russia.” NATO is grappling with how to avoid such miscalculations, while making the costs appear high enough to get the Kremlin to back off. “All options are on the table and it’s now for the alliance to decide what are the next moves that NATO wants to take,” Karen Donfried, the US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told reporters on Nov 26. Click here to read…

Erdogan says Turkey ready to mediate between Ukraine and Russia – NTV

Turkey is ready to act as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia, President Tayyip Erdogan was cited as saying by broadcaster NTV on Nov 29, despite having angered Moscow by selling armed drones to Kyiv earlier this year amid tensions in eastern Ukraine. U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials say Russian forces have massed on the border of Ukraine, which is also battling Moscow-backed separatists who control part of its territory in the east. Ukraine’s military intelligence has said Moscow was preparing for an attack in early 2022. Russia has dismissed the comments as “malicious” U.S. propaganda. NATO member Turkey has good ties with both Kyiv and Moscow but opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya. It has forged close energy and defence cooperation with Russia but has also sold Turkish-made drones to Kyiv, angering Moscow. Speaking to reporters on a flight from Turkmenistan, Erdogan was cited as saying by NTV and other media Turkey wanted the Black Sea region to be in peace, adding he was discussing the issue with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin frequently. Asked about Erdogan’s offer, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment. Last month, Moscow said the Turkish drones risked having a destabilising impact. Click here to read…

Why wind tunnels are key in China’s race for hypersonic weapon supremacy

Development of China’s new-generation hypersonic weapons and aircraft is expected to get a boost with construction of a wind tunnel simulator to test vehicles and missiles at many times the speed of sound – with more such facilities in the pipeline. Recent announcements and tests involving vehicles and spacecraft suggest China has accelerated its hypersonic arms race with the United States as Beijing tries to gain a generation’s edge, according to defence experts. China, the US and Russia have been locked in a hypersonic technology competition. The term hypersonic relates to speeds between Mach 5 and 10, or five to 10 times the speed of sound. Hypersonic weapons glide and travel in a low orbit and are more manoeuvrable than conventional intercontinental ballistic missiles, making them harder to track and destroy by the US’s global missile-defence network. The Aerodynamics Research Institute (ARI), under the state-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC), announced last weekend that the FL-64 – a one-metre-class hypersonic aerodynamic wind tunnel – had passed major calibration tests after two years of development. This indicated that it was ready to for testing hypersonic weapons and equipment. Click here to read…

US & UK to share classified submarine data with Australia under AUKUS

Washington, London, and Canberra have signed an agreement on the sharing of sensitive, classified submarine data as part of the AUKUS pact to arm Australia with nuclear-powered subs, reached by the sides in September. The newly-signed deal will allow the US and the UK to share nuclear propulsion information with Australia “which they cannot with any other country,” Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton announced on Nov 22. This exchange will help determine the “optimal pathway” for Canberra to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS pact, he said. Australia is currently in an 18-month period to examine the requirements for the delivery of the state-of-the-art hardware. The deal will also allow Australian servicemen to receive training from their American and British counterparts on properly building and operating nuclear-powered submarines. “This agreement will assist Australia to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to create a world-class regulatory and safety regime required for the safe operation of naval nuclear propulsion,” Dutton said. The Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement now has to be reviewed by a committee in the Australian Parliament. Click here to read…

Italy, France to deepen ties as Merkel’s exit tests European diplomacy

The leaders of Italy and France will sign a treaty on Nov 26 to strengthen bilateral ties at a time when European diplomacy is being tested by the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Quirinale Treaty is aimed at enhancing cooperation between Paris and Rome in areas including defence, migration, the economy, culture and trade. The signing ceremony comes shortly after a new coalition pact was agreed in Germany, ending 16 years of rule by Merkel, who was the undisputed leader of Europe and forged especially close ties with successive French leaders. The new Berlin administration is expected to be more inward-looking, especially at the start of its mandate, and both Paris and Rome are keen to deepen relations in a period clouded by economic uncertainty, the pandemic, a more assertive Russia, a rising China and a more disengaged United States. “Macron’s intention is to create a new axis with Italy, while it is in Italy’s interest to hook up with the France-Germany duo,” said a senior Italian diplomatic source, who declined to be named. Click here to read…

Japan and Vietnam share concerns over China at summit

Leaders from Japan and Vietnam expressed “serious concern” over China’s drive to increase its clout in the East and South China seas at a summit in Tokyo on Nov 24. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Minh Chinh, met to discuss areas of mutual interest and agreed that Japan will export more defense equipment, such as naval vessels, to Vietnam. Chinh is the first foreign leader to visit Japan since Kishida took office. This is also Kishida’s first in-person meeting with another head of state, other than at international conferences. At the summit, Kishida stressed that Vietnam is a “vital partner” in creating a free and open Indo-Pacific. Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi visited Vietnam in September to attend the signing of an agreement on defense equipment exports. On Nov 23, Kishi also met with his Vietnamese counterpart, Gen. Phan Van Giang, to discuss expanding Japan’s exports of such equipment. Vietnam could receive naval vessels and related equipment from Japan, and the two countries also signed a military cooperation deal covering cybersecurity and medicine, such as for naval and air force officers, Vietnam’s state-controlled media reported. In 2017, Japan agreed to build six coast guard patrol boats for Vietnam in a $350 million dealClick here to read…

Kishida tells troops: Capacity to strike enemy bases is option

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Nov 27 vowed to strengthen his nation’s defense capabilities, citing threats stemming from North Korea and China. “The security environment surrounding Japan is changing at an unprecedented speed,” Kishida said in front of 800 troops at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Asaka. “To strengthen defense capacity, we will not rule out options such as having enemy base strike capabilities,” Kishida said, adding that he had ordered a review of Japan’s Medium Term Defense Program as well as its national security and defense guidelines. North Korea’s recent tests of more advanced rockets have raised the possibility that Japan’s current missile defenses may be rendered ineffective, forcing policymakers to consider new options. They include the ability to attack the missile launch itself in enemy territory. Japan’s pacifist constitution only allows self-defense capabilities, ruling out preemptive strikes. The strikes being debated now would only be fired after it has been determined that Japan is being attacked. “We cannot overlook how North Korea has developed new technologies such as hypersonic weapons and trajectory-shifting missiles,” Kishida said. The prime minister also shared his concerns about China during a speech on a blustery morning at the camp, on the border between Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture. Click here to read…

Kyrgyz president’s allies poised to win in landslide

Allies of Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov appeared set to win Nov 28’s parliamentary election by a landslide, according to early figures, further cementing his grip on the Central Asian nation with close ties to Russia and China. A Russian military airbase located in Kyrgyzstan allows Moscow to project power throughout the broader region and to locations such as Afghanistan. With ballots from more than 90% of polling stations counted, opposition party Butun Kyrgyzstan had received 6.8% of the vote, with the rest split between a host of pro-presidential parties. Japarov, 52, came to power during the turmoil that followed the October 2020 parliamentary elections, the results of which a number of political parties refused to accept. Freed from prison where he was serving a sentence for a political stunt that involved kidnapping a provincial governor, Japarov became prime minister within days and then successfully ran for president on a nationalist and populist platform. Japarov has maintained the former Soviet republic’s traditionally close ties with Russia and dismissed suggestions of allowing the United States to establish a military base in the country in addition to the existing Russian facility. This week the state security service headed by Japarov’s close ally said it had prevented a coup planned by a group of unnamed former senior officials and parliament members. Click here to read…

Gaddafi’s son blocked from Libya election

Libya’s election commission has disqualified 25 of the 98 candidates running for president, including Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the leader whose 2011 overthrow plunged the North African country into a decade-long civil war. Gaddafi had announced his candidacy on November 14 and looked like one of the front-runners in the contest, scheduled for December 24. On Nov 24, however, the election commission ruled him ineligible. It is a preliminary decision and can be appealed in court. A military prosecutor in Tripoli had urged the commission to disqualify Gaddafi on grounds of his 2015 conviction in absentia for war crimes related to the 2011 insurrection that overthrew his father. Muammar Gaddafi had ruled Libya for over 40 years before he was ousted and killed by NATO-backed rebels. Saif al-Islam was the chosen candidate of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya, a group of his father’s loyalists formally established in 2016. He also has a pending arrest warrant on behalf of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Gaddafi reacted to the decision by pointing out that General Khalifa Haftar has two criminal convictions – a 1987 court-martial over his surrender to Chad, and a 1993 civilian conviction for plotting to overthrow the government – yet he has not been disqualified from running. Click here to read…

Those guilty of chemical attacks must be held accountable, says UN Chief

The perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks must be identified and held accountable for their actions, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Nov 29. His comments came as he opened the second session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction. Currently, 60 percent of UN member states are covered by five nuclear weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; Southeast Asia; Africa; and Central Asia. Guterres said that expanding these zones would lead to more robust disarmament and non-proliferation norms. The second session of the annual conference, which was delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was presided over by Mansour Al-Otaibi, the permanent representative to the UN for Kuwait, which was chosen to inherit the presidency from Jordan after the first session in 2019. In line with a General Assembly decision, the goal of the conference is to “elaborate a legally binding treaty” to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of “arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region.” Click here to read…

Iran Doubles Down on Demands as Nuclear Talks Resume

Iran made many demands as it resumed talks Nov 29 with the U.S. and other world powers aimed at salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal, doubling down on its position before negotiations first started in the spring and raising doubts over an early breakthrough. The talks, taking place in the Austrian capital amid a strict coronavirus lockdown, are intended to agree on the steps Iran and the U.S. will take to return into compliance with the 2015 deal, which lifted most international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for strict but temporary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear work. “The U.S. has no other way for its return to the JCPOA but to remove all the sanctions imposed on the Iranian nation since it walked out of the JCPOA,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, referring to the formal name of the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He said the U.S. return to the deal would depend on “guarantees that Iran’s economic partners would be able to deal with Iran without worries and with confidence.” In a sign of the distance between the two sides over reaching an agreement, Iran continued to refuse to talk directly with the U.S. team. Click here to read…

Israel signals readiness to escalate Iran confrontation

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has signalled a readiness to step up Israel’s confrontation with Iran, reiterating on Nov 23, his country would not be bound by any new Iranian nuclear deal with world powers. Bennett, who took power in June, described Iran in a speech as being at “the most advanced stage of its nuclear programme”. While his government has previously said it would be open to a new nuclear deal with tougher restrictions on Iran, Bennett reasserted Israel’s autonomy to take action against its arch foe. “We face complicated times. It is possible that there will be disputes with the best of our friends,” he told a televised conference hosted by Reichman University. “In any event, even if there is a return to a deal, Israel is of course not a party to the deal and Israel is not obligated by the deal.” Bennett voiced frustration with what he described as Israel’s smaller-scale clashes with Iran’s militia allies”. “To chase the terrorist du jour sent by the [Iranian covert] Quds Force does not pay off anymore. We must go for the dispatcher.” Stopping short of explicitly threatening war, Bennett said cyber-technologies and what he deemed Israel’s advantages as a democracy and international support could be brought to bear. “Iran is much more vulnerable than is commonly thought,” he said. Click here to read…

World’s highest child soldier numbers in West, Central Africa

West and Central Africa is the region with the highest number of child soldiers in the world, as well as the most underage victims of sexual violence, according to a new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Since 2016, the region has been hit by growing conflict in which more than 21,000 children have been recruited by government forces and armed groups, the report said on Nov 23. In addition, more than 2,200 children have been verified as victims of sexual violence during the past five years, it added. Meanwhile, some 3,500 children have been abducted, making it the region with the second-highest abductions in the world, while there have been at least 1,500 attacks on schools and hospitals. Overall, the UN’s children agency said more than 57 million children in the region are in need of humanitarian assistance, a number that has doubled since last year as a result of conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic. “Whether children in West and Central Africa are the direct targets or collateral victims, they are caught up in conflict and face violence and insecurity,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa. Click here to read…

Medical
COVID: What we know about the omicron variant

The new variant B.1.1.529, which the World Health Organization officially named omicron, was first discovered on November 11, 2021, in Botswana. That’s just north of South Africa. Since then, B.1.1.529 has also been found in South Africa. It’s mainly been diagnosed in the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. Scientists estimate that up to 90% of all new coronavirus cases in Gauteng may be linked to B.1.1.529. By Nov 29, there were 13 confirmed omicron cases in the Netherlands, and other cases outside of southern Africa, including in Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, France, Canada and Australia. Researchers are concerned about the new variant because they say it shows an “extremely” high number of mutations of the coronavirus. They have found 32 mutations in the spike protein. By comparison, the delta variant, which is considered highly infectious, shows eight mutations. While the number of mutations in the spike protein is not an exact indication of how dangerous a new variant is, it does suggest that the human immune system may find it harder to fight the new variant. There are indications that omicron can escape an immune response, leaving people at a greater risk. Click here to read…

Omicron variant: in slap at China, US praises South Africa’s detection of new Covid strain

The United States praised South Africa on Nov 27 for quickly identifying the new Covid strain called Omicron and sharing this information with the world – a barely veiled slap at China’s handling of the original outbreak of the novel coronavirus. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor and they discussed cooperation on vaccinating people in Africa against Covid-19, the State Department said. “Secretary Blinken specifically praised South Africa’s scientists for the quick identification of the Omicron variant and South Africa’s government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world,” the statement said. In August of this year the US intelligence community released a report in which it said it could not reach a firm conclusion on the origins of the virus – among animals or in a research lab were top scenarios – because China had not helped in the US investigation. Washington has also accused Beijing of waiting too long before sharing crucial information about the outbreak, saying that a more transparent handling could have helped halt the spread of the virus. Click here to read…

China makes billion-dose pledge to Africa to help overcome the coronavirus pandemic

China has promised to donate a billion coronavirus vaccines, advance billions of dollars for African trade and infrastructure, and write off interest-free loans to African countries to help the continent heal from the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking via a video link from Beijing during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), Chinese President Xi Jinping said China would supply a billion doses to help Africa vaccinate 60 per cent of its population by next year. Of those, 600 million would be via donations and the rest would be produced jointly by African countries and Chinese companies. In addition, China would send medical teams to help the continent deal with the pandemic, Xi said, to the forum, which is being hosted by Senegal. “China will undertake 10 medical and health projects for African countries and send 1,500 medical personnel to Africa,” Xi said. Most countries in Africa have not vaccinated their citizens. The World Health Organization says while many high-income countries reported more than 60 per cent vaccine coverage, just over 7 per cent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated – despite a recent rise in shipments to the continent. Click here to read…

Big Pharma unveils its plans for Omicron strain

With the World Health Organization (WHO) designating Omicron the latest “variant of concern” following an emergency meeting on Nov 26, warning that the highly mutated strain could be more infectious than those seen before, Big Pharma quickly launched into PR-mode, as several firms rushed to outline how they would combat the new variant. “In the event that [a] vaccine-escape variant emerges, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval,” Pfizer announced, though it did not say whether any specific research had been conducted into Omicron so far. BioNTech, in a separate statement, noted that Omicron “differs significantly from previously observed variants as it has additional mutations located in the spike protein,” referring to the mechanism by which the coronavirus gains access to host cells and causes infection. The company also said that a so-called “escape variant” could “require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally.” Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, two other major Covid vaccine developers, issued similar missives on Nov 26, with the latter company stating that it’s already testing a booster shot for healthy adults that contains twice the vaccine dosage than what is currently approvedClick here to read…

China: Daily Scan, November 25, 2021

China to improve management and utilization of special local government bonds: Xinhuanet
November 24, 2021

China will refine the management of special local government bonds, optimize utilization of the funds and strengthen their supervision, the State Council’s executive meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang decided on Wednesday. Since the beginning of this year, in accordance with the newly-added quota approved by the National People’s Congress, local authorities have issued and utilized special local government bonds as appropriate, providing a strong underpinning for the development of key projects and major livelihood programs. Click here to read…

Xi urges sci-tech management system reform, development of unified electricity market system: Xinhuanet
November 24, 2021

Chinese President Xi Jinping has emphasized the importance of speeding up reform of the science and technology management system, as well as the development of a unified national market system for electric power. Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, also urged the development of a system under which principals assume overall responsibility at middle and primary schools under the leadership of Party organizations. Click here to read…

China-Russia internet media forum held to strengthen cooperation: People’s Daily
November 24, 2021

A forum intended to promote exchanges and strengthen cooperation between Chinese and Russian internet media outlets was held Monday. Under the theme — Promoting Exchanges and Mutual Learning, Deepening Practical Cooperation — the 2021 China-Russia Internet Media Forum was held via video link in Beijing and Moscow. Click here to read…

BRI projects given green emphasis: China Daily
November 25, 2021

China will place greater importance on making Belt and Road Initiative cooperation greener and more sustainable, according to a pledge included this month in a landmark resolution on the major achievements and historical experiences of the Communist Party of China over the past century. It was released after the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the CPC. Click here to read…

Cars of the future await clearance for takeoff: China Daily
November 25, 2021

Traffic jams are a common problem in cities around the world, be it Beijing, Tokyo or New York, with some frustrated drivers wishing they could fly over vehicles blocking their path. Such ambitions may be fulfilled sooner than many expect, with “flying cars”, commonly known as electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, or eVTOLs, fast becoming a reality. HT Aero, an affiliate of Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng, demonstrated a flying car late last month, saying it plans to introduce these vehicles in 2024. Click here to read…

China’s top finance regulator vows to restrict banks’ illegal capital flows to real estate sector: Global Times
November 24, 2021

China’s top finance regulator vowed on Wednesday to enhance compliance work among banks nationwide in order to prevent illegal capital flows from banks to the real estate sector. Analysts said the regulation campaign is aimed at curbing risks following the problems experienced by real estate developer China Evergrande. Click here to read…

Beijing launches China’s first commercial pilot for autonomous driving services: Global Times
November 25, 2021

Beijing launched China’s first pilot for commercial autonomous driving travel services on Thursday, with many viewing the development as marking the end of the testing phase for autonomous driving and the beginning of broader market development. The first group of enterprises that are permitted to undertake pilot commercial activity will be restricted to within a 60 square kilometers area of the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone in Southern Beijing. Click here to read…

China plots economic recovery path, technological innovation a ‘matter of survival’ for Beijing: South China Morning Post
November 24, 2021

Beijing has pinned its hopes on improving the quality of its economic development and technological innovation to steer the world’s second largest economy through uncharted waters and external turmoil, China’s economic tsar said on Wednesday. In a 6,500-word article published by the ruling Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily, Vice-Premier Liu He reflected on the key weakness of the country’s economic system. Xi Jinping’s key adviser also raised the possibility of further economic reforms, technological innovation and institutional high-level opening-up to tackle stubborn problems in the latest comments by a senior official amid concerns over an economic slowdown. Click here to read…

Where is Zhang Gaoli? Chinese politician accused by tennis star Peng keeps out of sight: Reuters
November 25, 2021

Even as Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai appeared on a video call with the Olympics chief, the former vice premier she accused of sexual assault has stayed silent and out of sight – maintaining the veil of secrecy that shrouds China’s political elite. Zhang Gaoli, who turns 75 this month, was accused by the former Olympian in a Nov. 2 social media post of coercing her into sex three years ago. Peng said she and Zhang, who was vice premier when Beijing was awarded the upcoming Winter Games, had conducted an on-off consensual relationship until he broke up with her. Click here to read…

Chinese dad makes medicine for dying son: Taipei Times
November 25, 2021

Two-year-old Xu Haoyang has likely just months to live — but the only medicine that can help his rare genetic condition is not found anywhere in China and closed borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic mean that he cannot travel for treatment. Instead, his desperate father, Xu Wei, has created a home laboratory to create a remedy for the boy himself. Click here to read…

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 15 November – 21 November 2021

Economic
U.S. asks Japan, China, others to consider tapping oil reserves -sources

The Biden administration has asked some of the world’s largest oil consuming nations – including China, India and Japan – to consider releasing crude stockpiles in a coordinated effort to lower global energy prices, according to several people familiar with the matter. The unusual request comes as U.S. President Joe Biden fends off political pressure over rising pump prices and other consumer costs driven by a rebound in economic activity from lows plumbed early in the coronavirus pandemic. It also reflects U.S. frustration with members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies who have rebuffed repeated requests from Washington to speed up their production increases. In Asia, where China said it is working on a crude release, oil prices extended declines prompted by the U.S. request, after settling on Nov 17 further below seven-year highs struck in early October. Biden and top aides have discussed the possibility of a coordinated release of stockpiled oil with close allies including Japan, South Korea and India, as well as with China, over the past several weeks, the sources said. The US and allies have coordinated strategic petroleum reserve releases before, for example in 2011 during a war in OPEC member Libya. Click here to read…

China overtakes US in global wealth race

China has overtaken the US as the nation which has amassed the biggest net worth as global wealth surges, a fresh report by McKinsey & Co suggests. China’s wealth skyrocketed over the past two decades, the consulting company said according to Bloomberg, explaining that its net worth increased by a whopping 17 times from $7 trillion in 2000 to $120 trillion in 2020. The nation accounted for about one third of the global net worth increase over that period. The US saw its wealth double over the same time period. Washington had to give way to Beijing on the list of top 10 wealthiest nations since its net worth only amounted to $90 trillion in 2020, McKinsey says. In both countries, more than two thirds of the amassed wealth sits in the pockets of the richest 10% of households, the report said, adding that this share has been increasing. In total, global wealth reached $514 trillion in 2020, up from $156 trillion in 2000. Some 68% of this wealth is stored in real estate, McKinsey said, adding that its fast growth surpassed the increase of the world’s GDP over the same period. The global wealth increase has been prompted by ballooning property prices, the company said. Click here to read…

US-China phase-one trade deal gets a reality check after nearly two years

As the two-year deadline for the phase-one trade deal between the world’s two largest economies is approaching, all eyes are on the next step. Signed in January 2020, the deal was considered a ceasefire agreement between China and the United States following a two-year trade war that originated from a Section 301 investigation by the US in 2018. A direct result of the phase-one trade deal has been the suspension of more tariffs on both sides. The US suspended a planned increase in tariffs on about US$162 billion on Chinese goods and lowered an existing duty on imports worth US$110 billion. China has also announced rounds of tariff exclusions that exempt American products such as pork, soybeans, liquefied natural gas and medical disinfectants. But not long after the agreement was signed, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and reshaped the momentum of the global economy. China has fallen behind in some of the commitments it made in the agreement, sparking speculation on fresh trade tensions between the world’s largest two economies. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai told reporters earlier this month that the Biden administration is “getting traction” with China and intends to hold China accountable to the two-year phase-one trade deal while exploring all weaknesses in China’s performance, according to Reuters. Click here to read…

Taiwanese giant slapped with fines over mainland regulatory violations, Xinhua says

Mainland subsidiaries of a major Taiwanese industrial group have been punished for a range of regulatory and legal violations, including environmental protection rules, state media reported. The action against Far Eastern Group comes amid rising cross-strait tensions, as Beijing vows to resolutely crack down on the pro-independence camp in Taiwan while the self-ruled island fosters closer ties with the US and European Union. The Taipei-based conglomerate is a major donor to the island’s election campaigns, according to Taiwanese media reports. Far Eastern-invested polyester and textile, and cement companies in Shanghai and the provinces of Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Hubei and Sichuan were penalised over violations related to environmental protection, land use, employee occupational health, production safety and fire protection, taxation and product quality, Xinhua reported on Nov 22. The punishments ranged from fines, orders to pay tax arrears or rectify the issues concerned within a set time frame, to warnings that idle construction land would be taken back by the state. The companies involved had admitted the charges, and investigations were still in progress, Xinhua said. This comes about two weeks after Beijing threatened to slap criminal charges on and ban those seen to be part of the “diehard” Taiwanese pro-independence force. Click here to read…

U.S. won’t join CPTPP but will seek new framework: Raimondo

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Nov 16 that her country looks to form an economic framework that goes beyond the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. America envisions an economic framework that “could be even more robust in some ways than the traditional free trade agreement,” Raimondo said in a television interview during her trip to Tokyo. While reiterating the Biden administration’s position that the original Pacific trade agreement “is not something that America would be part of at this time,” she said the U.S. is open to a cooperative framework with Japan and other friendly nations that oversees a wide range of areas, including digital technology and supply chains. President Joe Biden unveiled plans for an Indo-Pacific economic framework at the East Asia Summit, held virtually in late October. “We look forward to signing an agreement with the economies in the region which is a robust economic framework,” Raimondo said. During the interview, which aired on TV Tokyo’s “World Business Satellite” show, Raimondo said Japan and the U.S. share many areas of mutual interest and advantage. The two sides agreed during her trip to establish the Japan-U. S. Commercial and Industrial Partnership. Click here to read…

All-Turkic corridor heralds rise of new Eurasian political bloc

When the leaders of six Turkic states convened in Istanbul last week for a summit of the Turkic Council, they were adamant to seize the golden opportunity in front of them. Azerbaijan’s decisive victory in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war had created a new reality on the ground. Through a transit corridor awarded to Azerbaijan as part of the ceasefire settlement, regional powerhouse Turkey would potentially regain direct access to its fellow Turkic states in Central Asia. It hinted at the possibility of elevating an ethnic bloc into a political force, one that could even disrupt the regional power balance between heavyweights Russia and China. The leaders were keen to leverage their advantageous geography to carve out a new role for the Turkic world. .Since the 1990s, Ankara’s access to the rest of the Turkic world was blocked by Armenia, prompting Turkey and Azerbaijan to use a route through Georgia to bypass Armenia in the South Caucasus. A new corridor via Nakhichevan will be 300 km shorter and run through lowland topography compared with the Georgia route. Turkey intends for its “Middle Corridor,” the Trans-Caspian East-West corridor that spans from China to Europe, to be the artery that binds the Turkic world. Click here to read…

In major shift, Japan looking to accept more foreigners indefinitely

In a major shift for a country long closed to immigrants, Japan is looking to allow foreigners in certain blue-collar jobs to stay indefinitely starting as early as the 2022 fiscal year, a justice ministry official said on Nov 18. Under a law that took effect in 2019, a category of “specified skilled workers” in 14 sectors such as farming, construction and sanitation have been allowed to stay for up to five years, but without their family members. The government had been looking to ease those restrictions, which had been cited by companies as among reasons that they were hesitant to hire such help. If the revision takes effect, such workers–many from Vietnam and China–would be allowed to renew their visas indefinitely and bring their families with them, as the other category of more skilled foreigners are allowed to do now. Immigration has long been taboo in Japan as many prize ethnic homogeneity, but pressure has mounted to open up its borders due to an acute labor shortage given its dwindling and aging population. The 2019 law was meant to attract some 345,000 “specified skilled workers” over five years, but the intake has hovered at around 3,000 per month before the COVID-19 pandemic sealed the borders, according to government data. Click here to read…

Japan to subsidize company-backed university courses

Japan next year will start subsidizing companies and schools working together to set up educational programs, Nikkei has learned. Japan lags behind the U.S. and Europe in research and education programs backed by private sector funding, which often helps in growth areas such as decarbonization. Tokyo is now focusing on batteries, materials and semiconductors — fields that lead to corporate research and development and improvement of competitiveness. Companies cover the costs of research and professor salaries and share research and course themes with educational institutions. The Japanese government will pay up to 30 million yen, or up to half the cost for a course that is jointly developed by companies and universities or technical colleges. Companies may set up a joint course, or a course that would help with human resources development for the company. The expense is expected to be included in the fiscal 2021 supplementary budget. The total amount is to be discussed later. The government would initially support over 10 new courses, calling for proposals as early as the beginning of 2022. Japan’s trade ministry this year will work with the education ministry to set up a team on human resource development to discuss further plans.Click here to read…

Satellite Industry Grows as Investors Bet Billions on Space-Derived Data

Dozens of companies are dotting the skies with satellites, part of a growing bet that buyers on Earth will pay billions of dollars for a more granular view of the planet. Not all of the companies are likely to make it, according to industry observers. Space-data companies, which use satellites to snap photos of Earth, track radio signals and use radar to peer through clouds, raised $5.2 billion last year, up from $1.4 billion in 2015, according to data from PitchBook. Through Nov. 10, companies had raised another $4.5 billion. Buyers of the companies’ products have included defense and other government agencies that tap the information to track troop movements and military projects. Remote-sensing companies are increasingly targeting commercial clients: Agriculture firm Corteva Inc. sells satellite-data applications that allow farmers to boost crop yields and ranchers to manage pastureland, executives said. Space-data companies also have said they see opportunities to sell information to buyers such as insurers, which could use it to assess disaster risks for properties, and energy companies, which could use the data to monitor pipelines. Other clients could include governments and businesses looking to monitor pollution and track environmental commitments. Click here to read…

Strategic
U.S. needs allies to host missiles to deter China: panel

With China building up its military, the U.S. should engage with Japan and other Indo-Pacific partners on deploying intermediate-range missiles in the region to deter a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, an influential bipartisan advisory body said in a report published Nov 17. In its 2021 report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission expressed strong concern over a potential invasion of Taiwan by the mainland. The commission, comprised of former senior government officials, compiles an annual report with input from U.S.-China experts that is watched closely by the government and Congress. People’s Liberation Army “leaders now likely assess they have, or will soon have, the initial capability needed to conduct a high-risk invasion of Taiwan if ordered to do so by Chinese Communist Party leaders,” the report said. The report also discussed the possibility of a preemptive Chinese attack on American forces in Japan to delay the U.S. response to a Taiwan Strait crisis. The Chinese military “has demonstrated the precision strike capability and missile inventory it would need to strike nearly every U.S. ship in port; more than 200 grounded U.S. aircraft; and all major fixed headquarters, logistics facilities, and runways in U.S. airbases” in Japan, the commission said. Click here to read…

Chinese hypersonic test included pathbreaking 2nd missile launch: Reports

China’s test of a globe-circling hypersonic weapon in July included the unprecedented launch of a separate missile from the ultra-high-speed vehicle, according to the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. The test showed China’s development of its strategic, nuclear-capable weapons as more advanced than any had thought, surprising Pentagon officials, the two newspapers said. Neither the United States nor Russia has demonstrated the same ability, which requires launching a missile from a parent vehicle travelling five times the speed of sound. The Jul 27 Chinese hypersonic test alone had already stunned Western officials. In it, a launch vehicle, a long-range missile, carried the guided hypersonic warhead around the world and then released it toward a test target inside China. The hypersonic, which unlike ballistic missiles can be steered, missed the target by more than 32 kilometres, which the number two general in the Pentagon, General John Hyten, said last week was “close enough” for an initial test. But more surprising was that the hypersonic, while flying from the south toward China, released a separate missile which rocketed away, falling harmlessly into the South China Sea.Click here to read…

Plans for Putin-Biden meeting revealed in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin could meet his American counterpart Joe Biden before the end of this year, a top official in Moscow has revealed. It would be a second face-to-face encounter between the two leaders in 2021. Work is already underway on organising the event, Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told national TV on Nov 21. The senior diplomat said Washington had recently made some assertions relevant to Russia, including those related to the situation in Ukraine and Moscow feels the need to “explain in detail what is really happening and how,” he added. “Thorough preparation is needed for this meeting to take place, and that is what we’re doing,” the deputy minister said. Earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also referred to the possibility of Putin meeting Biden in the near future. However, he said that no specific timelines had been agreed yet. Washington has not mentioned any timeline for the meeting in its recent comments. On Nov 18, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Biden talking to Putin “at a certain moment in future,” but said she had no announcement to make about contact between the two leaders. Click here to read…

Kremlin says it is alarmed by U.S.-backed armament push for Ukraine

The Kremlin said on Nov 22 it was alarmed by a U.S.-backed push to supply Ukraine with sophisticated weapons but said U.S. media outlets that have suggested Russia is poised to attack Ukraine are being used in a disinformation campaign. The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times outlet this weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February. Kyrylo Budanov said such an attack would probably involve air strikes, artillery and armoured attacks followed by airborne assaults in the east, amphibious assaults in Odessa and Mariupol, and a smaller incursion through Belarus. Similar warnings, often sourced to unnamed people familiar with the matter, have appeared in some U.S. media and the United States, NATO and Ukraine have raised concerns about Russian troops movements near Ukraine in recent weeks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the idea of a possible Russian attack and said that Moscow itself was being targeted in a disinformation campaign. Click here to read…

China’s Communist Party targets big risks in countdown to congress

The Communist Party pledged to double down on controlling risks across the board in the countdown to a major party meeting next year that is set to mark the start of President Xi Jinping’s third term as party leader. “[We] must insist on making political security the top priority and coordinate to step up security work in key disciplines including political security, economic security, social security [and] technology security,” the Politburo said in a statement after a meeting on Nov 18. “[We] must firmly uphold regime security, institutional security and ideological security, and strictly defend ourselves against all sorts of infiltration and subversive acts.” The 25 members of the party’s inner circle – led by Xi – also pledged to be on guard for systemic financial risks and to ensure industry was more resilient. The Politburo, which meets about once a month, also passed the “National Security Strategy (2021-2025)” but offered no details on the document. An apparently similar document called the National Security Strategic Outline was passed during a Politburo meeting in 2015. Selection for the 2,300 members to attend the congress started on Nov 18 and will continue until June. Nov 18’s meeting generated a long list of risks that officials should pay close attention to, including food security, infrastructure and social stability. Click here to read…

Biden and Xi agree to begin discussion on strategic stability

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed at a virtual meeting to look into the possibility of arms control talks, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Nov 16. Biden and Xi agreed to “look to begin to carry forward discussion on strategic stability,” Sullivan said in a reference to U.S. concerns about China’s nuclear and missile buildup. “You will see at multiple levels an intensification of the engagement to ensure that there are guardrails around this competition so that it doesn’t veer off into conflict,” Sullivan said in a Brookings Institution webinar. Sullivan did not elaborate on what form the discussions on strategic stability could take, but went on to say: “That is not the same as what we have in the Russian context with the formal strategic stability dialogue. That is far more mature, has a much deeper history to it. There’s less maturity to that in the U.S.-China relationship, but the two leaders did discuss these issues and it is now incumbent on us to think about the most productive way to carry it forward.” Washington has repeatedly urged China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty. Click here to read…

Xi says China ready to sign ASEAN’s nuclear arms-free zone treaty

Chinese leader Xi Jinping said Nov 22 that Beijing was ready to sign a Southeast Asia nuclear weapon-free treaty, in an apparent response to the new AUKUS defense pact between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. A protocol for the Bangkok Treaty was issued for five nations that had nuclear weapons at the time — China, Russia, France, the U.K. and the U.S., according to the United Nations. China would be the first of the five parties to sign if it follows through on Xi’s words. Even so, a Pentagon report earlier this month said that China is on track to quintuple its nuclear arsenal by 2030 to at least 1,000 warheads. Beijing’s decision was likely made with AUKUS in mind, as the trilateral agreement allows Australia to receive nuclear propulsion technology to power a new fleet of submarines. Xi’s comments will ratchet up the pressure on Australia, a nation with which China has an increasing antagonistic relationship. Nuclear submarines do not fall under the definition of a nuclear weapon as set out in the Bangkok Treaty — “nuclear weapon” means any explosive device capable of releasing nuclear energy in an uncontrolled manner, according to the treaty. Click here to read…

China coast guard uses water cannons against Philippine boats

Chinese coast guard ships blocked and used water cannons on two Philippine supply boats heading to a disputed shoal occupied by Filipino marines in the South China Sea, provoking an angry protest to China and a warning from the Philippine government that its vessels are covered under a mutual defense treaty with the United States, Manila’s top diplomat said Nov 18. Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said no one was hurt in the incident in the disputed waters on Nov 16, but the two supply ships had to abort their mission to provide food supplies to Filipino forces occupying the Second Thomas Shoal, which lies off western Palawan province in the Philippines’ internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. Locsin said in a tweet that the three Chinese coast guard ships’ actions were illegal and he urged them ”to take heed and back off.” The Philippine government has conveyed to China ”our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident,” Locsin said, adding that ”this failure to exercise self-restraint threatens the special relationship between the Philippines and China” that President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, have worked hard to nurture. There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials in Manila or Beijing. Click here to read…

Hayashi invited to visit China, says nothing decided yet

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, asked him to visit China, a country increasingly under global scrutiny over its human rights record. “Nothing has been decided at this point,” Hayashi said about the invitation on a TV program aired by Fuji Television Network Inc. on Nov. 21. Hayashi said Wang extended the invitation during their Nov. 18 phone talks, in which Hayashi expressed Japan’s concerns over China’s maritime advances. Although Hayashi declined to comment on whether he will accept the invitation, he said that he and Wang confirmed that the two countries will work together to build “constructive and stable Japan-China relations” since next year will mark the 50th anniversary of normalized bilateral ties. U.S. President Joe Biden recently said he is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February over China’s human rights violations. Hayashi said Japan will decide its course of action over the matter on its own. Click here to read…

China warned Japan may intervene militarily if it invades Taiwan

China has been warned to stay alert to the possibility Japan will intervene militarily in the event of an attack on Taiwan. A research paper said recent gestures of support for the island indicate that Japan and the United States have been discussing the scenario and are making plans to deter Beijing from using force to take the island. “Japan has not only released signals through official and individual levels, but also tried to carry out practical response actions through the Japan-US alliance or partially acted alone under the existing legal framework,” said the paper published last week in the journal Asia-Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs. Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and has never renounced the use of force to reunite it with the mainland, but Japan would regard this as a significant threat to its national security and the regional political order. The paper, written by Wu Huaizhong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that in recent years the Japanese government had hardened its stance. “It is hard to imagine that in the short and mid-term future Japan will actively seek to be involved in an uncontrollable disastrous war regardless of the cost,” the article said, adding that it is more likely to consider providing logistical support to allies rather than becoming directly involved in combat. “The question is not ‘whether’ Japan would intervene, but just ‘how’ to intervene,” it added. Click here to read…

ISIS-K’s Afghan play worries Kabul, Beijing and Islamabad

The growing strength of ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s regional affiliate in Afghanistan, has unsettled both the new Taliban regime in Kabul and neighboring countries, including China, Pakistan and Iran. Leveraging the U.S. withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, ISIS-K has positioned itself as Afghanistan’s last jihadi movement. It has been recruiting from within the Taliban as well as among transnational and ethnic separatist movements in the region. It has also drawn from Afghanistan’s former military ranks. “So far, the ISIS-K leadership is satisfied with its multipronged strategy and progress in Afghanistan,” an ISIS-K leader in Nangarhar Province told Nikkei Asia. “ISIS-K’s local successes in Afghanistan have helped attract rebels of various ethnicities in the region and gain international attention,” the leader said in a rare comment to the press. The militant group generally bans members from speaking to news organizations. ISIS-K’s expanded area of operations in Afghanistan has increased the risk of infiltration. Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme leader, issued a letter on Nov. 4 ordering his provincial commanders to check into the backgrounds of all their fighters. “Akhundzada has also asked Taliban commanders to socialize with the fighters on the streets as part of the Taliban’s counter strategy to stop defections,” said Jan, a Taliban commander in Kabul, who asked not to be fully identified. Click here to read…

Afghan Evacuees, Scattered Around the World, Could Wait Years for Chance to Reach U.S.

Thousands of Afghans who were evacuated from Kabul after the Taliban seized power in August could be stranded in other countries for years because of backlogs in the U.S. refugee system, according to officials and the groups that helped them escape. From interpreters to policewomen to judges, many say they were promised—in recruitment pitches for the military and other venues—a chance to come to the U.S. in return for promoting American goals during the 20-year war. As the U.S. ramped up evacuation efforts from Kabul in August, American overseas military bases quickly became overcrowded as some 70,000 Afghans entered the pipeline to U.S. military installations either abroad or in the U.S. To ease crowding, the Biden administration called on other countries to let Afghans travel through their nations while waiting for visas. Many governments across Africa, Europe and South America agreed to open their doors on a temporary basis to Afghans evacuated by private groups, such as those composed of veterans or nonprofit organizations. One of the largest groups of evacuees outside of the U.S. military system is spread across Albania, Georgia and North Macedonia. Click here to read…

Yemen’s Battleground Shifts in Favor of Iran-Backed Houthis

Houthi fighters allied with Iran have gained important new ground in the yearslong war in Yemen, as Saudi Arabia is struggling to defend a strategic, oil-rich city and U.S. efforts to broker peace stagnate. Without coordinating with United Nations peacekeepers in the area, Yemeni forces supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates abruptly withdrew last week from key positions near the western port city of Hodeidah. At the same time, Saudi Arabia vowed to send more forces to defend Marib, the center of an energy hub near the Saudi border where the Houthis have been methodically gaining new ground for months. The surprising shifts in the front lines of a seven-year war have allowed the Houthis to reopen the road from Hodeidah to the capital, Sana’a, where the group recently stormed a largely abandoned U.S. Embassy complex and took Yemeni employees captive. The battleground realignment is another strategic twist for the Saudis, who initially believed in 2015 that, with American backing, they would need just a few weeks to defeat the Houthi movement, a Shiite offshoot group in Yemen aligned with Iran that had taken over Yemen’s capital. People familiar with the matter said Saudi Arabia has launched an internal reassessment of its strategy in Yemen that should be completed later this month. Click here to read…

Blinken Says U.S. Will Treat African Nations as Equal Partners

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. would treat African countries as equals rather than “subjects of geopolitics” in a speech meant to set out the Biden administration’s policy toward the continent. Mr. Blinken told an audience of young Africans and dignitaries at the Economic Community of West African States that the continent was critical to solving many of today’s key global challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, economic recovery and democratic and human rights. He called on African governments, regional and continental organizations, and the public to play a greater role in addressing those challenges. “Too many times, the countries of Africa have been treated as junior partners—or worse—rather than equal ones,” Mr. Blinken said. “Too often, we ask our partners to help uphold and defend an international system that they don’t feel fully reflects their needs and aspirations. And we’re sensitive to centuries of colonialism, slavery, and exploitation have left painful legacies that endure today.” While avoiding any direct mention of China or Russia, Mr. Blinken’s speech sought to differentiate the administration’s approach to Africa from that of its rivals, which the U.S. has accused of using investments on the continent to further their own political aims. Click here to read…

US defence chief pledges to counter Iran during Bahrain visit

The United States’s top defence official has pledged to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, as negotiations remain stalled over Tehran’s tattered atomic deal with world powers, in comments that appeared aimed at reassuring the US’s Gulf Arab allies. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s comments in Bahrain at the annual Manama Dialogue on Nov 20 come as the Biden administration tries to revive the nuclear deal, which limited Iran’s enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. His remarks also come after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, raising concerns among Gulf countries about Washington’s commitment to the region as US defence officials say they want to pivot forces to counter perceived challenges from China and Russia. “The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. And we remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue,” Austin told an event put on by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all of the options necessary to keep the United States secure.” The Pentagon chief said that the US would be coming to the indirect negotiations on reviving the deal on November 29 in good faith. Click here to read…

1 out of 3 young people undecided about South Korea presidential candidates

With less than four months left ahead of the next presidential election in March, young voters in their 20s and 30s have risen as swing voters who could play a decisive role in selecting the winner. In recent opinion polls, many in this age group have said they support neither of the candidates of the country’s two major parties ― Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) and Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). According to a survey of 1,004 adults conducted together by four local pollsters ― Embrain Public, Kstat Research, Korea Research International and Hankook Research ― from Nov. 15 to 17, support for both Yoon and Lee were notably lower among the younger voters than among those in other age groups. 37 percent of the youngest age group and 27 percent of people in their 30s either said they have no favored candidate or didn’t answer. Political watchers say the lower support rates of the candidates from the two major parties among voters in their 20s and 30s show the young generation’s disappointment with established politicians and their so-called “vested rights,” especially as both Lee and Yoon are involved in corruption scandals. Click here to read…

Sudan’s reinstated PM Hamdok promises a path to democracy

Newly reinstated Sudanese Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok has pledged to introduce a “technocratic government” made up of qualified professionals who will lead the country on a path to democracy nearly a month after a military coup. In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Hamdok – who was deposed by the military on October 25 but reinstated as interim premier after signing a deal on Nov 21 with Sudan’s top general to restore the transition to civilian rule – said the new government will be independent. Hamdok had been under house arrest by the military for weeks. The military also dissolved his cabinet and arrested a number of civilians who had held top positions under a power-sharing deal agreed after the popular overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The 14-point deal between Hamdok and the military, signed in the presidential palace in Khartoum on Sunday, also provides for the release of all political prisoners detained during the coup and stipulates that a 2019 constitutional declaration be the basis for a political transition, according to details read out on state television. The coup has drawn international criticism. Sudanese people have been taking to the streets en masse since the military takeover, which upended the country’s fragile transition to democracy. Click here to read…

US issues religious freedom ‘concern’ list, removes Nigeria

The United States has removed Nigeria from a list of “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom, a day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives there as part of an African tour, while issuing designations for 10 other countries. Blinken announced the designations as part of the US State Department’s annual review of religious freedom rights violations in countries worldwide, which is based on assessments made by the independent US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “Each year the Secretary of State has the responsibility to identify governments and non-state actors, who, because of their religious freedom violations, merit designation under the International Religious Freedom Act,” Blinken said in a statement on Nov 17. “I am designating Burma [Myanmar], the People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the DPRK [North Korea], Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern [CPC] for having engaged in or tolerated ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom’.” The designations do not necessarily come with specific or binding sanctions or other US actions, although US law states that the government must “take targeted responses to violations of religious freedom”. Click here to read…

Thousands protest in Iran’s Isfahan to demand revival of river

Thousands of protesters have gathered in Isfahan in central Iran to demand the revival of a major river that has dried up. Footage broadcast by state television and dozens of videos circulating on social media on Nov 19 showed a sea of farmers and other people standing on a huge barren strip of dirt where the major Zayandeh Rud River used to flow, near the iconic Khaju Bridge in Isfahan province. The river’s dryness is thought to directly affect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers in the province, state TV said, in addition to adversely affecting the environment. The key river has faced water shortages and droughts for years, and farmers have intermittently protested the lack of attention given to the issue. But officials have yet to find a sustainable solution to the problem. Former administrations had promised to come up with solutions, and the country’s Supreme Council of Water approved a nine-point plan involving reviving a major wetland that it said was a sustainable solution eight years ago, but it was never fully implemented. Farmers have been protesting at the site for more than a week, but Nov 19’s demonstration attracted the largest number of people and drew the attention of the government. Droughts have dogged Iran for decades but have intensified over the past decade. Most Iranian provinces currently face some level of drought. Click here to read…

Poland says Belarus border crisis may be prelude to “something worse”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned on Nov 21 that the migrant crisis on the Belarus border may be a prelude to “something much worse”, and Poland’s border guard said Belarusian forces were still ferrying migrants to the frontier. The European Union accuses Belarus of flying in thousands of people from the Middle East and pushing them to cross into EU and NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, in response to European sanctions. Minsk, which denies fomenting the crisis, cleared a migrant camp near the border on Nov 18 and started to repatriate some people to Iraq, while Poland and Lithuania reported lower numbers of attempts to cross their borders in recent days. But Morawiecki warned the crisis was far from over as he toured Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia on Sunday to discuss the situation. A poll published by Poland’s Rzeczpospolita daily on Nov 21 said 55% of Poles are worried the crisis on the border could escalate into an armed conflict. Click here to read…

Medical
Coronavirus: former heads of pandemic review panel warn ‘the world is losing time’

Governments are not moving fast enough to end the pandemic or to prevent another one, warned the former heads of an independent body tasked with grading the world on its response to Covid-19. “Waves of disease and death continue – as people in the northern hemisphere move indoors, fatigue with restrictions sets in, vaccine coverage and other countermeasures remain uneven, and people in the poorest countries have almost no access to vaccines,” wrote former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a report released on Nov 22. “The world is losing time,” they said. Their warning comes ahead of a special session of the World Health Organization’s governing body next week where health ministers from around the globe will discuss whether to develop a new treaty or other reforms on how the world prepares for and responds to pandemics. It also comes six months after the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response – a body set up by the WHO director general and chaired by Clark and Sirleaf – outlined urgent reforms and findings based on nine months of research into how the Covid-19 outbreak first identified in China became a crippling pandemic. Click here to read…

Pfizer co-developer says Covid vaccination will be annual

People around the world will need to get a jab against Covid-19 once a year, at least when it comes to the Pfizer vaccine, BioNTech’s CEO Ugur Sahin said in an interview on Nov 21, as he praised the quality of its booster shot. In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper on Nov 21, Sahin said he considers the vaccine, co-developed by his company, to be “very effective.” A “very high” level of protection against severe illness lasts for up to nine months, the BioNTech CEO maintained. He said this level starts decreasing “from the fourth month,” however. To maintain the protection, Sahin strongly pushed for booster shots, arguing that they would not just restore levels of antibodies but would potentially help “to break … chains of infection.” He also encouraged doctors to be “as pragmatic as possible” when it comes to greenlighting vaccination and “not to send people home unvaccinated even though they could be vaccinated without any problems.” In the future, people might need to get booster shots once a year, the BioNTech CEO believes. He said that he expects protection from a booster shot to “last longer” than the initial immunity one acquires after getting two doses of the vaccine. Sahin’s interview comes days after it was revealed that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna are making a combined profit of $65,000 every minute – all thanks to their Covid-19 jabs. Click here to read…

South Korean schools resume full in-person classes

For the first time since South Korea began battling its coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, all schools across the country resumed full-time in-person classes on Nov 22. As the first country outside China to face a major outbreak of the virus, South Korea’s schools have seen various stages of shutdowns, remote learning, and hybrid arrangements. Widespread testing, intensive contact tracing and tracking apps have enabled South Korea to limit the spread of the virus without the extensive lockdowns seen in other countries, but previous efforts at fully opening schools have been hampered by new waves of infections. The fully reopened schools come as part of South Korea’s “living with COVID-19” plan, adopted after it reached its vaccination goals last month. Overall 78.8 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, though that number drops to 12.8 per cent for those ages 12 to 17. “It is true that many concerns remain,” South Korean education minister Yoo Eun-hye said during a visit to an elementary school in Seoul on Monday. Even as it eased social distancing amid high vaccination rates, the country has battled some of the highest daily case numbers yet, including a record number of severe cases. Click here to read…