Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

West Asia Round Up – November 2021

Abstract :

West Asia, during the month, witnessed enhanced intra regional interactions and efforts for rapprochement. UAE took the lead as its Foreign Minister visited Damascus to upgrade the ties and to bring Syria back into the Arab fold. UAE FM also spoke to his Iranian counterpart and welcomed the Iranian Dy. FM and negotiator on nuclear talks in Abu Dhabi. More interactions to follow as UAE agreed to build some power plants and other infra developments in Iran. USA is somewhat miffed as both Syria and Iran fall in the ambit of its sanctions. However, in Bahrain Secretary of Defence tried to assuage the concerns of Arab allies and to assure them that for the US, security of the region was paramount. As for Afghanistan, Washington decided to open its mission in Qatar embassy in Kabul as Saudi Arabia opened its consulate and UAE expressed interest to help run the Kabul airport as all of them continued to provide humanitarian assistance to alleviate the civil strife. Turkey’s FM visited Tehran to work on a visit of President Erdogan. Importantly, UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan made his first high level visit to Ankara and held discussions with President Erdogan creating scope for cooperation sidestepping the rivalry and competition. A $ 10 billion investment fund was also announced for strategic investments in Turkey. Carrying on with its political, socio-legal and economic reforms UAE decided to introduce Civil law over Muslim personal law for the foreigners and expatriates giving a big relief. UAE has also been designated to host COP 28 in 2023. Omani Sultan visited Doha and met Qatari Emir to strengthen bilateral and regional mechanisms. Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited Rabat and signed a security cooperation agreement as Morocco and Algeria remain in a state of conflict.

In Sudan after the military coup and under the international pressure PM Hamdok was reinstalled but the public protests continued.

Indirect JCPOA talks between Iran and the US were resumed on Nov 29 amidst threatening statements on both sides the Europeans and Americans warning Tehran that time was running out as Iranians wanted all sanctions to be lifted and guarantees be given for the continuity of the deal even if there was a change in political dispensation in Washington which is a non starter. Russia and China maintained that the two sides should return to the existing JCPOA agreement.

External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar held talks with H.E. Dr. Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), who was on his first official visit to India on November 10-11. They exchanged views on regional and international issues of mutual concern. EAM congratulated Secretary General for the constructive role played by GCC in promoting stability and prosperity in the region. Both sides decided to convene the next India-GCC Troika Political Dialogue at an early date. The last round of the Dialogue was held virtually in November 2020. Both sides also agreed to further institutionalize the annual meetings between EAM and GCC Troika by signing an MOU in the coming months.

More details …….
Protests in Iraq

Iraq witnessed weeks of demonstrations against the result of the parliamentary election held in October 2021. The election witnessed one of the lowest turnouts. Prominent Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s political bloc, the Sairoon alliance won 73 seats in the 329 member parliament. Pro-Iranian groups that suffered heavy losses in the election called the polls fraudulent. They threw stones that were responded with tear gas and fire in the air. Fateh Alliance, the political arm of Hashd al-Shaabi won only 15 seats as compared to 48 seats in the last election. The domestic situation continued to remain unstable including small scale clashes throughout the month.

On 7 November, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi survived an assassination attempt after a drone filled with explosives struck his residence in the high-security green zone in Baghdad. Iraqi officials and military sources have speculated on the involvement of pro-Iranian groups behind the attack. It is however unlikely that Iran is directly involved in the attack that could adversely affect its trade and political ties with Iraq as well as intensify violence on its western border. Iraqis fear that the tension within the Shiite groups that dominate government, number of state institutions and paramilitary branches could escalate into a broader civil conflict in the near future.

New Political Agreement to Overturn the Coup in Sudan

Sudan’s military chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan signed a political agreement with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to restore civilian control of the government. The military leaders were facing intense domestic and international pressure after the government was dissolved and cabinet members were arrested on 25 October.

Sudanese public after months of protest succeeded in pressurising the military to oust the long time autocrat, Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019. The military with support from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt intended to retain political power. However, protests against military control forced General Al-Burhan to accommodate the civilian coalition facilitating the formation of a technocratic government during the transition period until 2023. The dynamics between the military and civilian component in the government has been uneasy. The military after the national election and appointment of a democratically elected government is supposed to leave political office in 2023. The military, therefore, is unwilling to concede political power. It has blamed the civilian government for domestic protests, economic shortages and disrupting the path of the revolution etc and therefore justified the October coup. The coup led to widespread criticism eventually forcing the military to undertake political agreement. The 14 point deal entails the release of all political prisoners. Civil groups have however expressed their displeasure about the peace deal that continues to place the military in the dominant position. In the recent future, the political battle is likely to continue between the military committed to preserving its predominant status and increasingly assertive civilian government.

UAE’s Rapprochement with Syria

The UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan visited Damascus and met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on 9 November. It indicates a thaw in relations since 2011 protests in Syria that quickly engulfed into a civil war. The UAE sided with Syrian rebels to topple the Assad regime and remained a vocal opponent of the actions of the government forces. The Assad regime through help from Russia and Iran has managed to stabilise the state. The civil war has killed thousands of people and displaced millions living as refugees in West Asia and Europe. The economic challenges for the Syrian government have been aggravated. In a major departure from the UAE’s previous stance, the Foreign Minister expressed his government’s interest in preserving the security, stability and unity of Syria.

The visit is seen as an indication of regional efforts to overturn Syria’s diplomatic isolation that could help the country to overcome economic despair. Both leaders reportedly discussed boosting joint investments in key sectors. The UAE earlier in December 2018 reopened its embassy in Damascus and in March called for Syria’s re-entry into the Arab League.

Notably, the US has expressed its reservation against re-engaging with the Assad regime by the UAE. The US State Department Ned Price said that it would not support other states to normalise or upgrade their relations and rehabilitate Assad calling him a brutal dictator. Syria is one of the four states under the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. The US could therefore continue to hinder Syria’s efforts to re-integrate with the international trade network and comity of states.

UAE’s Dialogue with Iran

The UAE has adapted its foreign policy to the changing realities at the regional level. In the recent period, it has opened diplomatic engagement with Syria as well as reached out to regional rivals including Qatar, Turkey and Iran. The UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian held a telephonic conversation on 11 November. Both states called their relations traditional and positive. The Iranian leader called for resolving existing problems between both states. Iran has welcomed UAE’s reconciliation with Syria calling it a positive step in regional cooperation. Both sides agreed that global and regional cooperation should be established to solve environmental problems.

Following the phone call, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani visited the UAE on 23 November and met with the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khalifa Shaheen and the diplomatic advisor to the Emirati President, Anwar Gargash. Both states talked about opening a new chapter. The UAE has called for collective diplomacy between Gulf States and Iran by taking measures to de-escalate tensions.

US Approves US$ 650 million Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia

President Joe Biden in early November approved US$ 650 million worth sale of 280 air-to-air missiles and 596 LAU-128 Missile Rail Launchers (MRLs). The US weapons firm, Raytheon is the principal contractor for the sale of AIM-120C-7/C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air missiles and related equipment. Saudi Arabia has purchased a US$ 500 million helicopter maintenance deal in September. The US justified the sale suggesting that it would support US foreign policy and national security and help improve the security of a friendly state. Pentagon called Saudi Arabia an important force for political and economic progress in the region. The US-made missile deployed from Saudi aircraft has been crucial to intercept missiles and rockets and protect over 70,000 US citizens living in the kingdom.

The arms deal is the first sale to Saudi Arabia under Joe Biden. Biden as a presidential candidate was critical of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The new administration has eventually adopted the policy of selling only defensive weapons to Saudi Arabia. Raytheon Technologies called the sale consistent with the government’s policy to lead with diplomacy to end conflict in Yemen. The sale does not require approval from the US Congress; however, lawmakers can block the deal by passing a disapproval bill in both houses. Critics within the US has dismissed Joe Biden administration’s claim to improve security. The deal has only benefitted the US defence industry.

Qatar to act as Diplomatic Proxy for the US

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on 12 November announced that its Gulf ally, Qatar will represent US interests in Afghanistan and help to process visas for people trying to flee Taliban control. Qatar under the new agreement would carry out a few diplomatic responsibilities including consular services and providing security of abandoned US facilities. Qatar for years has served as mediating ground for dialogue between the US and Taliban including the Doha Peace agreement. Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani stated that his country would continue to remain an instrument of peace and stability in the region. He mentioned engagement is the only way forward and abandoning Afghanistan is a big mistake. It has to be been what role Qatar would play provided that US officials have regularly met with Taliban figures post-August 2021 takeover.

CEO Designate of NSO firm Resigns

The CEO designate of Israeli spyware firm NSO, Isaac Benbenisti who joined the firm in August 2021 has offered his resignation on 11 November after the group was blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce. On 31 October, Benbenisti was named as the future replacement for Shalev Hulio, the co-founder and CEO of the NSO Group. Hulio has announced that he would remain in the current position due to the need for stability and continuity during the current period.

The firm’s spyware, Pegasus has been sold to foreign governments to spy on dissidents, journalists, diplomats etc. The company reportedly works after the approval of the Israeli Defence Ministry. The US placed NSO Group on the US blacklist in the first week of November after determining that the Israeli spyware has acted contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the US. The sanctions are intended to block NSO’s business operations in the US The firm has defended its spyware arguing that it is sold only to governments to target terrorists and other serious criminals.

West Asia Round Up – October 2021

Abstract:
Iran

At G20 on October 30 the leaders of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the US reiterated their commitment to ensure that Iran can never develop nuclear weapons stating “We expressed our determination to ensure that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon and shared our grave and growing concern that, while Iran halted negotiations on a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) since June, it has accelerated the pace of provocative nuclear steps, such as the production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal. Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure, but both are important to nuclear weapons programs,” while reiterating the importance of a negotiated solution to the current situation “that provides for the return of Iran and the US to full compliance with the JCPOA and provides the basis for continued diplomatic engagement to resolve remaining points of contention. We are convinced that it is possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to full compliance and to ensure for the long term that Iran`s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes,” the statement read. They also asked President Raisi to seize this opportunity urgently as it was the only way to avert a dangerous escalation. European leaders have been intervening to resume the JCPOA talks.

As President Raisi confirmed his intent and date in November to return to Talks, FM Hossein Amirabdollahian urged ‘It is enough for Biden to issue an executive order tomorrow and they (US) announce they are rejoining the pact from the point where his predecessor left the deal. If there is a serious will in Washington to return to the deal, there is no need for all these negotiations at all’. Tehran has said its nuclear steps since Trump abandoned the accord are reversible “if Washington lifts sanctions in a verifiable process”.

Iranian leadership and commanders of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) issued statements against Azerbaijan, saying that it is allowing Israeli influence and plots to be implemented in the region, which Azerbaijan dismissed.

Iranian Chief of Staff General Mohammad Bagheri, on a visit to Moscow, pointed to his country’s intention to revive military cooperation with Russia as soon as the restrictions imposed by the UN Security Council are lifted.

Earlier in the month, Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Abdollahian visited Moscow to coordinate on regional affairs including Afghanistan. It also held the Afghan talks with regional countries in the Moscow Format, following the Russian initiative.

Saudi -Lebanon– Pursuant to the criticism by a Lebanese Minister of the role played by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Riyadh expelled the Lebanese Ambassador and withdrew theirs. Kuwait, Bahrain and UAE followed suit. As for Oman it urged all sides to not escalate the crisis. It was seen as the primacy of Hezbollah backed by Iran which has vitiated the relations as Lebanon wades through an unprecedented political and economic crisis. Qatar is trying to mediate.

Ahead of the G20 and Glasgow Summits Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that the Kingdom aims to reach zero-net emissions by 2060 through circular carbon economy. He launched the Forum and the Saudi Green Initiative in Riyadh, which will witness the introduction of new environmental initiatives for the Kingdom and will follow up on the progress of the ongoing programs within the Green Initiative. In his speech, the Crown Prince revealed plans to cut carbon emissions by over 270 million tons per year with investments of more than 700 billion riyals ($186.63 billion).

During his visit to Riyadh the US Special Envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking assured that Washington is 100 percent committed to the defence of Saudi Arabia, while urging that cross-border attacks by Houthis into the Kingdom must stop underscoring “We have 70,000 Americans living and working all over the Kingdom. And it would be a terrible thing for any of those Americans to be harmed, in addition to Saudis and all the many other foreigners working in Saudi Arabia,” whose security was equally important.

Saudi –Pakistan

Imran Khan visited Saudi Arabia for an Investment Meet. Saudi Arabia revived its financial support to Pakistan, including US$3 billion in deposits to the central bank and up to $1.5 billion worth of oil supplies with deferred payments. Saudi Arabia had suspended aid last year because of Pakistani criticism of the kingdom’s lack of support in its dispute with India over Kashmir.

However, the kingdom’s renewed support results from a desire to counter tightening military and cultural relations between Pakistan and Turkey as well as Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban in the wake of the group’s victory in Afghanistan

UAE-Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that he received an invitation letter from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to visit the United Arab Emirates. The stronger the bond between our countries, the stronger the security and stability in the entire region,” the Israeli PM said. Earlier Secretary Blinken organised a discussion with his UAE and Israeli counterparts to take stock of developments since the Abraham Accords were signed a year ago. However, Foreign Minister Bin Zayed also said, during a joint news conference with US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, in Washington DC, that there could be no talk of peace in the Middle East if Israel and the Palestinians were not “on talking terms”. He stressed that a more successful UAE-Israeli relationship would encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to see “that this path works, that this path is worth not only investing in but also taking the risk.

On the other hand, surprisingly Israel is claiming to lead the negotiations between Abud Dhabi and Ramallah. According to media reports Israeli-Arab Minister of Regional Cooperation, Issawi Frej, has revealed that a possible reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and UAE would be announced soon

Israeli PM Naftali Bennet visited Russia to meet President Putin and discussed bilateral and regional issues. Russia reportedly allowed limited Israeli strikes in Syria

Algeria- Morocco-France

Algeria, which has long supported the Palestinian cause and opposed Morocco’s normalisation of ties with Tel Aviv, cut diplomatic ties with Rabat on August 24 over “hostile actions”, including alleged spying on its officials. Algeria has rejected attending roundtable talks on Western Sahara, considering the roundtable format “deeply unbalanced and counterproductive”, as per its Western Sahara Envoy Amar Belani . “We confirm our formal and irreversible rejection of the so-called roundtable format,” Belani asserted, warning that this format would thwart United Nations (UN) Envoy Staffan De Mistura’s efforts.

Belanialso denied reports that visiting Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan had discussed the dispute between Algeria and Morocco during his visit to Algiers. The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the minister’s visit aimed to “strengthen joint cooperation” including bilateral political cooperation that supports regional security and stability as well as “the latest regional and international developments”.

France and Algeria’s relations again got entangled amidst controversy observe the statements by French President when Algiers refused permission to Paris to use its air space as well as two of ministries stopped using French language. French President, Emmanuel Macron, reported by Le Monde newspaper, considered that Algeria was built after its independence in 1962 on a “memory revenue” established by the “political-military regime.” He also questioned the existence of an Algerian nation before French colonialism. Macron regretted his unintended statement.

Turkey US

Biden and Erdogan met in Rome to try to repair the damaging relationship between the two NATO allies. They discussed F16 and Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S 400 air defence system.

West Asian Economic Forum-The QUARTET

During Dr S Jaishankar’s visit to Israel the foreign ministers of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, India and the US held a hybrid meeting to bolster coordination. Following the meeting, Lapid said he agreed with his counterparts to establish a forum for economic cooperation. This is being seen as a highly significant development and possibly yet another QUAD.

Lebanon

US Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives introduced a resolution on expressing solidarity with the Lebanese people and the continued efforts to form a secure, independent, and democratic Lebanon. The lawmakers stressed that security, sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Lebanon is in the interest of the United States and its allies in the region. They underlined the US robust assistance for Lebanon, including training and equipment provided for the Lebanese Armed Forces, which it described as the sole institution entrusted with the defence of the sovereignty of Lebanon. The bill accused Iran of undermining Lebanon’s sovereignty and its history as a US partner and democratic actor in the Middle East.

Palestine

The US will engage Israel seeking more information about the designation of six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations, State Department spokesperson Ned Price claiming that Washington was not given advance warning of the designation, a move that drew criticism from the United Nations and human rights watchdogs.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said that the Biden administration intends to press ahead with its plan to reopen the Jerusalem consulate that traditionally engaged with Palestinians, despite Israeli opposition to such a move, Reuters reports.

India –
EAM’s visit to Israel

During the first ever dehyphenated visit of an Indian Foreign Minister to Israel the two sides agreed to start the negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). They have also decided to form a Task Force to formulate a comprehensive ten-year roadmap to identify new areas of defence cooperation at the 15th meeting of the India-Israel Joint Working Group (JWG) on bilateral defence cooperation held in Tel Aviv. Indian Air Force a also participated in the “Blue Flag “exercises in Israel along with many other countries. The two sides reviewed the progress made in the military-to-military engagements, including exercises and industry cooperation. The co-chairs were also apprised of the progress made by the Sub Working Groups (SWG) on Defence Procurement & Production and Research & Development.
It was also decided to form an SWG on Defence Industry Cooperation and in this regard, a document on Terms of Reference was signed between the two sides. The formation of this SWG would enable efficient utilisation of bilateral resources, effective flow of technologies and sharing industrial capabilities. It was also decided to schedule the Service level Staff talks in a specific time frame.

India -UAE

UAE’s Minister of State for Trade visited India and had wide ranging discussions. During the visit it was decided to finalise a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between the two countries.

MOS to Sudan and South Sudan

Shri V Muraleedharan visited Sudan and South Sudan to follow up on bilateral relations and enhancing engagement across the spectrum. However, Sudan witnessed the overthrow of the civilian government by the military junta that may have an impact on the eventual outcomes.

PM Modi met Saudi Crown Prince

Mohammed bin Salman on the side lines of the G20 in Rome and discussed wide ranging issues of mutual interest.

Some more details…
FM S. Jaishankar’s visit to Israel

Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Israel from 17 to 21 October after invitation from alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. He met with President Issac Herzog and Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and prepared a roadmap for enriching the strategic ties and exploring new areas of bilateral collaboration.

Jaishankar interacted with Israeli academics, Indian origin Jewish community, business community leaders and Indian workers and students. He also visited the Talpiyot cemetery to pay respect to Indian soldiers who died in the region during First World War. Notably around 900 Indian soldiers are interred in cemeteries in Jerusalem, Ramle and Haifa.

India’s bilateral relations with Israel have been upgraded to strategic partnership during the visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2017. Both states are keen to expand knowledge based partnership, innovation, research and boosting the Make in India initiative.

Israel UAE sign Space Agreement

Israel’s Minister of Science, Technology and Space, Orit Farkash Hacohen and UAE’s Minister of State for Advanced Technology, Sarah Al Amiri signed space agreement during World Space Week, part of Dubai Expo to enhance cooperation in scientific research, space exploration and knowledge transfer. The UAE Space Agency and Israel Space Agency signed agreement on two key construction projects i.e. Beresheet 2 moon mission and joint scientific research based on the Israeli-French satellite Venus and its data. The Beresheet 2 deriving from the Torah word, “in the beginning” was launched in 2019 to conduct landing on the moon. The agreement on Venus satellite will study the phenomena under earth resources, precision agriculture, desertification, monitoring water bodies, climate change which is crucial for both states.

In terms of space education, Nazareth Space Center would train Emirati and Israeli students about satellite engineering and astronomy. Both states are hoping to expand space research and attempt to determine the exact timing of the moon’s birth.

Israel-Palestine Conflict

Israeli government has announced plans to build new Jewish settlements in West Bank. The Ministry of Construction & Housing has published tenders for 1355 houses in the occupied territory. The Housing Minister, Zeev Elkin, belonging to the right wing New Hope party asserted that strengthening Jewish presence in the West Bank is essential to the Zionist vision.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh called on other nations to confront Israel over the aggression that settlement construction poses for the Palestinian people. The UN expressing grave concern called all settlements in West Bank including East Jerusalem is illegal under international law and obstacle to peace.

The US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price condemned Israel’s push to develop new settlements and objected to retroactively legalise irregular settlement outposts in the Palestinian territory. Price called the settlement expansion as inconsistent with efforts to reduce tensions and ensuring calm. The US however restrained from mentioning any action but suggested that the issue has been discussed at senior levels. The Joe Biden administration has rejected demands by the Progressive Congress members to condition aid to Israel based on its actions in occupied Palestine. Joe Biden has described his administration’s commitment to Israel’s security as ironclad.

Israel in mid-October issued military order declaring six prominent Palestinian rights groups i.e. Al-Haq, Addameer rights group, Defence for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees as terrorist organisations alleging links with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a left wing movement that works as political party and armed group. The Israeli government has claimed the human rights groups as part of network of organisations serving as international front on behalf of PFLP. The military order essentially outlaws these groups and police are authorised to shut their offices; seize assets and imprisonment.

Military Coup in Sudan

Sudan’s transition to democracy was cut shot after the military dismissed the civilian government in October 2021. The democratic transition in Sudan was propelled after eight months of street protests and civil disobedience since December 2018. It led to Political Agreement and Draft Constitutional Declaration facilitating 39 month political transition period formally transferring executive power to the Sovereignty Council and civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The military has displayed uneasiness with the civilian takeover process. Earlier in September 2021, the civilian government thwarted a coup attempt by military leading to arrest of 40 officers. The relationship between the civilian and military leadership has been tense throughout this period.
On 16 October, pro-military sympathisers backed by the army held demonstrations calling for coup. In response, pro-democracy protestors came to streets to express support for the civilian government. The nation-wide public demonstrations have created major unrest in different parts of the state. The negotiations between the army and the political coalition of civilian groups also reached a dead end due to differences over security reforms; army’s commercial activities; formation of constitutional court; appointment of an attorney general and chief justice and transfer of the chair of the Sovereignty Council to a civilian official.

Eventually on 25 October, the military chief and chair of the Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dismissed the civilian government and arrested Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and majority of the cabinet. The coup led to widespread protest including clashes with security forces killing at least 10 and injuring more than 150 civilians. The African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership. The US, European Union and other western states condemned the coup and asserted that it would maintain its diplomatic engagement with the civilian government. The military under pressure has indicated its willingness for dialogue, however political groups and citizens coalitions has demanded restoration of the pre-coup political order and constitutional process.

Saudi Arabia-Houthi conflict

Saudi air airstrikes and Houthi drone attacks have continued in October. The Royal Saudi Air Defense Force (RSADF) on 16 October intercepted and destroyed two weaponised drones. Earlier on 8 October, Houthis carried out drone attacks in King Abdullah Airport and Abha airport. Meanwhile in Marib, around 260 Houthis fighters were killed in three days. Saudi Arabia led coalition has conducted daily air raids around Marib targeting Houthis.

The US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held discussion with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud about the situation in Yemen. Blinken assured the US commitment to help Saudi Arabia to defend its territory. Besides Yemen, the US and Saudi leaders discussed about the status of the nuclear deal and pressing need for joint efforts to ensure stability in Afghanistan and other regional and international issues.

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 27 September- 03 October

Economic

$385bn of China’s Belt and Road lending kept undisclosed: report

A staggering $385 billion of Chinese debt to other countries has been hidden from the World Bank and IMF thanks to the way the loans are structured, U.S.-based AidData said on Sept 29 in its latest version of the Global Chinese Official Finance Dataset. The report also alleges that a major portion of Chinese development financing in Pakistan is composed of expensive loans. The AidData report claims Beijing has made its overseas development finance non-transparent. It says that China systematically underreports its debt to the World Bank’s Debtor Reporting System by lending money to private companies in lower middle-income countries by using special purpose vehicles (SPVs), rather than to state institutions. This makes it difficult for debtors and multilateral lenders to assess the costs and benefits of participating in the Belt and Road Initiative. It also heightens the possibility of debtors falling into debt traps with only one way to climb out: by selling geopolitically important assets to China. The report further says that due to debt spending by China under the banner of the Belt and Road Initiative, 42 countries now have levels of public debt exposure to China in excess of 10% of GDP. Click here to read…

U.S. sanctions spur China and Russia to build up cross-border links

A 2,200-meter rail bridge across the Amur River, between China and Russia, was completed in August this year, part of a push to deepen economic ties between the two countries facing U.S. sanctions. The new bridge is a boon for companies that move goods across the China-Russia border. “We’ll be able to slash shipping times once the rail bridge opens up,” said an employee at one trading company based in China’s north-eastern Heilongjiang Province. Her company currently uses ships to move shipments across the river, and then loads them onto trucks on the other side. But the once the bridge begins operations — sometime between January and March — according to Russian media, shipping will become much faster. Beijing and Moscow have historically not always been close. But their shared rivalry with Washington has spurred greater cooperation between the neighbouring powers, which aim to nearly double bilateral trade by 2024. A car bridge that connects the Heilongjiang city of Heihe and the Russian province of Amur was also completed in 2019. Though still not open to traffic due to increased border restrictions from the coronavirus, locals believe it will play a key role in the development of the area. Click here to read…

EU pushes back Australia trade talks over France submarine snub

The European Union has postponed free trade talks with Australia, signalling that tensions remained high after Canberra’s decision to cancel a $40 billion submarine contract with France. The Australian government said Oct 01 that talks with Brussels scheduled for mid-October have now been pushed back to November; although it stressed that the process will continue. The move comes two weeks after Canberra formed a new defense partnership with the U.S. and the U.K. called AUKUS, which led to the cancellation of the large-scale submarine deal with France. The postponement of the trade talks may make it difficult to sign a deal by year-end as the two sides had hoped. With a French presidential election coming next spring, Paris cannot readily back down from its hard-line stance because of public opinion. The negotiations have assumed greater importance for Canberra as its relationship with Beijing deteriorates. China buys more than 30% of Australia’s exports but has been imposing trade barriers such as high tariffs on agricultural products. A deal with the EU, which accounted for less than 4% of Australia’s exports, last year at 17 billion Australian dollars ($12.3 billion), would give Canberra a much-needed opportunity to diversify. Click here to read…

China develops passenger jet, but 40% of parts suppliers are overseas

A Chinese-made passenger jet set to compete with American and European rivals counts roughly 40% of its core component suppliers as overseas companies, exposing the risks posed by U.S. trade frictions to a plane that has been under development for more than a decade. The C919 jetliner, being manufactured by the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China, or COMAC, is due to be delivered to the first customer by the end of the year. However, with that deadline looming, the plane was a no-show at the Air show China in Zhuhai on Sept 30. COMAC instead exhibited a life-size model of the cabin. It is widely believed that the C919 is approaching the conclusion of its development, which began in 2008. But potential turbulence lays ahead for the C919’s business prospects. Out of the 39 lead suppliers for the plane, more than 40% hail from the U.S. or other countries outside China, according to documents from China-based brokerage Avic Securities and other sources. The remaining suppliers include joint venture firms backed by foreign companies. The share of parts sourced from non-Chinese companies appears to rise even higher when tallied in terms of value. Click here to read…

Fed Prepares to Launch Review of Possible Central Bank Digital Currency

The Federal Reserve plans as early as this week to launch a review of the potential benefits and risks of issuing a U.S. digital currency, as central banks around the world experiment with the potential new form of money. Advocates say a Fed digital dollar could make it faster and cheaper to move money around the financial system, bring into it people who lack bank accounts and provide an efficient way for the government to distribute financial aid. Another motivating consideration: keeping up with other major jurisdictions considering a digital currency for domestic and international payments, Fed. Gov. Lael Brainard said in remarks before the National Association for Business Economics on Sept. 27. “It’s just very hard for me to imagine that the U.S., given the status of the dollar as a dominant currency in international payments, wouldn’t come to the table in that circumstance with a similar kind of an offering,” she said. However, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has indicated he sees reason for caution. He said at a Sept. 22 press conference that they would only consider issuing a so-called central bank digital currency—or CBDC—if they believed there were “clear and tangible benefits that outweigh any costs and risks.” Click here to read…

U.S., Europe Team Up to Address Chip Shortage, Tech Issues

U.S. and European Union officials agreed to join forces in an effort to boost the semiconductor supply chain and maintain leadership in emerging technologies. In a joint statement Sept 29, the new U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council said the two governments will “seek to strengthen their competitiveness and technological leadership by developing common strategies to mitigate the impact of non-market practices at home and in third countries.” While the statement didn’t mention China by name, Beijing’s economic practices—including subsidies for favoured industries—were one of the factors behind the commission’s formation.“We know a big part of this is due to the behaviour of China,” a senior European trade official said. In their meetings Sept 29, officials discussed ways to reinforce semiconductor supply chains and to strengthen export controls and investment screening to protect sensitive technologies and data. The two sides will also develop and implement artificial-intelligence systems that will protect privacy and human rights. Click here to read…

OPEC Opts Against Big Output Boost, Pushing Oil Prices to Seven-Year High

OPEC and a Russia-led group of oil producers agreed to continue increasing production in measured steps, delegates said Oct 04, deciding against opening the taps more widely and driving crude prices to their highest levels since 2014.The decision sent oil prices sharply higher. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, rose 3% to $78.13. Brent, the international gauge, rose more than 3% to $81.77 a barrel. Rises in oil prices recently had some market watchers expecting OPEC and its Russia-led allies to lift production more significantly. Instead, the OPEC and Russia said the group, which calls itself OPEC+, would lift its collective output by 400,000 barrels a day in monthly instalments, part of a previously agreed plan to return output to pre-Covid-19 levels. Early last year, the two groups abandoned a price war that had weakened prices and cut back sharply on their combined output, as the coronavirus shut down economies and drove down demand for crude. As economies started to open back up, OPEC+ began returning that oil to market. It more recently agreed to add about 400,000 a barrel a day of crude each month, seeking to return production to pre-Covid 19 levels by next year. Click here to read…

Evergrande halts stock trading on possible sale of property management unit as more debt deadlines approach

Shares of China Evergrande Group and its property management arm were halted from trading in Hong Kong on Oct 04 ahead of a potential asset sale, as the world’s most indebted developer rushes to sell its core assets for cash to stave off a liquidity crunch. Evergrande Property Services Group said trading was suspended pending an announcement under the city’s takeover code about a “possible general offer” for its shares, according to a regulatory filing. The offer could come from another China-based developer Hopson Development, which is said to be buying a 51 per cent stake that values the unit at HK$40 billion (US$5.1 billion), Chinese financial news portal Cailian reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Hopson was also suspended from trading in Hong Kong for a potential takeover announcement, it said in a filing. The company has engaged in a years-long spending spree to diversify its business beyond property development, expanding into everything from wealth management to electric vehicles (EV), draining cash. The liquidity squeeze has worsened as Beijing adopted new rules designed to tamp down speculative property price bubbles. Click here to read…

Australia challenges Google’s ad dominance, calls for data-use rules

Australia’s antitrust watchdog called for powers to curb Google’s use of internet data to sell targeted ads, joining other regulators in saying the firm dominates the market to the point of hurting publishers, advertisers and consumers. The comments, in a report published on Sept 28, puts Australia alongside Europe and Britain where regulators want to stop the Alphabet Inc unit trouncing rival advertisers by using the data it collects from people’s online searches – including on maps and YouTube – to place marketing material. The U.S. justice department is meanwhile preparing an anti-monopoly lawsuit accusing Google of using its market muscle to hobble advertising rivals, according to media reports. “The Europeans and the U.K. are consulting on such laws at the moment and we’re going to be trying to align with them over the next year,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair Rod Sims said in a Reuters interview. Already this year Google said it was poised to withdraw core services from Australia over a law–also recommended by the ACCC– forcing it to pay media companies for content that drives traffic to its search engine. It ultimately inked deals with most major outlets. Click here to read…

China power cuts, UK petrol woes: Why is there an energy crunch?

Unprecedented power cuts in Northern China left millions without electricity, ground factories to a halt and sent workers to the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning after ventilators lost power during a blackout. “Sorry out of use” signs have become ubiquitous at petrol stations in many parts of the United Kingdom this week, while energy firms fold due to skyrocketing natural gas prices. Energy prices across Europe are breaking records, too. Partly, analysts say the reasons behind the energy shortages are multi-fold and many of them predate the COVID-19 crisis. It’s true that increasing consumer and factory demand for energy leading to supply chain bottlenecks and production chain pain points. Many investors have pivoted to more renewable energy sources over the past five to 10 years as part of a global push to address climate change. But the reality is that much of the world still relies on traditional sources of energy such as oil, coal and gas — especially as renewable sources get up and running. And as they do, that has led to a lack of investment in fossil fuels, which is contributing to the current issues, analysts say. Click here to read…

Crunch time for Biden as Congress debates historic spending agenda

Joe Biden faces the most important test of his presidency this week as Democrats in the US Congress launch a highwire bid to implement his sweeping economic agenda while keeping the government’s lights on. The House and Senate are moving toward votes on legislation dealing with infrastructure and social programs worth almost $5 trillion while also averting a government shutdown on Oct 01 and a looming debt default. Failure on any front would be catastrophic for a president looking to cement his legacy, while Democrats would see their chances diminished for hanging onto the House of Representatives and Senate in next year’s midterm elections. “You know me: I’m born optimistic. I think things are going to go well. I think we’re going to get it done,” Biden told reporters at the White House. At stake is the fate of Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better social welfare package that only Democrats support, and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill to improve transport networks and broadband coverage. Click here to read…

Strategic

U.S. set to resume trade talks with China

The U.S. administration led by President Joe Biden is set to resume negotiations with Beijing as part of its long-awaited strategy for handling trade with China.U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is expected to speak to Chinese vice premier Liu He by telephone over the next few days, calling on China to respect the “phase one” trade agreement it signed with Washington under former President Donald Trump. The U.S. also plans to resurrect partial exemptions on punitive tariffs to help curb the impact of trade tensions on its domestic industry. That comes as Tai prepares to unveil the Biden administration’s China trade policy in a speech on Oct 04. To prompt Beijing to abide by the phase one agreement, Tai is expected to underscore that Washington will “use the full range of tools we have and develop new tools as needed to defend American economic interests from harmful policies and practices.” The U.S. aims to persuade China to correct unfair trade practices through dialogue, without setting a specific deadline for talks. The U.S. plans to reinstate tariff exemptions, which expired at the end of 2020 apart from on pharmaceutical products. It is possible that imports related to climate change and infrastructure, including renewable energy-related items, may be spared from the tariffs. Click here to read…

‘Hostage diplomacy’ fears linger after China frees Canadians

China freed diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor on Sept 25, Asia time, immediately after Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was granted release from house arrest in Vancouver. The move followed the U.S. dropping a request for Meng’s extradition and came despite Beijing’s repeated claims that there was no connection between the cases. “It’s a clear confirmation that hostage diplomacy works, and this is an approach that China has used many times in the past 10 to 15 years,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, in comments to Nikkei Asia. After the Michaels were jailed, Saint-Jacques pushed for Canada to rally other countries and amplify its relatively small voice on the global stage. Last February, with the support of former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Canada launched a Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations. It did not name any country, and governments other than China use such tactics, but there was little doubt about the intended target.The declaration has been signed so far by 66 countries and the European Union. Canada now proposes turning the document into a treaty with protocols, including sanctions, to discourage hostage diplomacy. Click here to read…

Two Koreas reopen hotlines as North urges South to mend ties

The two Koreas on Oct 04 restored their hotlines that the North severed months ago, with Pyongyang urging Seoul to step up efforts to improve relations after criticizing what it called double standards over weapons development. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his willingness last week to reactivate the hotlines, which North Korea cut off in early August in protest against joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises, just days after reopening them for the first time in a year. The South confirmed that twice-daily regular communication was restarted on time via military hotlines and others run by the Unification Ministry, except for the navy channel set up on an international network for merchant ships. The hotlines are a rare tool to bridge the rivals, but it was unclear whether their reconnection would facilitate any meaningful return to talks aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear and missile programs in return for U.S. sanctions relief. KCNA called for Seoul to fulfill its “tasks” to mend strained cross-border ties, repeating Kim’s speech last week that he had decided to recover the lines to help realize people’s hopes for a thaw and peace. Click here to read…

The Generals Contradict Biden on Afghanistan

President Biden hopes the political fallout from his botched Afghanistan withdrawal will fade quickly, but Sept 28’s Senate hearing with the secretary of Defense and two top generals doesn’t cast his decisions in a better light. The hearing underscored that the President acted against the advice of the military in yanking the residual U.S. force from the country. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie both made clear in their testimony that they recommended that about 2,500 U.S. troops stay in Afghanistan to delay a Taliban takeover. That’s not what Mr. Biden said he was told. Asked in an ABC News interview days after the August fall of Kabul if his military advisers urged him to maintain America’s small footprint in the country, Mr. Biden said, “No one said that to me that I can recall.” The scandal isn’t that the President ignored military advice—he’s the decision-maker. It’s his refusal to own his decision. The generals also undercut Mr. Biden’s spin about their advice as the chaotic withdrawal was underway. He said the generals unanimously supported his Aug. 31 deadline for the departure of U.S. troops. But as Gen. Milley confirmed in questioning by Sen. Tom Cotton, that advice was given on Aug. 25—10 days after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Click here to read…

Taliban demands US respect Afghan airspace after alleged drone incursions

The Taliban has demanded that the US respect Afghanistan’s sole rights over its own airspace and called on the world’s strongest military to keep out or be prepared to face “negative consequences.”On Sept 29, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned of consequences if the US continues to violate Afghan airspace in a statement shared on Twitter. “The U.S. has violated all international rights and laws as well as its commitments made to the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, with the operation of these drones in Afghanistan,” the statement read.The Taliban said it called on all countries, but especially the United States, to remain in accordance with international law and their commitments to Afghanistan. The statement claims the Taliban-controlled Kabul government is the sole custodian of Afghanistan and its airspace, adding that if the US fails to recognize this, it will face negative consequences.US officials are yet to comment on the Taliban statement. A US drone strike in August, just days before the military evacuation was complete, killed an aid worker and nine members of his family, including seven children. The strike was intended for ISIS-K terrorists. Click here to read…

US-abandoned Bagram base reportedly operational for first time in two months, as rumors swirl of Chinese military presence

Bagram Airfield, once the linchpin of the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, is said to be powered and serving planes again. A foreign force is rumoured to be involved, with fingers pointed at China, which denied eyeing the base. A photo shared on social media purportedly shows the base on Oct 03 night with its floodlights on. There are claims that several planes have landed at and taken off from the airfield in recent hours. If confirmed, it would be the first time Bagram had served aircraft in almost 50 days, marking a significant development. The base was abandoned by US troops in early July as the Pentagon prepared for the withdrawal of most of its troops from Afghanistan. It had been intended that the Afghan national government would maintain it, but the regime’s subsequent collapse in August put Bagram in the hands of the Taliban. There are doubts that the militant movement has the expertise to fully run the base or even has the need for it, so it’s presumed that the resumption of air traffic signifies a foreign power is involved. Fingers were immediately pointed at China as Bagram’s likely new operator, despite Beijing previously having stated it had no intention of deploying troops to Afghanistan. Click here to read…

Qatar calls Taliban moves on girls’ education ‘very disappointing’

Qatar’s top diplomat says the Taliban’s moves on girls’ education in Afghanistan are “very disappointing” and “a step backwards” and called on the group’s leadership to look to Doha for how to run an Islamic system. Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani was referring to, among other things, the Taliban’s refusal to allow Afghan female secondary school students to resume their studies, weeks after the group took power. He spoke at a news conference on Sept 30 with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell in Doha. “The recent actions that we have seen unfortunately in Afghanistan, it has been very disappointing to see some steps being taken backwards,” he said. “We need to keep engaging them and urging them not to take such actions, and we have also been trying to demonstrate for the Taliban how Muslim countries can conduct their laws, how they can deal with the women’s issues,” said Sheikh Mohammed. “One of the examples is the State of Qatar, which is a Muslim country; our system is an Islamic system [but] we have women outnumbering men in workforces, in government and in higher education.” Click here to read…

Russia’s ally Tajikistan emerges as Taliban’s new nemesis

With a growing hub of Afghan resistance figures and political exiles, Tajikistan has emerged as the primary foreign power ready to face down the new Taliban government. Reports of a push to form an alternative Afghan administration in the Tajik capital Dushanbe will only deepen hostilities between the neighbours. Since the Taliban stormed Kabul, the militant group and Tajikistan have not lost time in trading threats. The Taliban accused Tajikistan of interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and moved its special forces to their vast shared border. After the Taliban launched an assault on the Panjshir valley, resistance leader Ahmad Massoud and former vice-president Amrullah Saleh fled their final holdout for Dushanbe, where they joined a growing number of Afghan exiles plotting their next steps. Complicating matters for President Rahmon, however, is that not all Tajiks look to Tajikistan for support. A number of Afghan Tajiks have already sided with the Taliban, and authorities in Dushanbe fear that Afghanistan’s new rulers could use Jamaat Ansarullah – a militant group founded in Afghanistan by Tajik national Amriddin Tabarov in 2010 – as a force against Tajikistan. Click here to read…

Pakistan fears US is targeting its China links as it seeks to settle scores from Afghanistan

Fears are growing in Islamabad that the United States is targeting its plans to expand the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into Afghanistan, as punishment for enabling the Taliban’s return to power in August. Pakistan’s efforts to “reset” relations with the US, so as to avoid being caught up in its intensifying competition with Islamabad’s closest strategic ally China, have been cold-shouldered by the administration of Joe Biden. On September 14, as he was pointedly questioned by angry members of the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US would soon undertake a formal reassessment of its relationship with Pakistan. “This is one of the things we’re going to be looking at in the days, and weeks ahead – the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years, but also the role we would want to see it play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that,” Blinken said. Pakistan retains its status as a “major non-Nato ally” despite being denied US military assistance since September 2018. Blinken told the Congressional committee that Pakistan had a “multiplicity of interests, some that are in conflict with ours”. Click here to read…

Beijing sends record 52 fighter jets to test Taiwan, raising fear of mishaps

Taiwan’s defence ministry said 52 mainland Chinese fighter jets flew to the self-ruled island’s southwest air defence identification zone on Oct 04, a record number that has raised concerns of unintended incidents between the armed forces. The island said it had scrambled jets and deployed missiles to warn off the mainland military aircraft, including 34 J-16 fighter jets, 12 H-6 bombers and two Su-30 jets. It came after Beijing sent 38 warplanes to Taiwan’s air defence zone on Oct 01, followed by 39 on Oct 02 and 16 on Oct 03. Analysts warned that conflicts between Taiwan and mainland China could surface if the People’s Liberation Army made entries to the island’s southeast ADIZ – a major point of access to Taiwan’s eastern military zone – “a new normal”.Analysts said while the large-scale sorties were a show of force to Taiwan and the United States, they also showed the PLA’s joint combat abilities, including the ability to mobilise warplanes from different military zones on the mainland and to operate at night. Click here to read…

Kishida elected as Japan’s PM, set to call election on October 31

Japan’s newly elected Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to dissolve parliament next week and call an election for October 31, according to the NHK broadcaster. The report came shortly after legislators formally chose Kishida as prime minister on Oct 04. Kishida’s plan, amid widespread expectations for a poll in November, appears to be aimed at exploiting a traditional honeymoon period accorded to new governments and a sharp drop in the number of coronavirus infections. Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga enjoyed support ratings of about 70 percent soon after taking office about a year ago but was pummelled by criticism of his handling of the pandemic, leading him to make way for a new face to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) through the election. Kishida, 64, a former foreign minister with an image as a low-key consensus builder, beat out three contenders last week to lead the party, ensuring he clinched the post of prime minister as the LDP has a majority in parliament. NHK said that Kishida will dissolve parliament on October 14. Click here to read…

What Kishida’s Cabinet picks tell us

Kishida’s first Cabinet is indicative of the outcomes of the intraparty deal-making that helped elevate him to the country’s top job. Cabinet appointments are tools for managing intraparty politics and have been for decades. A prime minister will use the postings to reward allies, placate or punish adversaries, and satisfy intraparty deals. That’s why it is important to look at not only who gets picked, but which LDP patrons they represent. A deep look at the Cabinet reveals a few key points. First, this is not a “unity Cabinet” — a Cabinet which has near-equal representation across all of the LDP’s institutionalized factions. Instead, this is a Cabinet that reflects all the deals that were made to get Kishida into the party presidency. He rewarded his allies, paid off debts and snubbed rivals. The second point relates to the influence of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso. When looking at the proportion of appointments, Abe’s home Hosoda faction came up a bit short, and Aso’s faction actually earned a proportional share to its size in the party. The third point is that Oct 04 was a bad day to be a Taro Kono supporter. Basically, anyone in the Kono camp failed to earn Cabinet-level postings. Click here to read…

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Announces Retirement from Politics

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose brash and authoritarian style has upended governance in the country, said Oct 02 that he intends to retire from politics, indicating he won’t attempt to extend his time in power by seeking the vice presidency. Duterte’s six-year term will end in June, and under the constitution he can’t run for re-election. But Mr. Duterte had accepted his party’s nomination for the vice presidency in the 2022 election. Critics in the Philippines called it an attempt to circumvent the constitution’s one-term limit by providing a backdoor into the presidency if the next president resigned, died or otherwise left office. On Oct 02, Duterte reversed himself, seeming to put to rest the possibility of running for vice president—or any office, now or in the future. “The overwhelming sentiment of the Filipino [people] is that I am not qualified, and it would be a violation of the constitution to circumvent the law,” he said, according to a transcript from the Philippine government’s official newswire. “And today, I announce my retirement from politics.” But political commentators cautioned that he has made similar statements before, only to reconsider. Click here to read…

Saudi Arabia confirms recent talks with Iran

Saudi Arabia held discussions with regional rival Tehran last month as talks to ease tensions continue under Iran’s conservative President Ebrahim Raisi. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said on Oct 03 “the fourth round of talks took place on September 21”. “These discussions are still in the exploratory phase, and we hope that they lay the foundation to address issues between the two sides,” he said in Riyadh during a joint news conference with the European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell. Prince Faisal did not disclose the location of the meeting or the level of representation, while Borrell welcomed the talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman on Oct 04 said talks with Saudi Arabia are being followed up in Baghdad “with the best conditions”. “No pre-conditions have been set by either side for the talks,” Saeed Khatibzadeh told a press conference in Tehran, adding that the negotiations have so far been mostly focused on bilateral ties, but have also touched on regional issues. Khatibzadeh also denied reports that a Saudi delegation has travelled to Tehran to prepare for reopening the Saudi embassy. Click here to read…

Iran asked U.S. to unfreeze $10 billion to show good will, Iran official says

Iran’s foreign minister said on Oct 02 that U.S. officials tried to discuss restarting nuclear talks last month, but he insisted Washington must first release $10 billion of Tehran’s frozen funds as a sign of good will. Iran has rejected direct talks with the United States, and indirect talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear accord aimed at keeping Iran from being able to develop a nuclear weapon stopped in June. The United States used intermediaries at the United Nations last month to attempt to make contact, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state television. Iran has been unable to obtain tens of billions of dollars of its assets in foreign banks, mainly from exports of oil and gas, due to U.S. sanctions on its banking and energy sectors. “The Americans tried to contact us through different channels (at the U.N. General Assembly) in New York, and I told the mediators if America’s intentions are serious then a serious indication was needed … by releasing at least $10 billion of blocked money,” the minister said. Click here to read…

Pandora Papers expose wealth of Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s allies

Prominent members of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government, donors to his party and family members of the country’s powerful military generals have moved millions of dollars of wealth through offshore companies, a new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) alleges. Khan, who rose to power in 2018 on the back of promises to arrest Pakistan’s “corrupt” political elites, was not personally named in the newly leaked documents, dubbed the Pandora Papers, which were released late on Oct 03. Two members of Khan’s cabinet – Water Resources Minister Moonis Elahi and Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin – were prominent in the leaks, alongside more than 700 other Pakistani citizens, including family members of several high-ranking military officials, donors to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and opposition political leaders’ families. The ICIJ’s investigation is based on more than 11.9 million confidential files leaked from 14 offshore financial services firms. Ownership of offshore holding companies is not illegal in most countries, and does not indicate wrongdoing, but the instrument is frequently used to avoid tax liability or to maintain secrecy around large financial transactions. Click here to read…

Myanmar junta blocks ASEAN envoy Suu Kyi visit

Myanmar’s junta has said it was unlikely an ASEAN special envoy tasked with facilitating dialogue in the coup-hit country would be allowed to meet ousted pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been under global pressure to help resolve the crisis in member state Myanmar, where more than 1,100 people have been killed in post-coup violence according to a monitoring group. Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, who was selected as the bloc’s envoy in August after lengthy wrangling, has called for full access to all parties when he visits. But a junta spokesman told AFP on Sept 30 it would be “difficult to allow for meetings with those who are facing trial.” “We will allow for meeting with official organizations,” added spokesman Zaw Min Tun, without giving further details on when Myanmar would give permission for the envoy to visit. Suu Kyi, 76, is on trial for a raft of charges, flouting coronavirus restrictions during polls her party won in a landslide last year, illegally importing walkie talkies and sedition. She faces decades in prison if convicted on all charges. Click here to read…

Sudan thwarts Ethiopian incursion amid protests in east

Sudan’s military says it has repelled an attempted incursion by Ethiopian forces in the border area between the two countries. The Ethiopian forces were forced to retreat from the Umm Barakit area, a military statement said on Oct 03, without giving further details. The head of Sudan’s military, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, told reporters the incident took place on Oct 02. He said it showed how the military was protecting the country in the wake of a coup attempt in Khartoum last week. Colonel Getnet Adane, Ethiopia’s military spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Tensions along the border between Sudan and Ethiopia have escalated since the outbreak of a conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region last year that sent tens of thousands of refugees into eastern Sudan. The tensions have focused on an area of fertile farmland known as al-Fashqa, where the border is disputed. Meanwhile, protesters in eastern Sudan shut a pipeline that carries imported crude oil to the capital Khartoum. Protesters from the Beja tribes in eastern Sudan have been shutting ports and blocking roads in protest against what they describe as poor political and economic conditions in the region. Click here to read…

Medical

From Australia to Thailand, vaccine swap deals help ease shortages

As global distribution of coronavirus vaccines remains heavily tilted toward certain wealthy nations, countries are striking bilateral deals to temporarily “swap” extra doses that are close to expiring. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a sharing deal with the U.K. in early September for 4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to fully vaccinate about 8% of the population Down Under. Australia will send the same amount back later this year. It reached a similar agreement with Singapore for 500,000 doses in late August. Beyond helping to rein in the pandemic, such arrangements can benefit both sides — using up shots that would otherwise go to waste, improving bilateral relationships, and bringing countries a step closer to reopening their borders to travel. Canberra hopes that negotiating with non-superpower nations will enable it to access the shots it needs more quickly. Other pairs of countries with widely varying vaccination rates have reached similar agreements. South Korea, which has a full-vaccination rate in the 40s, announced a swap deal in July with Israel, which has fully vaccinated more than 60% of its population. Thailand received shots from Bhutan in August, and Brunei from Singapore in September. Click here to read…

Singapore’s foreign population dips 10.7% on COVID restrictions

Singapore’s population of foreign nationals was down 10.7% in June compared with a year earlier, no thanks to travel restrictions and a weak economy brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the year, the non-resident population fell from 1.64 million to 1.47 million, largely due to a reduction in foreign employment in Singapore, according to the government’s annual “Population in Brief” report released on Sept 28. This decrease was seen in all categories of work passes, which foreigners need for employment in Singapore. The construction, shipyard and processing sectors, which were hit hard by the pandemic, saw the largest declines in work permit holders. Before the pandemic, Singapore was employing more foreigners on a year-on-year basis. Work pass holders rose by 24,000 from mid-2018 to mid-2019. The number then fell by 47,000 from mid-2019 to mid-2020, as the pandemic started to bite, and that decline has since more than tripled this year. Click here to read…

There May Soon Be a Covid Pill

Since the beginning of the pandemic, doctors have been hoping for an oral antiviral that could prevent recently infected patients from getting sicker. The FDA approved Gilead’s remdesivir for emergency use in hospitalized patients last spring, but the intravenous drug isn’t available to those not sick enough to be admitted. The National Institutes of Health prioritized development of monoclonal antibodies, which have helped many patients. But they are difficult to produce and distribute. Demand this summer exceeded supply, so the feds have rationed treatments. The FDA and NIH missed the chance to accelerate anti-virals like molnupiravir, which creates errors in the machinery of the virus copying code. An early-stage trial this spring showed that molnupiravir rapidly reduced the amount of virus in patients. Merck has also signed licensing agreements with generic manufacturers to accelerate the pill’s availability world-wide. Manufacturers in low-income countries don’t need special expertise and supervision to produce the pills, unlike with the Covid vaccines. Molnupiravir can be easily distributed in poorer countries.An Indian generic manufacturer in July announced positive results from its own molnupiravir trial, and Canada in August began a rolling review. Click here to read…