Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

West Asia Roundup: September 2022

Abstract

Iran has been rattling on account of international sanctions, lack in progress on JCPOA Nuclear deal due to shifting goal posts, economic down turn even as it may have got some respite due to the Russia-Ukraine war in the context of accentuating energy crisis especially in Europe. But Tehran’s domestic scene remains charged and volatile in the aftermath of the death of a young Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police which held and allegedly tortured her due to inappropriate attire. Death to Dictator and public shearing of hair and burning of Hijab became symbols of resistance, identity and independence of women folk even as the Iranian society and even the leadership remain divided on the issue. The Government tried to pass it off the protests as the western devil’s plot and design to destabilize the country. But deep rooted problems from economy to freedom have compounded the situation much more and could be a watershed moment in the Iranian polity and society. Tehran even launched some preemptive strikes on Kurdish Iraqis accusing them of supporting protests.

Iran and Albania broke off diplomatic relations as Tehran was accused of cyber attacks on its security establishment. US imposed some more sanctions.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was appointed as the Prime Minister which is another step in his rise to be the King in due course as greater powers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia devolve upon him as a de facto ruler.

Egypt and Qatar ties have warmed up even more after the blockade was lifted at the Al Ula summit with MBS’s initiative. Doha is making significant investments in Egypt; hence the visit of President Abdel Fateh el Sisi to Doha acquired greater salience. Qatari Emir in his UN address like several other Arab leaders reiterated support for the Palestinian cause.

Israeli PM Yair Lapid and Turkish President met in New York and agreed to exchange Ambassadors as well as discussed cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean as Ankara offers transit to likely gas pipelines and flows from Israel to Europe. This was the first highest level exchange since 2008.

PM Yair Lapid during his UNGA address spoke of the two state solution to the Palestinian problem as the Israeli Defence Forces continued to pound targets in Palestine and Syria.

At the 77thUNGA, President Erdogan once again raked up the Kashmir issue “India and Pakistan, after having established their sovereignty and independence 75 years ago, they still haven’t established peace and solidarity between one another. This is much unfortunate. We hope and pray that a fair and permanent peace and prosperity will be established in Kashmir” was considered milder after his meeting with PM Modi at Samarkand. India discarded the comments that it does not take into cognisance such statements by irrelevant parties.

India seems to have changed its approach adopting tit for tat policy that was evident during EAM Dr Jaishankar’s meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA when he tweeted ‘”Met FM @MevlutCavusoglu of Turkiye on side-lines of #UNGA. Wide ranging conversation that covered the Ukraine conflict, food security, G20 processes, global order, NAM and Cyprus’. Cyprus has been hanging fire since 1974 Turkish invasion.

Dr Jaishankar among scores of his meetings also met the Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush and “appreciated her perspectives on the evolving situation in Libya.” The situation in Libya continues to be volatile.

I2U2 continues to focus on project delivery and closer engagement. I2U2 (India-Israel-UAE-USA) Sherpas met on the sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York on 20 September. The group expressed its commitment to deepening the economic partnership among the four countries. They took stock of the projects identified under I2U2: (i) setting up of food parks in India and (ii) hybrid Renewable Energy/battery storage project in Dwarka, Gujarat.

PM Modi met Iranian President Raisi on the side-lines of the SCO Summit (Sept 16) in Samarkand. Iran has just joined the SCO as full member. Apart from bilateral, regional, global and status of JCPOA negotiations, the two leaders reviewed the progress in the development of the Shahid Behesti terminal, Chabahar Port and underscored the importance of bilateral cooperation in the field of regional connectivity. Iran is hoping to resume its oil and gas supplies to India in the same manner that she is buying it from Russia. PM invited President Raisi to visit India.

EAM Dr Jaishankar visited Saudi Arabia from August 10-12, to co-chair the inaugural Ministerial Meeting of the Committee on Political, Security, Social and Cultural Cooperation (PSSC), established under the framework of the India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council, with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, HH Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. The two Ministers undertook a comprehensive review of the entire bilateral relationship and discussed the progress under the four Joint Working Groups of the PSSC Committee, namely i) Political & Consular; ii) Legal & Security; iii) Social & Cultural and iv) Joint Committee on Defence Cooperation. The meetings of these Groups and Senior Officials (at Secretary level) have been held over the past few months. Both sides also discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest including their cooperation at the UN, G20 and GCC. He also called on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman apart from meeting Secretary General of GCC among others.

The 14th India-UAE Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) was co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and Foreign Minister of UAE H.H. Sheikh Abdulla bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on 01 September 2022. Both Ministers expressed happiness at the entry into force of the landmark Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) on 01 May 2022 and organization of various activities and events for the effective implementation of the Agreement. Both Ministers reiterated commitment to achieving the goal of USD 100 billion of bilateral trade in the next five years. They also positively assessed the investment partnership between both countries and the growth of UAE investments in India in diverse sectorsin accordance with the Vision Statement made by Pm Modi and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in February, 2022.

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Protest in Iran demanding Gender Justice

The death of a 22 year old Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini on 16 September after her arrest in Tehran by the infamous Morality Police has ignited number of protest throughout the Islamic Republic. Amini during her detention collapsed and fell into coma for three days. Amini’s family has claimed that she faced brutal punishment leading to the death. Iranian authorities in order to deflect criticism have claimed that she suffered from pre-existing conditions. The death has raised questions on Iran’s rigid laws over women’s public conduct including their clothing. Consequently, in response to the death, protest began on Amini’s hometown, Saqqez in Kurdistan province which spread throughout the country.

Iranian government has responded by imposing internet restrictions banning social media and clamping down on protests leading to around 100 deaths. Iran has blamed the US and Israel for igniting the protests calling it a conspiracy.

New US sanctions on Iran

The Joe Biden administration on 9 September imposed restrictions on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security after reports of cyber-attack in Albania targeting police computer systems. On 29 September, the US launched another round of sanctions promising to impose financial penalties on a regular basis and severely curbing Iranian oil and petro-chemical exports. The new sanctions have targeted ‘front companies’ involved in sale of Iranian petroleum and petro-chemical exports based in India, China, Hong Kong and the UAE. The sanctions entail freezing the assets of these sanctions in the US and prohibitions on the US citizens to carry out business. The US has linked the new sanctions to the failure of JCPOA talks due to continued differences over fundamental issues. Iran has continued to accelerate the nuclear programme including uranium enrichment. Iran at the same time has restarted talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over probe into man-made nuclear particles discovered at nuclear sites. Iran has denied the presence of nuclear particles claiming it as false information spread by Israel.

Iranian strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan

Iranian forces on 28 September carried out missile and drone strikes at bases of a left wing armed opposition group called the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan or KDPI. The Iranian attacks in Koya located 60 km east of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan led to 13 deaths. The military action has been undertaken in the context of domestic protests following Mahsa Amini’s death. Iranian government has blamed the Iranian-Kurdish separatists of involvement in protests. IRGC has claimed that the operation will continue until threats are thwarted and terrorist group bases are destroyed.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appointed as Prime Minister

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) has been appointed as the new Prime Minister after cabinet reshuffles ordered by King Salman. The Crown Prince is already the de-facto leader of the state who earlier held portfolios such as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister. In terms of the current cabinet reshuffle, MBS’ younger brother, Khalid bin Salman was named as Defence Minister. Moreover, according to royal decree, the positions of Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan and Investment Minister Khalid al-Falih were reaffirmed. The appointment of MBS as Prime Minister indicates the slow transition of power in the kingdom.

Parliamentary Election in Kuwait

On 20 September, election for the National Assembly was held in Kuwait. Earlier, on 2 August 2022, Kuwaiti Crown Prince Meshal al-Ahmad dissolved the parliament after months of in-fighting between the National Assembly and the government under Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al Sabah. The parliament also passed non-confidence votes on Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers. The fresh election has led to defeat of several “pro-government” politicians. The Islamic Constitutional Movement affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Shiite bloc has managed to increase its share in the 50 seat assembly. Notably, 305 candidates participated in election as independents since political parties are banned from contesting polls. In terms of female participation, 22 women participated in the election and only two secured victory.

Kuwait’s democratic institutions are fairly active as compared to other Gulf States. The political stability in the country is dependent on cooperation between the government and parliament. In case of stalemates, the Emir often resorts to cabinet reshuffles and dissolution of the parliament.

Egyptian President’s Visit to Doha

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Qatar on 13 and 14 September and met with Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Earlier in June, Qatari Emir had visited Egypt indicating sign of warming ties. Egypt had joined Saudi Arabia to impose economic blockade on Qatar in 2017 for their alleged support towards terrorist groups and close ties with Iran. Domestically within Egypt, Qatar had backed the Muslim Brotherhood led government that ruled the state briefly between 2012 and 2013. Doha was critical of the military coup led by El-Sisi that banned Muslim Brotherhood and led to mass arrests and deaths of its supporters. Qatar based news channel, Al Qaeda has been highly critical of Egyptian government’s harsh treatment of civil society members, human rights activists, opposition figures etc. and number of its journalists have been languishing in Egyptian jails for years.

The recent bonhomie has occurred after Saudi Arabia lifted the blockade in 2021. In the background of Russia-Ukraine war, Qatar has helped Egypt to overcome the food crisis and in March 2022, it pledged to invest around US$ 5 billion. Qatar Energy also announced agreement with ExxonMobil to acquire 40 percent stake in gas exploration block in Mediterranean Sea. During the current visit, both states signed three MOUs including close cooperation between their respective sovereign wealth funds.

Israeli airstrikes in Syria

Israeli forces on 6 September carried out airstrike on Aleppo Airport damaging the runway and putting it out of service. IDF had earlier attacked the airport on 31 August partially damaging the facility. The Israeli raids destroyed the warehouses belonging to Iran backed fighters. Syrian Transport Ministry after the 6 September attack was forced to divert all flights from Aleppo to the international airport in Damascus.

Israel has carried out number of attacks in areas under the control of Bashar Al Assad government. Israel has refused to divulge details about these operations. It however acknowledged that strikes have been conducted against Iran allied fighters including Hezbollah.

Israeli Raids in West Bank

Israeli forces have carried out number of military raids in occupied West Bank in September 2022. On 6 September, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) blew up an apartment in Jenin belonging to the family of Raed Hazem, responsible for killing three Israelis in April 2022. In Nablus, two Palestinians were killed on 24 and 25 September. Israeli forces also shot dead one Palestinian and 16 others. Israeli forces on 28 September killed four Palestinians and injured 44 others during a military raid on a refugee camp in Jenin. Reportedly, three out of the four casualties were members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

The death of a seven year old Palestinian child on 29 September has re-ignited public uproar about the treatment by Israeli forces towards Palestinians. The Palestinian boy, Rayan Suleiman was chased by Israeli soldiers while walking home from school. Suleiman during the chase suffered from cardiac arrest leading to his death. The European Union (EU) expressed shock over the death and the US State Department called for investigation. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has ruled out use of violence arguing that only one officer went to Suleiman’s house after spotting children throwing stones. Palestinians came out in large numbers throughout West Bank condemning Israel’s military tactics. There were also reports of confrontation between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Tequa.

Turkey and Israeli leaders meeting since 2008

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid held discussions with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 20 September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. It was the first high level meeting since 2008. The relationship had nosedived after 2008-2009 Israel Gaza war and 2010 attack by Israeli forces on Turkish flotilla carrying humanitarian aid towards Gaza. President Erdogan has regularly utilized the subject of Palestinian suffering to increase his domestic and regional legitimacy. Turkey also had been vocal in condemning Israeli actions in West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Turkey eventually agreed to restore full diplomatic relations with Israel in August 2022. During the meeting in New York, both leaders discussed about energy cooperation, intelligence sharing and Russia-Ukraine war. Israel also appointed Irit Lillian as the new Ambassador to Turkey on 20 September 2022.

West Asia Round up-July 2022

Abstract:

After 19 months into his Presidency the US Administration decided that President Joe Biden embark on a ‘mending fences’ visit to West Asia including Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia to interact bilaterally and regionally with GCC++ leaders in Jeddah at the Security and Development Summit . While Khashoggi’s assassination and Biden’s berating of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his election campaign were the bitter pills both sides decided to swallow. Saudi Arabia and the US will cooperate on a range of future industries including 5G networks, enhanced cyber security, and space exploration, in addition to public health for which several agreements were signed.

Russia-Ukraine war was the backdrop as higher energy production to ease supply constraints especially to Europe remained a priority. So did update on the status of negotiations on the Iranian Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) while assuring its Gulf and Middle East partners of USA’s continued support and interest in their security. He said ‘USA was not going anywhere’. Biden also made greater efforts to persuade the Saudi’s to near- normalize ties with Tel Aviv even as Riyadh opened up its airspace for all airlines including El AL. Saudi FM, however, clarified that no normalization possible until the two state solution with Palestine is reached and opening of the air space was not a precursor either.

Biden also attended the I2U2 Summit leaders from India, Israel and UAE; it is considered to be a techno-economic extension of the Abraham Accords. It was agreed by all four sides to expedite the mutually beneficial projects in the six designated areas to begin with. This QUAD in once year with the appointed Sherpas and experts at beck and call as well as PPP enterprise seems to have achieved much more in less than a year including a Virtual Summit of leaders.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz claimed that Israel could use Abraham Accords and normalization of relations with Arab countries to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and develop confidence building measures. Even Biden asked Palestinian President Abbas to cooperate but the Palestinians feel that the Abraham Accords are a mechanism to bypass their cause. Meanwhile, interim Israeli PM Yair Lapid met with Jordanian King Abdullah II to discuss the regional situation as Israeli leadership was getting ready for an eventual confrontation with Iran if the various reports are to be believed.

One of the outcomes of the Biden visit was that U.S. State Department approved the potential sale of C-17 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to the United Arab Emirates for an estimated cost of $980.4 million, according to Pentagon.

Saudi Crown Prince visited France and held discussions in a more charming manner with Macron. Saudi Arabia and France agreed to boost cooperation on renewable energy including solar, wind and clean hydrogen following the guidelines of the Paris Climate Accords. France -UAE also signed an Energy Cooperation Deal.

As the Russia -US contest via Kiev continues, Tehran hosted Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan under the Astana Format on Syria. President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated “We stress the importance of implementing the previous agreements among the guarantor states – Russia, Iran and Turkey- on Syria and announce our support for the political resolution in the country along with combating terrorism till eliminating it completely”. He however beseeched his Turkish counterpart not to attack on Northern Syrians as this will embolden the terrorist groups. Erdogan and Raisi also co-chaired the 7th Meeting of the Türkiye-Iran High Level Cooperation Council.

Prime Minister Modi virtually participated in the I2 U2 Summit

A trilateral meeting of focal points of France, India and UAE was held in which the three sides exchanged perspectives on the Indo-Pacific region and explored the potential areas of trilateral cooperation including Maritime Security, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), Blue Economy, Regional Connectivity, Cooperation in Multilateral Fora, Energy and Food Security, Innovation and Startups, Supply Chain Resilience and Cultural and People-to-People Cooperation. They also discussed the next steps to be taken for furthering trilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
India strongly condemned the recent killings in the Zakho district of Dohuk Governatorate, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which is a clear violation of the country’s sovereignty and a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.

Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra spoke with Dr. Ali Bagheri Kani, Deputy Minister for Political Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran and discussed various elements of bilateral relations including progress on the Chabahar Port. Foreign Secretary underscored India’s commitment to strengthen bilateral cooperation with Iran in addressing shared opportunities and challenges. Both sides also discussed international and regional issues including Afghanistan as per MEA.

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US President’s visit to Israel, Palestine and Saudi Arabia

US President Joe Biden made his first trip to the West Asian region after coming to power. In Israel, he called himself as a fellow Zionist and claimed that the connection between US and Israel is bone deep. Biden during his two days stay in Jerusalem met with Prime Minister Yair Lapid and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden’s interactions and speeches were largely concentrated to his personal ties and bilateral relations with minimal reference to solving Israel-Palestine conflict. He however expressed support for two-state solution without referring to Palestinians by name. Moreover, any discussion on new US initiated peace plan was muted. Biden briefly met with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and discussed about economic incentives. Joe Biden administration is keen to re-open its consulate in East Jerusalem.

In Saudi Arabia, Biden met with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman indicating re-acceptance of the controversial leader after his involvement in killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The US through the visit is seeking to solidify the alliance against Iran. Biden during his interaction with nine Arab leaders assured that the US will not de-prioritise the region that could expand the influence of Russia, China and Iran.

Saudi Crown Prince’s visit to France

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the last week of July met with French President Emmanuel Macron. The visit is seen as a diplomatic rehabilitation of the Saudi Crown Prince who became infamous for his role in killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The efforts by France and other western states to court Saudi Arabia should be seen in the context of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict; slow progress to revive the nuclear deal with Iran and the recent visit by the US President Joe Biden to Jeddah. The western states are seeking to reset engagement with Saudi Arabia to counter the rising regional influence of Iran, Russia and China. Emmanuel Macron’s office dismissing criticism to meet the controversial Saudi leader argued that meeting is important at a time of global energy and food crisis. Macron’s office assured that the subject of human rights would be raised. Macron during his meeting requested Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production to help in bringing down crude oil prices. Saudi Arabia is seen as integral for the diversification of energy supplies for European states. Both leaders expressed the need for ending Russia-Ukraine conflict as well as intensify cooperation to ease the effects in Europe. In case of Yemen, the French President appreciated the efforts by Saudi Arabia to find a political, global and inclusive solution under UN and hoped that the truce continues.

The Saudi Crown Prince prior to reaching France made a stop in Greece and met with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on 26 July. Saudi Arabia and Greece signed agreement on renewable energy. Both leaders also talked about expanding engagement in security and promote investments. Earlier in May 2022, both states agreed to set up a joint venture to build a data cable i.e. East to Med Data Corridor which will be built by MENA HUB owned by Saudi Arabia’s STC and Greek firm, TTSA.

Protest in Iraq

The supporters of influential Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr entered the highly secure Green Zone on multiple occasions in July 2022. The protestors stormed the parliament building to prevent MPs from electing Mohammad al-Sudani who was nominated by Al-Sadr’s opponents as Prime Minister. The supporters of the Sadrist Movement also set up tents to prepare for a long sit-in at the parliament. The Sadrists are demanding fresh election to resolve the political stalemate.
Notably, during the October 2021 election, none of the political groups managed to win majority. Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sadrist Movement secured the highest number of seats winning 73 out of 329 seats. The Sadrist Movement’s political platform is based on Iraqi nationalism and opposition to foreign interference from the US as well as Iran. Al-Fatah alliance that includes Iran supported Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) managed to secure only 17 seats. The Sadrist Movement led coalition Saving the Homeland coalition that includes Al-Siyada or Sovereign Alliance and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) failed to form the government. Eventually on 13 June, MPs from the Sadrist movement resigned deepening the political chaos. It led to coordination Framework becoming the largest bloc in parliament. However, there was no agreement on appointing a new Prime Minister, President and cabinet.

Iran-Taliban Clashes

Iranian forces during clashes with Taliban killed one fighter in Kong district of Nimroz province on 31 July. According to Taliban sources, Iranian forces initiated the attack which has been denied by the Iranian government. Tasnim news agency and Iran’s state run IRNA claimed that Taliban forces entered Iranian territory in Hirmand in Sistan and Balochistan province and tried to raise their own flag. Iranian government defended the military action by suggesting that Taliban fighters had mistaken a wall constructed within Iranian territory to prevent smugglers. Taliban fighters despite repeated explanations by Iranian government have considered the wall as the borderline. Earlier in 2021, similar border incident had occurred due to the confusion over the border.

Iran’s relation with Taliban has been difficult due to harassment and persecution of Shiite Hazara community. Tehran has refused to officially recognise the Taliban that took control over Kabul in August 2021 until it is willing to accommodate other political factions and form an “inclusive” government.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s meeting with Jordanian King in Amman

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid visited Jordan on 27 July and met with Jordanian King Abdullah II. King Abdullah II mentioned that Palestinians should be part of US sponsored regional economic projects necessary for stability in the region. Jordan has urged Israel to include Palestinians in water for energy deals between both states which could be financed by Gulf States. Historically, Jordan-Israel ties were marked by hostility and both states fought wars in 1947 and 1967. During the 1967 war, Israeli forces captured West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordanian control. Jordan eventually signed peace treaty with Israel in 1994 in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord. Despite the peace treaty, the subject of Palestine continues to weigh on their bilateral relations. King Abdullah II during the current meeting stressed that Palestinian statehood and comprehensive and lasting peace is essential for reaching lasting peace. Moreover, he asked Israelis to honour the religious sanctity of the Al Aqsa Mosque and maintain calm in occupied East Jerusalem. On bilateral level, both states discussed about increasing economic projects in water, energy, food security and transport sectors. Amman also asked Tel Aviv to relax its grip on the flow of Jordanian exports to the occupied West Bank. Both sides also discussed about US President Joe Biden’s initiative to further normalise Israel-Arab relations to build a front against Iran.

Iran arrests Mossad Spies

Iranian police on 28 July arrested five spies allegedly linked to Israel’s external intelligence agency, Mossad. Iranian authorities did not reveal the nationality of those arrested and hinted that arrested individuals had received training for armed operations and sabotage. The individuals were reportedly given pledges from Mossad including financial promises to gather information about strategic sites from Iranian territory. Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office that oversees Mossad has refused to comment on the reported arrests. Israel in the recent months has carried out number of killings of Iranian military officials and scientists. Israel on official level did not confirm or deny their actions. Earlier on 24 July, Iranian intelligence forces arrested members of an Israeli cell who were planning to cause explosion in Isfahan. These individuals reportedly entered the state through Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Isfahan hosts some of the prominent nuclear facilities including Natanz that was targeted in 2020 and 2021.

Clash in Syria

On 26 and 27 July, clashes between local armed fighters and gangs aligned with the government security forces led to 17 deaths in the Druze majority province of Sweida in Syria. Reportedly, ten government loyalists from the Falhout faction and seven local fighters were killed. Moreover, at least 40 people were injured during the clashes. The latest violence was triggered after the abduction of two people close to local armed groups. Bashar Al Assad since 2011 has been facing domestic discontent backed by external powers to overthrow his rule. Assad however managed to retain his power due to military assistance from Russia and Iran. Assad backed fighters have gained significant ground in recent years and ordinary Syrians have complained about arbitrary detentions, roadblocks and kidnappings for ransom by these fighters. The two day long clashes finally subsided after local fighters surrounded the village headquarters of the pro-Damascus faction. The abducted locals were finally released after the violence.

Grain Silos in Beirut Port Damaged Again

Part of grain silos at Beirut port collapsed after week long fire caused by summer heat burning the grains. The northern block of the silos feel out on 31 July. The General Director of the Beirut Port Silos, Assad Haddad assured that the situation was under control. The Civil Defence Department however warned that other parts of the silos’ northern block were at high risk. The explosion at the port on 4 August 2020 had rocked the state killing 200 and injuring more than 6000 people.

The recent fire has raised criticism about the government’s ineffectiveness to manage the grain silos and overall incompetence in governance. In the aftermath of the August 20202 blast, the investigation by Lebanese authorities revealed that senior government and security officials were aware of the presence of dangerous material including ammonium nitrate stored at the port. However, none of officials have been convicted and the investigation was suspended after the implicated officials brought legal challenges against the judge who was leading the investigation.

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 11 July – 17 July 2022

Economic
China faces difficult decisions with slide in economic growth

China’s economic growth teetered on the brink of contraction in the second quarter year on year, reflecting a two-month lockdown of the financial and industrial hub of Shanghai. This came on top of Covid-19 shutdowns and travel curbs that have hampered recovery in the world’s second-biggest economy. Following an increase in gross domestic product of 4.8 per cent in the first quarter, growth in the three months to June of just 0.4 per cent dragged expansion in the first half down to 2.5 per cent. This year’s growth target of “around 5.5 per cent” would require a bounce back to 7.5 per cent in the second half. But a return to stable growth will be the paramount goal of Beijing ahead of a landmark political meeting later this year, the 20th national party congress, which includes a leadership reshuffle. This can be expected to lead to increased pressure to fine-tune President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid strategy and for stimulatory measures, such as looser monetary policy and fiscal stimulus, without triggering a surge of inflation. This is in contrast to a tightening cycle to combat inflationary growth well under way among China’s trading partners. Recent statements by top leaders have shown a rising sense of urgency about the need to put the economy back on a stable track. However, if there is to be a new round of credit-driven investment it should not be at the cost of exacerbating local debt problems. Click here to read…

China and EU to hold high-level trade talks this week after months of delays

Just before the summer lull hits Brussels, the European Union will hold a high-level trade dialogue with China on July 19 – talks the 27-member bloc has been trying to organise for more than three months. Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, and Chinese vice-premier Liu He will co-chair the virtual meeting, which will also include representatives from the trade and economic ministries of both sides. According to a European Commission representative, a number of global economic challenges will be discussed, including food security and energy prices, supply chains, financial services, and bilateral trade and investment concerns. “The dialogue is taking place against the background of war in Europe and increasing uncertainties in the global economic outlook,” the representative said. The last high-level meeting between the EU and China was a virtual summit in April; it ended unsuccessfully after the EU failed to gain any assurances from China that it would not support Russia’s war against Ukraine financially or militarily. But both sides agreed to talk again “to find concrete ways to progress on these issues before the summer”. While Brussels continued pushing Beijing to nail down a date, China took time in responding. Click here to read…

Europe Fears Widespread Economic Fallout if Russian Gas Outage Drags On

As a deadline approaches for Russia to resume supplying natural gas to Germany this week, European officials and executives are growing concerned about a cascading economic fallout that would spread across the continent should Moscow keep the tap shut. The Nord Stream pipeline that ferries gas from Siberia to Germany closed July 11 for annual maintenance that is expected to last 10 days. Many in the West fear that Moscow might prolong the closure, possibly permanently, and deprive Germany, Europe’s industrial powerhouse, of a key ingredient for its and its neighbors’ factories. European leaders blamed Moscow for using gas as a weapon when flows along the pipeline began to ebb last month. Moscow blamed that shortfall on technical issues related to Western sanctions. According to the annual maintenance schedule, Nord Stream goes back online July 21, meaning that gas flow should resume the following day. Complicating the calculus, officials and executives say it might not be easy to determine whether Russia is restoring gas flows fully. Under one scenario, Moscow could switch the pipeline back on but with lower volumes, as it already has, citing technical problems linked to the sanctions. Germany is highly dependent on Russian gas, and it also acts as a transit hub for gas headed to Austria, the Czech Republic and Ukraine. Click here to read…

China jobs: youth unemployment hits record high in June – nearly 1 in 5 young people out of work

The hits keep coming for China’s disillusioned youth who increasingly cannot seem to catch a break when it comes to landing work in a job market that – at least for their demographic – keeps going from really bad to even worse. Nearly one out of five young jobseekers were unemployed last month as China’s youth unemployment rate hit an all-time high of 19.3 per cent in June, official figures show. It was a sharp rise from 18.4 per cent in May, and marked a year-on-year increase of 25 per cent. The intensifying struggle among those aged 16-24 to carve out their own piece of China’s economic pie came in the midst of the nation’s economy growing by a mere 0.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2022, year on year. This was largely the result of Beijing’s zero-Covid strategy, which forced large-scale lockdowns in Shanghai and other major cities – far from ideal conditions in which China’s latest army of fresh college graduates were plunged into. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has previously noted that new graduates generally push the unemployment rate upward come June and July each year, but the youth unemployment rate has seen a steady rise since October. Click here to read…

A fifth of Chinese developers face insolvency as investors grow tired of repeated bond extensions, S&P Global warns

At least a fifth of rated Chinese property developers will end up becoming insolvent, putting as much as US$88 billion of their distressed bonds at risk, according to S&P Global Ratings. While some developers have resorted to debt extensions and bond exchanges to buy time to avoid default, investors will soon lose patience and press their claims through the courts or debt restructuring if a recovery of the sector does not play out by the first quarter of 2023, the ratings agency said. Exchanges and debt extensions have been the two most common ways for Chinese developers to resolve their bond default risks. Guangzhou R&F Properties, for example, recently received approval to regroup all 10 tranches of its offshore bonds worth a total of US$4.94 billion due between now and 2024 into three amortisation notes that mature in 2025, 2027 and 2028, giving it three to four years of breathing room as it struggles to raise cash. But “this forbearance may not continue,” said S&P. “If a sales turnaround is not forthcoming, investors will reject repeated extensions. “The end of the beginning is at hand for China developer defaults.” Click here to read…

Russia has price cap-busting oil plan – media

Russia has ramped up efforts to create its own national oil pricing benchmark as part of its response to Western efforts to limit its oil revenues, Bloomberg reported on July 14, citing government and industry sources. According to the agency, the Western sanctions campaign, which was launched after Russia began its military operation in Ukraine, and the attempts to squeeze its oil export revenue with a proposed price cap, have reinvigorated the idea. US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen is attempting to set an upper limit on how much Moscow can charge for its crude exports. Some experts have warned that the scheme may backfire. The Russian government wants to have a pricing benchmark in action sometime between March and July of 2023, the business news outlet reported. Discussions about the plan are in the early stages, but were confirmed by an executive in the energy industry, the report said. The country has tried for years to launch a national benchmark based on crude trade at the St. Petersburg International Mercantile Exchange, but the volume of foreign deals made on the exchange has not been high enough for this purpose. The US and its allies are seeking to damage Russian crude trade with nations like China and India, which refused to join the sanctions drive, by leveraging their dominance in the areas of insurance and finance. Click here to read…

Saudi Arabia outlines what it will do for oil output

Saudi Arabia is ready to increase oil production to its maximum of 13 million barrels per day but does not have the capacity to pump out more, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said during his address at the US-Arab summit in Jeddah on July 16. “The kingdom has announced an increase in its production capacity level to 13 million barrels per day, after which the kingdom will not have any additional capacity to increase production,” he was quoted as saying by UAE’s newspaper The National. The crown prince also said that the global community should join forces to support the worldwide economy, but noted that unrealistic policies regarding energy sources would only worsen the situation. “Adopting unrealistic policies to reduce emissions by excluding main sources of energy will lead in coming years to unprecedented inflation and an increase in energy prices and rising unemployment, and a worsening of serious social and security problems,” he stated. Mohammed bin Salman’s words come a day after his talks with Joe Biden, who was in Saudi Arabia on his first visit as US president, and urged the kingdom to increase oil production in order to reduce global reliance on supplies from Russia. Commenting on his trip to the kingdom, Biden said Saudi Arabia’s “energy resources are vital for mitigating the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine.Click here to read…

Middle East Buyers Ramp Up Russian Fuel Imports

US and European sanctions have led to a significant shift in the direction of Russian energy flows. Bloomberg reports diesel and other fuel products shunned by many countries in the West are heading to the Middle East. Increasing flows began after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and reached 155,000 barrels a day in June, according to new data from Vortexa Ltd. Meanwhile, European imports have slumped 30% since the invasion on Feb. 24. Vortexa’s data shows most of the products arriving in the Middle East from Russian ports are fuel oil, diesel/gasoil, and more recently, jet fuel and kerosene. “Most of the Middle East’s imports from Russia are of fuel oil — a leftover from the refining process and often used in power generation and shipping,” Bloomberg noted. About a third of the inflows of fuel products went into the Fujairah Oil Terminal for storage in the United Arab Emirates. Imports of Russian fuel products are at a 2016 high and could increase further because of Western trade restrictions to punish President Putin for the invasion of Ukraine. However, Koen Wessels, senior oil products analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd, said Russian flows to the Middle East will be temporary and could eventually slow because of shipping insurance-related restrictions for vessels leaving Russian ports. Click here to read…

Afghan minister holds talks with Chinese mining firm, progress to be expected

An Afghan government official from the mining sector met with the representative of a Chinese mining company July 17, and they discussed issues ranging from technical to financial operations of the Aynak copper project, the second-largest copper ore body in the world. But an insider said that no substantive progress was made. A staffer of Chinese mining giant Metallurgical Group Corp (MCC), the company that owns the Aynak copper project, told the Global Times July 18 that the company has staff in Afghanistan at the moment, and they are keeping in close contact with the new Afghan government over the project. The remark came as the Acting Minister of Mines and Petroleum Sheikh Shahabuddin Delawar held a meeting Sunday with a vice president of MCC-JCL Aynak Minerals Co (MJAM), a Chinese-funded mining company registered in Afghanistan under MCC, according to the official website of the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. Discussions were held at the meeting on the latest developments, as well as technical, financial and land acquisition issues, and the transfer of ancient artifacts in the field of the Aynak project, said the ministry. While there have been frequent talks, no substantive progress has been made, the Global Times learned. “The only thing we needed to confirm with the Afghan government is the ownership of the mine, which has already been done with the new government,” a staffer with the MCC Group said. Click here to read…

Kishida: Up to 9 nuclear reactors to go online by winter

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the central government intends to bring up to nine nuclear reactors online this winter to prepare for possible power shortages during peak periods. Kishida told a July 14 news conference that he instructed economy minister Koichi Hagiuda to start preparations. “We are aiming to put as many nuclear reactors as possible online,” said Kishida. “We will have up to nine reactors operating this winter to secure enough sources of energy to cover about 10 percent of Japan’s overall power consumption.” The move comes as the government is asking the public to save electricity this summer amid a power shortage, which will likely become even more severe in the winter. According to government sources, five of the nine reactors are at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s nuclear power plants in Fukui Prefecture: the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi plant; the No. 3 reactor at the Mihama plant; and the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama plant. All nine reactors were brought online at least once after passing the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s screening for a restart. Four were in operation as of July 14. Kishida said he also instructed government officials to get 10 more units of thermal power plants ready for operations to ensure a stable power supply during peak periods. Click here to read…

China closes in on Japan’s hydrogen technology patent lead

Though Japan continues to lead the world in hydrogen-related technology, its edge is narrowing as new patent filings by the country’s companies and research institutions slow while Chinese players forge ahead with government backing. Hydrogen is considered the ultimate clean fuel since it emits no carbon dioxide when burned. Tokyo-based research company Astamuse, in which Nikkei has a stake, has compiled a ranking of countries, scored in terms of the competitiveness of their hydrogen technologies between 2011 and 2020, based on the number of times their patents were cited in similar patent applications, expiration dates and other data. The 2020 figures were based on preliminary data. Japan came out on top overall propelled by its strength in fuel-cell patents, which are key to harnessing hydrogen to power cars, homes and factories. Toyota Motor has been developing fuel-cell vehicles for the past three decades, and became the first automaker in the world to commercialize the vehicles in 2014. It had expanded their driving range about 30% by 2020. Japanese petroleum company ENEOS and Industrial gases company Iwatani operate more than 160 hydrogen stations, and are working to halve the cost of building a new station from the current range of 300 million yen to 400 million yen ($2.19 million to $2.91 million) currently. Click here to read…

China locks in record long-term LNG deals to bolster energy security

As global competition for liquefied natural gas intensifies in response to the Ukraine war, China is increasingly turning to long-term contracts of a decade or more to ensure the country’s growing needs will continue to be met years into the future. Chinese demand for natural gas grew at the fastest rate on record in 2021. LNG demand jumped 18% to 78.9 million tons, surpassing Japan as the largest importer. Spot contracts accounted for 39% of China’s LNG imports last year. But contracts lasting 10 to 20 years make up a rapidly growing portion of those with delivery dates in 2022 and beyond. Chinese players signed 23 long-term contracts for a total of 27 million tons of LNG in 2021, according to Mika Takehara at Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. Both figures were among the largest on record, she said. Most LNG was purchased by China’s three state-owned energy groups — China National Petroleum Corp., CNOOC and China Petrochemical, known as Sinopec. But energy companies owned by regional governments and private-sector utilities are also increasingly dealing directly with overseas suppliers. Three-quarters of the sellers were located in the U.S., Qatar and Russia. Between January 2021 and this April, Chinese companies had signed 10 contracts for 13.9 million tons to 14.8 million tons of LNG from American entities alone. Click here to read…

Myanmar revokes foreign company exemption from currency rules

The Central Bank of Myanmar on July 13 reversed its position on exempting foreign companies from forced exchanges of currency to the local kyat, several sources at the bank said. The central bank in April had instructed financial institutions to convert foreign currency earned by its customers into kyat within one business day. Existing foreign-currency deposits were also to be converted into the kyat in stages. In mid-June, the bank issued a notice exempting companies that are 10% or more owned by overseas entities, which applied to the majority of foreign companies doing business in Myanmar. It has now rescinded this exception in a new notice, sources said. Companies making investments approved by the Myanmar Investment Commission, as well those operating in special economic zones, are expected to remain exempt. The currency exchange rule comes as Myanmar suffers a serious shortage of foreign currency following its military takeover in February 2021. The government established the Foreign Exchange Supervisory Committee in April, which now must approve any conversions from kyat to a foreign currency, or money transfers abroad. Foreign currency from the forced conversions will be used to repay foreign debt flagged as a priority by the FESC. Click here to read…

Why China can’t let Laos default

Laos faces intensifying economic and financial crises and there is likely no way out without some form of a Chinese bailout or debt forgiveness. Various warning signs are blinking red in the small Southeast Asian country. The national currency, the kip, has lost around a third of its value against the US dollar compared to this time last year. Inflation hit 23% in June, its highest level in decades. Meanwhile, much of the landlocked country faces fuel shortages. The communist-run government has huffed and bluffed but finally undertook a cabinet reshuffle in late June, bringing in a new commerce minister and central bank governor. Some emergency measures have stemmed certain economic problems from worsening. But those haven’t alleviated the nation’s underlying financial woes, which are now more precarious than ever. “The chances that Laos will default on its debt obligations are extremely high,” says Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Indeed, the country’s foreign debts have swelled to over US$14 billion, or 88% of gross domestic product (GDP). Around half that amount is owed to China, including the Lao state’s one-third stake in the $5.9 billion China-Laos railway, a megaproject that opened in December amid concerns about the line’s commercial viability. Vientiane barely scraped through making its annual debt repayments last year. Click here to read…

Super-strong dollar imperils world economy

The US dollar has been on a major surge against major global currencies in the past year, recently hitting levels not seen in 20 years. It has gained 15% against the British pound, 16% against the euro and 23% against the Japanese yen. The dollar is the world’s reserve currency, which means it is used in most international transactions. As a result, changes in its value have implications for the entire global economy. Below are five of the main ones. 1. Even more inflation. Petrol and most commodities such as metals or timber are usually traded in US dollars (though with exceptions). So when the dollar gets stronger, these items cost more in local currency. For example in British pounds, the cost of US$100-worth of petrol has risen over the past year from £72 to £84. And since the price per liter of petrol in US dollars has risen steeply as well, it is creating a double whammy. When energy and raw materials cost more, the prices of many products go up for consumers and businesses, causing inflation around the world. The only exception is the US, where a stronger dollar makes it cheaper to import consumer products and therefore could help to tame inflation. Click here to read…

Strategic
‘Judgment Day’ warning as Russia hunts Ukraine’s US-made HIMARS

Nearly five months since President Vladimir Putin ordered the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces are grinding through the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and now occupy around a fifth of the country. Shoigu, one of Putin’s closest allies, inspected the Vostok group which is fighting in Ukraine, the defence ministry said. Shoigu “instructed the commander to give priority to the enemy’s long-range missile and artillery weapons,” the defence ministry said. The ministry said the weapons were being used to shell residential areas of Russian-controlled Donbas and to deliberately set fire to wheat fields and grain storage silos. Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said a depot in the Black Sea port of Odesa that stored Harpoon anti-ship missiles was hit, while a US-supplied HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system was struck in the eastern Donetsk region. There are concerns in Moscow that Ukraine’s longer-range missiles could be used to target Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Crimea is of particular strategic importance to Russia as it includes the headquarters of its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol. Another prized target would be the 18km (11-mile) bridge that links the Black Sea peninsula with mainland Russia. That prospect of an attack on Crimea prompted a warning from Russia’s former president Dmitry Medvedev, who said such an attack would trigger devastating consequences for the Ukrainian leadership. Click here to read…

Chinese military upgrades near disputed Himalayan border viewed as provocative in India

The upgrading of China’s military projection and logistics capabilities along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayas, designed to prepare for contingencies, is being viewed by the Indian side as offensive and provocative. Citing Indian intelligence sources, The Hindu said the People’s Liberation Army had expanded its troop accommodation capacity within 100km (60 miles) of the LAC from 20,000 to 120,000 in the past two years. The Indian newspaper’s report, published late last month, said the PLA had deployed four divisions, or 48,000 troops, from its Xinjiang military district, with the soldiers being rotated on the disputed border facing eastern Ladakh, where the worst fighting in over four decades saw at least 20 Indian soldiers and four from the PLA killed in the Galwan Valley two years ago. Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, confirmed the PLA had renovated and expanded barracks along the LAC since that clash, including permanent buildings and temporary ones. “Many of the permanent buildings are warehouses for fuel storage, while other accommodation and portable facilities will be used for housing troops,” Zhou said, adding that the PLA was capable of deploying up to 120,000 troops to the LAC in a week if necessary. “China doesn’t need to station so many troops in border areas because of its powerful military projection capacity and infrastructure and logistics supply network.” Click here to read…

South Korea’s Yoon faces becoming a ‘lame duck’ as nepotism claims, wife’s gaffes hit ratings

Barely two months after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office, his support base has quickly dwindled as a lack of experience, accusations of a poor attitude, gaffes and various political and personal issues weigh on his approval ratings. This could complicate his political agenda, especially in a parliament where the liberal opposition Democratic Party dominates his conservative People Power Party. His approval rating plunged to 32 per cent from a high of 53 per cent five weeks earlier, according to an opinion poll last week by Gallup Korea. Disapproval stood at 53 per cent, up 19 percentage points in the same five-week period. Yoon’s approval rating could extend its decline, as he had barely two months to rally his base before his ratings began to tank. Approval ratings of South Korea’s presidents typically stand at 70-80 per cent during their early months in office, fuelled by high expectations for their new governments. Resentment among conservatives against former president Moon Jae-in’s political missteps such as skyrocketing real estate prices and his associates’ alleged nepotism had helped Yoon to the presidency. Yoon was initially lauded for delivering on his election promise to make himself more accessible than his predecessors, allowing journalists to question him on his way to work every morning, a first for a South Korean president. But he came under fire for his curt responses and poor attitude. Click here to read…

China’s Communist Party finds it easier to win hearts and minds at home than overseas

When Xi Jinping became China’s president in 2013, he showed he was determined to maintain the Communist Party’s mandate to rule by winning the people’s hearts and minds. At the start of his first term he ordered bureaucrats across the country to confess any loss of touch with the grass roots to the party. The campaign ended up lasting for more than a year. He also kicked off a far-reaching anti-corruption campaign, with graft busters setting up a website and a social media account that enabled people to report corruption via their phones. Xi also famously warned the party in 2013 of the risk of losing the people’s trust, using the term Tacitus Trap, which describes a lack of trust in a government regardless of its actions. Yet just months before Xi is set to begin his third term as the party’s leader at this year’s 20th party congress, crises have emerged that point at the heart of trust in the government, including a banking fiasco in which thousands of people risk losing all their savings in local banks. The Tacitus Trap, named after the Roman historian, describes the dire situation facing a government when no matter what it says or does, people assume it is a lie or a bad deed. It was one of three traps, along with the middle-income trap and the Thucydides Trap, that Xi warned publicly in 2013 could undermine China’s rise. Click here to read…

Three more countries set to join BRICS – official

Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt plan to join BRICS, and their potential membership bids could be discussed and answered at next year’s summit in South Africa, Purnima Anand, the president of the organization, told Russian media on July 14. “All these countries have shown their interest in joining [BRICS] and are preparing to apply for membership. I believe this is a good step, because expansion is always looked upon favorably; it will definitely bolster BRICS’ global influence,” she told Russian newspaper Izvestia. The BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) account for over 40% of the global population and nearly a quarter of the world’s GDP. Anand said the issue of expansion was raised during this year’s BRICS summit, which took place in late June in Beijing. The BRICS Forum president said she hopes the accession of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt will not take much time, given that they “are already engaged in the process,” though doubts that all three will join the alliance at the same time. The news of the three nations’ plans to join BRICS comes after Iran and Argentina officially applied for membership in late June, with Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh touting the bloc as a “very creative mechanism with broad aspects.” Click here to read…

Italian president rejects PM Draghi’s resignation

Italian President Sergio Mattarella on July 14 rejected Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s attempt to resign. Draghi announced his intent to step down after he survived a confidence vote but lost the backing of his largest coalition partner. Draghi met with Mattarella following a confidence vote in the Italian Senate earlier in the afternoon. While the PM comfortably survived the vote by 172-39, the ballot was boycotted by the Five Star Movement, the largest partner in Draghi’s broad coalition government. Having earlier stated that he would not remain in power without the support of the Five Star populists, Draghi said that he would step down as the conditions to govern “no longer exist.” However, Mattarella has the power to accept or reject the prime minister’s resignation, and he chose the latter option. The move sends Draghi back to Parliament where a fresh confidence vote will likely be held. Should Draghi win the support of lawmakers, snap elections could be avoided. Mattarella appointed Draghi, who formerly led the European Central Bank, in 2021, in a bid to stave off an economic downturn as Italy recovered from the coronavirus pandemic. However, Draghi has faced persistent criticism from the Five Star Movement’s leader, Giuseppe Conte, over rising inflation and energy costs, as well as his support for EU sanctions on Russia and weapons shipments to Ukraine. Click here to read…

Russia-Ukraine grain talks outcome revealed

Russia and Ukraine have agreed to establish a joint coordination center on grain exports in Istanbul that will include representatives from all parties, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told local media following the four-way talks that also involved Turkey and the UN. On July 13, negotiators from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN met in the Turkish city to discuss the situation regarding the held-up Ukrainian exports. Ahead of the meeting, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said that Kiev and Moscow had been close to breaking the impasse on the issue. “An agreement has been reached on technical issues such as joint controls at the destination points and … the safety of navigation on the transfer routes,” Akar told journalists. Russian and Ukrainian delegations “should meet again in Turkey next week,” he said, adding that the parties would “review all the details once again” during that meeting. Ukraine is one of the world’s leading grain exporters. Yet, it has been unable to export its grain by sea due to the ongoing conflict with Russia. Kiev and Western nations have accused Moscow of preventing Ukrainian grain shipments from leaving the nation’s Black Sea ports. Click here to read…

South Korea seeks to kickstart talks to resolve historical feuds with Japan

South Korea hopes a high-level visit to Tokyo next week will kickstart talks aimed at a breakthrough in historical disputes despite concerns the death of former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe could disrupt efforts to mend ties, Seoul officials said. Relations between the two North Asian U.S. allies have been strained over disputes dating to Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea. Washington has been pressing Tokyo and Seoul to mend fences in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat and the rising influence of China. Officials in the administration of new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May vowing to improve ties with Japan, told Reuters they feel emboldened by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s recent election victory which could give him more scope to advance his policy agenda for another three years. Foreign Minister Park Jin will visit Tokyo as early as next week, a trip which a senior official handling Japan policy said is aimed at “turning on the tap” for serious negotiations on issues relating to wartime laborers, which stalled under Yoon’s predecessor. Park will visit Tokyo on July 18, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported on July 14. South Korea did not immediately confirm the report. Yoon would also likely use his Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech marking Korea’s independence from Japan as a chance to send a reconciliatory message to Tokyo, the official added. Click here to read…

China’s Xi visits Xinjiang for first time in 8 years

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang this week for the first time since 2014, seeking to demonstrate his success in subduing the country’s restive northwestern region. The trip, reported by state broadcaster China Central TV and other news outlets, comes as Xi works to solidify a rare third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party at its twice-a-decade congress this fall. Xi observed freight trains on the China-Europe Railway Express in the regional capital of Urumqi on July 12. “With the Belt and Road Initiative progressing, Xinjiang is no longer an outlying area,” he said. “It has become a pivotal region with historical significance.” The following day, Xi visited a residential community in Urumqi and watched a traditional dance performance by Uyghur Muslims. “We need to bring even more happiness to the lives of different ethnic groups,” he said. The state-run Xinhua News Agency published a photo of a maskless Xi walking the streets, surrounded by Uyghur children. During Xi’s last visit to the Xinjiang region in September 2014, suicide bombers attacked a train station in Urumqi. He warned of a protracted struggle with “terrorist separatists” in the region and ordered a crackdown against “terrorist elements.” The Xi administration has pushed for the “sinicization” of Islam in Xinjiang. Click here to read…

China, Russia military activity near Japan up 2.5 times since Ukraine

Chinese and Russian military activity around Japan increased 2.5 times in the four months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, sparking alarm here over a potential escalation. Releases by Japan’s Ministry of Defense show 90 instances of activity by Chinese and Russian military vessels and aircraft near Japan in the four months after the invasion began. There had been 35 in the four months before. A Chinese vessel and Russian vessel entered Japan’s contiguous zone near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands on July 4. The Russian vessel then sailed north through the Senkakus on July 5 before entering the contiguous zone near Japan’s southernmost Okinotori islets the following day. The type of activity recorded has also shifted since the Ukraine invasion began. On June 7, four aircraft believed to be part of the Russian military flew straight toward Japan from west of Hokkaido. They shifted course just before entering Japanese airspace after the Japan Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighter jets in response. Before turning away, the four planes were on a trajectory toward Hokkaido’s largest city of Sapporo, a Japanese defense official said. Concern is growing that such activity may be part of planned military operations in the area. Click here to read…

Abe’s house of cards: Death leaves largest party faction in limbo

Nearly a week after an assassin took the life of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the ruling party faction he led has yet to zero in on a possible successor. The largest faction in the Liberal Democratic Party, known as Seiwa-kai, is scrambling to maintain unity. But Abe’s murder left the group with little time to select and groom a suitable successor, putting it in a precarious position. The group boasts 93 conservative-leaning upper and lower house LDP lawmakers, with many calling for bigger military spending and revising the nation’s pacifist charter. After producing the longest-serving prime minister, the group yields enormous clout in the party. Senior members met July 11 at a Tokyo hotel to discuss the next step but could only muster a vague pledge to maintain solidarity. In 2017, Abe floated the idea of having four core leaders in the faction, modeled after a similar setup his father, Shintaro Abe, had when he led the faction decades ago. Given the lack of a clear leader, the faction could opt for this option. Right now, Hakubun Shimomura and Ryu Shionoya, both former education ministers, are serving as acting chairs of the faction. They have supported Abe’s family through the ordeal by meeting with mourners at his private residence. “There are proposals to have two acting chairs or to set up a seven-person structure,” said a senior member of Abe’s faction. Click here to read…

Sri Lanka’s acting president declares state of emergency

Sri Lanka’s acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency, according to a government notice released late on July 17, as his administration seeks to quell social unrest and tackle an economic crisis gripping the island nation. “It is expedient, so to do, in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community,” the notification stated. Sri Lanka’s ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled overseas this week to escape a popular uprising against his government, has said he took “all possible steps” to avert the economic crisis that has engulfed the island nation. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation was accepted by parliament on July 15. He flew to the Maldives and then Singapore after hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters came out onto the streets of Colombo a week ago and occupied his official residence and offices. Sri Lanka’s parliament met on July 16 to begin the process of electing a new president, and a shipment of fuel arrived to provide some relief to the crisis-hit nation. Wickremesinghe, an ally of Rajapaksa, is one of the top contenders to take on the presidency full-time but protesters also want him gone, leading to the prospect of further unrest should he be elected. Click here to read…

Biden Lays Out a U.S. Middle East Vision Heavy on Diplomacy

President Biden laid out his vision for the U.S. role in the Middle East July 16, pledging to stay engaged in the region and strengthen relationships with Arab nations to counter the influence of China, Russia and Iran. “The United States is going to remain an active engaged partner in the Middle East as the world grows more competitive, and the challenges we face more complex,” Mr. Biden said in a 10-minute speech in this seaside town during a summit of Arab leaders. “It’s only becoming clear to me how closely interwoven America’s interests are with the successes of the Middle East.” “We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” he added. He also repeated a pledge that the U.S. is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Mr. Biden said the U.S. would chart a new approach to the Middle East focused on diplomacy over aggression. “Today, I’m proud to be able to say that the era of land wars in the region, wars involving huge numbers of American forces, is not underway,” he said. Mr. Biden’s speech comes amid mounting concern about Washington’s commitment to the region, which was galvanized by the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan last summer. Click here to read…

Biden disputes Saudi minister’s account of meeting with MBS

President Joe Biden hints the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia was not being truthful in his account of the US leader’s meeting with the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Biden was referring to comments made by Adel al-Jubeir, who told Fox News he did not “hear” the US president tell MBS that he directly blamed him for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi during their discussion in Jeddah on July 15. “I didn’t hear that particular phrase,” al-Jubeir told Fox News correspondent Alex Hogan in an interview on July 16. “The president mentioned that the US is committed to human rights because since the founding fathers wrote the constitution and he also made the point that American presidents – this is part of the agenda of every American president.” Upon returning to the White House early on July 17 after his four-day Middle East trip, Biden was asked by reporters if al-Jubeir was telling the truth in recounting his exchange with MBS. Biden pointedly replied: “No.” Biden, who visited Saudi Arabia, Israel and the occupied West Bank in his first trip to the region as US president, previously told reporters he brought up Khashoggi’s killing at the top of his initial meeting with the Saudi crown prince. He said he “indicated” to MBS that he held him “personally responsible” for the 2018 killing. He added that MBS repeatedly denied responsibility during their meeting. Click here to read…

Amid Russia-Ukraine war, Putin to visit Iran for Syria talks

As Russia’s war on Ukraine grinds on, President Vladimir Putin will travel to Iran next week for a Syria summit with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Kremlin has announced. “The president’s visit to Tehran is being planned for July 19,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on July 12. He added the trio would meet for peace talks on Syria. Russia, Turkey and Iran have in recent years been holding talks as part of the so-called “Astana peace process” to end more than 11 years of conflict in the Middle Eastern country. Russia and Iran are the key military and political backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has provided military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups still fighting against al-Assad’s forces in the northwest. The foreign trip marks the Kremlin chief’s second since he sent troops into Ukraine in late February; he visited Tajikistan in late June. Russia and Iran hold close ties, while Turkey has attempted to act as a mediator during the Ukraine conflict. July 12’s announcement comes after the White House said on July 11 that it believed Moscow was turning to Iran to provide it with “hundreds” of drones, including those capable of carrying weapons, for use in Ukraine. Click here to read…

Health
WHO declares Marburg outbreak in Ghana, after first two cases of deadly Ebola-like virus reported

Two cases of the deadly Marburg virus have been identified in Ghana, the first time the Ebola-like disease has been found in the West African nation, health authorities announced on Sunday. Earlier in the month, blood samples taken from two people in the southern Ashanti region suggested the Marburg virus. The samples were sent to the Pasteur Institute in Senegal which confirmed the diagnosis, the Ghana Health Service (GHS) said. “This is the first time Ghana has confirmed Marburg Virus Disease,” said GHS head Patrick Kuma-Aboagye said in a statement. No treatment or vaccine exists for Marburg, which is almost as deadly as Ebola. Its symptoms include high fever as well as internal and external bleeding. A total of 98 people identified as contact cases are currently under quarantine, the GHS statement said, noting that no other cases of Marburg had yet been detected in Ghana. The World Health Organization (WHO) said Guinea had confirmed a single case in an outbreak declared over in September 2021. Previous outbreaks and sporadic cases of Marburg in Africa have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda, according to the World Health Organization. Click here to read…

China makes tweaks, but tough COVID policy still drags on economy

China has been tweaking its stringent COVID curbs but shows no sign of backing off from its “dynamic zero” policy and has lagged in vaccination efforts that would enable it to do so, casting a heavy shadow over the world’s second-largest economy. The absence of a roadmap out of zero-COVID and expectations that it will persist well into 2023 leaves residents and businesses facing a prolonged period of uncertainty. Recent scattered COVID flare-ups, the imposition of lockdowns in some cities and the arrival of the highly contagious BA.5 variant have added to those worries. On July 15, China is expected to report that gross domestic product (GDP) grew just 1 percent in the second quarter, with full year growth forecast at 4 percent, according to a Reuters poll – far short of Beijing’s official target of around 5.5 percent for 2022. In addition to a sharp lockdown-induced slowdown, growth has been weighed down by a sputtering property market and an uncertain global outlook. This week, Shanghai’s 25 million people were subject to more mandatory city-wide testing, and fear of tougher measures or getting caught up in China’s zero-COVID bureaucracy continues to exact an economic toll, including on consumption and jobs. Nomura estimated 31 cities were implementing full or partial lockdowns as of July 11, affecting nearly 250 million people in regions accounting for a quarter of China’s GDP. As the rest of the world tries to coexist with COVID, China points to the lives saved by its tough measures. Click here to read…

China: Daily Scan, March 9, 2022

NPC Constitution, Law Committee deliberates draft amendment to law on local

legislatures, governments: Xinhuanet
March 9, 2022

The Constitution and Law Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) on Monday deliberated a draft amendment to the Organic Law of the Local People’s Congresses and Local People’s Governments. Click here to read…

China’s national legislature holds 2nd plenary meeting of annual session: Xinhuanet
March 9, 2022

The fifth session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s national legislature, held its second plenary meeting Tuesday. Chinese leaders Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, Han Zheng and Wang Qishan attended the meeting. Click here to read…

Top commander’s call to strengthen national defense: Xinhuane
March 8, 2022

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday highlighted the need to run the military in accordance with the law, issuing his call during a plenary meeting of national lawmakers from the armed forces at the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature. Click here to read…

China better protects women’s rights, interests via law revision: : Xinhuanet
March 9, 2022

Chinese legislators have attached great importance to the protection of women’s rights and interests, according to a work report submitted Tuesday to the country’s national legislature for review. Click here to read…

Chinese, Pakistani FMs hold phone talks: Xinhuanet
March 9, 2022

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Tuesday held a phone conversation with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi at the latter’s request. Wang strongly condemned the recent serious terrorist attack in Peshawar city, Pakistan, and once again expressed sincere condolences to Pakistan, saying that China firmly supports Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism and safeguard national security and stability. Click here to read…

China urges U.S. to release details of bio-labs in Ukraine: Xinhuanet
March 8, 2022

Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday called on the United States to release all-around details of its biological laboratories in Ukraine, and urged relevant parties to ensure their safety. Click here to read…

Xi holds virtual summit with leaders of France, Germany: Xinhuanet
March 9, 2022

Chinese President Xi Jinping had a virtual summit with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday. Xi pointed out that the combined impact of major global changes and the pandemic, both unseen in a century, has brought multiple global challenges that need to be addressed through global cooperation. Click here to read…

SMEs can solidify industrial economy: Xinhuanet
March 9, 2022

China’s greater emphasis on cultivating competitive small and medium-sized enterprises will help further stabilize the industrial chain and trigger the vitality of its industrial economy, officials and experts said. The comments came after the 2022 Government Work Report said China will work to nurture specialized and sophisticated enterprises that produce new and unique products. Click here to read…

China home to 2 mln 5G base stations by end of 2022: Xinhuanet
March 8, 2022

China will work to ensure the number of 5G base stations tops 2 million this year, Minister of Industry and Information Technology Xiao Yaqing said Tuesday. China currently houses around 1.43 million 5G base stations and over 500 million 5G users, Xiao told journalists on the sidelines of the ongoing “two sessions,” adding that the country will also make plans to develop 6G technology. Click here to read…

China’s economic planner outlines reform priorities to further boost growth: Quishi

March 9, 2022

China will carry out major reform measures to further stimulate growth and reduce pressure on its economic and social development, the country’s top economic planner said Monday. Click here to read…

More people charged with buying trafficked women, children: China Daily
March 8, 2022

The number of people charged with the crime of buying trafficked women and children increased to 328 last year from 155 in 2000, according to an annual work report of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, China’s top prosecuting authority. Click here to read…

Science and tech reforms priority for New Year: China Daily
March 9, 2022

Fully implementing reforms and policies related to science and technology will be a priority this year, Wang Zhigang, minister of science and technology, said on Tuesday on the sidelines of the ongoing two sessions. Enhancing basic research, developing technologies that can support China’s socioeconomic growth, training top-notch talent and improving the country’s overall innovation environment are key goals of the reforms, he added. Click here to read…

Political advisor proposes increasing economic compensations for full-time housewives in case of divorce: Global Times

March 8, 2022

A political advisor’s proposal during China’s two sessions this year calling for raising the amount of economic compensation for full-time housewives has stirred up heated discussions on China’s social media. Click here to read…

Chinese legislator urges efficient use of PLA strategic airlift, installing logistics support devices at civil airports: Global Times
March 8, 2022

China should take advantage of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force’s growing fleet of Y-20 strategic transport aircraft by deploying them in a centralized and highly efficient way, and preinstall related logistics support equipment and devices across the country’s civil airports for the Y-20, a Chinese legislator suggested at the ongoing two sessions in Beijing. Click here to read…

FC-31 stealth fighter spearheads display of cutting-edge Chinese equipment at Saudi Arabia’s 1st World Defense Show: Global Times
March 9, 2022

The Chinese arms industry brought a wide selection of cutting-edge weapons and equipment, including the FC-31 stealth fighter jet, to the ongoing first edition of Saudi Arabia’s World Defense Show in Riyadh. Click here to read…

China’s Xi conveys to France, Germany opposition to Russia sanctions: Kyodo
March 8, 2022

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday voiced opposition to punitive sanctions on Russia by Western countries over its attack on Ukraine during a trilateral video summit with his French and German counterparts, state-run media reported. Xi also told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that China is willing to “play an active role” in settling the ongoing crisis “according to the needs of all parties concerned,” the media said without elaborating. Click here to read…

Two Sessions 2022: electric vehicle bosses propose two different charging solutions as booming industry charts a future course: South China Morning Post
March 9, 2022

Two heavyweights in China’s electric vehicle (EV) industry have lobbied Beijing for different approaches to charging, a key issue in the development of the new energy vehicle market in the country. Lei Jun, chief executive officer of smartphone giant Xiaomi which has recently entered the market and Geely CEO Li Shufu, an automobile industry veteran, have tabled different proposals at China’s annual political gathering asking for the government to change the charging approach for EVs. Click here to read…

China: Daily Scan, March 7, 2022

China mulls giving more seats to people from grassroots, women in top legislature: Xinhuanet
March 6, 2022

Chinese lawmakers are considering a draft decision to give more seats in its national legislature to people from the grassroots level and women. The draft decision on the quota and election of deputies to the 14th National People’s Congress (NPC) was submitted on Saturday to the ongoing fifth session of the 13th NPC for deliberation. Click here to read…

Xi visits CPPCC members in sectors of agriculture, welfare and social security: Xinhuanet
March 7, 2022

Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), president of the People’s Republic of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission, on Sunday visited national political advisors from the sectors of agriculture, welfare and social security, who are attending the fifth session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Xi participated in their joint group meeting, and listened to their comments and suggestions. Click here to read…

Chinese premier stresses promoting sustained, sound economic and social development: Xinhuanet
March 6, 2022

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday stressed making oncerted and concrete efforts to ensure sustained and sound economic and social development. Click here to read…

Xi stresses ethnic unity, strengthening sense of community for Chinese nation: Xinhuanet
March 6, 2022

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday stressed ethnic unity and efforts to forge a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation when he joined a deliberation during the annual session of the National People’s Congress, the top legislature. Click here to read…

China to continue promoting green, low-carbon development: Xinhuanet
March 5, 2022

China will continue to improve the environment and promote green and low-carbon development, according to a government work report submitted Saturday to the national legislature for deliberation. Click here to read…

China to provide priority support for key projects in 14th Five-Year Plan: draft budget report: Xinhuanet
March 5, 2022

In optimizing the structure of government spending, China will provide priority support for key projects that have been included in the 14th Five-Year Plan and specific plans in key areas, according to a draft budget report submitted to China’s top legislature on Saturday. Click here to read…

China mulls amending law on local legislatures, governments: Xinhuanet
March 5, 2022

The National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, on Saturday deliberated a draft amendment to the Organic Law of the Local People’s Congresses and Local People’s Governments. Click here to read…

Decipher China’s development philosophy in Xi’s “two sessions” remarks: Xinhuanet
March 5, 2022

China’s national lawmakers and political advisors have gathered in Beijing for the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), also known as the “two sessions.” Click here to read…

China improves supporting measures for three-child policy: Xinhuanet

March 5, 2022

China will improve measures for the three-child policy, according to a government work report submitted Saturday to the national legislature for deliberation. Care expenses for children under three will be included in the special additional deductions for individual income tax. The country will develop public-interest childcare services to ease the burden of raising a family, the report said. Click here to read…

China to implement 10-year plan on basic research to boost scientific, technological innovation: Xinhuanet

March 5, 2022

China will implement a 10-year action plan on basic research to ensure stable support for scientific and technological innovation over the long term, according to a government work report submitted Saturday to the national legislature for deliberation. Click here to read…

China promotes signing of high-standard FTA: Xinhuanet

March 5, 2022

China will work to negotiate and conclude high-standard free trade agreements (FTA) with more countries and regions, according to a government work report submitted Saturday to the national legislature for deliberationClick here to read…

Chinese FM holds phone talks with U.S. secretary of state over bilateral ties, Ukraine: Xinhuanet
March 5, 2022

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday held a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken over China-U.S. relations and the Ukraine issue at the latter’s request. Click here to read…

China vows to keep foreign trade stable: Xinhuanet
March 5, 2022

China will adopt a package of steps to stabilize foreign trade, according to a government work report submitted Saturday to the national legislature for deliberation. The country will help foreign trade enterprises receive orders and maintain production. It will move faster to develop new forms and models of foreign trade, give full play to the role of cross-border e-commerce, and support the establishment of a number of overseas warehouses, said the report. Click here to read…

Building Up the Strength, Quality, and Size of China’s Digital Economy: Quishi
March 3, 2022

In recent years, technologies associated with the Internet, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain have seen accelerated innovation and gradual integration into all aspects of economic and social development. Countries around the world have rushed to produce development strategies for the digital economy and unveiled related incentive policies. The speed of the digital economy’s development, the extent of its reach, and the level of its impact are unprecedented; and it is fast becoming a critical force that is reordering global production factors, reshaping global economic structures, and transforming global competition. Click here to read…

Fostering a New Development Dynamic Through High-Level Opening Up: Quishi

March 3, 2022

The Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century deliberated and adopted at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee includes the following profound statement. Click here to read…

Defense budget proposed to grow by 7.1%, military urged to upgrade, remain resolute: China Military
March 5, 2022

The central government has proposed a defense budget of 1.45 trillion yuan ($230 billion) for the 2022 fiscal year, a 7.1 percent year-on-year increase, according to a draft budget report submitted to the national legislature on Saturday morning. The figures were included in the report prepared by the Ministry of Finance and distributed at the opening meeting of the fifth session of the 13th National People’s Congress at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Click here to read…

Saudi Arabia inaugurates 1st World Defense Show with cutting-edge Chinese equipment: China Military
March 7, 2022

Saudi Arabia inaugurated on Sunday the first edition of the World Defense Show in Riyadh. The four-day show, which includes 15 national pavilions with a total exhibition area of 900,000 square meters, attracts more than 600 exhibitors from 45 countries and regions. Click here to read…

China to enhance military training to safeguard sovereignty, security and development interests: China Military
March 5, 2022

China will enhance military training and combat readiness, stay firm and flexible in carrying out military struggle, and safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, according to a government work report made public Saturday. The report was submitted to the national legislature for deliberation. Click here to read…

China to accelerate innovation-driven development: China Daily
March 5, 2022

A child takes part in an art exhibition using virtual reality devices at an art museum in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. [Photo by Long Wei/For China Daily]
China will step up efforts to promote innovation-driven development this year, with a key focus on promoting scientific and technological innovation as well as industrial upgrading, the government wrote in its 2022 Government Work Report. Click here to read…

Domestically transmitted COVID-19 infections surpass 500 Sunday in Chinese mainland, affecting 13 provinces: Global Times
March 7, 2022

The domestically transmitted COVID-19 infections tally in Chinese mainland on Sunday soared to more than 500 with 214 confirmed cases and 312 asymptomatic cases respectively, the highest since 2022Click here to read…

Advisors suggest promotion of nationwide DNA database to end child trafficking: Global Times
March 6, 2022

In the wake of the tragic trafficking of a woman in Jiangsu Province, human trafficking – especially that of women and children – has became one of the most glaring domestic issues discussed during the ongoing two sessions, with several deputies and advisors calling for the establishment of a nationwide DNA database to resolve the thorny problem. Click here to read…

China’s defense budget growth justified as restrained amid foreign media hype: Global Times
March 6, 2022

China’s 7.1 percent increase to its defense budget in 2022 is a restrained move that aims to safeguard the country’s national sovereignty, territorial integrity, security and development interests, as well as to provide public security goods to the world, experts said on Sunday, in response to Western media’s one-sided interpretation that hypes the military spending plan being the fastest increase since 2019 and outpaces the country’s GDP growth target. Click here to read…

China resolute to share market opportunities with rest of world: People’s Daily
March 6, 2022

Foreign direct investment (FDI) into the Chinese mainland, in actual use, expanded 11.6 percent year on year to 102.28 billion yuan ($16.12 billion) in January, according to statistics recently released by the country’s Ministry of Commerce. Click here to read…

Technology commercialization agents in China help translate sci-tech achievements into products: People’s Daily
March 6, 2022

To translate scientific and technological achievements into products, the last crucial hurdle in aspects such as policies, capital, patent filing, and market has to be addressed. In an effort to strengthen communication between industries and research institutes, Hubei province in central China has nurtured technology commercialization agents and built an education and management platform for these talents. Click here to read…

China’s ZTE faces hearing over possible violation of U.S. probation: Reuters
March 5, 2022

ZTE Corp., the Chinese telecom equipment maker, will go back to U.S. federal court March 14 to face a new accusation it may have violated its probation from its 2017 guilty plea for illegally shipping U.S. technology to Iran. Click here to read…

China’s President Xi reiterates grain security, urges for domestic dominance: Reuters

March 6, 2022

China’s President Xi Jinping said on Sunday that the country must ensure grain security and reliance on the domestic market to maintain production, state broadcaster CCTV reported. China should guarantee capacity at home and import grains “appropriately”, Xi said at a meeting with delegates from the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body to parliament. Click here to read…

China says friendship with Russia is ‘rock solid’: Reuters
March 7, 2022

China’s friendship with Russia is “rock solid” and the prospects for cooperation are very broad, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday. Cooperation between the two countries brings benefits and well-being to the two peoples, he told his annual news conference on the sidelines of China’s annual meeting of parliament. Click here to read…

China: Daily Scan, January 27, 2022

Chinese vice premier stresses need to advance coordinated development of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region: Xinhuanet
January 25, 2022

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng on Tuesday called for new progress in the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region by emphasizing major areas and key sections. Han, also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, made the remarks while presiding over a meeting of a leading group for the coordinated development of the region. Click here to read…

Former senior official of Zhejiang expelled from CPC, office: Xinhuanet
January 26, 2022

Zhou Jiangyong, a former senior official in east China’s Zhejiang Province, has been expelled from the Communist Party of China (CPC) and dismissed from public office over serious violations of Party discipline and laws, the country’s top anti-graft body announced Wednesday. Click here to read…

Chinese premier stresses prioritizing stability in economic development: Xinhuanet
January 25, 2022

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has stressed prioritizing stability in economic development as the Chinese economy continues to face downward pressure and complex domestic and international environments. Click here to read…

Remarks by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Virtual Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations Between China and Central Asian Countries: Xinhuanet
January 25, 2022

Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired a summit held on Tuesday via video link to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and five Central Asian countries, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and delivered an important speech.

Following is the full text of the speech:

Click here to read…

Chinese envoy calls for more humanitarian, economic assistance to Afghanistan: Xinhuanet
January 27, 2022

China’s permanent representative to the United Nations on Wednesday calls for more humanitarian and economic assistance to Afghanistan. “China calls for a stronger sense of urgency from the international community and more humanitarian and economic assistance to Afghanistan, so as to bring warmth and hope to the Afghan people,” Zhang Jun told a Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan. Click here to read…

Senior Heilongjiang provincial legislator under investigation: Xinhuanet
January 26, 2022

Song Xibin, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the Heilongjiang Provincial People’s Congress, is being investigated for suspected severe violations of Party disciplines and laws. Song is under investigation by the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the National Supervisory Commission, according to a statement released on Wednesday. Click here to read…

Former Hebei provincial legislator under investigation: Xinhuanet
January 26, 2022

Xie Jilai, a former vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the Hebei Provincial People’s Congress, is being investigated for suspected serious violations of Party discipline and law, according to the country’s top anti-graft body on Wednesday. Xie is under investigation by the Communist Party of China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the National Supervisory Commission. Click here to read…

China publishes five-year plan for construction industry: Quishi
January 27, 2022

China unveiled a development plan on Tuesday for its construction industry over the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025) to push the pillar sector of the country’s economy onto a greener, smarter and safer path. The industry will maintain a 6-percent share of the country’s GDP into 2025, according to the document from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. Click here to read…

China, Saudi Arabia vow to boost military cooperation: China Military
January 26, 2022

Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe held talks via video link with Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman on January 26, 2022.
Under the strategic guidance of the heads of state of the two countries, China and Saudi Arabia have been deepening their political mutual trust and expanding cooperation in various fields, and the two countries are good friends and partners that trust each other, share mutual benefits, and develop together, Wei said. Click here to read…

China’s spending on R&D reaches new high in 2021: China Daily
January 26, 2022

China’s spending on research and development (R&D) hit a new high of 2.44 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021, up 0.03 percentage points from the previous year, official data showed Wednesday.Click here to read…

Senior banking official removed over corruption: China Daily
January 26, 2022

He Xingxiang, former vice president of the China Development Bank, has been expelled from the Party and dismissed from his post, the country’s top anti-graft watchdogs said on Wednesday. A statement issued by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the National Supervisory Commission said He was punished for serious violations of discipline and law. Click here to read…

Top TV regulator asks anchors, TV hosts to raise political awareness, clean ‘friend circle’: Global Times
January 26, 2022

China’s top television regulator on Wednesday released an opinion piece asking news organizations and lower-level television bureaus to enhance management of anchors’ and TV hosts’ professional and social activities. The opinion, released by the National Radio and Television Administration on its website, stated that anchors and TV hosts should have firm political stance, high morality, rich knowledge, professional skills and be dedicated to work. Click here to read…

China’s Xi says country’s low carbon push must guarantee energy, food security: Reuters
January 26, 2022

China’s ambitious low-carbon goals should not come at the expense of energy and food security or the “normal life” of ordinary people, President Xi Jinping said, signalling a more cautious approach to climate change as the economy slows. Click here to read…

China has right to impose tariffs on US$645 million of US products, says WTO: South China Morning Post
January 27, 2022

The World Trade Organization (WTO) authorised China on Wednesday to impose US$645 million of compensatory tariffs against the United States in a ruling likely to receive a cool reception in Washington. China went to the WTO in 2012 to challenge anti-subsidy tariffs the United States imposed between 2008 and 2012, mainly during the term of US President Barack Obama, on 22 Chinese products ranging from solar panels to steel wire. Click here to read…

China, Russia take another step closer, agreeing to strengthen coordination on Asian affairs: South China Morning Post
January 26, 2022

Senior Chinese and Russian diplomats have agreed to step up coordination on Asian affairs, the latest sign the neighbouring countries are moving closer amid growing pressure from the West. The agreement was reached on Tuesday during a virtual meeting between Liu Jinsong, head of the Asian affairs unit at China’s foreign ministry, and Ovchinnikov Alexey Mikhailovich, who heads the Russian foreign ministry’s Asia-Pacific department. Click here to read…

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…