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CWA # 720, 17 April 2022

The World This Week
Elon Musk and the battle for Twitter 

  GP Team

The World This Week #166, Vol. 4, No. 15

Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan and Angkuran Dey


Elon Musk and the battle for Twitter

What happened? 
On 14 April, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk offered to buy Twitter for USD 43.4 billion in cash. Musk sent in a ‘non-binding proposal’ to the Board Chairman of Twitter with an offer to acquire all of the remaining common stocks at USD 54.20 per share. Additionally, the proposal stated: “My offer is my best and final offer and if not accepted, I would need to reconsider my position as a shareholder.” 

On 15 April, Twitter announced that Elon Musk was no longer the company’s largest shareholder as Vanguard Group had acquired 10.3 per cent. Twitter’s board adopted a limited duration shareholder rights plan to counter Musk’s offer . The new plan or “poison pill” unlocks the possibility of deterring a potential hostile takeover. Following this, Twitter also partnered with Goldman Sachs Group Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to help the company respond to Musk’s hostile bid. This comes as Morgan Stanley had been advising Musk on his run to own the company. 

On 14 April, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a significant shareholder of Twitter, rejected Musk’s offer. He said: “I do not believe that the proposed offer by @elonmusk ($54.20) comes close to the intrinsic value of @Twitter given its growth prospects.” Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal tried to convince its employees that the company would follow a “rigorous process” and decide “in the best interest of our shareholders.” He further clarified that twitter was not held hostage by Musk’s offer. 

What is the background?
First, the rise of Twitter. Twitter is a micro-blogging platform where people can post only 140-character long updates with a maximum of four images, unlike other social media platforms. With over 396 million users, Twitter moved into the mainstream, with leading celebrities and politicians tweeting about almost anything. Jack Dorsey founded the organization, and it enabled an increasing openness on the internet when debates about privacy were developing. Authoritarian leaders have increasingly feared the power that Twitter grants to the citizens, with regimes constantly seeking to block the platform.   

Second, Elon Musk and Twitter. Musk seeks to cast himself as the champion amongst the free speech absolutists of the 21st Century. He wants to buy the company and make it a private entity to transform the platform into a beacon of free speech. Twitter is a non-government-run entity and an enterprise.Owning Twitter would add to Musk’s credentials as a free speech absolutist, which came into the public purview during the Russia-Ukraine war. In March, despite the Ukraine government request, Musk refused to block Russian news sources’ access to Starlink in Ukraine. Given Twitter’s crucial role in shaping political agenda on both sides of the Atlantic, its ownership has become a sensitive issue. Musk played a significant role in Ukraine as he gave them access to the internet through his Starlink satellite internet service. This came after Ukraine’s digital transformation minister, Mykhailo Federov, pleaded Musk on Twitter. 

Third, the endgame for Twitter. The company has launched a poison bill defence strategy, officially known as the shareholders’ rights plan, which is a mechanism that was developed in the 1980s to counter hostile takeover situations. Under the new plan, if any individual or group acquires 15 per cent of stocks without the board’s approval, it would allow other shareholders to buy additional shares at a discounted price. The company will be able to deter Musk’s hostile takeover until 14 April 2023. This would enable all shareholders to realise the full value of their investment in Twitter

Fourth, unlocking Twitter’s potential. Compared to META and Google, Twitter is a niche platform as a micro-blogging platform. It plays a critical role in amplifying narratives of politicians, business leaders, celebrities, and journalists. Musk has used Twitter as a personal playground, but his tweets have gotten him into trouble as he has been sued by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud. By buying the entire company and making it private, he could bolster his personal freedom of speech and not be sued. A clash of the Silicon Valley giants would become even more imminent as a successful takeover of Twitter would allow Musk to compete with META CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Musk has already derided Zuckerberg for owning vast platforms and having too much control over existing public debates. This would lead to cyberspace becoming increasingly competitive as companies strive for control and even as governments move to control these spaces. 

What does it mean? 
First, the unsolicited bid by Musk. This has prompted Twitter to launch a corporate defence tactic by the name of ‘poison pill’; this means that Musk would have to negotiate directly with the board for acquiring his bid. If Musk still wants to take control of the platform, he would have to persuade investors directly to sell their shares to him, allowing him to gain control over the company. This comes as the board and the shareholders have staunchly resisted his hostile takeover. 

Second, Musk seeks to transform Twitter into a free speech platform. If this happens, Twitter would increasingly become a pivotal point of concern in the State vs Big tech conflict. With States looking to mediate and control cyberspace increasingly, this seems a likely point of contention. States are slowly making it impossible for companies like Twitter to function in a vacuum as it catapults existing physical laws into the digital world to seek control and stifle voices of dissent.

Third, Plan B. Musk himself accepted that his proposal would not be accepted by Twitter shareholders and warned that he would use Plan B. He can sell all his shares in Twitter and start a new platform or hold on as an investor and waiting for the right opportunity to make a counteroffer. However, considering his eccentric behaviour when it comes to decision-making, Musk might make a turnaround. 


Also, in the news...
By Ashwin Dhanabalan, Angkuran Dey and Meghna Manoj 

East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: John Lee secures nomination for chief executive elections in Hong Kong
On 10 April, John Lee secured enough nominations to contest the chief executive elections in Hong Kong. He received more than 200 nominations, exceeding the minimum number of 188 nominations. Lee said: “loyalty is the basic requirement. The chief executive must be a patriotic person,” as he resigned from the position of chief secretary to take up the administrative post. Although the next chief executive would take office by 1 July, concerns arose as Beijing’s backing of Lee would allow the tightening of security measures by China’s President Xi Jinping. 

China: Shenzhou astronauts return to earth
On 16 April, three Shenzhou-13 astronauts completed their space mission and returned to earth safely. The astronauts were on a six-month-long space mission and landed in China’s inner Mongolia region. China’s national space administration lauded the astronauts for orbiting in space aboard the Tianhe. In addition, the astronauts onboard performed two spacewalks, held 20 different scientific experiments and delivered two live lectures from Tianhe. 

China: Beijing oppose US lawmaker’s visit to Taipei 
On 15 April, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian expressed his strong opposition to a US lawmaker’s visit to Taiwan. Zhao said the US should adhere to China’s one-China policy, which the US government also pursued. He also announced that China would continue to take adequate measures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Senator Lindsey Graham led the US delegation to discuss bilateral relations, regional security, and other issues of mutual interest. 

China: 30 connectivity projects inked with Singapore  
On 11 April, China and Singapore agreed on 30 cooperation projects worth USD 1.82 billion. Xinhuanet reported: “The projects involve finance, information and communication, transportation and logistics, and talent training.” In addition, the two countries also signed intergovernmental cooperation projects, 20 commercial cooperation projects and eight cross-border financing projects. This is the third intergovernmental cooperation project between China and Singapore. 

Taiwan: Military carries out annual Lien Hsiang exercise 
On 12 April, Taiwan’s ministry of defence spokesperson said that the military dispatched its F-16, indigenous defense fighters, Apache helicopters, and other aircraft for their annual military exercise. As a part of the exercise, the planes would have to attack simulated enemy targets, while practising the protection of essential assets from potential invasions.

The Philippines: Defense secretary challenges the US Human Rights report 
On 15 April, the Philippines demanded that the US provide evidence of alleged human rights excesses committed by its security forces. Philippine defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana said: “We challenge it to provide us with details so our Commission on Human Rights, a constitutional and independent body, can verify them.” He added that the accusations were baseless as there was no data to verify such claims. 

Indonesia: Law on sexual abuse and forced marriage approved
On 13 April, Indonesia passed a landmark judgment outlawing forced marriage and sexual harassment. Parliamentary speaker Puan Maharani said: “This is a gift to all Indonesian women and the people of Indonesia.” Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, and issues of sexual abuse were deemed to be a private matter. With the new judgement, sexual violence and harassment have been criminalised, giving victims legal recourse.

Malaysia: UMNO backs Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the next PM 
On 14 April, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) announced that it had selected Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the prime ministerial candidate for the upcoming general elections. Party secretary-general Ahmad Maslan said: “The UMNO supreme council unanimously proposed Ismail Sabri to be its prime minister candidate for the coming 15th general election.” The UMNO further added that it would be pushing for an anti-party hopping Bill to ensure voters’ rights. 

Myanmar: Telenor promises to maintain data privacy policy
On 15 April, the new owner of telecommunications operator Telenor stated that it would continue with its predecessor's same data privacy policy. The network said: “The network is committed to meeting all of its legal and ethical obligations to tens of millions of loyal customers.” 

South Asia This Week 
India: External affairs minister S Jaishankar on the 2+2 talks with the US
On 12 April, India’s external affairs minister met with US secretary of state Antony Blinken for the fourth India-US 2+2 ministerial dialogue in New Delhi. Jaishankar said: “A good part of my meeting with Secretary Blinken in the morning went to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine that has many ramifications.” The two leaders also discussed the Indo-Pacific, the consequences of COVID-19 and the need for reliable supply chains. Concerning India’s import of Russian oil, Jaishankar added: “…I suspect looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon.”

Pakistan: National Assembly elects Shehbaz Sharif as the new PM
On 11 April, Mian Mohammad Shehbaz Sharif, who received 175 votes out of 342 votes, was proclaimed as Pakistan’s new prime minister. Sharif had previously served as the Chief Minister of the Punjab province three times. He was the leader of the opposition when Imran Khan was the prime minister.

Pakistan: Statement by the DG ISPR refutes external conspiracy
On 14 April, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director-General Major General Babar Iftikhar clarified that the word conspiracy was not used in the National Security Committee (NSC) statute. On the other hand, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price refuted Imran Khan’s allegations. He said: “We support the peaceful upholding of the constitutional and democratic principles including respect for human rights.” He also agreed with DG ISPR’s comments during the press briefing regarding the denial of conspiracy. 

Afghanistan: Concerns about gender violence
On 15 April, a German member of the European parliament, Hannah Neumann, cited the issue of increasing violence and atrocities against women in the country. Neumann went on to comment that: “...there is much insecurity about how would be the future, especially of their girls, and we see an increase in forced marriage where even children at the age of 8 or 9 are being married, we see an increase that especially girls are being sold.” The member also spoke about the problem of rising sales and marriage of underage women and girls in Kabul and other provinces. 

Nepal: Rising prices of essential commodities 
On 14 April, the BBC reported on the soaring prices of daily goods and services within Nepal that were becoming a significant concern among the people who live on daily wages. The country’s foreign reserves have fallen by more than 16 per cent, in the last seven months, due to expensive imports. The communication and information technology minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki commented: “We are now considering declaring a two-day weekend, instead of a Saturday-only weekend, as part of its measures to reduce the consumption of petroleum products.” In addition, the Russia-Ukraine war has had its domestic impact on the state, with fuel prices skyrocketing. 

Sri Lanka: Protests and demonstrations call for president’s resignation
On 10 April, the people, along with the Christian clergy, rallied across the capital of Colombo, demanding the resignation of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa amidst the rising instability in the island country over the economic crisis. The protests also included many youngsters who organised smaller demonstrations, calling for the leader’s removal. The discontented and angry mob carried the national flag and placards, citing the inefficiency and mishandling of the whole economic situation in the country. 

The Maldives: ADB claim as the fastest growing economy in Asia
On 11 April, the Asian Development Bank claimed that the economy of Maldives is predicted to emerge as the fastest-growing economy in Asia in the coming years. The Asian Development Outlook report, which is published annually, stated that the economy of Maldives would be one of the significant economies among the developing countries in Asia and the Pacific. The reasons cited for it were primarily the revival of tourism as a part of the post-covid recovery and growth of the construction sector. 

Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa This Week
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: Foreign ministers discuss recent border clashes
On 14 April, foreign ministers Ruslan Kazakbaev and Sirojiddin Muhriddin discussed the border clashes in a telephonic interaction after a shoot-out happened between the border guards of the two countries. The shoot-out at the border killed a Tajik border security official and wounded two Kyrgyz border guards and four Kyrgyz civilians. Tajikistan foreign minister Muhriddin condemned the actions of the Kyrgyz border guards and demanded that objective investigations of the incident be held and that the respective individuals be brought to justice. 

Israel: Clashes at Al-Aqsa mosque leave over 150 injured 
On 15 April, violence erupted between the Israeli police and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, leaving over 150 Palestinians wounded Israel police, while defending its action, pointed out that their forces had come under attack with fireworks, stones and other objects prompting an attack. However, the Palestinian foreign ministry refuted such claims and stated: “Israel was fully and directly responsible for this crime and its consequences.”

UNSC: Welcomes the peaceful transfer of power in Yemen 
On 13 April, the members of the UNSC welcomed the creation of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) in Yemen. The members stated that the shift of power and assumption of responsibilities by the PLC reflects a broader array of political actors in the region. The UNSC further expressed its hope for the PLC and the role it is expected to play in bringing stability to the area and called for an inclusive Yemeni-led political settlement. The council members also expressed their concerns about the humanitarian crisis in the country and encouraged donors to release funds to counter the current situation and stabilise its economy. 

Yemen: US officials meet with the new leadership council 
On 13 April, the US embassy in Yemen stated that it held talks with the presidential leadership council. The officials discussed ways to collaborate and improve the country’s governance, security, and economic stability. Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, launched the new council headed by Rashad Al-Alimi. US embassy’s charge d’affaires Cathy Westley said: “I welcomed the council’s commitment to the UN-brokered truce and to realising the aspirations of all Yemenis for peace and prosperity.”

Saudi Arabia: Riyadh reinforces its ties with Beirut after a diplomatic fall-out
On 12 April, Al Jazeera reported on the significant improvements seen recently in the bilateral relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. This came after the two countries sent their ambassadors and renewed diplomatic relations after a debacle in 2021. Prime minister Najib Mikati announced that he would visit Riyadh soon. At the same time, Saudi Ambassador Waleed Bukhari mentioned that he would continue to provide humanitarian assistance for Beirut and aid in its recovery. Lebanon’s minister of energy and water, Walid Fayyad, stated: “I think the natural course of ties between Lebanon and Arab countries is for them to flourish, especially with the Gulf countries.”

South Africa: Fatalities rise in Durban floods
On 14 April, as unprecedented floods hit Durban with dozens still reported missing, the death toll has now climbed to 341. With lines of transport being hit in the region, sending supplies has become an arduous task as rescuers battle the calamity. The premier of the KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle Zikalala, stated: “The level of devastation of human life, infrastructure, and service delivery network in the province is unprecedented. A total number of 40,723 people have been affected.”  

Mali: EU ends its trading session with armed forces, citing Russian interference
On 12 April, the EU’s diplomat Josep Borrell announced that the EU would halt its training with Mali’s armed forces. This is because the authorities in Mali had failed to assure the EU that Russian military contractors would not interfere in the work. Borrell added: “We have decided to suspend, to stop, certain formations of our training mission in Mali focused on the units of the armed forces of the Malian national guard.” Mali and Russia have been defending their position by stating that the Wagner Group had sent trainers and not mercenaries to help its troops with equipment brought from Russia. 

Europe and the Americas This Week
The UK: Johnson calls Rwanda a safe place for migrants
On 14 April, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said that illegal immigrants would now go to Rwanda for refuge. This new set of immigrant policies encouraged unauthorised migrants to move to Rwanda and establish new lives for themselves. Concerning Rwanda's poor human rights records, Johnson responded that the country has changed, and it has become one of the safest places in the world. Johnson further stated that the policies were needed to cut large expenditures on the hotels and save countless lives from human trafficking. He also said that the Royal Navy would patrol the Channel for the country's safety and to intercept any illegal immigrants.

France: Macron and Le Pen set to compete in the second round of elections
On 10 April, after the first round of France's presidential elections, the incumbent president and candidate Emmanuel Macron had been aggressively campaigning around France, especially in rural areas. The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is only a few points behind Macron. Both Macron and Le Pen are trying to expand their voter base and bring in  Jean-Luc Mélenchon's voters to their favor.

Norway-Poland: Gas pipeline work renewed  
On 13 April, construction work began in Denmark on a gas pipeline that would connect Poland to Norway's gas fields, allowing Warsaw to reduce its dependence on Russian gas supplies. The work resumed after being stopped due to the war in Ukraine and amid environmental concerns raised by Denmark's environmental authority. The 900 kilometres long pipeline connecting the two countries is expected to enter service in October and become fully operational by 1 January 2023.

Ukraine: Poland and the Baltic states display their support for Kyiv
On 13 April, presidents of the Baltic countries and Poland met with president Zelenskyy of Ukraine to show their support. The press office of the Latvian president, Egils Levits, released the statement regarding the meeting only at the last moment. The presidents discussed the best ways to help Ukraine against Putin's Russia. They also discussed extending support to Ukraine for becoming a member of NATO and how the EU needs to impose stricter sanctions against Russia. 

Russia: The sinking of the warship Moskva 
On 15 April, the Russian warship Moskva in the Black sea sank, delivering a blow to the Russian presence in the region. Kyiv claimed its missiles hit the warship, and the claims have been reinforced by the US. However, Moscow has not reported any such missile attack, adding that a blaze caused the explosion of the ammunition present in the ship leading to the ship's sinking. Furthermore, refuting claims of casualties, Moscow added that the entire crew were  later evacuated by the Russian vessels in the Black sea.

The US: Kentucky lawmakers block abortion access
On 15 April, Kentucky suspended abortion access through legislation. Abortion rights activists announced that they would challenge the bill in court. The law makes the requirements of having an abortion expensive, logistically challenging and a provision that the fetal remains be cremated or interred. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear tried to veto the bill; however, the Republican-majority House and Senate overrode his veto. He added: “Rape and incest are violent crimes. Victims of these crimes should have options.” 

The US: Commercial refuelling stations to be developed 
On 13 April, the US Defense Innovation Unit stated that it was looking to create a prototype for “commercial refueling services” and a “bulk fuel depot”. The unit has reached out to the US and international companies for solutions to create flexible and sustainable space systems. The DIU RAPIDS Refueling and Fuel Depot said: “Future space systems require the ability to maneuver without regret. As such, these spacecraft must be serviceable and have ready access to commoditized fuel of varying types across many orbits.” 

Colombia: Evidence implicates former Colombian soldiers in the assassination of Moïse
On 13 April, Colombia's President Iván Duque stated that evidence and testimony pointed to the ex-Colombian soldiers being guilty in the assassination of Haiti's former president, Jovenel Moïse. The assassination has led to the arrest of more than 40 people, which includes several Haitian police officers, a former Haitian senator and 18 former Colombian soldiers. However, while mentioning how his hands were tied in the judicial process in Haiti, he expressed: "We can try to work diplomatically to guarantee that the trial is carried out earlier and that they have a minimum of conditions as inmates. But beyond that, Colombia cannot act." 

Brazil: Electoral body invites EU as an external observer for the presidential elections 
On 11 April, Brazil's electoral authority invited the EU representatives to observe the upcoming October vote. The invitation seeks to amplify the transparency of the country's electoral system and make cooperation possible. However, there has been no response from the EU over the invite as the electoral authority seeks to invite other organisations for the upcoming elections in a bid to showcase the strength of the electoral body to the world. Furthermore, president Jair Bolsonaro will be seeking re-election, and he further accused the electoral authority of favouring his rival, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. 

Brazil: Russia asks Brasilia to support them at the global groupings
On 14 April, Russia asked Brazil to extend its support to help keep its influence at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the G-20 to counter the crippling Western sanctions. Russia's finance minister Anton Siluanov, in a letter, addressed to Brazil's economy minister Paulo Guedes mentioned that it needs support from Brasilia to prevent levelling of political accusations and discrimination against Moscow in international institutions and the multilateral forums. The Russian minister added: "As you know, Russia is going through a challenging period of economic and financial turbulence caused by sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies."  

Chile: Constitutional assembly replaces senate with a new chamber of regions
On 14 April, in a marathon voting session, the constitutional assembly voted to replace its 200-year-old senate with a new chamber of regions. The assembly has been working on drafting a new constitution which is expected to go to a referendum on 4 September. Reforming the senate has been a critical goal of the left-wing party members, who have constantly maintained the position that it halts or stalls progress. Hernan Larrain, a conservative constituent, said: "Regions wouldn't have a voice when it comes to health, pensions, transport or education." 

Mexico: President López Obrador wins the recall referendum 
On 11 April, Mexico's president Manuel López Obrador won a referendum on whether he should step down or complete his six-year term as the president. The unprecedented referendum saw a voting turnout of less than 19 per cent, with more than 90 per cent of voters voting for Obrador to stay in office. López stated: "More than 15 million Mexicans are happy and want me to continue until September 2024. I will continue to serve until the last day of my term. I will not go further than that because I am a democrat and I am not in favour of re-election."


About the authors
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan is a Project Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Angkuran Dey and Meghna Manoj are Postgraduate scholars at the Centre for South Asian Studies at Pondicherry University.

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