The World This Week

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The World This Week
Saudi Arabia - Iran rapprochement, the AUKUS deal and China's 14th National Party Congress

  GP Team

The World This Week #206, Vol. 5, No. 10

Saudi Arabia: Resumption of diplomatic ties with Iran

What happened?
On 10 March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic relations seven years after the ties were severed. The delegations reached an agreement in talks hosted by China during 6-10 March. Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Council of Iran met Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban, Saudi Arabia’s national security advisor, in the presence of Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister. The Joint Trilateral Statement thanked Iraq and Oman for hosting multiple rounds of dialogues in 2021 and 2022. The foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia will meet to implement the agreement. 

Regarding the practical aspects, the Statement mentioned that reopening embassies and missions within the next two months will be a priority. It also reaffirmed the commitment to non-interference in internal affairs, upholding sovereignty, and re-implement the 2001 Security Cooperation Agreement between the two countries. 

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the agreement and said that this was an important step towards achieving regional stability. On 15 March, the UNSC held a meeting on the situation in Yemen, where the agreement was received positively. The UN Special Envoy for Yemen called on the parties to the conflict to carry forward the advantages of the agreement to ensure peace in Yemen. 

The rapprochement was welcomed by majority of regional states/actors/territories including Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Lebanese Hezbollah and the Houthis of Yemen. Israeli politicians denounced the development and the opposition blamed PM Netanyahu for failing to isolate Iran. Former PM Yair Lapid called the agreement “dangerous foreign policy failure of the Israeli government… a collapse of the regional defence wall” that was being built against Iran. The White House spokesperson remarked that Saudi Arabia informed it about the talks, but Washington was not directly involved in the process. 

What is the background?
First, the breakdown of ties. In 2016, Saudi Arabia executed Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia leader and a critique of the kingdom, on grounds that he incited anti-government protests in 2011. His execution prompted violence against Riyadh’s embassy in Tehran. The protestors stormed the building, started fires, and Saudi accused Iranian government of being complicit in the attack forcing the embassy staff to evacuate immediately. As a retaliation, Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry announced severing diplomatic ties with Iran, and asked the Iranian diplomatic mission to move out of the country. 

Second, walking a weak thread. The 2016 incident was not an isolated one, rather was a trigger for an official cutdown of diplomatic relations. A series of events showed that Iran and Saudi Arabia were at odds for several years. During Arab Spring-related protests in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for inciting protests, an accusation that the latter denied. In Syria, Iran backs the Assad regime against the Saudi-backed Sunni rebel groups. When the Yemen conflict broke out in 2014-15, once again they were loggerheads, and continue to be so till date. Saudi supports the internationally recognized government while Iran supports the Houthis. The 2015 stampede during Hajj in Mecca, which killed approximately 2000 pilgrims, fuelled the rhetoric further. Iran blamed Saudi for the death of 400 Iranians in the incident, and criticised it for mismanagement of the most important Muslim pilgrimage. After the ties were cut off in 2016, the four-year Qatar blockade, Hezbollah’s increasing political grip in Lebanon, Houthi attack on Saudi oil installations added to the regional rivalry.

Third, the reconciliation. Iraq and Oman played the mediator role and hosted multiple rounds of talks. In 2021, during former PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s tenure, Baghdad hosted the first direct talks, laying the foundation for more rounds of dialogue. Oman and Iraq both mediated the next four rounds of talks in 2022. Oman which acts as a host for Yemen peace talks, enabled Iran and Saudi to the table to discuss their most-destructive proxy conflict. Chinese President Xi Jinping met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh in 2022, and in February, a month before the current agreement, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited China. However, China’s role as a mediator was not made public until the release of the Joint Trilateral Statement.

What does it mean?
First, the regional impact. Lebanon’s PM Najib Mikati said that the agreement “is an opportunity to breathe in the region, and look to the future.” Indeed, most leaders hope that this is a positive beginning and an end to the rivalry that manifested through proxy conflicts. Though there is a relative calm except in a few pockets such as Ta’iz and Ma’rib, the eight-year Yemen conflict is yet to find an end. A revival of ties between Iran and Saudi is a hope for concrete peace, and probably will be one of the priorities on the agenda. The UN-brokered truce has expired in Yemen, yet Saudi is now directly talking to the Houthi leadership. However, the conflict is a complex one, with multiple actors and interests involved. The reconciliation can provide a breakthrough, but the conflict cannot end until domestic actors consider peace as an option in Yemen. 

In Syria, Saudi and Iran support opposing sides. Indicating a change, the Arab states are warming up to President Bashar al-Assad in recent times. Direct talks, and visits have increased since the earthquake struck Turkey and Syria in February this year. The reconciliation can provide impetus to re-integrating Syria into the regional fold after a long period of isolation. In Iraq, Iran’s strong political hold has often dissuaded Saudi Arabia’s investments. It is in Iraq’s interest to see Tehran and Riyadh talking. The impact of the agreement is yet to be seen in Lebanon’s case. Saudi Arabia’s political landscape might improve, but Iran may not be ready to give up its political gains made through Hezbollah. 

Second, Israel’s tricky position. Israel works towards containing and isolating Iran and has lobbied strongly for it in the case of JCPOA. It has also regularly targeted Iranian installations, armament supplies and affiliated groups in Lebanon and Syria by conducting air strikes. However, Saudi Arabia talking to Iran has started a political blame game in Tel Aviv, projected as a failure of Netanyahu’s government. In his previous tenure, Netanyahu showcased Abraham Accords as his government’s most important success, and aimed for normalization with Saudi. But with Iran and Saudi warming up, it may not be an easy path to tread. 

Third, waves of ground-breaking diplomacy. The Abraham Accords aimed at integrating Israel in the region. Iran and Saudi resuming talks, looks for bilateral and regional peace. The two comprehensive diplomatic initiatives in Middle East in recent years, are the defining moments in the foreign policies of many states involved. With both initiatives working simultaneously, it is clear that some regional actors are willing to engage with Israel and also not favour an isolated Iran.

Fourth, China’s role as a negotiator. A China-brokered regional détente indicates its new role in the region where the US has been the most dominant external power. Though Saudi is one of US’ closest allies, the latter could not be involved due to the absence of direct talks with Iran. China stands the most benefitted in the process- it has cemented its larger political presence in Middle East, and positioned itself as a power that can talk to rivals and bring them to the negotiating table.

AUKUS Submarine Deal

What happened?
On 13 March, 18 months after the pact of AUKUS was signed in September 2021, the plan to build a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines was revealed by the US, UK, and Australia. President Biden hosted the Prime Ministers of UK and Australia at San Diego naval base on the same day. Following this, a defence official revealed to the European media that Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine program with the US and UK might cost up to AUD 368 billion (USD 245 billion) over the next three decades, making it the largest single-defence project in Australian history. This investment is being seen as a significant move to confront China’s naval buildup in the Indo-Pacific, by supplying Australia with nuclear-powered attack submarines. On 18 March, as part of the same pact, the Pentagon approved the sale of up to 220 of the Tomahawk missiles at a cost of $1.3 billion in a deal that will also include technical support.

In response to this, the Russian Foreign Minister stated that the AUKUS nuclear submarine cooperation is the advancement of NATO military infrastructure into Asia, while making a serious bet on many years of confrontation in the region. On 17 March, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin at a press conference said the US, the UK and Australia are putting up an Anglo-Saxon clique and creating the so-called AUKUS trilateral security partnership to advance nuclear submarine cooperation and other cutting-edge military technology cooperation and stated, "this is typical Cold War mentality and a move that opens a Pandora's box, which will seriously impact regional and global peace and security,”

What is the background?
First, the submarine deal and the long-term geopolitical agenda. In the next three decades, the Australian nuclear submarine program is projected to cost AUD 368 billion, with a four-step plan in place. In the first phase, the US would sell three used Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines to Australia during the early 2030s, with an option for Australia to purchase two more if needed. This is accompanied by a joint US-UK submarine construction initiative, as well as efforts to train Australian sailors. In the second phase, design and development work on a brand-new submarine, called the SSN (Submersible Submarine Nuclear)-AUKUS would continue with an aim to replace their Astute-class submarines from the work already done by the British. Four US and one UK submarine will start rotating through Western Australia, to be known as the Submarine Rotational Forces West by 2027. The third phase would involve the transfer of Virginia-class SSNs to Australia under the agreement that Canberra will invest in the US shipbuilding industry. By the fourth phase, the AUKUS-class submarines will be operated by both the UK and Australia, using American combat systems. where one submarine will be built every two years from the early 2040s through to the late 2050s with five SSN-AUKUS boats delivered to the Royal Australian Navy by the middle of the 2050s. Additionally, $8 billion will be spent on upgrading the naval base HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.

Second, the Indo-Pacific and the larger security framework. During the statement, Biden said, "AUKUS has one overriding objective: to enhance the stability of the Indo-Pacific amid rapidly shifting global dynamics.” The military security partnership would boost the cooperation among the three countries in the security sphere. Once Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine capability is completed, it would join the already operating powers in nuclear-propelled submarines, in the region such as the U.K., India, France, the People’s Republic of China and Russia. AUKUS thus makes a vital component of the US Indo Pacific Strategy with a strong military focus.

Third, countering China in the region. "Going down a dangerous road", "disregarding the concerns of the international community" and even "risking a new arms race and nuclear proliferation" are some of the statements being made by observers who believe this to be a counter-China strategy. President Xi Jinping announced recently that China would accelerate the expansion of its defence spending and named national security as the primary concern of the coming years. Australia has always faced an economic dilemma with the Chinese. This pact places Australia on the frontline of US-China rivalry. One could expect the submarine pact to further Australian interests of defending key choke points, and help patrol the Western Pacific and eastern Indian Ocean. In his statement, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson called on the three countries to stop pursuing bloc politics and to refrain from coercing the IAEA into endorsing their nuclear submarine deal. He also mentioned that the AUKUS mediated military agenda would disrupt the ASEAN-centred regional cooperation by severely undercutting their efforts to establish a Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

What does it mean?
The pact is extremely costly but is certainly escalatory with the risk of overstretching capabilities and diverting resources. However, the nuclear submarine deal and the tomahawks deal are significant indicators of an Indo Pacific tilt.

First, the emergence of bloc politics in the Indo Pacific. AUKUS is among the few other initiatives of the US in the Indo Pacific region with an underlying focus on deterring China’s growth. The three countries are also active members of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing group. Together with the Quad, the changes in Japan’s security strategy and the AUKUS deal, there seem to be two strong blocs emerging in the Indo Pacific.

Second, time for new IAEA standards. A loophole in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty that allows nuclear fuel used for non-explosive military uses like naval propulsion to be exempted from IAEA inspections, has enabled the AUKUS pact. IAEA has announced that it would check fuel usage in sealed power units to ensure it does not conflict with its non-proliferation obligations. With seven countries already possessing these submarine capabilities, a case-by-case verification would not be an effective method in the long-run.

China's 14th National People’s Congress: Focus on economic recovery and party reforms

What happened?
On 13 March, China concluded the first session of the 14th National People’s Congress.  During the first session, the Chinese government released a number of reports on cyberspace governance, central and local budgets, the national economic and social development plan, and the report on the work of the NPC Standing Committee.  

President Xi delivered a keynote address at the session and said: “I was elected at this session to continue to serve as the president of the PRC. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the trust placed in me by all the deputies and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups. The people's trust has been my greatest source of strength to go forward and also the greatest responsibility on my shoulders.” 

Furthermore, Xi also appointed the new ambassadors to Austria, Brunei, Bahrain, Mexico and the United Nations. Lastly, the Communist Party of China has issued a plan to reform the party and state institutions and called for the efficient implementation of the plan. The CPC introduced two new agencies: the National Financial Regulatory Administration and the National Data Bureau. The party has also introduced a new financial regulatory body called the National Financial Regulatory Administration (NFRA). 

What is the background?
First, the two sessions. The two sessions refers to an annual political event in China where the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference hold their respective meetings separately during the same week. The political gathering convenes to decide on new promotions, key positions and their appointments, and amendments. The President officially appoints the newly elected candidates for the post of the Premier, and other ambassadorial positions.  

Second, the focus on the economy. The current session is the first after the coronavirus pandemic. In the last two years, the focus remained heavily on curbing the spread of the virus while maintaining a modest economic growth. In 2022, however, China was unable to achieve the economic growth target of 6 per cent set by the government. The growth was recorded at 3 per cent. The government has set a target of 5 per cent for 2023. There is a renewed focus on strengthening the economy and promoting the production and manufacturing industry in the country.  

Third, display of political stability. In the last quarter of 2022 and in the beginning months of 2023, numerous accounts of civil unrest within China were reported. Protests against the COVID-19 restrictions, unfair pay, unfair removal from jobs, and protests calling for Xi Jinping’s resignation were observed. However, with the two sessions, Xi Jinping has officially taken on as the President for the third time. There are no more reports of mass demonstrations coming from the country. Xi is now seen as the most powerful Chinese leader after Mao Zedong.  

Fourth, increased control by the CPC. In the rare third term as the President of China, Xi aims to establish stronger control over China’s law and order. Under the anti-graft campaign, more than 4 million officials and other professionals have been detained and investigated. The introduction of the new agencies and a financial regulator hint at the party’s tightened focus on the economy and cyberspace. The recent attack on the alleged weather balloon in the US and the subsequent accusation of sending spy balloons to China has led the administration to undertake a stronger position on AI and data protection. 

Fifth, the military. On the first day of the two sessions, then Premier Li Keqiang announced a 7.2 per cent increase in military spending despite the drop in the country’s economic growth. The rising threats from the West was cited as the reason for the second-largest defence spending in the world. There is also a constant call for intensifying military preparedness and training.  

What does it mean?
The heightened focus on economic recovery also shows that the country is concerned about the slow economic growth and realizes the urgency to lift up the economy quickly. The IMF and World Bank also reported that China’s economic growth is essential for uplifting the world economy. 
The emphasis on military spending despite the slow-paced economic growth describes the CPC’s priorities. Many analysts have also connected the increase in spending with the Ukraine war and suspect that China may provide weaponry support to Russia in the long term.  

Lastly, Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power and party reforms depict an increasingly closed off China. The country will be tightening its grip on data inflow and outflow while removing obstacles to Xi’s rule in the CPC and national politics.  

Also in the news...
Regional round-ups

East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Hong Kong government rejects US Senate resolution and urges to stop its interference 
On 16 March, The Commissioner's Office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and the HKSAR government called on the US Senate to stop its interference through the Hong-Kong related resolution. The spokesperson from the Commissioner's Office said: "The "resolution" interferes HKSAR's law-based governance, seriously violates international law and basic norms governing international relations and constitutes severe interference in China's internal affairs." The HKSAR government firmly rejected the resolution and accused the US of putting politics above the law. 

China: Foreign Ministry welcomes Honduras' desire to establish ties 
On 15 March, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded to Honduran President Xiomara Castro's recent statement on seeking to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China and welcomed the move. Wang said: "On the basis of the one-China principle, China is willing to develop amicable and cooperative relationships with all countries around the world, including Honduras." However, the President had previously expressed desire to establish ties in 2021 but retracked later, after assuming the office.

North Korea:Cabinet addresses food insecurity crisis
On 16 March, North Korea held a cabinet-level meeting addressing the issue of agricultural stability as it faces severe food shortages. They announced various detailed action plans to ensure agricultural stability. Kim Jong Un in the meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea called for a fundamental transformation in agricultural production. It is estimated that North Korea is facing an annual rice shortage of 800,000 tonnes and it has gotten worse since Covid. In 2021 60 per cent of the North Korean population suffered from food insecurity. 
Japan plans to lift the export of semiconductor materials to South Korea 

Japan: PM Fumio Kishida announces “last chance” to revive birth-rate 
On 17 March, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced the “last chance” period till 2030 to reverse declining birth-rate as its faces a demographic crisis. The provision plans to enhance childcare allowances, and provide housing assistance aimed at young families who are raising kids. Additionally, they also work to reduce the cost of education and raise income for younger workers. Kishida added that they plan to raise paternity leave to 50 per cent saying: “The government will make the creation of a ‘children first’ society the common aim of its policies.” This come to light after Japan reported the lowest birth-rate ever recorded as they were continuing on a seven-year decline.

Japan: Plans to lift the export of semiconductor materials to South Korea 
On 16 March, Japan announced that they plan to lift restrictions on exports of semiconductors materials to South Korea. The move is to end the long going feud between the two tech powerhouses. The announcement mentioned that they plan to open access for fluorinated polyimide, hydrogen fluoride and photoresist. These components are vital for manufacturing displays and semiconductors for gadgets.

South Asia This Week 
India-Bangladesh: Energy pipeline inaugurated
On 18 March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina jointly inaugurated the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline. It connects West Bengal in India and Parbatipur in Bangladesh. This is the second cross-border energy pipeline between India and its neighbours. Both countries laid its foundation in 2018. It has the capacity to transport one million metric ton per annum of high speed diesel to Bangladesh. This will enhance energy cooperation between the countries.

India: Pakistan engages “hostile and fabricated propaganda" says MEA report
On 13 March, MEA Annual Report 2022 stated that Pakistan engages in “hostile and fabricated propaganda" to vilify India to divert attention from its domestic and economic crises. The report also stated that there is no let-up in Pakistan sponsored terrorism. However, the report mentioned that India desires normal relations with Pakistan and all the issues should be peacefully resolved bilaterally. The report also mentioned China and India’s engagement are complex and Chinese transgression at LAC has seriously disturbed the peace and tranquillity of border areas.

India-Nepal: Power transmission through Bihar under consideration
On 17 March, Nepal and India conducted 14th meeting of the bilateral Power Exchange Committee held in New Delhi. Both countries agreed to formulate a modality to enable Nepal to export power to multiple India. According to the MD of Nepal Electricity Authority, “It will ensure additional markets for Nepal’s surplus energy during the wet season,”

Pakistan: IMF talks inconclusive over refinance guarantees and abolish subsidies to power sector
On 13 March, IMF held a final meeting with the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and conveyed need for surety on external financing needs up to USD six to seven billion from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and multilateral creditors to fill the gap till the end of June 2023. Along with this, the IMF asked Pakistan to abolish the power sector subsidies on a permanent basis. The news article by Mehtab Haider discussed IMF’s importance on sustainability and relevance of programs to remain credible. This has left Pakistan with no option but to use diplomatic channels to finalize staff level agreement.

On 14 March, an article by Shahbaz Rana, discussed about Prime Ministers’ intent on providing PKR 150 billion petrol subsidy to motorcyclists. The authorities had managed to reduce the external financing requirement benchmark from USD seven billion to USD six billion by June 2023. While addressing a news conference last week, finance minister said: “The reduction has been achieved by marginally reducing the projection of the current account deficit and lowering the foreign exchange building requirements.” Pakistan has claimed that it has so far recieved USD two billion assurance from Saudi Arabia and USD one billion from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), leaving it with a gap of USD three billion. SBP had agreed to link the rate with the headline inflation. The headline inflation in February hit a 50-year high by reaching 31.5 per cent. The challenge now is in the form of subsidy for motorcyclists which will likely further stretch the time to obtain a staff level agreement with IMF

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Syria: Bashar al Assad’s meets Putin at Moscow in a show of support
On 15 March, President Assad met President Putin in Moscow and discussed increasing Russian presence in Syria. He welcomed Russia to establish new military bases and increase the number of troops deployed in Syria. He reiterated that the Russian military presence is not temporary and is in Syria's benefit. Assad also expressed his support to Russia in its conflict with Ukraine and recognized the territories it claims in Ukraine. 

Iran: Belarusian President meets Raisi, signs agreement on trade and transportation
On 13 March, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. The two leaders marked their states’ 30 years of diplomatic relations. Delegations of two sides held talks and signed eight agreements on bilateral issues including trade, mining and transportation. Raisi and Lukashenko also signed an agreement on a comprehensive roadmap for relations between the two states. During the joint press conference, Raisi said that the roadmap “outlines political and economic conditions and encompasses all areas of interest between the two countries”, and the “countries that are sanctioned by the US must work together and form a joint collective to destroy the weapon of sanctions.”

Gulf of Oman: Iran, China, Russia’s joint naval drill
On 15 March, Iran, Russia and China began a week-long Security Bond-2023 joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman. The Chinese Ministry of National Defence said that the exercise is a step to deepen practical cooperation between participating countries’ navies. The Ministry also stated that other countries are also participating, however, did not name them. US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby remarked that the exercise was not a threat to US’s interests, but will closely monitor it.

Israel: Judicial bill passed in Knesset, protests follow
On 14 March, the Knesset advanced the bill about much controversial judicial reforms that will reduce the judiciary's power and independence. The bill has been a priority of the Netanyahu-led coalition government. Protests opposing the bill continued for the straight 10th week. The media reported a gathering of 250,000 to 300,000 people, but the organizers said it was a gathering of 500,000 people, one of the largest in Israel’s history. The bill has given rise to a domestic political crisis, with people protesting on streets and the government refusing a compromise.

Africa: US Secretary of State's visit to Ethiopia and Niger
On 15 March, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, during his visit to Ethiopia, highlighted the importance of implementation of the peace agreement between the federal government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). He said that there needs to be accountability on atrocities committed by warring parties during the conflict. Meanwhile, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that the two leaders discussed strengthening relations which hardened during the conflict. On 16 March, Blinken visited Niger and met with former jihadists who were rehabilitated through a vocational training programme by the US. He called the country a model for the region, which has seen an increasing threat of Islamist militancy. It is the first ever visit by a US Secretary of State to Niger. 

Mali: Junta decides to popularise draft constitution before a referendum
On 17 March, BBC reported on a private media in Mali, Maliweb, which said that the interim President Assimi Goita has called on the National Transitional Council (CNT) to take ownership of the new draft constitution and popularise the same ahead of the referendum. Additionally, the report said that the military leader is planning to present the draft constitution to political groups and civil society organisations on 20 March. This comes after the junta announced an indefinite postponement of the referendum for adoption of the constitution scheduled on 19 March. 

Europe and The Americas This Week

Poland: Warsaw plans to station HIMARS near Russian border
On 17 March, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak announced that the US-made HIMARS rocket launchers would be stationed on the border with Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad Region. He is said to have boasted that Washington had already approved Warsaw’s order for 500 more HIMARS launchers, and noted how important they were to the Polish army. This announcement comes in the context of the increasing build-up of American weapons around Kaliningrad. In December the Pentagon approved USD 28 billion worth of arms deals, with Poland and the Baltic states being the biggest buyers. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg claimed in January that the UK had been modelling cyber strikes specifically against the Kaliningrad government.

Russia: ICC issues an arrest warrant against Putin
On 18 March, The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, alleging he is responsible for war crimes. The report has focused on the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia, saying it had reasonable grounds to believe Mr Putin committed the criminal acts directly, and accused him of failing to use his presidential powers to stop children being deported. Legally, the ICC has no powers to arrest suspects, and can only exercise jurisdiction within its member countries - and Russia is not one of them. However, this would affect Putin from being unable to travel internationally. 

France: Senate passes the pension reform bill amidst protests
On 11 March, before the senate meeting to vote on the pension reform bill, a set of protests was staged. Those who opposed the increase in the retirement age from 62 to 64 gathered across France, majorly in Paris. According to France’s Interior Ministry close to 368,000 had took part while the CGT labour union reported one million. The nature of protests was observed to be massive due to France’s President Emmanuel Macron rejection to meet the union leaders. On 11 March, using a quicker voting process to vote on entire bill than going by article and amendments, the upper chamber of the parliament voted in favour approving the pension reform. Upon the clearance, the final draft will be submitted for final vote of upper house and national assembly. Macron’s lacking majority, the challenge would be relied on Les Republicans to support in the vote.

Finland: Government adopts Sami Climate Change Council Decree
On 09 March, Government of Finland plans adopted the decree on Sami Climate Council to address climate change. The council is an independent body under the Climate Act, which looks at the issue of climate change from the perspective of the Sami people and their community. They are an indigenous group that inhabits the northern region of Europe, their traditional practices and cultural practices are intertwined with the Arctic environment which makes them highly vulnerable to the climate change process. The Sami Council wants to focus on the climate initiative discourse to focus and include Sami voices and perspectives. Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Maria Ohisalo said: “The warming climate has very particular impacts on the Sámi culture and traditional livelihoods that are based on the Arctic environment. This is why it is an absolute necessity to integrate the knowledge of the indigenous Sámi people strongly into the decision-making concerning climate policy.” 

Ukraine: Environmental damage in war accounts to UAH two trillion
On 11 March, Ukrinform reported on Kharkiv’s nature management committee estimated a total environmental damage of UAH two trillion (USD 54  Billion) during the war. This includes “land and air pollution, burned forests, and destroyed objects.” According to the committee, it will be assessing the damage to the environment on the basis of intentional or accidental. Ukraine’s Environmental Ministry has urged the government agencies to draft concept and restoration programme to bring back Ukraine’s ecology.

Argentina: Inflation crosses 100 per cent for the first time since 1991
On 14 March, the latest data from the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC) revealed that annual inflation in the country had hit 102.5 per cent after it rose by 6.6 per cent in February. This was the first time since 1991, that Argentina witnessed an inflation rate above 100 per cent. On 16 March, the presidential spokesperson said though the figures were "bad, very bad and also was not expected," a 60 per cent inflation rate forecast would be addressed in the budget. The spokesperson said the prices had increased due to an ongoing drought that affected soy production and other sectors.

Honduras: Economic interests driving need for ties with China, says foreign minister
On 15 March, Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina said Honduras was seeking diplomatic ties with China due to its rising debt.  Reina said: "The global situation is complicated. We need to open up...We need investment. We need cooperation." The development comes after Honduran President Xiomara Castro announced on 14 March that Honduras would establish ties with China and that she had directed Reina to begin negotiations with China. If the relation materialises, it would automatically end ties with Taiwan, leaving the latter with only 13 formal allies globally.

The US: Pfizer to acquire cancer drug firm Seagen
On 13 March, pharma major Pfizer announced that it will acquire Seagen, with acquisition amount of USD 43 billion. Seagen has four oncology drugs on the market and a pipeline of other candidates that includes 11 potentially novel drugs. The cash inflow after pandemic induced demand enabled Pfizer to generate big capital for acquiring Seagen.

Brazil: Plastiglomerate found at a remote island near Brazil
On 16 March, Reuters reported on the rocks made from plastic debris at a remote turtle island near Brazil. According to geologists, “plastiglomerates” are made of a mixture of sedimentary granules and other debris held together by plastic. Temperature rise of sea melts the plastic, which largely comes from fishing nets, which becomes embedded with the beach’s natural material.

About the Authors
Rashmi Ramesh, Harini Madhusudan, Ankit Singh and Akriti Sharma are PhD scholars in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Avishka Ashok, Anu Maria Joseph, Apoorva Sudhakar, Padmashree Anandhan and Femy Francis are Research Associates at NIAS.

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