The World This Week

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The World This Week
Ten years of BRI, Elections in Poland, and the Crisis in the US Congress

  GP Team

The World This Week #235, Vol. 5, No.39
22 October 2023

Ten years of BRI: Xi and the Beijing Summit
Femy Francis

What happened?
On 18 October, Beijing hosted 23 world leaders celebrating the third Belt and Road Initiative Forum on their ten-year anniversary. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposed the idea of transnational developmental collaborations. The forum was facilitated by three European leaders: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. From the African region Nigerian Vice President Kashim Shettima, Kenyan President William Ruto, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso joined the celebration. Moreover, 13 leaders sent heads of their states. These countries include Chile, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam amongst others.

Xi Jinping’s address at the gathering focused on the agenda of “shared cooperation” and reminisced over the achievement of BRI in the past ten years. He claimed the forum was able to mobilize over USD one trillion in investments. Additionally, it completed 3,000 projects with 200 agreements signed with more than 150 countries. Xi warned against the “decoupling” from China by the Western countries where their growing economy should be viewed as an asset rather than a threat. He accused the West of hampering Chinese growth through economic coercion and disruption of the supply chain. Xi opined that: “Viewing others’ development as a threat or taking economic interdependence as a risk will not make one’s own life better or speed up one’s development.” He stressed that China can only do well when the world does well. Furthermore, Xi proposed eight major steps for better BRI cooperation which included multidimensional connectivity with greener initiatives. It is advocated as pioneering an open world economy with free trade, and furthering scientific and technological innovations amongst others. Russian President Vladimir Putin was the guest of honour showcasing a clear stance on their unyielding friendship. Putin lauded BRI’s vision and stated that it: “Represents the advancing of our times and the right path forward", and that it was “on the right side of history.” While commending BRI, Pakistani Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar said: “This vision promotes cooperation, collective security, inclusive and sustainable development, and a balanced ecosystem as the only way to address global challenges.”

What is the background?
First, a decade of the Belt and Road Initiative. Drawing inspiration from the Silk Route, Xi Jinping proposed the idea of BRI, an economic belt which aimed to link China with Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Europe by land. Currently, the initiative has invested in countries like Pakistan with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Malaysian government signed the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project often accused of being dubious and riddled with corruption. Africa has been heavily invested by China with major projects like the Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway and Ethiopia-Djibouti Water Pipeline. Global Times, one of the Chinese government’s flagship newspapers, cited the World Bank report on BRI. According to the newspaper, the BRI cooperation will generate USD 1.6 trillion in revenue each year by 2030. In the third BRI forum, it is estimated that USD 97.2 billion worth of new projects were signed. It also planned to set up a financial window worth USD 95.8 billion to support projects under the forum. Since the advent of the decade into BRI, it has been able to create inroads into developing countries. It has established itself as a regional power, while reaping economic benefits in light of agreements giving them access to untapped and resource-rich countries of South America, Africa and the Middle East.

Second, the debt trap narrative and dwindling domestic economy. Beijing’s role as a creditor to developing countries is seeing bleak development with major investments leading to countries saddling debts. The attractive initiative of unreserved investing and borrowing has left several countries in a vacuum of debt. China is coercing Tajikistan to give up 158 square kilometres of its land owing to USD 1.2 billion debt. Another example is the perils facing Pokhara Airport in Nepal. It was observed that the investment disproportionately benefited China’s state-owned conglomerates like CAMC Engineering. The company dictated terms to create maximum profits by constructing subpar airports. The telltale 99-year leasing of Hambantota Port of Sri Lanka to China remains an example of caution. During the BRI forum of 2023, China vehemently opposed the debt trap narrative. However, it needs to be considered that Beijing is also facing a domestic economic crisis and therefore is pushing to revive its economy. The narrative also needs to be observed from the perspective where the Chinese loans are also “trapped” in loss-incurring investments. Moreover, what would it do if the country refuses to pay the collateral?

Third, widening the market under heavy sanctions. China is considered a “deemed threat” by Western countries. The exponential rise of China and its aggressive foreign policy has displeased countries leading to sanctions. The suspicion against China’s motives led to the halting of the export of advanced artificial intelligence technologies and semiconductors. Several sanctions were also imposed against Chinese nationals concerning human rights abuse of Uyghur Muslims in China. China expressed its displeasure against the unfair treatment and seeks to find alternative markets and resources amidst sanctions focusing more on developing countries. 

Fourth, implications on the environment. BRI’s investments were in the infrastructure department and heavily built on coal-fired power plants in the early years of BRI collaborations. It contributed to greenhouse emissions. While Xi Jinping in 2021 announced that they would not build coal plants on the contrary, the Chinese companies continued to work on the signed contracts. Several BRI projects are built in sensitive environments. The dam construction in the Indonesian Batang Toru Forest Island of Sumatra, home to Sumatran Orangutans gathered to protest the USD 1.6 billion Batang Toru- Hydro Power Project. It posed a threat to the already endangered species. In Mekong, Lao the construction of the Xayaburi dam construction affected the sediment quality and disrupted the water levels affecting agriculture and livelihood. The Lower Sesan 2 hydropower project in Cambodia displaced 5,000 people with several families not compensated and many were forced to accept the resettlement by intimidation. While BRI outlined its plans to become greener, similar promises were made by Xi Jinping in 2017 the promise to pursue green development did not see any fruition.

What does it mean?
First, ten years of BRI aided the Rise of China. Since 2013 BRI has laid the foundations for transnational economic statecraft. BRI is the catalyst for China’s expansionist policies aiding the development of financial institutions in developing countries. The global arena has been dominated by the West-based institution outlining norms and measures for development and investment. The forum put China on the map in fulfilling its expansionist foreign policies and becoming a strong alternative to the West-based institution. The heavy investment made through BRI over the decade has provided open access into overlooked, untapped and resource-rich regions. While the initiative has provided a global platform to China, the unbridled hasty investment also has incurred losses. China is reconsidering its tactics and it envisions becoming more selective.

Second, the West’s scepticism to BRI’s developments. The dynamic rise of China in the spheres of global economy and influence has always created suspicion. Additionally, the lack of transparency and unsustainable investments have created anxieties about the underlying strategy and motivation of China. The distinctive feature about Chinese investments is that its focus is on revenue and profit generation, political/ ideological differences stand secondary. This does not bode well with the West whose investments also demand either agreeable ideologies or the investee’s want to alter itself accordingly. Mapping the current geopolitical loyalties, both the West and China stand at the opposite end where the former supports Ukraine the latter has strong friendships with Russia. China has continued engagement with the heavily sanctioned and isolated North Korea while the West, especially the US, actively supports the South Korean cause putting them always at odds. Even if BRI does become greener, transparent, accountable and sustainable the West would remain suspicious of any new giant threatening their dominance.

Third, championing the Global South. The unanimous opinion is that China is inching its way to becoming a regional and global power. Xi Jinping has always criticized the hegemonic US behaviour and often has vouched for a “multilateral” world order. He stated that its investment is a “win-win” where China claims to not want unyielding authority over the states but aims to enrich the market. Xi expressed that BRI looked for mutual benefit and packaged BRI as a Global Development Initiative. Xi has casted China itself as an alternative to the West, especially the US. Xi while meeting Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali stated that certain countries practising unilateralism and protectionism have hampered economic growth. He further emphasized that it is therefore vital for them to further “South-South Solidarity.”

Fourth, strategic changes to foreign policy for a profitable BRI. China is under sanctions and it is a troublesome economy. Beijing now has aimed to make its currency stronger by opting for Yuan-denominated loans. The aim is to integrate Yuan into the international market where during the recent forum several contracts were signed with Malaysia’s Maybank, Egypt’s central bank, and BBVA Peru with Yuan-based transactions. This would not only aid China but also its communist counterpart and dear friend Russia. Amidst volatile sanctions, the total isolation of Russia and the downfall of Rubel, Yuan is the alternative to resolve Russia’s international transactions issue. The growing Sino-US competition has led to China pursuing the dominance of the Yuan. China International Capital Corporation (a global financial investment services) stated: “Amid rising currency volatility globally, the BRI provides a good opportunity to expand the RMB's international clout,” Another shift can be observed in the eight-part vision listed by Xi Jinping where they would focus more on “small-scale programmes,” However, it does not mean it would only invest in small programs but it would be more careful to not choose a loss incurring project and would even use this exclusivity to its leverage.

TWTW Special
BRI and China’s Eight Future Steps: Takeaways from Xi Jinping’s Address

Femy Francis

Xi Jinping addressing the third BRI forum in Beijing announced eight major future steps for BRI to pursue “high-quality” cooperation.

1. To accelerate China-Europe Railway Express and participate in the Trans- Caspian International Transportation Corridor
China wants to make joint efforts to build new corridors with Eurasia countries aiming to build an alternative Belt and Road connectivity network. Additionally, further Silk Road Maritime and establish the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor.
2. To establish a pilot zone for Silk Road e-commerce cooperation
China wants to get into more free trade agreements and treaties aiming to have an open world economy where they remove all restrictions from accessing foreign investment in the manufacturing sector.

3. To invest in small, yet smart programmes
China to invest in “small yet smart livelihood programs.” The China Development Bank and Export-Import Bank will set aside RMB 350 billion for financing, and RMB 80 billion will be invested in the Silk Road Fund. Beijing plans to institute 1,000 small scale “livelihood assistance projects.”

4. Going Green
The BRI to go green, where China plans to establish a BRI International Green Development Coalition aiming to exchange technology and measures for low-carbon developments. A Green Investment Principle will be established with over 100,000 training opportunities.

5. To host S&T Conference
BRI to hold its first conference on Science and Technology Exchange and further the global movement of Artificial Intelligence governance for sound AI development. Additionally, the Belt and Road Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan will continue.

6. To start Liangzhu Forum on People to People Contacts 
To increase collaboration and interaction, China will host the Liangzhu Forum to initiate dialogue on civilizations with the BRI countries. An additional focus would be given to promoting art and culture exchange through initiatives like the Silk Road International League of Theaters, the Silk Road International Arts Festival and the International Alliance of Museums of the Silk Road amongst others.

7. To emphasis on integrity on BRI cooperation
On accountability, China will focus on integrity in BRI cooperation by establishing a Compliance Evaluation System for Companies Involved in Belt and Road Cooperation. Release achievements and Prospects of Belt and Road Integrity Building and the High-Level Principles of Belt and Road Integrity Building.

8. To establish a Secretariat
China wants to build institutions, to promote cooperation amongst BRI countries by taking care of energy, taxes, corruption, and green development, with the formation of a separate secretariat for the BRI.xt block. 

Poland elections 2023: Opposition enroute to win
Padmashree Anandhan 

What happened?
On 15 October, in the general elections the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party won 200 seats whereas the opposition party, Civic Coalition (KO) won 163 seats. The coalition parties of the opposition, Third Way and Lewica (Left) won 55 and 30 seats as leverage. The Confederation, a potential partner for PiS, secured only 12 seats.

On 15 October, KO leader Donald Tusk said: “…Poland has won, democracy has won, this is the end of the PiS government.” PiS' leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski said: “The question before us is whether this success will be able to be turned into another term of office of our government, and we don't know that yet.”

On 16 October, one of the EUs diplomats said: “The result should lead to better functioning of the EU where the EU truly reflects its values and principles, particularly solidarity and responsibility.”

What is the background?
First, a background of the political parties. The PiS is a “national-conservative and Christian democratic political party,” formed in 2001. The party’s prime focus is on socio-economic issues, Polish identity, Christian values, and culture. The party has been more independent from the EU, especially in migration. These have redeemed the party to stay in power since 2015 and continue to win a major share of votes in 2023. KO, formed in 2001, lost six elections against PiS due to lack of strategy and leadership which was witnessed during the pandemic. It focused on criticizing PiS rather than proposing alternatives. Third Way, formed in 2019, emphasised on keeping the state and church separate, climate neutrality, education and a comprehensive healthcare system. Lewica, an alliance of the New Left and Left Together, failed to secure enough seats in 2015 elections and since then has won between eight to ten per cent. 

Second, major issues during the elections. The PiS vowed to continue the anti-migration policy and an anti-EU stance over migration. Initially portrayed as a supporter of Ukraine, it has strained its relations over grain transit. Increased cash benefits and retiree programs are the strength which has sustained the party. Tusk promised to end Poland’s rift with the EU over the rule of law and bring back liberal laws on abortion and media freedom. Similarly, the Third Way and the left also focused on abortion and education, promising increased spending on healthcare and “simpler tax system” for small businesses. The Confederation proposed a strong anti-migration, anti-LGBTQ+ stance and reduction in taxes.

Third, decline in the support for the Law and Justice party. In 2007, Tusk, as a prime minister, undertook “moderate social and economic” policies and strengthened the equation with the EU. Due to limited reach beyond major cities, and in western Poland led to the victory of the Law and Justice party in 2015. Led by Jarosław, key institutions came under control (media and culture) and became vigorous, which was viewed as a similar approach of Hungary. Reforms after 2019 elections on Poland’s judicial system and a new retirement law sparked concerns. This continued into stricter anti-abortion and LGBTQ+ restrictions leading to a reduction in support. The EU’s freezing of pandemic recovery funds over rule of law diminished its support. 

What does this mean?
First, dissatisfaction of the Polish. The 2023 elections result indicate a further polarised Poland with more votes splitting into Third Way, KO, and Confederation. This is mainly due to division in Poland’s society over culture, LGBTQ and economic issues. PiS corruption scandals, altering of judicial system, negation of EU recovery funds and Polish becoming open-minded to LGBTQ became the barricades to the Party as it pursues rhetorical agenda. Those dissatisfied with the current government, the alternative liberal policies proposed by Third Way, and KO seem to have attracted different groups of youth and working class.

Second, the task ahead for the opposition. KO does have the votes in favour and common interests to lead to the coalition with the Third Way, and the left. Looking at the party’s history, it lacks a well-defined strategy for Poland. Therefore, combining its pro-EU values, it must include its coalition parties in drafting an agenda that will balance both domestic demands, especially including economic benefits. and re-work relations with the EU.

The US: Continuing crisis in electing the House Speaker 
Vetriselvi Baskaran

What happened?
On 17 October, Representative Jim Jordan lost 20 votes in the first round of ballot for the Speaker gavel. He secured only 200 votes out of the 221 from the Republicans. After being rejected on the first ballot for House speaker, Jordan said he was “not really” surprised at the result. 

On 18 October, Jim Jordan was rejected again by 22 other Republican colleagues in the second voting.  Four more have joined the Republican group who did not want to elect Jordan.  He secured 199 against 212.

On 20 October, Jim Jordan lost again;  he received only 194 votes, short of 214 needed. Jordan told the reporters: “We need to come together to figure out who our speaker is going to be. I’m going to work as hard as I can to help that individual.”

What is the background?
First, the recent developments in the US Congress relating to the Speaker position. The 118th US Congress is composed of 435 members with 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats; the former has a slight majority over the latter. In October, Kevin Mc Carthy, a Republican, lost the Speaker position in a 216-210 vote. Matt Gaetz, a Republican Congressman from Florida started the impeachment move. In this, eight Republicans voted to remove him. The Republicans nominated Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan for the position, but Steve Scalise stepped out.

Secondly, the divide within the Republicans. They have not yet been able to reach a consensus on a nominee.  McCarthy was perceived by some Republicans as being willing to make concessions with Democrats. They were also unhappy with McCarthy’s approach towards the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the attack on the Capitol on 6 January. 

Third, the 'House of Freedom Caucus'. It is a group of ultra-conservative Republican members known for their firm positions on fiscal and social issues, and their willingness to defy Republican leadership. The Freedom Caucus has been criticized for its willingness to shut down the government to achieve its goals. McCarthy had to make concessions to the Caucus to secure their support, which included giving the latter more influence over committee assignments and the legislative agenda. The Freedom Caucus has been able to exert influence in Speaker elections because of its relative size and its willingness to vote against the party leadership.

What does this mean?
First, the crisis of democracy in the US. Democracy is at stake due to the rise of election denialism, and the two major political parties have become increasingly polarized in recent years. This has made it difficult for the two parties to work together and compromise. Public trust in government has declined in recent years. 

Second, the Congress without a speaker. Without a speaker, the House cannot respond to the emergency situations and crises. Even some GOP members warned that this halt has implications on national security. Without a Speaker, the House cannot approve any spending. 

TWTW Regional Roundups
News from around the World 

Annem Naga Bindhu Madhuri, Anu Maria Joseph, Arun S, Dhriti Mukherjeee, Femy Francis, Gopi Keshav N, Navinan GV, Nuha Aamina, Padmashree Anandhan, Rishika Yadav, Rohini Reenum and Shamini Velayutham. 

China This Week
China: A special envoy to visits Cairo to de-escalate Palestine-Israel conflict
On 20 October, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed that a special envoy Zhai Jun will visit Cairo to discuss the Gaza-Israel conflict. The summit is aimed to bring world leaders aiming to establish peace. China is seeking to de-escalate the conflict and resume peace with an eventual ceasefire. Zhai has been holding a series of telephonic discussions to discuss the current issue and the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said: “China has always stood on the side of peace and justice. We oppose all acts of violence against civilians and civilian facilities, and condemn any actions that violate international law.”

China: Refutes Pentagon claims of bolstering nuclear capabilities
On 20 October, China refuted the Pentagon’s claims that China’s military has been bolstering its nuclear abilities to counter US forces in the Asia-Pacific. China stated that its nuclear programme is only for self-defence. The Pentagon claimed that China will have over 1000 nuclear warheads by the year 2030. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning said: “We have always kept our nuclear forces at the minimum level required for national security and have no intention to engage in a nuclear arms race with any country.” She said no country will be threatened by China’s nuclear weapons as long as it does not use the same against them. Mao also questioned the heavy investment by the US in upgrading nuclear capabilities and providing nuclear assistance to non-nuclear countries, hinting at South Korea’s Washington Declaration.

East and Southeast Asia This Week
South Korea: President Yoon Suk Yeol on state visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar
On 20 October, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol initiated a diplomatic visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The visit focused on economic cooperation. In Riyadh, he will meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom they previously established numerous memorandums of understanding worth USD 29 billion. Subsequently, Yoon will visit Doha and hold discussions with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. These visits are aimed to strengthen South Korea’s ties with these Middle Eastern partners. It is focused on expanding cooperation beyond energy and construction into sectors like hydrogen, IT, autos, shipbuilding, renewable energy, culture, and entertainment. The conflict in the Middle East will also be on the agenda.

South Korea: Bolstering bilateral security supply chain
On 16 October, Seoul’s arms procurement agency said that South Korea and the US are anticipated to sign an agreement to strengthen the bilateral security supply chain. In the policy report for a parliamentary hearing, the Defence Acquisition Program Administration said it expects to sign the Security of Supply Arrangements with the United States Department of Defence. This deal will enable both the states to prioritize delivery of defence-related orders. Besides, the Defence Acquisition Program Administration said it will also make efforts to sign the Reciprocal Defence Procurement Agreement between the two countries to ease barriers for bilateral arms exports.

South Korea: New fighter aircraft KF-21
On 16 October, South Korea unveiled a newly developed fighter and displayed it as part of the Seoul International Aerospace & Defence Exhibition. The KF-21 made by state-run Korea Aerospace Industries Limited is designed to conduct deep strikes into enemy territories. This plane is seen as a more affordable alternative to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 Lightning II. It will be used by South Korea’s military and sold overseas with mass production scheduled for next year. According to data from the Stockholm International Research Institute, South Korea was the world’s ninth-largest exporter as of the end of 2022. Many countries including Poland and the UAE have shown interest in joining South Korea’s KF-21 fighter jet programme.

Japan: Three-way communication hotline with South Korea and the US
On 17 October, the Yonhap news agency reported that South Korea, the US and Japan completed work on a three-way communication hotline. The primary purpose of the hotline is to connect leaders or top national security advisers in the event of a security crisis. The sign of growing trilateral security cooperation comes at a time of military tension with North Korea and China’s growing regional influence. The communication hotline was established after the three countries' leaders announced a commitment to consult each other in times of crisis at a summit in Camp David. North Korea has repeatedly condemned the US for engaging in such provocative activities that destabilize the existing situation.

Japan: Tokyo-Beijing forum emphasizes Japan-China treaty and nuclear concerns
On 20 october, the 19th Tokyo-Beijing Forum was held in Beijing and organized by Genron NPO and the China International Communications Group. It underscored the significance of the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship ahead of its 45th anniversary. The joint declaration called for the resumption of inter-governmental dialogue between the two countries. It expressed concerns about nuclear non-proliferation in light of the Russian-Ukraine conflict and North Korea’s nuclear program. Additionally, the declaration addressed the release of treated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean, emphasizing the need for sincere handling of concerns. The forum was the first in-person meeting in four years and involved about 100 participants, including experts and reporters from both countries.

North Korea: Kim Jong Un meets Sergei Lavrov in Pyongyang amid US accusations
On 19 October, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Pyongyang. The visit was followed by recent US allegations of secret arms transfers between North Korea and Russia. While specific details were not disclosed, they discussed strengthening political and economic ties for a “future-oriented Russia-DPRK relationship.” Both sides intend to address regional and international challenges through enhanced cooperation. Lavrov and his North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui signed a plan for interministerial exchanges for 2024-2025. It emphasized increased economic, trade, and political coordination. They also expressed concern about escalating military activity in the region and advocated for security negotiations on the Korean Peninsula. Lavrov’s visit marked the second high-level Russian visit to North Korea in 2023.

Indonesia: Seven civilians killed by an insurgent group in Papua
On 17 October, according to the South China Morning Post, Indonesian police claimed the assailants opened fire at mining workers on a Monday afternoon. The Papua region has observed similar events. A special group has been formed to handle the insurgents; they are called the Cartenz Peace Taskforce. On Tuesday, Faizal Ramdhani, head of the Taskforce, reported that the gunfire lasted for one and a half hours and that the personnel were attacked. Seven bodies were found dead, most of whom were migrants from the Sulawesi region, and eleven were rescued. The rebels said the reason behind the attacks was to warn the migrants to leave the region of Papua.

Thailand: The Prime Minister invites Putin
On 18 October, Srettha Thavisin, Prime Minister of Thailand, invited Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, according to the South China Morning Post. They met at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing and discussed boosting trade and cultural ties. Putin has accepted the invitation, and the date of the visit is yet to be set. Thailand abstained from a UN General Assembly vote last year to condemn Russia’s annexation of Ukraine and is not a party to the International Criminal Court, which issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest earlier in 2023.

The Philippines: Military to set up defence against cyber attacks 
On 19 October, government agencies in the Philippines, including the lower house of Congress, reported cyber attacks, according to the Bangkok Post. These attacks are said to be of foreign origin. There have been growing tensions between China and the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea. General Romeo Brawner, chief of the armed forces, said military bases have installations of several mobile firms, including China’s giant ‘China Telecom’. The military will stop letting companies build their cell towers at the base.

Malaysia: Anwar Ibrahim proposes a free trade agreement between ASEAN and the Gulf Council
On 20 October, Anwar Ibrahim, Prime Minister of Malaysia, proposed an economic integration between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to help overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and geographical uncertainties. The ASEAN bloc comprises ten member-states, with a combined worth of two point three trillion USD, achieved through trade, investment and customs procedures. However, free trade deals among the members have protracted as some export-reliant economies would benefit from their greater access to markets.

South Asia This Week
Afghanistan: Islamic Emirate delegation attends Belt and Road Forum in China
On 17 October, an Islamic Emirate delegation led by acting Minister of Trade and Industry Noorudin Azizi arrived in China to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) forum. The delegation has planned to engage with Chinese industrialists, traders, and investors on the sidelines of the forum. Afghanistan sees potential in the BRI for economic and commercial development, especially the Wakhan corridor. The acting Minister of Borders and Tribal Affairs Said Noorullah Noori emphasized that he is optimistic about opening the “Silk Road” between Afghanistan and China. Analysts highlighted Afghanistan’s strategic geographic location and natural resources, which could contribute to the BRI’s connectivity and transit development in the region.

Afghanistan: To join the Belt and Road Initiative
On 19 October, Afghanistan’s acting Commerce Minister Haji Nooruddin Azizi confirmed plans to send a technical team to China. The Islamic Emirate administration of Afghanistan is looking to formally join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The technical team will discuss the details of its participation. The move highlighted China’s efforts to strengthen ties with the Taliban-run government, despite its lack of international recognition. Afghanistan’s potential mineral resources, including lithium, copper, and iron, make it an attractive investment opportunity for China. Security concerns remain, but the Afghan government asserts it can guarantee security in various parts of the country.

Pakistan: Successful flight test of Ababeel weapon system
On 18 October, Pakistan conducted a successful flight test of the Ababeel Weapon System. It is aimed at re-validating various design, technical parameters, and performance evaluation of its sub-systems. The launch was witnessed by Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Sahir Shamshad Mirza and senior officers. It is also aimed to strengthen deterrence and enhance strategic stability in the region. The Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) said that the Ababeel system is part of Pakistan’s “Full Spectrum Deterrence” strategy for credible minimum deterrence. President Dr. Arif Alvi, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kkar, and services chiefs congratulated the Strategic Forces on the achievement.
Middle East and Africa This Week
Israel: Joe Biden visits amidst the Gaza crisis
On 18 October, the US President Joe Biden visited Israel, to boost American support for the latter. He also worked on brokering an aid deal for Gaza via Egypt. He urged Israelis not to be consumed by rage over recent Hamas attacks, and compared the attacks to 9/11. According to the Associated Press, Biden expressed solidarity with Israel, prevented a wider conflict, and addressed the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, through this visit. Aid is set to enter Gaza through Egypt, but concerns remain about Hamas confiscating it. Biden also announced USD 100 million in aid for Gaza and the West Bank, emphasizing that Hamas does not represent all Palestinians.

Israel: Egypt hosts Cairo Peace Summit
On 21 October, the Cairo Peace Summit was held in the Egyptian capital Cairo. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and leaders from Jordan, France, Germany, Russia, China, the US, the US and Qatar attended the summit along with the UN and the EU officials. The summit aims to discuss ways to de-escalate the Israel-Palestine conflict and the urgent need for humanitarian support. Ramaphosa asserted that his country could bring out its experience of conflict resolution in Africa and mediate peace talks between the conflicting parties. Previously, the Egyptian government had raised concern over the mass exodus of Palestinians through the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. On 18 October, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated that his country would oppose the forced displacement of Palestinians into Sinai which would create a threat to the Egyptian peninsula turning into a base for attacks against Israel.

Israel: Rafah border crossing with Egypt opened, allowing 20 trucks to enter
On 21 October, Israel agreed to open the Rafah border crossing with Egypt since the crisis escalated with Hamas. According to news reports, 20 trucks were allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt; the trucks were reported to be carrying water, food and medicine. The humanitarian and health agencies had warned of a humanitarian disaster in Gaza with the supplies of food and medicine depleting following Israel's blockade. Even friendly countries like the US have been pressuring Israel to allow the opening of the border for the supply of essential goods like food, water and medicine. The Rafah border is the only land border for Gaza with the outside world.

Iran: EU Awards Human Rights Prize to Mahsa Amini
On 19 October, BBC reported that the Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini has been posthumously awarded the EU’s Sakharov Prize for human rights. Amini died in police custody in Iran in 2022. Amini’s death sparked global protests against Iran’s conservative regime and marked a turning point. She was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s mandatory headscarf law. The prize also honoured the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in Iran. Amini’s death led to a women-led movement in Iran advocating for equality, dignity, and freedom. Despite the suppression of protests, her death has had a lasting impact on many Iranians. The award highlighted the ongoing human rights struggle in Iran.

Oman: CDAA prepares for the tropical ‘Tej’ crisis
On 21 October, the Civil Defence and Ambulance Authority (CDAA) declared that it is prepared to handle the tropical crisis “Tej.” It has placed its departments in the governorates of Dhofar and Al Wusta on standby to cope with any consequences that may arise from the situation. Lieutenant Colonel Engineer Mohammed bin Hamoud Al Mahmoudi announced that the department has increased its personnel and allocated additional vehicles for search and rescue operations in response to the weather situation in the Arabian Sea. Mahmoudi is an Assistant Director General of Operations and Training at the Civil Defence and Ambulance Authority. This proactive measure is in anticipation of the potential impact on the Dhofar and Al Wusta governorates, which are expected to be most affected by the approaching tropical weather.

Qatar: Reiterates support for the Palestinian cause
On 21 October, Qatar Tribune reported that Qatar’s commitment to the Palestinian cause is unwavering. His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani participated in the Cairo Peace Summit to reaffirm this dedication. For over seven decades, Qatar has prioritized political, financial, and moral support for the Palestinian people. The country has emphasized justice and the need for a two-state solution based on international law and UN resolutions. Beyond rhetoric, Qatar has taken concrete actions, hosting Arab summits, launching initiatives, providing substantial funds for Gaza's reconstruction, and offering humanitarian aid. It played a crucial role in Palestinian reconciliation efforts. Qatar’s comprehensive efforts continue to support the Palestinian people's aspirations.

Saudi Arabia: Emphasizes successes during a UNESCO session
On 18 October, the 217th session of the UNESCO executive board was attended by the permanent delegation of Saudi Arabia to UNESCO. The Saudi ambassador to France and Monaco as well as the country’s permanent representative to UNESCO, Fahad Al-Ruwaily, served as the delegation’s leader. Several more qualified national organizations joined the delegation. The Saudi delegation emphasized the Kingdom’s desire to pioneer artificial intelligence in a way that benefits humanity. According to Arab News, the Kingdom was among the first countries to embrace the UNESCO code of ethics for artificial intelligence. The country is one of the first UNESCO members to push for its implementation in a way that would guarantee the achievement of sustainable development goals.

Saudi Arabia: Crown Prince meets with leaders from Asia
On 20 October, during a meeting at Al Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed bilateral cooperation. The most recent regional and international issues were also discussed by the two presidents. The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met in a summit in the Saudi capital, and Loong attended it. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, the leaders of ASEAN and the GCC debated ways to improve ties and broaden cooperation to new and developing fields. It included the green and digital economy and it took place during the ASEAN-GCC meeting. According to the ministry, Loong also received a briefing on Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative for diversifying its economy.

South Africa: Talks with Ukrainian president on revival of grain deal
On 17 October, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held talks on the revival of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Both leaders agreed to work together on the revival of the deal. Additionally, Ramphosa emphasised on the commitment to the Africa Peace Initiative, a proposal by seven African countries as a basis for peace. The development comes after Kenyan President William Ruto's statement last month on Ukraine agreeing to set up a grain hub in the port of Mombasa aiming to supply the East African region.

Europe and the Americas This Week
Turkey: Automakers sign a USD 211 million armored vehicle contract with Estonia
On 18 October, Estonia and two Turkish automakers, Otokar and Nurol Makina, signed a contract. The contract is signed for the supply of 230 armored vehicles for roughly 200 million euros. In Tallinn, a contract signing ceremony was held for the 230 4X4 and 6X6 vehicles for the Estonian Centre for Defence Investments (ECDI) to provide to the country’s security forces. The Estonian Rescue Board’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Center has also acquired four-wheeled armored vehicles. According to a statement from the ECDI, these armored vehicles are designed to protect members of the Defence Forces in combat scenarios. They also provide their swift and secure deployment on the battlefield.

Turkey: Receives Libyan Prime Minister in Istanbul
On 20 October, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah of Libya was invited by President Recep Tayyip Erdoan to a private meeting in Istanbul. Growing ties between Turkey and Libya have been observed in recent years. According to Daily Sabah, the growing ties is particularly observed since the signing of maritime boundary and security pacts in November 2019. Moreover, Turkey assisted in helping the legitimate Libyan government repel putschist general Haftar’s forces. Turkey supported the legitimate, UN-recognized government in Tripoli against Haftar during the current Libyan crisis. Haftar was supported by Egypt, France, the UAE, and Russia. The Tripoli government’s ability to fend off an assault by Haftar’s soldiers meant gratitude to Turkish help. To build a long-lasting and stable government in the country, Turkey advises that an election be held that reflects the will of the Libyan people.

Georgia: President surpasses impeachment vote
On 18 October, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili was saved from an impeachment vote. In a voting held in the parliament 86 out of 150 voted in favour of impeachment where two-third majority was required and the opposition abstained from voting. It was targeted against Zurabishvili’s attempt to secure membership support for Georgia with EU leaders through a meeting. Georgia’s constitutional court declared it as a violation of the constitution. In response she said: “No-one could impede me on the road leading to the sole goal I have today: to get EU candidate status for Georgia by the end of the year.” Previously Georgia’s EU membership status was held under conditions of implementing “judicial, electoral, press freedom and cutdown in the power of oligarchs.” Zurabishvili has been subject to criticism for failure to implement those conditions.

Europe: ECB announces preparatory phase to switch Euro to digital currency
On 18 October, Europe’s Central Bank (ECB) announced the launch of a digital version of the Euro. According to the governing council, a two-year “preparation phase” will begin from 01 November to set the rules and select private-sector partners. This phase will also assess the benefit and risk related to common digital currency. The final decision to launch it remains to be finalised but it would ease the use of Euro in digital format from central bank money. ECB president Christine Lagarde said: “We need to prepare our currency for the future… coexist alongside physical cash, while leaving no one behind.” In its statement, the central bank highlighted that the move would boost monetary sovereignty and invoke competition in the “European payment sector.” At the global level, China and Japan are equally in the experimental mode on digital currencies whereas the US, England and Canada still opt for a cautious approach.

Europe: Council of Europe stresses the need to phase out from fossil fuels by 2030
On 16 October, after the EU environment ministers meeting, the European Council released a statement indicating the EU’s position for the upcoming COP28 summit. The united stand is to completely phase out from use of fossil fuels by 2030. According to the statement, burning of oil, coal, and gas results in greenhouse gases serving as causal factors for climate change. During the meeting, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and other EU member states enforced the EU to place the demand. Another group of 10 EU member states, including Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Slovakia, and Poland vouched only for the phase out of “unabated” type of fossil fuels. The meeting laid importance on four key factors. One, increasing “global ambition towards climate neutrality” especially in the advanced economies through strengthened Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Two, through diverting from fossil fuels and increased usage of renewable energy. Third and fourth on enhancing climate mitigation efforts and boosting climate finance to counter the damage and bring adaptation strategies.

Argentina: Swap line of 6.5 billion USD is activated by China
On 18 October, A freely accessible 6.5 billion USD currency swap line was cleared by China, which was part of a broader deal the South American country uses to help defend the armed local peso, started from Argentina’s central bank. This has helped to increase the depleted foreign currency reserves, a major economic crisis, with inflation above 130 per cent. To mention, Alberto Fernandez, Argentina President stated, “China has increased the amount and instead of 5 billion USD we are getting 6.5 billion USD.” He added, “Every time we went through difficulties, Xi Jingping’s government extended their support.” And according to an official bank source, this is the second swap line with China activated during the presidency of Fernandez.

Brazil: Historic drought at the Amazon rainforest port
On 16 October, the Amazon rainforest port of Manaus, Brazil, recorded its lowest water level in 121 years. The water level at the port fell to 13.59 meters, beating the previous record set in 2010. The drought has left the boats stranded, cutting off food and water supplies to remote jungle villages. The high temperatures of water are thought to be a reason for the death of more than 100 endangered river dolphins. Brazil’s Science Ministry said the drought of this year is because of the climate phenomenon El Nino, which causes extreme weather patterns globally. In a recent statement this month, the ministry said it expects the drought will last until December, and the El Nino’s effects are forecast to peak. According to the civil defence agency in the state of Amazonas, the drought has affected nearly 4,00,000 people.

Colombia: Peace talks start; ceasefire for three-month with the EMC
On 16 October, Colombia’s government dictated a three-month ceasefire with the EMC, largest group of dissident former FARC rebels, and launched formal peace talks with the organisation to end its role in a nearly six-decade internal armed conflict. As per the decree, this ceasefire with the Estado Mayor Central (EMC) will come in force on 17/10/2023 (Tuesday) till January 15 of next year. Danilo Rueda, Government high Peace Commissioner stated “we have little time,” and he added, “we have three months to win the hearts of many Colombians who are questioning this process of peace building.” To mention, there is no statement saying the reason for the shorter month than the previous suggestion of 10 months by both sides.

Ecuador: Daniel Noboa wins election to become the youngest president
On 16 October, centre-right candidate and heir to banana fortune Daniel Noboa, won the presidential election, becoming the country’s youngest ever president at 35 years of age. Noboa secured 52.3 per cent votes, while his opponent, Luisa Gonzalez, obtained 47.4 per cent. The Accion Democratica Nacional party which Noboa belongs to has made certain promises to the public, including generating employment for the youth, increasing foreign investment, and reconstructing “a country battered by violence, by corruption and hate.” Ecuador has seen a sustained rise in its murder rate since 2018, and after a violent electoral process, Noboa has vowed to quell gang violence and boost security to “give back a smile and peace to the country.”

El Salvador: Bukele expects IMF deal after 2024 election
On 19 October, El Salvador President Nayib Bukele said that he expects to reach an agreement with the IMF for a new financing program after the 2024 elections. He also told the reporters at the press conference that the negotiations with the lender have been very constructive. And a senior IMF official framed the talks in the same way, last week. The director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, Rodrigo Valdes describes the recent initiative to El Salvador as a first step towards reaching an agreement. And Valdes also said that disagreements still remain. 

Venezuela: US shifts from Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign by easing oil sanctions
On 18 October, the US Biden administration announced that it would ease sanctions on Venezuelan oil. The move came after a deal between Venezuela’s government and opposition parties over the 2024 election. A new general license was subsequently introduced by the US Treasury Department, which would allow Venezuela to export oil over the next six months without restrictions. However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has highlighted that this license comes with the condition of Venezuela releasing “all wrongfully detained US nationals and Venezuelan political prisoners.” The country must also “define a specific timeline and process for the expedited reinstatement of all candidates” by November end.

Venezuela: Government and opposition signs breakthrough agreement on 2024 elections
On 17 October, President Nicolas Maduro’s government signed an agreement with US-backed opposition party leaders, committing to terms to hold competitive and fair presidential elections in 2024. The 12-point deal, signed in Barbados, marks a significant breakthrough after 11 months of stalled negotiations in Venezuela. It emphasized the release of unjustly detained individuals, electoral and judicial independence, freedom of expression, and human and political rights. While praised by the US, EU, and UK as a crucial step toward restoring democracy, some critics argue that it does not fully address key opposition concerns, like lifting bans on certain opposition candidates.

Mexico: “Extreme” drought results in water restrictions
On 17 October, the Mexican National Water Commission announced water restrictions equal to eight per cent of the Cutzamala system’s (the network that supplies water to Mexico City’s 20 million people) flow. There are growing concerns of more restrictions being imposed during the winter. This is following the severe drought and dismal monsoons of 2023, resulting in the Villa Victoria bank having one-third of its usual water levels. Mexico gets its water from its increasingly depleted and overexploited aquifer. As per atmospheric scientist David K Adams, since the peak of the monsoon is over, the window for rain to replenish the system is quickly closing. While the government has announced that it would construct new systems, most people do not consider it to be a sustainable long-term solution.

Mexico: Records rise in Venezuelan migrants among the latest surge
On 17 October, Mexico counted transit of more migrants into the country which is led by a particular rise from Venezuela and followed by a significant amount from Guatemala and Honduras, says Mexico’s top diplomat to lawmakers. In a sworn statement to Mexican senators, Alicia Barcena, Foreign Minister said that in the month of September alone, 60,000 Venezuelan migrants, 35,000 Guatemalan migrants and 27,000 Honduran migrants arrived in Mexico. Over 63,000 migrant children had arrived in Mexico since August, and about seven per cent of them unaccompanied and nearly three-quarters were 11 years old, she added. This September data will be in front of Sunday’s migration summit in the southern Mexican town of Palenque.

Mexico: To provide oil to Cuba
On 16 October, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, President of Mexico stated, “To help Cuba, including providing oil.” At the end of the first quarter of this year, Mexico started regularly shipping crude oil to Cuba. According to independent data, it had shipped over 2.8 million barrels to the island, where they suffer from frequent power cuts and fuel shortages. Lopez Obrador stated that Mexico did not have to request permission from foreign government to aid Cuba since they suffer from an “inhumane and unjust” embargo. He added, “if the tell us, ‘Sell us oil, because we don’t have any way of getting it,’ of course we’re going to do so,” despite that the aid may cause clashes with the US.

Canada: Pulls out 41 diplomats of India amid ongoing row
On 18 October, Foreign Minister Mealnie Joly announced that Canada has decided to recall its 41 diplomats in India. The move came in light of the diplomatic spat between India and Canada over the killing of a Sikh separatist in Vancouver. Joly stated that Canada could not “allow the norm of diplomatic immunity to be broken,” and as a result of India’s “unprecedented” threat to revoke their diplomatic immunity, the Canadian government “facilitated” the “safe departure” of its diplomats from India. This decision is another decision in the tit-for-tat diplomatic measures that both countries have been taking.

The US: US-EU Summit showcases “strategic partnership” amid two wars
On 20 October, in the aftermath of a US-EU summit, US President Joe Biden and EU leaders put out a united front. They showed a message of unity on the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine wars, through this act. Both leaders sought to enhance their "strategic partnership." Biden underlined their solidarity in supporting Ukraine against Putin's aggression and now in backing Israel against Hamas’ terrorist attacks. Statements from EU leaders were on similar lines, with the EU Chief Ursula von der Leyen stating that “these conflicts show democracies must stand together.” The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said that in light of the “enormous challenges” existing today, “the world needs a strong EU-US alliance to tackle these.”

The US: New York judge fines Trump USD 5000 for violating gag order
On 20 October, former US President Donal Trump was fined USD 5000 by a New York judge. The move came after a social media post about a court staffer involved in his civil fraud case was leaked. It effectively violated his gag order. Judge Arthur Engoron imposed a fine for this initial violation, but he cautioned that future violations, whether intentional or unintentional, would lead to more severe penalties. Trump’s post attacked Engoron’s law clerk, Allison Greenfield. The caption read: “Why is Judge Engoron’s Principal Law Clerk, Allison R Greenfield, palling around with Chuck Schumer?” After the post was removed, Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, apologised for the violation and explained that there was “no intention to evade or circumvent or ignore the order.”

The US: Migrant processing centre extended in Ecuador
On 19 October, the US stated it is extending offices in the coming weeks in Ecuador to help migrants apply for legal entry and to restrict illegal border transit, as it is high in recent years. It is called Safe Mobility Offices, which are already functioning in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala to ease refugee processing and humanitarian aid and employment permits, says the US Department of State. The State Department announced that the Ecuador centre will initially focus on Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan and Colombian asylum seekers in Ecuador.

The US: Summit on migration; Biden to host South American leaders
On 20 October, the White House stated that Biden will host a summit in White House on 03 November, with leaders from South American nations. The US will reaffirm its role for cooperation on economic growth and tackling irregular migration. This gathering of leaders comes more than a year after Biden signed a non-binding declaration at the so-called "Summit of the Americas," at which 20 countries from the region decided on a series of steps to address the migration crisis. To mention, the summit announcement comes after the Biden administration had eased sanctions on Venezuela, since they were a part in the increase of migration amid the fleeing economic and political instability in their country.

About the Authors
Padmashree Anandhan, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis and Rishika Yadav, Dhriti Mukherjeee and Shamini Velayutham are Research Associates at NIAS. Rohini Reenum is a PhD scholar at NIAS. Gopi Keshav N, Arun S, and Annem Naga Bindhu Madhuri, Navinan GV and Vetriselvi Baskaran are postgraduate scholars at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras, Chennai. Nuha Aamina is an undergraduate scholar at the Department of International Relations, Peace and Public Policy, St Joseph's University, Bangalore. 

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