The World This Week

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The World This Week
North Korea’s New Satellite, EU-Canada Summit, and the CSTO Summit

  GP Team

The World This Week #240, Vol. 5, No.44
26 November 2023

Rishika Yadav, Sreeja JS and Padmashree Anandhan

North Korea: Launch of a military satellite and its regional fallouts
Rishika Yadav

What happened?
On 21 November, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) declared a successful launch of the “Malligyong-1” military reconnaissance satellite on the new “Chollima-1” carrier rocket. The UNSC plans a discussion on 27 November regarding the launch. A Russian military aircraft, Ilyushin Il-62M, flew to Pyongyang shortly after the launch. A National Aerospace Technology Administration (NATA) researcher, Ri Song Jin, said: “The US and its vassal forces’ reckless space militarization compels the DPRK to put more spurs to space development for self-defence including the development of military reconnaissance satellites.” On 22 November, the South Korean Ministry of National Defence announced the partial suspension of a 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) following the launch. Pyongyang, in turn, vehemently rejected the suspension and vowed to be no longer bound by the agreement.

On 21 November, a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, arrived in Busan, marking its third visit in 2023. The Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) was formed to discuss US nuclear weapons’ role in South Korea’s defence.

What is the background?
First, the previous attempts and their failure. North Korea attempted to launch the Malligyong-1, twice before, but without success. The first attempt was on 31 May; an issue with the ignition of the second stage led to its failure, causing the rocket and the satellite to crash into the Yellow Sea. On 24 August, it made a second attempt, which faced a problem during the third-stage flight. Despite the setbacks, North Korea successfully launched on 22 November. The head of the Space and UAV Research Center at Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, Tal Inbar, told: “Three launches in a relatively short period of a few months shows the ability of the engineering team and the entire project to study the points of failure, correct them and quickly place another launcher on the launch pad.”

Second, speculations over Russia collaboration. The US, South Korea, EU and G7 suggest Russia’s role. Allegations point to North Korea supplying munitions to Russia for technical support in its space and military programs. Satellite imagery implicates vessels like Maia-1 in alleged weapon facilitation to North Korea. These ongoing container shipments between Rason and Russia’s Dunay port hint at illicit trade for a possible arms depot near Ukraine. Furthermore, a closer collaboration has been acknowledged since the meeting between leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September. While details of the meeting were sparse, Kim’s visits to a space launch centre, fighter jet manufacturing factory, and naval base in the Russian Far East hinted at his intentions. Moreover, the arrival of Ilyushin Il-62M and proposal of direct flights between Vladivostok and Pyongyang, fuels another layer of coordination between both countries.

Third, the South Korean response. The Comprehensive Military Agreement, initiated under former South Korean President Moon Jae-in, is aimed to establish buffer and no-fly zones along the inter-Korean border. Till now South Korea only warned to scrap the deal whenever North Korea violated it. However, following the Malligyong-1 launch, South Korean Defence Minister Shin Won-sik proposed suspending the agreement due to its impact on aerial surveillance capabilities. Moon’s presidential secretary for state affairs planning and monitoring, Youn Kun-young, said: “South Korea played right into North Korea’s hands.” He called the move a “self-destructive move.” The US State Department also regarded it as “prudent” and “restrained.”

What does it mean?
First, escalating regional insecurity. The launch of ‘Malligyong-1’ satellite amplifies concerns among neighbouring countries due to heightened surveillance capabilities, potentially tracking military activities and strategic sites. This development may prompt the need to counterbalance North Korea’s newfound surveillance capacity. Furthermore, the suspension of CMA exacerbates the looming potential for conflict in the Korean Peninsula, signalling North Korea’s intent to deploy more advanced weaponry along the border. 

Second, the US as a deterrent. The US aims to dissuade its allies from developing nuclear capabilities by offering security guarantees. It encourages South Korea to rely on the US instead of acquiring its own nuclear weapons, asserting US influence as the primary security provider.

EU-Canada Summit: Boosting strategic partnership and enhancing bilateral cooperation
Sreeja JS

What happened?
On 23 and 24 November, the 19th EU-Canada bilateral summit was held in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated. The joint summit statement outlined new collaborations: the Green Alliance establishment, Digital Partnership launch, and Canada joining Horizon Europe. Leaders reiterated support for Ukraine against Russian aggression, condemned Hamas attacks on Israel, and backed Israel’s right to self-defence. Discussions covered economic growth, climate change, biodiversity, pollution, research, innovation, digital technology, peace, security, and promoting shared values and a rules-based international order.

Leyen said that the summit “confirmed the strong alignment of the EU and Canada in values and worldviews, which holds an even greater significance in a world rocked by multiple crises.”

On 23 November, Trudeau in his opening remarks described Canada and the EU as “some of the best friends in the world” and said: “When Canada and Europe work together, we create good, middle-class jobs, we grow strong economies, and we make progress in the fight against climate change.” Michel added: “When we are facing so many difficult geopolitical challenges, it’s important to count on sincere friends.”

What is the background?
First, the long-standing EU-Canada commitment. Established in 1959, the EU-Canada relationship stands as the EU’s oldest formal tie with an industrialized nation. Founded on shared democratic values and a commitment to a rules-based global order, it prioritizes peace, security, and equitable trade. Current ties are based on two pivotal agreements: the Canada-EU Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) and the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The SPA mandates a Leader’s Summit involving Canada, the Presidents of the European Council, and the European Commission. However, CETA’s full implementation awaits individual ratification by all 27 EU members, potentially leading to a prolonged process. Despite this, trade has seen substantial growth, with goods trading up 66 per cent and services up 46 per cent over the last six years, reaching USD 77 billion in 2022.

Second, the concerns over the US role. The US is an important ally to Canada and the EU in terms of economic and security. Although the EU and Canada are on friendly terms, the EU faces challenges with the current US President Joe Biden’s administration, especially on Washington’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The EU continues to negotiate for an agreement with the US on critical minerals to allow electric vehicle batteries manufactured by European companies to qualify for the IRA’s consumer tax credits. 

Third, cooperation in security and defence policy. The EU and Canada enjoy close collaboration in security and defence policy. Canada is one of the most consistent contributors to the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operations such as the European Union Police Mission for the Palestinian Territories (EUPOL COPPS) and the European Union Advisory Mission (EUAM) Ukraine. Additionally, Canada has engaged in defence-cooperation projects, joining PESCO initiatives on military mobility in 2021 and soon on establishing logistics hubs. 

What does it mean?
First, the role of the EU-Canada strategic partnership and the transatlantic relations. The EU values Ottawa as a reliable partner, akin in importance to its relations with Washington. The US holds vital economic significance for both Canada and the EU. Shifting US foreign policy under the Trump and early Biden administrations necessitates both countries to take steps to enhance its position in global politics.

Second, increased focus on environment, climate change and sustainability. This reflects the shared commitment of EU-Canada to combat climate change and foster circular, nature-positive and global net-zero emissions through the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement and the Kunming-Montreal Global Framework for Biodiversity. For instance, the EU-Canada Green Alliance is expected to deepen cooperation and derive meaningful results. The Green Alliances are the most comprehensive bilateral engagement under the European Green Deal. 

Third, substantial importance of partnership on critical raw materials. Under CETA, the EU-Canada Strategic Partnership on Raw Materials, initiated in 2021, aims to integrate crucial raw material supply chains for digital and green transitions, enhancing economic security. This aligns with the EU’s strategy to diversify supply chains amid global uncertainties. The joint statement proposes joint efforts to connect businesses, fostering two-way trade and investment for new supply sources. These measures supplement ongoing initiatives to ensure secure and sustainable critical raw material supplies.

The CSTO Summit: Russia and the regional alliance
Padmashree Anandhan

What happened?
On 23 November, Belarus organised the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit for 2023 in Minsk. Leaders from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan took part in the summit except Armenia. During the summit, the leaders focused on defence partnerships, challenges faced by the CSTO members in balancing national and collective interests. They also discussed the conflict in the middle-east, rapid progress in the military budget among the NATO members and Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

On 23 November, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said: “In domestic policy, we were trying to enhance the cohesion of the CSTO members to strengthen the organisation and ensure security and stability in its zone of responsibility. In foreign policy, our goal was to increase the role and importance of the CSTO in the system of international relations.” On the same day Putin said: “The CSTO member countries are expanding their military-technical cooperation. The CSTO Interstate Commission on Military-Economic Cooperation set up at Russia’s initiative is taking an active part in this.”

What is the background?
First, the CSTO and its focus. Formed in 1992 after the conclusion of the Collective Security Treaty, the CSTO aims to counter existing and re-emerging challenges and threats to the security of member states and a collective security system has been created within the CSTO, based on “political, military cooperation and cooperation in the sphere of countering challenges and threats.” Its main focus has remained in reinforcing the security and stability in the regions. This has been carried out through military cooperation to ensure the collective and national security of the member States. Bilateral initiatives such as Russian-Belarusian and Russian-Armenian groupings of troops, the Collective Rapid Deployment Forces in the Central Asian region of collective security (CRDF CAR), and the preparation of the Troops (Collective Forces) of the Organization stand as examples for the cohesion of the group.

Second, collective security and support for Russia. The core activities of the group have concentrated on the assessment of the military-political situation, developing the military or defence potential, and coordinating the foreign policy positions. The declaration of the CSTO Collective Security Council adopted in 2018 reaffirms the determination to coordinate the foreign policy positions of the CSTO member states and to help in accomplishing the CSTO goals and strengthening peace. Until 2021, the group has focused on boosting the military potential in all spheres, but from 2022 it has become the spearhead for Russia by recognising the NATO’s military presence as a challenge, keeping track of Ukraine’s military supplies and most importantly aligning with Russia in not providing military support to Armenia in the recent clash with Azerbaijan.

Third, tensions over the Armenia and Azerbaijan conflict. Armenia Prime Minister, Nikol Pashiyan who has never missed to attend the CSTO, was not present for 2023. Although the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan led to positive results, tensions continue to persist in the Caucasus. Russia’s mediating role in helping stabilize the scenario, Azerbaijan’s “land-grabbing policies” towards Armenia and its ethnic cleansing policy turned Armenia’s purview on Russia. Additionally, CSTO’s decision to not assist Armenia in May 2021, and September 2022 and Armenia’s continued pivoting towards the West after the 2018 revolution has induced further gap between the CSTO and Armenia.

What does it mean?
First, the strive for unity. The joint cooperation policies adopted in promoting military, technical, political, information, and space security led to the cohesion of the CSTO group. Russia has been a dominant player in the background since the organisation was formed, but since 2022, Russia’s agenda has taken the front seat. This has resulted in the CSTO member states to align with Russia’s strategy as a way to maintain cohesiveness. Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict may add an obstacle to the unity, but the CSTO’s expanding defence partnerships, interstate military-economic cooperation under Russia’s lead, the CSTO group can be expected to grow stronger together.  

Second, Armenia’s chances of withdrawal. The condition kept before Armenia is to limit its relations with the West and become consistent with Russia’s strategic interest. Comparing Armenia’s case with Uzbekistan, which withdrew in 2012 citing Russia’s dominance in the collective security, therefore Armenia’s continuity with CSTO depends on its strategy to grow close or farther from Russia.

TWTW Regional Roundups
News from around the World 

Anu Maria, Dhriti Mukherjee, Femy Francis, Narmatha S, Padmashree Anandhan, Rishika Yadav, Rohini Reenum, and Shamini Velayudham

China This Week
China: “No unusual pathogens” in the mysterious respiratory outbreak
On 23 November, BBC reported that the unusual respiratory illness engulfed the Northern province of China, affecting young kids. The WHO requested an inquiry into the suspicious illness to which Beijing stated that there are no “unusual novel pathogens.”  China attributed the outbreaks to the lifting of Covid restrictions and advised the public to take precautions and continue getting vaccinated and wearing masks. The Xinhua News, flagship newspaper of China, quoted the Chinese National Health Commission that they are closely monitoring the outbreak.  

China: Justification of seafood import ban on Japan
On 20 November, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning reaffirmed China’s stances on the Japanese seafood ban. The ban came in light of Japan releasing nuclear-contaminated water from the Fukushima plant. Ning expressed that they are ready to discuss and properly handle the dumping of the contaminated water constructively if Japan agrees. The General Administration of Customs reported that there has been a stark decline in the imports of seafood from Japan, with only 2.4-million-yuan trade seeing a 99.3 per cent decline in October and zero in September. The measures followed by China are aimed at avoiding risks from the radioactive contaminated water affecting the food. China stated that their response was necessary and legitimate as they took an emergency initiative in accordance with the provision of the Chinese and the WTO agreement.  

China: Limited visa-free policy for France, Italy and Malaysia 
On 24 November, The Strait Times reported that China would temporarily allow citizens from France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Malaysia and Germany to travel to China without a visa from 01 December-30 November 2024. The initiative is aimed at increasing tourism and business in China. The limited visa-free policy is aimed at reviving the tourism industry and restoring international flights. The provision also wants to change the image of China after the COVID-19 pandemic as according to the Pew Research Centre’s survey 67 per cent in 24 countries expressed a negative impression of China.

China: To strengthen cooperation with France
On 24 November, as a continuation of this year’s momentum of the China-French exchanges and dialogues, visiting French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna met with Premier Li Qiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing. Following the visit, the Foreign Ministry announced that China will pilot a 15-day visa-free policy to citizens from France from 01 December 2023, to 30 November 2024. The two senior diplomats also witnessed the launch ceremony for the China-France carbon neutrality centre in Beijing. This visit demonstrated the close strategic relationship between France and China, and the main theme for the two countries’ future is strategic coordination. Countries will mark their 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-France diplomatic ties in 2024.

East Asia and the Pacific This Week
North Korea: EU and G7 condemns satellite launch
On 23 November, the EU and G7 rebuked North Korea’s recent satellite launch, terming it a breach of UN sanctions and a threat to global peace. Both groups expressed alarm over Russia’s alleged military cooperation with North Korea, implicating arms transfers. The UNSC, constrained by Chinese and Russian resistance, plans a discussion on 27 November regarding the launch. UNSC Resolution 2270 prohibits such collaborations, emphasizing the dangers of technological advancements aiding North Korea’s ballistic missile programs under the guise of space launches.

North Korea: Local elections embraces limited candidate choice
On 26 November, North Korea prepared for local elections featuring multiple candidates for the first time, urging residents to fulfil their civic duties. The reclusive regime set out to elect new deputies for local assemblies with some areas presenting two candidates. Recent election law revisions allowed preliminary voting to choose final contenders. The Rodong Sinmun emphasized citizens’ responsibility, praising the state’s care. Criticizing the US, the paper highlighted alleged flaws in their election system, contrasting it with North Korea’s process. Despite these changes, South Korea’s unification ministry sees this as a controlled measure to manage public sentiment amid prolonged economic challenges, clarifying it does not signal a move towards free elections.

North Korea: Rafael Grossi notes increased activity at nuclear complex
On 22 November, Director General of IAEA, Rafael Grossi, reported heightened activity at Yongbyon, North Korea’s nuclear complex, during a meeting in Vienna. Observations indicated a strong water outflow from the cooling system of a suspected reactor, suggesting possible commissioning. Grossi flagged continuous activities at the site, stressing it breaches UNSC resolutions. He highlighted indications of the reactor’s operation, centrifuge enrichment facility, and readiness for a new nuclear test at the Punggye-ri site. Grossi urged North Korea to comply with UNSC resolutions and cooperate with the IAEA’s inspection agreements for nuclear verification. 

South Korea: Diplomatic talks with China over North Korea
On 26 November, Wang Yi discussed Korean Peninsula tension with Foreign Minister Park Jin, vowing China’s role in stabilizing the situation. Talks included strengthening high-level communication, reciprocal visits, and the potential visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to South Korea. Sensitivities over Taiwan, North Korean defectors, and bilateral ties, including Japan-South Korea relations, were raised. 

South Korea: Busan awaits decision on World Expo 2030 bid
On 26 November, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo headed to Paris with delegates for the crucial vote determining Busan’s bid to host the World Expo in 2030. Han expressed optimism before the decision, highlighting efforts to bring good news. South Korea leads the final presentations at the assembly, competing against Rome and Riyadh. President Yoon previously promoted Busan’s initiative during global interactions, emphasizing shared growth and international solidarity. Busan aims to showcase sustainable development on reclaimed land and introduce climate-resilient infrastructure. The winning bid, decided by Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) member states’ representatives, requires a two-thirds majority. Japan openly backed South Korea’s bid, acknowledging Yoon’s efforts to reconcile bilateral relations.

South Korea: Kim Kyou-hyun resigns at National Intelligence Service
On 26 November, President Yoon accepted National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Kim Kyou-hyun’s resignation, without appointing a successor. Yoon’s office praised Kim’s efforts in enhancing national security and building ties with allied agencies. The move included the resignations of top deputies, replaced by diplomats Hong Jang-won and Hwang Won-jin. The agency will operate under interim leadership by Hong. The vacant chief position awaits a nominee subject to parliamentary confirmation. Yoon’s swift changes upon returning sparked discussions about their nature, observers noted. The deputies’ roles entail overseas intelligence and North Korea-related operations within the NIS.

South Korea: Yoon Seok Yeol concludes his European trip
On 26 November, Yoon concluded his European trip, starting with a state visit to Britain, commemorating 140 years of ties. It was marked by grand ceremonies and a “Downing Street Accord” focusing on heightened economic and security partnerships. Yoon then headed to Paris for South Korea’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan. Engaging with 182 countries’ delegates, he emphasized Busan’s potential as a global problem-solving platform and an opportunity for Korea to reciprocate support received during its economic growth.

South Korea: Yoon Suk Yeol appoints new Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman 
On 25 November, Yoon approved Vice Admiral Kim Myung-soo as the new Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman, marking the Navy’s first leadership in a decade. Kim’s appointment bypassed the National Assembly’s report following a failed confirmation by the Democratic Party (DP). The DP raised concerns about alleged stock trading during duty hours, golfing during North Korea’s missile launch, and a past school bullying incident involving Kim’s daughter. This marked Yoon’s 20th ministerial-level appointment without a parliamentary report due to the Assembly’s delayed review.

South Korea: Dov S. Zakheim advises against deployment of nuclear submarines
On 24 November, former Pentagon official Dov S. Zakheim cautioned against South Korea acquiring nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs). The remarks came due to high costs and constraints in the Seoul-Washington nuclear pact. He served as undersecretary of defence from 2001 to 2004. Zakheim, in The Hill, highlighted the risks of undermining the Biden-Yoon agreement, stressing the potential tens of billions in expenses for a credible fleet. He advocated maintaining focus on conventional submarines, citing operational advantages in the peninsula’s shallow waters. Admiral Kim Myung-soo acknowledged nuclear subs’ utility but urged a cautious approach during his confirmation hearing. Zakheim, affiliated with strategic think tanks, advised continued consideration of conventional sub capabilities.

South Korea: Forges “Global Strategic Partnership” with UK
On 22 November, Yoon and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak signed the Downing Street Accord, elevating bilateral ties to a “global strategic partnership.” The accord includes a “two plus two” ministerial dialogue, making the UK the third country, after the US and Australia, to establish such a dialogue with South Korea. Both countries pledged to enhance cybersecurity cooperation, explore joint sanctions enforcement maritime patrols against North Korea, and deepen defence industry dialogue. The accord also involves renegotiating the 2021 free trade pact and strengthening collaboration in semiconductors, AI, space, nuclear energy, and clean energy.

South Korea: Re-elected to UNESCO World Heritage Committee
On 23 November, South Korea secured a seat on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for a four-year term until 2027, marking its fourth election to the committee. The election took place during the General Assembly of the States Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in Paris. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized its commitment to contribute actively to the institution, focusing on contemporary challenges like climate change and regional heritage coexistence. South Korea joined eight other countries elected to the committee, aiming to play a leading role in heritage preservation and management globally.

Japan: Objects South Korea’s comfort women ruling
On 26 November, Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa expressed dismay at South Korea’s high court decision mandating compensation to former “comfort women.” Kamikawa deemed the ruling “extremely regrettable” and urged appropriate action, citing sovereign immunity under international law, preventing state lawsuits in foreign courts. Park respected the 2015 agreement on the comfort women issue, aiming for continued dialogue with Japan. Asset confiscation seemed challenging due to treaty protection. 

New Zealand: Forms coalition government
On 24 November, the National Party sealed a coalition government agreement after 40 days of post-election. Deputy Prime Minister roles will rotate between Winston Peters of NZ First and David Seymour of ACT. National Party Deputy leaderNicola Willis became Finance Minister. Incoming Prime Minister Christopher Luxon anticipated positive changes despite economic challenges. The Cabinet mix comprised seasoned and new leaders, emphasizing a historic three-party coalition. Peters and Seymour’s alternating deputy roles signal potential tension despite efforts to mend previous conflicts. The coalition planned changes, including altering Reserve Bank mandates and repealing the ban on offshore oil exploration, aiming for tax relief and police training while reshaping foreign policy. Peters returned as Foreign Minister, highlighting diplomatic importance and addressing China’s influence.

Australia: Bushfire ravages Perth’s outskirts
On 23 November, a rampant bushfire razed ten homes and triggered mass evacuations in Perth’s north amid scorching heat. Emergency warnings urged swift escape or sheltering as warm winds fueled the uncontrollable blaze. Over 500 responders, aided by aircraft, battled the fast-spreading flames. Deputy Premier Rita Saffioti highlighted the severe conditions, predicting temperatures hitting 40 degree celcius. Images showed firefighters confronting intense flames and evacuees seeking refuge at a shelter. With wind-driven fire hazards persisting, authorities anticipate a challenging few days for containment. Sixty-five fires across Western Australia compound the crisis amid an ongoing heatwave, prompting intense firefighting efforts and evacuation measures.

Australia: Forges defence and strategic ties with India in 2+2 ministerial dialogue
On 20 November, India and Australia engaged in a 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, led by Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, meeting with their Australian counterparts. Discussions encompassed defence, critical minerals, trade, energy, climate change, and education collaborations. Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi outlined the multifaceted nature of their ties, including regional and global concerns. Ahead of the talks, Australian ministers paid homage at India’s National War Memorial, underscoring the historical military partnership. Foreign Minister Penny Wong acknowledged the enduring military history between both countries, referencing their joint campaigns like Gallipoli.

Australia: Commences AustraHind-23 with India
On 23 November, an Indian Armed Forces contingent, including personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, departed for Perth. Comprising 60 Gorkha Rifles battalion soldiers, an officer from the Navy, and 20 Air Force personnel, the Indian side joins Australian counterparts from the 13th Brigade, Royal Australian Navy, and Royal Australian Air Force for the two-week-long AustraHind-23 exercise. Focused on multi-domain operations in urban and semi-urban terrain as per UN peacekeeping protocols, the drill is aimed to enhance interoperability. Sniper firing, communication strategies, and tactical operations at company/battalion levels are integral parts of the training. Discussions during the 2+2 meeting emphasized bilateral military relations and explored joint endeavours in defence technologies.

Southeast Asia This Week
The Philippines: Reports on Chinese jets 
On 26 November, during joint patrols with Australia in the South China Sea, two Chinese fighter jets circled a Philippine aircraft without causing an incident. Manila and Australia conducted exercises in the region’s exclusive economic zone amid tensions with China. The Philippines asserted rights to counter Chinese “aggressive activities.” The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed the incident near Hubo Reef in the West Philippine Sea. 

The Philippines: Commence Joint patrol exercise with Australia 
On 25 November, initiating their inaugural joint sea and air patrols in the South China Sea, the Philippines and Australia echoed recent manoeuvres with the US. It is aimed to counter China’s increasing assertiveness. The exercises, pledged earlier in 2023, emphasize adherence to a rules-based order in the contested waters. Australian officials affirmed commitment to peace and rules, heralding the first joint patrol as a testament to mutual dedication. The patrols operated in the West Philippine Sea, Manila’s zone within the South China Sea’s exclusive economic area. Both countries deployed naval vessels and surveillance aircraft, emphasizing a growing defence alliance.

Indonesia: Intense patrols to deter Rohingya refugees
On 25 November, authorities and local fishermen initiated patrols in the country’s westernmost province, Aceh, to block Rohingya refugees from reaching its shores. Over 1,100 Rohingya, fleeing persecution in Myanmar, arrived in November, prompting round-the-clock surveillance along the coastline and in the Malacca Strait. Police in East Aceh and North Aceh have bolstered patrols, responding to sightings of Rohingya boats. Concerns grow that Indonesia might reinforce its borders, aligning with other countries like Malaysia and India. Despite historical sympathy, locals express strain due to resource scarcity and occasional conflicts. Indonesia, not bound by UN refugee conventions, remains hesitant to accept Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

South Asia This Week
Iran: Rafael Grossi blames Iran for undermining the agency’s work
On 22 November, Reuters reported that Grossi stated that Iran’s decision to de-designate several experienced UN inspectors from monitoring the country’s nuclear program had dealt a severe blow to the agency’s work. Iran had made this move in September with Grossi putting the number around one third of the core group of agency’s most experienced inspectors designated for Iran. He further stated that while the agency continues to perform its function, Iran’s targeting of experienced inspectors who specialize in nuclear enrichment has undermined the agency’s efforts. Grossi informed the reporters on the first day of a regular meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna. This statement comes in the wake of a confidential IAEA report that last week said that Tehran has further increased its stockpile of near weapons-grade uranium.

Iran: Tehran dismisses a European Parliament resolution about human rights
On 23 November, the European Parliament passed a resolution denouncing the worsening of the country’s human rights situation. The resolution text was approved with 516 votes in favor, four votes against, and 27 abstentions. In response, Tehran denounced the move calling it “interventionist”. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani dismissed the resolution stating: “The European Parliament’s interfering resolution indicates a number of the European parties’ confusion over the reality of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s might coupled with anti-arrogance.” 

Afghanistan: Embassy in New Delhi shuts down
On 24 November, Reuters reported that the Afghan embassy in New Delhi had been permanently closed. The outgoing ambassador, Farid Mamundzay stated that this has happened due to the failure by the diplomats appointed by Afghan Government which had been ousted by Taliban in 2021 to secure visa extensions by the Indian Government. The Taliban after its takeover of Afghanistan had allowed these diplomats to continue to be at their post to issue visas and handle trade matters. It is to be noted that the ambassador and senior staff had ceased operations in the country from 01 October and had left for Europe and the US to seek asylum. A statement on X, formerly twitter by the posted by the embassy stated the reason as, “Given the constant pressure from both the Taliban and the Indian government to relinquish control, the embassy faced a difficult choice”.

Afghanistan: The Moscow meeting
On 23 November, Tolo news reported that a meeting was held in Moscow under the title of “Afghanistan in the past and future”. It was attended by the opponents of the Islamic Emirate which included former officials of the Afghan government and some other Afghan elite. They opposed the current government and it was also attended by envoys from Iran, Russia and some other countries. The meeting was held by a Russian Justice Institute and on the agenda for discussion was the formation of an inclusive government, the situation of women, and the UN activities in Afghanistan. Iran highlighted the Islamic Emirate’s role in fighting Daesh in the region. In response to the meeting, the Islamic Emirate’s spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said that Kabul had not been invited and underscored the fact that such meetings will not benefit Afghanistan. He also requested its neighbours to not “create sedition among Afghans.”

Pakistan: Initiates charging fee from undocumented refugees who want to leave
On 24 November, BBC reported that Pakistan has confirmed that it is charging USD 830 fee from undocumented refugees who want to leave the country. The fee is being charged from people who have arrived in the country without a visa. The fee charged will depend on the duration of the overstay for those whose visas have expired. It is to be noted that this fee does not apply to anyone travelling back to Afghanistan. Pakistan had started deporting illegal immigrants after the cut-off date of 01 November had lapsed.

Central Asia This Week
Kazakhstan: Kassym Jomart Tokayev fortifies bilateral ties with Ilham Aliyev
On 24 November, President Kassym Jomart Tokayev praised Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Azerbaijan for upholding territorial integrity within UN resolutions during his visit to Baku for the UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) Summit. Tokayev credited Aliyev’s leadership for this historic achievement, lauding Baku as a global city. He hailed the flourishing Kazakhstan-Azerbaijan relations, deeming them natural partners and neighbours. Aliyev echoed this, highlighting their intensified interactions and proposing joint initiatives in communication, energy, and culture. He invited Tokayev for a state visit in 2024, emphasizing their commitment to collaboration. The meeting emphasized cultural exchange through upcoming events like the Cross Culture Days of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Middle East This Week
Israel: Amir Yaron to serve second term
On 20 November, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich agreed to extend the term of Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron for a second five-year tenure. Yaron’s continuation removes market uncertainty and ensures stability amid Israel’s ongoing conflict with Hamas. The decision is awaited for cabinet approval, with Yaron expressing gratitude for the trust placed in him. His current term concludes at the end of 2023. The extension addressed concerns lingering in the market, with Yaron emphasizing the challenges faced during his initial term, including elections, the COVID pandemic, and economic reforms.

Kuwait: High Court sentences Sheikh Khalid al-Jarrah al-Sabah to prison
On 26 November, the former minister of defence and interior, Sheikh Khalid al-Jarrah al-Sabah, was given a seven-year prison sentence by Kuwait’s top court for mismanaging military finances. The court ordered former prime minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah, who was charged with similar offences, to refund the money he squandered. The charges were refuted by both men. 2019 saw Sheikh Jaber step down from his position as prime minister, which he had held since 2011, following a move by parliamentarians to put Sheikh Khalid, the interior minister at the time, on trial for a vote of no confidence.

Qatar: Israel-Hamas truce sets with hostage release
On 24 November, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza began with the first group of 13 hostages to be freed. The truce covered Gaza’s north and south, including a release of Palestinians from Israeli prisons. Egypt, facilitating the mediation, confirmed the start and the hostage release, with aid deliveries ramping up but falling short of what agencies deem necessary. The ceasefire’s duration could extend, contingent on militants releasing a minimum of ten hostages daily. Qatar is aiming for further hostage releases beyond the initial four-day truce.

Africa This Week
South Africa: Motion to end diplomatic ties with Israel
On 22 November, the South African parliament voted for a motion calling to end diplomatic ties with Israel. The motion was passed by 248 votes to 91. The governing party, the African National Congress (ANC) has been critical of Israel’s attacks in Gaza. On 20 November, President Cyril Ramaphosa called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the war crimes in Gaza. Meanwhile, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs recalled its ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotserkovsky, “for consultations,” a move it stated as a response to “the latest South African statements.”

Somalia: Joins as eighth member of East African Community trade bloc
On 24 November, Reuters reported that the East African Community trade bloc welcomed Somalia as its eighth member to boost the country’s economy and stability to expand free trade across the region. The EAC common market was set up in 2010 and has around 300 million people from the countries of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Daud Aweis, stated: “Somalia officially joins the East African Community, reinforcing ties and opening new doors for progress and partnership.” With Somalia being the new member, the bloc’s coastline has stretched over more than 3000 kilometres holding high potential for offshore resources like oil and gas. Before, only Kenya and Tanzania of EAC had coastlines. The Bloc may witness jitters due to the presence of conflict-prone zones in Somalia caused by the Islam extremists.

Madagascar: Andry Rajoelina wins the elections for a third term
On 25 November, BBC reported that the incumbent President, Andry Rajoelina, won the elections for a third term. The country witnessed a disputed election boycotted by the opposition party who claimed that they would not recognise the election’s outcome. Rajoelina secured 59 per cent of the vote against his main opponent Marc Ravalomanana. The presidential candidates called for a poll boycott because of a low voter turnout. The voter turnout was 46 per cent which is the lowest recorded ever in the country. On 16 November, multiple clashes with police resulted in a curfew on the evening of election day.

Morocco: Alliance with the EU to tackle extremism
On 24 November, the EU and Morocco launched an initiative against extremism through educational means. It is a two-year initiative aimed at countering and preventing violent extremism. In the 21st Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita stated that the program's primary goal is to “provide individuals with access to education and to help them develop the capacities necessary to challenge extremist narratives and promote peace.” The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Joseph Borell asserted that “the program aims to help develop societies that are more tolerant and resilient against terrorism and violent extremism.”

Europe This Week
Europe: European Parliament approves trade deal with New Zealand
On 22 November, the European Parliament endorsed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with New Zealand which eliminates 100 per cent of New Zealand’s tariffs. The deal protects EU geographical indications such as agricultural goods, upholds Paris Agreement and labor standards. Bilateral trade is expected to surge by 30 per cent, with EU investments in New Zealand likely rising by 80 per cent. Formal approval from member states is anticipated, paving the way for the agreement’s ratification by New Zealand, by mid-2024. 

The Netherlands: Geert Wilders’ party secures majority
On 22 November, in the general elections, Geert Wilders, Frans Timmermans, Pieter Omtzigt, and Dilan Yeşilgöz competed against each other. According to the polls Wilders’ far-right party gained momentum against the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). Wilders’ anti-Islam stance persists, though he shifted focus to healthcare and security. Timmermans aims to rally voters against the far right, while the potential of a Wilders-led party, the Party for Freedom (PVV), worries the Green-Left alliance supporters. Following the elections, on 23 November, PVV secured 37 of 150 majority seats in the parliament. Wilders, known for anti-immigration and anti-EU views, is aimed to form a government with the centre and left parties, the opposition labour and green parties have denied joining with PVV. Coalition negotiations among multiple parties are expected to last for many months. Prime Minister Mark Rutte remains caretaker until a new government is formed. Far-right party leaders from Hungary, France, and Italy congratulated Wilders.

Russia: Putin accuses US at BRICS summit
On 21 November, BRICS leaders convened an urgent virtual summit addressing the Middle East turmoil, where Putin accused the US of monopolizing peace efforts. Amid US-Israel opposition to a Gaza ceasefire, Putin highlighted Washington’s hindrance of international mediators like Russia, the UN, and the EU. The BRICS meeting indicated a shift, signifying the group’s interest in resolving global political issues beyond economic matters, observed Hesham Alghannam, a Saudi Arabia’s political scientist. Despite Saudi-led efforts backed by Russia and China for a Gaza ceasefire, they faced US opposition. Arab-Muslim countries lauded Putin’s stance, aligning with Arab objectives. The Gaza crisis has affected the US image negatively, highlighting growing divisions in Washington over the conflict. The US’s differing stance from Muslim-Arab visions has tainted its image amidst worsening Gaza conditions. The contention over a Gaza ceasefire persists, with the US at odds with the Muslim-Arab world’s advocacy.

Germany: Deal over gas export and renewable investment with Nigeria
On 21 November, Nigerian President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu announced a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and Germany. According to the deal, Nigeria is set to supply 850,000 tonnes of liquified natural gas (LNG) annually, eventually reaching 1.2 million tonnes. The historic pact was signed at the G20 Compact with Africa conference, including Germany’s USD 500 million investment in Nigeria’s renewable energy projects, aiming to integrate more people into the formal economy. Discussions are underway for Siemens’ involvement in Nigeria’s electricity infrastructure overhaul and railway expansion, initiatives spearheaded by Tinubu to attract foreign investment.

The Americas This Week
Brazil: Lula da Silva to place climate change and poverty as G20 priorities
On 23 November, President Lula da Silva stated that as Brazil is set to head the G20 group from 01 December onwards, it will prioritise reducing hunger and poverty, slowing climate change, and bringing reforms to global governance. The next G20 summit is scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro in November 2024, during which Lula hopes to “address the issues” that the world needs to “stop running away from.” Silva has been known to criticise international organisations like the Bretton Woods institutions, World Bank, IMF for functioning as if all problems “had been resolved,” and for lending money to countries in debt in an unsustainable manner.

Venezuela: Officials refuse to “authorise” flight of Venezuelan deportees from Chile
On 23 November, a top Chilean official stated that Venezuela’s authority denied entry of a flight carrying Venezuelans who had been expelled from Chile to Venezuela. Chile’s Deputy Interior Minister, Manuel Monsalve, said that the decision by the “Venezuelan aeronautical authority ruined everything,” as the authority said that they “do not authorise the flight to Venezuela.” Chile currently houses roughly 444,000 Venezuelan migrants, who fled their country due to the sustained worsening of the political and economic situation. Although there has been no response from Venezuelan authorities, Monsalve said that as per Chilean law, the Venezuelans would be released if the expulsion isn’t done within five days.

Uruguay: China “willing to promote China-Mercosur FTA talks"
On 23 November, President Luis Lacalle Pou met with China’s Premier Li Qiang in Beijing, in an effort to upgrade their bilateral relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.” Aside from continuing their work towards a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) between Uruguay and China, both countries also want to establish an FTA between China and the Mercosur bloc. The Mercosur bloc is a South American trade bloc, consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Both countries are “willing to promote China-Mercosur FTA talks” for different sets of reasons. For China, an FTA with Mercosur could exert pressure on Paraguay to reconsider its ties to Taiwan. Pou sees the FTA as an opportunity for Uruguay’s exporters to enjoy the same benefits as other Latin American countries with tariff-free access to China have. However, while Uruguay is “firmly committed” to China and an “active participation in the Belt and Road Initiative,” it faces opposition from other Mercosur members, who would prefer an FTA with Europe. The three members had also warned Uruguay last November that they would take “measures” against it if it unilaterally negotiates an FTA with China.

Ecuador: Business heir Daniel Noboa sworn in as Ecuador’s new president
On 23 November, 35-year-old business heir Daniel Noboa, was sworn in as Ecuador’s new president, amid his promises to reduce unemployment and gang violence in the country. He is set to serve the remaining 18 months of former President Guillermo Lasso’s term, after Lasso announced snap elections to prevent potential impeachment. Noboa stated: “To fight violence we must fight unemployment; the country needs jobs and to create them I will send urgent reforms to the assembly.” He has said that a state of emergency will be implemented, where the military will be deployed to counter the violence created by rival drug-trafficking groups, which has led thousands to migrate from the country. One of his major proposals to eliminate this problem is establishing offshore prisons on barges, where the most violent inmates will be held in isolation.  

Brazil: Lula da Silva keen on advancing talks with van der Leyen on Mercosur-EU deal at COP28
On 20 November, Silva conveyed to von der Leyen that he is keen to secure a Mercosur-EU deal and advance talks during the COP28 climate summit. Silva is temporarily presiding over the South American trade bloc till the end of 2023, which consists of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Silva stated: “I showed her all our points and she said she would try to have a meeting with me at the COP28 to present their definitive response to our demands.” In 2019, despite a trade treaty being agreed on in principle, the EU demanded more environmental commitments from Brazil and Argentina, which led to prolonged negotiations as the two countries sought concessions. As Argentina’s new President, Javier Milei, has been a critic of the South American common market, Brazilian negotiators are reportedly trying to announce the deal on 07 December before Milei assumes office.

The US: Play-by-play of OpenAI’s internal chaos
On 21 November, OpenAI, an American Artificial Intelligence (AI) research agency, announced that it had reached “an agreement in principle” to bring back Sam Altman as CEO, after he had been fired on 17 November. This was the latest development between a week of chaos at the agency. Though details behind the reasons of his expulsion were not made public, it was said that he was not “consistently candid in his communications” with the then board of directors, which “no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.” His removal resulted in OpenAI President Greg Brockman quitting based on this news. Following this, on 19 November, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that Altman and Brockman had been hired to lead Microsoft’s “new advanced AI research team.” Microsoft is one of OpenAI’s major investors. On 20 November, 800 OpenAI employees in disagreement with the decision signed a letter which called for the resignation of the board which “did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.” They threatened to resign and follow Altman to Microsoft if their demands were not met. This finally resulted in Altman and OpenAI reaching an agreement on 21 November, as per which Altman would return and a new board of directors would be established. The events brought out mixed reactions from people, who argued that it “jeopardises OpenAI’s attempt to introduce more ethical corporate governance in the management of their company,” and proved that the government should be in charge of setting ethical guidelines for AI companies.

The US: Binance CEO pleads guilty to violating US anti-money laundering laws
On 21 November, the CEO of Binance, Zhao Changpeng, pleaded guilty to breaking US anti-money laundering laws, and stepped down from his position as CEO. Binance is a global company which operates the largest cryptocurrency exchange, and US Attorney-General Merrick Garland said that “Binance made it easy for criminals to move their stolen funds and illicit proceeds on its exchanges” by failing to “comply with federal law.” Chengpeng will personally pay USD 50 million from the USD 4.3 billion settlement, making this one of the US' largest corporate penalties. Some of the criminal charges from the Department of Justice accuse Binance of conducting unlicensed money transmitter business and breaching sanctions regulations. Changpeng stated: “I made mistakes, and I must take responsibility. This is best for our community, for Binance, and for myself.”

The US: Eric Adams filed under Adult Survivors Act over 1993 sexual assault allegation
On 22 November, a woman accused New York City Mayor Eric Adams of sexual assault in 1993 “while they both worked for the City of New York.” The summons was filed under New York state’s Adult Survivors Act, which gives survivors of sexual misconduct a year to bring lawsuits that would have otherwise been blocked, and which is set to expire on 24 November 2023. Former US President Donald Trump and Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein have been sued under this act, which has “given so many women the opportunity to seek justice” The woman, whose filing related to “intentional and negligent acts and omissions for physical, psychological, and other injuries suffered as a result of conduct that would constitute sexual offences,” is seeking USD five million in damages. In response, Adams said that he does not “recall even meeting them,” and defended himself by saying he has spent his life “protecting people” and “giving back,” and as there is a “lot going on in the city,” he will “continue to do that.”

Canada: India resumes e-visa services to Canadian nationals after two months pause
On 22 November, following a diplomatic feud between India and Canada, India resumed issuing e-visas for Canadian tourists and business travellers, after pausing services for two months. This may ease diplomatic tensions which flared over Canada’s accusation that India was involved in the killing of a Canadian Sikh separatist leader. An Indian official stated that “e-visa services to Canadian nationals have resumed,” but did not give any insights on whether this would lead to a considerable thaw in relations between the two countries.

About the Authors
Anu Maria, Padmashree Anandhan, Femy Francis and Rishika Yadav, Dhriti Mukherjeee and Shamini Velayutham are Research Associates at NIAS. Sreeja JS is a postgradute scholar from Madras Christian College, Chennai. Narmatha S is a postgraduate scholar from University of Madras, Chennai. Rohini Reenum is a PhD scholar at NIAS. 

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