The World This Week

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The World This Week
UK’s AI Summit

  GP Team

The World This Week #238, Vol. 5, No.42

UK’s AI Summit: Creates grounds for multilateral cooperation
Nuha Aamina

What happened?
On 02 November, a summit on AI Safety was held at Bletchley Park, UK, attended by representatives from 27 countries, the EU, and various companies. The summit’s focus was existential dangers of uncontrollable AI systems and risks to national security. UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, discussed AI safety with a select group of foreign governments, scientists, and enterprises. Elon Musk stressed the need for a ‘referee’ system to regulate tech companies. He stated: “I think what we’re aiming for here is first, to establish that there should be a referee function. I think there should be one.” Chief of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, emphasized the importance of an independent scientific community and discussed the creation of a European AI Office to oversee advanced AI models globally.

On 01 November, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced the establishment of an AI Safety Institute in London, following an executive order by US President Biden, requiring AI companies to disclose safety test results to the government before releasing AI models. She made this announcement after the discussions with Sunak on 31 November. Several companies and representatives, including the US, China, and the EU, signed the “Bletchley Declaration” on AI safety to address risks associated with advanced AI models, but China did not sign the proposal on testing AI models. Additionally, the UK government plans to invest GBP 225 million in the supercomputer Isambard-AI. Mark Surmon of the Mozilla Foundation noted the possibility of private companies using the summit to further their interests and emphasized the importance of open and transparent approaches to AI safety. He stated: “We’re asking policymakers to invest in a range of approaches - from open source to open science - in the race to AI safety. Open, responsible and transparent approaches are critical to keep us safe and secure in the AI era.” 

On 03 November, Mozilla published an open letter signed by politicians, academics, and private company employees, advocating for transparent and responsible AI approaches.

What is the background?
First, background to the issues. The summit centered on two critical AI concerns. The first, ‘loss of control risks,’ stems from AI’s rapid advancement. It has raised the potential for systems to become uncontrollable and ethically challenging. The second concern, ‘misuse risks,’ involves AI being intentionally used for harm, from creating dangerous technologies to orchestrating advanced cyberattacks. Misuse risks pose serious threats to national security. The summit’s aim was to address these challenges by establishing guidelines for responsible AI development and mitigating associated risks.

Second, growing concerns about modern technology. The advent of ChatGPT has sparked a surge in global discussions on AI safety. Despite its widespread popularity, this chatbot technology presents potential threats to humanity. Policymakers are currently wrestling with the complex task of regulating AI tools, as these discussions underscore the profound implications these technologies hold for both current and future generations.

Third, criticism over the UK’s invitation to China.  The UK's invitation to China drew criticism following suspicions of a UK parliament researcher spying for China. The uncertainty of China’s attendance stemmed from the US controlling Beijing’s access to vital chip technology crucial for AI development. This uncertainty faced backlash from British and European politicians. Nevertheless, Sunak defended the decision, emphasizing the event’s potential to unite significant economic powers. Moreover, the UK’s Foreign Minister James Cleverly supported the invitation, asserting that excluding a major AI technology player could compromise public safety in addressing AI-related risks.

What does this mean?
First, China stands out among the “like-minded” countries. Amid the “like-minded” countries at the summit, China’s refusal to sign the AI model testing proposal signaled differing perspectives. Sunak, despite facing criticism, successfully engaged China, demonstrating the UK's intent to improve relations post UK’s former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tenure. With escalating US tensions, the summit presents an opportunity for China to collaborate internationally and bolster AI governance. It shows a complex global landscape, where countries with diverse views converge to address AI’s future, highlighting the importance of constructive dialogue in navigating the challenges of advanced technology.

Second, the UK’s initiative to become a global leader in AI. In technology, the UK government is investing in cutting-edge supercomputers like Isambard-AI, aiming to match the tech leaders. The UK’s determination to be at the forefront of technology and innovation is evident in these initiatives and the hosting of the summit. However, the UK’s aspiration to lead in global AI is a formidable challenge, competing with major players like the US, EU, and China. While the UK positions itself as a leader in AI regulation, the US has also taken significant steps by establishing AI safety institutions through an executive order. The presence of OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, in the US further solidifies the country’s dominance in AI research and development. 

Bangladesh Protests: Background, reasons, and consequences
Rajika Kanungo

On 28 October, Bangladesh witnessed a surge of public demonstrations, galvanised by various socio-political issues. Reports state that the demonstration turned violent as a result of the police using excessive force against the protestors, using rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.

These protests have sparked a worldwide conversation on matters ranging from governance to social justice, revealing the diverse tapestry of concerns within Bangladeshi society. 

Following are the five questions: 

Who are the groups involved in the protests?
The primary opposition force in these protests is the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). They are joined by opposition activists, supporters, and civil society groups. These include the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), FORUM-ASIA (Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development), and CIVICUS (a global civil society alliance). Following episodes of violence, several countries, including the UK, US, Australia, and Canada, have expressed their deep concerns. They have called for moderation from all sides and urged collaboration among all parties involved to establish conditions conducive to democratic, fair, inclusive, and peaceful elections.

What are the main reasons behind the protests in Bangladesh?
The protests in Bangladesh are primarily led by supporters of the opposition, notably the BNP. Their main demand is for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has maintained a firm grip on power since 2009, to step down from her position. The opposition is advocating for the establishment of a nonpartisan caretaker government to oversee the upcoming general elections scheduled for January. Critics argue that the elections would not be conducted fairly and freely if they remain under the supervision of the current government, hence the call for an impartial caretaker government to ensure a more equitable electoral process.

How has the government responded to the protests?
On 30 November, in response to the violent protests, thousands of supporters from the ruling Awami League party in Bangladesh gathered in the capital city, Dhaka, for a counter-protest. They were expressing their concerns about what they perceived as violent actions by the main opposition party. Tensions have been escalating in the lead-up to the anticipated January elections. The government’s response to the protests has included over 1,000 arrests and the detention of key opposition leaders. Among those detained are Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a prominent figure from the BNP, and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, reflecting a strong government stance against the opposition.

Why is the opposition demanding a caretaker government?
The opposition's demand for a caretaker government in Bangladesh is rooted in their belief that democratic values have been historically opposed by the ruling Awami League. They point to a pivotal moment on January 24, 1975, when one-party control was established, leading to the outlawing of all other political parties. According to local government and election expert Badiul Alam Majumder, Bangladesh has never experienced fair and controversy-free elections under partisan governments. Out of the 11 national elections held in the country, only the four conducted under impartial caretaker governments have been considered free from anomalies. Therefore, the opposition argues that a neutral election-time governance framework, like a caretaker government, is essential to ensure fair elections in Bangladesh.

What are the electoral backgrounds of the ruling and opposition parties of Bangladesh? 
Bangladesh’s political landscape is primarily characterized by two dominant dynastic parties led by Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. The country operates as a parliamentary democracy, but its electoral history has been marked by periods of violence, particularly in the lead-up to elections. Sheikh Hasina, running for her fourth consecutive term, has emphasized development through various megaprojects. However, her government has faced accusations of human rights violations and corruption. The rivalry between Hasina and Zia has spanned decades. Hasina's government has recently come under pressure due to mostly nonviolent anti-government protests by the opposition.

The Awami League, founded by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1949, played a significant role in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, leading to the country's separation from Pakistan. It assumed power in 1973 after winning the first general election, alternating between periods of leadership and opposition since. In 1978, General Ziaur Rahman founded the BNP, which came to power after a military coup in 1975 and ruled until 1996. During its tenure, it formed coalition governments and faced periods of resistance and internal challenges. These two parties, along with their leaders, have dominated Bangladesh’s political landscape, shaping its electoral history.

Regional Round ups
News from around the World

Dhriti Mukherjee, Rohini Reenum, Femy Francis, Nuha Aamina, Padmashree Anandhan, Rajika Kanungo, Rishika Yadav and Shamini Velayudham

China This Week
China: Australian PM Albanese visits Beijing
On 04 November, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed his satisfaction after the bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “very positive step” towards healthy bilateral relations. He also said: “It is a result of the patient, calibrated and deliberate approach that we have to the relationship with China.”  The visit came after the relationship deteriorated since the dispute over Huawei, when the telecommunications company left Australia over “negative business environment.”

China: Coast guard face off with Japan
On 01 November, a coast guard ship from China and Japan disputed in the East China Sea region. Both countries deployed ships in the disputed island of Senkaku. China accused Japanese ships of illegally patrolling in the region and stated: “took necessary control measures in accordance with the law.”

East and Southeast Asia This Week
Japan: Provides surveillance radars to Philippines in security assistance
On 01 November, The Japan Times reported that Japan intends to supply surveillance radars to the Philippines through its official security assistance program. The Philippines will be the first recipient of aid under this program, introduced in fiscal year 2023. The move comes amid heightened tensions in the South China Sea, where the Philippines and China are involved in a territorial dispute. Japan’s Official Security Assistance program aims to enhance the military capabilities of like-minded countries through defence equipment and infrastructure support. Japan also plans to extend aid to Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Fiji in the current fiscal year. Prime Minister Kishida is visiting the Philippines and Malaysia, emphasizing the importance of improving security capabilities in the region.

North Korea: Closes diplomatic missions globally amid economic challenges
On 03 November, NK news reported that North Korea is set to close its diplomatic missions in Uganda, Angola, Spain, and its consulate in Hong Kong. North Korea cited it as  “changes in the international environment and state external policy.” This decision is attributed to strengthened international sanctions and hints at the country’s economic difficulties. North Korea previously operated diplomatic missions in 53 locations worldwide. The missions have been involved in illicit activities, including smuggling weapons and drugs, to generate revenue. The closures may also indicate the regime’s reliance on cyberattacks, such as cryptocurrency theft, for financial gain, rendering traditional missions less essential.

North Korea: Criticizes US ICBM test
On 01 November, in response to the recent US test-fire of the Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), North Korea’s military commentator issued a statement. The commentator criticized the test, highlighting the participation of South Korean military officials, and expressed concern about the US nuclear arms buildup. The statement emphasized North Korea’s determination to bolster its self-defensive nuclear forces and maintain deterrence in the region. It described recent US and South Korean military actions as provocative and reiterated North Korea’s commitment to protecting its security and sovereignty.

South Korea: Hold talks to enhance humanitarian aid cooperation with US and Japan
On 31 October, South Korea, the US, and Japan conducted their first trilateral working-level talks aimed at strengthening collaboration in humanitarian aid policies. It was followed by a summit of their leaders in August. The two-day policy dialogue in Hawaii explored ways to enhance coordination in development policy and discussed expanding cooperation into new areas like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. The three countries, as like-minded partners, affirmed their commitment to addressing global challenges, such as the Ukraine conflict and climate change. They agreed to hold such dialogues biennially, with South Korea hosting the next meeting in 2025.

Australia: Conducts joint ‘defensive’ air drills with US and South Korea
On 30 October, the US, South Korea, and Australia commenced joint air force drills named “Vigilant Defense 24” to enhance their defence capabilities. More than 130 aircraft from South Korea and the US, including F-35A fighter jets, are participating in the exercises, along with the Royal Australian Air Force. While the US emphasized the defensive nature of the drills, experts suggest they are meant to prepare for potential North Korean threats. In the past, North Korea has responded strongly to similar exercises, conducting missile launches in apparent retaliation.

Japan: Emphasizes safety of radioactive water release at ministerial meeting
On 04 November, during a meeting of environment ministers involving China and South Korea, Japan stressed the safety of releasing treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the sea. Japan’s Environment Minister, Shintaro Ito, confirmed that the release has no impact on people or the environment and pledged to improve radiation monitoring and transparency. Chinese Ecology and Environment Minister Huang Runqiu called for “thorough consultations” with stakeholders. China had imposed a ban on Japanese seafood imports due to concerns over the water release, which began in late August as part of efforts to decommission the Fukushima plant.

Australia: National party needs ACT New Zealand and New Zealand First for coalition
On 03 November, The Strait Times reported that New Zealand’s centre-right National Party will require support from both ACT New Zealand and New Zealand First to form a government. It is according to final election results. The National Party secured 48 seats and ACT 11, for a total of 59 in the 122-seat Parliament. New Zealand First’s eight seats would provide a majority for the three parties. Although the Labour Party conceded defeat, final results could lead to the formation of a new government by right-wing parties. Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon stated that constructive discussions were ongoing with ACT and New Zealand First.

Myanmar: Oil and gas company faces sanctions from the US
On 01 November, Reuters reported that the US imposed sanctions on Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) but did not add it to the Specially Designated Nationals list. This list consists of entities removed from the US banking system, been banned from trading with Americans and their American assets will be frozen. The US imposed sanctions on three entities in a coordinated action with Britain and Canada. The Treasury Department (US) said that these firms have assisted the junta in importing arms, dual-use goods and other materials, even from Russian entities.

Philippines: On final talks with Japan for security aid
On 01 November, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, stated that Japan is in its final stage of negotiations with the Philippines. Under this program, Japan will provide equipment to the Philippines. He further added that this partnership is to boost their deterrence capabilities.

Thailand: Prime Minister plans to accelerate construction of China-Thailand railway
On 31 October, Bangkok post reported that Thailand plans to speed up its railway project under the Belt and Road Initiative. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said logistics is an issue for Thailand under the BRI cooperation. He further added that it will improve its connectivity by linking its domestic railway to the China-Laos Railway. The line will run from Bangkok, through Laos, to Yunnan province in China. 

Philippines: Response to Chinese maritime claims
On 31 October, the National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano replied to the Chinese military’s claims of illegally entering waters near Scarborough Shoal. On 30 October, Spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command, Tian Junli, said that the Philippines has violated international law and needs to stop its provocations. He further added that China has monitored, warned and blocked the vessel, as per international law. Ano said that the Philippines vessel did not illegally enter Chinese territory. He further stated that China needs to stop its provocations in the Philippines' maritime territory.

Philippines: Proposal to rename maritime territory
On 30 October, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla proposed to change the name of the ‘West Philippines Sea’ to ‘Sea of Asia’. In 2024, the Department of Justice plans to file a case against China for environmental damages in the South China Sea. Senator Grace Poe and Senator Jinggoy Estrada believe that the change in nomenclature will diminish Manila’s territorial claim. However, Remulla said that this is an attempt to make the maritime region a shared resource, the Philippines will be able to lodge complaints. 

Indonesia: Court sentences Iranian drug traffickers to death
On 29 October, Jakarta Post reported that the Indonesian court declared death sentences for eight Iranian drug traffickers. They were found guilty of smuggling three hundred and nineteen kilograms of crystal meth into the country. Uli Purnama, the judge, said that they were trying to smuggle drugs through the Indian Ocean to Java. The defendants have received seven days to appeal the decision.

South Asia This Week
Nepal: A magnitude 5.6 earthquake strikes western Nepal, killing at least 128 people
On 04 November, a powerful earthquake hit western Nepal claiming the lives of at least 128 people and injuring 100 others. The earthquake, which struck at 11:47 p.m. local time, primarily affected the hilly district of Jajarkot, located 500 kilometers west of the capital, Kathmandu. The tremors were felt as far as New Delhi, around 600 kilometers away. Media footage showed extensive damage, with toppled furniture and collapsing brick houses. Communication with areas near the epicenter remained difficult. Nepal is prone to earthquakes due to its location along the meeting point of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates, with a devastating earthquake in 2015 claiming around 9,000 lives.

Pakistan: Explosion and heavy firing target Air Force base
On 04 November, an attack struck an Air Force Training Base in central Pakistan’s Mianwali area. The recently established Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP) claimed responsibility for the incident, following a series of attacks in the country. The attack followed a military convoy ambush that resulted in 14 soldiers’ deaths. Pakistan has seen an increase in violence in 2023, attributed to groups like TJP and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), exacerbating the country’s existing law and order challenges due to political and economic issues.

Bangladesh: Prime Minister’s daughter wins WHO election for Southeast Asia
On 01 November, the daughter of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Saima Wazed, secured a prominent position within the WHO for the Southeast Asia region. Wazed’s victory highlights Bangladesh’s growing influence in global health and recognizes its leaders’ contributions. Her success is expected to enhance collaboration in the Southeast Asia region, encompassing ten member states, including Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.

Afghanistan: Half of all Afghans living in poverty, World Bank report
On 03 November, Tolo News reported on the World Bank’s monthly report called the “Afghanistan Economic Monitor” which said that half of all Afghans are living in poverty. The report stated that in the period from January to September 2023, there has been a slight decrease of 0.5 percent in exports compared to the same period in 2022. In contrast, imports have exhibited a substantial 27 percent growth. Sayar Quirishi, an economist said that “One of the main reasons why Afghanistan's economy is in the current situation is that after the fall of the republic and the suspension of international aid, unfortunately, the economy has shrunk by 25% in the last two years”. The Ministry of Economy urged the international community to remove restrictions imposed on the economic sector in Afghanistan as it was essential for its progress.

Kazakhstan: Signs USD 1.4 billion in deals in a range of sectors with France
On 01 November, in Astana, during the Kazakhstan-France Business Forum attended by heads of state, more than thirteen agreements were signed, totaling over USD 1.4 billion. These agreements span various sectors, including engineering, healthcare, agroindustry, and transportation. The agreements signify significant collaborations between Kazakhstan and France, showcasing their joint commitment to advancing economic ties and cooperation across these key industries. Over 400 delegates attended the event, which was arranged by Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry and the state enterprise Kazakh Invest. The attendees included both government officials and members of business circles from both countries. Four industry roundtables discussed new opportunities for economic collaboration and evaluated cooperative projects.

Turkmenistan: Ashgabat hosted the Turkmen Manat’s 30th anniversary
On 02 November, a conference commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Turkmen Manat's introduction was conducted at Ashgabat’s Senagat Joint-Stock Commercial Bank. The attendees went over current concerns about updating the banking system for contemporary times. Presentations were given by professionals in the banking and financial industries about how to enhance monetary mechanisms, foster international investment cooperation, and produce economic growth. Cybersecurity and financial technologies received particular focus. It was observed that preferential mortgage lending is growing and financial services are being enhanced in Turkmenistan in an effort to increase the welfare of the country’s population. The banking industry is actively implementing digital technologies.

Uzbekistan: Memorandum on labor mobility with Germany
On 02 November, the Chief of Foreign Labor Migration Agency met with the director of Gera Chamber of Commerce and Industry in East Thuringia, Germany. Discussions centered on labor migration cooperation, Germany's job market, and safe, legal hiring practices. A memorandum was signed, outlining plans to teach German language, provide professional training, and facilitate future employment for Uzbeks in Germany.

Middle East and Africa This Week
Oman: Organizes Workshop for dialogue on International Children's Day
On 01 November, the “Children First” Association hosted a dialogue workshop with His Excellency Mohammed bin Sulaiman Al Kindi, the governor of North Al Batinah, in the presence of Her Highness Dr. Mona bint Fahd Al Said. The workshop was organized in collaboration with the UNICEF office in the Sultanate of Oman and the General Directorate of Education in the North Al Batinah Governorate. Her Excellency, The Children First Society's President, Dr. Mona bint Fahd Al Said, emphasized the significance of this workshop, where kids from North Al Batinah will make proposals that align with their long-term goals and strengthen their ability to help realize those goals in the two most significant areas, education and innovation both now and in the future.

Kuwait: Signs an agreement on cybersecurity with Saudi Arabia
On 02 November, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait signed a memorandum of agreement regarding cybersecurity. During the second day of the Global Cybersecurity Forum in Riyadh, Kuwait was represented by Maj Gen Mohammad Bouarki, Head of the National Center for Cybersecurity, while Majed Al-Mazyad, Governor of the National Cybersecurity Authority (NCA), represented Saudi Arabia. Bouarki stressed the significance of collaboration in the field to more effectively combat cyberattacks in a statement to KUNA, stating that this Memorandum of Understanding is intended to create wide vistas for knowledge transfer and experience sharing in the cybersecurity sphere between the two sides.

Iran: Supreme leader calls on the Muslim world to boycott Israel
On 01 November, in a speech, the supreme leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei urged the Muslim states to stop the export of oil and food to Israel. He demanded an end to the bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Pointing out to the pro-Palestine protests around the world and in countries like the UK, France, Italy and the US, he posited that “people of Gaza have mobilised the public’s conscience by their patience”. He stated that the protests signified that Israel and the US had lost credibility and could not justify the attack on Gaza. He further urged “the world of Islam” to not forget the support of countries like the US, France, Italy and the UK for Israel and their stance against “the oppressed people of Gaza”.

Iran: Demonstrations in Iran to mark the 1979 takeover of the US embassy
On 04 November, Aljazeera reported that several demonstrations were held across Iran to mark the 1979 takeover of the US embassy and to protest against Israel and the US’s involvement in the bombardment of Gaza. The protestors also marked their support for Gaza by waving Palestinian flags. Chants of “death to America” and “death to Israel” and stomping of their flags characterized these marches. It is to be noted that the US embassy was stormed after the country’s 1979 revolution that brought into existence the current theocratic state in Iran.

Kenya: King Charles’s visit 
On 29 October, King Charles began his four-day visit to Kenya. During the visit, he acknowledged the “painful aspects” of Britain's colonial rule in Kenya. More than 10,000 people were killed during the suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in 1950. In 2013, the UK paid reparations worth USD 24 million to around 5,000 people. The response to the visit is divided. One section of Kenyan society believes that the visit will be a new beginning for Kenya-Britain relations. The other section believes that the visit will be an insult to the painful past of the colonial era.

Tanzania: German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s visit
On 31 October, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier began his three-day visit to Tanzania. He expressed “shame” over the colonial atrocities Germany carried out in Tanzania. More than 300,000 people were killed during the Maji Maji anti-colonial rebellion in the 1900s in Tanzania. Steinmeier stated: "What happened here is our shared history, the history of your ancestors and the history of our ancestors in Germany. I would like to ask for forgiveness for what Germans did to your ancestors here.” In 2021, Germany acknowledged the genocide it carried out in Namibia in 1904 and announced reparations worth USD 1.34 billion.

Africa: US to remove four countries from Agoa
On 31 October, Biden announced the removal of Uganda, Gabon, Niger and the Central African Republic (CAR) from the US-Africa trade programme. Biden stated that those countries are involved in “gross violations” of human rights. In 2000, the US introduced the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa). It gives duty-free access to more than 1,800 US-based products. Biden stated that Niger and Gabon are ineligible to Agoa as they “have not established, or are not making continual progress toward establishing the protection of political pluralism and the rule of law.” Additionally, CAR and Uganda were removed as they carry out "gross violations of internationally recognised human rights.”

Europe and the Americas This Week
Russia: Appoints new head for TASS
On 04 November, POLITICO reported on the removal of Russia’s state news agency TASS Head, Sergei Mikhailov due to coverage of the Wagner mercenary group attempted coup. Following the removal, a new director was appointed by the Kremlin. The removal was due to lower level of “pro-Kremlin coverage,” and TASS became the first media to release the photos of the Wagner fighters. According to the Moscow Times report: “TASS covered all this in too much detail and promptly. Some kind of insanity has happened to them. They have forgotten that their main task is not to report the news.” 

France: Presidents calls for humanitarian conference 
On 03 November, President Emmanuel Macron announced the decision to conduct a “humanitarian conference” in Paris by 09 November. The aim of the conference is to “call for truce” for Israel’s offensive to protect people. According to Macron, the conference will be held in the format of “Paris Peace Forum” and the truce is aimed to fight against protection for civilians. The move comes after Israel was questioned by France over its explanation for striking a French institute in Gaza Strip. There was a similar attack on Agence France-Presse’s Gaza bureau, but no casualties were recorded.

Panama: Moratorium on mining concessions signed into law
On 03 November, President Laurentino Cortizo, signed an indefinite moratorium on new mining concessions, effectively prohibiting new and current concessions. The bill went through two rounds of debate on 01 November and was approved by the National Assembly on 02 November. An article that was originally in the bill that would have revoked a contract extension with Canadian mining company First Quantum and its local subsidiary Minera Panama was removed. The possibility of extending the contract had resulted in two- week long protests in October 2023. The new contract, which already contributed to 4.8 per cent of Panama’s GDP in 2021, guarantees a minimum annual payment of USD 375 million, ten times more than the previous contract. However, it also will allow mining to take place in an environmentally vulnerable part of Panama located “in the middle of the jungle,” which environmentalists claim will destroy more of the jungle and affect the local drinking water. Real estate broker Omayra Avendaño argued that “all the money in the world will not be able to make up for the lack of water, which is already critical.”

El Salvador: Supreme Electoral Tribune states Bukele meets “legal requirements” to contest for elections
On 03 November, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal voted four to none (with one abstention), to approve El Salvador’s current President Nayib Bukele's decision to run for reelection in 2024 even though it is unconstitutional. Bukele has been president since 2019, and as per the country’s constitution, re-election is prohibited. However, the Supreme Court of Justice determined in 2021 that the decision to allow re-election was up to the public during the time of voting. Recent polls have shown significant support for Bukele, as his crackdown on gangs is widely regarded by Salvadorians. In response to the Tribunal’s decision, Bukele posted on X: “Legally registered! And without any votes against.”

Mexico: Migrant caravan filled with “stranded” Mexicans grows in size on its way to US
On 30 October, a migrant caravan with around 2000 migrants left the city of Tapachula, Mexico, and saw an increase of 5000 people from Central and South America. It was seen within the span of two days. An organiser of the caravan, Irineo Mújica, explained that despite organised crime “taking over Chiapas,” the Mexican authorities have left the migrants “stranded.” Other migrants also stated that they “can’t live” and “keep on waiting” without money, which is why they are walking to the border, with hopes of leading a better life. The surge in the number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has increased over the last few months, resulting in Republicans blaming a lack of action from Biden in curbing the influx.

The US: Jack Lew appointed as next US ambassador to Israel
On 31 October, the US Senate voted 53 to 43 to appoint former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew as the next US ambassador to Israel. Lew was nominated and backed by Biden in September 2023, and is the first ambassador to Israel since July 2023. The voting was majorly along party lines, with Democrats pushing to fill the vacancy after Hamas’ attacks on 7 October, and the White House pushing for quick confirmation of Lew as a “high-level of diplomatic representation” is “critical.” While Lew is experienced, he has been criticised by Republicans over his work in former US President Barack Obama’s cabinet during the signing of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. On the matter of the Israel-Gaza conflict, he has been outspoken with his support for a two-state solution, saying that there is “no greater mission” than working “toward peace in a region that has known so much war and destruction.” However, while saying that he would ensure Israel had supplies to “defend itself,” he would also ensure trapped Palestinians in Gaza received aid, and the influence of Iran which has threatened “regional stability” and “Israel’s existence” would be reduced.

The US: Senate appoints Lisa Franchetti as first woman to lead US Navy
On 02 November, Lisa Franchetti was appointed as the 33rd Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), becoming the first woman to lead the US Navy. Franchetti has previously headed the US 6th Fleet and US naval forces in South Korea. The appointment followed a Senate voting, which saw 95 votes in favour and 1 against. Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, who voted against her appointment, was protesting the Pentagon’s policy of covering travel costs for those members who have to fly out of state for an abortion. His protest was also why Franchetti’s nomination, which was backed by Biden, was delayed for months. Currently, the US Coast Guard is also led by a woman, and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin expressed confidence in the “outstanding leaders” who would “tackle the crucial national security issues of these challenging times.”  

The US: Mike Pence decides to “suspend” campaign for president
On 28 October, former US Vice President, Mike Pence, dropped out of the race towards the Republican presidential nomination, citing struggle to raise funds and gain traction as the reason behind ending his campaign. He had USD 6,21,000 in debt at the time of dropping out. Pence stated that he “decided to suspend” his campaign, saying that he has “no regrets” of having been a part of an “uphill battle.” His departure shows how the race has been dominated by his former boss-turned-rival Donald Trump, who has transformed the Republican party drastically. The party itself is trying to move forward from Trump’s earlier rule, and thus welcomed the news as an opportunity to back a single alternative to Trump. Pence additionally urged other Republicans to give the US a “Republican standard-bearer” who would rule with “the time-honoured principles” that had made America “strong and prosperous and free.” In response to Pence’s decision, Trump said that Pence should “endorse” him, though “people in politics can be very disloyal.”

The US: Biden signs executive order to “avoid the risk” of AI
On 30 October, Biden signed an executive order on Artificial Intelligence (AI), to create guardrails for this technology which is expanding at “warp speed.” According to Biden, AI could be used by “hackers to exploit vulnerabilities in the software that makes our society run.” The provisions of the order are, what White House Deputy Chief of Staff Bruce Reed has described to be, “the strongest set of actions any government in the world has ever taken on AI.” It mandates developers to notify the government of their work and safety test results when designing AI technology, and also calls on the National Institute of Standards and Technology to implement “rigorous standards” for AI testing. Biden also brought in a legislative element, by asking the Congress to pass a data privacy legislation, and the Department of Justice to address “algorithmic discrimination.” This decision is amid escalating fears of the dangers AI possesses, as White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients pointed out that they “have to move as fast, if not faster, than the technology itself.”

The US: FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried found guilty on all seven charges of fraud
On 02 November, FTX founder and crypto tycoon Sam Bankman-Fried was declared guilty on seven charges of fraud, embezzlement, and criminal conspiracy, after a month-long trial and a year after FTX filed for bankruptcy. Authorities have described his actions of stealing USD 10 billion and using customers’ funds to make risky investments, as one of the biggest financial frauds in American history. Bankman- Fried, who had pleaded not guilty, now faces up to 110 years in prison. Prosecutors on his case say that he wanted to “give himself money, power, and influence,” and had the “arrogance” to believe that “the rules did not apply to him.” After the verdict, Bankman-Fried’s lawyer, Mark Cohen, said that while he was “disappointed” with the decision, he respected it and his client would “continue to vigorously fight the charges against him.”

The US: Sanctions imposed on entities for sending Russia “high-priority dual-use goods”
On 02 November, the US imposed sanctions on roughly 130 new entities, including ones located in China, Turkey, and UAE, on allegations of supplying Russia’s military with components and technology, thereby abetting its war in Ukraine. US Secretary of Treasury Jane Yellen stated that “Russia is dependent on willing third-country individuals and entities to resupply its military and perpetuate its heinous war against Ukraine,” and that the US would “not hesitate in holding them accountable.” The sanctions focus on the production of Russia’s Lancet suicide drones, which Ukraine has described to an emerging threat. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said these sanctions are “just what is needed,” as they target critical supply chains that are “otherwise legitimate economic relationships” between Russia and the three countries.

The US: USD 14.5 billion military aid package to Israel passed by House of Representatives
On 02 November, the US House of Representatives voted 226 votes to 196 to approve a plan of providing USD 14.5 billion in military aid for Israel. The package, which includes USD four billion to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome and other missile defence systems, is funded by cuts to the Internal Revenue Service. This decision is also the first major legislative action by the House’s new Speaker Mike Johnson, who had urged the Senate and the White House “to act swiftly and pass this bill as the House did today.” However, it has narrow chances of passing in the Democratic-dominated Senate to become a law, with the White House earlier explaining that the bill “would have devastating implications for our safety and alliances in the years ahead.” Biden has alternatively proposed USD 106 billion as an emergency spending package to Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine. It also received criticism from a few Republicans, who have said that the bill “abandons Ukraine” and delays aid to US allies.

The US: Biden hosts first Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity Leaders’ Summit to counter Chinese economic influence
On 03 November, Biden hosted government leaders from North and South America at the first Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity Leaders’ Summit, with a major agenda of increasing US investment as a counter to China’s growing influence in some regions. Leaders from countries including Barbados, Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia were in attendance, and discussed topics of trade, migration, supply chains, and environmental sustainability. Biden stated: We want to make sure that our closest neighbors know they have a real choice between debt trap diplomacy and high quality, transparent approaches to infrastructure and to development.” However, the biggest focus was on trade, amid increasing competition between the US and China post the economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since most of US’ trade is currently with Mexico and Canada in the Western Hemisphere, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the proposal of diversification of supply chains with “trusted partners and allies” possesses “tremendous potential benefits for fuelling growth in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

About the authors

Dhriti Mukherjee, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Rishika Yadav and Shamini Velayudham are Research Assistants at NIAS, Bengaluru. Rohini Reenum is a PhD scholar at NIAS, Bengaluru. Nuha Amina and Rajika Kanungo are undergraduate scholars from St Joseph's College, Bengaluru.

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