The World This Week

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The World This Week
Regional Round-ups: News from around the World

  GP Team

The World This Week #242, Vol. 5, No. 46
10 November 2023

Regional Round-ups
News from around the World

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

China This Week
China: Private space start-up launches three satellites into the orbit
On 09 December, a China based private rocket start up company launched three satellites into orbit. The rocket, developed by the LandSpace Technology company, Zhuque-2 Y-3, used methane and liquefied oxygen for their commercial liftoff, a milestone in itself. The launch was blasted from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre located in the Chinese inner Mongolia region of Gobi Desert. The success of this launch is of paramount importance as this would encourage and build confidence of the investors to invest in methane as future rocket fuel. Methane as an alternative rocket fuel would be able to cut costs, aid the use of reusable rockets in a cleaner way. Chinese private space companies are observing an exponential rise as several private rocket start-ups are budding to provide the rising demand for commercial launches.

China: License for Japanese Koi farms not renewed
On 08 December, The Strait Times reported that China has not renewed its license for Japanese Koi farms and it halts imports for the same. The Asahi Shimbun Daily, a Japanese newspaper, issued that no explanation was given by the Chinese authorities for the non-renewal of their contracts after three years of exports. The newspaper quoted a Japanese government official stating that this appears to be a case of harassment by China over the controversial release of Fukushima-treated water release. Koi fish are popular fish pets adorned and sold for high prices, over the years the export of the fish is estimated to be 6.3 billion yen, and China is the fifth largest importer of the same.

China: To launch its fourth-generation small modular nuclear reactor
On 07 December, The Strait Times reported that China plans to kickstart their next-generation gas-cooled nuclear reactor power plant. The plant would be situated in the Shangdong province and called the Shidao Bay plant. The plant is powered by two high-temperature reactors and would be cooled by using gas rather than the usual pressurized water. The advanced model would also facilitate heating, desalination and the production of steam for industrial use. These small Modular Reactors (SMR) aim to shift the dependency on coal-based energy use, which can play a vital role in decarbonization.

East Asia and the Pacific This Week
North Korea: Closes more embassies in Africa
On 05 December, NK news reported that North Korea has shut down its embassies in Senegal and Guinea, marking the eighth and ninth closures since October. The move follows withdrawals from other countries like Bangladesh, Spain, and Uganda. An anonymous South Korean official suggested the closures relate to global efforts blocking illegal Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) funds, straining diplomatic relations. More closures in Southeast or West Asia are anticipated, with increased diplomatic activity expected in Russia. The closures hint at North Korea distancing itself from Africa, with embassies in South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, and Ethiopia taking over certain affairs. Economic challenges and sanctions likely impact these decisions, affecting ties with Senegal and Guinea.

North Korea: Swedish and Swiss Generals Voice Concern Over Panmunjom Activities
On 10 December, Swedish and Swiss military leaders overseeing the armistice at Panmunjom expressed concerns over North Korea’s increased activities following the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) scrapping. Major General Herlitz emphasized the risks without buffer zones, stressing the importance of adhering to rules. Swiss Gen. Burgener noticed heightened soldier presence on North Korea’s side. The CMA’s discontinuation led to reinstalling guard posts and deploying arms within the DMZ. However, both generals affirmed the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission’s (NNSC) impartial mission in observing the armistice. They confirmed their countries’ commitment to the Armistice Agreement. North Korea’s expulsion of NNSC on the northern front remains unresolved, emphasizing the need for dialogue.

South Korea: Enhances surveillance against DPRK threats
On 04 December, South Korea successfully launched a commercial satellite using solid-fuel technology near Jeju Island, bolstering its surveillance against North Korean threats. This launch aids in South Korea’s three-axis defence strategy, focusing on precision strikes and defence mechanisms. The government highlighted its collaboration with Hanwha for the launch. It emphasizes securing autonomous space capabilities for future satellite deployment. Seoul’s recent satellite launch follows its deployment of a military spy satellite through SpaceX. Analysts view these efforts as crucial for monitoring North Korea’s activities, bridging surveillance gaps. North Korea’s recent satellite launch prompted concerns, sparking discussions about satellite capabilities and defensive strategies.

South Korea: US Congress unveils defence bill
On 07 December, negotiators released the 2024 National Defence Authorization Act, aiming to retain 28,500 US troops in South Korea. Additionally, it also aims to enhance nuclear coordination between Seoul and Washington. The bill, vital for defence policy and funding, reaffirms US commitment to South Korea’s defence capabilities and underscores the maintenance of troops in the region. It emphasizes deeper nuclear deterrence collaboration, echoing the Washington Declaration between South Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol and US President Joe Biden. The bill seeks clarity on wartime operational control transition conditions, requiring reports and notifications ahead of any transfer. This bipartisan draft elevates the national defence budget by three per cent, urging swift passage and Biden’s approval.

South Korea: US International Trade Commission rules in favor of Samsung in patent dispute
On 07 November, Seoul’s Samsung Electronics revealed the verdict by US International Trade Commission (ITC), favoring Samsung Electronics and Samsung SDS in a patent infringement lawsuit. The lawsuit is concerned with outdoor electronic displays. The ITC’s decision followed Atlanta-based Manufacturing Resources International’s claims of patent violation against the South Korean giants. Manufacturing Resources International (MRI) alleged infringement on five patents related to cooling systems in outdoor digital displays. Seeking exclusion and cessation orders against Samsung, MRI’s complaint triggered the investigation. The ITC’s preliminary decision typically precedes a final ruling within six months, anticipated to align with Samsung’s expectations. The company was unavailable for immediate comment on the matter.

South Korea: Attorney Paek Kee-bong being elected as ICC judge
On 06 December, a South Korean attorney, Paek Kee-bong, secured a position as an International Criminal Court (ICC) judge, marking the third Korean elected to this role. His nine-year tenure, from 2024 to 2033, was confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the Assembly of States Parties in New York elected six new judges. Paek’s election involved obtaining 83 votes, exceeding the required two-thirds majority among 123 country representatives. With vast expertise in international criminal law, he aimed to contribute significantly to ICC objectives, leveraging his experience in legal practice and technology. South Korea now boasts its third ICC judge since the court’s inception in 2002.

South Korea: Requests flag correction at COP28 website
On 06 December, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged the UAE to rectify a misrepresentation on the COP28 site. It displayed North Korea’s flag instead of South Korea’s. The mistake occurred in a list of 38 countries engaged in recognizing renewable energy certification schemes. Following South Korea’s complaint, the UAE removed all national flag images. The UAE assured an investigation into the error and committed to sharing findings. The COP28 climate discussions commenced in Dubai, lasting 13 days. Despite technical war status since the 1950s, both Koreas are in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Japan: Kadokawa Corp halts release of controversial transgender book translation
On 05 December, Kadokawa Corp, a Japanese publisher announced its decision to suspend publishing the Japanese version of “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” by Abigail Shrier. The Tokyo-based company withdrew the 24 January 2024 release due to the title and sales copy, seen as hurtful to the transgender community. The initial Japanese title and sales pitch raised concerns, containing phrases like “tragedy of the sex-change craze” and “cruel facts.” The company aimed to spark gender discussions but acknowledged inadvertently causing harm. Kadokawa expressed regret but did not specify which phrases were considered harmful.

Japan: Weighs delaying Mars Moon sample retrieval project due to rocket issues
On 04 December, Japan Today revealed Japan’s consideration of postponing the Martian Moons Exploration project from 2024 to 2026 due to complications with the H3 rocket. The move will impact the mission’s arrival during the 2025 World Exposition in Osaka. The H3 rocket faced setbacks after its inaugural launch failure in March, causing the loss of a crucial satellite. Modifications for the second H3 launch, slated by March 2024, are underway. The mission’s rescheduling faces challenges due to Mars’ orbital distance variations. Despite potential delays, Japan aims to collect the first Martian moon samples, rivalling efforts by the US, Europe, and China. 

Australia: Anthony Albanese calls for migration reduction in amid tight labour market
On 09 December, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese declared the need to scale back Australia’s migration intake, aiming for a sustainable level due to the strained labour market. Plans for migration system changes were announced, focusing on expediting entry for skilled workers and streamlining permanent residency pathways. Albanese cited a broken system, expressing the necessity for a revamped approach that benefits Australia’s skill needs. The centre-left government had pledged earlier to combat visa system abuses related to human trafficking and organized crime. Efforts were also directed at facilitating quicker visa processes for skilled professionals and retaining international students.

Australia: Strengthen security ties amid regional dynamics with Papua New Guinea
On 07 December, Albanese and Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape signed a security pact, emphasizing the closeness between Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG). The deal aimed to fortify PNG’s internal security, encompassing policing, defence, and judiciary support as the country aims for economic growth. Amid strategic interests of China and the US, PNG recently struck a defence agreement with the US and is expanding trade with China. Marape stressed a non-aligned foreign policy, calling both countries “brother and sister.” The pact aimed to enhance mutual support while recognizing historical ties and shared interests. The accord included provisions for police training, infrastructure, and regional security consultations.

South Asia This Week
Afghanistan: UN Conference held on “Accountability for Crimes Committed in Afghanistan”
On 09 December, Tolo News reported that a UN conference for “Accountability for Crimes Committed in Afghanistan” was held on 08 December. The Conference highlighted the lack of accountability for crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan. Referring to the conference the UN special rapporteur for Afghanistan, Richard Bennett stated,  “I really like to stress the importance of this event, as accountability is the bedrock of the human rights system and Afghanistan has been experiencing impunity for decades ... for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.” The Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Andreas Lovold, emphasized the importance of creating a platform for Afghan women and facilitating their participation wherever possible. In response, the Islamic Emirate put the onus of crimes against humanity on the US and its allies and called for accountability.

Central Asia This Week
Kazakhstan: President Tokayev signs human rights action plan
On 08 December, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev issued a new presidential proclamation outlining the country’s action plan on human rights and the rule of law. According to him, the new order contemplates the formation of strong structures committed to maintaining free association, protecting workers’ rights, and improving marginalized populations in the country. He stated, “This action plan aims to promote gender equality, combat any forms of domestic violence, enhance the performance of the criminal justice system, and prevent torture and ill-treatment.”

The Middle East This Week
Iran: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visits Moscow
On 07 December, Aljazeera reported that the President Ebrahim Raisi was hosted by the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. They both discussed the situation in Gaza and the Palestinian territories. While President Raisi termed the situation as “genocide” and “a crime against humanity”, President Putin blamed the situation on the failure of US diplomacy in the region. He also suggested Russia as a potential mediator in the ongoing Hamas-Israel conflict. This latest development comes amidst the US raising concerns about the increasing military cooperation between Iran and Russia.

Yemen: WFP stops food distribution in Yemen
On 06 December, the World Food Organization (WEF) announced that it would halt food distribution in parts of war-torn Yemen held by Houthi rebels, affecting millions of people. According to the World Food operation, the “pause” was caused by a lack of funds and a lack of agreement with rebel authorities on downscaling the operation to meet the agency’s resources. The WFP stated, “This difficult decision, made in consultation with donors, comes after nearly a year of negotiations, during which no agreement was reached to reduce the number of people served from 9.5 million to 6.5 million.”

Armenia: Armenia and Azerbaijan announce an agreement to swap POWs and work toward a peace accord
On 07 December, the EU lauded the agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan to swap prisoners of war and work toward signing a peace treaty as a big step toward peace in the long-troubled area. In a joint statement, the two countries stated: “They share the view that there is a historical chance to achieve long-awaited peace.” They further stated: “They want “to normalize relations and to reach the peace treaty based on respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Africa This Week
Africa: Tariff-free deal with China
On 08 December, six African countries including Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Mali, Madagascar and Mauritania signed a tariff-free deal with China. The new policy of China is expected to come into effect on 25 December. China’s Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council stated that the effort is proof of “the spirit of China-Africa friendship and cooperation,” leading to “a high-quality China-Africa community with a shared future.” According to the South China Morning Post, currently, 20 other African countries have a similar deal with China.

South Africa: Zimbabwe and Botswana to sign passport-free travel deal
On 08 December, Zimbabwe and Botswana announced a passport-free travel deal to be signed in 2024. The move adds to the wave of African countries easing travel restrictions. Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa stated: “The two of us have agreed because we are African. We should be able to walk into Botswana, walk into Zambia, walk into Kenya. Why should we restrict ourselves?” He added: “We impose constraints on ourselves which are more colonial than they are patriotic, so we agreed that he (President Masisi) himself on his side and myself on my side are going to instruct the relevant departments to ease these constraints of movement of people between our two countries.”

West Africa: Mali and Niger to revoke tax agreements with France
On 06 December, the military governments of Mali and Niger announced plans to halt decades-long tax agreements with France. The junta’s of the respective countries jointly stated they are ending the agreements over “France’s persistent hostile attitude” and “the unbalanced nature of these agreements, which result in a considerable loss of revenue for Mali and Niger.” The tax agreement between France and Mali was signed in 1972; the deal with Niger was signed in 1965. The deals prevented Malian and Nigerian citizens living in France from paying taxes in two countries. In 2022, Burkina Faso revoked a similar deal with France. 

Europe This Week
Ireland: Students launch its first satellite
On 01 December, students from Unversity College Dublin (UCD) with support from the European Space Agency (ESA) built a CubeSat called EIRSAT-1 and were successful in launching it. The project involving more than 50 students created a two-unit CubeSat with three experiments and became the first satellite launched by Ireland through SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in the US. EIRSAT-1, among the three experiments is the GMOD gamma ray burst detector to investigate the explosions in the universe such as the stars when they reach the end of life cycle or merge into black holes. It will also conduct tests on “satellite protection in space.”

Italy: Withdraws from China’s BRI project
On 08 December, Prime Minister Georgia Meloni announced the government’s decision to withdraw from China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Italy being the only country that signed for BRI in 2019 was criticised by the US and other European countries. China’s BRI was launched in 2013 to boost investment in Asia and Europe and projects including railway and ports. In response to Italy’s decision, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Ning, said: “China firmly opposes smearing that damages Belt and Road co-operation.” Meloni emphasised that despite the withdrawal, it will seek to maintain relations with China. Till 2022, Italy’s exports will be worth EUR 16.4 billion with China compared to EUR 13 billion in 2019.

Americas This Week
Venezuela: Maduro instructs companies to exploit resources in Essequibo
On 05 December, President Nicolás Maduro instructed national companies to “immediately” begin tapping into resources in Guyana’s western Essequibo region, which is currently amid a border dispute. Maduro said that he would “grant operating licences for the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and mines in the entire area of our Essequibo.” Since the region was a part of Venezuela during the Spanish colonial period, it has been a historically disputed area, and Venezuela still considers the oil-rich region to be its own.

Guyana: UNSC holds meeting on border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela
On 08 December, following a letter to the UNSC president from Guyana’s Foreign Minister, Hugh Hilton, and Venezuela’s referendum through which it claimed Guyana’s Essequibo region as its own, the UNSC held an emergency closed meeting. Hilton said that Venezuela has not respected the formal border demarcation of 1905 since 1962, and that the referendum held on 03 December through which Venezuela’s president ordered state-owned companies to begin exploration in the region, has furthered tensions. He further described the president’s actions as “flagrant violations of the court’s order, which is legally binding on the parties.” The verdict of the UNSC is still not known.

The US: House of Representatives passes resolution linking anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism
On 05 December, the House of Representatives passed a congressional resolution by 311-14, through which anti-Zionism is equated with anti-Semitism, and is described as a “dangerous” distraction from the Gaza war. The resolution was targeted towards addressing the “drastic rise of anti-Semitism” globally, and condemned the popularised slogan “From the River to the Sea,” a call for historical equality in Palestine described by the resolution as a “rallying cry” that sought to eradicate Israel and the “Jewish people.” In response to the resolution, pro-Palestinians have said that it “sets a really, really bad precedent,” and aims to “criminalise” their “call for justice and peace and equality.”

The US: New funding to Ukraine and Israel blocked by Republicans
On 07 December, Al Jazeera reported that the Republicans blocked USD 106 billion worth funding to Ukraine and Israel, in a show of anger over the exclusion of immigration reforms that were to be a part of the package.US President Joe Biden had earlier urged the Congress to pass the measure, saying that the failure to do so would have negative consequences for Ukraine, given the onset of winter. Biden stated: “They’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process.” However, Republicans have maintained a strong stance in blaming Biden’s administration for lack of action over increased border crossings from Mexico, saying that the US is “completely out of control at the southern border, and it’s time to resolve this.”

About the authors
Anu Maria, Dhriti Mukherjee, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Rishika Yadav and Shamini Velayudham are the Research Assistants at NIAS, Bengaluru. Rohini Reenum is a PhD scholar from NIAS, Bengaluru.

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