The World This Week

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The World This Week
Cases of COVID-19 Sub-variant in China

  GP Team

The World This Week #243, Vol. 5, No. 47
17 November 2023

Regional Round-ups
News from around the World

Anu Maria, Dhriti Mukherjee, Madhuri Nagendra Reddy, Padmashree Anandhan, Rishika Yadav, Rohini Reenum, Vetriselvi Baskaran, and Shamini Velayudham

China This Week

China: Detects cases of COVID-19 sub-variant JN.1
On 16 December, The Straits Times reported that China has identified seven cases of the COVID-19 sub-variant JN.1. It is according to the National Disease Control and Prevention Administration. Although the prevalence of JN.1 is currently described as “very low,” authorities acknowledge the possibility of it becoming the dominant strain in China, particularly due to factors like imported cases. In the US, estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that JN.1 accounts for over one-fifth of all cases. The CDC suggests that JN.1 may be more transmissible and adapt at evading immune responses, leading to a rise in its proportion of total cases. JN.1 is closely related to the BA.2.86 sub-variant, which the CDC has monitored since August. Initially identified in Luxembourg, JN.1 has since spread to Britain, Iceland, France, and the US. The CDC emphasized that there is currently no evidence indicating an increased risk to public health from JN.1 compared to other circulating variants, and updated vaccines should provide protection.

China: To conduct sea trials for deep-sea research drilling vessel
On 18 December, The Straits Times reported that China is set to conduct sea trials for its first ocean research drilling vessel, the Meng Xiang. The vessel is capable of drilling at depths of more than 10,000 metres. The vessel represents a significant step toward enhancing China’s deep-sea oil and gas exploration capabilities. The Meng Xiang is the country’s first vessel designed for ultra-deep-water research and drilling, with the ability to drill as deep as 11,000 metres below sea level. It can travel 15,000 nautical miles and operate continuously for 120 days without returning to port. The vessel’s sea trials come amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, a resource-rich region claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. The Philippines and China have recently exchanged accusations over encounters between their ships in the disputed waters. China’s deep-sea drilling capabilities have strategic implications regarding its energy security and territorial claims in the South China Sea.

China: To update climate commitments after COP28 with US
On 14 December, Global Times reported that China and the US have committed to updating their respective nationally determined contributions (NDCs). According to China’s special envoy for climate change affairs, Xie Zhenhua, the contributions align with the Paris Agreement requirements following the success of COP28. The commitment was made during COP28 in Dubai, where the two countries worked together to support the success of the conference and addressed negotiations deadlock. The update of the long-term strategies for climate action will be based on evaluations by China and the US. In addition to the climate commitments, the two countries agreed to launch joint working groups on climate change, focusing on areas such as energy transition, circular economy, methane, and low-carbon sustainable provinces, states, and cities. Xie and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry also emphasized the importance of developing and updating long-term strategies to reduce emissions and enhance resilience, aligning with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the global stocktake.

East Asia and the Pacific This Week

North Korea: Flight to China resumes after four-year Hiatus
On 14 December, NK News announced that an Air Koryo jet landed in Shenyang, marking the first passenger flight from Pyongyang in four years. The Tu-204-100B picked up North Koreans working in Liaoning Province and returned to Pyongyang. International flights halted in 2020 due to COVID-19; exceptions included cargo flights for medical supplies. The airline hinted at more trips to Shenyang but has not confirmed regular services. Shenyang’s significance included its rail connections and a sizable North Korean population. Another rare domestic flight, possibly to Wonsan, coincided with Russian delegates’ visit to discuss tourism and economic ties.

North Korea: Russian delegation visits Pyongyang for talks
On 11 December, Governor of Primorsky Krai Oleg Kozhemyako, led the Russian Far East delegation to Pyongyang. Welcomed by Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) officials, the group attended a banquet hosted by North Korea’s Ministry of External Economic Relations. Discussions focus on tourism revival, trade, and educational ties. Analysts hint at North Korean labor potentially working in Russia. Kozhemyako’s visit coincided with an Air Koryo flight from Vladivostok to Pyongyang, possibly carrying North Koreans returning after pandemic-related border closures. The trip aligned with Moscow’s efforts to strengthen ties with Pyongyang.

South Korea: Philippine legislators join Sunfull Internet Peace Movement
On 13 December, the Sunfull Foundation announced the collaboration between Philippines' House of Representatives members and the Sunfull Internet Peace Movement to foster a positive online environment. Led by the Ambassador of the Sunfull Foundation’s Philippine, Marissa Magsino, the movement was aimed to expand its reach within the Congress, advocating for a language of positivity. Magsino highlighted the campaign’s role in cultivating respectful online behaviour and promoting constructive politics. The foundation, countering cyberbullying and championing human rights, received support from the Philippines Ambassador to Korea, Maria Theresa B. Dizon-DeVega, emphasising shared values. Sunfull Foundation’s Chair, Min Byoung-chul, hopes for the movement’s growth in the Philippines, fostering positive online interactions and cultural exchange.

South Korea: Strengthen defence ties with the Netherlands
On 14 December, the Ministry of National Defence reported Vice Defence Minister Kim Seon-ho’s discussions with the Netherlands’ Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren in The Hague. Their meeting aimed to fortify security links and arms industry cooperation. The talks led to plans for South Korea to participate in a 2025 missile defence exercise alongside Dutch and German troops. President Yoon Suk Yeol’s state visit further solidified the countries’ cooperation, highlighted by a joint statement with the Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte. They emphasised expanding defence collaboration, particularly in AI-based defence technologies. Both sides acknowledged the need for a joint defence logistics committee, following a revised bilateral memorandum in June. The countries sealed the discussions with an MOU on comprehensive defence cooperation.

South Korea: Shin Won-sik expands ties with NATO delegation
On 13 December, the Ministry of National Defence reported Shin’s meeting with representatives from eight NATO member states who visited Seoul for three days. The NATO member states included, US, UK, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Romania, and Poland. This visit, rare for a non-NATO member like South Korea, aimed to strengthen regional security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Shin highlighted the need for global coordination to address North Korea’s provocations, emphasising a unified response from the international community, including NATO, against threats to South Korea. He stressed the resolve of the South Korea-US alliance alongside international support to counter potential threats.

Australia: Anthony Albanese applauds US Congress approval for AUKUS submarines
On 14 December, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese praised the US Congress for passing a defence bill that greenlit the sale of nuclear-powered submarines. He emphasised a milestone enabling the AUKUS partnership with the US and UK. Over 100 US lawmakers were engaged to secure the legislation, crucial for Australia’s national security. The AUKUS project, Australia’s largest defence endeavour at USD 244 billion, required US consent for sensitive technology sharing. Australia is aimed for an operational Australian-flagged nuclear submarine by the early 2030s as it phases out its current fleet. Albanese advocated for this legislation during his October visit to Washington.

South Asia This Week

Afghanistan: Iran has deported over 345,000 Afghan refugees in the last three months
On 11 December, Tolo News reported that over 345,000 Afghan refugees have been deported by Iran in the last three months. The information was provided by Abdul Rahman Rashid, Deputy Minister of Refugees and Repatriation. He stated: “…Each family have been provided with 10,000 Afs cash assistance by the Islamic Emirate.” TOLO News also interviewed some of the Afghan deportees who claimed mistreatment and harassment by the Iranian forces. They also implored the Taliban government in Afghanistan to create employment in the country so that they are not forced to migrate to other countries. It is important to note that Iran, along with Pakistan, hosts a sizable number of Afghan refugees and immigrants.

Afghanistan: Arrests 40 members of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan since 2022
On December 16, TOLO News reported on the arrests of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members. The Ministry of Interior of the Islamic Emirate revealed for the first time that nearly forty members of the TTP were arrested and imprisoned across the country in 2022. Abdul Mateen Qani, the spokesperson for the ministry stated that this was done because the Taliban regime in Afghanistan wants to maintain good relations with its neighbours and will not allow terrorists to use Afghanistan’s soil. He further stated: “Today, there is no group operating in Afghanistan. There are many Daesh captives with us, and around 35 to 40 TTP are imprisoned by us.” He also promised future action against an individual or group that will try to disturb the peace and security in the country.

Pakistan: Detects imported strain of poliovirus in six samples
On 14 December, Dawn reported that the Regional Reference Laboratory for Polio Eradication at the National Institute of Health had found wild poliovirus type-1 (WPV1). It was found in six environmental samples collected from five different districts of the country.  The samples were collected between 13-20 November from Quetta, Malir (Karachi), Peshawar, Hub and Tank districts. One way to determine the effectiveness of polio campaigns in a region is by examining sewage water samples from that area. In this case, the virus is identified as an imported strain. The Health Minister, Dr Nadeem Jan, emphasised the risk of poliovirus transmission across borders and pointed out that among 90 positive sewage samples in 2022, the imported strain has been found in 84 cases.

Pakistan: Pakistan pitches for an investigation into the source of TTP weapons
On 17 December, Dawn reported that Pakistan’s Deputy Permanent Representative, Usman Jadoon, urged for an investigation into the process of procurement of modern weaponry by the banned TTP.  It was during an open debate within the UNSC discussing the threat arising from diversion, illicit trafficking, and improper use of small arms and light weapons. TTP has claimed responsibility for several terror attacks in Pakistan. Jadoon argued that terror groups do not manufacture arms but acquire it through illicit arms markets. Hence, it is important to investigate the source of these.

Bangladesh: Continuing dengue fatalities
On 11 December, Dhaka Tribune reported the country had reported nine more deaths within 24 hours, 459 more patients were hospitalised. It is according to the statement by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). DGHS further reported that in 2022 alone 317,232 people reported dengue cases and 313,280  recovered from the viral fever. On 04 December, Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Zahid Maleque, blamed climate change as the reason for the ongoing dengue crisis and the other vector-borne diseases.

India: Bilateral talks with Oman
On 16 December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held bilateral talks with the Sultanate of Oman in Delhi, Haitham Bin Tarik. The strategic partners were said to have discussed enhancing cooperation, especially on trade and investments. The move was brought up after the Sultan of Oman visited India on his first state visit. External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Arindam Baghchi said in a post on X precedent, “Agenda includes taking stock of bilateral ties and charting pathways for future collaborations.” The two are anticipated to finalise discussions for comprehensive free trade, having bilateral enhancement as an objective.

The Middle East This Week

Iran: Narges Mohammadi’s children accept the Nobel Peace Prize
On 10 December, Aljazeera reported that the children of Narges Mohammadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2023, have accepted the prize on her behalf. Her seat was symbolically left empty. Mohammadi has fought against the compulsory wearing of the hijab and the death penalty. She has been incarcerated in the Evin Prison in Tehran since 2021. In a speech smuggled out of prison for the occasion, she denounced the “tyrannical and anti-women religious” government in Iran and stated that the government of Iran is isolating its own people. She said in her speech that she is hopeful that the “the Iranian people will dismantle obstruction and despotism through their persistence.”

Iran: Mohammad Reza Ashtiani reacts strongly to the US’ proposed task force in Red Sea
On 14 December, Aljazeera reported Defence Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani’s strong reaction to the US plan to deploy a multinational task force in the Red Sea. He warned the US of “significant challenges” it would encounter. Ashtiani asserted the region’s dominance, stating: “No one can act freely in an area where we hold significant influence.” The US recently disclosed discussions with other countries to establish a twelve country maritime task force. It is aimed at securing communication routes in the Red Sea following attacks on multiple ships by Yemen’s Houthis. These attacks intensified as a response to Israel’s strikes on Gaza, particularly targeting vessels navigating through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu hints at new hostage negotiations with Hamas
On 16 December, Aljazeera reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted at ongoing negotiations to recover hostages held by Hamas. In a press conference, Netanyahu described the conflict as an “existential war” and stressed the need to fight until victory despite the challenges. He pledged to maintain intense military pressure on Hamas, emphasising its role in achieving a partial hostage-release deal in November. Netanyahu’s comments followed a meeting between the chief of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, and the Prime Minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, a mediator between Israel and Hamas. Netanyahu confirmed instructing the negotiation team but sidestepped questions about the meeting. Hamas later affirmed its stance not to engage in negotiations unless aggression ceases. The recent unintentional killing of three hostages by Israeli forces added complexity to the situation. Talks for a potential new truce are reportedly underway.

Armenia: Alexey Overchuk assures allies
On 15 December, according to Armenpress, the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Alexey Overchuk lauded Armenia and Russia for establishing and maintaining good diplomatic ties that come with mutual respect. The move came during the intergovernmental session on economic cooperation between the Republic of Armenia and Russia. The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk, stated: “We and Armenia are allies. Certainly, the high dynamics of our allied cooperation is due to intensive and reliable dialogue at the highest level.”

Africa This Week

Kenya: Deal with Saudi Arabia securing 2,500 jobs
On 15 December, Kenya reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia allocating jobs for skilled workers and nurses in Saudi Arabia. Around 2,500 workers are expected to be given deployment during the first phase. Kenyan President, William Ruto, stated: “Previously, we only sent domestic workers, but now we can export skilled labour to Saudi Arabia and other countries.” The development comes a week after Kenya’s Ministry of Labour stated that it will send 1,500 workers to Israel. In November, Ruto visited Germany in a bid to secure 200,000 jobs for Kenyans.

Niger: ECOWAS officially suspends country’s membership
On 15 December, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) officially suspended Niger’s membership in the bloc. The move comes after the ruling military government refused to reinstate deposed President Mohamed Bazoum. On 11 December, ECOWAS stated that it will not revoke sanctions imposed on Niger after the junta rejected to free the ousted president.

Somalia: Formally joins East African Community
On 15 December, Somalia formally joined the East African Community (EAC) as the bloc’s eighth member. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud signed the agreement during the ceremony which was presided over by current EAC chair and South Sudan President, Salva Kiir, in Uganda. Mohamud stated that Somalia’s entry into the bloc is a “beacon of hope for a future filled with possibilities.”

Europe This Week

Europe: Hungary blocks financial aid to Ukraine
On 14 December, ahead of the EU summit, the European Commission unblocked EUR 10 billion in funds for Hungary. The move was seen as a bribe to make Hungary remove the veto for Ukraine’s EU membership and financial aid, which amounts to EUR 50 billion. European Council President, Charles Michel disclosed the EU’s agreement to open talks on Ukraine’s EU membership decision. In response, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe.”

Ukraine: Border reopened after blockade since November
On 11 December, Ukraine confirmed the re-opening of the border between Ukraine and Poland. The border crossing considered the largest crossing point opened back after a month’s blockade by Poland’s truck protestors. Blockade which began in November at four border crossings demanding an entry permit to the EU, the local authorities cancelled the permit to protest based on the effect of demonstrations on Poland’s companies. Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov confirmed the reopening of Yahodyn-Dorogusk checkpoint.

Poland: Donald Tusk elected as prime minister after success in forming coalition
On 11 December, the recent parliamentary elections saw Donald Tusk, leader of the centrist party, Civic Platform, elected as prime minister. It was followed by a coalition victory involving left-wing to moderately conservative parties. Tusk’s ascent followed the rejection of acting Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki. It took place despite Morawiecki’s nomination after the Law and Justice party (PiS) lost its majority, Tusk’s appointment became possible as the largest opposition coalition formed an alliance. Tusk, focusing on pro-EU policies, is aimed to repair strained ties with the EU, seeking to unlock frozen EU funds amidst ongoing disputes over Poland’s rule of law.

Russia: Putin conducts first year-end press conference
On 14 December, President Vladimir Putin held the first year-end press conference since the war in Ukraine. During the conference, Putin said: “There will be peace when we achieve our goals. They are not changing.” On the battlefield strength and mobilisation, close to 617, 000 troops are estimated to be on the ground, and 486,000 soldiers have signed contracts till now. Apart from this, thousands of convicts were reportedly recruited into the mercenary group. On reporting the ground situation and Russian forces position, Putin stated that the forces have strengthened their stance at all fronts, meanwhile attempting to secure a stance in the east back on the Dnipro River in the Kherson region.

Americas This Week

Chile: Rejects conservative constitution, maintaining Pinochet-era text
On 17 December, ballots showed that more than 55 per cent of Chileans voted against a proposed conservative constitution, preserving the existing Pinochet-era text. The rejected constitution, drafted by a conservative-dominated committee, aimed to reinforce property rights, free-market principles, and include limits on immigration and abortion. President Gabriel Boric, acknowledging a polarized nation, urged citizens to “build together a new era for Chile: growth for all, social justice, and citizen security.” Republican Party leader Jose Antonio Kast expressed disappointment, stating, “We failed in the effort to convince Chileans that this would be a better constitution than the existing one.”

Argentina: Plans over 50 per cent Peso devaluation and austerity measures
On 12 December, new far-right president, Javier Milei, announced a more than 50 per cent devaluation of the peso against the US dollar and other austerity measures to tackle the country’s severe economic crisis. Economy Minister Luis Caputo revealed the devaluation would drop the peso’s value from 400 to over 800 against the dollar. The measures also include subsidy cuts, cancellation of public works tenders, and the elimination of nine government ministries. The government plans to double social spending for the poorest to mitigate the economic shock. Progressive activists criticised the move, while the IMF praised it.

The US: Financial regulators cite AI as a risk to the financial system
On 15 December, Al Jazeera reported that the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) in the US has identified artificial intelligence (AI) as a potential risk to the financial system for the first time. In its annual report, the FSOC acknowledged the benefits of AI, such as cost reduction and improved efficiency, but emphasised that it also introduces risks, including cyber and model risks. The council highlighted the need to monitor AI developments to ensure oversight mechanisms address emerging risks while promoting efficiency and innovation. Further, authorities should “deepen expertise and capacity.” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen emphasised the role of the FSOC in monitoring emerging risks associated with AI and supporting responsible innovation.

The US: House votes to launch formal impeachment inquiry into Biden
On 13 December, the US House of Representatives, with a Republican majority, voted 221-212 to initiate a formal impeachment inquiry into US President Joe Biden. The investigation is centred around whether Biden improperly benefited from his son, Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings. The vote followed the refusal of Hunter Biden to testify behind closed doors. The White House dismissed the initiative as politically motivated, and President Biden condemned the vote, emphasising the lack of factual support. While the impeachment effort is unlikely to remove Biden from office, it raises ethical questions amid an ongoing investigation. In response to the vote, Biden stated: “Instead of doing their job on the urgent work that needs to be done, they [Republicans] are choosing to waste time on this baseless political stunt that even Republicans in Congress admit is not supported by facts.”

About the authors
Anu Maria, Dhriti Mukherjee, Padmashree Anandhan, Rishika Yadav and Shamini Velayudham are Research Assistants at NIAS, Bengaluru. Rohini Reenum is PhD scholar at NIAS, Bengaluru. Madhuri Nagendra Reddy and Vetriselvi Baskaran are postgraduate scholars from Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras, Chennai.

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