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The World This Week
Xi Jinping’s New Year Eve’s Speech: Six Takeaways

  GP Team

The World This Week #247, Vol. 6, No.1
07 January 2024

Xi Jinping’s New Year Eve’s Speech: Six Takeaways
Akhil Ajith

What happened?
On 31 December, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered his 2024 New Year speech to the entire country through China Media Group and other official media outlets. The speech is an annual customary practice in which Xi Jinping highlights the key points of success in the previous year and the plans to be implemented ahead in the forthcoming year 2024.

His speech focused on the country’s progress till date and the concerns which it faced in the form of challenges. His speech underscored the achievements made in the previous year encompassing the realistic achievements and exaggerated claims.  For the upcoming year, Xi Jinping through his speech highlighted the roadmap for the year 2024 to be achieved for the China’s greater prosperity and stability.

Key takeaways from Xi Jinping's New Year Eve's speech:
1. Xi Jinping’s acknowledgement of China’s economic crisis and its recovery
Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, and its Zero-covid policy has caused the Chinese economy to dwindle. However, the very acknowledgment of Chinese leadership on its struggling economy, which we do not hear often, is very important. His further acknowledgment of businesses facing hardships indicates the recent real estate crisis that halted China’s economic growth, with companies such as Evergrande and Country Garden failing to pay their debt. His remark on recovery is highly doubtful as the Chinese economy continues to face deep structural issues, and President Xi Jinping’s consolidation of political control threatens to dampen growth.

2. Xi Jinping’s calls Taiwan reunification “Inevitable” amid the Taiwan Elections
The statement for Taiwan's re-unification is familiar, considering it was the same in previous years. However, its timing is noteworthy amid the upcoming Taiwanese elections on 13 January 2024. It accentuates the significance of the potential impact of such remarks on the voting patterns in Taiwan, which favors the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over the Kuomintang (KMT). Also, Xi Jinping mentions Hong Kong and Macau alongside Taiwan, which indicates that Beijing is likely to adopt a Hong Kong-like one-country and two-systems model for Taiwan. However, such an idea was rejected by the majority of the Taiwanese due to the sudden erosion of democracy and protest rights in Hong Kong. Also, China is concerned about the current government's stance on the Taiwanese striving towards an official independence declaration, which will contradict China's sovereignty claims. With Xi Jinping in power, China has become more aggressive in its stance to claim its sovereignty over the island. Since Xi Jinping came to power, China has ramped up its military aggression against Taiwan by ending warplanes, ships, and balloons across the Taiwan Strait. The intensity of the dispute will depend upon the progress and the results of the upcoming Taiwan presidential and parliamentary elections.

3. Modernization and Innovation as a driving force of modern China
The drive for modernization and innovation is critical amid the growing concerns about China’s economic decline. The main reason for such remarks is due to the ongoing De-coupling trend and China Plus One strategy. With the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s growing economic weaponization of rare earth materials, countries are increasingly striving to secure their economy by creating alternate supply chains and value chains to mitigate the dependency risk on one country. Also, the growing US and Western restrictions on crucial and emerging technologies are driving Xi’s push toward modernization.  His calls for innovation and modernization reflect the urgency for the Chinese economy to make itself more adaptable and resilient to make China a greater economic power.

4. Taking pride in China's identity and nationalism
The reference to China’s civilizational history and cultural evolution signifies that the party and the leadership are trying to revive the patriotism and nationalism within the people which were affected by the multiple internal crises. China intends to link history with “national rejuvenation” which was made in the previous years as part of the leadership’s desire to boost China’s rising international influence. The Chinese Dream is a part of these efforts to reflect China’s greatness. The use of history and culture is seen as a way to revive the confidence and trust among the people towards the leadership and the party to achieve its global stature.

5. China's Continued attempts to project itself as a responsible major power
China intends to boost its international stature through its foreign policy by shouldering more responsibilities. This is visible by the launching of the China-Central Asia Summit, the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the Chengdu FISU World University Games, and the Hangzhou Asian Games. China also intends to gather the support of the Global South to advance its global ambitions to project itself as a trustworthy and reliable partner towards better global governance. However, the omission of the growing US-China rivalry and the tensions in the South China Sea raises doubts about China’s claims of the so-called projected responsible stakeholder image that China has been trying to portray.

6. Boosting people's morale towards national unity
The upcoming 75th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China is being used by the leadership and the state-owned media to project that China will overcome all the challenges, whether internally or externally. And especially under Xi’s leadership, China is destined for growth, success, and dominance.

TWTW Regional Round-ups
News from around the World

Akriti Sharma, Rohini Reenum, Dhriti Mukherjee, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Rishika Yadav and Shamini Velayutham, Akhil Ajith, Arun S, Narmatha S, Gopi Keshav.  
Siva Barathi S, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Navinan GV, Sanjay Manivannan, Annem Naga Bindhu Madhuri, Eddula Varshitha, Yogeswari S, Nuha Aamina, Alka Bala and Daleeya Dehingia.

China This Week
China: Booming EV industry, a threat to the West 
On 06 January, the Financial Times reported that the Chinese Electric Vehicle industry’s trajectory can challenge the West in the future. The final quarter 2023 report of BYD company is backed by Warren Buffet’s group outsold Tesla. The hike in sales is accounted for by the domestic market and not international. It is reckoned that BYD will use its regional operations in Hungary and Mexico to infiltrate the Western market. Chief executive of Dunne Insights Asia-focused car consultancy Michael Dunne said: “Boardrooms in America, Europe, Korea and Japan are in a state of shock… No one can match BYD on price. Period.” The report has sent shock waves in the industry as the possibility of Chinese dominance poses a threat with their pocket-friendly alternative. The US has already imposed heavy tariffs on China-based EV products and the European Union is said to follow suit with the US. 

China: Country Garden’s sales dipped in 2023
On 05 January, according to Nikkei Asia, the Chinese property developer Country Garden Holdings sales contracted in 2023, with a sharp decline in December 2023. According to the Hong Kong Exchange, the statistics for December declined by around 70 per cent year on year. The company said that the contracted sales reached 6.1 billion yuan (USD 972.8 million) and 6,80,000 square meters by area which are down by 69 per cent and 76 per cent respectively. Contracted sales are critical funding sources for the company to service debt. Along with China’s Evergrande Group, Country Garden was amongst the distressed developers in China. It had strong financials until 2023 when it began facing a cash crunch. In October 2023, the global industry arbiter Credit Derivatives Determinations Committees acknowledged that Country Garden failed to meet obligations on USD 15.4 million interest payments on USD denominated bonds. 

China: Mainland China journalists face reporting restrictions in Taiwan elections 
On 04 January, according to the South China Morning Post Mainland Chinese journalists covering Taiwan's upcoming elections faced strict reporting restrictions, with short-term permit holders only allowed to observe and prohibited from writing about the elections. This rule, not in place during previous elections, led a South China Morning Post reporter to cancel plans to fly to Taiwan. The restriction raises concerns about press freedom in Taiwan and comes amid heightened distrust between Taipei and Beijing. Mainland academics are also barred from travelling to Taiwan to observe the elections for the first time in decades. Observers attribute these events to cross-strait distrust and suggest the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's lack of confidence may have contributed to the reporting restrictions.

China: Journalists face reporting restrictions in Taiwan elections 
On 04 January, according to South China Morning Post Mainland Chinese journalists covering Taiwan's upcoming elections face strict reporting restrictions, with short-term permit holders only allowed to observe and prohibited from writing about the elections. This rule, not in place during previous elections, led a South China Morning Post reporter to cancel plans to fly to Taiwan. The restriction raises concerns about press freedom in Taiwan and comes amid heightened distrust between Taipei and Beijing. Mainland academics are also barred from traveling to Taiwan to observe the elections for the first time in decades. Observers attribute these events to cross-strait distrust and suggest the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's lack of confidence may contribute to the reporting restrictions. 

China: Premier emphasizes on tech innovation and collaboration 
On 04 January, according to South China Morning Post, Premier Li Qiang stressed the importance of advancing productivity driven by emerging technology during a two-day tour of Hubei province. With a focus on improving collaboration between academia and business, Li visited semiconductor manufacturer Yangtze Memory Technologies Corporation (YMTC) and HGLaser Engineering in Wuhan. He called for more precise and supportive measures to seamlessly turn scientific research into market production. The tour is part of China's broader self-reliance drive in the face of ongoing tech tensions with the United States. Li also emphasized the circular economy model to promote sustainability and urged companies to contribute to China's tech innovation and market confidence.

China: The results of the Taiwanese elections could fuel tensions between the US and China
On 03 January, a Hong Kong-based non-profit China-United States Exchange Foundation published an opinion by the Director of the Institute for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, Shao Yuqun on its website saying that if William Lai Ching-te’s Democratic Party wins, China may decide to respond forcefully to deter groups that support independence. She added, that such a reaction from the mainland may be seen by the United States as China forcing Taiwan’s democratically elected leaders, which may lead the US to adopt a stronger stand and congressional support for Taiwan. Thus, China and the US are caught in an action-reaction cycle which may increase the misinterpretation and misjudging of each other’s policies, she stated. Meanwhile, there are rising tensions between the Philippines and China due to the support of the US to Manila’s activities are adding fuel to the relationship between China and the United States.

China: Unveils its Fujian aircraft carrier’s advanced catapult launching system
On 02 January, the South China Morning Post reported China showcasing its advanced catapult systems on its latest Fujian aircraft carrier. It is the first time the Fujian carrier has been shown since April 2023 after President Xi Jinping’s New Year’s Eve speech. The Fujian’s catapults are powered by electromagnets that will allow more planes to be launched more frequently and with more fuel and munitions. China’s first two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong use ski-jump take-off ramps to launch planes. Other than China, the US is the only other country operating aircraft carriers with such technology. According to the SCMP, this aircraft carrier’s official display could boost the state’s confidence in the vessel’s development. 

China: Thailand upgrades its relationship with visa exemptions
On 02 January, Reuters reported that Thailand Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said Thailand and China will permanently waive visa requirements for each other's citizens from March. Despite being the second-largest Southeast Asian economy, Thailand relies heavily on tourism. In September of last year, Thailand waived entry requirements for Chinese tourists until February this year. The Chinese foreign ministry said both countries were enhancing people-to-people exchanges by mutually exempting the visa requirements. In 2023, Thailand welcomed 2.8 million foreign tourists, slightly above its target, generating 1.2 trillion baht (USD 34.93 billion) of revenue, sitting just below Malaysia which had 4.5 million visitors.

China: Confident in BRICS development: FM 
On 02 January, Global Times reported that China expressed confidence in the future development of BRICS cooperation following the official membership of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iran, and Ethiopia. The expansion of BRICS, originally comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, demonstrates a bright prospect for the cooperation mechanism, according to a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. BRICS, now with 10 member states, aligns with the global trend towards multipolarity, serving the common aspirations of emerging markets and developing countries. China, as a BRICS partner, aims to work with member states to achieve new results and strengthen collective efforts in addressing global challenges.  

China: Xi and Biden exchange New year messages on 45th anniversary of ties 
On 01 January, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden exchanged congratulatory messages on the 45th anniversary of their countries' diplomatic relations. This marked a positive start to the new year for Washington and Beijing's efforts to restore relations that have been strained in recent years. The exchange follows Xi's meetings with North Korea's Kim Jong-un and Russia's Vladimir Putin. In his message, Xi has emphasized the historical significance of the 45 years of China-US relations and the importance of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation. Biden expressed commitment to responsibly managing the relationship and building on progress made by their predecessors. Analysts see the exchange as a positive sign for bilateral relations in 2024. 

Taiwan: Increasing economic concerns Taiwan’s elections
On 03 January, The Straits Times published a news analysis that shares experts' and civilian views on the high inflation, stagnant wages and other economic concerns that are prevailing in Taiwan, and its impact on the upcoming elections on 13 January. A Political Scientist at Taipei’s National Chengchi University Assistant Prof. Huang Jaw-nian said that, though President Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP strengthened Taiwan’s ties with the U.S., on economic matters, the government did not do well and affected the daily lives of the people who have to vote in the elections. Despite that, Tsai’s leadership has shown significant growth in GDP at an average of 3.4 per cent every year, in 2016 it was 17.5 trillion TWD, in 2022 it grew to 23 trillion TWD. The growth is because of the exports of semiconductors and other electric goods during the pandemic. However, the small and average workers in the tech industries did not gain any pay hikes. Since 2021, Taiwan has been facing high inflation with the prices of daily food items. Particularly, the price of eggs has fluctuated due to the rising cost of animal feed and the outbreak of avian flu. Despite the worsening cross-strait ties, Tsai tried to diversify trade and reduce Taiwan’s reliance on China, Taiwan’s largest trading partner. In 2022, the trade is reduced to 39 per cent from 41 per cent in 2017. China is also imposing sanctions on agricultural goods such as mangoes and citrus fruits that are exported from Taiwan. 

Taiwan: The analysis of China’s interference in the elections will be published after the vote, says Taiwan
On 03 January, according to The Economist, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu wrote that Taiwan is taking steps to counter the interference from China in the elections and documenting its experience. The analysis of the interference will be published after the elections and with consultations from international expert. China is making concrete efforts to backdrop the Presidential and Parliamentary elections on 13 January by casting the elections as a choice between war and peace and through military and economic pressures and also claims that Taiwan is its territory. Wu also wrote that Taiwan has to experience a positive contribution to the international order and help the free world fight against the authoritarian powers. He urged the international society to pay more attention to China’s attempts to undermine Taiwan’s democracy through interference, disinformation campaigns and hybrid warfare, especially cyber-attacks. 

East Asia This Week
South Korea: We won’t seek reunification with South Korea, says North Korea
On 01 January, The KCNA news agency reported a declaration by Kim Jong-un saying, North Korea would not look for reunification with South Korea, and the relations had turned into a relationship between two hostile countries. KCNA reported that Korean Peninsula is moving towards an armed conflict, these comments on reunification are significant. According to CNN’s report, as Kim has been increasingly moving away from the inter-Korean relations in recent years. On 31 December KCNA stated that North Korea plans to launch three additional reconnaissance satellites in 2024, as the first launch in 2023 was successful. It will promote the development in the space science and technology domain of North Korea.

Indonesia: The president’s son was summoned by Indonesia's election watchdog for violating campaign rules
On 02 January, an official at Indonesia’s election watchdog Bawaslu, Dimas Trianto Putro said that the Bawaslu in Central Jakarta summoned Gibran Rakabuming Raka for reportedly violating campaign rules by offering free milk to people at a public event “car-free day.” President of Indonesia Joko Widodo’s son Gibran is the running mate of the leading presidential candidate Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto in the 14 February election. Dimas told reporters that they needed to get clarification from Gibran to make sure the allegation was right or not. This act of Gibran violated a 2016 Jakarta gubernatorial regulation that prohibits events for the interests of political parties. A Deputy head of Prabowo’s campaign team Habiburokhman said that Gibran will attend the summon on 03 January.

Australia: New cost of living relief measures, as families suffer, says Prime Minster of Australia
On 03 January, Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese said in a press briefing that a new cost of living measure that takes the pressure off the families and does not affect inflation will be considered by the Treasury and Finance of his centre-left government before the May budget. He added that, if the government just distributed additional cash to people, it will potentially make inflation worse and not help to solve the problem. In an attempt to hold inflation within its target of two to three per cent, the Reserve Bank of Australia had to increase interest rates to a 12-year high of 4.35 per cent. Since May 2023, the RBA has raised interest rates by a whopping 425 basis points. In May 2023, the Albanese-led Labour government rejected calls for further cost-of-living relief after announcing 23 billion AUD as relief. He also said measures were being taken to remove all trade impediments with China.
Australia: East prepares for flooding due to heavy rain, says Bureau of Meteorology
On 01 January, The Straits Times reported that Australia's eastern regions experienced heavy rainfall, leading to flash flooding, compounding the challenges for residents already grappling with the aftermath of intense thunderstorms during the Christmas holidays, as per the Bureau of Meteorology. The north-eastern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland regions experienced a wild weather system, receiving nearly a month's rainfall in 24 hours. The Bureau of Meteorology forecasted more heavy rain until 02 January, with expected totals surpassing 250mm, exceeding the January average. Forecaster Ms Miriam Bradbury warned of the dangerous and dynamic situation, emphasizing the risk of life-threatening flash flooding, particularly with thunderstorms. Thousands of Queensland residents remain powerless from previous thunderstorms, and the latest storms may further delay reconnection efforts. 

North Korea: aims to mechanize agriculture for food security
On 03 January, The Straits Times reported that, according to state media, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has emphasized the need for a "radical improvement" in the country's farm machinery sector to address chronic food shortages. During a farm machine exhibition visit, Kim stressed the importance of developing a long-term plan for mechanizing agricultural work to facilitate rural development. Kim's directive aligns with the country's economic goals for the New Year, focusing on stabilizing agricultural production at a high level. The exhibition featured various farm machines, including tractors, rice transplanters, and unmanned helicopters. Despite an estimated increase in crop output in 2023, North Korea faces significant food shortages, exacerbated by natural disasters and border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kim's call for modernization reflects ongoing efforts to enhance agricultural productivity.

Southeast Asia This Week
Singapore: Economy grows by 1.2 per cent, avoids recession amid global slowdown
On 02 January, according to the data released in Nikkei Asia, Singapore's economy expanded by 1.2 per cent over the past year, steering clear of a recession amid a global economic downturn. Although slower than the previous year's 3.6  per cent, the annual GDP growth faced challenges from sluggish exports due to weakened demand from critical partners such as the US, Europe, and China. In the final quarter, growth rebounded to 2.8 per cent, propelled by a resurgence in visitor arrivals benefiting the aviation and tourism sectors. The services and construction industries also demonstrated favourable growth trends. Singapore raised its goods and services tax from 8 per cent to 9 per cent, aiming to spur economic growth projected between 1 per cent and 3 per cent in 2024, with a specific emphasis on revitalizing exports. In his New Year message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed concerns about the increasing cost of living. At the same time, the Monetary Authority of Singapore foresees the GST hike and external uncertainties impacting inflation. 

Indonesia: Drawing parallels between Rohingyas and Palestinians
On 01 January, the South China Morning Post reported that Hebh Jamal, a Palestinian-American journalist's comments on the Indonesian treatment towards Rohingyas. In a video posted on Instagram, she rejected the support coming from Indonesian protests over the Gaza war and stated: “We don’t want your support if you treat refugees with the same hatred Israelis treat Palestinians.” It was reposted on X and received around 3 million impressions, most of them were Indonesians apologising for the actions of their fellow citizens. On 30 December, she took to X, speaking about how she was being “harassed by hundreds and hundreds of angry Indonesians” as they did not want to become a “second Palestine” because they perceive Rohingya refugees “as invaders and compare them to actual settler colonialists”.

Singapore: Economy exceeds growth expectations in 2023 
On 02 January, according to The Straits Times, Singapore's economy grew by 2.8 per cent in the final quarter of 2023, surpassing analysts' expectations of 1.8 per cent growth. The manufacturing sector, which had contracted in the previous quarters, returned to growth, expanding by 3.2 per cent year on year. For the entire year, the economy grew by 1.2 percent, moderating from the 3.6 per cent growth in 2022. Despite the moderation, the growth rate slightly exceeded the 1 per cent expansion projected in a survey by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Maybank economist Chua Hak Bin predicts a 2.2 per cent growth for 2024, while RHB economist Barnabas Gan expects 3 percent, emphasizing positivity in the electronics, precision engineering, and manufacturing industries. OCBC chief economist Selena Ling remains cautious, maintaining her 2024 forecast at 2 per cent, citing geopolitical uncertainties and potential global economic challenges.
Thailand: Proposal to lower age of criminal responsibility 
On 03 January, the South China Morning Post reported that Torsak Sukvimol, police chief, has proposed to lower the age of criminal responsibility from fifteen to twelve years to prevent young offenders from going unpunished. This development comes after losing custody of a fourteen-year-old who was accused of shooting three individuals, including a Chinese tourist. On 1 January, the teenager was sent to a government-run psychiatric institution as the prosecutor failed to present an irrefutable case for indictment.
Thailand: 101 billion USD budget announced in the Parliament
On 03 January, Reuters reported Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s announcement of 3.48 trillion-baht (USD 101.52 billion) budget for the second part of the fiscal year initiating a three-day debate among the lawmakers and is expected to be voted by the end of this week. PM emphasised the importance of the budget in advancing the economy, which is expected to be voted on by the end of the week, predicting 2.7 per cent to 3.7 per cent growth and 1.7 per cent to 2.7 per cent inflation. The projected second-half fiscal budget for September 2024 increases spending by 9.3 per cent while decreasing the budget deficit by 0.3 per cent to 693 billion baht. A quarter of the budget focuses on addressing social issues such as the ageing population, and improving education and healthcare, while 11.3 per cent was allocated to increase competitiveness, digital economy and energy security. 

Thailand: Drug lord captured in Laos hideout
On 05 January, The Bangkok Post reported that a drug trafficker of Malaysian origin was arrested in a joint operation carried out between Laos and Thailand on 29 December. The Thai authorities offered a 1 million baht bounty for capturing him. He was among forty-eight suspects of being involved in the distribution of drugs and wanted by Thailand. The Malaysian was said to have played a prime role in coordinating and procuring drugs with cartels since 2006. Panurat Lakboon, secretary-general of Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), stated that the arrest would help decrease the drug trade of heroin, crystal meth and cocaine by seventy per cent. The arrest comes as a part of the campaign initiated by the Thai government’s “Quick Win” policy, which aims at solving the drug problem in the country in one year.

Thailand: The Government intends to boost the tourism industry
On 01 January, Bangkok Post reported that the Thai government plans to earn around 3.5 million baht in revenues from tourism after hitting the 27 million mark in 2023, said Chai Wacharonke, government spokesman. He stated the campaigns that promote Thailand as a tourist destination will promote lesser-visited provinces for tourism. The governor of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) ThapaneeKiatphaibool, said that the tourism industry is benefitting from the visa-free policy. Thailand has wavered visas for Chinese and Kazakh visitors for thirty days, until 29 February. She further stated that she would ask the government to prolong the visa-free policy for the same, when it expires for Chinese and Kazakh visitors, from thirty days to ninety days.    

Philippines: Philippine announces second joint military exercise with the US
On 03 December, Reuters reported that the Philippine military released a statement announcing the start of a two-day joint patrol between the US and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Four ships from the Philippine Navy and four ships from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, including an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, and two destroyers, participated in the country's second joint patrol week, according to the Philippine military.  With this marking a “significant leap” in Manila's alliance and interoperability with the US military, Romeo Brawner, the Chief of the Philippine Armed Forces voiced their intention to pursue an open and free Indo-Pacific area and an international system based on norms even in the face of regional threats. Manila has been charged by Chinese official media with continuously provoking China by depending on US assistance. Given the escalating tensions in South China, China is probably not amused by the most recent patrols.
Myanmar: Junta’s amnesty release fewer political prisoners
On 05 January, The Irrawaddy reported that out of the 9,600 inmates released by the military junta in Myanmar on January 4, only 120 were political prisoners. On the 76th anniversary of the nation's independence, the regime offered amnesty to 9,652 prisoners housed in various jails. Many of the released inmates were found guilty of non-political offences, including drug misuse and unlawful possession convictions. The majority of the political prisoners freed had almost finished their sentences and no well-known politicians were revealed. The remaining political prisoners were detained for allegedly breaking the Unlawful Association Act and possessing weapons and ammunition to stage a revolt. Former members of the deposed National League for Democracy (NLD) administration, including former Mandalay Mayor Dr. Ye Lwin, were released from Obo Prison. Dr. Hla Myat Thwe, a former minister in the NLD's Ayeyarwady regional government, was released from Pathein Prison. Models Thin Zaw Wint Kyaw and Nang Mwe San, who were imprisoned under the Electronic Transactions Law, were released, as was photojournalist Ko Kaung Sett Lin of the Myanmar Press Photo Agency, who had been detained under Section 505 (a).
Indonesia: Rival presidential candidates unite against Prabowo's 
On 05 January, The Straits Times reported that amid Indonesia's upcoming presidential election on 14 February, supporters of candidates Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo are collaborating in secret to counteract the perceived hardball tactics of front runner Prabowo Subianto. Allegations include the tearing down of opposition posters by Prabowo's camp. Campaign teams, working at the grassroots level, are informally strategizing on how to outmanoeuvre Prabowo. While Prabowo leads in opinion polls, a potential run-off on June 26 could shift the dynamics if rivals combine forces. An understanding between Anies and Ganjar's camps involves mutual support in the second round. The opposition is also gathering evidence of rule breaches by Prabowo, aiming to file complaints, if necessary, under Indonesia's election law. 
Philippines: Open to diplomatic discussions with China
On 05 January, The Straits Times reported that according to the National security adviser Eduardo Ano, the Philippines is ready to engage in diplomatic discussions with China. The belief is that both countries will be able to arrive at a resolution to the dispute over the South China Sea. He further stated that the joint patrols carried out with the US and “other allied countries show our mutual commitment to a rules-based international order and for promoting peace and stability of the region,” This is a response to the remarks made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, who described the joint patrols carried out by the US and Philippines in the South China Sea. The US and the Philippines have conducted their second maritime exercise in less than two months.
South Asia This Week
India: Minister of External Affairs on a visit to Nepal
On 04 January, the Minister of External Affairs of India, S Jaishankar signed various agreements with Nepal, including development projects, renewable energy, satellites, disaster relief, and cross-border transmission lines. He tweeted: “Discussions focused on our overall bilateral ties, trade & economic relations, land, rail & air connectivity projects, cooperation in defense & security, agriculture, energy, power, water resources, disaster management, tourism, civil aviation, people-to-people  & cultural exchanges and development partnership.” India also agreed to import 10,000 MW of hydroelectricity from Nepal over the next 10 years.

Sri Lanka: Indian fishermen repatriated
On 05 January, the Sri Lankan government repatriated 21 Indian fishermen to Chennai. The fishermen were detained for illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters by the Navy. In 2023, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 240 fishermen in periodic incidents while crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line. Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka tweeted: “21 #Indian fishermen have been repatriated from #SriLanka to #Chennai a short while ago.”

Bangladesh: Mass contact program
On 01 January, according to The Daily Star, from 02 January, the BNP organized a three-day mass contact and leaflet distribution campaign to rally support for their boycott of the 07 January national election. The party's senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, said in a virtual briefing that the mass contact program will be held from 02 to 04 January in support of the poll boycott and non-cooperation movement for the resignation of the Awami League (AL) administration and the restoration of the neutral polls-time caretaker government system.
Bangladesh: Non-resident constituencies dubious to cast their vote
On 01 January, according to The Daily Star reports, most of the non-resident constituents of Dhaka were unwilling to leave Dhaka to vote in their respective constituencies. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh is a metropolis composed of 2.24 crore residents, while based on the data available on the Election Commission website, the voters total in almost 20 Dhaka constituencies is 81, 61,440. These non-residents are not interested in the election process or voting, and the reasons were not like each other. The report reflects many non-residents’ responses in which Shamsul Islam; living in Dhaka who is a voter in the Gaibandha-1 constituency responds "There's no strong party against Awami League. So, what is the difference between casting a vote or not? I won't be leaving Dhaka for this." Another person named Mohibur Rahman, a voter in the Rajshahi-1 constituency said, "In 2018, I stood in line for hours, holding my little son, waiting in front of the polling centre. It was supposed to be a festive environment," he said. 

Bangladesh: Nobel laureate Dr Yunus imprisoned over labour law violations
On 01 January, Dhaka Tribune reported that Dr Muhammad Yunus, chairperson of Grameen Telecom was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for founding the Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance was jailed for six months with 3 others over labour law violations. In 2021, a case was filed by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment against Dr Yunus and three others for violating labour laws. According to case files, the department noticed several labour law violations during an inspection at Grameen Telecom. Dhaka labour court has fined them Tk 5,000 under one section and Tk 25,000 under another. The court has given them one month to file an appeal against the verdict.
Pakistan: Defence secretary holds dialogue with Sri Lanka 
On 01 January, The Island reported that Pakistan's Defence Secretary, Lt. General (R) Hamood Uz Zaman Khan, is in Sri Lanka for the fourth Sri Lanka-Pakistan Defence Dialogue. This significant meeting follows the elevation of staff talks to Defence Dialogue in October 2018, during the Yahapalana administration. The delegations from both countries, led by Lt. Gen. Khan and Gen. (R) Kamal Gunaratne, will engage in discussions covering various aspects of bilateral defence cooperation. The Pakistani delegation is set to meet with Sri Lankan officials, including the National Security Advisor and the Chief of Staff to President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The dialogue is expected to encompass training, bilateral defence exercises, exchange of military high-level visits, ship visits, Airforce exercises, and the procurement of defence equipment from Pakistan. Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Islamabad, Admiral (R) Ravi Wijegunaratne, has confirmed the scheduled talks. 
Sri Lanka: Saudi attracts 63,000 workers in 2023
On 01 January, according to The Island, approximately 63,000 Sri Lankan workers found employment in Saudi Arabia in 2023, contributing to remittances of over USD 5.3 billion, making up 15 to 20 percent of Sri Lanka's total remittances. Saudi Arabia, particularly through megaprojects like NEOM under Vision 2030, has become an increasingly attractive destination for Sri Lankan professionals. The Skills Verification Program (SVP) agreement, recognizing accreditations from Sri Lanka’s Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission, further enhances the appeal of Saudi Arabia for employment opportunities among Sri Lankans.
Maldives: Special season for development says president ahead of New Year
On 01 January, SunOnline International reported President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu's  speech ahead of the New Year occasion. He says last weeks of 2023 and first weeks of 2024 as a special season for developments since his office. President Muizzu said the Maldivian people made some important decisions and drew up “colourful” aspirations in 2023. Highlighting that Maldivians have made significant decisions in the past year, the President noted that the people of the Maldives have decided that they should experience development, prosperity, and growth aligned with the rest of the world and that they do not want any foreign military presence in their nation. He underlined that the Maldives has chosen to build future generations devoted to Islam and dedicated to the nation to accomplish this.
Nepal: Surge in Indian Tourists Faces Entry Challenges and Infrastructure Concerns in 2023
On 02 January, according to The Kathmandu Post, Nepal experienced a surge in Indian tourist arrivals in 2023, surpassing 300,000 via air travel and over a million through surface routes, boosting the country's tourism industry. Despite the positive trend, Indian tourists encounter various challenges, particularly at border points and checkpoints, leading to delays and inconveniences. Entrepreneurs in popular destinations like Lumbini, Pokhara, Chitwan, and Kathmandu report increased footfall but also note the need for a more streamlined entry process. Hassles such as multiple vehicle checks, customs clearance delays, and restrictions on currency exchange pose challenges for Indian visitors. While the influx of Indian tourists continues, concerns about highways, frequent police checks, and restrictive policies persist, prompting calls for more tourist-friendly measures and improved infrastructure. 
Nepal: S Jaishankar to visit Nepal ahead of key bilateral meeting
On 03 January, according to The Kathmandu Post, the seventh meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission is set to take place in Kathmandu in over two days. It will be co-chaired by NP Saud, Nepal's Minister of Foreign Affairs and his Indian counterpart, Dr S Jaishankar. The meeting aims to review the overall state of bilateral relations and various areas of cooperation. On Thursday, the Indian foreign secretary will arrive in Kathmandu to make courtesy calls to President Ramchandra Paudel and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. While visiting, long-term energy cooperation agreements and India's proposal to increase funds for small development projects under the High-impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs) are likely to be signed.
Bangladesh: BNP shifts strategy ahead of election
On 02 January, according to The Daily Star, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) insiders suggest a shift in strategy as it is facing challenges, moving away from hartals and blockades. Concerns about the ineffectiveness of such programs and the fear of party activists facing violence-related allegations led the BNP to opt for mass contact and leaflet distribution to discourage voters. The party plans a two-day hartal on the eve of the election. The decision reflects a careful approach, given recent comments by Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader, hinting at plans to implicate the BNP in criminal activities. The BNP aims to avoid providing ammunition to those portraying the party negatively.
Nepal: Solidarity was expressed by Nepali journalists towards Gaza journalists.
On 01 January, according to The Kathmandu Post, a candlelight vigil was held at Patan Durbar Square, Lalitpur. It was held to commemorate journalists who were killed in the Israel-Hamas war. The Nepali journalists expressed their solidarity with the journalists of the Gaza Strip. They also condemned the Israeli government for killing more than 70 Palestinian journalists in the war. The journalists have also lost their families and close relatives. Amid the collapse of the infrastructure, electricity outages, and internet shutdowns, the journalists struggled to communicate with each other. Somehow, the journalists managed to communicate, the Israeli propaganda and government acting as an obstacle to it.
Nepal: Economic reforms set to launch new initiatives
On 03 January, The Kathmandu Post published an article which contends that the economic and governance reform of the country undertakes “fifth generation”. The first phase of economic reforms took place in 1985, the second phase in 1990, third phase in 2000, ongoing fourth phase that began in 2010. These phases differ in periodisation of economic or governance reforms initiated in different historical contexts, contemporary objectives and extent of coverage have their own significance. The upcoming generation has dual responsibility for completing the pending tasks of previous reforms and taking up new initiatives as detailed in the 2015 Constitution. The new reforms at the core embrace the liberal democratic values that enable sub-national governments to take loans, facilitate public procurement and contract systems and simultaneously set institutional accountability mechanisms to control corruption even at the local level.
Nepal: During Foreign minister's visit, deals to be signed
On 02 January, The Kathmandu Post reported that S. Jaishankar External Affairs Minister of India is set to visit Kathmandu, leading the seventh meeting of the Nepal-India joint commission. The visit aims to strengthen bilateral ties, with two agreements on long-term energy cooperation and increased funds for small development projects expected to be signed. While the formal announcement is pending, Jaishankar is scheduled to co-chair the commission’s meeting with NP Saud, Foreign Minister Nepal. The Indian delegation includes Vinay Mohan Kwatra Foreign Secretary and other officials. Efforts are underway to finalize the detailed project report for the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, though political-level discussions are required to resolve existing differences. The joint commission will discuss various issues, including border concerns, trade, commerce, economic cooperation, and electricity trade. Tangible progress is anticipated, and both sides are working towards signing a long-term energy cooperation agreement. This agreement, initially discussed during Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s India visit in 2023, envisions India importing 10,000 megawatts of electricity from Nepal over ten years. Additionally, Jaishankar is expected to secure Nepal's approval for increasing the budget for small development projects from NPR 50 million to INR 200 million per project, addressing resource shortfalls for vital infrastructure projects. The visit underscores ongoing efforts to enhance mutual collaboration between the two nations.

Maldives: Tourist arrivals exceed expectations, reaching new highs
On 03 January, according to Avas, in 2023, tourist arrivals in the Maldives exceeded the government's estimated figure by 78,537, surpassing the initial projection of 1.8 million. This milestone was reached on 20 December, making it the highest number of tourists in the country's history, with 1,878,537 arrivals, compared to 1.6 million in 2022. India and Russia were the top tourist source countries, each contributing 209,100 tourists, followed by China (187,118), the UK (155,730), and Germany (135,090). Italy also made a substantial contribution with 118,412 visitors. According to Tourism Ministry statistics, at the end of the year, 176 resorts, 809 guesthouses, 146 safaris, and 14 hotels were operational for tourism.
Sri Lanka: Rohingya refugees protest closure of UNHCR office
On 03 January, according to Daily Morning, approximately 20 Rohingya refugees in Sri Lanka held a protest near the UNHCR office in Colombo, expressing concern about the closure of the UN agency's office in the country. The refugees held signs that read, "We are the victims of an unclear future," emphasizing the uncertainty they face without the support of the UNHCR. The refugees, brought to Sri Lanka by the Navy from Bangladesh, have UNHCR certificates and were receiving allowances from the agency. The closure of the UNHCR office puts an end to these facilities, raising concerns about their welfare and future in Sri Lanka. The protesters called on the Sri Lankan government and other embassies, including the US Embassy, to intervene and address their predicament. The refugees seek a durable and viable solution to their situation before the UNHCR exits Sri Lanka. Human rights activists and lawyers have emphasized the need for a plan to safeguard the refugees' rights and welfare after the UNHCR's departure.

Pakistan: Five barbers found dead in North Waziristan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 
On 02 January, Dawn reported that bodies of six barbers had been found in the Mir Ali area of the North Waziristan district in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The slain barbers hailed from the province of Punjab. No one has claimed responsibility for the killings. It is to be noted thajust three days ago five terrorists had been neutralized in the same area in intelligence based operation by the security forces. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media and public relations wing of Pakistan Armed Forces, “these terrorists had been involved in numerous terrorist activities against security forces as well as extortion and targeted killings of civilians.”

Afghanistan: Taliban arrests women for wearing “bad hijab”
On 04 January, AP News reported that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has arrested several women in Kabul for wearing “bad hijab.” The arrests were confirmed by the spokesperson of the Vice and Virtue Ministry, Abdul Ghafar Farooq. Referring to the arrests, he stated that “These are the few limited women who spread bad hijab in Islamic society. They violated Islamic values and rituals, and encouraged society and other respected sisters to go for bad hijab.” He further warned that women who refused to go without hijab will be arrested. The number of arrests has not been confirmed and what constitutes “bad hijab” remains undefined. This is also the first time that women have been arrested for not following the dress code since it was imposed following the return of the Taliban to power in 2021. It is to be noted that the Taliban had decreed in May 2022 “calling for women to only show their eyes and recommending they wear the head-to-toe burqa.”

Middle East and Africa This Week
Iran: Islamic State claims responsibility for twin blasts in Iran
On 04 January, Reuters reported that the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the twin blasts that killed around 100 people and wounded several others at a memorial for Iranian commander Major General Qassim Suleimeni. The group through its official Telegram channel termed the attack a “dual martyrdom operation” wherein two militants detonated explosive belts in a procession commemorating the four year death anniversary of the general in Kerman, Iran on 03 January.  The general was a revered military general who was killed in a drone attack four years ago by the United States. According to New York Times, he was the mastermind behind “an Iranian-led and funded alliance of Shiite groups across the Middle East.”

Yemen: UNSC holds meeting to discuss Houthi attacks in the Red Sea
On 03 January, the United Nations Securitu Council (UNSC) conducted its first meeting to discuss on the relentless attacks by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. The attacks seem to increase the tensions in the region and subsequently poses threat to the global trade and the balance of the entire region. The persistent attacks are followed the ongoing Israel and Gaza conflict. The UN Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Khiari said “no cause or grievance” could give grounds for continuing Houthi attacks against freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia, said that restrictions on freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden was not happening. He stated, ““what is happening in the Red Sea is a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, where Israel’s bloody operation has been ongoing for three months.”

UAE: UAE-India conducts Joint Military Exercise 
On 05 January, India- UAE Joint Military Exercise ‘Desert Cyclone’ commences in Rajasthan, India.  Forty-five personal are representing the each other forces. The exercise is anticipated to end on 15 January 2024. The exercise aims to boost interoperability in sub-conventional operations including combating in built-up areas in the desert and semi-dessert terrain as per chapter VII of the UN Charter on the peace keeping operations.  

Sudan: RSF leader Dagalo visits Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti
On 03 January, BBC reported that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, began his visit to Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti marking his first foreign trip since the civil war. Dagalo met with Kenyan President William Ruto and discussed the diplomatic efforts to end the war. He expressed his “vision regarding stopping the war and starting negotiations” with the Sudanese army. President Ruto appreciated the efforts of Dagalo in ending the conflict through dialogue. 

Democratic Republic of Congo: Opposition candidates rule out poll petition
On 03 January, opposition candidates formally announced their decision not to challenge the presidential election results. On 31 December, the election commission declared President Felix Tshisekedi’s victory securing 73 per cent of votes against Moise Katumbi securing 18 per cent of the votes. Many candidates say they will not contest the results. In the absence of any petitions, Tshisekedi will be sworn in as the President on 20 January.  

Ethiopia: MoU with Somaliland
On 01 January, BBC reported that Ethiopia signed a non-legal binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the self-proclaimed Somaliland to access one of its ports, Barbera. The port which is 20 kilometres has been exchanged as a lease for 50 years. Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi signed the agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Abiy's National Security Adviser, Redwan Hussien, stated that the arrangement would enable Ethiopia to use a "leased military base" on the sea. Abiy Ahmed stated that the MoU would "pave the way to realise the aspiration of Ethiopia to secure access to the sea." While addressing the ceremony, Abiy mentioned that Somaliland would be recognised as an independent territory soon. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Somaliland stated: "Historic agreement ensures Ethiopia's access to the sea for their naval forces, reciprocated by formal recognition of the Republic of Somaliland, marking this as a significant diplomatic milestone for our country." 

Chad: Former opposition leader appointed as Prime Minister 
On 01 January, Chad's transitional government appointed former opposition leader, Succes Masra, as Prime Minister. This comes despite Masra's strong opposition to the military regime that took power in 2021 and his recent exile following a deadly crackdown on protests. His appointment follows the passage of a new constitution supported by the military which opposition groups largely boycotted. However, Masra backed the constitution arguing that it would pave the way for a quicker transition to civilian rule. 86 per cent voted “yes” to the referendum. However, his decision divided the opposition, raising concerns about a potential deal with the regime.

Europe and Americas This Week
Romania: EU agrees to lift air and maritime border controls with Bulgaria
On 30 December 2023, EU countries unanimously decided to remove air and maritime internal border checks with Bulgaria and Romania. The border checks would be removed by 31 March 2024, ending 12 years of negotiations. Spain’s Minister for the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gomez hailed this as a significant step toward strengthening the Schengen area. Talks are sought to continue regarding the lifting of internal land border controls. Discussions are aimed for the full inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen zone. Ursula von der Leyen, EU’s President, termed the decision historic, signalling a positive stride for both countries and the Schengen area. Negotiations, driven by Spain’s Presidency, sealed the agreement just before the transition to Belgium’s leadership

Belgium: Government sets out agenda for the EU Council Presidency
On 01 January, Deutsche Welle reported on Belgium’s assumption of EU Council presidency and the challenges ahead to carry out its agenda. Belgium which is taking over the presidency after Spain in 2024 has more than 100 legislative projects, an asylum reform, and regulation of EU’s AI to finalise before April. The next European Parliamentary elections scheduled in June, pending legislative projects would be carried forward but under a new Commission. As the time remains limited, Belgium’s Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib says: “we are better in finding solutions than creating problems.” As far as Belgium’s agenda in considered, it aims to brings laws in inducing “green restructuring of the economy,” and to increase “Europe’s global competitiveness.” Apart from this handling the Hungarian block over aid to Ukraine and discussion over EU’s internal mechanism and strategizing its foreign policy are also on the list. 

Estonia: Government legalizes same-sex marriage
On 03 January, ERR News reported on Estonia move to legalize same-sex marriage. This significant change resolves long standing legal uncertainties and establishes equal rights for all couples under the law. Minister of Social Protection, Signe Riisalo, emphasised the importance of acceptance and empathy while also facilitating a seamless transition from existing civil partnerships to marriages. This progressive move not only promotes societal advantages but also safeguards individuals' rights concerning property, inheritance, and other legal matters. Effective from 01 January 2024, Estonia embraces inclusivity and upholds the fundamental right to love for all its citizens

Argentina: Milei’s labour reforms face legal challenges
On 03 January, an Argentinian court suspended the labour reforms announced earlier by Argentina’s President Javier Milei. The reforms, which included an increase in job probation period, reduction in insurance compensation, and the dismissal of employees for participating in protests, were part of Milei’s larger economic-revival measures. Argentina’s main trade union federation, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), had challenged the reform arguing that they had weakened the basic protection for the workers. The CGT called for a statewide strike on 24 January, while Milei’s administration is likely to file an appeal against the verdict.

Argentina: Milei shifts country away from BRICS membership
On 29 December, Argentina’s President Javier Milei formally declined an invitation to join the economic organization BRICS via letters to the organization’s leaders.  Despite the former Argentine government pushing for Argentina to join BRICS, Milei said that he felt his country’s membership was “not considered appropriate at this time.” In his letters, he stated that his foreign policy was different from that of the previous government, affirming that “some decisions made by the previous administration will be reviewed,” including that of BRICS participation.

Argentina: Loan agreement with IMF almost secure
On 3 January, Reuters cited sources who said that Argentina and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are close to an agreement on a review for a USD 44 billion loan programme. This is a critical step that will put the country on track to receive the next tranche of funding. The seventh review of the 2022 loan, which is currently under negotiation and review, was delayed due to a change in office. A source added that Argentina “is working to get an approval this month.” If the review is approved by both the IMF staff and its executive board, investments worth USD 3.3 billion will be unblocked.

El Salvador: Bukele’s campaign spreads across Latin America 
On 03 January, El Salvador's President, Nayib Bukele, accused foreign critics of trying to keep El Salvador and other developing nations from strengthening. Amid this, Bukele had been expanding his campaign to go beyond El Salvador into Latin America, where he assured that he did not seek endless reelection. Despite a constitutional bar on reelection, Bukele was allowed a six-month leave of absence from the presidency beginning in December to seek reelection.

Nicaragua: FTA agreement between Nicaragua and China begins
On 01 January, trade between Nicaragua and China formally began under a new Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which allows the former to export 71 per cent of its products into Asia’s largest market free of tariffs. The exports will include food items such as fish, shrimp, lobsters, sea cucumber, sugar, peanuts, and rum. Among the non-food items leather, charcoal, wood and automobile parts are included. The agreement excludes Chinese goods such as meat and its offal, coffee, rice and sugar. On 22 December, despite the protests, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega said that China was there to help Nicaragua develop ties, not attack it. 

The US: Harvard President resigns amidst plagiarism allegations and anti-Semitism controversy
On 02 January, Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned, citing doubts cast on her commitment to confronting hate and upholding scholarly rigor. The controversy erupted during a congressional hearing where Gay, along with other university presidents, faced questions on the college's response to calls for the genocide of Jews on campus. Gay's response that it depended on the context drew inten

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