The World This Week

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The World This Week
North Korea's Cruise Missile Test, Tuvalu Elections, EU Summit and Italy-Africa Elections

  GP Team

The World This Week #251, Vol. 6, No.5

04 February 2024

North Korea: Continued cruise missile testing
Femy Francis

What Happened?
On 02 February, the South Korean Joint Chief of Staff stated that North Korea had tested another round of cruise missiles, making it the fourth round of testing in 2024. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, iterated his plans for strengthening the naval forces. On 25 January, the country conducted its first “strategic” new-generation cruise missile testing, the Pulhwasal-3-31 missile, aimed at increasing their weapon capabilities. Before this, North Korea also tested underwater nuclear weapons on 19 January, in response to the “joint military exercises” conducted between the US, South Korea, and Japan. The tensions in the region rose when Kim announced that North Korea would no longer pursue ‘reconciliation’ ambitions with South Korea, stating that the two countries were in “acute confrontation” and therefore, South Korea was not regarded as a diplomatic partner. Kim expressed that South Korea was “the most hostile state” and ordered the Korean People’s Army to “prepare a great event to conquer the territory of South Korea.”

What is the Background?
First, a brief background. The contention in the Korean peninsula goes back to the division caused during the Cold War era. After the Japanese rule ended in Korea in 1945, the superpowers stationed themselves in the regions, causing a divide. After this, there were periodic military standoffs in the region, and the polarization increased as both countries followed a different ideological model from the superpower in charge. This polarization is still fresh in 2024 as both countries don’t see eye to eye.

Second, international actors. The relations between Seoul and Pyongyang were estranged since the Cold War; they became pawns of the proxy war between the superpowers the US and the USSR. While both countries have followed drastically different models of government and development, the peninsular is still affected by the external stakes it holds. The US has been active in supporting the South Korean cause by providing military and intelligence support to deter not only North Korea but also its allies- China and Russia. With anti-Russian sentiments on the rise due to the Ukraine war, Russia is strengthening its diplomatic relations with its remaining allies. Pyongyang, being an important Russian ally, is said to have gained its recent jolt of weapons capacity, thanks to its communist counterpart Moscow.

Third, aggressive shift in North Korea’s foreign policy. The status quo has drastically shifted in the peninsular as North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly scrapped its decades-old reunification goal. Kim brought changes in the constitution and shut down offices that were established for possible rekindling. Additionally, they brought down the “arch of reunification” that symbolized the goal of reconciliation and described South Korea as the “primary foe.” The aggressive measures taken by Kim reflect the change in its foreign policy as it no longer looks to keep slowing burning conflict at the status quo.

What does it mean?
First, growing trilateral cooperation. The external actors present in the region have exacerbated the conflict in the region. The mutual threat has brought the trilateral cooperation between China, North Korea, and Russia together and  strengthened their ties. While they vary in many aspects of development and foreign policy, some similarities ease the forging of ties. All three countries were established on the ideals of communism and have survived by creating its version of it. These are also countries that face expulsion by the West in the international arena with stringent sanctions imposed in varying degrees. 

Second, another war on the horizon. The heightened North Korean activities have alarmed countries over the possibility of war in the peninsula. The threat to attack is a routine activity of North Korea, but this time is it different as it had earlier never closed all channels of possible reunification by labelling them as other. The conflict in the region is expected to be a limited confrontation but not a full-fledged war yet. The current situation can be seen in the light of North Korea trying to reinstate its control and dominance in the region and leverage its aggressive actions. The conflict was overshadowed by the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Palestine war, but the recent developments have revived the attention towards North Korea. This argument can be supported with Kim’s statement: “We don’t want war but we have no intention of avoiding it.”

Tuvalu Elections 2024: Geopolitical Churn in the Pacific
Akhil Ajith

What happened?
On 26 January 2024, Tuvalu underwent its general elections. The pro-Taiwan leader of Tuvalu, the incumbent Prime Minister Kausea Natano, lost his seat. He was contesting from the capital city of Funafati. The newcomer, Tuafafa Latasi, won the Funafuti seat. The former Foreign Minister Simon Kofe, despite stepping out from his cabinet role, retained his MP status and won his seat. The election in Tuvalu is carefully watched by regional actors like Taiwan, China, the US, and Australia. Tuvalu’s general elections may have implications far beyond its shores due to the rise in the growing Chinese presence and greater geopolitical competition in the region.
What is the background?
Firstly, a brief background. The previous elections, held in 2019, saw a high turnover among the 16 members of the parliament, in which seven of them were first-time members. Out of two female candidates, Dr Puakena Boreham retained her seat in the parliament. For the vote of the prime minister, held after the election, parliament elects Kausea Natano, who defeated the incumbent head of the government Enele Sopoaga, who served since 2013. 
Secondly, the election candidates. Natano, having retained his parliamentary seat in the 2010, 2015, and 2019 general elections, made the decision to run again in 2024. During his tenure, he implemented the National Adaptation Programme of Action as a response to the climate change issues facing Tuvalu, including the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project (TCAP). Other candidates who contested in the 2024 included Finance Minister Seve Paeniu and opposition leader Enele Sopogoa.|
Thirdly, Tuvalu’s ties with Taiwan and Australia. Tuvalu has shared ties with Taiwan and Australia since it got its independence in 1978. The defeat of Sopoaga (a pro-Taiwan candidate) in the 2015 elections created speculation that Natuno would abandon Taiwan in favour of China. However, Natuno assured that Tuvalu would maintain its diplomatic stance with Taiwan, while continuing to share democratic ideals and values. It wants its ties to be seen as a moral actor on the world stage. The country’s ties with Australia are strong in many areas of cooperation. Despite the ongoing debate in the parliament on the security deal, Tuvalu sees Australia as a strategic and economic partner in the region. 
What Does It Mean?
Firstly, implications for Tuvalu’s domestic politics. Natano’s loss, along with the defeat of three of his eight ministers, compared to the defeat of just one opposition member, shows that there is a greater degree of dissatisfaction within the people on the previous government’s performance. He was also criticised by his health minister for the poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The priority of the new government will be to secure funding from other countries for climate change initiatives, health, and telecommunications.
Secondly, the Taiwan issue. Many countries, including China, Taiwan, the US, and Australia, closely watched the outcomes of the elections to gauge how Tuvalu will move forward with its diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Only 12 countries, including Tuvalu, have official diplomatic ties with Taiwan. China claims the independently governing democratic country as part of its sovereign territory. This put Tuvalu in the spotlight of the ongoing tensions between China and Taiwan. Both Natuno and Sopoaga support ties with Taiwan. In Natano’s visit to Taiwan in 2019, he said that “the cornerstone of bilateral ties is the shared principles of democracy, trust, human rights, and individual freedoms,” which should not be dismissed as mere rhetoric. However, Natuno’s rival, Seve Paeniu, said that he wanted to rethink the ties with Taiwan and China. This could allow China to mark its presence in the country through opaque commercial deals and financial aid, potentially luring Tuvalu’s political circles in Beijing’s favour. 
Thirdly, the Australia deal. Despite Natuno losing the elections, he backed the Falepeli Union deal. However, Sopoaga has opposed this union and vowed to scrap this deal. This security deal is a way for Australia to pull Tuvalu away from China’s growing regional influence. The deal goes beyond climate security and migration to include policing, border protection, cyber security, and critical infrastructure. However, many of the leaders do not face any opposition, which would lead to a potential revision of the treaty instead of scrapping the entire deal. The partnership between Australia and Tuvalu through the Falepeli Union treaty is critical as it is a strategic victory over China’s hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific Region. 

Special Summit of the European Council 2024
Manoranjan Kumar

What happened?
On 01 February, the European Council (EC) convened a special meeting in Brussels, Belgium, chaired by the President of the European Council Charles Michel. The summit was attended by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, and Heads of State from all 27 European Union (EU) members. During the meeting, the leaders reached an agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-27 revision, prioritizing areas such as assistance to Ukraine, migration, and the Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP).     

On the same day, addressing the press, Michel said: “We have a deal on the multiannual financial framework. This agreement shows the leadership of the European Council and allows us to mobilise an additional EUR 50 billion through the Ukraine Facility.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked all the EU leaders for making a unanimous decision and said: “Continued EU financial support for Ukraine will strengthen long-term economic and financial stability, which is no less important than military assistance and sanctions pressure on Russia.”

What is the background?
First, Hungary’s disagreement over new EU financial aid to Ukraine. During the last European Council meeting in December 2023, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban voted against a EUR 50 billion package of financial aid (non-military) for Ukraine. Hungary’s stance was a result of the EU leaders’ decision to begin accession talks with Ukraine for membership in the bloc. Orban thinks that Ukraine is not prepared to start talks on EU membership as it does not fulfil the Copenhagen criteria. However, all EU leaders, except Orban, agreed to this package. 

Second, crisis over granting aid. Ukraine is struggling in the economic sphere due to uncertainty of US funding, making the EU's role more vital. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the US, Ukraine’s largest individual donor, has provided over USD 40 billion in aid. However, in October 2023, the US Congress remained divided on approving funds for national security, which included support for Ukraine, making the role of the EU very crucial, as Ukraine needed more money to sustain its economy and continue the war. 

Third, the war triggered Europe’s economy crisis. Spike in energy prices, increasing inflation, trade disruptions, and slow economic growth have impacted European people. Stress in the agricultural sector due to falling selling prices, increasing costs (energy, fertilizers, and transport), debt, heavy regulations, climate change, and cheap imports provoked protests by farmers around the EU. 

What does it mean?
First, unity among EU members to assist Ukraine. Through this new “Ukraine Facility” financial aid of EUR 50 billion (EUR 17 billion grants and EUR 33 billion loans) for the period of 2024-2027, which was passed in the special EC meeting, the EU showed the world and the US that it kept its promise to help Ukraine. This facility would contribute to reconstructing, recovering, and modernising Ukraine and would help it to become an integral part of the EU. All the 27 members of the EU, including Hungary, have agreed to this aid, which is a huge success for the European Council.

Second, Ukraine’s future with EU financial support. This new aid would assist in bringing about positive changes in Ukraine’s economic, social, and infrastructural domains. The support is directed towards the fight against corruption, an independent judicial system, the rule of law, improving the business climate, and other reforms that are required for EU membership. However, Ukraine is facing a USD 43 billion budget deficit and it is expected that the EU aid will cover just under half of it. 

Italy-Africa Summit: Exhibits the need to diversify and curb migration
Padmashree Anandhan

What happened?
On 28 January, the Italy-Africa summit began in Rome under the Mattei Plan. The summit aimed to present the African country's vision for the development of Africa. 25 African leaders along with representatives from the European Union (EU) took part to discuss strategic partnerships, causes of irregular migration, and counter-smuggling gangs. It was also aimed at making Italy an energy hub to facilitate supplies from Africa and help Europe. 

Speaking on migration, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called for a united stand in cracking down on people smugglers. She said: “The best way to do this is to join forces and crack down on the criminals, and in parallel, build alternatives to the deadly smuggling routes.” In a press conference, Italy’s Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni, stated: “Everything that happens in Africa concerns us, from migration to security and supply chains. For us, the proper development of the African continent is fundamental.”

On 29 January, Meloni sought to diversify Italy’s energy supplies and to fulfil the goal of making Italy the energy hub in the southern Mediterranean. In  her Africa Plan, she planned energy investments, where Italy would collect energy from Africa via pipelines and distribute it throughout Europe. This included an initial pledge of EUR 5.5 billion including guarantees. The President of the African Development Bank Group, Akinwumi A Adesina, said: “The Mattei Plan fits into the priorities of the Bank.” He added: “Africa has the fastest growing middle class in the world, offering an immense market, with consumer and business spending projected to reach US$7 trillion by 2030.”

What is the background?
First, objective beyond the Mattei plan. The plan was named after the founder of Italy’s oil and gas company Eni, Enrico Mattei. Following his emphasis on “supply diversification” to comply with the energy needs of Italy and the “dual-flag” approach in oil-producing countries in Africa, the latest strategy aimed to promote interdependencies between Europe and Africa. Although the plan presented Africa as a place for business opportunities and investment, Italy’s vested interest lies in increasing private sector participation in energy, agriculture, water, and research and development.

Second, addressing the challenge of migration. Despite pledges to end migrant boats entering Italy from North Africa, under Meloni’s government, the count has increased by 50,000 in 2023. Till now, attempts to reduce the illegal migration have failed. This has instigated Italy to promote a developmental plan in Africa to create opportunities to demotivate young people from migrating. 

Third, Meloni’s pivot for Italy. For Italy’s small and medium-sized companies, it is a big step to invest in remote and conflict-prone zones like the Sahel, North Africa, and Hone of Africa. The former prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, who approached sub-Saharan African markets between 2014 to 2016, faced the challenge of stimulating cooperation and investment. However, Meloni has not faced this issue, and has long urged for those migrating from Africa “to be helped at home.” For her, it is a priority that in exchange for helping African economies to prosper, the flow of migrants would be stemmed. This election pledge has failed so far.

What does this mean?
First, Italy’s diversification strategy. Curbing irregular migration stays key to Meloni’s Africa strategy, and emphasis remains on achieving energy security to meet economic and industrial ambition. Although establishing energy cooperation and attending to the migration problem is on the cards, this cannot be circuited around the EU. Africa’s participation in the EU summit has increased to eight in the past two decades and given the resource shortage, Italy should consider maintaining cordial relations with the EU through a commitment to strike cooperation in Africa. 

Second, benefit to geopolitical capacities. The Mattei plan could be connected to related European plans like the Global Gateway. Italy would benefit from the EU’s financial and geopolitical capacities, while the Global Gateway could benefit from the Mattei plan’s bottom-up replica, boosting Italian industry’s fortes in the energy and infrastructure sectors, to the use of Europe’s economic and geopolitical interests. The Italian government should take this opportunity to re-imagine its international posture via strategic interdependencies with various partners in Africa.

TWTW Regional Round-ups
News from around the World

Akriti Sharma, Rohini Reenum, Dhriti Mukherjee, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan,
Shamini Velayutham and Akhil Ajith

Taiwan: KMT pro-China leader becomes speaker for Taiwan’s legislative
On 02 February, The Straits Times reported that the Kuomintang (KMT) leader Han Kuo-yu became the elected speaker for the Legislative Yuan. He became the sworn-in speaker with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government in power. KMT and its leader have followed a more pro-China approach while DPP has sought the opposite. While the speaker is said to remain neutral in parliament, he can set the agenda. Other than the regular proceedings, the speaker plays a vital role in parliamentary diplomacy, where they can deepen ties with partners with similar aims. It is assumed that the KMT’s China-friendly posture would mean increased pressure for Han to bid for China.

China: South Sudan officials to be assisted in capacity building
On 01 February, the Chinese Ambassador to South Sudan, Ma Qing, said that China will host six capacity-building training courses on human resource development for South Sudanese officials in 2024. The course will cover agriculture, education, commerce, transportation, and petroleum. Ma said that China had always engaged with South Sudan in good faith and with shared interests by assisting in building broadcasting facilities, the Jur River Bridge in Wau, and the Air Traffic Management System. In 2023, around 300 South Sudanese government officials participated in short-term training programs in China. The South Sudan minister of parliamentary affairs, Mary Nawai Martin, said that the country was grateful for China’s assistance and was eager and willing to receive more Chinese investors to assist the government in transitioning from conflict to peace and stability.

China: Crude oil reserves discovered in the Henan province
On 30 January, the South China Morning Post reported that China had discovered new crude oil reserves of up to 107 million tonnes, equivalent to half of the country’s 2023 production. The authorities were showing interest in tapping this new source to enhance energy security and reduce external reliance. The state-run Henan Daily said that the presence of the abundant oilfield was verified while drilling in the Sanmenxia basin of Henan province. According to the customs data, China relies heavily on overseas imports for 70 per cent of its crude oil import demand. In 2023 it imported 564 million tonnes compared to 508 million tonnes in 2022, which was an 11 per cent increase year on year. The data also showed that Russia had replaced Saudi Arabia as the top supplier to China, as the imports from Russia were 19 per cent in 2023 compared to 15 per cent from Saudi Arabia.

China: President Xi Jinping receives delegates from Afghanistan
On 30 January, Chinese President Xi Jinping received the credentials of ambassadors from Afghanistan and 38 other countries. Xi welcomed Taliban-appointed Afghan ambassador Bilal Karimi at the Great Hall of the People. The Taliban’s chief spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, stated: “China has understood what the rest of the world has not.” He also signalled other countries to recognize the new regime in Kabul. The state news agency Xinhua reported that China was looking to build deep friendships and mutually beneficial cooperation with other countries. Despite China’s recognition, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime had been isolated by other countries and been denied participation in the world body.

China: CPPCC removes senior rocket researcher
On 29 January, Chinese newspaper Xinhua News Agency reported that the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) removed Wang Xiaojun's membership from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology as a prominent rocket research chief. Wang’s removal from the CPCC indicated the turmoil in China’s larger defence establishment with recent probes in the PLA and the Rocket Force. Wang received his degree in rocket engineering from the National University of Defence Technology. According to the party’s media People’s Daily, Wang vowed to remain loyal to the party and Chinese President Xi Jinping as the head of the leadership. 

Taiwan: Expanded Taiping islet to be inaugurated by Tsai Ing-wen
On 29 January, the South China Morning Post reported that Taiwan’s newly expanded pier on the contentious South China Sea Islet may require the outgoing Taiwanese president’s intervention. The islet Taiping, also known as Itu Aba, is a region claimed by China, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Currently, Taiping is controlled by Taiwan and the expansion can now hold berth vessels of 4,000 tonnes of military frigates. Amidst the brewing tensions, the Democratic Progressive Party called Tsai Ing-wen to lead the inauguration of the islet to reassert Taiwan’s claim on Taiping.

China: Security and policy deal to be forged with Papua New Guinea
On 29 January, The Guardian reported that Papua New Guinea was in talks with China to collaborate on a security and policy deal. This came as the Pacific Island country faced deadly riots in the region. Papua New Guinea reiterated that Australia and the US are vital security partners while China is an important economic partner. In September 2023, China invited the country to assist them in training their police force and provide equipment and technologies. Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister, Justin Tkachenko, stated with regard to the upcoming deal: “We deal with China at this stage only at economic and trade level. They are one of our biggest trading partners, but they have offered to assist our policing and security on the internal security side.

Japan: Trump warned against any deal with China
On 02 February, according to an editorial in The Straits Times titled “Japan’s message for Trump: Don’t cut a deal with China,” Japan had been trying to send a message to the US presidential candidate Donald Trump to avoid any deal with China for enduring peace in the region. Tokyo plans to reach Trump by ending senior officials from the ruling party. Tokyo is worried about Trump’s return to power as he might seek a trade or security deal with China and will undermine G-7 member states’ efforts to counter China. The editorial also adds that Japan is worried about Trump’s withdrawal of US support to Taiwan in his pursuit of a deal with China. In a statement, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said it is “watching the US presidential election with great interest” while noting bipartisan US commitment to the US-Japan alliance.

Japan: JAXA’s moon lander sleeps awaiting the end of lunar night
On 01 February, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency informed that their moon lander had been put to sleep and would resume action after it survived two weeks of lunar night. The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon landed in January and saw a disruption due to its solar panels not functioning properly. The lander was not equipped for harsh lunar nights, but the Japanese space agency said they would try operating again after the sun would shine and provide power to the lander.

New Zealand: A possible new entry to the Aukus
 On 01 February, the foreign and defence ministers of Australia and New Zealand expressed the entry of New Zealand in collaborating with the Aukus, a trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific region between Australia, the UK, and the US. They stated that both countries would discuss and find a space where Wellington could collaborate in areas of quantum computing and AI. New Zealand’s Defence Minister, Judith Collins, said: “Australian officials have been asked to work together with New Zealand officials to see some of the opportunities that are available in Aukus Two for New Zealand.” The two countries have agreed to closer defence cooperation in strategic concerns. 

South Korea: President Yoon anticipates North Korean aggression near elections
On 31 January, South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol expressed that as the country neared parliamentary elections, North Korea would participate in provocative actions near the shared border. The statement reflected the growing anxieties in the Korean peninsula, with North Korea being bashed and aggressive. Yoon warned against the possible aggressive activities and said: “The North Korean regime is going through fire and water solely for the sake of maintaining its hereditary totalitarian regime, while blatantly ignoring international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions by trading arms with Russia.” 

Sri Lanka: Free Trade Agreement with Thailand
On 03 February, Sri Lanka signed a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand. The country hoped to renew and revitalize its trade for better economic growth after it was hit by an economic crisis. The Prime Minister of Thailand, Srettha Thavisin, said: “The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is aimed at enhancing market opportunities, with negotiations covering various aspects such as Trade in Goods, Investment, Customs Procedure and Intellectual Property Rights.” Bilateral trade between the two countries in 2021 was worth USD 460 million. Sri Lanka exports mainly tea and precious stones and imports electronic equipment, food, rubber, plastics, and pharmaceuticals.

Maldives: Replacement of Indian military personnel
On 02 February, the government of Maldives said that after the high-level core group meeting with India, it agreed to replace its military personnel in Maldives by 10 May. A statement from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, quoted by The Hindu, said that the two sides had “agreed on a set of mutually workable solutions to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medevac services to the people of Maldives.” The statement came after the president of Maldives asked India to withdraw its troops from the Maldives territory.

India: Foreign secretary’s visit to Bhutan
On 31 January, the Foreign Secretary of India, Vinay Kwatra, completed his visit to Bhutan. He held meetings with the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay, and the Foreign Affairs Minister, D. N. Dhungyel. Both countries discussed bilateral relations concerning energy, trade, technology, connectivity, infrastructure, economic ties, and people-to-people connections. The Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement: “The visit is in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between Bhutan and India.”

Maldives: Clashes in the Parliament over cabinet
On 28 January, clashes between the government and the opposition broke out over the approval of four members of Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu's Cabinet. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) decided to withhold parliamentary approval of the members ahead of the voting on the Cabinet. One member was injured during the clashes and was taken for medical assistance. There were protests by pro-government members.

Pakistan: Imran Khan and Bushra Bibi confront Khawar Manika in illegal marriage case
On 01 February, during the hearing of the illegal marriage case at Adiala Jail, Imran Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi, engaged in a confrontation with Khawar Manika, a witness in the case and Bushra Bibi’s former husband. The courtroom witnessed heated exchanges and threats, with Bushra Bibi’s lawyer charging towards Manika during cross-examination. Manika blamed Bushra Bibi for “lying.” The court recorded statements from three witnesses, and proceedings were adjourned until the next day. Khan demanded an oath on the Quran to deny any “illicit relationship” with Bushra Bibi, but the court said he could not do so as it would end his right of cross-examination. Bushra Bibi in turn maintained that the court could not “take any decision and pronounce sentence” without her statement.

Pakistan: Imran Khan and wife sentenced to 14 years in Toshakhana case
On 31 January, an accountability court sentenced former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi to 14 years in jail in the Toshakhana reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). The NAB had accused them of retaining a jewellery set received from Saudi crown prince “against undervalued assessment.” The court barred Imran Khan from holding public office for 10 years and imposed a fine of PKR 787 million on both of them. This marks Imran’s third conviction, following one in the cipher case a day earlier. The PTI condemned the judgment called it the “Complete destruction of every existing law in Pakistan in two days.” The ruling comes just eight days before the 8 February general elections, in the run up to which Imran’s party has been facing multiple challenges amid state crackdown. 

Pakistan:  Senate Committee discusses amendment to Constitution for non-Muslim reserved seats
On 31 January, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice discussed the Constitution Amendment Bill 2024, which aims to amend Article 51. Senator Danesh Kumar stated that the “unrestricted geographical allocation” for the ten reserved seats “allows political parties to nominate candidates freely, resulting in disproportionate representation favoring populous provinces.” The proposed amendment, introduced by several senators, seeks to address the disproportionate representation of non-Muslims in the National Assembly by allocating a minimum of one seat to each province. The committee unanimously supported the amendment, considering it fair and equitable.

UAE: UNRWA to be given USD five million worth support
On 03 February, according to a state news agency WAM, following significant financial cuts that threatened the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’s (UNRWA) ability to continue operations, the UAE committed USD five million to support Sigrid Kaag, the main UN coordinator for the organization, in her efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip. The declaration followed a meeting between Kaag and the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, to examine how to improve the safe and sustainable supply of relief and medical aid to the Palestinian people. Both leaders emphasized the significance of UNRWA and the necessity of supporting the organization’s humanitarian relief activities for Palestinian refugees, as they discussed measures to swiftly address the escalating humanitarian catastrophe.

Iran: US’ attack on Iraq and Syria condemned
Iran claimed that the US attacks in Syria and Iraq were a “strategic error” that would only exacerbate the already high levels of tension and instability in the Middle East brought on by Israel's military campaign in Gaza. In a statement, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Nasser Kanaani, said that the US’ attacks were a “violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, international law, and a clear violation of the United Nations Charter.” According to the Iranian statement, the Israeli regime’s occupation of Gaza, its ongoing military operations there, and its genocide of the Palestinian people all carried out with unrestricted US support, were the fundamental causes of the tension and crisis in the region.

South Africa: Jacob Zuma suspended from ANC
On 29 January, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) announced its decision to suspend former President Jacob Zuma over forming a new party. The ANC stated that it had been tolerating Zuma for a long time, citing that he refused to vote for the party. ANC Secretary-General, Fikile Mbalula stated: "Zuma and others whose conduct conflicts with our values and principles, will find themselves outside the African National Congress." Zuma was sentenced to jail in 2021 under the charges of corruption and state capture that he carried out during his presidency. However, he denied all accusations. In December, Zuma formed a new party, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), meaning "spear of the nation" against ANC. 

Africa: Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso terminates from ECOWAS
On 29 January, BBC reported that the founding members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, announced their departure from the bloc after several alleged accusations. The military governments stated that the withdrawal was a “sovereign” decision. All three countries jointly stated that the bloc was "under the influence of foreign powers, betraying its founding principles, has become a threat to member states and peoples,” and had failed to counter jihadist insurgency in the region. Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister and mediator between junta states and ECOWAS, Timothy Musa Kabba, denied the accusations on the bloc, describing them as "unfortunate." He added that ECOWAS intended to "find a solution to the impasse" and ensure peace, security, and stability in the region.

Argentina: Chamber of Deputies approves general terms of President Milei’s reform bill amid heated debate
On 02 February, Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies approved, in general terms, Argentinian President Javier Milei’s reform bill, marking a significant step for the libertarian leader’s sweeping initiative aimed at deregulating the economy. The omnibus bill encompasses over 300 articles covering economic, administrative, criminal, and environmental changes. While the general approval is a crucial milestone, negotiations on the fine print and individual articles were pending, with the bill requiring subsequent approval by the Senate. The president’s austerity measures have sparked protests, including a recent one-day general strike organized by the largest union in the country.

Cuba: President shuffles cabinet, replacing economy minister amid delayed fuel price hike
On 02 February, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel made several key changes to the cabinet, and removed Economy Minister Alejandro Gil, replacing him with Joaquín Alonso Vázquez. The move came in the aftermath of a delayed increase in gasoline prices, attributed to a cyberattack. The government had previously indicated the need to either raise fuel and electricity prices or reduce rations for basic supplies due to economic challenges. The economic crisis has prompted hundreds of thousands to leave Cuba. Additionally, Science, Technology, and Environment Minister Elba Rosa Perez was replaced by Eduardo Martinez, and Alberto Lopez will lead the Food Industry Ministry.

The US: Biden backs bipartisan senate border deal, vows to “shut down” southern border
On 02 February, US President Biden expressed support for a bipartisan Senate border deal that granted him authority to close the southern border “when overwhelmed,” emphasizing that he would use this power immediately upon signing the bill into law. Facing objections from both the right and left, the deal is crucial for addressing the ongoing immigration challenges at the US-Mexico border. The pressure mounts as Biden seeks a second term, with immigration becoming a central issue in the upcoming presidential election, especially given the opposition from Donald Trump, who had emphasized the need for a perfect border deal. The Senate negotiations aim to secure approval from House colleagues, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, who declared the deal “dead on arrival” in its current form. The border deal’s approval is linked to issues such as Ukraine aid, funding for Israel, and support for Taiwan.

Brazil: Amazon Fund secured USD 640 million in donations for rainforest conservation in 2023
On 01 February, the Environmental Director of the National Development Bank (BNDES) that manages the Amazon Fund, Tereza Campello, stated that USD 640 million was received in new pledged donations last year. The Amazon Fund, which is dedicated to sustainable rainforest development in Brazil, received significant contributions from the Biden Administration (USD 500 million over five years, pending U.S. Congress approval), Britain, Denmark, the European Union, Norway, and Germany. Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon has decreased under Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s leadership. The fund currently has USD 610 million available for conservation and sustainability projects, with additional contributions aiding Brazil’s efforts to combat deforestation and promote rainforest preservation.

Guatemala: President appeals to the people for change amid political challenges
On 01 February, Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo, facing a suspended political party, limited congressional support, and opposition from the attorney general, sought the support of the Guatemalan people to bring about the change he campaigned for. Arévalo won the presidency with a promise to challenge the entrenched power structure and combat corruption. He stated: “We can’t depend on a political system where those criminal and patronage networks still lurk.” However, Guatemala’s Attorney General, Consuelo Porras, accused of undermining democracy, has been investigating Arévalo and his party. Arévalo maintained that Porras’ office was where “the perverse system remains anchored,” adding that they were “looking for the legal means of resolving this.” He further emphasized the need for societal collaboration to overcome the existing corrupt system.

Canada: Trudeau condemns mosque attack as Islamophobia surges
On 01 February, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced an attack on a mosque in Mississauga, Ontario, describing it as “cowardly, disturbing, and unacceptable.” The incident, investigated as a hate crime, involved rocks thrown through the mosque window on the eve of the anniversary of a 2017 mosque attack in Quebec City. Trudeau emphasized that “Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities,” while the National Council of Canadian Muslims highlighted the incident as part of a troubling increase in Islamophobic hate crimes across the country.

The US: Sanctions imposed on Israeli settlers accused of violence in West Bank
On 01 February, the US announced that it had imposed sanctions on Israeli settlers accused of attacking Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank. The move came as the Biden administration faces pressure over its support for Israel amid ongoing conflict, with the sanctions targeting individuals accused of assaulting and intimidating Palestinians. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby clarified that there were “no plans to target with sanctions Israeli government officials at this time.” The executive order also aimed to penalize perpetrators of “extremist settler violence” in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected the move, stating that most West Bank settlers were “law-abiding citizens.”

The US: Court dismisses case accusing Biden of complicity in Gaza “genocide”
On 31 January, a US federal court dismissed a case accusing US President Joe Biden and other senior officials of being complicit in Israel’s alleged genocide in Gaza. The court cited procedural grounds, stating that “disputes over foreign policy are considered nonjusticiable political questions.” While dismissing the case, US District Court Judge Jeffrey White urged Biden and his colleagues to examine the results of their “unflagging support of the military siege against the Palestinians in Gaza.” The lawsuit accused Biden and other officials of failing to prevent genocide, and White acknowledged that it was plausible that Israel’s conduct amounts to genocide.

The US: Senate questions tech CEOs on child safety
On 31 January, CEOs of major social media platforms, including Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew, faced a four-hour hearing in the US Senate. Lawmakers raised concerns about child safety online, prompting discussions on proposed legislation to hold social media companies accountable for content posted on their platforms. The hearing focused on various issues, from online sexual exploitation to data privacy and potential ties to foreign governments. Families affected by self-harm or suicides linked to social media content were present, and Zuckerberg apologized to them, acknowledging the harm caused and saying that “no one should go through” what they had. Zuckerberg faced the most pressure, given that this was the eighth time he testified in front of Congress. He was questioned on an Instagram prompt that allowed users to “see the content anyway” after warning of child sexual abuse content. Zuckerberg promised to “personally look into” the matter.

The US: Chicago City Council narrowly approves resolution calling for Gaza ceasefire
On 31 January, the Chicago City Council approved a nonbinding resolution, voting 24-23, urging for a permanent ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza. The symbolic declaration also called for humanitarian aid into Gaza and the release of captives. The session was marked by tense exchanges, with families of affected children in attendance. A council member, Alderman Daniel La Spata stated: “We vote with hope. We vote with solidarity. We vote to help people feel heard in a world of silence.” The resolution aligned with similar calls in other US cities, reflecting growing concerns over the conflict’s impact on communities. Within the council, the only Jewish member, Alderwoman Debra Silverstein, contended that while everyone wanted an “end to the bloodshed,” a resolution should be passed after understanding “what caused the conflict.”

Canada: Ties strengthened with UK in AI and innovation despite trade talk pause
On 30 January, Canadian Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne signed an agreement with the UK’s Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelanto, to increase cooperation on innovation, science, and artificial intelligence (AI). This development came after Britain suspended talks on a free trade bill with Canada the previous week, citing a lack of common ground to access agriculture markets. After signing the agreement, Champagne downplayed the recent suspension of trade talks with Britain and stated that despite the pause, both countries were “doubling down” in their “key relationship.” Donelanto expressed similar sentiments, saying that the agreements highlighted their “strategic relationship” and ability to “maximise potential.”

Finland: Alexander and Pekka head to a runoff election after the first round
On 28 January, in the first round of presidential elections in Finland, former Prime Minister, Alexander Stubb emerged as the winner with 27.1 per cent votes. The runner-up position was secured by former Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, with 25.8 per cent votes. As per the polls, the voter turnout was 74.9 per cent, with major parties vouching to take a strong stance against Russia. Stubb said: “You know what, we made it to the final, but the competition will only begin now.” On the same day, Haavisto said: “This is a splendid result from the first round and a very big gap to those behind us.

France: National Assembly approves including abortion rights in the constitution
On 30 January, France’s National Assembly voted in favour of including abortion rights in the constitution. The move came following French President Emmanuel Macron’s promise in 2023 to constitutionalise the abortion bill. In the lower house, 493 voted in favour while 30 voted against. At the parliament, not many major parties stand against the bill but centre-right members seem to oppose it as they consider constitutionalising abortion an unnecessary step, given that access  to abortion in France is not threatened. 

Spain: Bill to grant amnesty to Catalans fails in the lower house
On 30 January, the controversial bill to grant amnesty to the Catalan separatists was rejected in the lower house of the parliament. The bill was pushed by Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, in exchange of the support received from the Catalan political group to form the coalition government in 2023. Although the law triggered domestic protests and opposition from the Popular Party headed by Alberto Nunez Feijoo, the bill was important for Sanchez to maintain the government. The bill suffered a setback with no support from the Junts party which is comprised of Catalans. The Junts withdrew its support for the bill, asking points on terrorism to be removed, as some of the Catalans who were part of the 2017 secession bid have been charged with terrorism-related crimes.

The UK: DUP signs deal with the UK, ending political deadlock
On 30 January, the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) signed a deal with the UK government to revive the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. The move came after two years of a “power vacuum,” where the nationalist part Sinn Fein won with the majority and the DUP disagreed to form a government due to a clash over post-Brexit trade arrangements. To address this, the UK and the European Union (EU) reached a deal to ease border checks and to bifurcate the goods moving through Northern Ireland, the UK, and the EU. Despite the deal, the DUP continued to boycott, and under pressure, the UK approved GBP three billion for public services and made “legislative assurances” to put back the DUP. The DUP agreed to form the government with the Sinn Fein party.

About the authors
Padmashree Anandhan is a Project Associate at NIAS, Bengaluru. Anu Maria, Femy Francis,
Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham and Akhil Ajith are Research Assistants at NIAS,
Bengaluru. Akriti Sharma and Rohini Reenum are PhD scholars at NIAS, Bengaluru. Manoranjan Kumar is aPhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University. 

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