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The World This Week
Pakistan's new Prime Minister, Putin's State of the Nation Address, and a Review of Global Diplomacy Index

  GP Team

The World This Week #254, Vol. 6, No.8
03 March 2024

Shamini Velayutham, Padmashree Anandhan and Tiara Marie Warjri


PAKISTAN
Shehbaz Sharif elected as the new Prime Minister
New governments in the provincial assemblies

Shamini Velayutham

What happened?
On 03 March, Shehbaz Sharif was elected by Pakistan's Parliament as its 24th Prime Minister. He secured 201 votes, against his PTI-backed opponent, who got 92. Though the PML-N, the party that Sharif belongs to does not have the majority, he was supported by PPP, MQM-P, PML-Q, IPP and a few others. After the election, Shehbaz said: "It is difficult and a long and thorny journey full of hurdles, but countries that surmounted these challenges became one of the most prosperous nations around the world...But if we decide to do a deep surgery and bring changes in the system, basic reforms, and I do not doubt that Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari and others will agree that we can either get rid of a life of debt or we move forward in shame."

On 29 February, the 16th National Assembly of Pakistan convened for its first session, with 302 out of 336 newly elected lawmakers sworn in as members of the Parliament. 

On 28 February, the newly elected members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provincial assemblies took their oaths. Earlier, during the previous week, the inaugural sessions of Sindh and Punjab also took place. 

During the week, the PTI and a few regional parties in Sindh and Balochistan continued protesting the election rigging. Members of PTI and other parties chanted slogans, causing a delay in the inaugural sessions of the assemblies. 

What is the background?
First, the election results. For the National Assembly, in the elections, for the 266 general seats, the independents, backed mainly by the PTI, have won 101 seats, followed by the PML-N (75) and the PPP (54). The MQM-P have won 17 seats, followed by JUI-F (4), IPP (3), PML-Q (3) and BNP (2). NP, PkMAPP, BNP, and PML-Z have won one seat each. The independents backed by the PTI have swept the general seats for the KP provincial assembly, winning 91 out of 115. In the Punjab provincial assembly election, the independents (backed mainly by the PTI) secured 138 seats, while PML-N won 138 and the PPP won 10. In Sindh, the PPP secured the 84 provincial assembly seats, followed by the MQM-P 28, while independent candidates secured 14, GDA 2, and JI 2 seats. The MQM-P secured eight reserved seats, while the PPP got 26 reserved seats for women and minorities. 

Second, the constitutional requirements and the delay. According to the Constitution, the national and provincial assemblies must be convened within 21 days of the elections. President Arif Alvi was bound to call the Parliament by 29 February. However, he was initially reluctant, demanding a solution to the problem of reserved seats for women and minorities allocated among parties in compliance with the legislation. PPP and PML-N sharply criticized Alvi's decision to delay it. However, he yielded to the pressure at the national level and allowed the first meeting. The Governors held the first meeting in the four provinces.

What does it mean?
First, challenges ahead for the coalition government. After multiple rounds of negotiations, there was a deal between PPP and PML-N. The power-sharing formula between the two parties is likely to face challenges. 

Second, there are challenges to the economy internally and dealing with the IMF externally. The most significant challenge for the new government will be getting Pakistan's economy back on track.

Third, protests by the PTI and regional parties in Sindh and Balochistan. The PTI and others have called for a "joint struggle" against the election rigging. 


RUSSIA
Putin's State of the Nation address: Eight takeaways
Padmashree Anandhan

On 29 February, Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivered the State of the Nation address on the war in Ukraine, Russia's nuclear capabilities, its economy, and relations with the West. The speech comes ahead of the March elections. It focused on giving insights into Russia's strategic objectives and long-term and short-term developments.  

1. Putin projects nuclear readiness
Putin highlighted Russia's capacity in strategic nuclear forces, hypersonic nuclear-capable weapons, and Kinzhal and Zircon missiles; he expressed readiness to use the same. Referring to his 2018 address, he confirmed the progress in reaching the weapon capacity. Since 2022, Putin has reiterated Russia's assertion to use nuclear weapons by all means, followed by a 2023 address where he declared withdrawal from the new START treaty.

2. Putin's sharp statement against NATO deployment
Putin's speech warned of "tragic consequences" if NATO forces were to be deployed in Ukraine. Reiterating the Wagner coup attempt, Putin warned about the consequences of breaching Russia's sovereignty. On Finland and Sweden joining NATO, Putin assured to strengthen the military in Russia's West. 

3. Putin enforces Russia's sovereignty vis-a-vis Ukraine
Putin promised to achieve Russia's goal in Ukraine. He referred to defending Russia's sovereignty and the security of Russian citizens. Although no apparent reference was made to the 2021-2025 military plan for boosting the combat readiness of Russian armed forces, Putin claimed that the Russian military had "gained a huge combat experience" and praised for its firm stance and recent offensives.

4. Putin sees no threat to his presidency
The timing of the speech and Putin's focus on domestic affairs hint at his trajectory for the upcoming presidential elections. Russia's governance system, Putin's constitutional referendum combined with only three supporting candidates' participation, gives Putin a clear path to victory.

5. Putin envisions diversifying Russia's foreign policy
Comparing Putin's 2023 speech on Russia's foreign policy approach, diversification can be evidenced by Russia looking beyond Central Asia and the Asia Pacific. The latest speech highlights Russia's expanding foreign policy agenda with ASEAN and Africa. Putin asserted Russia's interest in Africa, highlighting the Russia-Africa Summit, and also expressed to continue partnership in the Middle East. 

6. Putin rejects accusations of space weapons
Putin denied allegations by the US over the deployment of space-based weapons. He countered, saying it was intended to attract the US to initiate talks over nuclear arms control. Putin criticized the West for trying to draw Russia into an arms race in an attempt to exhaust, similar to the 1990s USSR. He also blamed it for triggering and prolonging the conflict in Ukraine and using it as a means to target inside Russia.

7. Putin glorifies workers as the new elites
Criticizing the Russians for corruption in the 1990s praised the soldiers taking part in the military operation in Ukraine as true elites and those who could be entrusted. He proposed the "Youth of Russia" project and a monthly federal benefit to provide RUB 5000 to education advisors and RUB 10,000 to education workers. He also identified the gap in average pay across the region and the increasing demand for teachers and doctors. Alternatively, he proposed a new fiscal system for "fair distribution of the tax burden" and a payment system for public sector employees. He wants to train a million skilled workers in key sectors such as aviation, shipbuilding, pharmaceutical, electronics, and defence industries by 2028.

8. Putin emphasis on boosting multilateralism
Regarding the progress of BRICS and G7, Putin indicated how the global GDP share of BRICS is increasing. According to Putin, in 2022, G7 accounted for 30.3 per cent, whereas BRICS had 31.5 per cent. He projected it to supersede G7 in 2028 with 36.6 per cent growth. He mentioned that Russia would proactively engage with such groups to establish global financial architectures and align with Russia's Eurasian partnership.
 


REPORT REVIEW
Global Diplomacy Index 2024: Seven takeaways
Tiara Marie Warjri 

The 2024 Global Diplomacy Index was released on 25 February by the Lowy Institute published. The index visualizes the diplomatic networks of 66 Asian countries and territories, the Group of 20 (G20), and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The Lowy Institute published the first index in 2016, mapping the diplomatic networks of all G20 and OECD countries (42 countries in total). The 2017 Index showcased 17 Asian countries and their networks across the world. Following two more during 2019 and 2021, in February 2024, the Lowy Institute published the fifth edition.

1. China faces a standoff with the United States in founding new diplomatic ties
According to the report, China is taking the lead in East Asia, Africa and the Pacific. At the same time, the US has an overall strategic significance in South Asia, strengthening its footing in North and South America and Europe. The trade volume between Russia and China in the first six months of 2023 has expanded and grown by 20 per cent compared to last year, making Russia its leading arms supplier. 

2. Russia is facing grave repercussions following its Ukraine invasion
The thinning of Russia's diplomatic connections will impede its ability to advance its global interests. However, its global network remains extensive, with Russia slipping from fourth on the Index in 2017 to sixth in 2021, a rank it still holds in 2024.  

3. India's geopolitical ascendancy
India's rise can be seen as it has the fastest-growing diplomatic network globally, adding 11 diplomatic posts around the globe since 2021. Almost three-quarters of the new Indian diplomatic posts (8) are in Africa, partly reflecting India's growing economic ties with the region and its ambition to position itself as leader of the Global South. The 2024 Global Diplomacy Index further notes that India has limited diplomatic representation in the Pacific, operating only two posts among the Pacific Islands Forum members (excluding Australia and New Zealand). 

4. Japan, Indonesia and other countries continue to have an influence
According to the index, Japan operates one of the most significant diplomatic networks, ranked fourth overall with 251 posts after China and has the largest global diplomatic network of any Asian country. Japan is also looking for closer security ties with India, the United States and Australia to discuss regional diplomacy as a member of the Quad group.

Being the third-largest democracy in the world, Indonesia, with the largest Muslim population, holds the most extensive global diplomatic network of any Southeast Asian country, operating 130 overseas missions abroad (ranked 23rd on the Index). Indonesia is regarded as a vital US strategic partner in Southeast Asia, as previously stated by President Joe Biden. Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam follow Indonesia in the region regarding the overall size of networks. Jakarta also ranked 6th overall among cities hosting the most foreign diplomatic posts, surpassing Washington, DC, Beijing and Canberra, with 75 foreign stations stationed in Indonesia's capital.

5. A setback for Taiwan
According to the index, Taiwan faced a major setback after Nauru formally reestablished diplomatic relations with China while severing ties with Taiwan just after the Taiwanese presidential elections. This move strengthens China's position in the Pacific while weakening Taiwan's international standing with just 12 formal diplomatic alliances. Taiwan currently operates 110 overseas posts worldwide, most of which are not officially accredited as diplomatic missions, placing it 33rd on the Index.

6. Turkey has the third-largest diplomatic network
According to the index, Turkey is reported to have the third-largest diplomatic network in the world, overtaking Japan and France with 252 posts. According to the report, Turkey still lacks representation in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions. Turkey has elevated its relations with the Gulf states to a strategic partnership. Many of Türkiye's new posts have been in the Middle East and Africa, reflecting a diplomatic push in regions of interest to Ankara. However, Türkiye's network remains highly Eurocentric, with 102 (40 per cent) of its total overseas posts in that region alone, shadowing the sizable ethnic Turkish diaspora in the Eurozone. Given its position straddling Asia and Europe, Turkey can heavily influence the Caucasus, Central Asia, the EU, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. 

7. Europe remains significant
According to the index, Brussels is a global diplomatic hub with over 300 diplomatic missions, while Geneva hosts numerous international organizations and over 100 diplomatic missions. Vienna has a rich diplomatic history, attracting over 130 embassies and diplomatic missions. Berlin and Germany, as major European powers, houses over 180 embassies and diplomatic missions, reflecting their significance in international affairs. Despite the UK's exit from the European Union, London remains a major global city with a significant diplomatic presence, hosting over 170 embassies and diplomatic missions. Damascus has also witnessed a notable diplomatic resurgence, gaining six new posts since 2017 as nations reestablished official ties with the Assad regime. In contrast, Kabul faced a significant decline with 19 post closures, driven by the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent Taliban takeover in 2021. Khartoum saw the second-highest closures at 14 due to ongoing conflict in Sudan, while Pyongyang experienced ten closures, indicative of North Korea's increasing isolation.


TWTW Regional Roundups
News from around the World 

Akriti Sharma, Padmashree Anandhan, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham, Akhil Ajith, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan GV, Narmatha S, and Gopi Keshav

China This Week
China: Beijing bolsters its presence in the South China Sea, says AMTI
On 28 February, according to a report released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), the presence of Chinese maritime militia vessels grew by 35 per cent in 2023 in the South China Sea as its actions continued to fuel tensions in the region. According to the satellite images and data in the report, an average of 195 militia ships are present in the disputed region in a day. As per the report, around 180 boats suddenly shifted towards the Mischief Reef in July 2023, which are being claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. The Mischief Reef is located within the Philippines' EEZ and has been controlled by China for the last three decades. In response, Manila established a military outpost near the Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 using the old rusty BRP Sierra Madre warship. In 2023, the ship became a hotspot for increased contestation between the two sides. Chinese ships attempted to block the Philippines' supply mission to the outpost, leading to a water cannon attack and near collisions. 

China: Shipbuilding industry achieves record growth despite US sanctions
On 28 February, according to a report in the South China Morning Post, "China's shipbuilding industry 'edge' helps it thrive under US sanctions: study," by the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Chinese shipyards continue to withstand the mounting US sanctions imposed by the former Trump Presidency. According to the data from the China Association of the National Shipbuilding Industry, in 2023, Chinese shipbuilding achieved a growth of 12 per cent year on year to 42.32 tonnes, which is more than other countries combined. The peer-reviewed paper published by Marine Development and Management shows that Chinese shipyards continue to have access to all specialized equipment in small quantities. Also, the study reveals that some Chinese products are inferior to Western products but are catching up in technology and are attractive in price. The study also showed that Trump's presidential sanctions posed significant challenges to China's marine equipment and supply chains. China's shipbuilding is 200 times faster than the US's, which poses difficulty for the US Navy to maintain its dominance in the global oceans. 

China: Country Garden faces liquidation petition over debt crisis
On 28 February, China's property giant Country Garden faced a liquidation petition for a non-payment of a loan amounting to USD 205 million. The company's shares fell more than 12 per cent in early trading. The company rejected the petition filed by the creditor, Ever Credit Limited of Kingboard Holdings. This comes after the Evergrande Group was ordered to be liquidated by the Hong Kong court on the USD 300 billion debt accumulated by the company. China's property sector faces a massive crisis due to the intense regulatory crackdown imposed since 2021, leading to a liquidity crisis. The Country Garden plans to communicate about the debt restructuring program to the creditors actively. Investment holding company Kingboard became the first listed company to take legal action against Country Garden when its unit firm issued a debt of USD 204 million. 

China: Beijing's housing authority to regulate rental fees will boost long-term leasing market, says SCMP
On 27 February, Beijing's Municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a draft proposal to regulate rental fees that could boost long-term leasing, thereby reinforcing the rights and interests of tenants. The proposal would enable the housing rental companies that collect rent for over three months to deposit part of it into a third-party escrow account. Tenants can monitor the account using a number linked to the contract. The draft proposal is open to public consultation until 05 March. Deputy director of the China Index Academy, Xu Yuejin, said that the proposal would support China's housing rental regulations, standardize the procedure involved, and ensure the healthy development of the housing rental market. According to the proposal, the Beijing Real Estate Agency Association will settle disputes between the tenants and the rental companies. It will assist tenants in retrieving their rents and deposits. China's apartment industry was designed to provide furnished apartments and amenities at affordable prices to young urban professionals. Yan Yueijin said the country's recent policy proposal will respond well to the crisis-hit property market. 

China: Vietnam requests tech transfer from Chinese energy company
On 27 February, Vietnam's government delegation, led by Deputy Prime Minister Tran Hong Ha, requested technology transfers from PowerChina, an energy and construction giant in China. He welcomed PowerChina's delegation to Vietnam to discuss wind and solar projects under China's BRI. The investment is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Vietnam in December 2023 after US President Joe Biden visited Hanoi. Amid the slowing domestic market and US sanctions on Chinese manufacturing, Vietnam captured most of the FDI, amounting to USD 9 billion. Powerchina has around 50 projects in Vietnam and is building a 600MW project in Laos. 

China: Beijing revises state secrets law for the first time
On 27 February, the Xinhua news agency reported a new revised law on the country's state secrets for the first time since 2010, which will take effect from 01 May. The revised law will include "work secrets" in restricted sensitive information. This revision is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's efforts toward national security, with implementing an anti-espionage law in April 2023 that created fear among foreign businesses. The existing state secrets comprise areas such as the government, CCP decision-making, military and diplomatic activities, and so on. The new revision will require government agencies to protect information that is not state secrets but can have negative implications if leaked. The revised law increases coordination with China's Data Security Law for managing confidential data. 

China: Top leadership places high priority on economic recovery for 2024 agenda
On 26 February, Chinese leadership headed by Premier Li Qiang called economic recovery the highest priority for the 2024 agenda. During the meeting, he said that the efforts are directed towards smoothening domestic trade, establishing a more favourable business environment, and stimulating market vigour. His remarks come after his previous five separate State Council meetings in 2024 focused on issues such as technology, demographics, local debt, and attracting overseas investors. He further said that China needs to remove trade barriers set up by the local governments as they pose issues to foreign companies. According to Peng, China's local protectionist policies are dragging domestic and foreign investment. He added that the government's crackdown on the internet, foreign businesses, real estate, and strict pandemic policies has led to a stagnant recovery of the Chinese economy. 

Taiwan: China clarifies no threat by its coast guard patrol around Kinmen islands
On 28 February, a spokeswoman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhu Fenglian, said that the Chinese Coast Guard did not recognize any limits around Kinmen Islands for its fishermen and did not cause any alarm while boarding the Taiwanese tourist vessel. She further said that the Coast Guard's actions were by law to protect the lives of fishermen and travellers. Taiwan noted last week that the boarding of Chinese Coast Guard officials on a Taiwanese tourist boat had triggered panic. China does not recognize Taiwan's sovereignty and has accused Taiwan of killing the two Chinese nationals on the fishing boat near the Kinmen islands. Taiwan, while defending its actions, has accused China of failing to control its ships entering its waters around the Kinmen Islands. 

Taiwan: Chinese Coast Guard ships no threat if it's not close to land forces, says Taiwanese defense minister
On 27 February, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said that the military won't consider the presence of Chinese Coast Guard ships in the disputed waters as long as they are away from the Taiwanese land forces. Chiu's statements come after the recent dispatch of Chinese ships around the Taiwan-controlled defense outpost of Quemoy, also known as Kinmen. He wanted to ease the growing tensions between the two sides to avoid potential conflict. He highlighted the SOPs to handle such cases and mentioned that the military won't directly intervene and won't increase its forces on the islands near mainland China. According to the Taiwanese media, no agreement has been reached so far, with the two sides initiating the talks on 20 February to resolve the fishermen's death case. 

East Asia and The Pacific This Week
South Korea: Seoul and Tokyo need a new Joint Statement in 2025
On 27 February, according to an interview in Nikkei Asia, foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Park Cheol-hee, said that both South Korea and Japan need to issue a new statement in 2025 to address the growth in their bilateral relations for a shared perspective and break away from old stereotypes. Regarding wartime labour, Park said that the Future Partnership Funds, jointly set up by both countries, are required to promote greater business projects and create an environment for resolving past issues. Park further said 2025 is a significant milestone for South Korea – Japan ties and must create a shared vision on the joint declaration by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and President Kim Dae-Jung in 1998. 

South Korea: Increase in suicide rates and mental health issues
On 26 February, an editorial in The Straits Times titled "Rising suicides and mental health issues among S. Korean youth prompt health policy reforms," by Wendy Teo, highlighted the growing suicide rate in South Korea, especially among the Youth. It has been one of the top countries grappling with the issue amongst the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. In 2022, 25.2 suicides happened per 100,000 people; they exceeded the average amongst the OECD countries, which stood at 10.6. Wendy expresses her concerns over the demography coming under this are young and consists of the MZ generation, which means millennials and Gen Z. In 2022, the demography between 10-30 made up a quarter of the suicide cases in South Korea. Korea Foundation for Suicide Prevention (KFSP) president Dr Hwang Tae-yeon informed that one in five die due to their suicide attempt. It was also observed that the issue of mental health and depression is a lot higher in South Korea than reported and that regardless of them being a developed economy and country, the non-redressal of the issue exacerbated the issue. (Wendy Teo "Rising suicides and mental health issues among S. Korean youth prompt health policy reforms," The Straits Times, 26 February 2024)

Australia: PM Albanese to host ASEAN member countries for economic partnership
On 25 February, The Straits Times reported on Australia's plans to conduct a second summit with the ASEAN countries from 04-06 March. The summit hopes to pitch a concrete bid to establish and restore relations with key ASEAN economic partners. Last September, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese launched 'Invested: Australia's Southeast Asia Economic Strategy To 2040' in Jakarta, showcasing his office's keen interest in furthering their regional investment. PM Albanese believes that Australia's economic future is in the hands of Southeast Asia. The initiative is now known as the Moore Report outlined by the investment banker Nicholas Moore who found that the ASEA countries have outpaced the economic partners and would continue to do so. 

New Zealand: Leaked documents reveal lobbying on French territories on the Solomon Islands-China agreement
On 29 February, according to an editorial in Al Jazeera titled "New Zealand lobbied French on Solomon Islands-China pact, cables show," by Erin Hale, the newly leaked documents revealed New Zealand lobbying French territories of French Polynesia and New Caledonia to respond to the security pact between China and the Solomon Islands. The records show that the two island territories will take a position on the China pact. The document leak created an alarm in France and Australia. While speaking to French counterparts, New Zealand authorities said the first response must come from the Pacific Island countries. The documents reveal that New Zealand conducted three meetings with the French overseas territories between 29 and 30 March. A spokesperson for New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) has the collective capacity to respond to the regional challenges and mentions New Zealand's long-term security partnership with the Solomon Islands by participating alongside Australia and Fiji in the Solomon Islands International Assistance Force (SIAF) in 2023. 

New Zealand: To initiate the prosecution of tour operators involved in the White Island volcanic eruption
On 26 February, New Zealand initiated the prosecution of the tour operators involved in the volcanic eruption on the White Island that killed 22 people on 09 December 2019. Most of the tourists killed were from countries like Australia, the US, and Malaysia. Tour operators White Island Tours, Volcanic Air Safaris, Kahu New Zealand, and Aerius, along with the corporate owner of the island, Whakaari Management Limited, are being sentenced to the criminal offence of not ensuring adequate safety for workers and tourists. They are fined NZD 1.5 million per tour operator. White Island was one of the most popular tourist destinations until the volcanic eruption in 2019. The prosecutor for workplace regulator WorkSafe, Ms Kristy McDonald, said that White Island Tours had NZD 5 million and Volcanic Air Safaris had NZD300,000 available for reparation payments through insurance they held. 

Tuvalu: Assures Taiwan of strong bilateral ties
On 26 February, Taiwanese ambassador to Tuvalu Andrew Lin stated that the new Prime Minister Feleti Teo has affirmed their support and assurance for Taiwan as "everlasting." Tuvalu is a small nation with a population of 11,000 and is one of the 12 states to have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Lin said: "I was invited to attend a lunch with all the MPs and the newly elected PM. I had conversations with all of them and had assurances from all of them that the relationship between Taiwan and Tuvalu is firm, rock-solid, durable and everlasting." 

South Asia This Week
India: Aims to have a Space Station by 2035
On 01 March, The Hindu reported that after announcing the astronauts for the Gaganyaan mission in Thiruvananthapuram on 27 February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed India's plans to establish its space station by 2035. During his address at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Modi emphasized India's upcoming lunar mission to bring back samples from the lunar surface. Additionally, he highlighted India's space ambitions, including venturing to Venus. The four astronaut-designates were commended as representatives of India's aspirations in space exploration. The PM expressed pride in India's advancements in space technology, emphasizing the nation's increasing self-reliance in this sector. The Gaganyaan mission aims to demonstrate India's human spaceflight capability by sending a crew into orbit for a three-day mission before safely returning them to Earth. This initiative signifies India's significant progress in space exploration and technology, paving the way for future endeavours in space research and travel. 

India: Demand to scrutinize pro-Khalistan groups in the US
On 28 February, The Hindu reported that the India-U.S. Senior Officials' Homeland Security Dialogue (HSD) occurred in New Delhi. India raised its demand to investigate the pro-Khalistan groups that are instigating violence against India. During the HSD talks, India raised its demand that the United States needs to put an end to separatist groups operating within its borders, especially those who have been behind recent attacks on Indian missions. The U.S., Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom are among the nations that "do not investigate and take action" against individuals targeting Indian embassies. Both sides reviewed the ongoing cooperation in counter-terrorism and security domains, which has been a key of the India-U.S. strategic partnership. Also, they spoke about the need to curb illegal immigration and human trafficking, money laundering, cybercrimes, and misuse of the cyber domain for illegal activities, including terror financing.

India: Many Indians freed from Russian Army, says MEA 
On 26 February, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) asserted that many Indians were freed from the Russian Army. Many Indians who worked as security helpers for the Russian Army were trying to seek help from the Indian government for their release. The MEA said: "Each and every such case brought to the attention of the Indian Embassy in Moscow has been strongly taken up with the Russian authorities, and those brought to the attention of the Ministry have been taken up with the Russian Embassy in New Delhi. Several Indians have already been discharged as a result. We remain committed, as a matter of top priority, to actively pursuing with the Russian authorities all the relevant cases of Indian nationals for an early discharge from the Russian Army." 

India: Dosti 16 Exercise kicks off in the Indian Ocean
On 25 February, The Hindu reported that Maldivian Defence Minister Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon formally inaugurated the 16th iteration of 'Dosti," the biennial exercise, which took place from 22 to 25 February. He highlighted the importance of the "collaboration and interoperability" between the coast guard personnel of Maldives, Sri Lanka, and India. In Dosti 16, Bangladesh is set to observe while the Indian Coast Guard ship Samarth, ICGS Abhinav, and Sri Lanka Naval Ship Samudura participated. The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), in a statement, said: "Scheduled from 22 to 25 February, the exercise provides participating forces with opportunities to engage in various maritime activities, including interdiction operations, search and rescue missions, surveillance, and communication drills." In 1992, India and the Maldives were the only participating nations in the 'Dosti' series of naval drills. In 2012, Sri Lanka became a part of the program, and this year, for the 16th edition, the Bangladesh Coast Guard has also become an observer. 

India: MILAN 2024 kicks off at Vishakhapatnam
On 25 February, the sea portion of the biennial naval exercise MILAN-2024 began off at the coast of Vishakhapatnam between the Indian Navy and ships and planes from across the world. The intense maritime phase, which includes the air, surface, and underwater domains, began on the first day with a powerful naval demonstration. The second day was followed by the participants engaging in advanced exercises covering all three dimensions of maritime warfare. Activities including weapon firing against surface and high-speed aerial targets, anti-submarine warfare, cross-deck landings, carrier operations, and seamanship evolutions such as replenishment at sea were performed. The official statement by the Indian Navy said: "The MILAN-2024 sea phase serves as a testament to the commitment of the participating nations towards promoting peace, stability, and interoperability in the maritime domain. As the exercise progresses, the world witnesses a united front of naval forces actively building bridges and strengthening global maritime security." 

Nepal: The Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project with India is stagnant, says a news report
On 01 March, The Hindu highlighted that more than a month after signing an agreement between India and Nepal for long-term power sharing, progress on the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project (PMP) remains stagnant. The PMP stands as the largest bilateral power project envisioned by both nations. The agreement was reached during the 7th India-Nepal Joint Commission Meeting aimed to boost Nepali power exports to India to 10,000 MW over a decade, with the PMP designed to generate approximately 6,480 MW of energy and provide irrigation water for vast areas in both countries. The impasse primarily concerns disagreements on benefit-sharing, particularly regarding irrigation and flood control benefits. Efforts to revive discussions on the PMP require a delicate balance of interests and a willingness to effectively address each party's concerns. 

Nepal: South Asia worst hit by the Red Sea crisis 
On 27 February, The Kathmandu Post reported that the South Asian countries may feel economic troubles due to the Red Sea tensions. Nepal, an import-driven country, may face this in two ways- one, rising shipping costs, and the second, shared rising cost burden from India since Nepal is largely dependent. According to the executive director of South Asia Watch on Trade, Economies, and Environment (SAWTEE), reported by The Kathmandu Post: "A quarter of Nepal's exports are bound for Europe, including Turkey, and the US through the Suez Canal," and the change in route might raise freight cost and duration of the travel. The threat of raising shipping costs may raise import costs in India for leather, plastics, and spices, which will further disrupt Indian exports and cause losses for exporting companies. The loss in India signifies a loss in Nepal, too. According to the report 'Red Sea Attacks Monitor: "The closer the Suez Canal to an Asian economy is, the larger the relative increase in trade distance will be due to closure. This will, in turn, cause a bigger rise in shipping costs and time and a larger decrease in trade volume." 

Sri Lanka: No-Confidence Motion over the Enactment of Online Safety Law
On 27 February, Parliamentarian G. L. Peiris said that the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SBJ) would go for a No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against the SLPP over the enactment of the Online Safety Act, which is contrary to the Constitution. For the online safety Bill, out of 225 MPs, 108 voted in favour of the bill, and 62 voted against it. The opposition party of SBJ alleged that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena is working on an extension of the executive. According to The Island, Prof. Peiris said in a statement, "in spite of our efforts to convince the Speaker to adhere to the SC's recommendations, he simply went ahead with the despicable political strategy pursued by the Wickremesinghe - Rajapaksa dispensation." The Online Safety Bill was passed in violation of the Supreme Court's determination by the Speaker's Office. Prof. Peiris pointed out that the Human Rights Commission's (HRC) report contradicted the Speaker's stand. The HRC pointed out that the Supreme Court's recommendations in Section 13 (Clause 13 of the Bill), Section 16 (Clause 17 of the Bill), Section 19 (Clause 21 of the Bill), Section 20 (Clause 22 of the Bill), and Section 27 (Clause 31 of the Bill) hadn't been accommodated. The HRC still needs to answer whether the Speaker's Office responded to HRC Chairman and retired Supreme Court Justice L.T.B. Dehideniya's letter. According to Prof. Peiris, the Online Safety Bill had 34 sections out of 57.

Sri Lanka: Opposition accused the Speaker of violating the Constitution
On 27 February, the opposition party of Sri Lanka accused the Parliamentary Speaker of violating the Constitution by approving the appointment of a controversial official as the head of the police chief. President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshabandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Sri Lanka Police (IGP) since 26 February. According to the BBC, the opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, on his 'X' page, posted: "The Constitution is being blatantly violated for the second time. Shame on you Speaker!" He claimed that the Constitutional Council had not approved the IGP's appointment, citing four positive votes, two negative votes, and two abstentions. In the post, he declared, "4/2 is not a tie." Countering these, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana responded that the accusations are 'totally baseless.' He said: "If they think there is a violation, they have to go to the courts, not come to parliament." The Supreme Court, in December 2023, held Mr. Tennakoon personally responsible for torture and various violations. The Supreme Court has received at least seven Fundamental Rights petitions against the appointment and has decided to hear the petitions on 02 April.

Maldives: India commences replacement of troops
On 29 February, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs announced that India's technical team reached Maldives to replace military troops. This is the first replacement of troops. The number of replacement counts remains unclear. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal stated, "The first team of technical personnel to operate the advanced light helicopter at Gan has reached Maldives. It will replace the existing personnel operating this platform until now. So that is where we are." This move will be widely taken as a major backtrack towards the Maldives after the escalated "India out" campaign. The situation between India and Maldives is at stake after the recently elected Muizzu government requested troop withdrawal.

Pakistan: PPP urges ECP to hold an election for 11 "vacant seats in the Senate as soon as possible."
On 29 February, in a letter to the chief election commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, the PPP Central Election Cell in-charge, Senator Taj Haider, requested the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold elections for the 11 vacant seats of the Senate immediately. He highlighted that the Senate remained incomplete since about ten per cent of its total strength was vacant. He cited Section 127 of the Elections Act, which deals with by-elections to vacant seats in the Senate, and Section 107, which prescribes the procedure for all elections to the Senate under which not more than one day is given to complete each stage of the schedule. He listed the names of the senators who had vacated the seats and stated: "It is requested that elections be held for the vacant seats in the Senate as soon as possible."

Middle East This Week
Israel: Raid in Qalandiya refugee camp
On 29 February, the Israeli military raided the Qalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank. The military arrested two men allegedly connected to an attack on the Israeli settlement in Eli. On the same day, the Israeli military stated that due to the shortage of space in the prison, it released "administrative detainees" to make room for detainees of "higher threat level."

Palestine: IDF opens fire against aid seekers in Gaza
On 29 February, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) opened fire against the civilians. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than 100 people were killed in the attack. The Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot, called the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take action against the attack. He stated: "This is Israel's barbarism and savagery. Every state that enables this or stays silent is complicit."

Meanwhile, Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the international community to protect Palestinians. The Ministry stated: "Qatar condemns in the strongest terms the heinous massacre committed by the Israeli occupation, against defenseless civilians who were waiting for humanitarian aid to arrive in Gaza, resulting in the death and injury of dozens of people." The Foreign Ministry of Oman asserted that the attack on Palestinians was part of "systematic criminal acts by the occupation forces." The Ministry stated that the incident was a clear breach of international law. It added: "It was nothing but a continuation of the policy of extermination pursued by the Israeli occupation forces." Separately, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), al-Quds Brigades, stated that it targeted an Israeli military bulldozer and attacked an infantry force in the city of Khan Younis. The confrontation resulted in four causalities. The group added that it fired mortar shells at Israeli troops in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza.

Lebanon: Hezbollah and Hamas target Israeli forces
On 28 February, the Hamas asserted that it fired a volley of rockets from southern Lebanon towards northern Israel. The Hamas' armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, stated that it attacked two Israeli military sites with "two barrages of Grad rockets." The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was alarmed about the recent fire exchanges and "an expansion and intensification of strikes." The UNIFIL stated: "Recent events have the potential to put at risk a political solution to this conflict." It added that the parties involved should "halt hostilities and leave space for a political and diplomatic solution." On the same day, Hezbollah targeted the Meron air control base in response to the Israeli strike in the city of Baalbek. 

Yemen: US conducts self-defence strikes against Houthi cruise missiles
On 29 February, the US military's Central Command (CENTCOM) stated that it carried out two self-defence strikes against six Houthi mobile anti-ship cruise missiles in Yemen, which were "prepared to launch towards the Red Sea." The US forces claimed that it shot down a Houthi unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over the southern Red Sea in self-defence. CENTCOM stated: "CENTCOM forces determined that the missiles and UAV presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region."

Africa This Week
Guinea: Opposition leader appointed as Prime Minister
On 28 February, Guinea's opposition leader, Mamadou Oury Bah, was appointed as the new Prime Minister. The country's interim President, Mamady Doumbouya, held the sworn-in event. The development came after the military dissolved the interim government without any details. Guinea is expected to end the transition and hold its elections this year. In 2021, the military carried out a coup, ousting the civilian-led government. 

Senegal: Elections to be held on 2 June
On 27 February, after a two-day national dialogue, the panel proposed to hold elections on 2 June. The panel included several civil, political, and religious leaders except the candidates on the ballot. The dialogue focussed on fostering trust among people and candidates. The panel asked the Election Commission to relook at the decision that blocked candidates, including Karim Wade, an opposition leader and son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, from the ballot. The development came after the Constitutional Council annulled President Macky Sall's decision to postpone the elections to December. Violent protests erupted across the country following the announcement of election delay. 

Chad: Elections to be held in May
On 27 February, Chadian military authorities announced the delayed elections to be held in May. The polls would put an end to a transition that began in 2021. Gen Mahamat Déby took over the power after his father and President Idriss Deby died in the battleground against insurgent groups. 

Europe This Week 
Ukraine: Zelenskyy visits Saudi Arabia and Albania to discuss peace formula and defence cooperation
On 28 February, Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, visited Albania to partner for a Ukraine-South-East Europe summit with Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama. The visit also focused on meeting with potential leaders to gather support against Russia and discuss the defence, political and 10-point peace plan proposed by Ukraine. In response, Albania's foreign minister said: "A pivotal moment for fostering bilateral ties and standing in solidarity with Ukraine in its heroic fight against Russia's aggression." On 28 February, in response to Zelenskyy's visit, the Balkan leaders reiterated their support for peace in Ukraine. They vouched for boosting the idea of arms production at the summit held in Albania. A joint declaration was signed by the leaders, assuring their participation in the peace summit to be held in Switzerland. They also confirmed their support of Ukraine in reconstruction and post-war recovery.

Poland: Tusk considers a temporary ban on Ukraine grains
On 28 February, Poland's Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, hinted at imposing a "temporary" ban on the border with Ukraine as tensions build over the entry of Ukraine grain. He said: "We are talking with the Ukrainian side about a temporary closure of the border, the cessation in general of trade." Following the protests by the Polish farmers over Ukrainian grains, Tusk has come under pressure to act on the inflow of Ukrainian grains claimed to be accumulating inside Poland. The reason behind the protest is the EU's move in 2022 to remove tariffs on Ukrainian grain, resulting in the flooding of Ukrainian cereal exports into Poland and affecting the local producers' market.

Russia: Think tank reports revival of economic growth by 2026
On 28 February, the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), a Russian think tank, released a new study reporting on sanctions imposed by the West to have reached the saturation limit. According to the repot in RT, the measures which targeted Russia's economic growth were overcome through loopholes and circumventing by trade with third party countries. It provides two scenarios for Russia from the observation. One is the simultaneous reduction of the price cap of Russian oil to USD 50 per barrel against imposing an embargo and secondary sanctions. The study reveals that in a negative situation, the GDP is expected to slow to 0.3 per cent but to revive with 1.5 per cent in the next two years. 

Americas This Week
Nicaragua: Case filed against Germany in ICJ for "facilitating the commission of genocide" in Gaza
On 1 March, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) stated that Nicaragua had filed a case against Germany for providing financial and military aid to Israel and defunding the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA). Nicaragua urged the ICJ to issue emergency measures that would force Germany to end its aid and reverse its decision to cut its funding to the UNRWA. It cited the 1948 Genocide Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the laws of war in Palestinian territories, adding: "By sending military equipment and now defunding UNRWA which provides essential support to the civilian population, Germany is facilitating the commission of genocide." According to Nicaragua, the emergency measures would put an end to Germany's "participation in the ongoing plausible genocide and serious breaches of international humanitarian law" in Gaza.

Argentina: President vows to go ahead with economic reforms "with or without" political support
On 1 March, Argentinian President Javier Milei asserted that he would "keep pushing forward" with the package of economic reforms "with or without the support of political leaders." Earlier in February, lawmakers rejected his reform bill despite the proposed changes being cut down by more than half following negotiations with the opposition. Milei claimed that "if you look for conflict, you will have conflict," maintaining that his economic reforms and austerity measures which triggered protests were necessary to uplift the country's economy. He asked his country for "patience and trust" and highlighted that it would take "some time" for the "fruit of economic reorganization" to be realized.

The US: Trump and Biden make separate visits to US-Mexico border
On 29 February, US President Joe Biden and former US President Donald Trump made separate visits to the US-Mexico border in Texas to see who had the more favourable take on combating immigration. Biden underscored the importance of a bipartisan border security bill, which he claims is the "toughest, most efficient, most effective security bill" America had "ever seen." He said to Trump: "Instead of playing politics with the issue, join me, or I'll join you in telling the Congress to pass this bill." Trump, on the other hand, said that the fact that migrants, whom he labelled "criminals" and "terrorists," were being let into the US was "horrible." Citing an incident in which a Venezuelan migrant is thought to have killed a nursing student in Georgia, Trump claimed that Biden had "the blood of countless innocent victims."

The US: Trump disqualified from appearing on Illinois Republican primary ballot
On 28 February, Illinois Judge Trace Porter barred Donlad Trump from appearing on the state's Republican presidential primary ballot, citing his involvement in the 6 January 2021 attack at the US capitol. She sided with the state's voters who contended that Trump should be disqualified from the primary ballot and general election ballot for violating the anti-insurrection clause of the US Constitution's 14th Amendment. However, she delayed her ruling from taking effect due to an appeal made by Trump. The ruling was hailed as a "historic victory" by the advocacy group Free Speech for People, but the US Supreme Court will likely decide the outcome of the case. 

The US: Biden and Trump win party primaries in Michigan
On 27 February, US President Joe Biden won Michigan's Democratic presidential primary, though early counts showed significant opposition over his support for Israel's war on Gaza. The state has a large Arab-American constituency, and Democratic voters were asked to mark their primary ballots as "uncommitted" in a show of protest against Biden's Gaza policy. The option of "uncommitted" is a way of questioning whether a candidate has the support of the party's base. Separately, Donald Trump won the Republican presidential primary in Michigan by a large margin, with Nikki Haley coming in second. Michigan is a state that could swing toward either party and will play a vital role in the November elections.

Canada: Draft legislation to reduce harmful content on social media unveiled
On 26 February, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government unveiled draft legislation that would make tech platforms to swiftly remove seven categories of harmful content, including material that sexualizes children and promotes hate. Canadians would be able to ask for content to be removed within 24 hours, subject to review, and lodge complaints against users spreading hate speech. There would also be a digital safety commission tasked with enforcing these standards, including making platforms introduce features to protect children. Trudeaus stated: "For too long, web giants have failed to keep kids safe online," he said. "Far too often, this has had devastating consequences." He claimed that while the government respected the citizens' freedom of expression, all users should have access to an online environment "where they can express themselves freely, without fearing for their safety or their life." The Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre criticized this legislation, saying Trudeau's definition of hate speech is "speech he hates."


MCCONNELL
Longest serving Senate Party Leader steps down

Navinan GV

On 28 February, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared on the Senate floor that he would step down as GOP leader in November, ending an era on Capitol Hill and setting up a high-stakes fight for his replacement. He said he would continue to serve in the US Senate but would encourage the next generation to take the helm of the Senate Republican Conference. McConnell has made history throughout his political career. In 2023, McConnell will become the Senate's longest-serving party leader. However, in recent months, McConnell has found himself at odds with members of his conference, particularly on the topic of increasing US financing for the Ukrainian war. McConnell also has a problematic relationship with the Republican Party's front-runner for the presidential nomination.

Mitch McConnell is the Republican leader in the United States Senate. On 3 January 2023, he became the longest-serving Senate Party Leader in American history, having led the Republican Conference nine times since 2006. From 2015 to 2021, McConnell was the Senate Majority Leader. He is only the second Kentuckian in history to serve as Majority Leader of the United States Senate. McConnell previously held leadership positions as Majority Whip in the 108th and 109th Congresses and as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 1998 and 2000.

Since he revealed the news, Washington has rushed rapidly to speculate on who might succeed Mr McConnell, who has skilfully held his divided party together in recent years. Those aiming to succeed Mr McConnell face the tough task of appealing to opposing party factions. The final replacement will need to secure the endorsement of a majority of Senate Republicans. 


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. Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan Govindaraj, Narmatha S and Gopi Keshav are postgraduate students at the University of Madras, and Tiara Marie Warjri is an undergraduate student at St Joseph's University.

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