The World This Week

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The World This Week
China's Two Sessions and 25 Years of NATO's First Expansion

  GP Team

The World This Week #256, Vol. 6, No.10
17 March 2024

Femy Francis and Padmashree Anandhan

China: Two Sessions rubber stamps Xi’s vision for China
Femy Francis

What happened?
On 04 March, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held its 14th annual plenary meeting also known as the “Two Session” or “Lianghui” with the National Peoples’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People. The 2024 agenda focused on economic recovery, technological and innovation development and Xi’s proposal for new quality “productive forces” to accelerate growth. They introduced reforms in State Council Organic Law and cancelled the media conference by the Chinese Premier. While Xi Jinping did not address the gathering directly he stated: “In the face of a new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation, we must seize opportunities, increase innovation, cultivate and expand emerging industries, and plan future industries in advance.” Chinese Premier Li Qiang attributed the achievements of 2023 to the: “sound guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” and submitted the Government Working Report (GWR) where he gave the layout of 2023 growth and expanded on the plans for 2024.

What is the background?
First, background to the “Two Sessions,” the meeting consists of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the national legislature and the highest organ of state power. The meeting is called a “rubber stamp” gathering as they approve already decided law amendments proposed by the senior members of the party prior to the meeting. The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is a multiparty organ that works as a political consultative for the CCP. It deals with concerns expressed by non-communist party members to redress their agenda and concerns. It is only an advisory body with no policy-making power. The NPC and CPPCC gathering has been a rare window to the shielded Chinese cabinet, “Lianghui” have announced major decisions where in 2018, the NPC voted in favour of scrapping the two-year presidential limit, paving way for Xi to stay in power. In the 2023 meeting, the NPC agreed unanimously to elect Xi as the third-time President.

Second, Xi Jinping’s vision for 2024, Xi made three deliberations while visiting: the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang (RCCK), the environmental resources sector; the science and Technology sector and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and People’s Armed Police. His inference was focused on the development of the “new productive force.” He expounded that to pursue economic and technological self-reliance they need to produce a new force that can make China sustainable. While he promoted “increasing innovative efforts,” he also warned against the “rushes and bubbles” probable due to overproduction and that it must not become the catalyst to economic vacuums.

Third, two major reforms were introduced, the cancellation of the premier’s traditional press conference and the amendments to the State Council’s Organic Law. The Chinese premier will no longer be addressing the customary media press conference at the end of the “Two Sessions.” The only time media domestic and global media could ask direct questions. The amendments to the State Council’s Organic Law state that the council now have to uphold the party leadership and ideology. Where by law the cabinet must uphold the CCP’s “implemented decision.” This is the first reform in the bill since its inception in 1982.

Fourth, Targets for 2024. The government working report informed of the targets set for 2024. The GDP economic growth to remain the same as last year at 5 per cent and they plan to issue 1 trillion RMB for central government bonds. They also proposed the need to nurture new productive forces to further innovation and technology development. As for the environmental goal, they aim to reduce energy intensity by 2.5 per cent. The Government Working Report also promoted China’s “new three,” industries: solar photovoltaic technologies, lithium batteries, and electric vehicles to invest in. Premier Li Qiang also announced the 7.2 per cent hike in Chinese budget defence.

Fifth, Milder stance on Taiwan. Xi Jinping came out with a milder stance on promoting “peaceful unification” with Taiwan through cooperation, and developmental exchanges. His statements showcased that Xi might not want to escalate the cross-strait tensions. While doing so he also urged the need to prepare for maritime military struggles safeguarding maritime rights. The GWR stressed the adherence to the 1992 consensus (One China and different interpretations), while Wang Yi called for all Chinese descendants to oppose Taiwanese independence and support reunification.
What does it mean?
First, the end of the government-party dichotomy. The amendment to uphold party leadership over the State Council has eliminated the provision for separate party and state space. The amendment makes the party ideology and the leadership’s decision supreme and the state cabinet is expected to follow suit. Amending the law has made questioning the party activity illegal and criminal. The provision annihilated Deng Xiaoping's vision for a separate state and party. This has made the party and Xi the sole proprietor of policy and other changes.

Second, the state and party submit to Xi. The meeting came out with underwhelming policy decisions and gave centrality to political changes and amendments upholding the party’s and Xi’s superiority. The cancellation of Chinese Premier Li Qiang's media conference with the global and local media scrapped access to Chinese politburo. The scrapping has reinstated Xi as the sole head and representative of China.

Third, the contradictory stance on Taiwan. The mild stances on Taiwan and the call for “peaceful unification” stands contrary to the current geopolitical discussion surrounding the region that believes that conflict in the Taiwan Strait is near since the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The statements showcased that China does not plan to escalate tensions while both China and Taiwan have increased their military activity, where China has often used expansionist and violent tactics to reclaim its hegemony in the region. 

Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland: 25 years of NATO's first Eastern Europe enlargement
Padmashree Anandhan

What happened?
On 15 March, NATO commemorated 25 years of Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland joining the alliance. Accepting their membership in 1999 served as a symbolic and security boon, bringing the West and Eastern Europe closer to NATO. It marked the end of the three countries from being part of the Eastern Bloc and transcending into the Western European group. Since then, efforts of these countries have concentrated on aligning with NATO’s standards in defence, democracy, and economies.
On 15 March, marking the Czech Republic’s 25th anniversary in NATO, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Lipavský said: “The successful integration of these three countries into NATO’s policies and structures helped open the door to other countries in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe.” 
On 14 March, in a press conference after the meeting with the Poland President, Andrzej Duda, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “…a key Ally and a security provider. You are building one of the biggest armies in NATO. You spend around 4 per cent of GDP on defence, topping the NATO table.” 
On 12 March, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, following his meeting with the US President, Joe Biden, said: “During these 25 years, we have shown that we are a reliable and proven Ally…We are working consistently in this direction in Poland.  That is why we are buying the most advanced American weapons in the world.” Biden added: “America’s commitment to Poland is ironclad.” 
What is the Background?
First, the post-USSR NATO security environment in Europe. Post-cold war, NATO had to reform its operations, principles and agenda, this meant forming relations with the central and eastern European countries. At the core, alliance members had a cynical sight of opening to the east as it might trigger a reaction from Russia and were concerned about the activity of NATO near the Russian border. In 1991, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia began to implement reforms and formed a new group, “Commonwealth of Independent States” (CIS), to integrate into Europe. Pressure to integrate into Europe began after the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact with the collapse of their military, political and economic systems. Without guaranteed security or means to guard on one's own, joining the collective defence of NATO proved to be a better option. By 1992, the Visegrád Triangle was formed in the promise by the three to make an effort to align with NATO and gain membership. In 1994, following the talks between the NATO defence ministers and the US, the Senate adopted the “Brown Expansion Amendment” to facilitate a military aid programme in those countries. For the US, the security of the three countries was key to its national interest to enhance regional security. This led to the accession talks during 1997 and 1998, and after a formal invite in 2002, the accession was complete. 

Second, the Russian threat. Moscow’s concerns sparked over the “Study of Enlargement,” the idea of former USSR countries joining NATO. Chairmen of the Committee on International Affairs in the Russian Duma, Konstantin Kosachev, stated that NATO’s enlargement will not be taken lightly by Russia, but Putin seemed to be keen on establishing NATO-Russia relations. In one of the BBC interviews in 2000, he said: “I do not rule out such a possibility…in the case that Russia's interests will be reckoned with, if it will be an equal partner.” In Putin’s circle, it was a contrasting argument, fearing the joining of NATO to not meet its interest, and the anti-NATO rhetoric persisted. Under Putin’s leadership, the enlargement was considered a “Big historic mistake.” Russia expressed resentment toward NATO moving closer, and this was reflected in its policies towards Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. It was perceived as the West’s move to control Russia’s influence in its neighbourhood. 

Third, US and the NATO expansion. The US which initially opposed NATO enlargement and prioritised its equation with Russia. This changed as fears of leaving out the central European countries would extend the line of the “Iron Curtain.” Additionally, Poland’s free market was progressing well with fast economic growth and stable politics while Russia struggled with reforms. This attracted the Europeans to open to its eastern economies. It was an additional strategy for the US to pursue a double-track approach, where it formed relations with the central European countries, simultaneously creating the NATO-Russia relation through the 1997 Founding Act. 
What does this mean?
First, NATO’s expansion feat. Until the collapse of the USSR, NATO functioned with only 16 alliance members, has doubled to 32 in 2024. This includes the former CIS countries and the latest Nordic countries (Finland and Sweden) bringing NATO to Russia’s western doorstep. Putin’s takeover of Russia as president in 1999, the perception of NATO has altered from responding through foreign policies to direct action through war. What remains to be seen is, Russia’s response to NATO’s encirclement. While the war in Ukraine exhausts its military and economy, can the CIS countries or Finland and Sweden face the Russian threat in the coming decades? If so, will the NATO alliance military arsenal be enough to meet with cracks appearing in its relations with the US?
Second, the effectiveness of the defence value along with geography. NATO witnessing the geographic expansion into the west, east and north of Europe leads to the progress in arsenal capacity. Comparing the defence expenditure spending, except for the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Turkey and the UK, there was no substantial funding from the rest of the NATO members. Although between 1990-2024, the expenditure has increased from USD 512 billion to USD 1,264 billion the contribution trends across the 10 key members only.

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 Govindaraj, Narmatha S, Sneha Surendran and  Nuha Aamina

China This Week
China: Objects Taiwan Vice President’s visit to US
On 12 March, Chinese officials objected to newly elected Taiwanese Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim’s private visit to the US. Chinese Embassy Spokesman Liu Pengyu said that the country firmly opposes any form of official interaction between the US and "the Taiwan region” and referred to Hsiao as "a diehard 'Taiwan independence' separatist." He added that the US must not facilitate any contact between the US government officials and Hsiao Bi-Khim. Taiwanese officials clarified that Hsiao will be in the US for the next few days and is on a low-profile personal trip. The US State Department reiterated that Hsiao would be travelling in her capacity. Hsiao was Taipei's de facto ambassador to the United States from 2020 until 2023, when she joined the Taiwanese presidential race and decided in an election in January 2024.
China: Opposes US’s 100-million-dollar proposal to strengthen Taiwan’s cross-strait deterrence
On 12 February, China rejected the US administration’s budget proposal to seek USD 100 million to help strengthen Taiwan’s cross-strait deterrence. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “China strongly opposes US’ efforts to arm Taiwan and will take resolute measures to firmly safeguard its own sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The US Department of State, in its standalone 2025 budget, said that it is a “historic investment in Taiwan’s security to strengthen deterrence and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” The US Department of Defense sought USD 500 million under the US Pacific Deterrence Initiative to replenish weapons that would enable Taiwan to address Chinese aggression in the region. The funding requests are part of a USD 7.27 trillion budget by US President Joe Biden for the 2025 financial year. The Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Richard Verma, said that the USD 100 million aid would strengthen Taiwan’s capability and assure the US’s commitment to security assistance for the island country to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. He added that the funding was part of the International Military Education and Training Programme (IMET), which assists cooperation between the US and foreign militaries. The budget requests come as Taiwan continues to face increased threats from the PLA.
China: Biden urges to investigate unfair practices by Chinese shipbuilders
On 12 March, the US Union Steel Makers union requested President Joe Biden to investigate the alleged unfair Chinese economic practices in the shipbuilding and maritime logistics sectors. The USW and other unions will lodge a petition with the Trade Representative highlighting discriminatory practices that helped the Chinese shipbuilding industry. Former President Donald Trump used the same statute, Section 301 of the Trade Act, to justify the imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports in 2018. The union highlighted CCP’s strategy to dominate global trade through its shipbuilding industry and engage in predatory trade, and it is happy with Biden's admin policy to revive domestic supply chains. The unions are seeking to build momentum in this policy by reviving the US commercial shipbuilding industry. According to Demetri, it is expected that President Biden will unlikely turn down the investigation request due to the upcoming 2024 US Presidential elections. He highlights that any investigations against Beijing will create tensions between the US-China relations. This comes after the US Congress agreed to USD 52 billion to build a domestic chip-building industry.
China: Relies more on its domestic industries than imports, SCMP quotes SIPRI
On 11 March, the South China Morning Post published the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report that Chinese arms imports were reduced to half as they relied more on domestic technology. The report says that arms imports by China fell by 44 per cent in 2019-2023 compared to the previous five years, thus making it the 10th largest buyer of foreign weapons. However, Russia still accounts for the bulk of China’s arms imports by 77 per cent, followed by France at 13 per cent. Previous SIPRI reports indicate that Ukraine accounted for 5.9 per cent of China’s total arms imports in 2017-21. Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme, said Russia can’t replace imports from Ukraine as it depends upon Kyiv for engines. He added that China has localized many defence items, especially in the aero and marine engines category. He said China still faces difficulty manufacturing helicopters and mostly relies on under-licensed French helicopters and imported Russian helicopters. The report also highlights India topping the import list with 9.8 per cent from 9.1 per cent in 2014-18 due to the growing tensions with Pakistan and China. Wezeman added that Japan and South Korea's growing arms imports are driven by China’s growing ambitions in the region.

China: “Australian detained under espionage charges may not face the death sentence,” says Chinese ambassador to Australia
On 11 March, China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, said that the suspended death sentence given to Australian writer Yang Hengjun in February 2024 may not be carried out if the blogger commits no further crimes. He also said, “The suspended sentence from a Beijing court on espionage charges does not entail immediate execution for Yang,” and added that he may not be executed theoretically if Yang complies with the imprisonment terms. He said Yang’s health was not severely affected, as his family claimed. The Beijing court sentenced him to five years imprisonment and three years of closed trial. Yang has not appealed against the court’s verdict and denied any wrongdoings of working as a spy. Yang’s family said that he was a political prisoner, and it indicates the failure of the Chinese prosecutors to extract any confession.
China: Foreign Ministry issues diplomatic protests against PM Modi’s Arunachal visit
On 11 March, China issued diplomatic protests against PM Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh on 09 March and said that India’s actions would complicate the border issue. On 09 March, PM Modi inaugurated the Sela Tunnel, which was built at an altitude of 13,000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh. India had rejected Chinese claims and said that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India, and China’s invented names won’t change the reality. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, "Zangnan area is Chinese territory," and opposes India’s right to develop the area arbitrarily. (“China lodges protest over PM Modi's visit to Arunachal,” The Times of India, 12 March 2024)

China: CCP amends law to uphold party leadership over the State Council
On 11 March, the South China Morning Post reported on the legislature (NPC) passing a revised law allowing the CCP to gain more control over the State Council, ending the separation of power between the party and the state. It amended the Organic law of the State Council with 2,883 votes in favour, eight against, and nine abstentions. The amended law states that the State Council must uphold the party leadership and follow the political teachings of the party leadership, including President Xi Jinping. Deng Yuwen, former deputy editor of Study Times, said that Xi has revived Chairman Mao’s famous slogan: “Government, the military, society and schools, north, south, east and west – the party leads them all.” According to Zheng, the State Council law was passed in 1982 by Deng Xiaoping, which pushed for the separation of party and the government to prevent the concentration of power seen during the Mao era, especially the Cultural Revolution. The party’s control over the cabinet took place under Xi’s presidency. According to Deng Yuwen, an independent researcher, this amendment will make Xi the sole decision-maker for all policy matters.

China: Joint naval exercises between China-Russia and Iran near the Gulf of Oman
On 11 March, according to the Ministry of National Defense, the People’s Republic of China, China, Russia, and Iran are conducting joint naval exercises from 11 March to 15 March 2024 near the Gulf of Oman. The exercise aims to strengthen maritime cooperation and jointly safeguard regional maritime security. According to Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, the drills are set to start on 12 March with naval representatives from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Oman, India, and South Africa as observers. Beijing said that it will send its guided missile destroyer Urumqi, guided missile frigate Linyi, and comprehensive supply ship Dongpinghu. Russian news media says that the exercise will enhance greater maritime security. It also reported that Russia sent ships from its Pacific Fleet, led by the Varyag cruiser. The exercise comes amid the ongoing tensions in the Red Sea due to the ongoing war in Gaza and the attacks on vessels by Houthi rebels. In 2023, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said that the alliance between the three countries would pose problems for the US in the long term.

China: US to sanction additional Chinese firms’ speculations
On 10 March, Reuters reported that the US plans to make additions to the list of Chinese companies under their sanctions list. One of the companies considered is ChangXin Memory Technologies, which specializes in making DRAM memory chips used in everyday products; they have a special focus on civilian and commercial products. Reuters quoted Bloomberg News, where they consulted relevant heads of the US Commercial Department Bureau of Industry and Security. They stated that they plan to add ChangXin to the list and restrict its access to US technology with the other five Chinese companies. The company representative responded to the rumours and said that they have always complied with the US export regulations. The US last year imposed sanctions on American exports to China on critical technological-related material and intelligence soon after Huawei’s Mate 60 pro phone came out with one of the most sophisticated chips. Since their technological advancement, the US has moved further to curb the access to Chinese advancement in AI Chips, which could, in turn, strengthen their military.

China: Based crane firm questions over cyber security risk
On 10 March, Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries (ZPMC) clarified with the US authorities that their cranes do not pose any cyber threats to the US. This comes after the US congressional committee questioned the Chinese enterprise, the Swiss engineering company ABB operated in China with ZPMC to sell the US Ship to shore cranes. In January, they investigated their relationship with the Chinese state-owned firm ZPMC and expressed significant concerns over their partnership. The issue stated that: “ZPMC takes the U.S. concerns seriously and believes that these reports can easily mislead the public without sufficient factual review,” said the committee. The ZPMC representative stated that their cranes are sold all around the world and that they comply with international standards and laws, including those of the US.

Taiwan: Taipei warns Chinese Coast Guard ships of illegal trespassing
On 16 March, Taiwan warned Chinese Coast Guard ships of illegal entry in its restricted waters near its forward islands. Taiwan's Coast Guard said that Chinese Coast Guard ships entered the restricted waters of Taiwan-controlled Kinmen islands close to the Chinese coast. It said that the boats stayed in the restricted waters for an hour after they had been asked to leave by the Taiwanese side. Taiwan's Coast Guard said, "The move has seriously impacted traffic and safety. To avoid triggering naval incidents, we urge them to stop such behaviours." On 15 March, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, Chinese Coast Guard ships conducted their patrols near the Kinmen Islands and were warned by the Taiwanese Coast Guard. China has stepped up its patrols near the Kinmen Islands after its two nationals died in February while trying to flee Taiwan’s Coast Guard after their boats entered restricted waters.
East Asia and The Pacific This Week
South Korea: Senior doctors resign in solidarity with Junior Medical professionals 
On 16 March, a group of Senior South Korean Doctors announced that they would step down and resign from their posts on 25 March in solidarity with junior medical professionals. On 20 February, many trainee doctors in South Korea walked out from their work and started protesting against the governmental initiatives aiming to alleviate doctor shortages by expanding medical student intakes. According to the government, the nation has, however, managed to stave off a complete catastrophe. Professor Bang Jae-seung, the head of the group, said that Doctors from 20 universities have voluntarily decided to submit their resignation on 25 March, but until the resignation has been filed, all the doctors continue to do their duties as they were doing it before the strike. The Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea stated that there will be no negotiation and implementation of the reforms will happen “without wavering”. If the strike continues, then the doctors and medical students will have to face legal action, and their licenses will be suspended, too. The government aims to admit 2000 medical students from 25 March. The junior doctors have also submitted a letter to the International Labour Organization requesting “emergency intervention”.
Hong Kong: Court sentences 12 pro-democracy protesters to seven years of imprisonment  
On 16 March, The Hong Kong Court of Law passed the verdict and sentenced 12 accused to up to 7 years of imprisonment for the 2019 pro-democracy demonstration where the protestors broke into the legislative council. On 1 July 2019, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover of the territory from British to Chinese sovereignty, a large number of protestors broke into the city’s legislature building and vandalised the infrastructure.  There were 14 people who were accused of participating in the protest and later charged with the offence of riots, criminal damage, and trespassing in the legislative chamber. Out of these 14 accused, 12 people were sentenced to up to 7 years in prison, and the rest 2 accused were charged with a fine of HKD1,500. Deputy judge of the district court of Honk Kong Li Chi-ho stated that “Aside from the actual damage to the building, it had a symbolic meaning which was challenging the Hong Kong government and even weakening its governance,” According to a children’s rights activist and a former student leader, Althea Suen the actual crime which the protestors have committed is the “pursuit of democracy, freedom of thoughts and free will”. The protest is said to be a demonstration against the government bill to amend the fugitive offender’s ordinance regarding extradition.
Japan: Fukushima nuclear wastewater release suspends after the earthquake
On 15 March, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported that Japan was hit by an earthquake of 5.8 magnitudes on the coast of the northeastern Fukushima region. Amidst the earthquake the nuclear release of wastewater from Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was suspended. According to the operator of the nuclear plant, this was a precautionary measure. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) also stated that there were no abnormalities in the system but they have suspended the operations by the “predefined operational procedures”. Japan’s nuclear regulatory authority has also supported this and stated that there were no abnormalities in the Fukushima Daiichi plant. From August 2023, Tokyo Electric Power Company has started to release nuclear wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, which is the waste collected at Fukushima Daiichi since the 2011 accident. This release of the wastewater is criticized by China and Russia which has led to the ban on Japanese seafood imports.
Fiji: Reaffirms policing cooperation deal with China 
On 15 March, Fiji confirmed to maintain the Policing cooperation deal with China, despite concerns raised in Australia. Fijian Home Affairs Minister Pio Tikoduadua stated that Fiji would revert to the original police agreement with China after a 12-month review. This confirmation came after the Fijian Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka, put on hold the decade-old police cooperation deal between Fiji and China because of the differences in policing, investigations, and legal systems. According to Guardian Australia, Pio Tikoduadua, only Fijian officers would undergo training in China, with no embedding of Chinese officers within the Fiji police force. In February, Australia's Pacific Minister, Pat Conroy, emphasized that there would be no role for China in policing the Pacific Island. Earlier in 2024 China's ambassador to Australia has countered this view by stating that China aims to form ties with Pacific Island countries to maintain the social order.
South East Asia This Week
Philippines: Microsoft to train women on AI and cybersecurity
On 12 March, Microsoft announced a programme to train 100,000 women from the Philippines to gain workplace skills and identify cybersecurity threats. They will learn to use Microsoft’s AI tools, including OpenAI’s language models. Vice president of global strategic initiatives at Microsoft Mary Snapp, announced that the company will collaborate with government agencies and local schools to impart training to government employees. She further added that this initiative would address the problem of disinformation in the Philippines.
Malaysia: Citizenship amendment to recognise foreign-born children
On 13 March, the Prime Minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim asserted that the parliament will discuss the law that does not grant citizenship to foreign-born children to Malaysian mothers and their non-Malaysian spouses next week. The current law dates back to 1963. It allows children living abroad and born to Malaysian men and non-citizens to pass their citizenship to the children. However, there is no similar arrangement for children born to Malaysian mothers. Anwar commented: “The issue now is ‘parent’ in the present constitution, for decades, has meant father. We realise it is not right. Parent means father and mother.”
Indonesia: Former education minister to contest presidential elections in top court
On 13 March, the presidential candidate and former minister of education, Anies Baswedan, announced that once the election results are out next week, he plans to “file to the MK (Constitutional court) for sure, but the content is not something that we can disclose.” He criticised the indirect support of Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, to Prabowo Subianto, who won 60 per cent of votes according to unofficial elections. Anies said: "When we are talking about free and fair elections, this also means that the state takes a neutral position toward any contestants and neutrally organises the election. That has been absent”. Anies was also critical of the irregularities in the months that led up to the elections and the distribution of social assistance in key electoral regions. “We want to make sure that irregularities don't go unchecked,” he added.
Indonesia: state bank to sanction loans to food companies
On 13 March, the National Food Agency Chief Arief Prasetyo Adi announced at a parliamentary hearing that the State bank would lend a credit of 28.7 trillion rupiah (equivalent to 1.84 billion USD). The loan aims to help food companies become standby buyers and off-takers for products from farmers. Bulog and ID FOOD have been assigned to procure staple foods. This move comes as a response to the low agricultural output caused by the El Niño phenomenon, and the loans will provide financial assistance to some food companies.
Thailand: American firms to diversify semiconductor industry investment
On 13 March, Reuters reported that at an event in Bangkok, the US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, announced that the US plans to diversify its semiconductor production to Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) countries, including Thailand. The US-led IPEF is an alternative for countries to ties with China. Raimondo said: “So we're all in this together. It benefits everyone, the United States, Thailand, all the IPEF countries, to diversify the supply chain of semiconductor production.” According to the 2023 Siam Commercial Bank report, the Thai semiconductor industry is largely dominated by companies from the US, Japan, Korea and the Netherlands. Its focus on the back-end process will put the country on par with Vietnam and India.

Philippines: Marcos rejects ICC’s investigation on war against drugs
On 13 March, a bilateral meeting was held between President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos Jr and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Marcos told Olaf that the International Criminal Court had no authority to probe Rodrigo Duterte, the former president’s war on drugs.  Marcos said: “It is very difficult for the Philippines to accept that an outside court will, shall I say, dictate to our policemen who they will investigate, who they will arrest.”
South Asia This Week
India: Visit of Prime Minister of Bhutan
On 14 March, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be visiting Bhutan next week after the two leaders met in Delhi. Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay is on a five-day visit to India as his first visit after being elected. Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on "X" that he had "productive discussions encompassing various aspects of India Bhutan's unique and special partnership" and thanked the King of Bhutan and Prime Minister Tobgay for inviting him to Bhutan next week. During his visit he met with External Affairs Minister and due to meet with other Ministers and expected to meet business leaders. He is anticipated to address bilateral trade expansion, increased investment in infrastructure projects, and Bhutan's ambitions for a massive "Gelephu Mindfulness City [GMC]" on the country's southern border with Assam. Earlier, his cabinet approved two agreements on 13 March, including a Memorandum of Understanding between India's Bureau of Energy Efficiency and Bhutan's Department of Energy on energy conservation and climate change procedures. The Cabinet also approved a food safety cooperation agreement between Bhutan's Food and Drug Authority (BFDA) and India's Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) to allow increased trade between the two neighbours. 
India: New Zealand’s Deputy PM concludes his four-day visit
On 13 March, New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters, concluded a four-day visit to India, his first visit as part of New Zealand's newly formed coalition government, by saying that India and New Zealand shared similar views on Indo-Pacific security challenges and should collaborate more closely. He also visited New Delhi and Gujarat to enhance his ties. During his visit to Delhi, Mr Peters met with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and Vice President Jagdeep Dhankar. The External Affairs Minister wrote that it was a warm meeting with Mr Peter and they agreed to enhance political, trade & economic, security, connectivity, mobility, education and people-to-people ties. Prime Minister of New Zealand stated that they decided to collaborate to create more chances and accomplish a "step-up in the relationship," which would include more high-level political trips in both directions in 2024. India and New Zealand currently have a total bilateral trade of USD 1.56 billion, and there are over 240,000 Indian diasporas in New Zealand.
India: Troop withdraws from Maldives
On 12 March, Indian troops stationed in the Maldives began to evacuate, according to defence officials, by President Mohamed Muizzu's 'India out' promise to his followers. The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) stated: “We can confirm that the Indian troop withdrawal is underway,” confirming the evacuation. According to local media sources, some 25 Indian troops stationed in the southernmost atoll of Addu have left the island before the March 10 deadline. The remaining military troops are likely to leave in stages before May 10, according to an earlier announcement from the Maldives Foreign Ministry. The decision comes as the Maldives aims to expand defense ties with China. Meanwhile, in response to the withdrawal of the first batch of Indian soldiers from the Maldives, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated on 12 March that "China supports Maldives in safeguarding sovereignty and working with other countries on the basis of equality."
India: China criticises PM's visit to Arunachal Pradesh
On 11 March, China announced that it "strongly deplores" Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh and has expressed concerns to India. The Chinese reaction came to a question from official media concerning the Prime Minister’s March visit to Arunachal Pradesh during which he launched several development projects, including the Sela Tunnel, an all-weather key link linking Tawang and Kameng districts near the Line of Actual Control (LAC). During a briefing in Beijing, Chinese MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated, "India's relevant moves only complicate the boundary question and disrupt the situation in the border areas between the two countries. India maintains complete sovereignty over the state, and has always claimed all of Arunachal Pradesh as its sovereign territory. India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) did not immediately reply to the statement. Since the standoff began in 2020, India and China have held 21 rounds of senior military commander talks on the LAC, as well as several rounds of talks on border affairs by the multi-ministerial Working Mechanism on Consultation and Coordination (WMCC), and have reached an agreement on five of the seven friction points along the Ladakh border.
India: Free trade agreement with European countries
On 10 March, India inked a free trade agreement (FTA) with four European countries Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland to attract USD 100 billion in investments and one million employments. The Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA), the second full-fledged FTA inked after India's pact with the United Arab Emirates, will result in significant tariff reductions, increased market access, and simplified customs procedures. The EFTA countries, independent of the European Union, stated that the FTA now includes a chapter on human rights and sustainable development commitments. The agreement will enter into force once the EFTA states have ratified it under respective parliamentary procedures, which is expected by the end of this year. Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said reported by The Hindu said: "for the first time in the history of the world, we are inking an FTA with a binding commitment to invest USD 100 billion in India from EFTA countries."
Nepal: PM Pushpa Kumar Dahal secures confidence vote
On 13 March, Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ secured 157 votes in the 275-member House of Representatives, thereby winning the vote of confidence in the Parliament. According to Nepal’s constitutional provision, the prime minister must take a vote of confidence if the ruling coalition loses the support of an ally. The present vote of confidence happened after Dahal created an alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) along with two other parties, leaving the Nepali Congress.
Maldives: Tourism industry adversely affected due to declining Indian arrivals
On 13 March, Sun Online International reported that the geopolitical tensions between India and the Maldives have escalated following derogatory comments made by senior Maldivian officials about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This has led to a significant decline in Indian tourist arrivals, which has had a severe impact on the Maldives' economy. India has been the top tourist market in the Maldives for several years, with upwards of 200,000 annual arrivals. This decline has resulted in a potential loss of over USD 1.8 billion to USD 2 billion for the country. The tourism industry experts and analysts have highlighted the adverse impacts of dwindling arrivals, with travel agencies and operators reporting a revenue decline of 80 per cent.
Maldives: Surveillance drones from Turkey
On 10 March, the Times of India reported that the Maldives has acquired surveillance drones from Turkey for the first time to patrol its exclusive economic zone. Efforts are currently underway to establish a drone station in Noonu Atoll Maafaru to operate military drones. The drones, purchased from Turkey, will be used to monitor Maldives' ocean areas. Mohamed Muizzu, the Maldivian president, visited Turkey shortly after taking office in November to study military equipment choices.
Pakistan: Government and IMF mission begin final review talks
On 14 March, Pakistan and the visiting IMF staff mission began discussions on the second and final review of the current USD three billion short-term bailout package, in which authorities assured full compliance with the benchmarks. There were also separate and combined sessions held with the ministries of finance, energy and petroleum, the Federal Board of Revenue and the State Bank. Finance Minister Aurangzeb Khan “welcomed the mission and expressed the government’s commitment towards working with IMF on the reform agenda for economic growth and stability of Pakistan.” He had earlier expressed the government’s decision to request a longer and larger loan programme to sustain macroeconomic stability. Discussions were also held on “the overall macroeconomic indicators, government’s efforts on fiscal consolidation, structural refo­r­­ms, energy sector viability, and SOE (state-owned enterprises) governance.” As per the Ministry of Finance, Pakistan met all structural benchmarks, qualitative performance criteria, and indicative targets that were required for a successful completion of the IMF review. Energy Minister Musadik Malik assured the IMF mission that the government would meet the power sector’s circular debt target of PKR 2.31 trillion, with the government on track so far. He also stated that energy sector reforms would be undertaken and the government was already working on measures to contain energy prices by reducing generation costs and controlling theft. Malik provided details on the plan to provide maximum local gas to four LNG-based power plants in Punjab, which is now in its final stages under which maximum allocation of local gas could be ensured
Pakistan: Information minister accuses PTI of trying to “harm the economy” by writing to EU
On 13 March, Information Minister Attaullah Tarar accused the PTI of approaching the European Union (EU) and the IMF against Pakistan’s interests and thus conspiring against the country. He alleged that “PTI spokespersons are getting instructions from [Adiala] jail to harm the country,” and emphasized that “no one will be allowed to harm the economy.” Tarar went on to state that “conspirators” were trying to attack the economy like the PTI had done in the past, by writing a letter to the IMF requesting them to not enter a loan agreement with Pakistan. He asserted: “Protecting the state of Pakistan and the national interest is our first responsibility. Strategies and steps are being taken for the revival of the economy.” The minister added that the PTI allegedly contacted the EU to ask it to withdraw the GSP Plus status granted to Pakistan. In response, a PTI spokesperson claimed Tarar’s accusations were a “pack of lies, falsehoods and nonsense,” adding that the PTI had not written to the EU. He stated that the PTI’s efforts for the IM programme’s success were visible and that the “mandate thieves” should bring black the plundered national wealth that is abroad. The EU’s delegation in Islamabad clarified on the same day: “We have not received any official communication from PTI regarding GSP+.”

Central Asia This Week
Azerbaijan: President meets Georgia PM
On 16 March, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev met with Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Kobakhidze. Aliyev, in a joint press conference with Kobakhidze said: “The joint infrastructure projects we have implemented hold great importance for many countries. In the future, further steps will be taken in this direction as well.” He further said that Azerbaijani gas is being exported to several countries via Georgia, and the demand for Azerbaijan's energy resources is increasing year by year and continues to grow.
Armenia: To sign a cooperation document with EU
On 15 March, during the meeting of the Standing Committee on European Integration Issues of the National Assembly, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Paruyr Hovhannisyan asserted that Armenia is developing a “new cooperation document” with the European Union (EU), and is planned to sign it by July. He stated: “If the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement between Armenia and the EU is fully implemented, we will indeed have the status of a candidate country for EU membership.” He further added that as a result of a fact-finding mission that took place in November 2023, new directions of cooperation and programs are developed. Hovhannisyan said: “Certain issues regarding it have been discussed at the Armenia-EU Partnership Council and at other working levels. We expect to receive a new draft in May, which should probably be adopted by July.”
Armenia: PM receives the IMF head
On 14 March, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan received the head of International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission in Armenia Iva Petrova. According to a statement from the PM’s office, Pashinyan stressed the importance of “cooperation” with IMF in order to maintain economic stability in the country.  Furthermore, the parties discussed the reforms towards developing the fiscal and monetary policies, investment climate and the financial sector.  During the meeting, the positive macroeconomic indicators captured in Armenia for the year 2023 were highlighted; meanwhile, the persistence of reforms was also stressed to maintain economic activity in the region. Probing ahead, the Prime Minister Pashinyan highlighted: “maintaining macroeconomic stability is an absolute priority for the Armenian government, and steps and reforms in that regard will be consistent.” To conclude, the parties discussed about the dire humanitarian situation of the victims who were forcibly displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Middle East  and Africa This Week
UAE: Virtual meeting to discuss maritime aid for Gaza
On 14 March, a virtual ministerial conference on the advancement of a maritime corridor to provide Gaza with humanitarian aid was attended by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Qatar's Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulaziz bin Saleh Al-Khulaifi attended the meeting, which was facilitated by Cyprus' Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos. Participating were UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic, UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The logistical challenges of delivering humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip which is presently subject to tight limitations as a result of Israel's blockade were the main topic of discussion. The states concerned in the situation agreed in a joint statement that land routes through Egypt, Jordan, and other borders into Gaza were the only viable means of delivering widespread supplies. It also hailed Ashdod Port's openness to humanitarian aid as a significant development for the marine route.
Lebanon: Israeli strikes and Hezbollah’s retaliation
On 12 March, Israeli airstrikes targeting the Ballbek-Hermel area in eastern Lebanon resulted in one causality and wounded ten others. Four Syrian nationals were among the wounded. On 11 March, Israel launched air strikes near Lebanon’s eastern city of Baalbck. The security forces asserted that it was the second raid carried out in the region since cross-border hostilities began after the Israel and Hamas war.  On 10 March, Hezbollah claimed that it fired dozens of rockets into northern Israel to retaliate against Israel’s strikes that killed five of its group members. Hezbollah added that it had launched “dozens of katyusha-type rockets” on the Israeli village of Meron.
Lebanon: Israel carries out logistics supply drill
On 12 March, the Israeli forces asserted that it carried out a “logistics supply drill” as part of its preparations for a “potential ground offensive” in Lebanon. Meanwhile, according to the Israeli army, during the exercise, the forces practised delivering equipment, water, and fuel. It added that the drill included “loading and unloading equipment from Air Force aircraft and transporting equipment using vehicles on the ground” to the front lines.
Yemen: Houthi rebels fire anti-ship ballistic missiles
On 12 March, according to the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM), the Houthis fired “two anti-ship ballistic missiles” at a Singaporean-owned and Liberian-flagged ship called Pinocchio. CENTCOM reported that in response to the attack on Pinocchio, the US forces asserted that it carried out six “self-defence strikes” in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and destroyed an unmanned underwater vessel and 18 anti-ship missiles.
Israel: Strikes result in casualties
On 10 March, an Israeli shelling resulted in the killing of 13 Palestinians who sought refuge in the city of Khan Younis. Similarly, an air strike on the Nuseirar refugee camp killed 13 people including women and children. On the same day, the Israeli strike targeted one of Rafah’s residential buildings; however, no causalities were reported. During the attacks on the Deir el-Balan in central Gaza, five people were killed.
Senegal: Opposition leader Ousame Sonko released
On 15 March, Al Jazeera reported that Senegal’s main opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, was released from prison following the political crisis triggered by President Macky Sall’s announcement of election postponement. Macky Sall’s government abruptly passed a bill postponing the elections scheduled for 24 February to December. The postponement sparked violent protests. Later, the Constitutional Council annulled the postponement and is now due to take place on 24 March. The arrest of Sonko in June 2023 sparked similar violent protests. He was arrested on the charges of misleading the youth. Sonko's release ahead of the elections was celebrated by the youth who supported his anti-corruption stance.
Algeria: To boost renewable energy sources
On 14 March, Algeria, a major oil and gas exporter, signed contracts with local and international companies in a bid to develop two solar energy projects with a capacity of 3,000 MW. The country aims to reach a renewable energy capacity of 15,000 MW by 2035 by producing 27 per cent of its energy requirements from wind, solar and hydro. The major objective is to reduce reliance on oil and gas. Currently, only three per cent of the country’s energy production depends on renewable sources.
Europe This Week 
Europe: Romanian President joins the race for NATO's next secretary general
On 12 March, Politico reported on the joining of the Romanian President. Klaus Iohannis against the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte in the race to become NATO's next secretary general. Iohannis announced his candidacy citing the lack of an Eastern European presence in NATO’s decision making, becoming the first potential NATO chief from the former Soviet bloc. A Secretary-General is chosen based on consensus from all 32 NATO Allies, and Rutte has failed to convince all 32, with significant opposition from Hungary due to Rutte’s earlier comment on Hungarian democratic backsliding. Romania, Turkey, and the Baltic countries haven’t yet expressed their support for him. The big four in NATO– the US, Britain, France and Germany– have supported Rutte’s candidacy due to his skills as a consensus-builder. Iohannis has claimed to be the harbinger of change in NATO, including mandatory defence spending of two per cent of the GDP, working with partners in the Indo-Pacific, and pitching NATO’s digital transformation and increased investment in technology.
Europe: Five European countries and India close the EFTA deal after 15 years of talks
On 10 March, India, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein signed the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), an economic deal worth USD 100 billion. Under the deal, import tariffs on industrial products will be removed by India in exchange for an investment of USD 100 billion over 15 years. The deal was signed after 21 rounds of negotiations, facilitating a modern, equitable and win-win deal for all signatories. This means Switzerland’s 95.3 per cent customs duties on industrial exports and Norway’s 40 per cent high import taxes will be waived. The move also forms part of Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister’s target of reaching a USD one trillion export by 2030.
Portugal: Centre-right party claims victory in the snap elections
On 10 March, the leader of Portugal’s centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA), Luis Montenegro, emerged as the winner in the parliamentary elections. The centre-left Socialist Party (PS), which has been administered since 2015, slipped down to defeat. Whereas support to the far-right party Chega (Enough) increased. Chega’s leader Andre Ventura stated that his party was “available to build a government.” However, Montenegro vowed not to ally with right-wing populists or rely on any deals. The complete polls result is yet to be revealed; DA is expected to win between 83 and 91, PS to secure between 69 and 77 seats, and Chega to have increased from 12 to 40 and 46 seats out of 230 in total. DA and PS can be expected to form a coalition combined with a few smaller parties, but this might be a challenge with Chega’s increased popularity. The increase in support for Chega was due to its two key pledges of addressing excess migration and government corruption. This was deemed timely as former Socialist Prime Minister António Costa resigned under corruption allegations over investment projects, resulting in snap elections.

Americas This Week
Argentina: Senate discards President Milei’s proposed “mega decree” of economic reforms
On 14 March, Argentina’s Senate voted to reject Argentine President Javier Milei’s “mega decree” of economic reforms, a significant blow to his austerity agenda with which he wanted to reform the country’s economy. It was rejected in a vote of 42-25 with four abstentions, and while it can be definitely discarded if the lower house also rejects it, Milei has a minority in both chambers. This was the second legislative defeat after February when lawmakers put the brakes on a separate package of sweeping reforms. While Milei’s measures since he assumed office in December have moved the economy in a favourable direction in terms of fiscal and trade imbalances, opposition Senator Martin Lousteau said the proposed decree was “unconstitutional.”
Canada: PM Trudeau states he thinks about quitting his “crazy job” daily
On 15 March, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed he thought about quitting his “crazy job” every day, but would stay in office till the next election. The vote must be held by October 2025, and as per recent surveys, voters are also tired of Trudeau, who came into office in November 2015. During an interview with Radio-Canada, Trudeau stated: “I could not be the man I am and abandon the fight at this point.” He added that he thought about “quitting every day” because of the “personal sacrifices” his job forced him to make, while expressing concern over the “precarious” path the world is on where “democracies are under such attack around the world.” Further, Trudeau claimed that he entered politics because he knew he had “something to offer,” and not “to be popular.” The Conservatives have stated that they will axe a carbon tax introduced by the Liberals, tackle the government budget deficit and housing crisis, and begin a crackdown on crime.
The US: VP Harris visits abortion clinic in historic first
On 14 March, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited an abortion clinic in Minnesota, marking the first time a US vice president or president has ever visited a facility, as per the White House. Harris toured the Planned Parenthood side, and clarified that she was there due to the “very serious health crisis” facing the US, which is “affecting many, many people” in the country, of which most are “silently suffering.” She added that Democrats were aiming to make abortion a major issue in the upcoming presidential elections. On these lines, she had recently made stops in key swing states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona, to rally voters on the abortion issue. A Co-Executive Director of an American anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, Cathy Blaeser, stated that the visit “showed the Biden administration's full-blown devotion to extreme abortion policies.” She asserted that “Minnesotans don't want to be known for abortion tourism.” Following the overturning of Roe v Wade, many conservative states have imposed restrictions on pregnancy terminations while many liberal states have taken steps to ramp up abortion rights. Harris commended the clinic for their “true leadership” in providing services to women who have been forced to travel from out of state, emphasising that it was “only right and fair that people have access to the healthcare they need.”
The US: Top senator calls for new leadership in Israel
On 14 March, a top legislator in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza,” and offered his most strident criticism of Israel since the beginning of the conflict by calling for new leadership since Netanyahu had “lost his way” while pursuing “political survival.” He highlighted the need for a “fresh debate about the future of Israel” after the 7 October attacks, and while acknowledging that “Israel has the right to choose its own leaders” as it is a democracy, the “im

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