The World This Week

Photo Source: BBC
   NIAS Course on Global Politics
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)
Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore
For any further information or to subscribe to GP alerts send an email to subachandran@nias.res.in

The World This Week
Iran’s Drone Attacks on Israel and Biden-Kishida Summit

  GP Team

The World This Week #260, Vol. 6, No.14
14 April 2024

Shamini Velayutham and Akhil Ajith


Escalation in the Middle East: The War in Gaza expands as Iran attacks Israel
Shamini Velayutham

What happened?
On 13 April, during the night, Iran launched 300 drones and missiles towards Israel in response to Israel’s attack on 01 April on its consulate in Syria’s capital, Damascus, killing seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and two commanders Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi and deputy General Mohammad Hadi Hajriahimi. According to a BBC report, the attack included the following: 170 drones, 110 ballistic missiles and 30 cruise missiles.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in response to the heinous attack stated: “We appreciate the US standing alongside Israel, as well as the support of Britain, France and many other countries. We have determined a clear principle: Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We will defend ourselves against any threat and will do so level-headedly and with determination.”

In response to the attack on Israel, US President Joe Biden stated: “I condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms.” Adding an “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.” He further said that the US “remains vigilant to all threats.” The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an official statement, said: “The United States condemns Iran’s attack on Israel in the strongest terms.  While we do not seek escalation, we will continue to support Israel’s defense, and as the President made clear, we will defend US personnel.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak denouncing Iran’s attack on Israel, said, “These strikes risk inflaming tensions and destabilising the region. Iran has once again demonstrated that it is intent on sowing chaos in its own backyard…The UK will continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he is “deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation.”

What is the background?
First, the deteriorating relations between Israel and Iran. The relations between the two countries have always been strained. It worsened after the Hamas’ attack on 7 October 2023. It deepened further when Israel attacked Iran’s Consulate in Damascus on 01 April, killing two commanders of the IRGC. In response to the attack, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani asserted that Iran “reserves the right to carry out a reaction and will decide on the type of response and the punishment of the aggressor.”

Second, complaints against Iran for weaponising its proxies in Yemen and Lebanon. Israel and its allies in the West have been blaming Iran for making a bad situation worse by weaponizing its proxies in Yemen and Lebanon to expand the conflict outside Israel. The attack on Iran’s Consulate in Syria was defended by Israel, as a response to Tehran using its proxies against Israel.

Third, attacks and counter-attacks by Hamas, Houthis, Hezbollah, Israel and Iran. During the last six months, the region has been witnessing attacks and counter-attacks by the above actors. What started as an attack by Hamas inside Israel in October 2023, during the last six months, has expanded in terms of actors. While Israel and Hamas remain the primary actors, the War in Gaza has brought in Iran’s proxies in the Middle East and Israel’s allies. The US and UK also took part in a few military operations against the Houthis in Yemen. According to preliminary reports, the US helped Israel in countering the latest drone attacks by Iran.

Fourth, the rise and rise of drone warfare and rocket attacks by State and non-State actors. During the last two years, in the two wars in Ukraine and Gaza, there has been an increased reliance on the use of drones by the State and non-state actors. The Houthis have used the drones effectively to widen the ongoing conflict by targeting ships in the Red Sea region. The ongoing War in Gaza also witnessed the usage of rockets by non-state actors. According to a New York Times report, “Israel had faced aerial attacks from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whose rocket arsenal includes short-range (12 to 25 miles) and somewhat inaccurate 122-millimeter rockets of the Grad family, as well as Syrian-made M-302 rockets with a range of about 100 miles. Hamas also has Fajr-5 rockets from Iran and a similar, locally made version of the Fajr-5, both with a range of about 50 miles.”

Fifth, Iran’s military capabilities and its air attacks in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. During the last few months, Iran has targeted actors across the region – from Syria and Iraq to Balochistan in Pakistan. Iran has relied on missiles in these attacks. In the latest attack on Israel, according to available reports, Iran has used “killer drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.”

What does it mean?
First, the danger of escalation. What started as a militant attack by a non-State actor in Israel has slowly evolved into a dangerous regional war in the Middle East. Any further escalation will pull extra-regional actors into the conflict, and widen the War in Gaza.


The US and Japan: Biden-Kishida Summit
Akhil Ajith
 
What happened?
On 10 April, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met US President Joe Biden during his official state visit to Washington, D.C. Both issued a joint statement that stated: “At the core of our cooperation is a shared commitment to work with like-minded partners and multilateral institutions to address common challenges and to ensure a world that is free, open, connected, resilient, and secure.”

The bilateral summit led to releasing an 18-page fact sheet with the list of 70 agreements signed between the two sides focusing on areas such as defense, space, economic security, artificial intelligence, fusion energy, and disaster relief. PM Kishida said: “Japan and the U.S. are bonded by deep trust and multi-layered friendship, and that based on the bonds, Japan and the U.S. have become global partners beyond bilateral or regional spheres, to uphold and bolster the free and open international order based on the rule of law.”

On 11 April, along the sidelines of the Japan and US summit, the first-ever trilateral summit was also held between the US, Japan, and the Philippines to address the growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. 
 
What is the background?
First, the state of US-Japan relations. The two countries have remained strong partners since the Second World War.  The growing threats in the Indo-Pacific region unite both countries to ensure security and stability in the region by cooperating across all domains. The two sides focused on building regional cooperation with China as a common agenda. President Biden said: “This is the most significant upgrade in our alliance since it was first established.” The bilateral relations have improved top such a state wherein, military cooperation is the key pillar stone of this strategic alliance which has expanded to other domains such as technology, economy, etc.

Second, mutual expectations from both sides. For the US, the biggest expectation from Japan is on security. With Japan’s technological advancements, Washington expects Tokyo to join Pillar Two of the AUKUS security initiative to build the next generation of military technologies such as hypersonic weapons, air defense systems, radars, etc. For Japan, strengthening its defense capabilities through technological cooperation will be the key factor under its new national security strategy. For Japan, strengthening its defense capabilities is aligned with its recent National Security Strategy which was unveiled in 2022 to increase the country’s defense spending by two per cent. Japan wants the relationship to continue and not get derailed by any changes in the forthcoming Presidential elections. The growing differences between the Democrats and the Republicans over the US foreign policy and concerns over the return of former President Donald Trump has made Japan (and other American allies) anxious.
 
Third, the regional context. China’s growing footprint in the Indo-Pacific is a serious concern for Japan and the US. As 80 per cent of Japan’s oil imports pass through the South China Sea, it becomes critical for Tokyo to maintain a strong security presence in the region through partnerships with the Philippines. China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea had led to the trilateral summit between the US, Japan, and the Philippines. On the summit, President Marcos said, “the trilateral summit was born not out of convenience or expediency, but as a natural progression among partners linked by a profound respect for democracy, good governance, and the rule of law.” 
 
What does it mean?
First, the summit is a major win for Japan. As Japan seeks to strengthen its defense alliance with the US, it marks a step towards transforming the country from a regional to a global player. The eagerness of Japan to take active leadership in areas like supply chain resiliency, defense modernization, and aid to Ukraine and Gaza shows Japan's ability to take global responsibility. Despite the failure of Nippon Steel, Japan has tried making greater inroads into the US economy by building advanced battery manufacturing plants and automobile plants in the country.
 
Second, the summit strengthens US-Japan bilateral relations. The summit strengthens confidence in the alliance, especially in the defense sector, to tackle the emerging geopolitical threats from China, North Korea, and Russia. The summit also reaffirms their commitment to ensure regional security through cooperating on security in the Taiwan Strait, which is being increasingly challenged by China. Also, the summit strengthens the economic relationship by enhancing the supply chain residency in critical and emerging technologies. This will enable them to deter any economic coercion from China.


TWTW Regional Round-ups
News from around the World

Akriti Sharma, Rohini Reenum, Padmashree Anandhan, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham, Akhil Ajith, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan GV, Alka Bala and Sneha Surendran.

CHINA THIS WEEK
China: “External interference cannot stop the historic cause of our reunion,” says Xi Jinping
On 10 April, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with the Taiwanese former president and Kuomintang leader Ma Ying-jeou. Xi inferred with Ma that any external interference would not stop China from unifying with Taiwan. Ma was visiting China as part of the “journey of peace” 11-member youth delegation. Xi stated that China was written the invisible history of both Taiwan and China, which has been engraved and that proves that they are compatriots by blood. He also said: “There is no force that can separate us... Differences in systems cannot change the objective fact that we belong to one nation and one people.” In return, Ma also stated that the young people of China and Taiwan represent the future of China hinting at a joint and same future. Ma also stressed that Chinese people on both sides should peacefully handle the dispute and avoid conflicts, while they should oppose Taiwanese independence.

China: Fitch revised its outlook on Beijing’s sovereign credit rating to negative
On 09 April, rating agency Fitch revised its outlook on China's sovereign credit rating to negative due to risks to public finances as it shifts to new growth models. It forecasted that the general government deficit would rise to 7.1 per cent of GDP in 2024 from 5.8 per cent in 2023 amid Beijing’s strict covid lockdowns. The agency affirmed China’s IDR rating at “A+” despite the downgrade over the medium term. Fitch’s forecasts predict an economic slowdown from 5.2 per cent in 2023 to 4.5 per cent in 2024, similar to the forecasts by the Citi and the International Monetary Fund. Analysts predict Beijing’s 5 per cent GDP growth rate as highly ambitious as its rising factory outputs and sales in January and February 2024 will boost its growth. Fitch said that China’s uncertain economic prospects arise from its shift from a property-reliant model to a sustainable growth model.

China: US has a “duty” to address their complex relationship, says US Treasury Secretary
On 07 April, US Treasury Secretary Jante Yellen while visiting China raised several concerns regarding the Chinese production overcapacity and told the Chinese Premier Li Qiang that they could stabilize their relationship as they have “tough” discussions. Qiang said that both countries would respect each other and that they should be partners and not adversaries. Yellen asserted that they must manage their complex relationship and that: “This has not meant ignoring our differences or avoiding tough conversations. It has meant understanding that we can only make progress if we directly and openly communicate with one another.” Qiang also said that the US should not turn the issue of economy and trade into a political and security issue and view the problem of overcapacity from the lens of market and global perspective, quoting Xinhua. Yellen and her Chinese counterpart Vice Premier He Lifeng agreed to launch a dialogue on “balanced growth” and Yellen stated that she intends to use that platform to push for a level playing field with China.

Taiwan: US becomes the largest export destination for Taiwan, reports Taiwanese’s Foreign Ministry
On 10 April, according to data from the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry, the US became Taiwan's largest export destination. The data indicated that Taiwan’s exports to the US grew by 65.7 per cent year on year in March to USD 9.1 billion, whereas its exports to China grew by 6 per cent to USD 7.9 billion. This shift in trade was due to the changing priorities of the successive US administrations, which were to reduce dependence on China. The data also reveals that China remained Taiwan’s number one export destination since 2003, which fell recently to second position. Overall exports to China and Hong Kong remain the largest export places for Taiwan.

Taiwan: President-elect Lai appoints former DPP chairman Cho Jung-tai as the new premier
On 10 April, Taiwan President-elect Lai Ching-te announced that the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Cho Jung-tai was the new premier. He will resume his duties after the inauguration of President Lai on 20 May. In the Taiwanese government model, the president appoints the premier, who, in turn, appoints the cabinet members under presidential approval. Under the premier’s leadership, the cabinet will enact the policy and propose legislation. This comes as Lai won the presidential elections in January but lost the majority in the parliament.

EAST ASIA AND THE PACIFIC THIS WEEK
South Korea: Democratic Party’s resounding win in the National Assembly election 2024
On 10 April, South Korea voted for its new National Assembly where the liberal Democratic Party came victorious. The party won a resounding majority and this has severely affected President Yoon-Suk-Yeol and the conservative party. The National Election Commission of South Korea reported that the main opposition and the Democratic Party won 174 seats of the 300 while the People’s Power Party won 109 seats. The election turnout was 67 per cent and was the highest in the last 32 years. DP leader Lee Jae-Myung said that their top priority is to work towards economic recovery and that: “The ruling and opposition parties must join forces to overcome the crisis in consumers’ economic livelihood.”

Australia: Canberra to appoint a special advisor to investigate the air strike on the World Central Kitchen charity
On 06 April, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong informed that they would appoint a special adviser to work with Israel and to fully investigate the air strike that killed seven aid workers including one Australian. Wong said: “The government will appoint a special adviser who we have requested the Israelis work with so we can be advised about the appropriateness of the process,” and that they want to have full confidence, transparency and accountability on the investigation and that they would work to achieve that. The Israeli military dismissed officers and reprimanded commanders when they inquired into the deadly air strike. The investigation discussed above is about the air strike that killed citizens of Britain, Poland, and others who were working as aid workers for the World Central Kitchen charity, providing food for the Palestinian victims. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed his anger and concern, while Netanyahu called the attack a tragic event, in which the Israeli forces unintentionally harmed the non-combatants.

SOUTH ASIA THIS WEEK
Bangladesh: Plans to bring back crew members of hijacked MV Abdullah underway
On 09 April, The Daily Star reported that the Kabir Group of Industries, the company that owns the hijacked ship MV Abdullah, is planning on ways to bring back the 23 crew members once negotiations with the pirates are completed. According to family members of the crew, the sailors have been asked for their choice of signing-off locations a UAE port, or the Chattogram port. After the pirates release the ship, it is scheduled to reach a UAE port to unload cargo and then sail to Chattogram. Anonymous sources say that 18 of the 23 crew members want to get off at the UAE port, while the rest have opted for Chattogram. However, these reports were not verified by the company, or its media adviser Mizanul Islam. On 12 March, MV Abdullah, en route to Al Hamriyah in the UAE from Maputo in Mozambique, was hijacked by pirates near the Somali coast. On 10 April, the 23-member crew who were hostage on the Bangladeshi hijacked ship MV Abdullah were allowed to offer Eid-ul-Fitr prayers on the ship’s deck. The ship is currently anchored near the Somalian coast. According to family members of the crew, the pirates relented to let the sailors offer their prayers after repeated requests. However, the Kabir Group of Industries’ media adviser denied any knowledge about these happenings. Meanwhile, the state Minister for Shipping, Khaled Mahmud, stated that the situation is under control and expressed hopes of bringing the 23 sailors back by this month. 
 
Maldives: Talks to boost tourism cooperation between Maldives and India
On 11 April, The Sun Siyam reported that the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Munu Mahawar had talks with the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) on increasing travel and tourism cooperation between the two countries. According to MATATO, a comprehensive roadshow focused on highlighting Maldives is being planned across key cities in India to boost tourism. Last year, India was the leading tourist market for the Maldives. However, it now ranks sixth among the top ten tourist markets, with 37,417 arrivals, representing 5.6 percent of the total 1,878,543 arrivals as of April 10th. Despite this decline, MATATO is confident in the Maldives' ability to regain traction among Indian tourists. They believe that with the collaborative efforts of the industry and government agencies, supported by innovative strategies, they can tap into India's growing tourism market. 
 
Maldives: Suspended Maldivian Minister Mocks Indian Flag
On 09 April, The Indian Express reported that former deputy youth minister Mariyam Shiuna who was suspended in January for her derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now mocked the India Tricolour Flag in her X post on 6 April. The post she made on X included parts of the Tricolour Flag in an altered campaign poster of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and also included the logo of the BJP. Shiuna deleted the post and removed "Deputy Minister" from her X account's bio after receiving criticism for the photo. On 8 April, in a post on X Shiuna apologised for the content she posted. She wrote, “I would like to address a recent social media post of mine that has garnered attention and criticism. I extend my sincerest apologies for any confusion or offence caused by the content of my recent post.” She denied any attempt to disrespect India, claiming that she chose the Indian flag design "by mistake." There was no response from the Indian government towards this issue. 
 
India: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia call for resolution of Kashmir issue
On 08 April, The Hindu reported that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia through a joint statement emphasised resolving all issues between India and Pakistan, especially the Kashmir issue. The statement was issued at the end of the official visit of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia where he met with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia. Mr Sharif, who took over a month ago, addressed the Kashmir problem before the National Assembly of Pakistan. He said the National Assembly should pass a resolution for the freedom of Kashmiris and Palestinians. The joint statement also called for an end to the Gaza crisis. They urged for the international efforts to halt the military operations in Gaza by Israel. While India and Pakistan relations remain cold the relationship between India and Saudi Arabia is growing stronger. 
 
India: Supreme Court recognises the right against climate change as a fundamental right
On 08 April, The Hindu reported that the Supreme Court identified climate change as a basic right in the Constitution. The Supreme Court in a judgement released on 6 April observed, “It is yet to be articulated that the people have a right against the adverse effects of climate change. This is perhaps because this right and the right to a clean environment are two sides of the same coin. As the havoc caused by climate change increases year-by[1]year, it becomes necessary to articulate this as a distinct right. It is recognised by Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life).” The judgment came in response to a case with the survival of the endangered Great Indian Bustard species. On 21 March, a court order established an expert group to investigate the issue affecting bird species in their natural habitat and flight. The lawsuit had been scheduled for another hearing in August 2024. However, the court unexpectedly uploaded a judgment over the weekend. The judgment heavily emphasises the challenges posed by climate change. The court recognised the link between climate change and human rights, particularly health, indigenous rights, gender equality, and development. The judgment noted the right to a clean environment and safe from illness is a fundamental right. 
 
Sri Lanka: Prime Minister visits China 
On 11 April, Daily Mirror highlighted that Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena held a friendly meeting during which the former emphasized the importance of a fair and transparent environment for Chinese companies to invest in Sri Lanka. Although China expressed concern about its friends being unduly influenced by other countries, no specific third country was mentioned. The Prime Minister had just returned from a tour of China to attend the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2024, where he held bilateral discussions. However, Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang has raised concerns about Sri Lanka's decision to announce a moratorium on foreign research vessels in its Exclusive Economic Zone (ECZ), targeting Chinese ships while entertaining a similar vessel from Germany. In response, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister clarified that the German vessel was only allowed for replenishment, and Sri Lanka would not allow any country to use its territory against the interests of any other nation.
 
Bhutan: PM commences KHEL project
On 06 April, Kuensel reports on Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s visit to Trashiyangtse where he commenced the Kholongchu Hydropower Project (KHEL) which was earlier laid foundation by the Indian Prime Minister in 2024. It is a 600MW run-of-the-river project that is capable of 2,568.88 million units production of electricity per year. Tshering stated: “I have discussed the budget for the construction of KHEL with the government of India and spoken with the chairman of TATA company regarding their involvement in the project during the recent state visit.” During his visit, he chatted with residents about their problems and assured them to look after the feasibility as early as possible.

Nepal: Opposition demands to probe Dahal’s ministers
On 11 April, the Nepali Congress, the main opposition party,  pushed for the formation of a parliamentary probe committee to investigate Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Rabi Lamichhane's alleged involvement in the misuse of cooperative funds. The party has been supported by wider political support and is invigorated by the growing support of other forces in the House of Representatives. However, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has strongly stood in defence of his home minister. The opposition Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the ruling CPN (Unified Socialist) have urged the government to comply with the opposition's demands. Congress leaders claim that their strategy and objective are clear, and they only have a few questions for the home minister. They demand that money deposited in cooperatives should not be used to run a media company, which is an embezzlement.

Pakistan: Tariffs on electricity bills to reduce for April
On 11 April, the Federal Minister for Energy, Sardar Awais Khan Leghari, announced a reduction of PKR 3.82 per unit on electricity bills for April, providing relief to households and businesses facing rising utility costs. The reduction of PKR 2.14 per unit came as the fuel price adjustments for April have been set at PKR 4.92 per unit, down from PKR 7.06 per unit in March. Previously, the adjustment was PKR 4.43 per unit. Leghari said that this reduction highlights the government’s commitment to easing the burden on consumers, and was done due to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s aim to reduce the problems of the people. He also noted that NEPRA consistently reviews and determines fuel price adjustments to maintain transparency and fairness in the bills. Leghari added that this reduction is crucial to avoid increasing Pakistan’s deficit.

Pakistan: Senate holds maiden session to elect chairman amid PTI boycott
On 09 April, as the Senate held its first meeting, PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani remained poised to assume the role of the Senate chairman unopposed as a result of a power-sharing deal with the PML-N. The PTI decided to sit out of the elections for chairman and deputy chairman, both scheduled for the same day, giving Gilani a clear path to victory. Under the power-sharing agreement between the PML-N and the PPP, the latter was given the offices of the president, chairman of the Senate, deputy speaker of the National Assembly, and governorships in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PML-N, which received the office of the deputy chairman of the Senate among others, is yet to nominate a candidate, though insiders have suggested that Anusha Rahman may be the party’s candidate. Earlier on 8 April, the PTI decided to boycott the “unconstitutional” Senate elections, arguing that the house is incomplete since the senate polls were postponed to the extent of KP after the newly-elected lawmakers on reserved seats were not allowed to take the oath. A PTI spokesperson claimed that conducting elections for the chairman and deputy chairman without senators from KP was equivalent to a murder of democratic values and traditions.

Pakistan: Imran Khan warns that the 1971 Dhaka tragedy may repeat itself
On 09 April, Imran Khan warned that the current developments in Pakistan could result in an economic collapse similar to the 1971 Dhaka tragedy, and advised powers that be that an unstable economy cannot support countries and institutions. This message was conveyed by PTI Central Information Secretary Raoof Hasan after the party’s legal team, including Salman Akram Raja, Intazar Panjutha, Shoaib Shaheen and Naeem Panjutha, met Khan at Adiala Jail. Raja claimed that Khan was worried for Pakistan and its people, and narrated the latter's message saying: “When you don’t give rights to the people, you cannot say the economy will grow. In 1970, army chief Yahya Khan wanted a hung parliament, but when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s party got a clear majority, the army held a fraud by-election in which 80 seats of Awami League were snatched as Yahya Khan wanted to become president.” He added that Khan wanted to remind the Hamoodur Rahman Commission report that Pakistan is “again going to repeat the same blunders which” were made in the past. The London Plan came about in 1979, and in 2024, a “government has been imposed through London Plan.” However, Raja claimed that Khan had consistently hinted at being open to talk to the military establishment.

CENTRAL ASIA & THE CAUCASUS THIS WEEK
Armenia: Rome anticipates a new agenda set up for Yerevan and Brussels
On 13 April, Rome is hoping that Yerevan and Brussels can set up a new agenda for engagement. The Vice President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, Paolo Formentini, during the April 11 session, asked about the steps the Italian government is planning to take given the current circumstances to promote Armenia's further rapprochement with the Euro-Atlantic West, considering Italy’s significant national interests in the South Caucasus, particularly those related to energy and commerce. In response, Italy's Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Giorgio Silli said: “The relations between the European Union and Armenia are experiencing special dynamics. We highly appreciate Armenia's commitment to strengthening cooperation with Brussels, and it is important to encourage Yerevan's progress in such fundamental areas as the strengthening of democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights.”
 
Azerbaijan: Tajikistan FM to visit in May
On 12 April, following a meeting between Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin and his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov, the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Tajikistan announced that President Emomali Rahmon intends to conduct a state visit to Azerbaijan in the third ten days of May 2024. The ministerial meeting was held in Minsk concurrently with the CIS Foreign Ministers Council meeting. The ministry stated: “The ministers exchanged views on holding the days of culture of Tajikistan in Azerbaijan, the days of Tajik cinema and the Tajik-Azerbaijani business forum in the second ten days of May.”

Turkmenistan: Becomes a member of the UN Commission for Social Development
On 12 April, according to the press office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkmenistan was unanimously re-elected as a member of the UN Commission for Social Development for the term 2025–2029 during the elections to the Council's subsidiary bodies held within the framework of the ECOSOC Organizational Session. As a result, the country will keep serving in this body, which it joined in 2020 following its previous election. The Commission works on creating a worldwide social development policy that makes sense.  Turkmenistan's reelection shows that other UN members respect the country and acknowledge its commitment to the Commission's work.

MIDDLE EAST THIS WEEK
Israel: IDF to invade Rafah
On 10 April, US President Joe Biden, in an interview, criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his announcement on the ground invasion of Rafah. He stated: “I think what he's doing is a mistake. I don't agree with his approach.” He added that Gaza should have “total access to all food and medicine” for the next six to eight weeks. On 9 April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu re-emphasised his position that the war’s victory depends on a ground military offensive in Rafah.

Yemen: Houthis target the US and the UK vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden
On 10 April, the Houthi rebels asserted that they targeted four vessels including the US warship carrying drones and naval missiles in the Gulf of Aden. According to Houthi spokesperson Yahya Sarea, the group attacked “MSC Darwin ship, MSC GINA, MV Yorktown” besides the US warship. Separately, on 7 April, the Houthi rebels asserted that they attacked the UK, the US, and Israeli ships in the Red Sea. According to intelligence received by the UK security company, Ambrey, a vessel was attacked in the Gulf of Aden, 102 nautical miles southwest of Mukalla, Yemen.

Iran: IRGC vows retaliation against Israeli attack on consulate in Syria
On 05 April, Iran celebrated Al-Quds Day with rallies and demonstrations across the country. Al-Quds Day was established after the Iranian revolution of 1979 by the country’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It is an annual event to express solidarity with Palestine and oppose the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel. The celebrations this year were overshadowed by the loss of Iranian lives in two recent attacks including the Israeli air strikes in Damascus and the Jaish al-Adl attack on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) headquarters in the Sistan-Baluchistan province. Addressing a gathering in Tehran, the commander-in-chief of IRGC, Hossein Salami, stated: “We warn that no action by any enemy concerning our holy establishment [the Islamic Republic] will go unanswered.”

AFRICA THIS WEEK
South Africa: Electoral commission appeals against Constitutional Court’s ruling on Jacob Zuma’s candidacy
On 12 April, South Africa’s electoral commission appealed to the Constitutional Court against overturning the ban on former President Jacob Zuma standing for the upcoming elections. The commission alleged that the constitution bars the candidacy of individuals who have been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison. In 2021, Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court and only served three months in Jail. Zuma is running for his newly formed party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), with a bid to end decades of rule under the African National Congress (ANC).

West Africa: Ukraine opens embassies in DRC and Ivory Coast
On 12 April, Ukraine opened an embassy in Ivory Coast. The development came a day after it opened an embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo. BBC quoted Ukraine’s special envoy for Africa and the Middle East, Maksym Subkh, from French public broadcaster RFI: “A brilliant new chapter has been added to the history of Ukrainian-African and Ukrainian-Ivorian relations.” He appreciated Ivory Coast's “support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, including voting in favour of key UN resolutions on the large-scale Russian invasion.”

Niger: Russian military instructors arrive to train army
On 12 April, BBC reported that Russian troops arrived in Niger as part of the recent military agreement aiming at boosting Niger-Russia security cooperation. The country cut ties with the West and turned towards Russia after the Military coup in July 2023. One of the Russian military officials told Niger’s state media: "We are here to train the Nigerien army …[and] to develop military cooperation between Russia and Niger.”

Mali: Junta suspends all political activities
On 11 April, BBC reported that the Malian junta suspended all political activities in the country. Military spokesperson, Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga, stated that the decision was taken amidst “sterile discussions” during the national dialogue this year. He said that all the activities of political parties are suspended to maintain public order. The announcement came after more than 80 political parties and civil groups called for presidential elections “as soon as possible” to end the military rule. Previously, the junta had agreed to hold elections in February, but were postponed without details.

Sudan: Junta to hand over power only to its supporters
On 11 April, Sudanese military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan stated that the army "will not hand over the authority of our state to any internal or external party.” He added: "Anyone who conspired against the Sudanese people inside and outside the country will not have any role to play in the future running of this country.” He warned that democratic rule would not return to the country until the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) which began in April 2023 ends. Peace talks mediated by the US between the warring parties were expected to resume in Jeddah after Eid. However, the RSF leader, Hamdan Dagalo, stated that “there is no other option for the Rapid Support Forces but victory.”
 
EUROPE THIS WEEK
France: French assembly approves bill to reduce wastage from fast-fashion
On 08 April, according to Deutsche Welle, the French National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, approved the fast-fashion bill unanimously, especially targeting fast-fashion enterprises like Shein and the online platform Temu, both Chinese manufacturers. Major companies with a certain per day production are required to indicate the environmental impact of their products and urge recycling among customers on their websites, or else face a fine of up to EUR 15,000. The government is planning to ban publicity for fast fashion by 2025 with a penalty of up to EUR 100,000. The bill will become law only after approval from the French Senate. Several experts on sustainable fashion welcomed the bill as the victory of a “cultural battle” that addressed “an environmental, social and cultural disaster”. However, others argue that those who can’t afford fashion could be adversely affected, stating that the thresholds shouldn’t be too low. The implications of the bill depend on the threshold set by the government.
 
Slovakia: Pro-Russian Pellegrini emerges victorious in the Presidential run-off
On 06 April, according to Politico, the Speaker of the Parliament, Peter Pellegrini won the runoff Presidential elections against Ivan Korčok, a pro-West career diplomat. Pellegrini’s victory allows Prime Minister Robert Fico’s ruling coalition absolute control over the legislative and executive organs of the government. Pellegrini who won with 53 per cent of the votes, said: “...this victory is an enormous vindication for me.” The reasons behind Pellegrini's victory were due to social media campaigns, pledges to increase the pension and bonuses for police and firefighters. Korčok who had received 47 per cent of the votes in the runoff elections, which was five per cent more votes than Pellegrini condemned the aggressive election campaign led by the competitor. Pellegrini accused Korčok of being “a war-monger who unhesitatingly supports everything the West tells him, including dragging Slovakia into [the Russia-Ukraine] war.” The opposition held the stance in support of Kyiv, while Pellegrini favours the role of the state and is accused of sending Slovakian soldiers to fight in Ukraine. In Slovakia, the power of the President is limited to appointing ambassadors, returning legislation and granting amnesties. However, Pellegrini being an ally of Fico, is observed to benefit the Direction – Slovak Social Democracy party's pro-Russian policies and agenda to modify penal code and control of media. 
 
Russia: Thousands evacuated from Osrk city as floods aggravate
On 06 April, BBC reported the evacuation of more than 1100 residents in the Orsk district of Russia. The rise of water in the Ural River due to the melting of ice had called for an emergency in the entire region of Orenburg. According to officials, “10,000 residents may be in the flooding zone and up to 4,000 houses could be inundated.” Russian Emergencies Ministry stated that work on the dam rupture in Orsk was continuing. Vasily Kozupitsa, Mayor of Orsk warned about the “worsening situation” as the old town city is flooded and could be potentially cut off from the rest of the city. Orsk which has a population of 230,000 people is moving its residents to nearby schools. Regions of Orsk, Orenburg, Urals regions and parts of Kazakhstan have been suffering from floods in recent days. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakh President stated the calamity to be the worst natural disaster for 80 years.
 
Ireland: Simon Harris becomes Ireland’s youngest Prime Minister
On 09 April, Ireland’s Parliament voted for Simon Harris, aged 37 become the youngest Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland. Harris, former health and higher education minister received 88 votes in favour with 69 against in the parliament. Harris, leader of the Fine Gael party, replaces former Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. Harris would lead a coalition government and would face an election within a year against the left-wing opposition led by Republican Sinn Fein. According to the polling data Harris lags behind Sinn Fein with 21 per cent of votes whereas Finn leads with 26 per cent. Harris is due to announce a cabinet reshuffle of Fine Gael members and is not likely to include the foreign or finance ministries.
 
THE AMERICAS THIS WEEK
Bogota: Drought results in water restrictions in Bogota
On 11 April, water restrictions were put into place after a drought resulted in the ten million residents of Bogota, the capital of Colombia, facing a water shortage, forcing them to ration water. The El Niño climate phenomenon has pushed reservoir levels to their lowest point in decades. Officials have split the region around the capital into nine zones, with each zone alternatively switching off water services for 24 hours, with the exemption of schools and hospitals. Mayor Carlos Fernando Galán advised not wasting “a drop of water in Bogota at this time,” saying that the measures would help the city “so that these restrictions can be lifted more quickly or reduced.” A lack of rain has also resulted in reservoirs drying up, with the Chuza reservoir, part of a system which provides 70 per cent of the city’s water, being at less than 17 per cent capacity.
 
Argentina: HSBC to sell off its Argentine business following years of losses
On 9 April, banking giant HSBC announced it would be selling its business in Argentina at a USD one billion loss following years of an unstable exchange rate. Grupo Financiero Galicia, a private financial group, will buy HSBC Argentina, which has more than 100 branches and 3,100 employees. In March 2024, annual inflation hit 272.6 per cent, the highest globally. One dollar can now buy more than 860 pesos. The sale of the Argentine business for USD 550 million, will see it book a USD one billion loss in its first-quarter results this year. The size of the loss could vary for multiple causes, including “associated hyperinflation and foreign currency translation,” as per HSBC. There has also been an accumulation of reserve losses over many years.
 
The US: Biden says he is “considering” request to drop case against WikiLeaks’ Assange
On 10 April, US President Joe Biden said he is “considering” a request from Australia, asking him to end the decade-long push to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over the release of classified documents. In February, Australia’s parliament called for the release of Assange with the backing of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Albanese has said that Biden’s remarks were encouraging but that the issue needed to be “brought to a conclusion,” as there is “nothing to be gained by Mr. Assange’s continued incarceration.” Assange’s wife Stella also urged Biden to “do the right thing” by dropping the charges.
 
The US: Top Arizona court allows 1864 abortion law
On 9 April, the Arizona Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to prepare to enforce the 1864 abortion law that bans all abortions, allowing it only if the mother’s life is in jeopardy and providing no exceptions for rape or incest. The law orders prosecution for a “person who provides, supplies or administers to a pregnant woman, or procures such woman to take any medicine, drugs or substance, or uses or employs any instrument or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of such woman, unless it is necessary to save her life.” As a result of the ruling, “physicians are now on notice that all abortions, except those necessary to save a woman’s life, are illegal,” and additional criminal and regulatory sanctions may apply to abortions performed after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The ruling places abortion in the front of major issues playing a part in the upcoming elections. Democrats swiftly criticised the bench, composed of justices entirely appointed by Republican governors. Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes condemned the “unconscionable” ruling.” Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, who is also a Democrat, asserted: “But my message to Arizona women is this: I won’t rest, and I won’t stop fighting until we have secured the right to abortion. That is my promise to you."


NEWSMAKERS THIS WEEK
Jorge Glas, Arizona's Supreme Court, European Court of Human Rights, and Xi Jinping & Ma Yingjeou
Prajwal TV and Ken B Varghese  

Jorge Glas
On 13 April, the arrest of Jorge Glas, a former Vice-President of Ecuador, was declared illegal and arbitrary by a three-member Ecuadorian Tribunal while also upholding his imprisonment. Earlier on 5 April, Ecuadorian forces forcefully entered the Mexican Embassy in Quito, where Glas had sought refuge since December 2023 citing political persecution. Ecuador's intrusion into the Mexican embassy, breaking the rule of inviolability of embassies and consulates, has strained relations within Latin America, with several South American countries siding with Mexico. Ecuador defended its actions by noting Glas's conviction and alleged escape attempt, leading to Mexico severing diplomatic ties with Ecuador, followed by Nicaragua.

Glas was convicted on two corruption charges, involving bribery from Odebrecht and issuing public contracts for personal gain. These convictions resulted in six and eight years of prison sentences, respectively, and Glas lost his political rights. 

Arizona's Supreme Court
On 9 April, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a 160-year-old abortion law, dating back to 1864, that makes abortion a punishable offence for anyone who performs it or assists in obtaining one, rendering a near-total ban on the procedure. The ruling, passed by a 4-2 majority, declared the law enforceable, due to legal action led by obstetrician Eric Hazelrigg and Republican Yavapai County Attorney Dennis McGrane, supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group. The law prohibits abortion from the moment of conception without exceptions for rape or incest, except to save the woman's life. 

The court argued that the legislature never faltered from its 1864 intent to ban abortions. It poses significant challenges for women seeking abortions and doctors performing them, who could face two to five years in prison if convicted. The ruling aligns with a broader trend of states challenging Roe v Wade, following the US Supreme Court's 2022 decision overturning it. By effectively banning most abortions in Arizona, this ruling marks one of the strictest laws of its kind, severely limiting reproductive rights in the state.

European Court of Human Rights
On 9 April, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favour of the Association of Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland (KlimaSeniorinnen), marking a pivotal moment in climate litigation. KlimaSeniorinnen argued that Switzerland's inadequate climate policies violated their right to private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights, citing health and lifestyle disruptions caused by climate-induced heatwaves. Representing over 2,500 elderly women, the association challenged the government's inaction on climate change, signifying the intersectionality between climate action and human rights, especially for vulnerable groups like senior citizens. 

The verdict affirms states' accountability for insufficient climate measures under human rights law, amplifying the urgency of the need for climate policies to safeguard citizens' well-being. This historic win not only upholds the rights of elderly Swiss women but also leads the way for increased global climate litigation, compelling governments and corporations to prioritize climate protection to uphold human rights.

Xi Jinping and Ma Yingjeou
On 10 April 2024, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a rare meeting with former Taiwan President Ma Yingjeou, who supports closer ties with China. It is the first time a former president of Taiwan has been hosted by China's top leader in Beijing since 1949. Ma led a student delegation to China and met Xi in Beijing at the Great Hall of the People. Xi stated that "the difference in the system doesn't alter the fact that two sides of the straits are of one country and one nation. In response, Ma said that although two sides of the strait developed under different systems, both belong to the Chinese nation and that a war would be an unbearable burden for the Chinese nation. 

The reunion highlights the widening political divide across the Taiwan Strait. Although Beijing has cut off high-level official contact with Taipei, meeting with Ma is seen as a pressure tactic to push the incoming Lai administration to a more accommodating stance for China.


About the Authors
Akriti Sharma and Rohini Reenum are PhD scholars at NIAS. Padmashree Anandhan is a Project Associate at NIAS, Anu Maria is a Research Associate at NIAS,  Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham and Akhil Ajith are Research Assistants at NIAS. Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, and Navinan are postgraduate scholars at the University of Madra, Sneha Surendran is a postgraduate scholar at O. P Jindal Global University. Alka Bala and Prajwal TV are undergraduate scholars at St Joseph's University, and Ken B Varghese is an undergraduate scholar at Madras Christian College.

Print Bookmark

PREVIOUS COMMENTS

March 2024 | CWA # 1251

NIAS Africa Team

Africa This Week
February 2024 | CWA # 1226

NIAS Africa Team

Africa This Week
December 2023 | CWA # 1189

Hoimi Mukherjee | Hoimi Mukherjee is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science in Bankura Zilla Saradamani Mahila Mahavidyapith.

Chile in 2023: Crises of Constitutionality
December 2023 | CWA # 1187

Aprajita Kashyap | Aprajita Kashyap is a faculty of Latin American Studies, School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi.

Haiti in 2023: The Humanitarian Crisis
December 2023 | CWA # 1185

Binod Khanal | Binod Khanal is a Doctoral candidate at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi.

The Baltic: Energy, Russia, NATO and China
December 2023 | CWA # 1183

Padmashree Anandhan | Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangaluru.

Germany in 2023: Defence, Economy and Energy Triangle
December 2023 | CWA # 1178

​​​​​​​Ashok Alex Luke | Ashok Alex Luke is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at CMS College, Kottayam.

China and South Asia in 2023: Advantage Beijing?
December 2023 | CWA # 1177

Annem Naga Bindhu Madhuri | Annem Naga Bindhu Madhuri is a postgraduate student at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at the University of Madras, Chennai.

China and East Asia
October 2023 | CWA # 1091

Annem Naga Bindhu Madhuri

Issues for Europe
July 2023 | CWA # 1012

Bibhu Prasad Routray

Myanmar continues to burn
December 2022 | CWA # 879

Padmashree Anandhan

The Ukraine War
November 2022 | CWA # 838

Rishma Banerjee

Tracing Europe's droughts
March 2022 | CWA # 705

NIAS Africa Team

In Focus: Libya