The World This Week

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The World This Week
Biden-Xi virtual summit, and Russia's ASAT test

  GP Team

The World This Week #146, Vol. 3, No. 47

Avishka Ashok and Harini Madhusudan 

China: Virtual meeting between Biden and Xi calls for greater cooperation
What happened?
On 16 November, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden held a 3.5 hour-long virtual meeting to address the issues of dissension between the two countries.

On 16 November, Xinhua Net reported that President Xi had called for steady relations with the US and said: "China and the United States should respect each other, coexist in peace, pursue win-win cooperation, and manage domestic affairs well while shouldering international responsibilities."

On 15 November, the White House released President Biden's statements which warmly welcomed the meet and said: "it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended. Just simple, straightforward competition." During the meeting, President Xi also questioned the ideology of democracy and explained that "democracy is not "mass produced" with a uniform model." The statement made by Xi reprimanded Biden for claiming a patent on democracy.

What is the background?
First, recent tensions between the US and China. The meeting between the two leaders took place in the backdrop of rising tension caused by Taiwan's independence movement. The US lawmakers visited Taiwan last month to discuss a military deal, a move that China strongly condemned. The relations between the US and China have remained bittersweet for decades. The US has maintained its status of being a universally powerful country ever since the end of the second world war. But the People's Republic of China has steadily reached its position of being the second most powerful and financially stable country. After shadowing the US for many long years, it now threatens to overthrow the US and take its place as the world's fastest and strongest GDP in the world. A report by McKinsey & Company revealed that China had overtaken the US as the wealthiest country with two-thirds of global net worth accumulated in China.

Second, emerging economic competition between the countries. Given the economic rivalry and considering the global economic recovery after the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, another cold war or even a trade war would be detrimental to the recuperation of the economies that get stuck between the two greatest GDPs of the world. Such a development would also be disastrous for the US and China as well. Thus, the meeting aimed to bring an understanding between the two countries and create a strategy to sustain the growth and development of their economy.

Third, the temperament of the leaders. President Biden will soon finish his one year in office. In the past ten months, he has not caused any untoward crises or conflicts with any other nations. The Biden administration strives not to take inconvenient and unfavorable action, even in the case of North Korea. Thus, it is evident that the US under the Biden presidency does not aim to complicate matters with China. Instead, it is complying with conditions that will enable the expansion of its economy along with China. President Xi Jinping also promised to cooperate with the US as long as it did not interfere in its internal affairs.

What does it mean?
The meeting between the two leaders is aimed at greater cooperation to facilitate the two countries' continuous and uninterrupted economic progress. The US and China realize that stalling each other might, in turn, damage their interests and thus are willing to compromise and work individually without bothering each other. However, the US may find itself in a tight spot if it cannot voice its opinions on the territorial aggression of China since it has many stakes in the Indo-Pacific region. The priority for both the leaders is to prevent the world from entering into yet another cold war era.

Russia: The Anti-Satellite test
What happened?
On 15 November, a missile from the earth was launched to target and destroy a Russian satellite in low-earth orbit, also known as a Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite(DA-ASAT). The target was a defunct satellite from the Soviet-era called Tselina-D or Cosmos-1408. Following the test, instructions were given to the crew at the International Space Station, consisting of two Russian astronauts, four US astronauts, and one German, to take shelter in their capsules for two hours as a precaution.

The Russian test has come when there has been an increase in the activities and actors in Outer Space. "Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations," US Space Command Commander James Dickinson said in a statement. Antony Blinken condemned the test as "reckless and irresponsible." The US State Department, NASA, and the officials from the Pentagon raised alarms about the impact of the debris generated by the test. The Russian military responded by calling the US 'hypocritical' as the resulting fragments from this test are unlikely to pose a threat to space activities or assets. 

What is the background?
First, Russian activities in Outer Space and the recent ASAT test. The Russian direct-ascent anti-satellite missile targeted and destroyed a defunct Soviet signals intelligence satellite. Russia has repeatedly spoken about the plans of the US, France, and NATO as a whole of placing weapons in Outer Space. During the year, Russia had issues with its capsules launched to the ISS, and a crew from Russia launched a private mission to Outer Space to shoot a movie. On 16 November, Russia called on the US air force's testing of their X-37 spacecraft to indicate the country developing space weapons. 

Second, a profile of ASAT tests in the past. The US, Russia, China, and India have previously conducted ASAT tests by shooting their satellites. India has been the latest entrant to the successful display of ASAT capabilities. China tested an Anti Satellite in 2007, which became one of the early factors of the growing mistrust among countries. In 2008, as a response to China, the US tested its anti-satellite weapon. In 2015, Russia conducted its first successful ASAT test, and in 2019, India conducted its ASAT test called 'Mission Shakti.'

Third, the importance of ASAT capability. The anti-satellite is an effective tool to use against an adversary's space-based weapons or nuclear weapons. It can be considered as a countermeasure against an adversary's anti-ballistic missile defense or simply a force multiplier for a nuclear first strike. The need for an anti-satellite comes from the nuclear defense preparedness and holds the ability to disrupt the normal functioning of the Lower-Earth Orbit. 

Fourth, criticisms of ASAT over debris and the threat to space assets. The immediate output of an ASAT test is the space debris that it generates. Every test releases thousands of particles of various sizes that pose a threat to the assets in outer space. For example, the test by Russia created almost 1,500 measurable pieces of debris and many more pieces of smaller particles. Compared to the statistics from early November, there are about 20,000 objects that are traceable pieces of debris. The Russian test is expected to add another 10 percent to the same in the lower earth orbit. The Outer Space Treaty restricts the testing of weapons of mass destruction in Outer Space. The display of ASAT capability would technically be a violation of International Law. Since the counties have shot down their satellites, the threat of a weaponized space takes a back seat over the debris in all the tests. 
What does it mean?
The Russian officials have revealed that the present ASAT test responded to the US announcement of a Space Force. There has been a sizeable growth in the space industry in terms of innovation, investments, and cost management, which directly influences the need for ASAT capability. The Secure World Foundation has called for a formal halt among all countries to stop ASAT testing, which sounds similar to the NPT model of nuclear energy. However, the more effective response would be to work towards robotic management and efficient safety protocols that ensure the safety of technology and crew. Additionally, the outcomes of an ASAT test need not be seen as a Space Debris problem, as it is not the primary outcome of the test. 

Also, in the news ...
By Sukanya Bali & Avishka Ashok
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Xi calls for 'steady China-US' relationship in the virtual meet with Biden  
On 16 November, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for "developing a sound and steady China-US relationship" during a virtual meeting with US President Joe Biden. Global Times reported: Xi said, "China and the United States should respect each other, coexist in peace, pursue win-win cooperation, and manage domestic affairs well while shouldering international responsibilities." He also pointed out, "both China and the US are at critical stages of development, and the global village of humanity faces multiple challenges."

China: Global wealth surges, Beijing replaces Washington at the top spot 
On 14 November, McKinsey & Co reported that the global wealth tripled to USD 514 trillion in 2020 from USD 156 trillion in 2000. The net worth of China surged and replaced the US from the top spot. Bloomberg reported: according to McKinsey, the rise in net worth since 2000 "outstripped the increase in GDP" and "has been fueled by ballooning property prices pumped up by declining interest rates." The report also observed that "asset prices are almost 50% above their long-run average relative to income" and has raised concerns about the sustainability of the wealth boom.

Taiwan: Taipei opens de facto embassy in Lithuania, Beijing expresses opposition
On 19 November, Taiwan opened a de facto embassy in Lithuania. Reuters reported: Taiwan's foreign ministry said, "the opening of the office would chart a new and promising course for ties between it and Lithuania." They further added, "Taiwan will cherish and promote this new friendship based on our shared values." In response, China's Foreign Ministry said the decision was a "crude inference" in domestic affairs. Reuters reported, the Ministry also said: "The Lithuanian side is responsible for all consequences arising therefrom."

Japan: IAEA team review plans to discharge radioactive water of Fukushima   
On 16 November, a team from IAEA arrived in Japan to study the preparations for releasing treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant. A larger team is expected to visit next month. On 18 November, TEPCO said, the planned release of radioactive water containing small amounts of tritium into the sea will have a "minimal" impact on the environment and health. The discharge is opposed by the fishing community and the neighboring countries including, South Korea and China. The Japanese government has requested assistance from the UN agency to ensure the release meets all the safety standards and address the international community's concerns.
South Asia This Week
India: Foreign minister says Sino-Indian relationship going through a 'bad patch,' China agrees to "early resolution" of border disputes  
On 19 November, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said that India-China relations were going through a "bad patch," because Beijing's actions violated bilateral agreements without explanations. He further added, "I don't think the Chinese have any doubt on where we stand on our relationship and what's not gone right with it." On 18 November, New Delhi and Beijing, at the 23rd WMCC meeting, agreed to an "early resolution" of the disputes along the LAC in Ladakh and complete disengagement from the friction points in the Western Sector. They also decided to hold the 14th meeting of Senior Commanders "at an early date" and meanwhile agreed "to ensure a stable ground situation."

India: Coronavirus cases expected to rise globally says, WHO Scientist Soumya Swaminathan
On 15 November, WHO scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that COVID-19 cases are likely to rise across the world amid the fear of the third wave in India. She added that the inoculation of vulnerable populations has resulted in the decoupling between "infections and deaths." According to CNBC-TV18, she observed the surge in infection in Western Europe has increased hospitalization but has not significantly increased deaths due to large-scale vaccinations. Responding to the question of booster doses, she said: "We have to determine the need for booster doses and also make it clear who needs to have the additional doses." She also supported WHO's emergency approval of India's Covaxin.
Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa This Week
Bahrain: the US pledges to defend Gulf allies at Manama Dialogue
On 20 November, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin promised to stand against Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The statements were made at the annual Manama Dialogue in Bahrain as the Vienna talks continue to remain on hold until the end of November. The statement made by Austin appeared to appease the US allies in the Gulf. He said: "The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. And we remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue."
Israel: President holds a conversation with Erdogan
On 18 November, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Isaac Herzog held a telephonic conversation and agreed to continue the dialogue between the two countries. President Erdogan highlighted the importance of the dialogue to the security and stability of peace in the region urged his counterpart to minimize the issues of dissension by mutually understanding the bilateral and regional issues. He also stressed the importance of reinstalling peace, harmony, and tolerance in the region and promoting Palestinian-Israeli relations. President Herzog also revealed that the conversation held a positive tone and that the leaders would remain in touch.
Israel: Government agrees to develop unmanned military and commercial vessels jointly
On 18 November, the last day of the biennial Dubai Airshow, UAE-based defence corporation EDGE and Israel's Aerospace Industries announced a partnership to design unmanned vessels capable of anti-submarine warfare. The joint statement revealed that the partnership would benefit military and commercial with the 170 M advanced modular unmanned service vessels. The CEO of EDGE said: "In line with the Abraham Accords and the UAE's newly-established cooperation with Israel, it is a defining moment for us to join forces with IAI. As EDGE invests extensively in autonomous capabilities, our co-development of a Counter-UAS will help strengthen our advanced technology portfolio."
Iran: IAEA reports an increase in stockpiles of enriched uranium
On 17 November, the IAEA released a report revealing that Iran had increased its enriched uranium stocks. The report comes to light just a week before the Vienna talks resume after a long stalling period. According to the report, the current stock of 2,489.7 kilograms is much higher than the agreed limit in the JCPOA deal. The stockpile 20 percent enriched uranium also stands at 113.8 kilograms, 29 kilograms higher than last month.
Lebanon: The US Delegation begins discussions with the government on the economic crisis
On 20 November, a delegation from the US held a meeting with the political leaders in Lebanon to address the economic crises in the country. The delegation is tasked with understanding the issues of the Lebanese economy and explaining the same to US President Joe Biden, and coming up with ways to resolve the crisis. At present, Lebanon faces multiple obstacles in bringing reform and negotiating the changes with the International Monetary Fund.
Libya: Khalifa Haftar announces candidacy for the Presidential elections
On 16 November, the Guardian reported that the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar had announced his candidacy for the first Presidential election in Libya. Haftar had once believed that Libya was not ready for a Democratic system of governance but has now decided to stand along with Gaddafi's son in the Presidential race. Haftar was also a crucial player in the civil war that struck the country from 2012-2020 and was the leader of the Libyan National Army.
Mali: ECOWAS imposes sanctions on 140 Malian leaders and Guinea
On 17 November, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions on 149 officials in Mali, 121 of whom are a part of the National Transitional Council. The list was made public by ECOWAS and consisted of 21 cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Choguel Maiga. However, President Col Assimi Goita and Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop were not on the list. On 18 November, the ECOWAS held a summit of heads of states and governments in Ghana and imposed sanctions on Guinea's military leaders.
Europe and the Americas This Week
Belarus: President Lukashenko agrees to the possibilities of border forces letting migrants through intentionally
On 20 November, the BBC reported that the Belarusian President had acknowledged that his forces may have helped the migrants cross over into Europe. In an exclusive interview, President Lukashenko said: "We're Slavs. We have hearts. Our troops know the migrants are going to Germany. Maybe someone helped them. I won't even look into this." He also said that he won't stop the migrants from entering the country as they were anyway trying to move to European countries anyway. However, he claimed that he did not invite the migrants to the country and is not fond of the current situation with thousands of people passing through the country.
Russia: Gazprom rejects offer for extra capacity
On 16 November, the Moscow Times reported that Gazprom company had rejected the offer for extra transit capacity on pipelines to Europe for the third consecutive month despite the climbing energy prices. European countries have accused Russia of blackmailing the countries by cutting of energy supplies in an attempt to get approval for the mega pipeline under the Baltic Sea in its Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. The Russian government has responded to the claims and said that it was not interfering in the markets and that the countries could strike deals with the company to secure energy supply in the coming winter.
The US: Congress passes bipartisan infrastructure bill while the House passes the Build Back Better Act
On 18 November, the House of Representatives in the US Parliament passed the USD 1.9 trillion spending bill called the Build Back Better Act. The bill is yet to be approved by the Senate and faces a much bigger challenge, with Senator Joe Machin highlighting significant concerns regarding the plan. The Act attempts to reform the social safety net. Congress recently passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill. It was successfully made law after President Biden signed the bill.
The US: Kenosha shooting accused released and found not guilty by the Jury
On 19 November, the jury announced that Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager accused of shooting during the unrest in Kenosha, was found not guilty on all charges. Kyle was accused of killing two and injuring another person during the shooting and four other felony charges. The jury believed that the actions taken by Kyle were in self-defense and hence did not hold him guilty.

About the Authors
Harini Madhusudan is a PhD Scholar, and Avishka Ashok is a Research Associate at NIAS. Sukanya Bali is a Doctoral candidate at OP Jindal Global University.

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