The World This Week

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The World This Week
Strategic oil reserves' release, and another migrant crisis across the English Channel

  GP Team

The World This Week #147, Vol. 3, No. 48

Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan and Padmashree Anandhan

From the US to China: Releasing the strategic oil reserves
What happened? 
On 23 November, the US President announced the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the "Strategic Petroleum Reserve" to counter the rising oil prices. India announced to release 5 million barrels of crude oil from its reserves with China, Japan, South Korea and the UK. The US would release 32 million barrels as an exchange over the months, which would eventually return to the reserves. While only 18 million barrels will be sold, this sale was approved by Congress in 2018 under the Bipartisan Budget Act. 

On 24 November, China stated that it would release strategic crude oil depending on its actual needs. This would be the second time in two months that China has released its strategic reserves. The UK Government had authorised the release of 1.5 million barrels of strategic reserves to ease pressure on oil prices and mentioned that they would work closely with the US to support the global economy during the pandemic. The OPEC+ coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, are considering pausing their effort of increased production of "400,000 barrels a day until they hit pre-pandemic levels of production". 

What is the background?
First, the strategic oil reserves, and their release in the recent decades. The idea of strategic oil reserves was introduced after 1973 when the OPEC countries had imposed an embargo concerning the US's support of Israel. The US strategically released oil "For Operational sale" for the first time in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. The second time was in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina and the last time was in 2011 due to the civil war in Libya. 

Second, the 2011 and the 2021 releases. The difference between the two periods is how the US releases oil without an immediate emergency. In 2011 there was an urgent need for countries to step in as Libya was not supplying oil to Europe, its predominant importer of crude oil. So, the US and other countries compensated by releasing their strategic oil reserves to meet the demands. In 2011, the Obama administration's oil reserve release was managed by the International Energy Agency (IEA). While now, it is spearheaded by Biden, who has been coordinating with other countries to reduce the global prices of oil.

Third, the OPEC response. Biden had approached the OPEC countries to rapidly increase their production to bridge the gap in supply and demand. But, the OPEC countries declined, as they were already on a plan to increase production by 400,000 barrels per day till they reached pre-pandemic levels of production. Another reason was the pandemic and the disruptions faced by the OPEC countries in 2020, which led to them downsizing their oil production as the demand fell to an all-time low. 
Besides, the 23 nation OPEC+ coalition has planned to meet on 1 and 2 December to decide if they would have to pause their increase in production in January 2022 to tackle the sudden release of strategic oil reserves. 

What does it mean?
First, volatile oil prices, as there has been a rapid rise and fall in the price of oil before and after the announcement. Second, the importance of strategic oil reserves during emergencies will be rethought as a medium to counter oil politics globally. Third, the world will reconsider its global shift to cleaner renewable energy sources with the surging demand and not enough time to meet those requirements. Fourth, the upcoming OPEC meeting would be a game-changer as it would either make or break the oil prices.

Europe: France-UK tensions over a migrant disaster across the English Channel
What happened?
On 24 November, an inflatable yacht capsized on the beach of Calais in northern France; 27 people drowned while they were attempting to cross the English Channel to enter the UK. The Prime Minister of the UK Boris Johnson said: "We've had difficulties persuading some of our partners - particularly the French - to do things in a way in which we think the situation deserves. This is a problem we have to fix together." In response, French President Emmanuel Macron said: "France will not let the Channel become a Graveyard." He mentioned that France expects the UK to cooperate fully and abstains from instrumentalizing a tragic situation for political purposes. 

On 26 November, a diplomatic rift developed between Johnson and Macron after France denied the Calais meeting with the Home Secretary Priti Patel. Macron blamed Johnson for "not being serious" and asking France to take back migrants.

On 27 November, a Kurdish woman from northern Iraq was identified as the first victim of the mass drowning. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said: "the Agency was deeply shocked and saddened by the unprecedented tragedy that unfolded in the English Channel. In the absence of safer alternatives, people will continue to resort to such perilous journeys, and their desperation and vulnerabilities will continue to be preyed upon and exploited by ruthless smugglers."

What is the background?
First, increase in the number of crossings. The number of migrants went from 1,835 to 26,560 in the last three years, with a majority of the crossings taking place in 2021. The French government is blamed for evacuating the migrants from the camps in the name of relocating them to shelters, thereby invoking many to move into the UK through the Channel.

Second, the UK as an attractive option for migrants. The origins of these migrants are from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Albania, and other North African countries. According to the survey taken by the researchers from International Health Journal from 402 migrants in Calais Jungle camp, only 12 per cent wanted to remain in France, and the other 82 per cent opted to go to the UK. Apart from seeking better living conditions or escaping the hostile situation, there are more significant reasons for the migrants to migrate to the UK. The first influencing factor is the treatment and recognition. The UK's approval of refugee status is much more flexible and beneficial in the long term. Upon crossing the Channel, the migrants can enter the UK and claim asylum, post which they have to prove the condition of non-return. At that point, they will be granted refugee status that lasts for five years, and later this becomes the base for them to settle in the UK. The second factor is connecting back with their families, thereby reestablishing ties with their culture, traditional practices, and languages.

Third, the inability of France and the UK to find an answer. Regarding the state response, both the UK and French leaders have not come forward to take in the migrants. The leaders continue to debate and clash over who will host the migrants and push them back to their homelands. While France has been a regular defaulter in allowing the migrants to flee, the UK has deployed patrol ships to send back the migrant vessels before they reach the shores. Additionally, the tensions have brimmed with France not agreeing to meet with the UK Home Secretary to resolve the situation. These actions do not reflect the responsibility of the state nor its leaders' will to resolve the issue.

What does this mean?
First, the EU negligence. With the rapid increase in migration, the absence of the involvement of regional heads to address the situation in France showcases how serious they are about the looming humanitarian crisis in the region. Second, the will of the migrants. The risks taken by the migrants to move into the UK shows the intensity and willingness of the migrants to endanger their lives and find a place for a peaceful living.

Also, in the news...
By Sukanya Bali & Avishka Ashok
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Resumes trade ties with Myanmar
On 26 November, China resumed trade with Myanmar after being closed for four months. The border port of Wanding in China's Yunnan province was closed due to the pandemic. CCTV reported: "Measures have been taken to reduce human-to-human contact and crowd-gathering as trade resumes, to stop the potential spread of the coronavirus." This will allow the export of rice, beans, and maize to Beijing. 

China: Downgrades its diplomatic mission in Lithuania 
On 26 November, Beijing downgraded its diplomatic mission in Lithuania to the Office of the Chargé d'Affaires, after the latter allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy. Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: "China's move is a legitimate countermeasure against Lithuania for undermining China's sovereignty, and the responsibility lies with Lithuania… The Chinese people cannot be bullied, and China's national sovereignty and territorial integrity brook no infringement." On 25 November, the Chinese embassy made a statement saying, "due to technical reasons, consular services will be suspended from 25 November", stopping the issue of visas in Lithuania. 

Japan: Agreement with Vietnam to promote free and open Indo-Pacific 
On 25 November, Japan's Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Vietnamese counterpart Bui Thanh Son agreed to promote cooperation and a "free and open Indo-Pacific." Kyodo News reported, according to the Japanese ministry: "Hayashi and Son also affirmed that the two nations will continue to collaborate to maintain the 'high standards' set in the 11-member Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, of which both Japan and Vietnam are members."

Australia: AUKUS signed a nuclear submarine deal 
On 22 November, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton and diplomats from the US and the UK signed an agreement, which allowed the exchange of sensitive "naval nuclear propulsion information" between nations. This deal will provide Australia with eight state-of-the-art nuclear submarines capable of long-range missions. Additionally, it will also allow sharing cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum, and unspecified undersea capabilities. The US President Joe Biden said: "The agreement will permit cooperation, which will further improve our mutual defense posture." Beijing has described the agreement as, "extremely irresponsible" threat to the region's stability.

Myanmar: Military leader shunned from the ASEM meeting 
On 25 November, Myanmar's military leader was shunned from a two-day Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) hosted by Cambodia. This is the third such international summit in two months that excluded Myanmar's military junta. Irrawaddy reported: ASEAN said, "the junta was told it could only send a 'nonpolitical representative' to the meeting." Kyodo News reported the regime informed Cambodia of its non-participation. Earlier this week, the Myanmar regime was sidelined at the ASEAN China special summit.

South Asia This Week
India: Condemns China, Pakistan for raising bilateral issues at SCO
On 25 November, at the 20th SCO Council of Heads of Government meeting, India's External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, criticized China and Pakistan for raising bilateral issues. Kazakhstan virtually hosted the meeting. Jaishankar criticized "Pakistan and China and called for reform in the multilateral institutions including in the World Health Organisation (WHO)." He said: "It is unfortunate to note that there have been repeated attempts to deliberately bring bilateral issues into SCO. This violates the well-established principles and norms of the SCO Charter. Such acts are counterproductive to the spirit of consensus and cooperation that define this organization and should be condemned."

Afghanistan: Islamic Emirate and the US set to meet in Doha
On 28 November, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and the US delegates meet in Doha. The delegation, led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.  Deputy Spokesman for the Islamic Emirate, Ahmadullah Wasiq, said that the delegation would exchange views on several issues in a two-day meeting. Pakistan praised the efforts, and its foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said: "Afghanistan must not be abandoned. The humanitarian crisis and economic collapse in Afghanistan will have enormous consequences for the rest of the world." He further added, "The international community must, therefore, remain positively engaged to avert the crisis."  

Sri Lanka: Chinese firm to construct the Eastern Container Terminal
On 25 November, the Sri Lankan government announced, a Chinese firm had signed the contract to develop Colombo Port's eastern container terminal. The Cabinet has approved the proposal made by the ports and shipping ministry. According to the Cabinet release, "The China Harbour Engineering Company has clinched the contract to develop Colombo Port's eastern container terminal (ECT) in stages." This comes after Sri Lanka scrapped a tripartite deal with India and Japan to build the deep-sea container port.

Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa This Week
Armenia and Azerbaijan: Russian President Putin holds meeting in Sochi to address rising tensions on the border
On 26 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Sochi. The meeting marked one year of signing the ceasefire that brought an end to the violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. Putin addressed the recent flare-up in violence along the borders and pushed the leaders to resolve the continuing issues of conflict between the two countries. He said: "We were part of a united state for centuries, we have deep historical links. We should aim to rebuild them and nurture them in the future. The more contacts, including direct ones, the better." Pashinyan and Aliyev also consented to delimiting the borders and living peacefully with each other.

Turkey:  President and UAE Crown Prince sign accords on financial cooperation
On 24 November, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and the UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan met in Ankara and signed an agreement on energy and technology investments. The meeting is the first in years after the relations between the two countries soured due to the currency crisis in Turkey. The new agreements showcase the willingness of the countries to work towards a beneficial economic partnership. Sheikh Mohammed said: "I look forward to exploring new cooperation opportunities to benefit our two nations and advance our mutual development goals." The two countries agreed to invest in Turkish technology firms, tech-oriented funds, port cooperation, energy infrastructure and logistics cooperation.

Morocco: Defence Minister signs agreement with Israel on military cooperation
On 24 November, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and the Moroccon Defence Minister signed an agreement to work together on security cooperation, intelligence sharing and the sale of military equipment. The agreement comes after the normalizing of relations with Israel post the Abraham Accords. Gantz said: "the agreement was very significant and will allow us to exchange ideas, enter joint projects and enable Israeli military exports here."

Iran: IAEA meets with Nuclear Chief to announce the continuation of talks
On 23 November, the IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi held a meeting with Iranian Nuclear Chief Mohammad Eslami and agreed to continue the Vienna talks to restore the JCPOA nuclear deal. Grossi revealed that the Agency would work along with Iran to find common grounds for constructive developments. Meanwhile, on 27 November, the US government threatened to confront Iran about violating the terms of the nuclear deal if it refused to cooperate with the IAEA.

Libya: Election commission rejects Gaddafi's son as the presidential candidate
On 23 November, the Libyan election commissioner rejected the candidacy of Saif al-Islam due to his participation in war crimes during the revolution that toppled Gaddafi. Saif, the son of Muammar Gaddafi, is one of the 25 candidates out of 95 deemed ineligible by the election body. The continuing disagreements over the legal basis of the vote and the lack of clarity over the eligibility of candidates are a few issues that threaten to derail the election process in the country. Another influential candidate Khalifa Haftar also faces the charges of being disqualified from the presidential race due to his US nationality and conviction in war crimes during the 2019-20 civil war. However, Haftar has denied both charges. 

Europe and the Americas This Week
Ukraine: President raises concern over probable coup attempt
On 26 November, the Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg issued a warning to Russia and cautioned the country against using force in Ukraine. The statement explained that NATO would take action in the eventuality of Russia using force against Ukraine but did not specify what these actions would be. The Ukrainian President has raised the alarm over audio recordings that suggest that Russian forces would create a coup and overthrow the current government in the first week of December. The Russian government spokesperson responded to the accusations and said that they would not get involved in its politics. However, the build-up of troops at the border continues to concern the Ukrainian government.

Belarus: President Lukashenko visits migrants and encourages them to go West
On 26 November, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visited a migrant's centre on the Belarus-Poland border and announced that they had a right to move to the European Union. The statement was broadcast by the state media in a video where Lukashenko is seen visiting the centre and meeting with migrants. He further said that the Belarusian government would not prevent them from crossing over to the EU and urged Germany to accept them. He said: "If anybody wants to go West— that is your right. We will not try to catch you, beat you, and hold you behind barbed wire. We will work with you to achieve your dream."

Sweden: First female Prime Minister resigns hours after the appointment
On 23 November, Sweden elected its first female Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson. However, the coalition partner quit the government, and Andersson's budget failed to receive adequate votes to pass. The Parliament has instead voted for the budget presented by the opposition, which aligns more with the anti-immigrant far-right sentiments. The developments resulted in Andersson resigning hours after she was elected as the Prime Minister. She said: "There is a constitutional practice that a coalition government should resign when one party quits. I don't want to lead a government whose legitimacy will be questioned."

France: Bilateral treaty with Italy
On 26 November, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron signed a treaty to deepen bilateral relations and enhance coordination within Europe. The treaty was signed in Rome at Quirinale Palace when German Chancellor Angela Merkel moved out of her German and European politics position. Draghi said: "The treaty marks an historic moment in relations between our two countries. France and Italy are further consolidating our diplomatic, commercial, political and cultural ties." The treaty has been signed to strengthen relations between the two countries as they prepare to face a more individualistic regime in Germany after Merkel's term ends.

Peru: Opposition moves to impeach President Castillo
On 24 November, the opposition initiated a motion to impeach President Pedro Castillo. The opposition impeached him on the grounds of moral inability to govern and received votes from 28 legislators. The President will be impeached if the motion receives 52 more votes from the 130-member body and finally 87 votes to remove him from his position. President Castillo has rejected the impeachment and said: "I am not worried about the political noise because the people have chosen me, not the mafias or the corrupt. I'm calm."

Haiti: Prime Minister appoints new Cabinet
On 23 November, Prime Minister Ariel Henry appointed his new Cabinet four months after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. The new government is faced with numerous challenges such as the rising gang violence in the country, rampant kidnappings, fuel shortages caused by gangs blocking distribution terminals and more. The Prime Minister said that the new Cabinet was sworn in at a difficult time but would do its best to serve the public. He said: "We are doing the maximum with the funds that we have available to restore the authority of the state and put away the ones that need to be put away. One of the main responsibilities of this government is to create a safe and stable environment."

The US: Congressional delegation visits Taiwan for the third time this year
On 24 November, a group of congressional lawmakers reached Taiwan to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen and the military authorities. The visit marks the second such visit in the month of November and comes soon after President Biden's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Chinese media contested the visit and accused the US of not keeping its word of not encouraging the secessionist sentiments in Taiwan. The Chinese authorities also called on the delegation to cancel the trip to the Island.

The US: Government joins hand with six countries to sanction Myanmar
On 26 November, the US and six other countries issued a joint statement and urged the international community to call off all assistance to Myanmar. The US, the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and South Korea expressed concerns over the reports of human rights violations in the country. The statement comes at a time when the opposition rapidly acquires more ammunition to resist the military coup and the government brought in by the coup. The statement read: "We are concerned about allegations of weapons stockpiling and attacks by the military, including shelling and airstrikes, use of heavy weapons, and the deployment of thousands of troops accompanying what security forces assert are counter-terrorism operations, which are disproportionately impacting civilians."

About the Authors
Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan is a Research Intern at the School of Conflict and Peace Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Padmashree Anandhan and Avishka Ashok are Research Associates at NIAS. Sukanya Bali is a Doctoral candidate at OP Jindal Global University.

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