The World This Week

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The World This Week
China's Boao Forum for Asia, Russia's new ICBM test, and a Cold War in the Solomon Islands

  GP Team

The World This Week #167, Vol. 4, No. 16

Avishka Ashok, Angkuran Dey and Arshiya Banu

China: Boao Forum for Asia brings the world's attention to the Indo-Pacific 
What happened?
On 20 April, China hosted the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainantitled "The World in COVID-19 and Beyond: Working Together for Global Development and Shared Future." President Xi Jinping delivered the keynote address and stressed promoting multilateralism to develop the post-pandemic global economy and proposed a Global Security Initiative to promote the security of all countries in the world. 

Xi said: "It is important that we stay committed to maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains, and work together on regional disputes and global challenges such as terrorism, climate change, cybersecurity and biosecurity."

He also highlighted other challenges that the Global Security Initiative would work towards these challenges include respecting and protecting the sovereignty and integrity of all countries, rejecting the cold war mentality in international affairs, avoiding sanctions, and resolving issues through diplomatic means. On protecting regional peace and stability, Xi said: "we should resolutely safeguard peace in Asia. Peace and stability in our region does not fall into our lap automatically or come as charity from any country. Rather, it is the result of the joint efforts of countries in the region. The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and the Bandung Spirit, first advocated by Asia, are all the more relevant today."

The forum was attended by over 3000 delegates representing the governments, businesses, academia, and media worldwide. The forum also invited religious leaders and others. 
On 23 April, a CGTN opinion said: "It is believed that BFA 2022 can be an opportunity for representatives from various countries to come together to find creative solutions for the problems facing Asia and the world at large. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the fragile nature of the international order, both politically and economically."

What is the background?
First, China's increasing engagement in Asia. China has become the largest trading partner for many countries. However, Beijing's engagement has been the highest in Central Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia. China began investing deeply in the socio-economic and political aspects of the Central Asian countries in the early 2000s. It is currently collaborating on promoting green energy and nuclear energy in Central Asia. A report on 'China's Engagement with Smaller South Asian Countries' by the United States Institute of Peace also observed a similar pattern of heavy Chinese funding in South Asia since the 2000s. China has funded several projects in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. Owing to the geographic proximity and the "good-neighbourly" policy, China has stepped up its activities in Southeast Asia. The country has also increased its participation in regional organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), ASEAN and BRICS. In March 2022, it was invited to participate in the OIC summit in Pakistan, portraying the importance given to China by regional groupings. 

Second, China's Belt and Road Initiative and Asia. Out of the 146 countries engaging with China on BRI, 47 countries belong to the Asian and Pacific region. China has 261 ongoing projects in Central Asia and plays a crucial role in developing rail and road connectivity, energy connectivity, industrial development, agriculture and food production, petroleum exploration, finance and IT and people-to-people exchanges. The BRI in South Asia includes four sub-projects: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor, the Trans-Himalayan Corridor and the Maritime Silk route which seeks to engage with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Energy and transport infrastructure remains China's major investments in Southeast Asia.

Third, the push to have the Chinese Yuan as an alternative financial engagement. In 2010, the Boao Forum for Asia, the yuan's flexibility was discussed in detail and was the most captivating issue that was discussed. In 2015, the yuan climbed nine ranks in three years to become the fourth most-used currency globally. China under Xi Jinping has advocated the use of yuan and expressed the desire to offer an alternative to the dollar for the past decade. In 2022, Russian banks observed a sharp increase in the use of yuan after the US and the West imposed sanctions and restricted the economy dependent on the dollar. China is slowly inching closer to its dream of replacing the dollar as the globally accepted legal tender for international trade. 

Fourth, China's efforts to address the Indo-Pacific push. The Boao Forum for Asia is a strong response to the growing interference of foreign countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In the last two decades, China has strengthened its position as the regional superpower and has reacted strongly to the interference of the US, the EU and other Western countries. The growing cooperation amongst countries in Asia with groups like the Quad have further caused concern in China over the growing anti-China sentiments in the world order. As the fight for the Indo-Pacific intensifies, China is making sure that it retains its influence in its backyard.

What does it mean?
The Boao Forum for Asia in April 2022 registered the primordial fight for the Indo-Pacific region. China has made sure to emphasize its influence in the region. It also recognizes its stakes and investments in Asia and knows that it cannot afford to lose ground to any other country. The main challenges to the Chinese hegemony in Asia is caused by the US and the growing investments of the West. Although it's hard to restrict the actions of other sovereign countries, the forum aimed to reinforce its supremacy in the Indo-Pacific. The Asian countries will play a vital role by becoming the deciding factor that can impact the future of the world order.

Russia: New nuclear-capable ICBM test
What happened?
On 20 April, Russia successfully test-fired its RS-28 Sarmat super-heavy, thermonuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Dubbed 'Satan-II' by the West, the ICBM was launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk region. The liquid-fuelled, multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) is an exo-atmospheric ballistic missile capable of deploying multiple nuclear warheads. These warheads could be launched at hypersonic speeds within 18,000 kilometres and can carry a ten-ton payload.

On 20 April, Russia's president Vladimir Putin, on the eve of the launch, stated: "This truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure the security of Russia from external threats, and make those, who in the heat of frantic aggressive rhetoric try to threaten our country, think twice." 
Russia's defence ministry released a statement saying: "Sarmat is the most powerful missile with the longest range of destruction of targets in the world, which will significantly increase the combat power of our country's strategic nuclear forces."  

On 19 April, Moscow had 'properly notified' Washington of the upcoming launch fulfilling its obligations under the 2011 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START treaty). The treaty limits Russia's and US's intercontinental missiles and bombers. The US department of defence spokesperson, John Kirby, said: "Testing is routine and it was not a surprise. Of course, the department remains focused on Russia's unlawful and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine." 

What is the background?
First, Russia and the Ukraine war. Post Ukraine invasion in February, Putin had referred to Russia's expanding arsenal and how any interference from the West would lead to severe consequences. Dealing with the mounting tensions, Putin has been proclaiming that the next-generation missiles from Russia would be invincible. This comes as Russia is shifting strategies by amassing troops and restocking supplies for a renewed campaign in eastern Ukraine. Furthermore, Moscow issued fresh warnings of nuclear deployment to Finland and Sweden as both countries inch closer to becoming a part of NATO. Putin is also looking to distract his domestic audience from Russia's recent military failures. Russia lost one of its major military assets in the Black sea with the sinking of the guided-missile cruiser Moskva. Russia also lost another colonel, Mikhail Nagamov, the commander of a sapper regiment, inflicting punishing losses on Russia's top military brass.

Second, the revival of nuclear weapons debate. The war in Ukraine has led to a resurgence of fear about the use of nukes. While the prospect of nuclear conflict seemed unthinkable once, it appears to have returned now. Russia is highly armed with nukes, raising legitimate concerns about nuclear escalation if the conflict spills beyond Ukraine. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought into perspective how many of the nuclear armaments that once endangered the earth still exist, limiting any form of confrontational or rogue behaviour. Despite the echoes of a cold war, the strategic landscape has shifted with wartime equations getting complicated with the sheer number of tactical warheads that Russia has stockpiled.    

Third, the response of the West to nuclear provocations. Germany's Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, defended his refusal to send heavy weapons to Ukraine over fears of a nuclear war. NATO leaders have shown restraint in sending a message to Moscow, casting doubts on the bloc's nuclear deterrence credibility. The US also became the first country to announce a ban on missile tests against space satellites, with the US Vice-President Kamala Harris calling such tests' reckless'.   

What does it mean?
First, Russia's focus on posturing and symbolism. With the annual Victory Day on 9 May just weeks away, the timing of the test reflects that Russia wants to showcase its technological prowess to the world. The date will also mark 75 days of fighting since the invasion began on 24 February. As Russia seeks to reposition itself, the date holds a symbolic weight as there are fears about Putin calling for total mobilization of Russia's forces and distracting its domestic audience away from the ongoing conflict. 

Second, the fear of isolation. The launch will feed into the growing concern about how increasingly isolating Russia might see Putin launching more provocative actions. Third, the question of the game-changing capabilities of the ICBM. The Pentagon has called it 'routine' and dismissed threats surrounding the launch. Eulogized by Putin as a unique weapon, but more tests would be needed before Russia could deploy the new-age missiles in place of the ageing SS-18 and SS-19 missiles. 

Finally, the reappearance of nuclear disarmament discussions. The war opens up the possibility of having a more inclusive conversation on disarmament to recognize the idea of a nuclear-free world and try to mitigate the eventuality of existing nuclear weapons. This also serves as an opportunity to get rid of nuclear posturing and prevent countries from playing the nuclear card during conflicts. 

The Solomon Islands: China's security agreement and a US visit
What happened?
On 22 April, a senior US delegation, led by the national security council's Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell and the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Daniel Kritenbrink arrived in the Solomon Islands to express their concern over China's increased activity in the region. 

On 21 April, New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, drew attention to Beijing's "growing assertiveness" in the Pacific region and questioned the motives behind the security treaty that China and Solomon Islands signed. She said: "One of the reasons we've expressed this disappointment [is] … Australia and New Zealand both have heeded the call of the Solomons for support during recent disruption. And we've again highlighted that should any extended need exist, we are there to help and support. What gap remains that requires such an agreement with China?"

On 20 April, Taiwan's ministry of foreign affairs (MOFA) advised the Solomon Islands that it should not let itself be used as a puppet after signing the agreement with China. 

On 19 April, China's foreign minister Wang Wenbin announced the signing of an inter-governmental framework agreement with the Solomon Islands on security cooperation between the two countries. The pact was signed by state councillor Wang Yi and Solomon Islands foreign minister Jeremiah Manele. Wenbin said the agreement seeks to enhance "social stability and long-term tranquillity" in the islands and stressed that it is not directed against any third country, but rather serves the interests of the South Pacific area as a whole. On the same day, the Australian government claimed that the agreement was negotiated behind closed doors and stated that it could "undermine regional stability." The government stated it was "deeply disappointed" by the agreement's signing. The foreign minister of Australia, Marise Payne, and the minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja, said Australia would "continue to strongly encourage the Solomon Islands to engage in regional dialogue and to work with the Pacific family first, including prior to seeking security assistance from China under this arrangement".

What is the background?
First, the strategic importance of the Solomon Islands. Situated in the South Pacific Ocean, the Solomon Islands consists of six major and over 900 smaller islands. It is located northeast of Australia, with whom the archipelago has deep and long-standing relations. The islands, which are also situated between sea routes, serve as a strategic port and a hinterland for maritime trade.

Second, concerns over a security arrangement with China. A provision of a draft version of the agreement, which leaked last month, took diplomats and government officials – even from within the Solomon Islands – by total surprise. According to reports, it allows China to send People's Armed Police and military units to assist with maintaining order, while Navy vessels can dock at the Solomon Islands' harbours for supply purposes. Western governments were caught off guard since they believe the agreement will give Beijing a military foothold in the region. They fear that the partnership has the potential to exacerbate instability on the islands, as well as establish a worrying precedent for the Pacific Island region.

Third, the US reaction to China. On 13 April, prior to the signing of the pact, the US warned that China's offer to deepen security ties will come with strings attached. The prime minister of Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, defended the agreement saying it will not jeopardize regional peace and harmony and that it was crucial to solving the nation's "internal security situation." There has been political instability, anti-China protests in November, sparking concern from the US, Australia, and New Zealand. Sogavare also denied that China will be allowed to set up a military base in the Solomon Islands. Despite his assurances, little has been done to alleviate the fears. In 2019, the government switched diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan, ending their 36-year diplomatic relationship. This shift caused widespread tensions and civil upheaval in the country ostensibly allied with the US and Australia.

Fourth, US-Australia and the Solomon Islands. The US delegation arrived in Honiara, to hold talks with the Solomon Islands government. also It is believe the discussion would also focus on plans to reopen an embassy in Honiara, as part of an effort to expand its presence in the strategically vital country amid growing objections about Chinese influence. The embassy has been closed since 1993. The US delegation made previous stops in Fiji and Papua New Guinea where it discussed the agreement, its security concerns, and other issues such as climate change and pandemic aid. 

What does it mean?
First, a new frontier in big power relations in the Pacific. Since the signing, the Solomon Islands have become a theatre of a new cold war for the western powers and China. The fact that the US embassy in the Solomon Islands has been closed for 29 years and the most recent visit to Fiji by a US Secretary of State was 37 years ago says enough about the Pacific Island Countries becoming someone's backyard or a pawn in a geopolitical conflict. 

Second, the China agreement taken for granted. Several senior US officials are now interested in visiting the various PICs after all these years. This clearly exposes the US cold war mentality to use the South Pacific region against China. 

Third, a bitter pill. To offset China's growing influence, it is expected that the US and Australia would enhance military cooperation and civilian investment in the Solomon Islands and other South Pacific countries. Through the AUKUS agreement, the US has frequently outsourced its monitoring operations in the region to Australia. Both countries believe that by deploying military forces to the islands, they can maintain their regional influence. The emergence of the agreement is, without a doubt a bitter pill for all nations that have been engaging in recent months to challenge China's influence in the Pacific through various measures. 

Fourth, the implications for the Solomon Islands. With an increase in China's presence in the island nation, it could lead to a similar fate as Djibouti, where a commercial port eventually became a military port. Every time China signs a deal or invests through its Belt and Road Initiative, or any agreement is inked, it quickly draws attention due to China's well known "death-trap" or as the world calls it, "debt-trap" policy.

Also, in the news...
By Ashwin Dhanabalan, Angkuran Dey and Meghna Manoj
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Beijing questions Tokyo's commitment to anti-militarism
On 21 April, China urged Japan to review its commitment to anti-militarism by reflecting on its history of aggression. China's foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin commented on the issue after Japan's prime minister Fumio Kishida offered rituals at the Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine holds importance for Japan as it commemorates the souls of those who sacrificed their lives in World War II. Beijing condemned the actions of the Japanese leader, and Wang added: "Japan's negative moves once again reflect its erroneous attitude toward its history of aggression."

China: IMF warns about the economic impact of prolonged lockdowns 
On 21 April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Kristalina Georgieva stated that continuing lockdowns in China would have substantial global spillovers. The IMF also cut down China's growth forecast from 5.5 per cent to 4.4 per cent. However, she added that Beijing could support its growth rate by adjusting its policy. At the Boao forum for Asia, Georgieva said China has to look at providing macroeconomic policy support and shift towards vulnerable households to strengthen consumption.  

China: Beijing ratifies two international treaties on forced labour
On 20 April, China ratified two treaties fending off criticism over its treatment of the ethnic Uyghurs. China's trade relations with the US and Europe had also deteriorated due to its treatment of Uyghurs. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) stated: "The elimination of forced labour is a fundamental principle and right at work." The US had earlier signed the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, which banned the import of goods from the Xinjiang region. China's trade deals with Europe were also paused after the EU placed sanctions on it for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. 

Taiwan: Taipei is improving the capabilities of its new missiles and drones 
On 22 April, Taiwan stated that it was developing missiles and drones to target enemy airbases and bring down cruise missiles. Taiwan had approved USD 11.2 billion in military spending over the next five years to expand its defence capabilities. Taipei also plans to double its yearly missile production to 500 to boost its combat capabilities. One of the missiles being developed is the Hsiung Sheng land-attack missile, has a range of 1,000 kilometres. 

Philippines: Manila suspends oil and gas exploration activities
On 21 April, the Philippines presidential spokesperson stated that the country had suspended all exploration activities within the disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea. Local companies had been drilling two sites in the sea for survey purposes but were asked to stop activities. The article by Radio Free Asia speculated that the suspension was caused by pressure from China. However, the department of energy urged the government not to stop exploration activities, saying: "under international law, a geophysical survey is perfectly legitimate activity in any disputed area."

Indonesia: Jakarta records a USD 717.87 million budget surplus
On 20 April, Indonesia recorded a USD 717.87 million budget surplus in the first quarter of 2022. The finance minister said this was due to the high commodity prices and the improving domestic economy, which had boosted revenue. The surplus contrasted with the 2021 budget deficit of USD 143.7 trillion due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government added that the country's tax revenue would also increase after it had raised the value-added tax rate from one per cent to 11 per cent. 

Singapore: Ships bypassing ports, hitting bunker fuel sales
On 18 April, a report by the South China Morning Post mentioned how fewer container and bulk ships were docking at the ports of Singapore amid delays. The delays at the ports in China and globally are causing the ships to reschedule or skip their stops to save time. This has affected Singapore's bunker fuel sales which fell to 3.77 million tonnes in March. Singapore's chairman of the international chamber of shipping, Esben Poulsson, added: "Given all the circumstances, it would make more sense to bunker in China than make a call in Singapore unless the price of bunkers is absolutely monumental." 

Myanmar: Military regime strips citizenship of 33 critics 
On 20 April, a report by Al Jazeera mentioned how Myanmar's military regime was using the termination of citizenship as a weapon to target its critics. Since March 2022, it has targeted diplomats, members of the NUG government, celebrities and prominent activists. The notices being circulated stated that their citizenship was terminated as they committed acts that could harm the interests of Myanmar. Myanmar's ambassador to the UN, Kyaw Moe Tun, was one of the individuals whose citizenship was also revoked.

Myanmar: Human Rights Watch on the failure of ASEAN's 5-Point consensus plan
On 22 April, Human Rights Watch(HRW) urged the governments of Southeast Asia to revamp their response to Myanmar's military regime and its atrocities against citizens. The HRW stated that despite adopting the five-point consensus plan a year ago, the governments had failed on their commitments to take meaningful steps and press the regime to end its human rights violations. Asia director at HRW, Elaine Pearson, said: "Myanmar's junta has spent the past year committing atrocities in utter disregard for its commitments to ASEAN." 

Myanmar: Military regime announces a change in its foreign exchange regulation
On 21 April, the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) announced a list of entities that were exempted from its foreign exchange regulation. The regulation earlier stated that citizens would have to exchange their foreign money for kyats at the official rate within one working day. This resulted in hindrances to diplomats, organizations and the UN staff in Myanmar. To avoid the complications the CBM released a list of entities, international non-governmental organizations and development agencies that would be exempted from the regulation.

South Asia This Week 
India: UK PM Boris Johnson's visit
On 21 April, UK's prime minister Boris Johnson arrived in Ahmedabad as part of his first official visit to the country. Johnson announced several investments and bilateral trade in essential industries in the country. Before his visit, Downing Street stated: "the visit will begin from Ahmedabad on Thursday (21 April) to meet with leading businesses and discuss the UK and India's thriving commercial, trade and people links." 

Pakistan: Ilhan Omar on 'valuable ties' with the US
On 21 April, the US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar reiterated that the US valued its ties with Pakistan and assured more support from Washington in various fields, including education, health, and women empowerment. As a part of the official visit to the country, the US official interacted with several leaders of Pakistan, including president Arif Alvi. She interacted with former prime minister Imran Khan, at his residence and appreciated the role played by Islamabad in eradicating Islamophobia. In addition, Omar met with Pakistan's incumbent prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and discussed increasing cooperation on trade, and investments, building peace and security in the region. 

Afghanistan: Kabul's envoy at the UN lodges complaint about Pakistan's airstrikes 
On 20 April, Afghanistan's envoy to the UN, Naseer Ahmad Faiq, lodged an official complaint at the UNSC over Pakistan's airstrikes on the provinces of Kunar and Khost. Faiq stated: "Afghanistan's Permanent Mission in the United Nations complained to the United Nations Security Council about the clear violation by Pakistani airstrikes on residential houses in Kunar and Khost provinces, which resulted in the killing and wounding of civilians, and called for immediate cessation in accordance with the UN charter." This is the first time that Afghanistan has lodged a complaint in the UNSC surrounding Pakistan violating Afghanistan's airspace in the last two decades. 

Maldives: New Delhi signs agreements on development and cooperation with Male
On 18 April, seven memoranda of understanding (MoU) were signed between the Maldives minister of foreign affairs Abdulla Shahid and India's high commissioner Munu Mahawar. As a result, New Delhi is set to grant assistance to Male for the implementation of seven projects under the High Impact Community Development scheme. The developmental projects aim to promote the health sector, increase the socio-economic status of local communities, and preserve culture. The projects will be jointly undertaken by the central government along with support from local government bodies and are worth USD 1.7 million. 

Maldives: India's navy chief presents a jointly produced navigation chart to the MNDF
On 20 April, chief of naval staff Adm R Hari Kumar visited the Maldives and presented the navigation chart jointly produced by Male and New Delhi. As part of the MoU between the two countries, INS Sutlej was also deployed to the Maldivian national defence forces to undertake joint hydrographic surveys. Kumar also handed over hydrography equipment to the Maldives, which was intended to strengthen the Maldives National Defence Forces(MNDF). 

Maldives: President bans the India out campaign, cites threat to national security 
On 21 April, the Maldives president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih announced the ban on the India-Out campaign after terming it as a threat to Male's national security. The president stated that the campaign was harming the long-standing bilateral relations between the two countries and its efforts to maintain peace in the region. The move came after the Maldives national security council claimed the campaign "to incite hatred against India". Opposition parties in the Maldives stated that they "strongly condemns the unconstitutional executive order". 

Sri Lanka: Protests intensify after the death of an anti-government demonstrator
On 20 April, opposition members, civil societies and human rights watchdogs condemned the killing of a protester by the police in Sri Lanka. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also stated that: "Sri Lankan citizens' right to peacefully protest won't be hindered. @SL_PoliceMedia will carry out an impartial & transparent inquiry into the incident at Rambukkana which led to the tragedy for which I'm deeply saddened." He further urged all the citizens to refrain from violence while protesting. 

Sri Lanka: Aid and assistance provided to Colombo 
On 22 April, Sri Lanka's foreign minister G L Peiris met with China's ambassador Qi Zhenhong in Colombo. China pledged RMB 200 million to Sri Lanka and added that it would donate RMB 1.5 million worth of food packages. On 20 April, India announced that it would provide an additional USD 500 million in financial assistance to Sri Lanka to purchase fuel. This comes as the USD four billion loan from the IMF would take another six months to arrive. 

Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa This Week
Azerbaijan and Armenia: President Aliyev refuses to recognize Yerevan's territorial integrity 
On 22 April, Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev refused to recognize Armenia's territorial integrity. Aliyev added: "If they reject[the deal], we will also refuse to recognize the territorial integrity of Armenia." His comments come as a renewed push by Azerbaijan for a peace deal with Armenia and to solve the issue bilaterally. Aliyev further said that the Baku-proposed peace deal was Armenia's "only and last chance."
Israel: Arab League demands an end to Jewish prayers inside the Al-Aqsa mosque
On 21 April, the Arab League appealed to Israel to stop conducting Jewish prayers inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The league, in a meeting, discussed the ongoing actions of Israel's security forces in the Al-Aqsa compound. In the emergency meeting, Jordan's foreign minister Ayman Safadi stated: "Our demands are clear that Al-Aqsa and Haram al-Sharif in all its area is a sole place of worship for Muslims." He mentioned that he received assurances from Israel to halt Jewish worshippers from entering the mosque.

Iraq: Baghdad commits to OPEC's decision to increase output
On 19 April, Reuters mentioned that Iraq would proceed with the decision of the oil-producing and exporting countries(OPEC) to increase the production of crude oil. The decision came after oil minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar mentioned that Iraq was persuaded to increase its output outside the OPEC'S output policy limit. 

Syria: Sweida witnesses a new wave of anti-government protests
On 21 April, in the Druze majority city of Sweida, citizens were seen objecting to the economic blockade imposed by the Assad government. The city had last seen an important round of gatherings and protests in February 2022. The protestors called out the government's corruption and the deteriorating living conditions. The collapse of the Syrian pound and rising inflation have triggered the locals to oppose the government in Damascus. 

Egypt: Suez Canal economic zone to produce green energy for fueling ships
On 20 April, Egypt's Suez Canal economic zone signed an agreement to produce about 350,000 tons of green energy to fuel ships in Ain Sokhna. The cabinet added that Cairo agreed with AMEA Power of the UAE to manufacture 390,000 tonnes of green ammonia annually in Sokhna. 

Cameroon: Biya inks a military pact with Moscow
On 16 April, Cameroon became the latest African country to sign a military deal with Russia in a meeting in Moscow. The deal is said to cover weaponry, intelligence gathering and training, and the exchange of UN peacekeepers. However, with the agreement, Cameroon's president, Paul Biya, appears not to be severing ties with France but rather widening his sources of support in the war against Boko Haram militants in the country's north.    

Tunisia: Kaïs Saïed interferes in the electoral body's functioning 
On 22 April, Tunisia's president Kaïs Saïed issued a decree replacing the independent electoral commission members with his own appointees. The commission was one of the last independent bodies in the country since Saïed took over executive powers and dissolved the parliament in 2021. In his decree, Saïed declared that he would be selecting three of the existing nine members of the electoral commission to stay on, who would be serving as a new-seven member panel alongside three judges and an information technology specialist.  

Rwanda: Paul Kagame denies allegations surrounding UK asylum deal 
On 22 April, Rwanda's president Paul Kagame during a virtual seminar with US Brown University denied allegations of human trading. This aligns with the controversial USD 15 million deal with the UK about relocating asylum seekers arriving in the UK to Rwanda for processing and resettlement. Kagame added: "We are not trading human beings, please, we are actually helping." He further mentioned that the UK had approached Rwanda because of their efficient management of Libyan refugees in 2018.

Europe and the Americas This Week
Russia: Domestic telecom operators face uncertainty as foreign firms flee 
On 22 April, the departure of foreign telecom firms is set to cause problems for Russia's mobile networks. Russia majorly depends on foreign firms for maintenance and upgrades. Moscow relies largely on Europe's telecom giants Nokia and Ericsson and China's vendors Huawei and ZTE for most of its wireless equipment. The decision by Nokia and Ericsson to pull out of the domestic market, alongside Huawei's announcement to suspend operations in Russia, has left the telecom sector's future in uncertainty. With plans of rolling out 5G services in the country on hold, Russia would be pushed into a technological backfoot amidst the West's sanctions.   

Ukraine: Zelensky calls for USD 7 billion a month in aid
On 22 April, Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky at an IMF and World Bank conference, called on the world's finance ministers to supply the country with USD 7 billion of aid each month until the summer to rebuild the war-ravaged economy. While addressing the gathering from Kyiv, Zelensky stated: "We will need hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild all this later." In addition, the World Bank reported the estimated physical damage of USD 60 billion that has been inflicted on Ukraine until now, with the figure expected to skyrocket as the conflict continues.    

Ukraine: Kyiv labels the sunken Russian warship a national heritage site 
On 22 April, Ukraine designated the underwater wreckage of the Moskva ship as Ukraine's cultural heritage site. This move comes after the ship sank in the Black sea after being hit by Ukraine's anti-ship missiles. However, Ukraine's claims are contested by Russia, which has maintained that no lives were lost. Ukraine's defence ministry stated: "The Russian fleet became number 2,064 in Ukraine's underwater cultural heritage register, the famous cruiser 80 miles from Odessa, Ukraine can now be admired."

The UK: Russian and Belarusian players banned from competing at Wimbledon
On 20 April, the All England Lawn Tennis Club's (AELTC) decision to prohibit players from Russia and Belarus left the tennis world divided. The players from both countries will not be allowed to participate in any of the UK grass-court tournaments because of the ongoing war in Ukraine. AELTC stated: "In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players." 

Honduras: Former president Orlando extradited to the US
On 21 April, Honduras's ex-president Juan Orlando Hernandez was extradited to the US to face a trial on drug trafficking and arms possession. The US justice department carried out the indictment after the conservative leader left office on 27 January. However, the former president has constantly denied the charges levelled against him and pledged to cooperate with authorities. US attorney general Merrick Garland stated: "Hernandez abused his position as president of Honduras from 2014 through 2022 to operate the country as a narco-state." 

ICJ: Court calls Colombia to halt activities in Nicaragua's maritime zone 
On 21 April, judges in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Colombia should 'immediately cease' patrolling and fishing activities in the Caribbean region under Nicaragua's exclusive economic zone. The ICJ stated: "Colombian activities in the Nicaraguan zone, including giving out fishing rights to others and interfering with maritime research, violated Nicaragua's sovereign rights." The judges also ordered Colombia to amend a 2013 presidential decree that had established a zone around its islands in the disputed area.   

Mexico: Senate passes a bill to nationalize lithium mining 
On 19 April, Mexico's senate approved a bill nationalizing lithium mining and its extraction. The bill will grant exclusive rights to a state-owned company to mine lithium. This bill was passed in the senate, even though Mexico has no specialized company to mine lithium, nor does the government have any experience. Additionally, the bill had been a part of the electrical energy reform bill, which had failed to win a majority in the lower house.     

About the authors
Avishka Ashok is a Research Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Arshiya Banu is a Postgraduate scholar at the Department of International Studies at Women's Christian College. Ashwin Immanuel Dhanabalan is a Project Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Angkuran Dey and Meghna Manoj are Postgraduate scholars at the Centre for South Asian Studies at Pondicherry University. 

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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