Weekly Global Newscast |09 December – 15 December, 2019
China is Spending Big on Diplomacy in Central and South Asia
China is putting more effort into cultivating ties with key politicians in Central and South Asian countries to extend its reach in the region, and in some cases even influence elections, according to a new US research report. The diplomatic push is being supported with bigger budget spending by the foreign ministry, set to match that of the European Union by 2027, if it continues to grow at a similar pace.
“Between 2000 and 2017, Chinese officials made 1,039 visits to South Asia and 722 visits to Central Asia, according to a study by AidData, a research lab at the College of William & Mary in the United States. The most popular destinations were Nepal, with 129 official visits in the period, and Sri Lanka, with 102. In Nepal, Chinese officials have met most of the country’s Communist leaders. The report said Beijing had provided financial support to the election campaigns of several Nepalese politicians and that Chinese officials accompanied them on visits to their home constituencies, though it added that such a practice was not unique to China,” quotes South China Morning Post.
“Eighty-five percent of infrastructure investments go to new construction projects, and two countries in particular captured half of Beijing’s financial diplomacy investments: Pakistan — an early signatory to the Belt and Road Initiative — and Kazakhstan. In fact, Pakistan received almost six times as much of China’s financial largesse over the period as did rival India,” said William and Mary.
U.S. To Publish New Central Asia Strategy amid Russia-China Competition, Afghan Threat
The Trump administration plans to publish a new U.S. strategy for Central Asia as China and Russia fight for influence in the energy-rich region while militants from Afghanistan threaten to destabilize it, a senior State Department official has said. The United States has “intensified” its bilateral diplomatic engagements with the five Central Asian countries this year, the official said during a background briefing on December 13, following a meeting the day before with Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi.
“The increase in U.S. diplomatic contacts comes as China’s economic and political influence in Central Asia grows and it seeks to strong-arm those countries to return asylum seekers from Xinjiang, a major concern for the Trump administration. The greater interest also comes as the United States seeks to exit its 18-year war in Afghanistan, which borders several of the countries. China is pumping billions of dollars into Central Asian infrastructure as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, which some U.S. officials and analysts have said is burdening the countries with debt loads that they cannot pay back. Russia continues to maintain significant influence over the former Soviet states as well,” said Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“Russia meanwhile seeks to draw Central Asians into the neo-colonial economic and security organizations it controls. Dreaming of an imagined past, both Iran and Turkey harbor ambitions in Central Asia, as do a number of Middle Eastern states. Further afield, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia, all long-term investors in the region, are seeking to expand their roles in Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia but are unlikely to do so in the face of a fast U.S. withdrawal,” said Silk Road Studies.
Middle East & North Africa
Iran Foils Second Cyber-Attack in a Week
Iran has foiled a second cyber-attack in less than a week, the country’s telecommunications minister says. Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi announced on Twitter that the cyber-attack had targeted Iranian electronic government systems. The minister did not give details. A similar claim was made about Wednesday’s “massive” attack. In June this year, Iran’s weapons systems came under a cyber-attack, US media reports suggested.
“Earlier this year, a royal decree allowed Saudi women to travel abroad without a male guardian’s permission, and in 2018 the Gulf kingdom ended a decades-long ban on female drivers. But activists complain that many laws discriminatory against women remain in place. And several prominent women’s rights advocates have been arrested even as the government has made reforms” said BBC.
“Mr Jahromi said a cybersecurity project known as the ‘Dejfa fortress’ had managed to thwart the attack which had used the ‘well-known APT27’ – which experts have linked to Chinese-speaking hackers. Without giving further details, the minister said servers and hackers had been tracked,” said BBC.
“In accordance with this Washington Post newspaper, the US assault in June – since President Trump pulled from air strikes around the nation – handicapped computer programs controlling rocket and missile launchers. It had been in retaliation for the shooting of a US drone in addition to strikes on oil tankers the US has blamed Iran” said The Union Journal City News.
Sub Saharan Africa
UN Discovers Libya’s Violation of UN Arms Embargo
From buying an Irish navy boat re-registered as a “pleasure yacht” to enlisting a Canadian firm to recruit Sudanese fighters — Libya’s warring parties are running rings around a UN arms embargo. That’s the upshot of a near-400-word report published this week by UN experts, who accuse an array of firms and external powers of violating a 2011 embargo by delivering arms or fighters to the North African country. Mired in chaos since the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed the dictator Muammar Gaddafi eight years ago, Libya’s military malaise has deepened further this year.
“Eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar in April 2019 launched an offensive against the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) — a military campaign the UN panel of experts says has ‘unleashed new transfers of military equipment’ to Libya. Such transfers have been ‘repeated and sometimes blatant, with scant regard paid to compliance with the sanctions measures’, the report says, noting that some deliveries were long planned and painstakingly disguised,” said Africa News.
“The report says foreign combatants have been recruited by both sides, including from Sudan and Chad, but makes no mention of Russian mercenaries who — according to media reports denied by Moscow — have fought alongside Haftar’s forces. It names recruiters and middlemen, including one who allegedly played both sides, transferring fighters to both Haftar’s forces and GNA loyalists,” said Flipboard.
General Election 2019: Johnson to Welcome New MPs to Westminster
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address his new intake of Conservative MPs later as they arrive in Westminster to take their seats in Parliament. Many of the 109 new MPs won in areas traditionally held by Labour in Thursday’s election, which saw the Conservatives gain an 80-seat majority. Their first job will be to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill that the PM intends to bring back before Christmas. Mr. Johnson is also expected to carry out a mini cabinet reshuffle. He needs to fill posts made vacant by those who stood down ahead of the general election, including the culture and welsh secretary posts.
“With the large majority, the bill is expected to pass through Parliament in time to meet Boris Johnson’s promise for the UK to leave the EU on 31 January. Mr Johnson then has to negotiate a new trade agreement with the EU and have it ratified before the end of the post-Brexit transition period that ends on 31 December 2020. He has repeatedly said that the transition period will not be extended,” said BBC.
“It is also expected that Mr. Johnson will use his bolstered majority to pass his Withdrawal Agreement Bill through parliament before Christmas. During the election campaign, the prime minister said that all Conservative candidates had signed up to his deal, meaning it is likely the bill will pass when it is put before MPs later this week,” said Sky News.
Extinction Rebellion Take to the Streets of Sydney in Climate Change Protest
After recent devastating bushfires, dozens of Extinction Rebellion climate activists gathered outside Sydney’s iconic Opera House on Sunday to protest against climate change. Australia is the world’s driest continent after Antarctica and scientists say that leaves the country particularly vulnerable to weather extremes associated with global warming.
“Scientists have warned that emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases need to start dropping sharply as soon as possible to prevent global temperatures rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. So far, the world is on course for a 3-5 degrees Celsius rise, with potentially dramatic consequences for many countries,” said Euro News.
“Earlier this week Sydney was shrouded in a smoky haze as dozens of bushfires ripped across the state of New South Wales. The haze was so thick in some places that it was 11 times worse than the level considered hazardous,” said Reddit.
US-China Trade Deal ‘Totally Done’ Insists Envoy, Despite Unfinished Translation
The first phase of a trade deal between the US and China is “totally done”, according to the US Trade representative Robert Lighthizer – despite the text having not yet been translated amid ongoing unwillingness from Beijing to back up Donald Trump’s claims on the scale of the deal. With translations and revisions of the text yet to be made, and a date for the document to be signed yet to be set, the Trump appointed trade envoy for the US insisted the agreement was “totally done, absolutely.”
“The agreement would see a reduction of some US tariffs in return for Chinese purchases of US agricultural, manufactured and energy products increasing by some $200bn over the next two years. The ongoing trade war has posed a particular risk for US agricultural workers, with Beijing placing tariffs on key crops like soybeans from the country – albeit while providing Chinese importers with waivers for 11 million tonnes of produce,” said The Independent.
“However, although President Trump has argued that China would spend $50 billion more on agricultural products, Beijing has refused to commit to specific figures, rather than saying that imports would increase by ‘a remarkable margin.’ The United States exported about $24 billion in agricultural products to China in 2017, the last full year before the two largest economies in the world began a tariff war on the assets of others in July 2018,” said The Media HQ.