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Hello and Welcome to the Weekly Global Digest of Ytharth where we track the major geopolitical events across the world and compile them in one place.
In this edition of the digest, find detailed coverage of Wang Yi’s visit to five nations, Russia-NATO Talks, the situation in Kazakhstan, and North Korea’s Missile craze.
Wang Yi's Five Nation Tour: New Year Tradition amidst Old Ambition
Foreign Minister Wang Yi of the People's Republic of China continued with the three-decades-old Chinese tradition of starting the new year by visiting Africa. As a part of the tradition, Yi undertook his first foreign visit of the year to three African nations of Eritrea, Kenya and Comoros from January 04 to 07. Objectives of his visit included combating the pandemic, speeding up the implementation of the outcomes of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, and firmly upholding the mutual interests of the PRC and the African continent.
Since becoming the foreign minister Wang Yi has till date visited 35 African countries as part of his annual visits. This year's traditional New Year visit came just after the triennial ministerial conference of the Forum for China-Africa Co-operation held in Senegal in December last year. He also had visited the war-torn nation Ethiopia to express solidarity with the current regime. This year's visit to Eritrea had also a message for Ethiopia. Eritrea has taken sides with the Ethiopian regime and has frequently criticised the U.S. for destabilising the region. In April last year, Eritrea accepted that it was actively involved in the conflict in the Tigray region. Tigray residents have repeatedly accused Eritrean forces of mass rape and massacres, including in the towns of Axum and Dengolat. Yi called on the countries of the Horn of Africa to hold a peace conference to resolve the many conflicts in the region and pledged his countries' support for such an event. In Kenya, Yi participated in the completion ceremony of the Chinese built oil terminal at the port city of Mombasa. Kenya has received massive Chinese investments as part of the Belt and the Road and the 1.5-billion-dollar railway project connecting the capital city to Mombasa testify to China's ambition in the region. In Comoros Yi promised more developmental assistance while reiterating sincere and friendly relationships between the two countries since the independence of Comoros. The island country of Comoros is located in the Indian Ocean at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel.
His choice of the three African nations indicates the Chinese ambitions in the Indian Ocean. He announced the appointment of a Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa details of which is awaited. China has made tremendous efforts to increase its presence in this important part of the Indian Ocean Region. Since 2017 Beijing is operating a military base in Djibouti with approximately 400 PLA troops stationed in close proximity to the French and American bases. China has already built a railway line connecting Djibouti to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Wang Yi ended his first foreign visit of the year with an ambitious visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka both an important stakeholders in the Indian Ocean Region while also being one of the earliest victims of China's debt-trap diplomacy. Former Maldivian President and an ardent China loyalist has been at the forefront of an 'India Out' campaign in the tiny island nation. The two sides inked five agreements during the visit of Yi which included
1. Hospital Assistance and Cooperation Programme between the Health Ministry of Maldives and the National Health Commission of China, for extending the services of the Ophthalmic Center established in 2019 at Hulhumale Hospital by two years.
2. A contract for the Micro-grid Seawater Desalination Project in five islands of the Maldives.
3. A Letter of Exchange to conduct a feasibility study towards the maintenance of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge
4. An Agreement of Economic and Technical Cooperation on Grant Aid that will pave the way for more support to development projects from China in the Maldives, focussing on key areas such as social developments, livelihood, and infrastructure.
5. A Visa Waiver Agreement allowing the Maldivians to visit China visa-free for 30 days once the pandemic restrictions are lifted.
The two sides also celebrated 50 Years of the establishment of diplomatic relations and unveiled the official logo commemorating the anniversary.
Wang Yi's visit to Sri Lanka came at a time when the island nation is facing the worst of its foreign exchange reserve crisis. Prime Minister Rajapaksa in his meeting with the state councillor Wang Yi discussed a host of issues that included promotion of tourism, investment and combating Corona Virus. His visit marks the 65th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two nations and the 70th anniversary of the Lanka-China Rubber Rice Pact. Signed in 1952, the Rubber-Rice Pact was a trade agreement between Lanka and China under which Colombo supplied rubber to Beijing in exchange for rice, leading to the establishment of diplomatic relations and expansion of trade between the two nations. It was in Colombo that Wang Yi floated his idea of a forum for the Indian Ocean Island Nations whose development requirements, as per Yi, coincide.
Overall, the New Year Visits of Wang Yi represents old ambitions of China i.e dominating the Indian Ocean. China's massive investment in Its PLA Navy testifies the same. Indian Ocean remains a significant concern for China because it is the Atlantic of the 21st Century. Energy hungry China depends immensely on the Indian Ocean and hence remains committed to protecting its interests in the region.
Sri Lanka Financial Crisis: Are the Sri Lankans ready for the worst?
India's southern neighbour is facing a financial and humanitarian crisis which is only expected to intensify in the coming days with many believing that Colombo will go bankrupt this year. India has extended a $900 million line of credit for food procurement and building its depleting forex reserves. People are starving while the government struggles to pay its massive foreign debt mostly to China.
As per a report of the Guardian, the pandemic further deteriorated the economic condition of the island nation which was already suffering because of high government spending, tax cut eroding state revenue, vast debt repayment to China and depleting foreign exchange reserves. Inflation has now reached a record high and food prices have skyrocketed while 500,000 people have now fallen below the poverty line. More than 200,000 people have lost their jobs in the travel and tourism sector since the pandemic hit. The pandemic has undeniably devastated Sri Lanka, but this is a crisis of the government's own making. Instead of pursuing a "people-centric economy", Sri Lanka's insular policies have been military-driven, unaccountable, and detached from the struggle of citizens, claims the Tamil Guardian. Meanwhile, Rajapaksa's sudden decision in May to ban all fertiliser and pesticides and force farmers to go organic without warning has brought a formerly prosperous agricultural community to its knees as many farmers, who had become used to using – and often overusing – fertiliser and pesticides, were suddenly left without ways to produce healthy crops or combat weeds and insects. Many fearing a loss decided not to cultivate crops at all, adding to the food shortages in Sri Lanka. In an attempt temporarily to ease the problems and stave off difficult and most likely unpopular policies, the government has resorted to temporary relief measures, such as credit lines to import foods, medicines and fuel from its neighbouring ally India, as well as currency swaps from India, China and Bangladesh and loans to purchase petroleum from Oman. However, these loans provide only short-term relief and have to be paid back quickly at high-interest rates, adding to Sri Lanka's debt load.
It is the depleting foreign exchange reserve (around $3 billion) that is the main cause of concern and has the potential to trigger a domino effect in the country. However, the government is optimistic and is willing to honour its debt commitments as the tourism situation is expected to improve in the next two-three months. Sri Lanka will meet all debt repayments in 2022, and work on a comprehensive plan to rebuild its foreign exchange reserves, the country's central bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal said. Sri Lanka owes more than $5 billion in debt to China. It is paying in instalments the additional $1 billion loan it took from Beijing last year to help tide over its acute financial crisis, according to reports. And it's not only China but there are other markets also in the government and private sectors that Sri Lanka owes money to.
Myanmar: India's dilemma amidst continued repression
Ousted Myanmar leader Suu Kyi faces five new corruption charges
Myanmar's military-installed government has filed five new corruption charges against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi in connection with granting permits to rent and buy a helicopter, an official said. Aung San Suu Kyi, detained since last February's military coup, is already being tried on five other corruption charges. Each is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/15/ousted-myanmar-leader-suu-kyi-faces-5-new-corruption-charges.
India looking for engagement with the Military Junta in Myanmar
Almost a year since the February coup in Myanmar, as its army battles armed pro-democracy resistance groups across the country, including in regions bordering India, New Delhi is concerned that the instability could impact security in the North-East. To secure India's "vital interests", officials are of the view that there is "no option but to engage with those in power in Naypidaw", and continue pressing for a return to democracy, as Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla did on his December 22 visit to Myanmar, the first Indian official to visit since the coup.
Russia NATO Talks: A futile exercise?
The Ukraine Crisis is not going to be over soon. The NATO-Russia talks which took place at the NATO HQ in Brussels failed as NATO declined to stop enlargement, pull back its forces from member states bordering Russia and guarantee that Ukraine will never join the organisation. "Significant differences" remained between NATO and Russia, and "our differences will not be easy to bridge," said the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, after the meeting. "There is a real risk for new armed conflict in Europe," Mr Stoltenberg said, one that would carry severe economic and other costs to Moscow, he added and would bring about new military deployments in member states near Russia. The United States and its NATO and European Union allies are pressing Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, to abandon any further invasion of Ukraine, pull back his troops and engage in reciprocal diplomacy on Russia's security concerns — and NATO's. Mr Stoltenberg said that NATO allies urged Russia to "immediately de-escalate the situation in Ukraine," where close to 100,000 Russian troops have massed near the borders, and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours. Russian representatives did not commit to pulling back the troops, nor did they reject the demand, officials said.
According to The New York Times, Russian officials have insisted there is no plan to expand the war in Ukraine, "while at the same time repeatedly making vague threats of ominous consequences, including military means, if the Kremlin's demands are not met." Further, the U.S. and the NATO allies are hoping that Russian President Vladimir Putin will decide to negotiate with them because of threats of economic sanctions and new deployments in NATO allies that border Russia, the Times reported.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said the "frank, direct, deep, intense" talks revealed "a large number of differences on fundamental issues." He said that Russia and NATO had no "positive agenda — none at all" and warned that the continued deterioration could lead to the "most unpredictable and most dire consequences for European security." Grushko told reporters that Russia was ready for dialogue on not deploying intermediate-range missiles in Europe, mutual limits on military exercises and ways to prevent accidental encounters. Grushko called on NATO to stop sending military aid and arms supplies to Kyiv to de-escalate the current tensions. He maintained that Moscow's proposals, where a ban on Ukraine's future NATO membership is a central tenet, could in fact improve security of both Russia and NATO members.
In response to NATO's rejection of Russia's demand to veto Ukraine's membership aspirations, Grushko said that "the freedom to choose ways of ensuring one's security mustn't be implemented in a way that infringes on legitimate security interests of others." At a Moscow press conference on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled displeasure with the way the talks had ended, and suggested that the on-and-off negotiations begun in Geneva in the summer had ended. "We’re very patient, but our patience has run out,” he said. It was a point echoed by other Russian officials, including his deputy Sergei Ryabkov and President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who told journalists no further talks with the U.S. were in the pipeline.
U.S. Intel on Russian Invasion and Cyber Attacks in Ukraine
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Defense Department has credible information indicating Russia has "prepositioned a group of operatives" to execute "an operation designed to look like an attack on them or Russian-speaking people in Ukraine" in order to create a reason for a potential invasion. The allegation echoed a statement released by Ukraine's Ministry of Defense on Friday, which said that Russian special services are preparing provocations against Russian forces in an attempt to frame Ukraine. National security adviser Jake Sullivan hinted at the intelligence during a briefing with reporters on Thursday. Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denied that Moscow was preparing for provocations in Ukraine."So far, all these statements have been unfounded and have not been confirmed by anything," Peskov said. The U.S. intelligence finding comes after a week's worth of diplomatic meetings between Russian and Western officials over Russia's amassing of tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine's border. But the talks failed to achieve any breakthroughs, as Russia would not commit to de-escalating and American and NATO officials said Moscow's demands -- including that NATO never admit Ukraine into the alliance -- were non-starters.
On Friday, a number of Ukrainian government websites, including its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were targeted in a cyberattack with threatening text that warned Ukrainians to "be afraid and wait for the worst." Ukraine's government said that it appeared Russia was behind the attack. A US National Security Council official said the President Joe Biden had been briefed on the attack. The official said the U.S. did not have an attribution for the attack yet but would "provide Ukraine with whatever support it needs to recover. The European Union's chief diplomat Josep Borrell condemned the cyberattack, warning it contributes to the "already tense situation" in the region. When asked if Russian governmental or non-governmental actors were behind the attacks, Borrell responded that although he didn't want to "point fingers," there was "a certain probability as to where they came from."
Kazakhstan: Where has the devil gone?
At least 225 people including security personnel lost their life during the violent protests that rocked the Central Asian country in the first week of this month after fuel price hike. Initially stated in Alamaty the protests later spread to other cities and as they turned violent President Tokayev declared emergency till January 19 and asked for help from Russia led CSTO which promptly responded to his call. Now that CSTO withdrawal is in process some significant questions still remain to be answered. One of them is the whereabout of the Kazakahstan’s first leader Nur Sultan Nazarbayev.
Since the worst unrest since independence broke out earlier this month, Nazarbayev has been silent and absent from public view. Official figures say 225 people died in the unrest and subsequent crackdown. Meanwhile, the man who personified Kazakhstan for so long has simply disappeared. Some said he was hiding out on the shores of Lake Geneva. Others suspected he had fled to Dubai. A few whispered conspiratorially that he may be dead. In fact, according to a number of sources, he remains in Kazakhstan, probably in the capital, Nur-Sultan, the city that bears his name.“My best information as of today is that Nazarbayev is alive, and furious negotiations are under way with Tokayev about the redistribution of assets, spoils and rents,” said a former western government official who is well connected in Kazakhstan. Tokayev, once a loyalist, has used the crackdown to strip power from his former benefactor and members of Nazarbayev’s family, some of whom are accused of using the protest mood in the country to unseat Tokayev and seize power. “The power struggle continues. There is no guarantee things will end smoothly,” the former western official said. While Tokayev has not criticised the former leader by name, there are signs that the personality cult is over. A statue toppled during the riots has not been repaired; street signs for Nazarbayev Avenue that were pulled down in Almaty, the country’s largest city, have not been reaffixed. Authorities have arrested the former head of the security services, the Nazarbayev loyalist Karim Masimov, on charges of attempting to seize power. On Saturday, it was announced that two of Nazarbayev’s sons-in-law had been fired from their positions in key state companies. Other relatives are known to have fled the country.
While the world’s attention remained more on political aspects of the protests the country lost on the cryptocurrency field. Once a sanctuary of the bitcoin miners it does not offer the same attraction as many of the miners are looking to leave the global crypto hub following internet shut downs. The internet has been restored yet the resumption of operations may belie problems to come for the fast-growing cryptocurrency industry, according to four major miners interviewed by Reuters, with some saying they or their clients may look for other countries to operate in.
Pyongyang’s tryst with missiles
North Korea has launched missiles as many as four times in about two weeks. Albeit existing sanctions, leader Kim Jong-Un has been unstoppable in his pursuit of bolstering North Korea’s defences.
At the recent party meeting, while addressing the country's economic situation, leader Kim firmly stated that North Korea would continue strengthening its defence capabilities. This could explain the series of missile launches by North Korea. Besides, North Korea usually launches missiles to mark its displeasure over US-South Korea military exercises. Apart from this, according to Ankit Panda (an expert at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), launches allow leader Kim Jong-un to convey to his people that defence priorities would not be compromised even at times of economic difficulties.
Source: First Post
The Biden Administration has sanctioned five North Korean officials and announced that it would also seek new sanctions. The five officials were sanctioned for their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the missile program. The U.S. is also pushing the UNSC to impose more sanctions on North Korea for launching missiles since September 2021. As a reaction, North Korea fired more missiles.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin asked countries not to ‘overreact’ to the launches. North Korea and China have recently resumed trade through train, which was suspended due to Covid-19 in 2020. Moreover, China and Russia circulated a draft resolution in November 2021 that urged the UNSC to end a host of sanctions against North Korea. Moreover, after resuming trade with China, North Korea fired another two Ballistic Missiles. China is also set to kick off the Winter Olympics next month, and thus China would not be welcoming North Korea’s belligerent actions. Nonetheless, Mr. Panda has mentioned that while Beijing may express its unhappiness with the tests, it may still tolerate them if the testing does not involve nuclear weapons.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed concern over increasing tensions and stagnation of inter-Korean relations due to recent launches. President Moon, who wanted to end the Korean war and bring peace formally, stressed that his government would not give up the hope of resuming peace talks with North Korea.
Expressing deep regrets over the continued missile launches, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan has lodged a formal protest with North Korea. Japan has been on high alert and is also preparing to strengthen its defense capabilities and consider a ‘means of response’ such as attacking enemy bases.