What We’re Watching

What our analysts are watching and key events they are keeping an eye on
11th October 20217 min

France-Greece sign defence Pact. Underlining the declining significance of NATO to European security the Greek Parliament has ratified the 28th September defence pact with France.  In an unprecedented agreement clearly aimed at fellow NATO member Turkey, France and Greece agreed to a mutual assistance agreement against threats originating inside rather than external to NATO. Simmering disputes between Mediterranean nations over maritime borders and their consequential mineral rights has inflamed rivalries between former allies. France considers Turkey a rival to its influence both in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean and with declining stature in the rest of the world it is determined to secure its position in its immediate neighbourhood. With the very real prospect of a military confrontation between Greece and Turkey this treaty threatens to unravel NATO. Paris has clearly expressed a desire to diminish European reliance on the US, replacing it with what it terms a European strategic autonomy in defence and international affairs.  

British officials meet the Taliban. The Taliban received their first British delegation in Kabul on Tuesday 5th October 2021. The British delegation met with Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi and Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund. The Taliban are hoping for financial aid and official recognition of the government from the UK. Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Taliban, said there had been intensive talks on resuming diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Taliban are in dire need for fresh money. The British remained the final country that joined the US invasion back in 2001 to officially recognise the Taliban as Afghanistan’s leaders.

Read our analysis on Better the devil you know 

US-China trade talks. With the anniversary of the ‘Phase One’ trade deal between China and the US, expectations of a more conciliatory approach from the Biden administration have been dashed with the US representative Katherine Tai refusing to rule out further punitive measures against China. US officials accused China of failing to abide by the conditions of phase one trade deal made during the Trump era as China’s trade surplus with the US increased. China is expected to fall short on its purchase commitment by up to 30% in 2021 on top of the short fall of 40% in 2020, with Beijing’s retort that Covid-19 has created a set of unique circumstances that preclude meeting these commitments. Paradoxically for the  US the unforeseen effects of globalisation require a renegotiation of the current world order established by the US which has propelled China to superpower status to the detriment of US workers. China on the other is keen to maintain the status quo as the stability afforded by the  security guaranteed by the US lubricates Chinese trade.

Saudi Arabia has successful week in Europe. Saudi Arabia and the European Union signed a cooperation deal last week. Josep Borrell said on Twitter that he signed the deal with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan that included a cooperation arrangement to reinforce ties through regular consultations on political, socioeconomic, security and other topics. As part of his first tour to the Gulf region, Borrell went to Saudi Arabia after visiting Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Borrell also said the EU was ready to pursue trade deals with Gulf countries, saying the bloc supported Saudi Arabia’s modernisation drive. On Thursday 7th October Saudi Arabia completed its takeover of the UK’s Newcastle United football team. The purchase is through the new  Public Investment Fund (PIF) that gives legally binding assurances that the likes of MBS and the Saudi Royal Family will not interfere in the running of the club. MBS has been working on his reputation ever since the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khassoghi and these commercial developments achieve this for the Saudi monarchy.

US has had troops in Taiwan for the last year. Amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, US officials revealed to The Wall Street Journal that a US special operations unit and a contingent of Marines have been operating in Taiwan to train Taipei’s military for at least a year. The unnamed US officials said there are about two dozen special operations soldiers advising Taiwan’s ground forces, and the Marines are working with the island’s maritime forces for small boat training. A US military official confirmed the report with Politico and said US forces are increasing their efforts in Taiwan. We will be watching for China’s response. There has been an uptick in activity over Taiwan. 

Read our analysis on The Battle for Taiwan

China announces plans to develop Karachi Coast. Pakistan and China signed a memorandum of understanding for the development of the Karachi Coastal Comprehensive Development Zone. According to the agreement, China will invest $3.5 billion to create new berths at the Karachi port, new fisheries, a trade zone and a bridge connecting the port with the Manora islands. The agreement to develop the Karachi port rather than the Gwadar port is an interesting development especially as the government in Islamabad is trying to reach an agreement with separatists. The Bajwa-Khan regime after years has struggled to build an economy that can stand on its own feet and continue to open Pakistan to foreign nations who have their own strategic objectives. 

Iraqis head to polls. Many Iraqis will be heading to the polls this week to select 239 members of the country’s parliament. The elections like those in the recent past will pit Iraq’s major Shi’ah factions against each other, including Iranian-backed groups with connections to the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are militias with connections to the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the centrist nationalist groups like the Hikma movement and Dawa party. Sunni, Kurdish and cross-sectarian pro-reform groups are also contesting the elections. Many Iraq’s are debating whether to boycott the election due to doubts that the electoral result will do little to change the social, political or economic situation in the country. 

India and China Corps Commander talks. The 13th round of Corps Commander talks is scheduled to take place this week between India and China as they try to resolve the ongoing standoff in the border region of Ladakh. In the last round of talks, the two sides agreed to disengage in the Gogra Heights, and each side’s forces subsequently retreated to their permanent positions. The current talks take place as two flare-ups have been reported in Ladakh, where expansions of infrastructure and military drills continue. Conflict resolution looks extremely unlikely currently. 

EU ministers want border walls. Interior ministers from 12 EU member states are demanding the EU finance border-wall projects to stop migrants entering through Belarus, in a further push towards creating a fortress Europe. In a letter dated 7 October 2021, the ministers asked the European Commission to tweak external border-entry rules to include walls and fences. “Physical barriers appear to be an effective border protection measure that serves the interest of the whole EU, not just member states of first arrival,” they said in their letter to EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas and EU home-affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson. The four-page letter was signed by the interior ministers of Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia.

Lebanon has gone completely dark. Lebanon has gone completely dark as the country’s electricity grid has been completely disconnected. Sporadic bits of light were seen around the country as families operated their private generators, which depend on diesel fuel. The blackout occurred after the Deir Ammar plant stopped working Friday 8th October, followed on Saturday by the shutdown of the Zahrani thermoelectric plant, according to a statement by Electricity of Lebanon. “The Lebanese power network completely stopped working at noon today, and it is unlikely that it will work until Monday, or for several days,” a government official told Reuters on Saturday. The shutdown of the two power stations had “directly affected the stability of the power network and led to its complete outage, with no possibility of resuming operations in the meantime,” the statement said. Lebanon has been in complete freefall since the port explosion destroyed much of the nation’s economic activity and as the government struggles with corruption, incompetence and neglect. 

Read our analysis on the Beirut Port Explosion, One Year On

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