What We’re Watching

What our analysts are watching and key events they are keeping an eye on
18th October 20214 min

China-India Himalayas talks break down. The 13th round of India-China talks to disengage troops from key friction areas along their border held after a gap of two months have collapsed with both sides blaming each other for the failure to make progress, with China accusing India of making “unreasonable demands” and India accusing China of changing the status quo. The line of actual control (LAC) separates the Himalayan territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. India and China, whose frontier runs for 2,200 miles, fought a deadly war over the border in 1962.

Violence in Beirut. Anger over the progress of the inquiry into the Beirut port blast spiralled into violence on 14 October as armed insurrection broke out between those supporting the judge and those opposing him. Seven people were killed, including a 24-year-old woman who was hit by a bullet when she was inside her home. This is the worst violence the Lebanese capital has seen in more than a dozen years, bringing fears of a return to civil war to the surface. Since the port explosion in August 2021 the situation has gone from bad to worse. The economy has fallen apart, blackouts are increasing and the court case to address and find someone guilty has been stalled again. There is a general perception that those responsible will get away with it.

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

Iraqi election results. At least 167 parties and more than 3,200 candidates competed for the Iraqi parliament’s 329 seats on Sunday 10th October. Voter turnout allegedly was only 41%, down from the 44.5% turnout in 2018 thus indicating increasing voter apathy amongst Iraqis. Baghdad-based political analyst Ahmed Younis said many Iraqis see the post-Saddam Hussein system of government – based on sectarian power-sharing – as a failure. “Boycotting eventually would be inevitable and that’s what happened in today’s election.” Results released by Iraq’s High Electoral Commission on 11th October showed the parliamentary group aligned with Shi’ah cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won 73 seats, significantly more than any other group, followed by two established Sunni and Shi’ah coalitions. Sadrists (followers of al-Sadr) will thus play the dominant role in the government formation process.  The loss of seats by Iran-aligned groups, as well as the low voter turnout due to anti-government sentiment, will also increase the likelihood of social unrest.

China tests new hypersonic missile. Reports on Sunday 17th October from multiple sources say that China tested a new hypersonic missile in August. The missile circled the Earth at low orbit before speeding towards its target, according to the sources, “demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise”. Three people briefed on the intelligence told the FT that the missile missed its target by more than 20 miles. The hypersonic glide vehicle was carried by a Long March rocket, launches of which China usually announces, though the August test was kept under wraps. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he would not comment on the specifics of the report, but he added, “We have made clear our concerns about the military capabilities China continues to pursue, capabilities that only increase tensions in the region and beyond. That is one reason why we hold China as our number one pacing challenge.” If the report is true this would be a major leap farward for Chinese capabilities and this platform could theoretically out-manoeuvre missile defence systems. Along with China, the United States, Russia and at least five other countries are working on hypersonic technology. Hypersonic missiles, like traditional ballistic missiles which can deliver nuclear weapons, can fly at more than five times the speed of sound. But ballistic missiles fly high into space in an arc to reach their target, while a hypersonic missile flies on a trajectory low in the atmosphere, potentially reaching a target more quickly.

Gas producers OPEC. The Saudi energy minister said during a Russian energy forum on 15 October that cooperation with Russia on natural gas issues was under consideration. Russia has a seat alongside Saudi Arabia in a group of members of the OPEC and its allies known as OPEC+. That group is adjusting crude oil production levels ostensibly to control market volatility. Russian deputy prime minister Alexander Novak said he invited Saudi energy minister Abdel Aziz bin Salman to consider cooperation in the natural gas market.

Taliban visit Turkey. Turkey’s foreign minister on Thursday 7th October met with a high-level delegation of Afghanistan’s new rulers, the first such talks since the Taliban takeover of the country. The meeting in Ankara between Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban-appointed foreign minister, comes after Taliban leaders held a series of talks with the US, 10 European nations and EU representatives in Qatar earlier in the same week. Cavusoglu, speaking after the meeting in the Turkish capital, said they discussed the flights from Kabul’s airport after the Taliban requested Ankara’s help on the matter. He also said Turkey had made suggestions concerning a more inclusive Afghan government as well as the education of girls under the Taliban.

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