What We’re Watching

What our analysts are watching and key events they are keeping an eye on
8th November 20218 min

Pentagon report on China’s Nukes. China is expanding its nuclear force much faster than US officials predicted just a year ago, highlighting a broad and accelerating buildup of military muscle designed to enable Beijing to match or surpass US global power by mid-century, according to a Pentagon report released Wednesday 27 October. The number of Chinese nuclear warheads could increase to 700 within six years, the report said, and may top 1,000 by 2030. The report did not say how many weapons China has today, but a year ago the Pentagon said the number was in the “low 200s” and was likely to double by the end of this decade. China’s military modernisation is proceeding on all fronts, but its nuclear advances are especially notable. It has developed numerous missile fields with dozens of silos across the country. China’s growing military might is closing towards the possibility of invading Taiwan. We will be watching for any major developments to contain these Chinese advances.

China’s Sixth Plenum. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will be hosting the Sixth Plenum, the most important annual political meeting in China, from 8th-11th November. It is expected Beijing will release a new Chinese Communist Party history document — only the third such document since 1945 — in which Chinese Premier Xi Jinping will outline China’s economic trajectory for the foreseeable future. It’s expected it will be based on quality, not quantity nor growth. This forward-looking document is intended to cement Xi’s long-term role at the center of Chinese politics, paving the way for his unprecedented third term starting in November 2022. It’s these types of party conferences that provide us insights into the thinking of China’s policy makers and rulers and we will be watching for any surprises.  

Egypts Sisi Tightens Grip on Power. Jubilation over the ending of a longstanding state of emergency in Egypt was effectively cut short after a legislation strengthened the hand of the country’s authoritarian President, Abdel-Fatah Sisi and the Egyptian military by extending the president’s national security powers. This all takes place as a high-level Egyptian delegation will be in Washington on 8th-9th November to meet with US counterparts. This will be the first such meeting under the Biden administration, and will focus on counterterrorism cooperation and Egypt’s regional role in conflict mediation. There are a number of friction points we will be watching for such as US pressure on Egypts Human Rights record and congressional threats against US financial aid. 

US Sends Ships to the Black sea. The US has deployed two warships in the Black Sea. The arrival of US warships in the region in support of NATO allies has once again sparked the anger of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said, “Even now, a US warship has entered the Black Sea, and we can see it in binoculars or crosshairs of our defense systems.” In response, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet practiced destroying enemy targets by using a coastal missile defense system “to eliminate a group of the mock enemy’s surface ships in the Black Sea.” In October, the US flew B-1B bombers over the Black Sea that were escorted out of the area by Russian fighter jets, this incident coincided with a visit to the region by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Russia’s only warm water port is situated on the banks of the Black Sea. The sea happens to be the major international trade route for Russia. We will be watching Putin’s moves to address the growing naval presence of westerners in the black sea.

Turkish offensive in Syria? The Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin stated 6  november 2021 that: “The Turkish military operation in cooperation with the Syrian National Army against the YPG in Northern Syria is imminent.”  With escalating attacks from the US backed SDF, President Erdoğan is under pressure to restore Turkish prestige. Turkey has been reinforcing its positions in northern Syria whilst Russian has increased the frequency and ferocity of its attacks against mainly rebel fortifications south of Idlib city.  This could indicate that an understanding between Turkey and Russia has been reached with a territorial exchange of southern idlib for the long coveted buffer zone that Turkey has sought to establish straddling its troublesome border with Syria, though with Syria nothing is certain. The opacity of its politics and the levantine nature of relationships guarantees that alliances form and break and loyalty is only to one’s interests. There have been many anticipated offensives which have failed to materialise and this may just be a bluff and constitute nothing more than a cynical attempt by the Turkish government to pressure the SDF to come to a Darra style arrangement with the regime, an idea which has been floated by the Russians. We will be watching for any moves.  

US To Sell Advanced Air-To-Air Missiles To Saudi Arabia. The US State Department announced the approval of the sale of $650 million worth of air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia to help the country protect itself from drone attacks. The approval will allow the Saudis to buy up to 280 of the AIM-120C advanced medium-range missiles and related equipment, replenishing an existing supply of the missiles, the department said. A State Department spokesperson said the Saudis have already been able to use the missiles to intercept unmanned aircraft that threatened both Saudi and US forces inside the country, mainly from Yemen. The sale of the missiles “is fully consistent with the administration’s pledge to lead with diplomacy to end the conflict in Yemen while also ensuring Saudi Arabia has the means to defend itself from Iranian-backed Houthi air attacks,” the official said. We are not sure how selling air to air missiles to Saudi Arabia will end the conflict, but this sale confirms US-Saudi commercial relations, irrespective of moral considerations.

UK Sikhs vote for cessation from India. On the anniversary of former Indian PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, thousands of Sikhs in the UK voted in a referendum organised by a US based organisation, SFJ (Sikhs for Justice) in response to a question –  “Should Indian-governed Punjab Be An Independent Country?” Plans are for a similar referendum in other countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, and the region of Punjab. Sikhs have long sought a separate homeland (Khalistan) free from the Indian government claiming systematic persecution at the hands of successive Indian regimes. India had brutally suppressed a Sikh rebellion in Punjab (the only state with Sikhs as majority) in the 1980s culminating in the Army storming of  the Golden Temple during the infamous ‘Operation Blue Star’. Political experts claim that the referendum has caused major embarrassment to India when PM Modi was being hosted by PM Boris for COP26.

UK holds energy talks with Qatar. The British government has approached Qatar to ask if the Gulf state could become a “supplier of last resort” amid gas shortages in Europe which have led to record prices, according to a report. The Financial Times reported that ministers had held talks with the country, which is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, to ensure a stable source of gas if global supplies become tight. It added that Qatar had re-routed four large tankers to the UK over the past two weeks, with the decision reportedly taking place after Boris Johnson asked Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for help. “The Qataris have indicated a willingness to agree longer-term supply deals to deliver…  gas to the UK in an emergency scenario – a sort of ‘supplier of last resort’ arrangement,” a UK government insider told the newspaper. Energy prices have soared in recent months due to a worldwide gas supply shortage, caused in part by a surge in demand and Russia restricting gas exports to western Europe, which has hit suppliers.

Read our analysis on the Britain’s energy crisis and the Geopolitics of Qatar  

Pentagon claims no fault in Kabul strike. An independent Pentagon review has concluded that the US drone strike that killed innocent Afghan civilians and children in the final days of the Afghanistan war was not caused by misconduct or negligence, and it doesn’t recommend any disciplinary action. Investigation had found “no violation of law, including the Law of War”. The report has been met with widespread outrage from Congress and human rights groups. The strike on 29 August killed three adults, including a man who worked for a US aid group, and seven children. It took place as Western nations attempted to evacuate Afghans after the Taliban took control of the country. The BBC had reported the youngest child to be killed was two-year-old Sumaya, and the eldest 12-year-old Farzad. The American drone strike came days after IS-K, the group’s Afghanistan branch, said they were behind a devastating bomb attack outside Kabul airport.

Violence in Tripura, India. Tension prevailed in India’s north-eastern state of Tripura following attacks on mosques and properties owned by Muslims. The string of attacks targeting mosques has triggered fears and anxiety among Tripura’s Muslim minority.  Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and other local groups had taken out protest rallies in Tripura and attacked Muslims and their religious places, including mosques. The VHP is affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountainhead of India’s Hindu supremacist groups which seeks to convert India into an ethnic Hindu state.

Muslims make up less than 9% of Tripura’s 4.2 million population. Tripura is encircled on three sides by Bangladesh and connected by a thin corridor to the neighbouring state of Assam. The state has been run by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2018 after 25 years of Communist rule. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said it was alarmed by reports of violence against Muslims in Tripura and urged the Indian government to prevent the attacks.

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