What We’re Watching

What our analysts are watching and key events they are keeping an eye on
22nd November 20216 min

Xi-Biden cordial conference.  Chinese premier Xi Jinping and US president Joe Biden held a video conference on Monday 15th November amid rising tensions. Expectations were always low on any major breakthrough. No major substantial topics were discussed in the 3 hour meeting. There was no joint press conference or press releases. Reports that have since emerged say Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet were the main topics of discussions. These types of meetings seem to be more about avoiding escalation of events rather than making any substantial progress on key issues.

Gulf navies hold first naval exercise with Israel. The Gulf Arab navies held their first joint military exercise with Israeli warships, co-ordinated by the US Navy. The five-day drill that ended on Monday 15th November in the Red Sea involved warships from the UAE, Bahrain, Israel and the US. The exercise follows the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, which saw the UAE and Bahrain normalise their relations with Israel. Since then, there has been an intense exchange of diplomatic, military and intelligence contacts between Israel and those Gulf states, as all parties share their concern over Iran’s activities. The head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency has made a public visit to Bahrain and in October the commander of the UAE’s air force arrived in Israel on his first ever such visit. Iran, recently announced its own naval exercises east of the Strait of Hormuz, strongly resents the presence of US and other Western navies in the Gulf region. 

Read our analysis on the geopolitics of Israel

Britain to designate Hamas a terrorist organisation. UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced plans to declare the whole of Palestinian resistance group Hamas a terrorist organisation. She called Hamas “fundamentally and rabidly anti-Semitic”, adding the proscription was required to protect the Jewish community. The military wing of the group which controls Gaza is already proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the UK. The change will cover the Islamist movement’s political wing. A proscription order laid before Parliament on Friday 19th November will now be debated and, subject to approval, will come into force on 26 November 2021. Hamas condemned the move in a statement, saying: “Instead of apologising and correcting its historical sin against the Palestinian people … [Britain] supports the aggressors at the expense of the victims.” Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett applauded the news. Founded in 1987, Hamas is against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. It had won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, defeating its nationalist rival Fatah. It seized military control of Gaza the following year.

New bill quietly gives powers to remove British citizenship without notice. British citizens could have their citizenship removed without warning following a new clause added to the Nationality and Borders Bill, which was quietly updated earlier this month. The updated bill makes the government exempt from giving Britons notice of any citizenship removal under various circumstances, including in cases when it is not “reasonably practical” to do so, as illustrated in its ninth clause. Critics say removing citizenship is already a contentious power, and scrapping the requirement for notice would make the home secretary’s powers even more draconian. “This amendment sends the message that certain citizens, despite being born and brought up in the UK… remain migrants in this country,” Frances Webber, vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations, said to The Guardian. The UNHCR said such plans would be in violation of international law. Powers to revoke citizenship from British nationals, particularly for security reasons, have been extended through legislation since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It was under such powers that the Home Office removed the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a British woman who travelled to Syria as a teenager to marry an Islamic State group fighter.

Russia massing troops on Ukraine’s border. Various news outlets reported that satellite pictures supplied by the US showed about 1,000 military vehicles near the Russian town of Yelnya, about 250 kilometres (150 miles) north of the Ukrainian border. Russian armed forces held a series of large-scale drills, including with airborne troops, Ukraine defence ministry reported. The Kremlin rejected that report and said that Russia maintains a military presence on its territory where necessary and repeatedly accused the US-headed NATO transatlantic military alliance of carrying out provocative activities close to its borders. The US, ally of Ukraine, said it was also seeing a significant amount of Russian military movement along its border with Ukraine, albeit nothing that was “overtly aggressive”. Relations between Kyiv and Moscow have plummeted since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and a war broke out between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine and its allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms across its border to support the separatists fighting in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Deja Vu in Sudan.  Nearly a month after being ousted by Sudan’s military, Abdalla Hamdok has been restored to office after reaching a political agreement with the head of the coup – Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. All political prisoners have been released and the transition to civilian rule is back on the table. The military dissolved the sovereign council only to restore the political set-up with a new deal with Abduallah Hamdouk. The other opposition parties that elected Hamdouk 2 years ago have refused to support the new deal. The public outrage over the economic situation has turned into debate about restoring civilian rule which has been a common occurrence in Sudan’s history. We will be watching for any decent from the opposition and if this grows to challenge the new set up.  

US commission recommends more transparency on China. The US government’s leading advisory panel on China policy is calling for more transparency from American businesses operating in China, and it has recommended further restrictions on investment in US-listed Chinese stocks, as well as comprehensive sanctions on Chinese companies and their subsidiaries when it comes to “sensitive” technology. The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s annual report, released on Tuesday 16 November, outlined 32 recommendations to Congress, including new legislation to screen the offshoring of critical supply chains and production capabilities to China. Commissioner Michael R. Wessel said it was important to “harmonise” US sanction lists, to ensure that a company cannot skirt US laws by being on one list but not another. The report also suggested that a “technology transfer review group” be set up under the executive branch, which is headed by President Joe Biden. The group would identify emerging and foundational technologies, and direct the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security in the implementation of export controls.

India’s farm laws revoked. Nerendra Modi announced Friday 19th November that the farm laws that caused a year of widespread protests will be scrapped. The protests began a year ago on 29 November 2020 and organisers were planning massive demonstrations to mark the anniversary at the end of the month next week, which coincides with the winter parliament session in India. Modi cited his administration’s failure to reach an agreement with farmers as the reason but with legislative elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where the farmers’ protest movement was concentrated early in 2022 the BJP government is hoping to boost its chances of securing a majority. 

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