UK and Japan Faces Economic Downturn: Recession Follows Period of Stagnation

The United Kingdom

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK economy entered a technical recession in the second half of 2023. Following a period of weak growth and rising costs, this is a significant setback for the economy. The GDP decreased by 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2023, following a 0.1% decline in the previous quarter. The two consecutive quarters of economic contraction are typically used to characterize a technical recession. There are multiple reasons behind the current economic downturn. An uncertain economic environment has been brought about by the impacts of COVID-19, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and interruptions to the world’s supply chains. The UK’s exit from the European Union, is still looming large, with regulatory obstacles and ongoing trade conflicts compounding the uncertainties.

While the recession normally increases unemployment, the UK’s recession is more of a signal of the pressures that individuals and businesses are facing, as well as an obstacle to the government’s promises to stimulate economic recovery. The announcement comes as a setback to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who faces a general election later this year and promised to prioritize economic growth to voters. The UK’s recession requires a multifaceted approach, including immediate relief through targeted fiscal support and long-term investments in multiple sectors to control inflation and prevent recession. Structural reforms and international cooperation are essential for sustainable recovery.

Japan

The decrease in domestic consumption has caused Japan’s economy to suddenly decline, entering a recession and losing its ranking as the third largest economy in the world to Germany. The Cabinet Office reported that the gross domestic product (GDP) decreased in the last three months of 2023 at an annualized pace of 0.4%, following an annualized 3.3% contraction in the previous quarter of the year. Among the currencies used by the Group of 10 industrialized nations, the yen has performed poorly, falling 6.6% against the US dollar since the beginning of the year. The weakening of the Japanese yen relative to the dollar is being considered as the major cause of Japan’s economic downturn. Gita Gopinath, the deputy chief of the IMF, at a press conference in Tokyo in February 2024 also said, “An important reason for Japan potentially slipping in the rankings was the yen falling by about 9% against the US dollar last year.” Therefore, if the yen strengthens, the nation might regain its position.




China & Taliban’s envoy to Beijing

China’s choice to recognise Bilal Karimi as its official representative from the Taliban government in Afghanistan is a major turning point in international relations, especially as Central Asia’s politics change. Even though this is mostly a show of support, it shows that Beijing is interested in Afghanistan strategically and is ready to take on a bigger role in the region’s politics and security. China is the first country to officially recognise a Taliban envoy since the Taliban took power in 2021. This shows that China wants to work directly with the Taliban, going against most international rules that try to keep the group out because of its questionable human rights and government record.

China is working with the Taliban for a number of strategic reasons. Security is the most important of these, especially for the area of Xinjiang that borders Afghanistan. Beijing has been worried for a long time that Uighur separatists from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which China sees as a terrorist group, could use Afghanistan as a base. By making friends with the Taliban, China hopes to get guarantees that these kinds of activities will not happen in Afghanistan. China also has strong economic interests that affect its policy towards Afghanistan. China, which uses a lot of rare earth metals, is very interested in Afghanistan’s untapped natural resources. These include large deposits of rare earth metals. The oil extraction deal mentioned above, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is just one way that China wants to strengthen its economic ties with Afghanistan while the Taliban are in power. These steps are part of China’s larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to boost its economic power in Central Asia by building roads and investing in other countries. China’s pragmatic approach to foreign policy, which is based on not getting involved and being open to working with governments of all ideologies as long as they are in line with Beijing’s goals, is also shown by its recognition of the Taliban envoy. This policy lets China step in and fill the void left by the West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, making itself look like a major player with the power to shape the country’s future.

Additionally, China’s work with the Taliban could be an example for other countries in the area, which could lead to a group effort to deal with Afghanistan’s new leaders. This situation could change how the world sees the Taliban, from being looked down upon to a more complex relationship based on shared interests rather than ideological alignment. There are, however, risks in this relationship. A big worry still is the Taliban’s way of running things and what it might mean for human rights, especially for women and minorities. China’s decision to work with the Taliban could be seen as an implicit endorsement of the way they run their government. This could make it harder for Beijing to get along with other countries, especially those in the West. Also, the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan is not likely to last for a long time, which could affect any deals or investments China makes with the current government.

In conclusion, China’s recognition of the Taliban’s representative in Beijing is more than just a diplomatic formality. It is a strategic move that shows China’s larger goals in Central Asia and its practical approach to foreign policy. This event has effects on the safety of the area, economic goals, and the efforts of the world to interact with Afghanistan while the Taliban are in charge. The world will be paying close attention to how China’s work with the Taliban affects Afghanistan’s future and the way things work in the region.




North Korea’s Space Program Advances with Spy Satellite Launch

Introduction

North Korea claims to have successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite into orbit on November 22, 2023 and stated that Kim was looking over pictures of US military facilities on Guam in a within hours of the launch. North Korea has successfully launched its first spy satellite into orbit, defying international condemnation froms US and its allies. The North Korean government has said that the recent satellite will help the country to better monitor its neighbor and that it is essential for dealing with perceived threats from South Korea and the US.

Condemnation of North Korea’s Satellite Launch

The United States, Japan, and South Korea have all criticized the launch and urged North Korea to follow UN resolutions. North Korea is prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions from launching ballistic missiles or employing space launch vehicles. The launch by North Korea using ballistic missile technology is strongly condemned by the G7 Foreign Ministers, and said that it poses a serious danger to regional and international peace and security. Any launch that makes use of ballistic missile technology is blatantly in violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions, regardless of whether it has been classified as a military reconnaissance satellite. As a result of launch, Seoul partially suspending and Pyongyang entirely suspending the 2018 joint military agreement that was meant to stabilize cross-border relations, has further escalated tensions on the peninsula.

A rocket carrying a spy satellite Malligyong-1 is prepared to be launched, as North Korean government claims, in a location given as North Gyeongsang Province, North Korea in this handout picture obtained by Reuters on November 21, 2023. KCNA via REUTERS

North Korea’s Response

After North Korea launched its first-ever military spy satellite, the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, welcomed a “new era of a space power.” For North Korea’s space program, the successful launch of the Malligyong-1 satellite marks an important milestone. It shows that North Korea is able to design and launch satellites with potential military applications. Concerns are also raised by the launch regarding North Korea’s possible use of its space program to create advanced weapons like intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The Malligyong-1 satellite’s launch coincides with heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has conducted a series of missile tests in recent months, raising fears that it is preparing for a nuclear test. According to Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the space agency plans to launch several spy satellites soon to ensure that it can monitor South Korea and other areas that the North Korean military finds interesting. Moreover, as per KCNA, Kim stated during a visit to the national space agency that the launch was a full-fledged exercise of the right to self-defense.




BRICS Unites in Condemning Israel’s War on Gaza

The BRICS leaders held a meeting virtually on November 21, 2023 and demanded for an end to Israel’s war on Gaza. BRICS is an intergovernmental organization comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. However, this summit was not limited to the BRICS countries alone. The organization had earlier this year made a decision to expand its membership and decided to include Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran among its new members starting in 2024. Thus, the heads of these six nations attended the summit in addition to the BRICS nations. Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, also attended the meeting.Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa and the current chair of BRICS, chaired the meeting. President Ramaphosa of South Africa opened the meeting by declaring that Israel’s actions are clearly against international law and that Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians is a war crime that amounts to genocide. The majority of the leaders in meeting called for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire and referred to Israel’s targeting of civilians in Gaza as war crimes. The government media office reports that since Israel’s attack on Gaza began on October 7, the number of Palestinian deaths has increased to 14,532, including almost 6,000 children.

Many member states, including as Brazil and Russia, have expressed disapproval of Israel’s constant bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. For its part, China welcomed a delegation of Muslim nations, leaders, and organizations among them the Palestinian Authority (PA) in an effort to broker a ceasefire. The delegation of Arab-Islamic nations demanded for a long-term resolution to the conflict and for an end to the Israeli war in Gaza. Rejecting Israeli claims of self-defense, the delegation demanded the immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza, the lifting of Israeli restrictions on Palestinian territory, the immediate release of all Palestinian detainees, and the start of diplomatic negotiations toward the creation of an independent Palestinian state. In addition, China is maintaining communication on the Palestinian-Israeli problem with other permanent members of the UN Security Council and Arab-Islamic nations. During the visit of Arab-Islamic countries delegation to China, top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi also said that China demanded an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, stated opposition to any forced relocation or displacement of Palestinian residents, and underlined that any agreement pertaining to the future and destiny of the Palestinian people must have their approval.




Russia and Myanmar Conducted Maritime Exercises in Andaman Sea

The first Myanmar-Russia Maritime Security Exercise (MARUMEX), which comprised ships and planes, took place in waters 85 nautical miles (157 km) west of Myeik from 7-9 November, 2023 in the Andaman Sea. The Andaman Sea is a strategic waterway that connects the Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal, and it is important for both trade and security. The focus of the exercises is on defending against threats from air, sea, and land, as well as other maritime security measures. The exercises are a sign of the growing ties between Russia and Myanmar. Russia has become a key ally of Myanmar, providing it with weapons and diplomatic support. Russia is a significant ally and weaponry supplier to Myanmar’s military regime, which was established in February 2021 after the army overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic administration.

Russia is expanding its naval presence in the Andaman Sea, and conducting joint military exercises with Myanmar and other countries in the region. The Andaman Sea is located at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It is also close to the Strait of Malacca, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. This makes the Andaman Sea a strategically important location for both trade and military purposes. Moreover, the Andaman Sea is a vital shipping lane for oil, gas, and other goods. Russia is a major exporter of oil and gas, and the Andaman Sea provides a direct route to markets in Asia and the Middle East. The Andaman Sea is a crucial component of Russia’s strategy to increase its influence in the Indo-Pacific region. In the upcoming years, Russia’s foreign policy is probably going to place a greater emphasis on the Andaman Sea.

In this photo released from the The Military True News Information Team on Nov. 6, 2023, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, center, leader of ruling military council, salute while inspect guard of honor from Russian Navy during opening ceremony of first Myanmar Russia Maritime Security Exercise at Thilawa port in Yangon, Myanmar. (The Military True News Information Team via AP)

The maritime exercises are being considered as an indication of Russia’s growing military presence in Asia. Russia has been expanding its naval presence in the region in recent years, and the exercises with Myanmar depicts that Russia is interested in strengthening its ties with different countries in the region. Military-ruled Myanmar relies on Russia for diplomatic support and military assistance. Whereas, Myanmar is a strategically important location in Indo-Pacific region for Russia. Although the military regime in Myanmar remains internationally isolated, relations between two countries will remain close in the future due to their individual and collective interests.




Critical Levels of Air Pollution: A Growing Problem in Pakistan and India

Air pollution in Pakistan and India recorded at critical levels during the month of November 2023, with many cities in both countries experiencing hazardous air quality due to smog. In Pakistan and India, smog is a serious environmental concern which is caused by the combination of number of factors. The main contributors to air pollution include vehicle emissions, industrial emissions, and dust. Burning crops is a major factor in this situation, in order to prepare the land for the next crop, farmers in Pakistan and India frequently burn crop leftovers after harvest. This causes a significant emission of smoke and particle matter into the atmosphere. The problem is exacerbated in the winter months, when cooler temperatures trap pollutants closer to the ground.

According to the World Air Quality Index, Lahore, Pakistan is currently the most polluted city in the world. Other major cities in Pakistan are also experiencing severe air pollution. The Punjab government in Pakistan declared a smog emergency and closed schools and markets for four days in an effort to reduce air pollution. The government has also banned crop burning and ordered factories to reduce their emissions. However, air quality levels in Lahore and other major cities in Punjab remain at hazardous levels.

Governments in both Pakistan and India are taking steps to address the problem of air pollution. NASA satellite images reveal smog blanketing northern India, with Delhi at epicenter of looming air pollution crisis. The Delhi government ordered the closure of schools and restricted the use of private vehicles for a week in an effort to reduce air pollution. In addition, the government banned construction activities and ordered industries to reduce emissions. The consequences of this concerning phenomenon go beyond Delhi, as a number of cities in North India are facing declining air quality, raising the possibility of a more serious environmental crisis.

The severe air pollution in both the countries is having a significant impact on environment and human beings. The air pollution situation in Pakistan and India is a serious public health concern. Exposure to air pollution can cause respiratory problems, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems. It can also reduce visibility on roads leading to accidents. Both governments need to take more aggressive action to reduce emissions and improve air quality by reducing vehicle emissions, financing public transportation, and supporting renewable energy sources.




Strategic Tour of French President to Strengthen Ties with Central Asia

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Kazakhstan on November 1, 2023, as part of a two-day tour of Central Asia. The visit is seen as a strategic move by Macron to strengthen France’s ties in the region, which has become increasingly important due to Ukraine crisis. During his visit to Kazakhstan, Macron met with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and signed a number of agreements to accelerate cooperation covering economic sectors, including critical minerals important for clean energy technologies, pharmaceuticals, and aerospace. Tokayev referred to France as a significant and reliable partner in the European Union and pledged to work toward bolstering the partnership. Whereas, Macron said, “The strength of our partnership demonstrates the good strategic direction that has been taken and the need to complement and accelerate it.”

France ranks as the fifth-largest foreign investor in Kazakhstan, with a long history of economic cooperation that includes the Kashagan oilfield project, a joint venture with TotalEnergies, and a uranium mine operated by Orano, whose head was accompanying Macron on his visit. Macron’s visit to Central Asia is a sign of the growing interest of Western powers in the region. Central Asia is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, and minerals, and it is also strategically located between Russia and China. As China’s influence in the region grows, Western powers are eager to strengthen their ties with Central Asian countries. The visit is also a sign of France’s desire to play a more active role in global affairs. The country has traditionally been seen as a power focused on Europe and Africa, but Macron has made it clear that he wants France to be a global leader, his visit to Central Asia is a step in that direction.

Following a visit to Kazakhstan, French President Macron arrived in Uzbekistan, the first visit by a French president since 1994. As the two nations discussed agricultural and uranium projects, President Emmanuel Macron announced that France and Uzbekistan would establish what he called a strategic cooperation. “We have agreed with the President, Shavkar Mirziyoyev, to build a strategic partnership,” stated Macron. To conclude, the ties between France and the Central Asian countries has reached a major point with President Macron’s visit. Along with chances for countries to exploit potential in a variety of fields and sectors, the inked agreements and investment pledges establish the foundation for increased collaboration.




Bolivia Becomes First Latin American Country to Cut Ties with Israel over Gaza

Introduction

Due to Israel’s war in Gaza, Bolivia became one of the first countries to sever diplomatic ties with it. Deputy Foreign Minister Freddy Mamani stated, “Bolivia decided to break diplomatic relations with the Israeli state in repudiation and condemnation of the aggressive and disproportionate Israeli military offensive taking place in the Gaza Strip.” Moreover, Maria Nela Prada, the minister of the presidency, also announced that the country will provide Gaza with humanitarian aid. She said, “We demand an end to the attacks in the Gaza Strip which have so far caused thousands of civilian deaths and the forced displacement of Palestinians.” Prior to this, Bolivia severed diplomatic ties with Israel in 2009 during the socialist President Evo Morales’ administration over Israel’s actions in Gaza. But in 2020, ties were re-established under the administration of right-wing acting President Jeanine Anez.
Bolivia’s action was criticized by Israel. On the other hand, Hamas applauded Bolivia, stating that it respects it and calling on other Arab nations that have normalized ties with Israel to do the same.

Response of Other Latin American Countries

In protest of Israel’s unacceptable violations of international humanitarian law, Chile, which has the largest Palestinian population outside of the Arab world, recalled its ambassador to Israel. Whereas, the leaders of Chile and Colombia also condemned Israeli attack against the Gazan people. Colombian President Gustavo Petro posted on social media, “I have decided to recall our ambassador to Israel, Margarita Manjarrez, for consultation. If Israel does not stop the massacre of the Palestinian people, we cannot be there.” A ceasefire has also been demanded by nations in Latin America, including Brazil and Mexico. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said, “What we have now is the insanity of Israel’s Prime Minister, who wants to wipe out the Gaza Strip.”

Current Situation in Gaza

Israeli military has surrounded Gaza City and is moving forward. With Israel’s ongoing deadly airstrikes on Gaza, the number of Palestinian enclave deaths has surpassed 9,000 as of 3rd November, 2023. An operation conducted by Israel in the occupied West Bank has also claimed the lives of at least four Palestinians. A representative of the Israeli military added that despite international pressure, a ceasefire is not on the table. Yet, United Nations experts said, “The time for action is now” and have demanded a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, stating that the Palestinian people are running out of time as they face a “grave risk of genocide.”




The Dire Humanitarian Situation in Gaza Needs Urgent Action

After Israel extensive destruction of houses, schools and hospitals, forcing over a million people to flee their homes, Aid organizations are warning of a catastrophic shortage of medical supplies. The steadily increasing number of civilian casualties, the complete devastation of neighborhoods, and the Israeli military’s unrelenting bombardment of Gaza are extremely concerning. According to the Ministry of Public Works and dwelling in Gaza, since the start of hostilities, at least 43% of all dwelling units in the Gaza have been either destroyed or damaged. According to the United Nations, over 1.4 million of the 2.2 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza have been forced to flee their homes. Since the beginning of Israeli attacks, Palestinians do not have access to food and water, about half a million people have been denied access to food rations because their food distribution centers have been closed, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, after three weeks of continuous bombing, the death toll in the Gaza Strip has risen to almost 7000, with at least 3000 of those deaths being children. In a statement, the UN representative for Palestine affirmed that “3,000 children have been killed by Israel since the attacks it launched on Oct. 7, almost 1,600 Palestinians are still buried under the rubble.” Additionally, it is unfortunate that Israel is targeting humanitarian workers, the Israeli bombing of Gaza resulted in the deaths of at least 35 UNRWA employees. The Secretary-General of the United Nations stated, “Middle East situation is growing more dire by the hour. The region is in danger of spiraling out of control due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza. In addition, he urged all sides to protect civilians during military operations, honor and preserve hospitals, and recognize the inviolability of UN buildings that currently house over 600,000 Palestinians. These demands were made in accordance with international humanitarian law.”

 

The intense bombing that the people of Gaza are currently experiencing is not only wreaking physical havoc but also denying their right of living and access of basic necessities like electricity, water, food, and life-saving medical care. In this conflict, the international community and the Arab countries need to play their role and insist that international humanitarian law must be followed, especially with regard to protection of civilians, provision of humanitarian aid and paving the way for a lasting ceasefire.




Saudi Arabia and South Korea Deepen Cooperation with Series of Agreements

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met on October 23, 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The meeting was part of Yoon’s state visit to the Kingdom, which was the first by a South Korean leader. About a year prior to President Yoon’s visit, the Saudi crown prince had visited South Korea to discuss defense, energy, and infrastructure development cooperation. He also signed $30 billion worth of investment agreements with Korean companies. In the recent meeting, the two leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including bilateral cooperation in energy, defense, infrastructure, investment, and exchanged views on regional and international developments. President Yoon Suk Yeol’s state visit to Saudi Arabia resulted in 46 agreements and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) between South Korean companies and their Saudi Arabian counterparts. The meeting was seen as a positive sign of the growing relationship between South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

The establishment of a Strategic Partnership Council, the Hydrogen Oasis Initiative to advance green hydrogen cooperation, visa exemption for holders of diplomatic passports, joint statistical cooperation between respective statistical authorities, and a memorandum of understanding to improve cooperation in the fields of food and medical products were among the bilateral agreements that the two countries concluded during their meeting. In addition, a deal for a joint oil storage business was signed by Korea National Oil and Saudi Aramco. The two countries have close economic and security ties, and the meeting is expected to further strengthen their cooperation in a variety of areas.

In line with Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” strategy, which seeks to diversify the country’s economy and lessen its reliance on oil, the deals cover a range of areas, including infrastructure, new industries, and energy sector. The two countries will strengthen their defense cooperation, including joint military exercises and training programs. Moreover, the two countries agreed to explore new opportunities for cooperation in the energy sector, including renewable energy and hydrogen. In an effort to gain collaboration in similar technologies, Riyadh has positioned South Korea and Japan as potential sources of clean energy in the future. Saudi Arabia and South Korea have several mutual interests, including economic cooperation, energy security, and regional stability. These common interests are expected to drive close relationships between the two countries in the future.