- China held a joint navy drill with Singapore in the South China Sea. The drill was conducted at a time when the US, along with allies Australia, Japan and India (members of the Quad), continues efforts to curb Beijing’s expanding influence in the region. In February, powerful U.S. warship fleets have sailed near Chinese-claimed Taiwan and through disputed territory in the South China Sea, to Beijing’s anger.
The South China Sea encompasses an area of around 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles) between Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Several countries have overlapping territorial claims in the region, with Beijing asserting sovereignty over roughly 90% of the sea.
- A joint military exercise involving Turkish and Pakistani Special Forces commenced in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which borders Afghanistan. The exercise is the latest manifestation of an emergent strategic alliance of these two countries, with significant implications for south Asia (and the Middle East). Both are seeking an alternative alignment to their former ties with the West, which in a time of growing global polarization is leading both Islamabad and Ankara toward greater closeness with China.
Pakistan is looking for connectivity with Afghanistan, Central Asia and ultimately to Russia, with Balochistan playing a pivotal role through its geographical location and abundance of natural resources. Balochistan is a geo-strategic location as well as a hub of natural resources which if fully utilised could be a catalyst for the entire region. Since Pakistan’s inception, Balochistan had been made a target for the country’s adversaries due to its attributes, and consequently had been destabilized by internal and external elements.
- Pakistan and India have agreed to immediately cease military hostilities in disputed Kashmir by restoring a 2003 truce to deescalate tensions between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals. Bilateral tensions have escalated dangerously since August 2019, when India unilaterally revoked the semi-autonomous status of its administered Kashmir and split the region into two union territories.
- India and China had completed a pullback from a disputed part of their Himalayan border after months of heightened tensions. The statement said it was a “significant step forward” that provided a good starting point for the resolution of other disputes in the western sector of the contested border.
India and China share a 3,500-kilometre (2,200-mile) border, with disputes at other points in Ladakh, including at Aksai Chin, a strategic corridor linking Tibet to western China next to the Galwan valley, and at Naku La pass further east, which connects Sikkim state with Tibet.
- The Iranian and Russian militaries have kicked off a joint naval drill in the Indian Ocean aimed at boosting security of maritime trade in the region. This is the second such joint Russia-Iran exercise since 2019, when the two nations plus China held a four-day exercise. Tehran has been seeking to step up military cooperation with Beijing and Moscow amid regional tensions with the United States.
- The G7 Foreign Ministers and the High Representative of the European Union condemns coup in Myanmar and President Biden has vowed to rally the United States’ partners to persuade Asian allies to support sanctions or moves to isolate Myanmar´s regime. China and Russia block UN Security Council condemnation and rejected eventual sanctions.
The situation in Myanmar is presenting China a serious geopolitical headache. The current imbroglio places a question mark over billions of dollars in deals and is deepening anti-Chinese sentiment in a strategic country along its border.
India is taking a cautious approach regarding Myanmar. Myanmar and India share a 1,600 km border, giving India a gateway to greater integration with Southeast Asia. The neighbors share a 725 km boundary in the Bay of Bengal, where India aims to boost maritime security cooperation with Myanmar and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. There are a number of Indian infrastructure projects in Myanmar, as an effort to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
- The United States faced greater competition in the Middle East from both China and Russia, adding another layer of geopolitical tension to the already volatile region, according to the head of the US military’s Central Command. Beijing and Moscow had taken advantage of factors (an ongoing regional crisis; financial infrastructure needs; perception of declining US engagement; and opportunities created by Covid-19) to raise their influence in the region over the past year.
- Israel is in talks with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to establish a four-nation defence alliance. The report comes amid the news that Washington and Tel Aviv are set to summon a strategic group to work on Iran’s nuclear agreement. Previously, some partners, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have advocated for negotiating an expanded deal with Tehran to include Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as stronger limits on Iran, but the Islamic Republic has rejected the suggestion.
China is happy about the Abraham Accords and the GCC crisis coming to an end. Though China was not involved in either development, China benefits from Israel having normalized ties with Arab countries in the Gulf. An Israel integrated into its own region provides yet another important access point to the Mediterranean, especially if and when connecting infrastructure comes into effect. The European Union is China’s largest trading partner, making the Mediterranean Sea a major endpoint in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- Qatar is stepping up its diplomatic moves in the region, playing its cards in Iran, Lebanon and Syria with the hope of regaining influence after its presence declined in recent years due to overlapping factors. Qatar’s hope of regaining its presence is mainly related to the presence of a new American administration that seems intent on increasing its pressure on the regime of President Bashar Assad and filling the vacuum left by the former administration of Donald Trump, which Russia exploited to control the political process through the Astana talks. Qatar’s intervention in Lebanon is encouraged by Turkey, which will seek to benefit from Qatari investments to consolidate its presence in Lebanon’s Sunni regions at the expense of Saudi Arabia’s traditional role there.
- US forces are developing the Al-Harir base in northern Iraq despite a decision by the Iraqi parliament to expel foreign troops from the country. The military base has recently become the center of US operations management in neighboring areas of northern Syria.
- The threats of sanctions by the United States against the German-Russian Baltic Sea gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 are working. After considerable pressure from the government in Washington, at least 18 European companies have now ended their participation in the controversial project or have promised to withdraw. The United States is attacking the project as they fear that their partners in Europe are too dependent on Russia and Russian gas.
It seems that the position of the new American administration remains identical to that of Donald Trump in terms of sanctions against EU-Russia energy projects. Thus, it could be assumed that a number of sanctions against entities involved in the Nord Stream 2 project would be uphold. This is not only due to strictly political but also economic attitudes. Washington is eager to export LNG to European markets, but the Nord Stream 2 project limits the demand for further supplies of this energy source to Europe.
The EU countries are divided when it comes to the matter of constructing new Russian gas pipelines. As a result of the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny upon his return to Russia in January 2021 and the repression of the opposition in many Russian cities, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling to halt the Nord Stream 2 project. However, this decision was not unequivocally supported by Germany, which continues to back the construction of the gas pipeline. Washington’s position is contrary to that of Berlin, which seeks to finish the project regardless of the position of the US.
Nord Stream 2 is a Russian energy project intended for Western Europe. It is of strategic importance to Moscow because it strengthens the dominant position of Russia as the leading exporter of natural gas to the European markets. The pipeline is located in such a way that it bypasses the transit countries in Central and Eastern Europe (Poland or Ukraine), i.e., the territories where the main gas pipelines, supplying the rest of the continent, have been located so far.
- Russia recently sent an additional 300 military advisors to support the President of the Central Africa Republic as part of a deepening relationship. For Russia, the CAR primarily provides it with an opportunity to present itself as an important international actor in Africa. For Russia, the CAR may simply provide a relatively low-cost opportunity to reposition itself globally by gaining influence in a country whose politics centres on concessionary politics and opportunistic power grabs.
- EU joins the US in calling withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia. Shows that there is a transatlantic consensus regarding Tigray’s armed conflict, which started on November 04/2020.
By Bernardo Foster/
International Relations Analyst
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