Category Archives: East Asia

Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of January 23, 2022)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of Jan. 23, 2022.

Global News

A tax on pollution aimed at companies might incentivize companies to actually invest in cleaner energy and green production methods according to new research.

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The Catholic Church will now formally recognize women for lay roles of catechist and lector. These roles had long been performed by women informally despite being officially reserved for men, but Pope Francis recently announced they would be formally recognized by the Church.

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How much electricity is produced by renewable energy sources will vary, but this infographic gives some of the latest estimates and helps clarify the challenges the world faces in transitioning to clean electricity.

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Americas

Fish exports from Brazil is making major gains in China, but a lack of regulation in Brazil threatens local communities and risks overfishing. The parts of the fish being exported are normally thrown away, but in China they’re valued for medical uses.

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The Canadian Trucking Alliance, an organization representing truckers across Canada, spoke out against planned protests scheduled for Jan. 29 at the nation’s capital. The protests target the cross-border vaccine travel mandate by Canada and the United States, which requires truckers to be fully vaccinated.

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The Biden Administration introduced new rules to help attract talent from foreign students by introducing rules to help international students spend up to 36 months in academic training. The Department of Homeland Security also introduced 22 new fields to a program that provides three years of training with employers and another initiative aimed at connecting domestic employers with trained international students.

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Africa

An explainer on why the military is in mutiny in Burkina Faso.

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Enset, a traditional staple in the diets of communities in South and Southwest Ethiopia, could provide millions with food security as climate change changes rain patterns and threatens crops.

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COVID vaccines will need a shelf-life of three to six months to be effectively distributed by recipient countries, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the received vaccines have expired due to logistical challenges and storage requirements.

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Europe

Protestors in Istanbul protest against the hosting of the Olympics in China, citing human rights abuses and allegations of genocide against the Uighur population.

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Ukrainian government officials are treating the claims about Moscow attempting a coup to install a sympathetic government in Kyiv as credible. The claims were made by the U.K. foreign office, allegedly based on US intelligence but have not provided evidence yet.

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A Taliban delegation headed to Norway on Sunday probably to convince The US and Western nations to unfreeze financial assets to the tune of $10 billion. The delegation will meet for three days with delegations from the US, Western government officials, human rights and women’s rights advocates, and members of the Afghan community in Norway.

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Middle East

An Israeli company developed a drone capable of firing sniper rifles or standard rifles while flying. The drone is in advanced stages of development and not yet ready for deployment, but the system is based on existing technology used against Hamas.

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Iran may be voting in the United Nations General Assembly soon after South Korea paid off the country’s outstanding dues. The funds were obtained from frozen Iranian assets in South Korea, and in active coordination with the United Nations Secretariat, US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control and other agencies.

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Due to COVID-19, the League of Arab States will be rescheduling their annual meeting. While no agenda has been set, there are many issues for the group to focus on.

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Asia

Chinese investment causes trouble in Serbia.

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Afghan women graduates of Code to Inspire are turning to crypto currencies to receive aid and money from abroad as Taliban rule has left the economy in ruins. The organization, based in Herat, taught women how to code before the Taliban took over, and these women had taught others how to set up wallets to receive and transact in crypto currencies as a way to get around the frozen financial system and limits on cash withdrawals at local banks.

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Eighty-four percent of the population of Tonga has been affected by ashfall and a tsunami as a result of the recent volcanic eruption. Limited communications and Internet have been restored and aid is coming from New Zealand and Australia, while aid has been promised from Japan, China, The Asian Development Bank and World Bank.

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Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of December 19, 2021)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of Dec. 19, 2021.

Global News

The “hacker-for-hire” industry is taking on new and threatening potential with competing spyware companies targeting political dissidents for authoritarian countries.

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The United Nations has failed to open new negotiations governing the use of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) after push back by weapon system creators such as Russia and the United States.

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United Nations special rapporteur for the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, called upon the international community to work with Bangladesh to help with Rohingya refugees in the country while cutting off resources and support to the Myanmar military.

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Americas

Anvisa, the national health regulator of Brazil, has requested additional law enforcement support after growing threats from anti-vaccine proponents stemming from the organization’s approval of COVID-19 vaccines for young children. Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil and major source of anti-vaccine sentiments, has threatened to release identities of those working at Anvisa and has spread misinformation throughout the country.

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Chile elected the youngest president in the country’s history, Gabriel Boric, with 56% of the vote. Boric plans on introducing European style social democracy to the country to tackle economic and social inequalities, but faces a divided congress and a rewriting of the nation’s constitution. However, this may also be a bell weather for the rest of Latin America.

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Africa

Morocco is starting to implement recycling via composting waste with the help of Swiss company Elephant Vert (translated as Green Elephant). However, the kingdom still lacks a comprehensive sorting and collection.

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The United Nations voted to set up a three-person team to investigate human rights abuses in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, much to the objections of the government. While a report on abuses in the region already exists, it may be under reporting abuses.

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A national public consultation is scheduled to be held between January and March 2022, according to Tunisian president Kais Saied, as part of plans to create a national referendum on political reforms scheduled for July 25, 2022. The Parliament is still frozen and will be until December 17, 2022, though they will be impacted by the referendum.

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Europe

Thousands are protesting proposed legislation that would force the sale of TVN, a US-owned channel that has been critical of the government. This follows other attempts by the Polish government to target critics in the media, according to opposition parties and protestors.

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Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated Moscow is ready to increase provocative actions along the border with Ukraine and other former Soviet countries if their demands are not taken seriously by NATO and the West. Among those demands are keeping Ukraine and other former Soviet countries from joining NATO and rolling back military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. These demands may be viewed as provocative to the West, but they might be considered defensive by Moscow, which views their regional security as under threat by an expanding NATO encircling Russia’s Western border.

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German environment minister, Steffi Lemke, warns of the next crisis is a biodiversity crisis. While fighting against climate change is needed, lawmakers and society also need to combat the loss of species, and there can be overlap of efforts such as restoration of natural habitats to fight both.

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Middle East

Artifacts ravaged by Daesh (Islamic State) are being restored in the Museum of Mosul in Iraq, with the help of French and American and local experts. In addition, the Iraqi government is making repatriation of stolen artifacts a priority and plans restoring the museum to its pre Daesh state.

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The first confirmed case of Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been announced in Iran by the health ministry. There are two more potential cases under review, and the alleged source was a middle-aged man coming back from travel in the United Arab Emirates.

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Idlib, Syria still needs aid and humanitarian assistance, but the deliveries into rebel-held territory by the United Nations requires authorization that is set to expire Jan. 10, 2022.

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Asia

Laos and China opened a scenic railway connecting the capital of Laos, Vientiane, with Kunming in Southern China. Laos is heavily indebted to China already and faces potential risks from the rail project such as being unable to pay off the investment and being on the hook for some or all of the debt if the project fails to generate a profit.

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The Organization for Islamic Cooperation concluded a summit in Islamabad, Pakistan to create ways to provide financing and support to the people of Afghanistan without directly dealing with the Taliban. The country is on the brink of economic collapse as the Taliban have taken little effort to actually fulfil the promises they made on women’s rights and protecting minorities, forcing nations with assets from Afghanistan to find ways to help the people without rewarding the Taliban for ignoring their own promises.

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21,000 people have been displaced by major flooding in Malaysia after the equivalent of one month’s rainfall fell within 48 hours between Friday and Saturday.

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Collision Course: China and the Taliban

The Problem in a paragraph- China has economic and domestic security risks with an unstable Afghanistan, from BRI projects in the region and the shared border in Northern Afghanistan/Western China. The Taliban are a major risk factor because they cannot be trusted to keep their commitments to domestic stability and security, and follow an ideology of governance that promotes instability and terrorism. The CCP cannot call upon reliable allies to do the fighting if conflict arises, as the regional security framework is lackluster and Afghanistan’s neighbors have either vested interest in the Taliban and militant groups operating openly, or do not trust Chinese ambitions for the larger region. China and the Taliban have mutually conflicting goals and visions for Afghanistan. 

Taliban Risks

The Afghan Taliban (referred hereafter as the Taliban) have a history of bad faith dealings following a pattern of using force to change conditions on the ground that undermine peace plans, betraying agreements once they acquire what they want, and actively breaking promises they make while professing to honor them.

One example is the promise the Taliban has made to Beijing about the Uighur militants and keeping Afghanistan free of them. According to one report, Akhtar Mohammad Khairzada, deputy governor of Badakhshan, has claimed foreign fighters have come to the region and served with the Taliban. Other officials and analysts have claimed the Taliban is bolstering their ranks with Uighur, Turkic, and Uzbek, and other foreign groups due to the strategic location of Badakhshan between Pakistan, China, and Tajikistan. The additional manpower from these groups helped the Taliban to wrestle for control in Maimi district, and generally become a major force in the region.

While promising to prevent Uighur crossings into Afghanistan, the Taliban still hosts training camps to train fighters for ongoing conflicts and “war”.  As of 2020, the Taliban is still operating a training camp for war on the Chinese border region of Badakhshan- the Abu Ubaidah Ibn Jarrah Training Center.  The Taliban has an active militant training camp on the border with China, one that is in the same territory as Taliban affiliated Uighur militants.  They are actively recruiting and trying to attract fighters with a focus on fighting a “war” despite the USA withdrawing.  While the Afghan Taliban has claimed they would prevent Uighur insurgents, Uighur militants have been crossing into Afghanistan, particularly in Badakhshan, despite Taliban claims to barring Uighurs from entering the country.  Currently, these militants are going to fight for a local branch of Islamic State or as part of the Taliban. 

The Taliban cannot speak with a unified voice as they are made up of different groups that were loosely unified in their fight against the Soviet Union and the United States. The early Taliban derived their power from the support of militias raised in the Madrasas in rural areas, and could barely control them during the early 1990s. Today, the Taliban still has the problem with internal unity and has been vague to avoid angering rank and file members. In one example, several members of the Taliban joined ISIL-K after internal disagreements over the direction of the movement. The nature of alliances and commitments is such that different factions making up the Taliban can break off and join other groups, with a risk to the overall strength and cohesion of the Taliban as a political entity.

There is no reason to believe the Taliban has changed for the better. The areas under Taliban rule are reporting violence and repression by the group similar to what was reported in the 1990s.  The Taliban may be more sophisticated for an international audience and promote a moderate image abroad, but they are just as violent and repressive as they were in the 1990s. In most of the territories the Taliban have taken over, women’s education has either ceased altogether or is severely limited.  Part of this reflects local commanders having leeway to enforce Taliban decrees as they see fit, but mostly this is part of the way the Taliban traditionally treated women’s education. Musicians in areas the Taliban is actively threatening are worried that the Taliban will return to banning music and killing musicians. The educated youth of Afghanistan are also fleeing the country, despite Taliban assurances their freedoms and successes will be protected. Based on their present actions, the youth have no reason to believe the Taliban leadership, as the actions on the ground indicate the Taliban is acting the same way it did when it took over the country back in the 1990s.

Chinese action in Afghanistan as a risk

Beijing has taken steps to increase Chinese influence in Afghanistan, and some of it undermines long-term stability goals in the country.

On the economic side, Beijing is using BRI projects to hold off other nations from investing in Afghanistan. One example was in December 2011, when the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) won a $400 million bid to drill in three oilfields in the Afghan provinces of Faryab and Sar-i-Pul, a contract lasting for 25 years. The fields hold only 87 million barrels, a fraction of Iran’s oilfield capacity, but China has not drilled the wells. Another example is the Mes Aynak mine, which Beijing secured, but has done little to develop since winning the bid. The cost to Kabul for the lack of activity in the Mes Aynak mine is estimated at 2 billion USD, almost the total amount the mine contract was worth in 2007. Meanwhile the Taliban has been illegally mining the region for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth in precious metals. For Kabul, the mine is a major economic asset to the country, which in 2018 relied on foreign aid for 40% of GDP. While Beijing is holding back on the mine, they are reportedly in negotiations with the Taliban for infrastructure contracts. 

 In terms of security, China has stationed PLA troops in Badakhshan, but the Afghan government balked at Beijing’s attempts to create a Chinese military base in the region. Beijing also attempted to force the Afghan government to take Chinese navigation and internet systems and Chinese military hardware, which Kabul believes would have rendered them dependent on China for security goods. When rebuffed by Afghan government officials, Beijing started doling out equipment to rival political powers and the Taliban in Badakhshan. Beijing also sought to cultivate local power brokers and undercut the national Afghan government. Such behaviors have increased local resentment towards the Chinese presence in communities that had been promised gains from the BRI. It also poses a security risk to Kabul as Beijing is effectively cultivating potential rivals to regional authority from Kabul. 

Lastly, Beijing is undermining trust with Kabul. On December 10, 2020, Kabul authorities broke up an alleged Chinese spy ring in the capital, one that had been operating for seven years before it’s discovery.  Indian intelligence helped Afghan authorities in uncovering the spy ring, which was working with the Haqqani Network to track down Uighurs in country. The alleged spy ring was made up of Chinese nationals who were attempting to set up a fake cell of the East Turkistan Independence Movement (ETIM) to ensnare Uighur separatists in Afghanistan. The alleged spy ring was discovered by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, after receiving intelligence on the ring from the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s foreign spy agency. The arrests of Chinese nationals were coupled with authorities seizing arms and drugs found with the suspects. The Haqqani Network, which the alleged spy ring was attempting to infiltrate, has been driving insurgent conflict in Afghanistan for 40 years.  

As China moves into Afghanistan for economic, security, and geopolitical reasons, Beijing has made a bet on the Taliban becoming the political power in Afghanistan. They also have investment and security concerns in the country that force China to be present. Yet the Taliban cannot be trusted to be a responsible actor on the international stage and follow a domestic policy that will force them into conflict with China and other border nations, possibly internationally.

Jihadist groups are starting to orientate their focus on China in response to China’s rise in geopolitical power and military expansion and modernization efforts. One example of a new wave of Jihadist attention towards China is the Jihadist cleric, Abu Zar al-Burmi, is active in recruitment and driving the focus against China for actions against the Uighurs and Rohingya and more generally against Islamic populations. He’s active in Pakistan and Afghanistan and his rhetoric has strongly focused on China’s activities in Central and South Asia. While the United States, Russia, and the West in general, are still considered enemies, China is joining that list of target nations. 

For the Taliban, this means more Jihadists groups will come to Afghanistan to fight against China and possibly launch attacks in the region, which the Taliban may not actually care much about. October 2020, the Afghan Taliban claimed it was under no obligation to sever ties with al Qaeda. The Taliban has strong links to al Qaeda even in 2021, despite pledges to distance themselves from the international terrorist group.  Historically, al Qaeda helped strengthen the Taliban in Afghanistan and spend decades developing overlapping allegiances between the two organizations.  The Taliban is attempting to maintain their relationship with al Qaeda while convincing the larger international community that they can be trusted to keep Afghanistan free of terrorist organizations.  One example is when Taliban officials floated the idea of treating al Qaeda fighters as “refugees” in Taliban controlled territories.  As of February 25, 2021, the Taliban has made little effort to actually rein in al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the terrorist group is currently gaining strength in country under the protection of the Afghan Taliban.   

The proposed solutions Beijing has for Afghanistan also seem undermined from the start. Relying on other nations to curtail the risks in Afghanistan is fraught with other goals Beijing is pursuing at the potential determent of their would-be allies. Islamabad uses the Taliban to check Indian geopolitical influence and has a history of supporting militants, but their connections are not as easily disentangled due to domestic connections between these groups and the Pakistani military and parts of government.  One example is the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and their relationship with the Afghan Taliban. While Islamabad doesn’t want a total Taliban victory due to fears that it could galvanize their own domestic insurgents, they may not have much of an option to confront them in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan has their own issues with China. In 2010, China gained part of the Pamir region as part of a concession by Tajikistan in return for assistance with security.  The Pamirs are resource rich and located primarily in Tajikistan, but strategic in location for potential military operations in Afghanistan and Central Asia.  In 2020, a Chinese historian published an article on official outlets of the PRC claiming the entire Pamirs belong to China historically and should be returned.  Citing only Chinese sources and arguing for taking back the entire region, the article stirred anger both in Tajikistan and Russia.  This also stoked fears and suspicions that Beijing is going to try to annex the territory after building up the military infrastructure and power, and that the BRI and other promises by Beijing are just temporary measures to stall response. Beijing may offer to work with Dushanbe to fight militants on the border, Dushanbe and other Central Asian nations are likely looking at how such asks might position them into subservience or weakness to Beijing.  With 52% of the country’s debt owed to China and increased Chinese military presence close to the Wakhan Corridor, Tajik government officials may worry about being used as a staging point for military operations in Central Asia and being pulled into Beijing’s larger plans for power projection in Central Asia.

Russia is a complicated factor as well. Beijing is using the Shanghai Cooperative Organization to project influence and write economic and technological standards in Central Asia, putting Moscow’s traditional influence and geo-strategic goals at risk. Chinese hackers targeted Russia recently with a specialized malware that allows remote access and self-destructs after its’ mission is finished. Despite claims of greater partnership between Moscow and Beijing, both are far from an effective military and political alliance, with underlying tensions over whether Beijing will pursue their own goals at Moscow’s expense and who would be in the junior position in any such alliance. The BRI and SCO are being used by Beijing to increase clout in Central Asia, and Moscow is attempting to thread a path that keeps Russian influence without being encircled and vassalized by Beijing.  

While Beijing might propose a multi-national coalition or utilization of the SCO, Beijing’s own actions telegraph a willingness to use said institutions to further geo-political ends at the expense of allies. If Beijing tries to rally neighbors to take on militants in Afghanistan, those neighbors each have a reason to not commit to fighting militants. Beijing will either have to commit to forces on the ground in Afghanistan or somehow convince those neighbors to send troops and take on active military roles in country.  The former poses a risk to prestige and drawing Beijing into the same trap other major powers faced, the latter requires fundamental changes to Beijing’s foreign policy and getting involved in the domestic affairs of other nations overtly. 

Conclusion

Beijing is making the same mistakes prior nations have made in Afghanistan. First, Beijing is undermining Kabul’s ability to fight the Taliban while making deals with the Taliban. Second, Beijing is trying to promote China as a peacemaker in Afghanistan’s conflict. Third, Beijing seems to be trusting the Taliban. Fourth, Beijing’s policies domestically against Muslim Uighurs is making them a target internationally for Jihadists, including those active in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Now conflict will likely happen with either a total Taliban victory or Afghan civil war. In an Afghan civil war, the Taliban and remnants of the government will be unable to stop foreign insurgents from coming to the country and setting up for attacks on neighbors. Yet in the case of Taliban victory, the Taliban takes control of the country entirely and goes back to their old ways. There is no indication that the Taliban has improved socially, and their goal is at odds with Beijing’s- the establishment of an Emirate following the model the Taliban attempted in the 1990s. The rank and file will likely promote closer ties to Al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups who would seek haven in Afghanistan. Once ready, they launch attacks in Xinjiang, requiring Beijing to respond.

In either case, if Beijing does not respond, domestic security and legitimacy of the CCP are at risk. Yet if Beijing gets involved, they risk being trapped in Afghanistan fighting an insurgency. Unlike a war with Taiwan, or in the South China Seas, or India, this would be a war of necessity as Afghanistan is both the gateway to Central and South Asia, and shares a land border with China. If the Taliban take control or if there is a civil war, China becomes vulnerable to terrorist attacks that would threaten the CCP’s legitimacy at home and economic and political interests in Central Asia. Unlike the USA, China will always have the risks associated with an unstable Afghanistan. Yet Beijing’s actions are ensuring their ambitions will be on a collision course with the Taliban.   

If the Taliban were to moderate, it would pose a risk for the Taliban as an organization- either rank and file break off and form their own groups or defect to rivals. That in turn poses a threat to the Taliban’s hold on power and could escalate into civil war if enough defect to rivals. These are the same fighters that the Taliban traditionally used to enforce decrees in cities and to fight rival warlords. This organizational threat will play into the hands of insurgents coming into Afghanistan and incentivize Taliban leadership to maintain ambiguity on their policy stances even as their militias impose policies that violate Taliban promises to the international community.

Lastly, there is probably not much appetite for the larger international community to engage militarily against the Taliban in retaliation for violated promises. Most nations will probably leave Afghanistan to the Taliban and raise only threats of sanctions or other non-military means of punishment. Yet this won’t mean much to the Taliban, as it allowed both domestic atrocities against the Afghan people and provided haven to Al Qaeda and Jihadist insurgents back in the 1990s.

For China and the CCP, this poses a serious problem. The Taliban may take them up on offers of infrastructure development and raw resource extraction, but the Taliban’s ultimate goal is the establishment of their Emirate, one based on their ideological and religious views. The CCP’s Belt and Road Initiative may offer the Taliban money, but they will choose their Emirate over foreign economic integration and this means that the CCP has to deal with an ideology that is at odds with the vision of the CCP for the region.

Their would-be allies in the region also have cause to distrust coalitions to fight the Taliban. The CCP tends to pursue goals through dual purpose initiatives and activities. Nations that border Afghanistan will see the insurgents as a threat, but they also see risks in following Beijing’s lead, such as territorial losses in Tajikistan or facing domestic chaos in Pakistan. While all can agree on the threat posed by insurgents, there is little trust that Beijing won’t use chaos in Afghanistan to advance their own agenda in Central and South Asia at the expense of Afghanistan and their neighbors.

Beijing cannot expect the USA or the international community to get involved militarily, and due to the shared border and ambitions of the CCP, Beijing will have no choice but to take the lead in any future military conflict in Afghanistan. Its not a conflict they want, but it is one they would have no choice but to engage with.     

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News at Noon- China Today

Hi all,

Here are some news stories I have been reading for today that I think would be interesting.

From China,

Despite reopening, many Chinese firms are facing layoffs, pay cuts, and uncertain export conditions as other countries combat COVID-19.  Even while China reports no new cases at home, they are dealing with how other countries fight the virus in terms of policies such as quarantines, country lockdowns, and canceled orders as domestic capital and resources go to fight the virus.

Domestically, authorities in Hubei have lifted the lockdown on the providence and are now allowing people to move through the region where the majority of the COVID-19 cases in China actually took place.  Wuhan is still under lockdown, but residents in Xianning are undergoing fast response testing before they can leave the city.  This measure is meant to prevent the virus from transmitting and reflects a larger domestic effort by authorities to prevent another outbreak.

In addition to a 344 billion dollar stimulus to fight the economic impact of the virus, authorities are also placing restrictions on incoming and outgoing flights. Those coming in from abroad to Shanghai will be placed in quarantine for 14 days, meanwhile incoming flights have been limited to one route and one flight per week as of March 29th.  The reason for these measures is to combat COVID-19 infection from abroad, as new Covid cases came from overseas travelers.  Most of these cases were of Chinese passport carriers coming back to China.

In a nutshell, China is fighting new COVID-19 cases from abroad by limiting the ability of the virus to spread, specifically by targeting travel and movement in regions where the virus was first reported in country and from other parts of the world currently affected by COID-19.  The impact of the virus is economically felt both from slowdowns in country and loss of business overseas as other countries repurpose their resources to fight the virus.

 

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