Biden administration begins $1B arms deal with Israel - Business Guardian
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International Relations

Biden administration begins $1B arms deal with Israel



Two congressional sources confirmed that the Joe Biden administration has begun the initial steps toward advancing a new $1 billion arms deal for Israel. Discussions have commenced between the State Department and the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees regarding the potential sale, following an informal notification on Tuesday. While no specific timeline has been set for official notification to Congress, the process has begun, setting in motion the eventual approval process.

This move comes amidst a temporary halt in the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs and 500-pound bombs to Israel, with concerns raised about their use in densely populated areas such as Rafah. The proposed arms deal, valued at USD 1 billion, could include the transfer of USD 700 million in tank ammunition, USD 500 million in tactical vehicles, and USD 60 million in mortar rounds, as confirmed by one of the congressional sources.

The Wall Street Journal initially reported on the administration’s discussions with Congress regarding this potential sale. It’s important to note that the weapons being discussed would not immediately reach Israel. The sale would necessitate official notification to Congress and subsequent congressional approval, a process that could prove lengthy, especially if met with objections from lawmakers. While acknowledging a review of other weapons shipments to Israel, US officials have reiterated the commitment to ensuring Israel’s military capacity for self-defence remains intact.

This stance suggests that longer-term weapons agreements will not be halted at this juncture. “We are continuing to send military assistance, and we will ensure that Israel receives the full amount provided in the supplemental. We have paused a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs because we do not believe they should be dropped in densely populated cities. We are talking to the Israeli government about this,” stated national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday.

The State Department refrained from providing additional comments on the informal notification, deferring to Sullivan’s remarks. Similarly, the Pentagon declined to offer any comments on the matter.

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International Relations

Kim Jong Un’s sister: North Korea’s weapons not for export



North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s influential sister dismissed allegations of military cooperation between Russia and North Korea on Friday, emphasizing that her country’s weapons are intended solely for defense against South Korea, according to Yonhap News Agency. Her statement comes as the US imposed sanctions on three Russian entities and two individuals for their roles in transferring military equipment and components between Pyongyang and Moscow amid the Ukraine conflict.

Kim Yo-jong’s statement comes amid US claims that North Korea has supplied weapons to Russia to support the latter’s war in Ukraine.

“We have no intention to export our military technical capabilities to any country or open them to the public,” Kim said, adding that such allegations are “the most absurd paradox,” reported Yonhap News Agency citing the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Kim said that North Korea’s tactical weapons, including multiple rocket launchers and missiles, are intended to deter South Korea from engaging in “any idle thinking,” in an apparent reference to the South Korea-US joint military drills.

Moreover, North Korea has been denouncing the allies’ military drills as rehearsals for an invasion against it while, Seoul and Washington have rejected such claims, describing their exercises as defensive in nature.

“What is most urgent for us is not to ‘advertise’ or ‘export’ something but to make the war readiness and war deterrent of our army more perfect in quality and quantity and to make the enemy unable to overcome the inferiority in military capability,” she said.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s unification ministry said that North Korea’s denial of providing weapons to Russia, despite clear evidence, is showing that the regime is aware of the illegality of such actions.

“We must once again emphasize that the arms trade between Russia and North Korea is an illegal act that violates the UN Security Council resolutions and undermines international norms,” said Kim In-ae, deputy spokesperson at the ministry, during a press briefing.

In addition to the US imposing sanctions on Russian entities, America also claimed that Russia has relied upon North Korea to wage its war on Ukraine and said that the relationship between the two countries poses a wide-ranging threat to global security and the international non-proliferation regime. “The United States will continue to take action to hold accountable those who seek to facilitate the shipment of weapons and other material to enable Russia’s war,” Under Secretary of the US Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement.

According to the statement released by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), at a time when the United States and its allies are increasingly concerned about Russia’s deepening ties with North Korea, as well as China.

Russia and North Korea have boosted their military cooperation over the past year, the department said, with Pyongyang providing ballistic missiles and munitions for Russian forces to attack Ukraine. It also said North Korea is seeking military assistance from Russia in return.

The United States said it will continue to take all necessary steps to counter the “destabilizing” Russia-North Korea partnership while calling on other countries to join Washington’s efforts.

Recently, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected sites of weapons development, but he did not issue any bellicose messages against Seoul, spreading speculation that the North has been ramping up arms production for exports to Russia.

Earlier on May 10, he oversaw a test-firing of controllable shells for “the technically updated version” of the 240mm multiple rocket launcher system. The weapon system is believed to target South Korea’s broader capital area.

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International Relations

UN raises India’s 2024 growth forecast to nearly 7%



The United Nations has revised its growth projections for India’s economy in 2024, now forecasting an expansion of close to seven percent. This upward revision, detailed in the World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) mid-2024 report released on Thursday, attributes the robust growth to strong public investment and resilient private consumption.

India’s economy is expected to grow by 6.9 percent in 2024 and 6.6 percent in 2025. This marks an increase from the 6.2 percent GDP growth projected by the UN in January 2024. Despite subdued external demand impacting merchandise exports, sectors like pharmaceuticals and chemicals are anticipated to see significant growth.

The report also projects a deceleration in India’s consumer price inflation from 5.6 percent in 2023 to 4.5 percent in 2024, aligning within the central bank’s target range of two to six percent. Similarly, inflation rates across other South Asian countries are expected to decline further in 2024, ranging from 2.2 percent in the Maldives to 33.6 percent in Iran. Nonetheless, food prices have remained elevated in the first quarter of 2024, particularly in Bangladesh and India.

Improvements in India’s labor market indicators have been noted, with increased labor force participation contributing to the robust economic growth. The Indian government remains committed to gradually reducing the fiscal deficit while increasing capital investment.

South Asia’s economic outlook remains strong, bolstered by India’s robust performance and slight recoveries in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The regional GDP is projected to grow by 5.8 percent in 2024, an upward revision from January’s 5.2 percent forecast, and by 5.7 percent in 2025. However, tight financial conditions, fiscal and external imbalances, and potential energy price increases amid geopolitical tensions and disruptions in the Red Sea pose risks to the regional outlook.

Globally, the economy is now forecast to grow by 2.7 percent in 2024, up from the 2.4 percent forecast in January, and by 2.8 percent in 2025. This positive revision reflects improved outlooks in the United States, Brazil, India, and Russia. Specifically, the U.S. economy is expected to grow by 2.3 percent in 2024, a notable increase from the previous forecast of 1.4 percent. Strong domestic and external demand benefits large developing economies such as Indonesia, India, and Mexico.

In contrast, many African and Latin American economies continue on a low-growth trajectory, hindered by high inflation, elevated borrowing costs, persistent exchange rate pressures, and political instability. The ongoing conflicts in Gaza and the Red Sea add further uncertainties to the Middle East’s near-term outlook.

Global trade is anticipated to recover in 2024, with early boosts attributed to destocking inventories accumulated during the supply-chain disruptions of 2021-22. China’s foreign trade, particularly exports to Brazil, India, and Russia, grew faster than expected in early 2024. Nevertheless, persistent geopolitical tensions and escalating freight costs continue to challenge global trade.

The mid-year update presents a cautiously optimistic global economic outlook. While major economies have avoided severe downturns and brought down inflation without increasing unemployment, challenges remain. These include higher interest rates, debt sustainability issues, ongoing geopolitical tensions, and escalating climate risks, which threaten development gains, especially for least developed countries and small island developing states.

China’s growth forecast for 2024 has been slightly revised to 4.8 percent from 4.7 percent projected in January, down from 5.2 percent in 2023. The dissipation of pent-up consumer demand post-pandemic and risks in the property sector are significant concerns, though enhanced policy support is expected to boost public infrastructure investments.

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International Relations

Jaishankar seeks ‘more than business-as-usual’ to tackle global challenges



Minister of External Affairs, S. Jaishankar, on Friday set out India’s strategy to mitigate the impact of some of the geopolitical realities that the world is faced with today – including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, an escalation of the Iran-Israel conflict that can potentially spread to the Middle East, and the three crises of fuel, food, and fertilizer — while continuing to stabilize the world. While India’s export promotion efforts would continue along with strong partnership building, Jaishankar suggested that the current times call for something more than business-as-usual where ‘trust’ and ‘reliability’ will become critical factors.

“These would be particularly important in the areas of de-risking supply sources and enhancing collaboration in sensitive, critical, and emerging technologies. We firmly believe that India will develop all the requisite national strengths that will make it a leading power in the times to come,” the EAM stated during his address at the CII summit. “The continued focus on reforms requires the support of industry,” Jaishankar added.

Speaking on the many global challenges faced by India and the world since the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Jaishankar stated that India has seen robust growth with the help of sweeping reforms and a sharp focus on capital spending with a focus on infrastructure development. This included a combination of making India self-reliant, ease of doing business reforms, large-scale socio-economic programs, a conducive environment for business growth and startup culture, among others, he added.

Even then, Jaishankar calls for addressing three critical challenges that India faces given the current challenging global environment: employment, especially those faced by the MSMEs, technology, and national security. The Minister stressed the crucial need to align India’s economic priorities with strategic interests whether in terms of access to new markets, technology, investments, education, and tourism.

He also emphasized the importance of creating logistical corridors for India as new production and consumption centers emerge across the world along with the need for expanding the scale and quality of skilling at home, as a new global workforce emerges. He added that policies and initiatives such as the Production Linked Incentive Schemes, financial support for MSMEs, removal of regulatory impediments, the creation of a conducive environment for businesses, and a commitment to promote manufacturing, have been continuously undertaken by the Government, which will help India leapfrog to a ‘Viksit Bharat’ or a developed nation status by 2047.

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YouTube blocks Hong Kong protest song videos after court ruling



YouTube has announced its decision to restrict access to videos featuring performances of the banned protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” in Hong Kong.

Following a ruling by Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal deeming the protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” illegal, YouTube has announced plans to block access to videos featuring performances of the song in the city. Voice of America reported that the court characterized the song as a “weapon,” leading to its ban. YouTube expressed disappointment with the ruling but confirmed compliance with the removal order. The online platform also voiced concerns about the impact on free speech online and mentioned exploring options for appeal.

YouTube plans to block access to 32 videos of the song in Hong Kong, which were deemed “prohibited content” by the court. A search for the banned videos on YouTube in Hong Kong now yields a message stating that they are “not available on this country domain due to a court order,” as reported by Voice of America.

The ban covers any broadcast or distribution of the song intended to promote Hong Kong’s independence or misrepresent it as the city’s official anthem. Despite being a semi-autonomous city, Hong Kong does not have its own anthem and uses mainland China’s official anthem, “March of the Volunteers.”

The Court of Appeal’s ruling overturns a previous decision by the High Court, which had cited concerns about free speech. The government pursued legal action last year to have the song banned after Google and other internet service providers refused to remove it from their search results. Both YouTube and Google are owned by California-based Alphabet.

This latest ban adds to a series of measures taken by the government to suppress dissenting voices since Beijing imposed a sweeping security law for Hong Kong in 2020 in response to the 2019 protests. The security law criminalizes acts of terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power, or collusion with foreign forces. Since its enactment, hundreds of pro-democracy advocates have been arrested, tried, and jailed, leading to a stifling of the once-vibrant civil society in the city.

George Chen, co-chair of digital practice at the Washington-based consultancy Asia Group, expressed concerns that daily pressure from officials to remove online content could damage Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial hub. Such actions may raise questions about the city’s commitment to allowing the free flow of information, Voice of America reported.

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International Relations

China Vows firm response to US tariff hike



Voice of America (VOA) reported that in response to the US’s decision to raise tariffs on imports from China, Chinese officials have strongly vowed to retaliate, emphasizing that this action will significantly impact bilateral cooperation with the US. The White House stated on Tuesday that President Joe Biden has instructed his Trade Representative to elevate tariffs on $18 billion worth of imports from China, encompassing semiconductors, solar cells, batteries, and crucial minerals, with the aim of safeguarding American workers and businesses.

China’s Ministry of Commerce, in a reply to the US’s move, stated, “This will seriously affect the atmosphere of bilateral cooperation. The United States should immediately correct its wrongdoing and cancel the additional tariffs imposed on China. China will take resolute measures to defend its rights and interests.”

The White House announcement on Tuesday came at the conclusion of a statutory review of tariffs, which occurs every four years.

It further stated that the decision has come in response to China’s ‘unfair trade practices’ and to counteract the resulting harms. “China’s unfair trade practices concerning technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation are threatening American businesses and workers. China is also flooding global markets with artificially low-priced exports. In response to China’s unfair trade practices and to counteract the resulting harms, today, President Biden is directing his Trade Representative to increase tariffs under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 on USD 18 billion of imports from China to protect American workers and businesses,” the White House statement read.

The statement on hiked tariffs on imports from China also noted that the Chinese government has used unfair and non-market practices for too long now. Moreover, US President Biden accused the Chinese government of “cheating” when it competes with other nations in international trade. “For years, the Chinese government has poured state money into Chinese companies across a whole range of industries: steel and aluminium, semiconductors, electric vehicles, solar panels – the industries of the future–and even critical health equipment, like gloves and masks,” he said. “China heavily subsidised all these products, pushing Chinese companies to produce far more than the rest of the world can absorb,” Biden said. “And then dumping the excess products onto the market at unfairly low prices, driving other manufacturers around the world out of business.”

Additionally, Biden said that the existing tariffs, many of which were put in place during the administration of former President Donald Trump, would remain in place and that the additional tariffs would target specific products and industries.

Moreover, along with the 100 per cent tariff on electric vehicles, the administration is also planning new levies on electric vehicle batteries, certain kinds of semiconductors, solar cells, and equipment used in the health care industry, including face masks, medical gloves, syringes and needles.

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International Relations

New Chinese envoy presents credentials to Indian MEA official



President Xi Jinping as Chinese Ambassador to India. China-India relations on the track of sound and stable development.

The newly-appointed Chinese Ambassador to India, Xu Feihong, presented the provisional Letter of Credence to Rohit Rathish, the acting Chief of Protocol at the Ministry of External Affairs, on Tuesday. “Delighted to deliver the provisional Letter of Credence to Mr. Rohit Rathish, acting Chief of Protocol at Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan,” stated the Chinese envoy on X. Xu arrived in New Delhi on May 10 and assumed charge as the Chinese Ambassador to India.

Xu Feihong is the 17th Chinese Ambassador to India. Notably, he became the first Chinese envoy to India in over 18 months. The last Chinese Ambassador to India was Sun Weidong, who left in October 2022, at a time when India and China were trying to manage ties via multiple channels following the Ladakh border standoff in 2020.

After assuming the charge, Xu said that India and China boast of being time-honoured civilizations and are each other’s important neighbors. In an interview with China Global Television Network, Xu Feihong shared his first reaction to being appointed as the Indian ambassador after a considerable hiatus and said that it is an honorable mission and a sacred duty. “I will do my best to deepen understanding and friendship between the two peoples, expand exchanges and cooperation in various fields, and improve and advance the bilateral relationship,” he said.

He further stressed that India and China are the biggest emerging markets and developing countries of the world. “As President Xi Jinping said, If China and India speak with one voice, the whole world will listen; if the two countries join hands, the whole world will pay attention,” he noted. “I will follow the important consensus between our leaders, reach out to friends from all sectors of India, earnestly enhance the understanding and trust between the two sides, work to restore exchanges and cooperation in various fields, and create favorable conditions for a sound and steady China-India relationship,” he added.

He further assured that this is in the interest of both countries, the region, and the world, and is also what the people and the international community hope to see.

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