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Johnson meets Swedish PM Magdalena Andersson in Stockholm.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

What We're Watching: UK-Nordic security pact, Biden-ASEAN summit, King Abdullah II at the White House

Boris Johnson embraces NATO-bound Nordics

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed security declarations on Wednesday with Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö. These documents are promises that if either Nordic country is attacked, Britain will come to its aid. In return, Sweden and Finland promise the same support for the United Kingdom. Asked for specifics, Johnson said his government would offer “whatever Sweden requested" and would “share more intelligence, bolster military exercises, and further joint development of technology.” On specific weapons, the UK PM said that would be determined by what was requested. These are simply political promises, not security guarantees of the kind NATO membership offers. But this show of solidarity comes at a sensitive moment; Finland and Sweden are widely expected to announce their application for NATO membership in the coming days, and their governments have warned that the “gray zone” period between formal application and certain acceptance will leave them vulnerable to various forms of Russian aggression. Meanwhile, Russia’s offensive in Ukraine continues, and US intelligence now believes Moscow is planning for a long war with intentions of achieving “goals beyond the Donbas.”

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Gabriella Turrisi

What We’re Watching: G7 warns Russia, Israeli PM in UAE, Blinken in Southeast Asia, Nicaragua ditches Taiwan, Poland may stiff EU

Russia’s big plans for Ukraine. G7 foreign ministers warned Sunday of “massive consequences” if Russia invades Ukraine. It was the first joint statement by the group of rich democracies since recent satellite images revealed a significant buildup of Russian troops and military equipment on the border with Ukraine. Indeed, according to reports, the force that Moscow is massing near Ukraine is larger than the one it used to annex Crimea in 2014. This comes after the Pentagon said that Russia could have 175,000 troops on the border by the end of January in order to invade the former Soviet republic. In an attempt to lower the temperature last week, President Biden and Vladimir Putin held a long video call, but the Russian president was not deterred by Biden’s threat of more economic sanctions if Russia escalates further. Putin says he wants NATO not to expand membership any further into the former Soviet Union, and to stop military cooperation with Ukraine. Moscow will reportedly send a proposal for a security arrangement this week. But Putin, who has already indicated his willingness to threaten European energy markets, also knows all too well that while Washington talks a tough game, it is not willing to send in troops to defend Ukraine.

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Annie Gugliotta

What We're Watching: Blinken goes to Southeast Asia

Blinken tours Southeast Asia. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken kicks off on Monday his first Southeast Asian trip as America's top diplomat with stops in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Following similar tours by VP Kamala Harris and Defense chief Lloyd Austin, Blinken wants to bolster US defense cooperation with ASEAN, an economic bloc made up of Southeast Asian countries, to build a bulwark against China in the South China Sea. He will also pitch Joe Biden's vision for US-led Indo-Pacific trade as an alternative to doing more trade with China, and talk up Southeast Asia as an alternative business destination for US companies looking to abandon China. But what ASEAN really wants is tariff-free access to the US market, a non-starter for Biden because he says big trade deals with low-wage countries will hurt low-skilled American workers. Meanwhile, Southeast Asian countries are in a bind of their own: doing more business with the US as an alternative to China will create jobs, but the Chinese won't be happy about it — and nowadays they carry a lot more economic sway in the region than America does.

Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who ousted the elected government in a coup on February 1, presides at an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021.

REUTERS

What We’re Watching: ASEAN shuts out Myanmar, Russian hackers strike again, Afghans risk winter starvation

ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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ST forum looks at how Asia can chart its path ahead amid pandemic, post-US elections

December 19, 2020 5:00 AM

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 pandemic, a new president of the United States and changing power relations in the region are among the sea of changes to happen this year, affecting life as we know it.

Indian official says Delhi's thinking over pact has not changed

November 16, 2020 5:00 AM

India continues to have misgivings over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and these have only hardened due to the Covid-19 crisis, said a senior official from the Ministry of External Affairs.

No rethink of RCEP as Indian misgivings harden, says official

November 15, 2020 10:45 PM

India will look at other ways for its companies to join the global chain NEW DELHI - India continues to have misgivings over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and these have only hardened due to the Covid-19 crisis, said a senior official from the Ministry of External Affairs.

Asean leaders to sign China-backed RCEP trade deal amid US election uncertainty

November 11, 2020 3:52 PM

The deal will be signed amidst doubts about the US's engagement in the region.

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