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What We’re Watching: US midterm cliffhanger, Russia’s Kherson retreat, ASEAN summit kickoff

Georgia Senate candidates: U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R)

Georgia Senate candidates: U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R)


Control of Congress hangs in the balance

“It was a good day for democracy and I think a good day for America,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday night about the midterm election results. The US House and Senate both remain in play after Republicans failed to deliver on their promise of giving Democrats a shellacking. While the GOP is still favored to take control of the lower chamber, incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is likely to preside over a slim and dysfunctional GOP majority – hardly the wave he had anticipated. The GOP is still 11 seats short of clinching a majority in the House, and several competitive districts are still being counted. Control of the Senate, meanwhile, rests on three states – Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia – that remain too close to call. The race in the Peach State between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker will go to a run-off on Dec. 6 after neither reaped 50% of the vote. What’s more, measures to enshrine abortion rights were overwhelmingly backed by voters in states including Michigan, California, and Vermont. Even deep-red Kentucky refused to back an amendment denying the constitutional right to abortion, proving that curtailing abortion access is a losing issue for the GOP.

Russia suffers southern setback

In a major blow to Vladimir Putin’s “special operation” in Ukraine, Russia on Wednesday announced it was withdrawing its forces from Kherson city, capital of the strategic southern region of the same name. The retreat comes after weeks of a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive meant specifically to retake the only regional capital Russia had taken over since invading in February. Russia’s military leaders, looking cheerful as always, spun the withdrawal as a measure to “preserve combat readiness,” but there’s no doubt that this was a big loss. Still, in retreating across to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, Russia still controls much of Kherson province, which borders on the Crimean Peninsula. Things seem to be going Kyiv’s way at the moment, but will Ukraine push further? Meanwhile, in positive news on Armageddon-watch, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has reportedly been in direct contact for months with his Kremlin counterparts in a bid to avert nuclear escalation.

Bongbong at ASEAN

The annual ASEAN summit, which brings together 10 Southeast Asian nations, gets underway in Cambodia on Thursday. As ever, the US-China rivalry will hang over the entire event. US President Joe Biden is set to attend a US-ASEAN summit on Saturday, where he’ll press to deepen ties in infrastructure, investment, and trade. China, meanwhile, is sending Foreign Minister Li Keqiang for a separate China-ASEAN summit, where Beijing will push to accelerate a free trade deal while dangling more Belt and Road infrastructure investment. Expect the regional powers to tread carefully between the global superpower and the regional heavyweight — China is by far the largest trade and investment partner for ASEAN members, but many are wary of its territorial encroachments on the South China Sea. One thing to watch is the speech of recently elected Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who is set to address the delicate situation in Myanmar and call for a “code of conduct” in the South China Sea.


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