China, South Korea, Japan: Coy next door.
Also: Myanmar, Israel, Iran, Ukraine, Russia and Sierra Leone.
CHINA. SOUTH KOREA. JAPAN. Coy next door.
Mutual distrust amid mutual dependency.
Foreign ministers met together in Busan on Sunday for the first time since 2019, agreeing to pave the way to a trilateral leaders' meeting. Seoul's high court on Thursday ordered Tokyo to compensate World War II Korean 'comfort women'.
INTELLIGENCE. China-US rivalry is complicating the balance between East Asia’s key powers, where historic grievance coexists with economic inseparability. Sunday’s meeting was a step toward stability, but even a leaders’ summit won’t solve the region’s underlying tensions. Political rapprochement between Seoul and Tokyo has failed to sway the public (or the courts). An accord with China would be equally unpopular (even if accepted as necessary).
FOR BUSINESS. Approval for Japan's prime minister sunk to a 30% low on the weekend. South Korea's intelligence chief resigned on Sunday for reasons unknown. China remains mired in a real estate slump and faces uncertainty over regional trade in technology. Unhappy neighbours are combative neighbours. Belligerent naval exercises have become more common. North Korea continues to seek ways to exacerbate tensions. But at least everyone is talking.
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MYANMAR. Border disorder.
The civil war spills into the neighbourhood.
China began combat drills on the Myanmar border on Saturday after a convoy of trucks was attacked, and as Myanmar rebels captured a fourth border crossing. Three boats carrying Rohingya refugees left Bangladesh for Aceh on Friday.
INTELLIGENCE. Myanmar’s escalating civil war is not just harming foreign interests inside the country, but refugees and cross-border fighting are now spilling over. China, which transports energy via Myanmar and whose shadier businesses have significant investments there (often illegal fraud and smuggling operations), is particularly worried. So is Bangladesh, which already hosts over 1 million Rohingya migrants, many of whom are now fleeing to Indonesia.
FOR BUSINESS. A crisis in Myanmar is inconvenient for China and India, which also shares a porous border. But it is potentially disastrous for Bangladesh, which is heading to elections in January most observers believe will be unfree and unfair. Russia, which is close to Myanmar and warming to Bangladesh – including through a $13 billion nuclear plant – claimed last week the US was planning a “colour revolution” in Dhaka after its ambassador met the opposition.
With the brevity of a media digest, but the depth of an intelligence assessment, Daily Assessment goes beyond the news to outline the implications.
ISRAEL. IRAN. Ships in the fight.
Further attacks on Israeli shipping remain directed at the US.
An Israeli-linked container ship was attacked by an Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean on Friday, US officials said. An Israeli-linked oil tanker was briefly seized off the coast of Yemen on Sunday before nearby US naval assets responded.
INTELLIGENCE. Repeating a series of hijackings and attacks in the Gulf this year, Iran is sending another shot across the bows. While directed at Israeli ships, and ostensibly the war in Gaza – whose ceasefire is expected to expire soon – Tehran is in fact telling the US that attacks on its proxies, from Damascus to Baghdad, and attempts at further sanctions, will have consequences. It is also a face-saving way for Iran to show it is ‘doing something’ for Palestine.
FOR BUSINESS. It is notable Hezbollah isn’t menacing ships in the Mediterranean. It is also notable Iraqi Shiite militias on Sunday said they would "reduce the pace of escalation" after a string of attacks on US troops. While Tehran wants pressure, Beirut and Baghdad want calm. Lebanon and Israel share a maritime border across the lucrative Qana gas field, where drilling has begun. Iraq recently launched a new gas project in Basra aimed at reducing reliance on Iran.
UKRAINE. RUSSIA. Wait and switch.
As winter approaches, Zelensky pivots his focus.
The West would “guarantee the safety” of Black Sea ships, Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday. The US and Germany are pressuring Ukraine into peace talks, Bild said Friday. The West quashed such talks in 2022, a Zelensky aid said Saturday.
INTELLIGENCE. Claims of peace talks, past and future, indicate both a lessening resolve among Kyiv and its backers, plus a shift in momentum from Ukraine to Russia. While Moscow was in the weaker position last year, this year it’s debatable it would even discuss a ceasefire. Zelensky is meanwhile focussing on EU accession and the safety of exports via Odesa as his eastern offensive grinds to a halt and as Kyiv endures its biggest drone attack of the war.
FOR BUSINESS. Pressure for talks may be real, but holding them, let alone finishing them, will take time. As Ukraine shores-up its economic lifelines in the west, the US is putting pressure on Russia's trading partners. Three major Greek shippers finally stopped transporting Russian oil this month. UAE banks are belatedly closing accounts. But it may be too little too late. Proposed EU sanctions may be softened. Russia is making record gas deliveries to China.
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SIERRA LEONE. Coup, interrupted.
A curfew is imposed after an attempted rebellion.
President Julius Maada Bio said Sunday calm had been restored after "renegade soldiers" attacked a military barracks and a series of prisons earlier in the day. A nationwide curfew has been imposed and international flights redirected.
INTELLIGENCE. Bio did not identify the gunmen, but regional media described the events at an attempted coup d’état. Bio, who returned to power in controversial elections in June, has warned of coups before and described deadly protests in August last year as an attempt to overthrow his government. Bio himself participated in two military coups – in 1992 and 1996 – before fleeing to Washington DC where he became a management consultant.
FOR BUSINESS. A return to unrest would jeopardise Sierra Leone’s gains of the past 20 years but not come as a surprise for a region that has had six successful coups since 2020. Sierra Leone is best known for its 1990s civil war fuelled by artisanal diamond production. Diamonds remain a dominant export, but rutile and bauxite mining are also important. Today, through Australia-listed Sierra Rutile, it is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of titanium ore.