France: Macron et al
Also: China, Taiwan, the US, the Moon, Ecuador, and Bhutan.
FRANCE. Macron et al
A new prime minister is installed in France.
Gabrial Attal was appointed France’s youngest-ever prime minister by President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday. Attal replaces Élisabth Borne who was in the job for less than two years, after she offered her resignation the same day.
INTELLIGENCE. With Attal, Macron has chosen someone in his image – young, energetic, urbane, and centrist. Nonetheless, Attal will likely face the same legislative gridlock as his predecessor and, for much of France, the image of Macron is the problem of government. Borne was forced to use special constitutional measures over 20 times to pass legislation without a parliamentary vote during her tenure. Controversial immigration reforms ended her career.
FOR BUSINESS. It is widely expected that Attal will continue Macron’s push for centrist, business-friendly policies. As prime minister, his first task will be to appoint a new government. But the looming challenge is the European Parliament elections in June, where Macron’s party has fallen badly behind Marine Le Pen’s far-right party. Attal will also need to tackle discord over cost-of-living issues and pension reform, both of which dented Macron’s popularity.
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CHINA. TAIWAN. Lai into them
New sanctions send a message.
China imposed sanctions on five US arms manufacturers on Sunday in response to weapons sales to Taiwan. Candidates in Taiwan’s 13 January presidential and legislative election continued to make final pitches on Wednesday.
INTELLIGENCE. Beijing’s sanctions ostensibly respond to a $300 million package from Washington that aims to strengthen Taipei’s battle command and control systems. However, the real target is lead candidate William Lai Ching-te, the incumbent vice president, a self-described “pragmatic Taiwan independence worker”. But even the opposition KMT, while friendlier to Beijing, does not want Chinese reunification. China’s coercion will continue.
FOR BUSINESS. Sanctioned firms include BAE Systems Land and Armament, Alliant Techsystems Operation, AeroVironment, ViaSat and Data Link Solutions. The sanctions mean assets are frozen, and transactions and cooperation with these companies are banned. Companies that see themselves as frozen out of China for having dealt with Taiwan will need to remain clear on relative market opportunities and their long-term strategy in Asia.
UNITED STATES. Moonforsaker
It’s still very hard to land on the Moon.
Astrobotic Technology’s moon lander suffered a critical fuel leak late Monday, with the company abandoning attempts to land. The White House scheduled an emergency meeting on Friday over Astrobotic’s plans to land human remains.
INTELLIGENCE. Astrobotic’s Peregrine moon lander suffered a propellant fuel leak shortly after take-off. The Peregrine attempt would have been the first US moon landing in over 50 years, though not without controversy, with complaints over cremation cargoes from the Navajo Nation among others. Astrobotic said its revised goal would be to keep the spacecraft operating as long as possible to gather data, using energy produced by the craft’s solar panels.
FOR BUSINESS. Moon landings remain notoriously complex, with only the US, Russia, China and India having managed the feat. The failed Peregrine project will impact NASA’s attempts to put astronauts back on the moon in 2025. More than ever, NASA is relying on private companies to perform multiple tasks for its missions, including SpaceX for rocket power and Astrobotic for delivering scientific instruments to the lunar surface.
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ECUADOR. Noboa constrictor
The new president struggles to take control.
Armed men stormed an Ecuadorean television station during a live broadcast on Tuesday, amid a wave of terror attacks across the country and a series of prison breakouts. President Daniel Noboa declared a state of “internal conflict”.
INTELLIGENCE. Noboa is under intense pressure to meet his October election commitment to crack down on Ecuador’s rising violence. Armed drug gangs have continued a series of attacks, including lootings, kidnappings of police officers and attacks on prison guards. Since 2021, over 420 prison inmates have been killed by warring cartels. Noboa implemented a two-month state of emergency on Monday, but it will take longer for stability to be restored.
FOR BUSINESS. Cocaine-fuelled violence threatens not only Ecuador but also its neighbours, Colombia and Peru. On Tuesday, Peru declared an emergency response along its northern border, which would provide additional troops to support police officers. For the moment, however, the cartels hold sway, with security services overwhelmed. Businesses and individuals in Ecuador are still forced to pay protection money or risk being shot or kidnapped.
BHUTAN. Gross National Election
A new government forms on the roof of the world.
Early results from Bhutan’s election show that former prime minister Tshering Tobgay’s People’s Democratic Party has won the most seats. Last week, China opened the world's biggest high-altitude wind farm in a nearby district of Tibet.
INTELLIGENCE. Tobgay’s PDP won 30 of 47 seats in Bhutan’s fourth-ever election, having only transitioned from an absolute monarchy in 2008. The vote was mainly over economic issues, but relations with the neighbouring giants of India and China loom large. Famously known as the ‘happiest nation on earth’ (though not actually true according to recent polls), it is still required by its constitution to ensure any new measure enhances ‘Gross National Happiness.’
FOR BUSINESS. Aside from its strategic location between China and India,Bhutan’s biggest asset is its hydroelectric and green energy capacity – like those of neighbouring Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, where key river systems form part of India and China’s growing rivalry. Rather than fall victim to these dynamics, Bhutan hopes to exploit them. In December, it released plans for a zero-carbon “megacity” near the Indian border, built with foreign investment.