Italy, the US: Still my brilliant friend.
Also: China, Russia, New Zealand, climate change, Singapore and UFOs.
ITALY. UNITED STATES. Still my brilliant friend.
Setting political differences aside.
Biden hosted Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Thursday. Both affirmed their unity on the war in Ukraine and a desire to increase trade. China was also discussed. Italy is under pressure to abandon Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
INTELLIGENCE. Meloni was elected on a far-right platform last year, with Biden at the time likening her philosophy to “semi-fascism”. This time, he says they have become friends. Political differences aside, Washington and Rome continue to have common interests on issues such as Ukraine, the need to strengthen NATO, and the need to balance China. These will continue to drive an eagerness on both sides to work together irrespective of who is in power.
FOR BUSINESS. Italy was the first (and only) G7 nation to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but it is unlikely to renew the pact when it expires in March 2024. This is due to a lack of economic benefits as much as US grumblings. It also helps that three times more Italian exports go to the US than to China. At its G7 Presidency next year, Italy is expected to coordinate a position on China’s “economic coercion”, as outlined during Japan’s G7 summit in May.
CHINA. RUSSIA. Tech support.
Pressure builds on China’s assistance to Russia in Ukraine.
A US Office of the Director of National Intelligence report released Thursday said that China was helping Russia evade Western sanctions and had provided the Kremlin with military and dual-use technology in the war against Ukraine.
INTELLIGENCE. According to US intelligence, China has “become an increasingly important buttress for Russia in its war effort”. The report corroborates what Emmanuel Macron’s diplomatic advisor said earlier this month in terms of France having evidence that China was assisting Russia in the war against Ukraine. Beijing has repeatedly denied the claims, stating that China-Russia trade – which has surged since the war began – is completely above-board.
FOR BUSINESS. The claims will add to calls for more sanctions on China. Hawks in Congress and the Pentagon will welcome such efforts, but they cut across other attempts in Washington to stabilise the relationship with Beijing. Short of firm evidence of China selling weapons and military equipment to Russia (aside from drones), the West is thus unlikely to enforce secondary sanctions targeting Chinese companies that produce such dual-use equipment.
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NEW ZEALAND. Kiwi equivocation.
Wellington strikes a balance in its relationships.
New Zealand’s foreign minister on Thursday said Wellington will not “sell its soul” to join AUKUS, Washington’s security pact with Canberra and London. A day earlier, New Zealand’s prime minister said he was “open to conversation.”
INTELLIGENCE. Wellington’s conciliatory position on Beijing has created some discomfort in Washington. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Wellington is the latest in a stream of engagement to repivot New Zealand back to its historic posture. New Zealand left another US pact, ANZUS, in 1984 due to its anti-nuclear stance, yet it is still a close intelligence partner through the ‘Five Eyes’ arrangement and contributed troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.
FOR BUSINESS. Wellington’s efforts to balance its security partnerships with the West and its economic reliance on China are becoming increasingly difficult. China’s destabilising efforts in the Pacific have raised alarm bells in Wellington. Still, it will continue to hedge, even if it appears disjointed in public. Doing so has allowed New Zealand to avoid the type of punishment that has been meted out to less subtle US allies, such as Australia and Canada.
CLIMATE CHANGE. Hot mess.
The ‘era of global boiling’ has arrived.
The UN’s Secretary-General warned on Thursday of the dire impact of climate change as July looked set to become the warmest month on record. Media on Wednesday reported studies suggesting the Gulf Stream would “collapse” in 2025.
INTELLIGENCE. The world has seen the devastating impact of climate change this month, which brought the hottest three-week period recorded. Thousands fled wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes. Much of the US has been blanketed by a dangerous heatwave. The data points will put pressure on leaders to agree to more stringent measures at the COP28 Summit in Dubai, but the accompanying overheated rhetoric has invited ridicule and may backfire.
FOR BUSINESS. Climate change continues to have a profound impact on the global economy, but many remain unconvinced, particularly as winter temperatures in the southern hemisphere make headlines, from snow in Johannesburg to the coldest May on record in parts of Australia. A failure by governments to honour climate commitments has also invited scepticism, as have the antics of protesters and the ongoing resilience of fossil fuels.
With the brevity of a media digest, but the depth of an intelligence assessment, Daily Assessment goes beyond the news to outline the implications.
SINGAPORE. Death benefits.
The city-state acts tough to look tough.
Singapore on Friday executed a citizen found guilty of trafficking 30 grams of heroin. She is the first woman to be executed in Singapore in two decades and the second drug convict to be executed on the island this week.
INTELLIGENCE. Singapore has one of the toughest anti-drug laws in the world. Since March 2022, 15 drug convicts have been executed, making Singapore one of only four countries to have recently carried out drug-related executions (alongside China, Iran and Saudi Arabia). Authorities argue that such laws are necessary to protect society. But activists point out that the death penalty is not a proven deterrent against crime.
FOR BUSINESS. More countries have moved to abolish capital punishment. Ghana’s parliament voted to end the practice this week. Malaysia removed its mandatory death penalty in April. Singapore will find itself increasingly isolated, but tough-on-crime rhetoric works locally, particularly as authorities react to a series of political scandals. Corporate crime could be the next target (without the gallows) in the traditionally laissez-faire financial hub.
OUTER SPACE. Alien territory.
Washington has a bipartisan interest in flying saucers.
The US House of Representatives convened a landmark panel on unidentified anomalous phenomenon on Wednesday. No bombshells about extra-terrestrial life were revealed, although all acknowledged the security threat UAPs posed.
INTELLIGENCE. The hearing before Congress is notable in and of itself. For decades, US politicians have been unwilling to discuss the topic of UFOs and aliens, whether for fear of seeming wacky or something more nefarious, but after recent disclosures, there is now a bipartisan push for more transparency. Senators on both sides are seeking an amendment to the 2024 National Defence Authorisation Act requiring the Pentagon to release more information.
FOR BUSINESS. UFO frenzies are not new. Aliens were a feature of the information war between the US and the Soviet Union, with flying saucers a smokescreen for aircraft test flights. Today, with the heavens filled with drones, low-orbit satellites, Chinese weather balloons and more, it is unsurprising that there are more watchers of the skies. Space entrepreneurs also have an incentive to build the hype, with Elon Musk notably weighing into the debate.
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