Poland: Negative poles
Also: the Red Sea, the South China Sea, Mexico, the US, and Sudan.
POLAND. Negative poles
A standoff between president and prime minister ramps up.
President Andrzej Duda said Wednesday he "won't rest" until two former ministers arrested at his residence are released. Prime Minister Donald Tusk called for an anti-hate speech rally after his takeover of state broadcaster TVP.
INTELLIGENCE. Duda, appointed by the former Law and Justice (PiS) government, will likely stay on until 2025, creating obstacles for Tusk’s reform and anti-corruption drive. With the EU’s backing and a broad parliamentary coalition, Tusk will likely prevail but he will need to avoid alienating conservative rural voters with heavy-handed tactics. Farmers suspended a months-long blockade of Ukrainian imports on Saturday under a new subsidy deal.
FOR BUSINESS. Brussels, let alone Warsaw, can’t afford another urban-rural divide heading into EU elections in June. The region also can’t afford to see Polish growth fall. GDP is estimated to grow 2.7% this year, versus 1.3% for the EU. Poland’s strength is also essential for NATO’s faltering assistance to Ukraine. Tusk last month vowed “full mobilisation” after months of tension. Poland has the EU's biggest military after Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
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RED SEA. Getting warmer
Stakes rise on both sides of the Gulf of Aden.
The US and Britain hinted at military action against Yemen on Wednesday after Houthi rebels launched 21 drones and missiles on Tuesday - the largest attack yet. Somali militia Al-Shabaab captured a UN helicopter on Wednesday.
INTELLIGENCE. The UN Security Council has demanded the Houthis end their attacks, but with Russia and China abstaining and the West yet to strike targets within their territory, there's hardly unanimity. Further south, tensions are rising in Somalia with fears that Mogadishu could join historic enemy Al-Shaabab against breakaway Somaliland and its new ally Ethiopia. A crisis in the Horn of Africa could prove even more intractable than that in Yemen.
FOR BUSINESS. Shippers may need to avoid the Red Sea for a while yet. This could prove dangerous for Egypt, whose Suez revenues have provided a much-needed source of foreign exchange amid an economic slump. With Egypt’s ties with Ethiopia already under strain over Nile hydropower and flows, there may thus be impetus for Cairo to come to Mogadishu’s aid, particularly should rival states take the opposite position – as happened in Yemen’s civil war.
SOUTH CHINA SEA. Getting cooler
Jakarta seeks to ease regional tensions.
The presidents of Indonesia and the Philippines met on Wednesday to discuss the South China Sea among other issues. Indonesia's foreign minister on Tuesday said Jakarta wanted to finalise a code of conduct for the disputed waters.
INTELLIGENCE. The world hardly needs another maritime crisis, as Indonesia, a 17,000-island archipelago, knows. Joko Widodo is on a regional peace mission and will next visit Vietnam and Brunei – two other claimants – in his final weeks in office. Accommodation of China won’t be popular, particularly as it coerces Taiwan, but a solution is needed. Beijing has meanwhile sent the world’s largest coast guard ship into Hanoi’s exclusive economic zone.
FOR BUSINESS. Laos, a close China ally, chairs the regional ASEAN forum this year, which should signal smoother relations with China, particularly after Indonesia holds its elections on 14 February. Indonesian defence minister Prabowo Subianto, the lead candidate, is a nationalist, but his wealth comes from export to China, and he is expected to continue Widodo’s pragmatism. 2024 has been declared the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges.
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MEXICO. UNITED STATES. Too close for comfort
Cross-border ties increase but don’t improve.
Mexico will likely replace China as the top exporter to the US for the first time in eight years, according to Commerce Department data released Tuesday. Major Republican presidential candidates on Wednesday decried border controls.
INTELLIGENCE. Unchecked migration at the US-Mexico border has become a key election focus, but tighter controls could come at the cost of booming trade – a result of bipartisan efforts to decouple from China (even if many Mexican factories are now Chinese-owned). It’s a focus for Mexico too, which votes in June. Last week, Mexico said the US could solve the crisis through $20 billion in aid, 10 million new visas, and policy shifts on Cuba and Venezuela.
FOR BUSINESS. Mexico’s political jibes will be ignored in Washington but its centrality to US trade and security cannot. If Washington can’t resolve the border crisis, the Democrats won’t just lose on Ukraine or funding bills but lose the White House too. As over 3 million migrants await a court determination, Republicans have begun to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas – the first such move against a cabinet official in 150 years.
SUDAN. Hemedti seal
A final battle for control may loom.
Fighting in Khartoum was at the highest intensity in months on Wednesday after gains by the rebel Rapid Support Forces. Sudan recalled its ambassador to Kenya last week after several African capitals hosted RSF leader Hemedti.
INTELLIGENCE. As Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemedti) was greeted by heads of state in Ethiopia and Kenya, his RSF militia solidified its control of central Sudan. The regular army has recently retaken positions in several Khartoum suburbs, but the government’s days seem numbered, with ramifications for its allies in Cairo and Ankara. Hemedti’s friends in Nairobi, Addis and Abu Dhabi meanwhile seem to be preparing for a new proxy war in Somalia.
FOR BUSINESS. With the focus on Gaza, many have missed the tectonic shifts elsewhere in the region, which could ultimately have greater long-term ramifications. Economically, Sudan is isolated from global capital markets, but its role in regional oil flows and as the Arab world’s breadbasket explains the involvement of foreign actors. Its geography also impacts ongoing events in the Sahel, Libya, and East Africa, not to mention the Nile and the Red Sea.