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Russia-China Gas Deal

22 May 2014

Russia and China signed a long-awaited gas supply agreement in Shanghai on 21 May. With Presidents Putin and Xi looking on, the heads of Gazprom and the CNPC signed a deal that will see Russia supply 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas to China each year after 2020 for 30 years under a contract valued in excess of $400 billion.

It is the biggest contract in Russian history and with Russia facing economic sanctions by the West there was a clear political element to the deal which has been ten years in the making. 

The talks had always stalled on the price and although no details of pricing were revealed it is likely that China struck a hard bargain, taking advantage of Russia’s diplomatic isolation, its own gas finds in Sichuan and the booming LNG market. China has also started importing gas from Turkmenistan and Myanmar. Most analysts think that China will be paying much less than Europe pays for Russian gas.

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Thai Military Stages Coup

21 May 2014

After declaring nationwide martial law on 20 May, the Thai military took control of the whole country on 22 May. Even though army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha did not use the word ‘coup’ in his televised address, the constitution was suspended along with all television and radio stations. In what is the country’s second military takeover of an elected government in the last decade, 155 people, including politicians and activists, were banned from leaving the country. A curfew was established from 10pm to 5am and gatherings of more than five people banned.

General Prayuth, who is now acting Prime Minister, said the seizing of power was necessary ‘in order for the country to return to normality quickly, and for society to love and be at peace again’.

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Abe in Bxl

Japan’s PM Abe visits EU

7 May 2014

On 7 May Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, visited the EU for talks with President Barroso and President van Rompuy. The Brussels stop was part of a wider European tour with the PM visiting Germany, France, the UK, Spain, Portugal and Belgium. He also met the NATO secretary general for talks on closer cooperation in security affairs. The EU visit concentrated on progress in the negotiations for an EU-Japan free trade agreement and a strategic partnership agreement to cover cooperation in global political issues.

Abe’s European tour came right after President Obama’s visit to Japan in which political and economic issues also featured highly on the agenda. Tokyo managed to secure a statement from Obama that the disputed Senkaku Islands were also covered by the US-Japan defence alliance. But there was no agreement on the TPP negotiations that are already several months passed their deadline.

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Yingluck sacked

Yingluck Sacked by Court

7 May 2014

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been removed from office by a ruling of the Constitutional Court on 7 May. According to the court’s ruling, Yingluck had abused her power when she removed Thawil Pliensri as secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC) in 2011. Along with her, nine members of the cabinet who had been part of the decision to transfer Thawil had to leave.

A meeting by the caretaker cabinet following the court decision decided to appoint Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisarn as acting caretaker prime minister.

The Supreme Administrative Court ruled on 7 March that Thawil’s transfer in 2011 had been unjust and that he should be reinstated. Following this ruling, a group of senators led by Paiboon Nititawan filed a petition to the Constitutional Court questioning Ms Yingluck\'s right to remain in office.

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Obama Abe

Obama Walks Tightrope in Asia Visit

1 May 2014

President Obama performed a difficult balancing act during his four nation trip to Asia including Japan, Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. On the one hand he had to demonstrate that Washington’s commitment to their defence remained one hundred percent whilst on the other hand not seeking to antagonise China. Beijing was not on the itinerary this time but the President will visit Beijing in the autumn. The President explained the main purpose of his trip was to demonstrate that ‘the US was renewing our leadership in the Asia.’ Obama made little progress, however, on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which remains blocked by Japan’s refusal to allow greater market access on agriculture while Obama does not have (fast track) trade promotion authority. Obama’s trip also coincided with the aftermath of the tragic ferry accident in Korea and the missing plane from Malaysia.

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Voting India

India Votes

4 April 2014

On 7 April the world’s largest democracy starts voting for a new parliament, a process that takes over a month. India’s 814 million voters will elect 543 members of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the national parliament. The results will be declared on 16 May.

One unknown question is how many regional and other issue parties will make it into parliament. No single party has won a parliamentary majority since 1989, so recent governments have involved coalitions of smaller regional parties led by either the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the National Congress Party. There are over 30 parties represented in the current parliament. One of the most interesting questions will be the performance of Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, or Common Man’s Party) which has come from nowhere to capture around 10% of the voters for its strong anti-corruption stance.

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Xi Brugge

Xi Visit Cements Ties with EU

2 April 2014

President Xi Jinping returned to Beijing yesterday after spending more than a week in Europe meeting with royalty, heads of state and government, business leaders, students and making the first-ever visit by a Chinese president to the EU headquarters.

Xi kicked off his visit in the Netherlands where he attended the Nuclear Safety Summit, an important meeting which also allowed him the opportunity for a number of bilaterals, including with President Obama. The two leaders discussed current tensions in Ukraine and North East Asia. Xi also used the summit to call for the re-starting of Six Party Talks with North Korea. Prior to the summit Xi met with Dutch Premier Rutte and signed a new comprehensive partnership agreement aimed at deepening ties between the Netherlands and China.

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Thailand: Election ruled void by Constitutional Court

21 March 2014

Thailand’s February 2 elections have been ruled invalid by the Thai Constitutional Court. In a ruling of six votes to three the court decided the elections had been unconstitutional as they had not taken place on the same day across the country. It is unclear when new elections will be held.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had called early elections following the anti-government protests in November last year. But both the registration process of candidates and the voting itself were obstructed by protesters. In 28 constituencies there was no candidate due to the failure of the registration process.

The blocking of polling stations before the elections led to clashes between government support groups, the police, and anti-government activists.

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China Ukraine

China’s Ukraine Dilemma

14 March 2014

On the eve of President Xi’s landmark visit to Europe, the Chinese leadership is struggling to respond to the fast-moving situation in the Ukraine. The dilemma facing Beijing is that it does not wish to undermine its basic foreign policy principles of respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Nor, with an eye on Taiwan and Tibet, does it wish to support demands for referenda. But at the same time it does not wish to criticise Russia, its strategic partner with whom it is keen to maintain good relations.

Beijing seems to have been taken aback by the speed of events in Ukraine, including the sudden flight of President Yanukovich, who only last December paid an official visit to China. So far China has attempted to have its cake and eat it. In a Delphic statement on 3 March, the MFA stated that China stood for non-interference and the peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. But it also noted that “there were reasons for the current situation in the country and China was aware of the historical facts and realistic complexity of the Ukrainian issue.”

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USTR Froman

TPP in Trouble

7 March 2014

The recent Singapore round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations has revealed major differences between the partners, especially the US and Japan. The initial deadline of a deal by the end of 2013 has proved illusory. Now there are doubts whether an agreement will ever be reached given the levels of domestic opposition within the US and Japan.

Among the US concerns are the need for disciplines against currency manipulation and enforceable labour and environmental standards. Over 230 Congressmen and 60 Senators have written to Obama demanding currency manipulation disciplines in the TPP but this is opposed by most partners. There is also broad opposition to US demands that if countries fail to enforce certain environmental agreements that they have signed, they will face TPP enforcement and trade sanctions. Other US aims that face broad opposition are a ban on trade in illegally harvested timber and endangered species, and enforceable action against fisheries subsidies.

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