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Cuban Vaccine, Suez Troubles, South China Heat, Same ‘ol Israel and the Week in Review

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Cuban Vaccine, Suez Troubles, South China Heat, Same ‘ol Israel and the Week in Review

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Cuba’s vaccine. Cuba announced it is vaccinating 150,000 frontline workers as part of the final phase of its domestically produced Soberana COVID-19 vaccine – one of four Cuban COVID-19 vaccines currently in development. According to preliminary data, the vaccine has produced promising results and resulted in no known adverse reactions thus far. Cuba aims to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine this year (assuming all goes well with the research trials) – easily enough to vaccinate the island’s ~12 million people. 

What it means: If this sort of thing interests you, head on over to latampolitik.com and sign up for our Latin America geopolitics newsletter! This item is an abridged version of one of the stories we covered there more in-depth. Tl;dr – Cuba’s political system may fail on many scores, but when it comes to healthcare, Cuba can hang with the best of them. It’s a subtle reminder of the sort of potential Cuba has – if only Havana and Washington could figure out how to get out of the self-made geopolitical trap they’ve made for themselves.

Trouble in the Suez Canal. A large container ship called the Ever Given ran aground in the Suez Canal, halting traffic in the waterway. The CEO of a Dutch company involved in salvage efforts said it could “take weeks” to refloat the ship. On Thursday, the Suez Canal Authority closed the canal to all ships. More than 100 ships are backlogged waiting to transit the canal.

What it means: Some of you reached out to us expecting this to be the top entry in our “honorable mention” category. Joke’s on you! This is a huge deal – 13 percent of world trade passes through the Suez Canal. Literal wars (like the 1956 Suez Crisis) have been started in the past when Egypt intentionally blocked the canal – that’s how serious this is. The Suez Canal route is 10 days faster the going around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope and is almost half as long as the alternative route. As much as 13 million barrels of oil could be affected by the disruption.

The pictures, if you haven’t seen them, are absolutely wild. The comic relief isn’t too shabby either.

The South China Sea heats up. The Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest with China over the presence of 220 ships near Whitsun/Julian Felipe Reef and reiterated the objection at an ASEAN-New Zealand dialogue meeting. The Philippines announced it is deploying navy ships to the disputed reef, which is in the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The U.S. came out in support of the Philippines, saying that it “stands with our ally” and calling on China to stop using its “maritime militia” to undermine peace and security.

What it means: There has been a lot of angst lately about China potentially invading Taiwan sometime soon. We think this is at best a misunderstanding of China’s strategy and at worst nonsensical fearmongering. China is repeating its Hong Kong strategy with Taiwan. It doesn’t want to conquer Taiwan, it wants to make it so that politically, economically, and everything else-ly, Taiwan has no choice but to rejoin the mainland. Maybe one day, if China is much stronger than it is today, it would toy with a Taiwan invasion – but only if it was sure it could win (or if it was sure the U.S. wouldn’t lift a finger to help). A loss would be catastrophic for the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy back home.

This Philippines story is far more ominous than the Taiwan science fiction exercises. Picking a small scuffle with an important U.S. ally in the region is a great way for China to appear tough at home while also testing the extent of U.S support for the Philippines. (If it stops at strong tweets from the U.S. State Department, China will likely view that as U.S. unwillingness to come to the Philippines aid). A random reef in the South China Sea is also less evocative for Chinese citizens, i.e., if Beijing decides to back down, the Chinese Communist Party won’t come under the same sort of pressure it would if it picked a fight over Taiwan and retreated.

Remember back in 2012, when China and the Philippines had a tense stand-off over Scarborough Shoal after the Philippine Navy attempted to apprehend eight Chinese fishing vessels? Eventually, the Philippines was forced to back down, and that sowed the seeds of Philippine disillusion with U.S. security guarantees. Current President Rodrigo Duterte even briefly abrogated a U.S.-Philippines defense agreement in response, though the deal was eventually reinstated in 2020. The point is – that situation didn’t escalate in 2012 because U.S.-China relations were lightyears better in 2012. We’re not saying a fight is about to break out in the South China Sea – but we’re paying a lot more attention now, and you should be too.

The eternal return of the same. Israel held its fourth elections in two years. Like the previous three contests, the results are inconclusive.

What it means: And you thought U.S. elections were bad! Imagine having four of them and still not having a result. Netanyahu probably doesn’t have enough seats to form a majority – unless of course he can seduce a few MKs to his side or is willing to partner with some MKs he finds particularly unsavory. The anti-Netanyahu opposition (which is part of the problem – Israeli politics has devolved into referenda on Bibi as a leader and not on substantive policy issues) doesn’t have the MKs to form a majority either (unless it is willing to consider some seriously strange bedfellows).

Beneath it all, the story here remains the same. Arab parties have grown in number, so much so that it makes it very difficult to get a majority without them, and no one will partner with them. The religious/secular divide continues to dominate Israeli life too, while issues that used to animate Israel in the 90s, like say, the future of Palestine, are no longer the source of much discussion. We went into it at some depth here, if you’re looking to nerd out on domestic Israeli politics. Our next podcast episode will be on this topic too.

Honorable mention

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sacked erstwhile Central Bank governor Naci Ağbal and replaced him with party loyalist Şahap Kavcıoğlu, who is on record as sharing Erdoğan’s “unorthodox” views of interest rates.

France will reopen its Libyan embassy. Libya’s Government of National Accord (Khalifa Haftar’s outfit) handed power over to a UN-backed “Government of National Unity.”

China is mad at Nike and H&M for their position on forced labor in Xinjiang.

Total will resume construction of a $20 billion LNG development in northern Mozambique after getting Mozambique government assurances on-site security.

Russia’s government approved a long-term program to triple liquified natural gas (LNG) production by 2035.

27 U.S. food and agriculture associations sent a letter to new U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack decrying the continued deterioration of the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship.

North Korea filed two projectiles last weekend in a weapons test that didn’t technically violate any UN Security Council resolutions. On Thursday, North Korea fired short-range two ballistic missiles (which do violate UN resolutions) into the Sea of Japan.

One of the largest ethnic militias in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the Arakan Army, condemned the ruling military junta and described the Myanmar government as “very cruel and unacceptable.”

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