Adrian Olivier,

Sunday 9 July – Sunday 16 July:

On Sunday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen concluded a 4-day trip to China in which she met with China’s top economic policymakers and sought to allay China’s concerns that the United States seeks to decouple its economy from China. She said that the United States wanted to diversify its supply chains — which is a policy that China has as well. “There is an important distinction between decoupling, on the one hand, and on the other hand, diversifying critical supply chains or taking targeted national security actions,” she said. Yellen spent 10 hours with China’s four top economic policymakers, particularly He Lifeng, Vice Premier and economic chief. March of this year saw much of the Chinese government replaced by men known for their loyalty to President Xi Jinping – He among them. Yellen also discussed China’s crackdown on American firms, Chinese private sector support of the Russian military and human rights abuses. Notably, Yellen said that the two sides agreed to set up a channel where Chinese officials can raise U.S. actions that they view as concerning so that “we can explain and, possibly in some situations, respond to unintended consequences of our actions if they’re not carefully targeted.”

On Monday, intense flooding drenched parts of the north-eastern United States as a storm dumped two months’s worth of rain in the state of Vermont. Roads across the state were washed out and there were forced evacuations. President Joe Biden, attending a NATO summit in Lithuania, on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Vermont and authorised the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance. 

Late on Monday night, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced Turkish President Erdogan had agreed to forward Sweden’s membership bid to Turkey’s parliament, getting rid of Sweden’s stumbling block to joining the 31-member military alliance. “This is a historic day because we have a clear commitment by Turkey to submit the ratification documents to the Grand National Assembly and to work closer with the Assembly to ensure ratification” Stoltenberg said. Sweden applied for membership last May, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Turkey had been blocking Sweden’s application because it argued that Sweden was giving refuge to Kurdish militants and needed to do more to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is a terrorist organisation in Turkey, the U.S. and the EU. In return for Turkish support, Sweden has resumed arms exports to Turkey and will support Turkey’s bid to join the EU. The U.S. has also agreed to fresh negotiations about a Turkish purchase of American F-16 fighter jets. Hungary, the other NATO member blocking Sweden’s membership, also announced that it would support Sweden’s entry. 

On Tuesday, NATO leaders met in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius for a two-day summit. The summit was largely a success – its goals being to reach an agreement that Sweden could join the security alliance and to strengthen support for Ukraine. The summit saw Germany pledge another $771m (700 million euros) in military assistance for Kiev, including two Patriot missile system launchers, 25 Leopard 1 tanks and 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs). France announced it would be joining the United Kingdom in supplying Storm Shadow cruise missiles, which allow Ukrainian forces the capability to strike deep behind the front lines. Denmark and The Netherlands said 11 nations would begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets in August at a new training centre in Romania. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attempted to force the alliance to make a decision on when Ukraine would join the alliance and criticised the “absurd” delay. Zelensky addressed crowds in Vilnius where he said: “Nato will give Ukraine security. Ukraine will make the alliance stronger.” Ukraine’s counter-offensive has thus far achieved little, and NATO supplies of ammunition are dwindling. NATO members in Eastern Europe have backed Kiev’s call, arguing that bringing Ukraine under NATO’s security umbrella is the best way to deter Russia from attacking again. Countries such as the United States and Germany have been more cautious, wary of any move they fear could draw NATO into a direct conflict with Russia. Mindful of Zelenskyy’s disappointment over his hopes for a membership timetable, Western officials stressed that there would be a broader package of support proposals designed to give Ukraine a military edge over Russian forces. NATO said it recognised the need to move faster but would not be forced into giving an exact timeframe. President Biden said that Ukraine could not be admitted to NATO while the war continued. Moscow, which has cited NATO’s eastern expansion as a factor in its decision to invade Ukraine, has criticised the summit and warned Europe would be the first to face “catastrophic consequences” should the war escalate.

Coinciding with the NATO summit, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had a meeting of foreign ministers. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “had candid and constructive discussions on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues” with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi. This marks the latest high-level interaction between Washington and Beijing. 

Late on Tuesday, Microsoft and the White House announced that Chinese-based hackers had breached the email accounts of some two dozen organisations, including the U.S. State Department and the Department of Commerce. US officials have labeled China as the most advanced of US adversaries in cyberspace and the FBI has said Beijing has a larger hacking program than all other governments combined. China has routinely denied the allegations.

On Wednesday, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that flew for 74 minutes before splashing down in the Sea of Japan. The missile, a Hwasong-18 solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, flew longer than any other of the Hermit Kingdom’s ICBMs and appeared designed to carry a payload of multiple nuclear weapons – increasing the odds that targets will be successfully struck. This is the second successful test of the Hwasong-18 and means that the design is successful (rather than a lucky test). Solid-fuel missiles do not require a time-consuming fuelling process, which allows them to stay hidden from American spy satellites and fire within minutes. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw the test and warned that more tests would occur if the U.S. and South Korean did not step back their military activities in the region. The North also threatened to shoot down American spy planes – the last time this happened was in 1969. 

On Friday, France celebrated Bastille Day. Occurring two weeks after the riots that shook France, some mayors have decided to forego the traditional balls and fireworks displays associated with the 14 July festivities. Some 45,000 police and gendarmes, elite units, and armoured vehicles have been mobilized from Thursday evening until Saturday morning. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the military parade as French President Emmanuel Macron’s guest of honour. A contingent from the Indian armed forces joined the parading French troops. 

Also on Friday, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) launched an unmanned rocket that will attempt to land a spacecraft at the lunar south pole on around August 23. The Chandrayaan-3 mission – “moon vehicle” in Sanskrit – will attempt a landing on the lunar south pole – something which has not been done before. Only three other countries have touched down a lander on the moon’s surface – the U.S., Soviet Union and China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, from his visit to France, tweeted that the mission was carrying the “hopes and dreams of our nation”.