Your Thursday Briefing

The World Bank has warned that debt servicing costs are set to soar to crisis levels as high interest rates damage developing economies. If only there was some organization who could do something about this!

COP28 has ended with nearly 200 countries agreeing to transition away from fossil fuels and to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency. Is it binding or non-binding? You already know the answer to that question. Onwards to a global warming of 2C!

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Poland must offer legal recognition of same-sex marriages. The ECHR cannot force countries to change their laws, but can induce monetary pressure. Under the recently-departed PiS party, they probably would have ignored this, but Donald Tusk’s coalition has promised to introduce recognition for same-sex partnerships and has created a position of Minister for Equality in the cabinet; she has welcomed the ECHR’s decision.

Xi Jinping has finished up his visit to Vietnam. In September, the US and Vietnam entered into a comprehensive strategic partnership (which China also has with Vietnam, by the way), which prompted western analysts to proclaim that Vietnam was being drawn into the US’s orbit. On the contrary, China and Vietnam have just signed 30 agreements covering defense, trade, infrastructure, public security, joint maritime patrols, and supporting each others’ path to socialism. In addition, Vietnam signed onto further cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative, and the Two Corridors, One Belt program. It seems to me that Vietnam is - gasp - following its material interests by not cutting off either of its two single largest trading partners (exporting 28% of total exports to the US and 16% to China; importing 39% of total imports from China and 3% from the US).

China continues to be suffering from success, with overcapacity in the fields of electric vehicles and solar panels being a major challenge to tackle in 2024, and Chinese corporations are trying to sell their excess cheap EVs overseas. China dominates 80% of global supply chains of photovoltaic products and automotive batteries, and over 60% of the world’s EVs were made in China. The US has kept these EVs solar panels at bay with tariffs and protectionism, disguised as the whole “democracy vs autocracy” thing. The EU is also unhappy, launching investigations into the EV sector. India has tariffs on Chinese photovoltaics and Turkey has tariffs on Chinese EVs too.

A Chinese banker has been jailed for life in the country’s largest ever corruption case in the banking sector; it involved nearly $500 million from 1993 to 2001. The banker had been on the run for 20 years before being extradited from the US in 2021.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary has resigned as the political fundraising scandal escalates, in which he was embroiled. He is suspected of receiving the yen equivalent of $70,000 from kickbacks from fundraising events hosted by his party faction. The whole of the LDP has been under heavy scrutiny after its largest faction, Seiwaken, led by the late doohickeyified Shinzo Abe, failed to declare hundreds of millions of yen in fundraising events revenue, possibly pooling secret funds. Several other ministers have resigned, leading to the party’s largest faction having no representatives within the Cabinet.

I am always kinda curious about what makes politicians resign. If I heard that a major UK politician or even ex-PM had been embroiled in some scandal - such as one to do with a particular disease - then not only would I not expect them to resign, I would expect them to fail upwards and be promoted.

The Niger-Benin crude pipeline, operated by the China National Petroleum Corporation and launched in November, will enable Niger to sell its crude oil internationally for the first time, hopefully beginning at the start of 2024. Niger will export 90,000 barrels per day and will get 25% of the revenue. Niger produces 110,000 barrels per day, and has a refinery capacity of 20,000 barrels per day. Tchiani plans to build a second refinery with the help of “external partners” to be refine more oil and not rely on crude oil.

The Mississippi river is having to be constantly dredged, removing the sediment to keep the river deep enough for barges to move down it, as 60% of America’s exported grain travels the river by barge. This is becoming increasingly difficult as the regional climate swings wildly between rainstorms and droughts as climate change accelerates, and these swings cause sudden deposits of sediment in various chokepoints. All these millions of tons of sandy sediment has to go somewhere, and decades-long agreements on where to put it are running their course, and people don’t tend to want a mountain of sand dumped on their farms, so there is growing difficulty in finding new storage.

Kadyrov has said that the Ukraine conflict will end by the spring or summer of 2024. It most definitely will not. He also mused that if Russia had been allowed by Putin to do what Israel has done to Gaza, the war would have been over in three months.