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China’s Moves in Wake of Huawei Arrest

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Although lots of politically significant developments could be witnessed in 2018, not many of them have had so far-reaching global implications as the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer (CFO), Meng Wanzhou, in Canada on December 6, at the request of the United States, on charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and of committing bank fraud to cover up Huawei’s business dealings there. This seemingly very straightforward law-enforcement action has prompted China to retaliate by allegedly taking Canadians as “revenge hostages” on made-up charges in much the same way as it would likely to be happening in some third-rate dictatorship.

For China, Meng Wanzhou is not just a mere CFO of a company. As the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder and chairman, she will inherit the company upon his retirement. Her father Ren Zhengfei, a former Army engineer grew Huawei into the largest private company in China and the No. 2 mobile phone manufacturer in the world, and is a national champion at the forefront of President Xi Jinping’s efforts for China to be self-sufficient in strategic technologies.  At the same time, however, Huawei is a leading spy agency of China’s Communist Party. Chinese law mandates that companies help spy for China. Article 7 of China’s National Intelligence Law says, “Any organization or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work in accordance with the law, and keep the secrets of national intelligence work known to the public.”

The company’s role in the Chinese Communist Party is comparable to that of steelmaker Alfred Krupp in Germany before World War II.  According to the New York Post:

“Just as Germany’s leading supplier of armaments basically became an arm of the Nazi machine after war broke out, so is China’s leading hi-tech company an essential element of the party’s […] plan to dominate the world of the future “.

While Huawei claims that it has never engaged in intelligence gathering, a series of evidence indicates otherwise. These security fears have led several countries, including the U.S., Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, to block Huawei from dominating their wireless networks. Not only have they largely kept Huawei out of their own countries, they have convinced other countries like Japan, India and Germany to go along, too.The U.S. has even banned all Huawei devices from its military bases worldwide. According to FBI Director Christopher Wray these devices give the Chinese power to “maliciously modify or steal information” and “conduct undetected espionage”.

Huawei is the leading company in upgrading cellular networks from 4G to 5G technology. The Communist Party knows the power potential 5G holds. Because 5G is 100 times faster than 4G, it is being primed to run many of the world’s connected devices. Whoever dominates 5G will soon dominate the Internet.

Huawei’s rapid rise as a leader in 5G technology has largely come through Communist Party’s help providing it with low-interest loans and blocking out free-market competitors from the Chinese market. In return, the government can ultimately use Huawei’s 5G technology to gain access to unprecedented amounts of intelligence.

Huawei, both literally and in name, serves China’s efforts for world domination. The Chinese characters that spell its name can mean “To Serve China.” Huawei’s importance to China’s Communist Party should not be underestimated. The government can not and will not respond lightly to anyone who threatens its rise to dominance.

Security Advisory:  Burkina Faso Declares State of Emergency

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On 31 December 2018, the President of Burkina Faso declared a partial state of emergency in 7 of the country’s 13 administrative regions: Hauts-Bassins, Boucle de Mouhoun, Cascades, Nord, Sahel, Est, and Centre-Est.  Specifically, the state of emergency will cover the whole of the regions of Est and Sahel; the western provinces of Kossi and Sourou in the Boucle du Mouhoun region; the central-east province of Koulpélogo in the Centre-Est Region; the western province of Kénédougou in the Hauts-Bassins Region; and the northern province of Lorum in the Nord Region. According to Communications Minister Remis Fulgance Dandjinou, “the president has decided to declare a state of emergency in certain provinces of Burkina Faso.  He has also given instructions for specific security measures across the country.”  Under the state of emergency, security forces will have additional powers to search homes and to restrict freedom of movement.

The state of emergency follows a terrorist attack that occurred on 27 December 2018 in Toéni, Sourou province, in which 10 gendarmes were killed and three were wounded in an ambush in the northwest of the country, near the border with Mali.  According to a security source, the gendarmes had been heading to the village of Loroni after a school had been attacked and textbooks torched by armed assailants. The al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) has since claimed responsibility for the attack. Prior to that, on 22 December, three soldiers were killed when their vehicle was struck by a roadside IED between Fada and Kompienbiga.

The spill over of violence from Mali continues to impact the region and there appears to be no end in sight, with neighbouring states increasingly seeing violent activity within their own borders.  Since 2015, Burkina Faso has seen a rise in violent attacks.  While initially, cross border attacks were concentrated in the northern Sahel region of the country, along the border with Mali, attacks have since escalated and in the past several months have increasingly spread further south to the eastern region, along the border with Niger.  Schools, local government officials and security forces have specifically been targeted, while local communities have been threatened. Most attacks have been attributed to jihadist group Ansar al Islam, which emerged near the Malian border in December 2016, and to JNIM, which has sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Anyone currently in Burkina Faso is advised to monitor developments to the situation and remain up to date of local regulations, particularly those liked to the current state of emergency. There currently is a high threat of terrorism and kidnapping across Burkina Faso, including the capital Ouagadougou.  Any travellers are strongly advised to remain discreet regarding personal details, particularly information concerning nationality, employment family. Travellers are further advised to avoid public events and places frequented by Westerners and are advised to remain vigilant at all times and to report any suspicious activity to the authorities.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s new security strategy and its impact on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel

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As Mexico’s new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, often called AMLO, seems very optimistic over his new security strategy, set to initiate in January 2019, violence in the country has soared to unprecedented highs. The increase is mostly concentrated around the western states, and, most recently, in Jalisco it has been especially severe. One of the reasons for this hike is The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). Based in Jalisco state, they were founded around 2010 and has since then expanded rapidly. CJNG is believed to be operating in 22 states in Mexico, and the cartel is likely set to continue growing. Although they are challenged by the new government and AMLO’s security plan, it is unlikely that it will have any impact on the cartel in the short to mid-term.

Cartel rivalry and drug-related crime are two key drivers behind the violence in Mexico.

Violence in Mexico has seen an increase in the recent years. Since the previous President Felipe Calderon in 2006 initiated his aggressive campaign against drugs, putting in military force against the cartels, an estimated 80,000-100,000 people have been killed. The power vacuum following the arrest of “El Chapo” in 2016, one of the most notorious drug lords in Mexico, has sparked an increase in the violence. This is very prevalent in the state of Jalisco, with 1,800 homicides in 2018 as of 12 December. Since 2013, the state capital Guadalajara has seen a 240 % increase in homicides. The CJNG, having its base in the state, is assumed to be the perpetrator of many of the incidents.

Although CJNG is not the only, or even the biggest, cartel in Mexico, it is arguably the most aggressive and expansive. Where several other cartels have suffered fragmentation and disintegration and thus weakening, CJNG are utilizing this and expanding its power reach. CJNG has been described by US authorities as one of the worlds “most prolific and violent drug trafficking organizations”. The cartel has, however, suffered some setbacks with several leaders either killed or arrested, and internal disputes have been reported. But they still appear strong, and are continually challenging the Sinaloa cartel, which is considered by many to be the biggest cartel. Although the Sinaloa cartel seems somewhat resilient in the face of the fall of their alleged leader “El Chapo”, they appear to be weakening in general. Further, the CJNG are reportedly exceptionally ruthless. In April 2018, they killed three students and dissolved them in acid. They have ambushed and killed dozens of police officers in Jalisco, and government sources claim that they have highly sophisticated weaponry, as shown on 1 May 2015 when the group used an RPG rocket launcher to shoot down a Mexican military helicopter. All things considered, the CJNG is probable to be one of the biggest threats to Mexico’s security currently and is thus a target for AMLO’s new security strategy.

Mexico’s new President has pledged a new peace and security plan that promises to fight the violence and crime in the country. The eight-action, holistic plan endeavors to eradicate corruption, guarantee jobs, health, education and well-being, promote human rights, promote ethical regeneration of society, reformulate the fight on drugs and start the peace process, endorse recovery and a public security plan. AMLO has described the plan as being 80% directed towards the root cause of the violence, rather than direct confrontations. The actions laid out in the plan is likely to, to some degree, affect the CJNG and other cartels. However, the question is to what extent.

By working to improve social factors such as jobs, health and education, AMLO wants to get to the root causes behind the violence in Mexico. As an example, one planned measure is to create an extensive scholarship programme to stop the 7 million youths who are not currently in education, employment or training from being recruited to cartels. Its projected impact is unclear. A study conducted on the CJNG showed that one way they recruit is through trickery, hiring people for jobs that are ostensibly legal that later revealed to be illegal. A criminal gang, thought to be CJNG, was in 2016 using flyers that under a fake company name advertised job opportunities as “bodyguards” or “security guards”, offering high wages and a chance for advancement. When later the job is exposed to be fake, the person hired is forced to work for the cartel. Fake job ads on Facebook has also been revealed. It appears reasonable to consider that a lack of jobs and education are main drivers behind recruitment to cartels, however, there seem to be no consensus or reliable evidence that supports this notion. AMLO’s social reforms, if successful, is likely to bring more stability and economic growth to the country in the long term, but its impact on the cartels’ ability to recruit in the short to mid-term is questionable.

By ending the widespread corruption, one of AMLO’s main promises, the government and justice apparatus is likely to be much more able to combat the cartels. However, it is highly unlikely that he will succeed entirely. In Mexico, corruption is very deep-rooted and historically, emphasis has been put on political stability and economic growth before fighting corruption. Even though AMLO is politically strong, having won a congressional majority, he will face severe challenge in trying to eradicate corruption, especially on the lower level. However, targeted anti-graft drives on a federal level has a good likelihood of success. CJNG employs the famed “plata o plomo” strategy, silver or lead, to force government officials on the lower level to enable their activities. According to Jalisco’s State Attorney General Eduardo Almaguer, CJNG has corrupted 20% of the municipal police force, and intimated 70% of the police force to not act against them. A captured CJNG member has alleged that half of the Guadalajara police is on their payroll, paying each between 1,000 to 50,000 pesos per month. Putting a stop to the corruption on this municipal and state level would seriously hinder the progress of the CJNG, however, AMLO’s is unlikely to succeed in doing that. Therefore, his pledge to wholly end corruption is probable to be rather toothless against CJNG in the short term.

AMLO aims to create a new, 50,000-man strong national guard, composed of police and military personnel, to fight the cartels. This proposition stands somewhat in contrast with his alleged “soft” approach, fighting poverty and inequality to fight violence. Previous statements, mainly during his campaigning, from AMLO has purveyed a will to dial back the “war on drugs” in favor of other approaches. This seem to be a U-turn of policies. Human rights organisations have criticised the proposed national guard, claiming that it is just a continuation of the existing “war on drugs”-policy from 2006. As the previous 12 years of militarized opposition against the cartels have shown, the cartels seem to be able to survive under that kind of pressure. Notably, CJNG was created and has been able to expand under such circumstances. On the other hand, a removal of the militarized opposition in the troubled areas could give the cartels room to grow, making the dire situation even worse. It is doubtful that this new conception of the previous policy will have a major impact on CJNG’s existence, however, it might be the best choice for AMLO’s government in the short term.

The future of US cooperation in the cartel issue is unclear. Historically, Mexico and the US has had close cooperation against the drug trafficking, and in August 2018 a new cooperation strategy was announced, displaying intentions of continued cooperation amid tensions between the countries. One of the strategies was to target the cartels financial infrastructure, something AMLO’s new head of the Finance Ministry’s financial intelligence unit, Santiago Nieto, enacted early December, filing complaints against suspected CJNG-affiliated businesses and people, to be investigated. Despite an uncertainty regarding the relationship between US President Donald Trump and AMLO, conflicts on the presidential level are not likely to destabilize the cooperation on the operational level. However, if tensions would lead to a subsequent breakdown in communications or cooperation, that is highly likely to have an adverse effect on the operational level cooperation. For CJNG’s part, the involvement of US law enforcement in Mexico’s fight against the cartels spell continued trouble. If the cooperation between the countries deepens, more resources are likely employed against the cartels, possibly resulting in seriously slowing the rampage of the CJNG.

AMLO’s plan might, despite all its flaws, be what Mexico needs in order to mitigate the violence. It has sparked an optimism that could drive changes in the longer term. However, the plan sometimes appears to be disengaged from reality. Violence is soaring, and the rampage of the CJNG is set to continue. As they are by many considered the most notorious and violent cartel, stemming their progress is paramount to the security situation in Mexico. By endeavoring to stop corruption, employ social reforms and continue militarized pressure, AMLO hopes to stop not only CJNG, but to curtail violence in general in the country. Several actions outlined in the plan are likely to have a positive effect on the violence in Mexico, but some parts will probably be very hard to implement. Therefore, the plan has to be altered and adjusted in order to secure some success. It might be better considered the strategy as a statement of intent rather than a roadmap.

‘Yellow Vest’ Protests in France

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This month, French protests against the proposed January 2019 fuel tax increase by President Emmanuel Macron have spiralled into a wider display of popular discontent and has emerged as the ‘yellow vest’ movement. The movement includes different social categories such as students, farmers and truck drivers all under the banner of ‘The People’ against Macron’s government that is perceived as not representing their interests.

Macron is suffering his lowest popularity in his 18-month presidency and is no stranger to French protests, however this protest was significantly different as the backlash came from right-wing conservative elements in the countryside that have felt marginalised with the policies of the young, talented former banker.  In Macron’s rapid rise to power, the environment was placed at the forefront of his agenda, which months later has reaped a whirlwind of mass political violence that have taken the government by surprise. The protest was able to successfully tap into the rebellious ‘barricades’ culture of the French nation and bring in other marginalised persons to its cause.

Saturday 17 November marked the first day of road blockades across France, with around 290,000 protesters all distinguishably wearing the yellow vests that all drivers must carry in their cars by law. Although, the protest was organised through social media, no visible leaders have emerged but instead are shown to reject ties to main political parties or unions. The following day, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that the government will not back down on proposed fuel tax increases that are intended to help pay for Macron’s green policy. On Saturday 24 November, further ‘yellow vests’ blocked traffic and motorways around the county, while a large-scale demonstration took place in Paris that ended with an evening clash with police on the Champs-Elysees. At the end of the week, 166,000 demonstrators were recorded across France and 8,000 in Paris. Finally, on November 27 the protests made headway as Macron offered minor concessions proposing to adjust fuel tax increases in case of rising oil costs and called for an extended national consultation. The concessions did not stop the ‘yellow vests’ from calling a new protest on Saturday 1 December, once more on the iconic Champs-Elysees. The Prime Ministers’ attempts to talk with the protestors have not progressed as the meeting would not be broadcast on TV.

The impact of the ‘yellow vest’ protests has already shown that mass political violence has succeeded in changing Macron’s previous uncompromising resolve. Macron’s abandonment of the fuel-tax hike has damaged his image and shown ‘the people’ that the unshakeable President can be brought to heel. The concessions have not managed to appease the protestors that see too little too late, but having tasted blood, might be not wanting to stop there and continue until toppling the government. Macron faces difficulty in reconciling centrist policies alongside stagnant wages, 9 per cent unemployment and high taxes. Sociologist Michel Wieviorka has said that “If people compare Macron to Louis XVI, it’s a warning that he has hasn’t learned the lesson of history,” “They don’t literally want his head, but it’s a strong message that they don’t feel listened to”.

The Implications of UK Weapons Sales and Military Hardware to Saudi Arabia in Yemen

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The death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi has brought about renewed questions over Western involvement with Riyadh and as a result, the implications of weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.  Using data compiled by Campaign Against Arms Trade and the European Commission, the Middle East Eye reported that EU countries have approved the sale of more than $86.7bn in arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE since 2015. This has amounted to more than 55 times the donations made to the UN’s Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has also revealed that the UK was the second biggest supplier of Saudi Arabia’s major weapons export between 2013-2017.

Yemen is at the forefront of a humanitarian crisis. Although peace talks are currently underway in Sweden between representatives of the Yemeni government and Houthi delegates, fighting in Yemen still continues. Throughout November, conflict in the rebel-held city of Hodeidah has intensified with the port now being targeted by air strikes. The Saudi-led coalition have repeatedly bombed Hodeidah since 2015 in an attempt to gain control over the city and its port. The majority of Yemen’s aid, medicine and food imports enter the country through Hodeidah port, so it being attacked has meant that importing has been severely impacted. Earlier in November, Yemeni and international NGOs warned that approximately 14 million people, half of the country’s population, are now on the brink of famine. On 1 December, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock declared that Yemen was on the verge of a major catastrophe and that conditions had hugely deteriorated since his last visit in October 2017. Lowcock emphasised the UN’s aim in ensuring that the port remains open in order to allow civilians to have access to fundamental imports.

There is strong presence of British weaponry in Yemen as a result of arms deals with Saudi Arabia. In June 2017, the High Court of Justice in England ruled that it was legal for the UK to continue their arms exports to Saudi Arabia. According to the summary of the High Court, the UK also provided logistical and technical support to the Saudi military, in addition to engaging in weapons deals. This included providing advice to the Saudi military on equipment usage, as well as UK liaison officers having insight into Saudi targeting procedures and access to post-strike mission reporting. The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent Bethan McKernan has been reporting on the Yemen conflict since 2015 and spoke in a Guardian podcast uploaded 6 November about Britain’s possible role in the war. Speaking of the ‘cottage industry’ in major cities in Yemen where civilians collect and resell scrap material and debris from bombing raids, she spoke of people finding serial numbers when rummaging through shells. Then, through using the internet, many have traced the numbers back to UK and US companies. The Guardian further reported that there are British personnel stationed in bombing control rooms in Riyadh and technicians overseeing and refuelling planes. Therefore, Britain selling weapons to Saudi Arabia will result in their usage in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition.

The continued Saudi use of Western weapons is highly likely to trigger a response from Iran either by smuggling armoury into Houthi-held areas or by further blocking aid. An Iranian response is very probable seeing as there is a strong relationship between the Iranians and the Houthis which is thought to date back since 2013. The Saudi-led coalition conducting air strikes on Houthi-controlled areas such as Hodeidah could result in the Houthis retaliating, most likely by firing missiles at the Saudi-led coalition and further restricting and siphoning off aid in an effort to reassert their position. The Houthi’s need for weaponry would therefore increase, meaning that Iran is more likely to smuggle pieces of weaponry into the country which the Houthis will then weld together and use to improvise missiles. The pieces are smuggled through the Red Sea to the port of Hodeidah, thus the stationing of the rebels puts them in a prime position to receiving these shipments. Bombarding the Houthis therefore is only likely to make them attack further which will increase fighting between the parties. They are less likely to back down as they are supported by a powerful dominant country which is able to supply them with weaponry.

A consequence of increasing Iranian involvement in the conflict is the possibility of Iran’s already dire relationship with the US and Saudi Arabia growing worse. November has highlighted the mounting tensions between Iran and the US, played out directly through the implementation of US sanctions and also highlighted through the fighting in Yemen and Syria. Arguably, the Yemen conflict can be seen as a proxy war between the US and Iran. On 5 November, the newly reinstated US sanctions on Iran came into full force, with the Trump administration revealing the full extent of the restrictions on Iran’s shipping, energy and financial sectors. Iran has reacted with hostility to these sanctions with President Hassan Rouhani urging Muslims across the world to unite against the US. The continuity of Iranian involvement is likely to further strain US and Saudi relations with Iran, possibly leading to the US imposing even stricter sanctions on the region and deliberately making it harder for the country to trade. This may result in repercussions such as the removal or limitation of temporary waivers given to China, India, Japan and South Korea, allowing them to continue trade with Iran. This would ultimately impact negatively on Iran’s global status.

Consequently, the increased Iranian rearming and attacks of the warring parties would lead to increased conflict, thus further extending the war. The consequences of an even more lengthy war is an aggravated humanitarian crisis which would place further significant economic challenges and pressure on humanitarian charities, organisations and governments across the world. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has come about through a number of means. The Houthis blocking and siphoning off aid has meant that people cannot access food or medical supplies. The constant Saudi bombardment of towns and cities has led to deaths, injuries and destruction of infrastructure. These problems are even more compounded through the lack of medical care and treatment in the region. Additionally, thousands of people have been displaced and have lost their homes, with children unable to attend school and fulfil their educational requirements. The war has had huge repercussions on the future generation’s education and job prospects, which in turn will greatly affect Yemen’s economy in the future.

According to data compiled by Al Jazeera and the Yemen Data Project, more than 18,000 air raids have been carried out in Yemen since 2015, with almost one-third of all bombing missions striking non-military sites. Schools, hospitals, weddings, funerals and water and electricity plants have been hit, resulting in thousands being killed and injured. Save the Children have stated that around 85,000 young children may have already died of starvation. It is likely that these figures are set to increase if the war is exacerbated further. On 3 December, Reuters reported that authorities have been sterilising water supplies in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa in order to help combat a cholera outbreak. Water supplies at wells, distribution networks and houses have been sterilised. Since the worst outbreak in Yemen’s history began in April 2017, 1.2 million cholera cases have been reported and over 2,500 people have died of the infection. In October this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of a new escalation, stating that there had been an increase in the number of cholera cases in the country. Problems such as a cholera epidemic are more likely and carry heightened danger due to the destruction of water plants and lack of medical care in the country.

The implications of British weapon sales to Saudi Arabia may be difficult to reverse if Britain does change its mind about selling arms to Riyadh. We may find that these weapons are still used in the future even if legislation is passed in the country banning the creation and usage of such arms. Cluster munitions are still used in Yemen today despite being banned in the UK in 2010. On 3 December,a military official stated that the Saudi-led coalition is continuing to use banned munitions in Yemen. The spokesman for Yemeni Armed Forces, Brigadier General Yahya Saree, spoke at a press conference in Sanaa on Sunday. He stated that in its air strikes on residential neighbourhoods, the Saudi-led alliance continues to use internationally banned weapons such as cluster bombs.

In conclusion, the implications of British weapon sales to Saudi Arabia are that of increasing the likelihood of exacerbating the war through a response from the Houthis and Iran, further straining the relationship between US and Iran. Additionally, a worsening of the war is likely to lead to an increased humanitarian crisis and a greater impact on citizens.

N.B. The Yemen conflict is an ongoing developing situation, so circumstances may drastically change from the time which this report was written (9 December 2018)