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South China Sea: Beijing boosts naval power

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] R [/yt_dropcap]ecently on June 28, China launched what it calls the most advanced and largest warship in Asia on Wednesday, billing it as a major step forward in the modernisation of its navy. As the first of the new Type 055 guided-missile destroyers – which have a displacement of more than 12,000 tonnes – military experts said it was designed to accompany the country’s future aircraft carrier battle groups.

The destroyer was built at the Jiangnan shipyard in Shanghai and was equipped with air ¬defence, anti-missile, anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons. The Type 055 destroyer is similar in size to the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke class ships and is billed as a major step forward for Chinese sea power.

USA cannot attack China by sea

Obviously, China is serious about its claims of South China Sea and has been developing its navy on the one hand and the region with modern military facilities, on the other. China claims nearly all of the South China Sea — a vast tract of water through which a huge chunk of global shipping passes. Not only is the South China Sea (SCS) a major shipping route but also a zone of high rich energy resources. Hence USA is also keen to intervene in the dispute and hence there is tension in the region. Several countries have supported the Chinese position on the South China Sea issue.

China has bolstered its claim by building artificial islands including airstrips in the area, some of which are suitable for military use. Other regional powers the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have competing claims to parts of the sea, which is believed to harbor significant oil and gas deposits.

The launch of the warship marks an important step towards China’s dream of having a strong and modern naval force, General Zhang Youxia, a member of the Central Military Commission who oversees the army’s equipment, was quoted as saying at the launch ceremony. Military analysts said the Type 055 was in theory the world’s second most powerful destroyer – after the US Navy’s DDG-1000, or the Zumwalt class. The capabilities of the Type 055 surpass South Korea’s DDG-991 and Japan’s ¬Atago class, which have a 10,000 ton displacement.

With its size far exceeding a standard destroyer, the launch of the Chinese-designed and built 055 was as significant as that of an aircraft carrier, affording the ¬People’s Liberation Army Navy advanced sea capability and weaponry development, experts said.

The need to protect the country’s overseas interests and vital waterways used by oil tankers and cargo ships is expected to increase as the country’s ambitious belt and road trade initiative starts to take shape. But unlike the US Navy, which has a true global presence, PLA ships do not have many overseas ports for resupply, according to Beijing-based military ¬analyst Zhou Chenming. “In some respects – such as the size, radar system, missile capacity and the multifunctionality in use – the Type 055 has now caught up, or at least it’s on the same level as the United States’ main ¬destroyer,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, said.

With its size far exceeding a standard destroyer, the launch of the Chinese-designed and built 055 was as significant as that of an aircraft carrier, affording the ¬People’s Liberation Army Navy advanced sea capability and weaponry development, experts said.

The need to protect the country’s overseas interests and vital waterways used by oil tankers and cargo ships is expected to increase as the country’s ambitious belt and road trade initiative starts to take shape. But unlike the US Navy, which has a true global presence, PLA ships do not have many overseas ports for resupply, according to Beijing-based military ¬analyst Zhou Chenming.

Li said the warship would play an important role escorting aircraft carriers or the new advanced Type 071 amphibious assault ships, and it could also lead a comprehensive combat group of smaller destroyers and frigates. For these purposes the PLA Navy would need at least 10 Type 055 destroyers, and at the current capacity China could build one or two a year, Li said.

Meanwhile, the sheer size of the warship means there is space for more – and more powerful – weapons. Before the 055, the PLA Navy’s most advanced destroyer was the Type 052D, a 7,500-tonne vessel that squeezed in a flat-array radar, a 64-cell vertical launch system (VLS) and long-range anti-air missiles.

The Type 055, according to the Jane’s Defence Weekly, is over 180 metres long – more than 20 ¬metres longer than 052D. It has a 128-cell VLS and missiles to attack planes, ships, submarines and missiles, making it the most powerful destroyer in Asia. Given its size, it could also serve as a platform to develop the next generation of weapons, such as high-energy radio-frequency equipment, Zhou said.“When you have a bigger home, you can fit in different new furniture.” But Macau-based military analyst Antony Wong Dong said the Type 055 had some “disappointing” design flaws. The relatively low positioning of its flat-array radar system would affect its range of detection, he said, while the use of light aluminum alloy in the upper decks would make it vulnerable to damage.

“Despite its very modern stealth shape, the damage control capability is a big concern,” Wong said. “The design follows the Chinese convention, probably due to a lack of experience … in a combat situation.”

Next, the warship will undergo equipment and sea testing and it is due to enter service next year.

The SCS area may be rich in oil and natural gas deposits; however, the estimates are highly varied. The Ministry of Geological Resources and Mining of the People’s Republic of China estimate that the South China Sea may contain 17.7 billion tons of crude oil (compared to Kuwait with 13 billion tons). However, other sources claim that the proven reserve of oil in the South China Sea may only be 7.5 billion barrels, or about 1.1 billion tons According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)’s profile of the South China Sea region, a US Geological Survey estimate puts the region’s discovered and undiscovered oil reserves at 11 billion barrels, as opposed to a Chinese figure of 125 billion barrels. The same EIA report also points to the wide variety of natural gas resource estimations, ranging from 190 trillion cubic feet to 500 trillion cubic feet, likely located in the contested Reed Bank”.

The South China Sea is dubbed by China as the “second Persian Sea.” The state-owned China Offshore Exploration Corp. planned to spend 200 billion RMB (US$30 billion) in the next 20 years to exploit oil in the region, with the estimated production of 25 million metric tons of crude oil and natural gas per annum, at a depth of 2000 meters within the next five years.

China claims almost all of the energy-rich South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of maritime trade passes each year. USA is major user of the sea route mainly for trade purposes.

China questions American surveillance activities and other military activities over the South China Sea.  China’s construction activities and military preparatory actions have drawn criticism from the USA. The United States is not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute but says it has an interest in ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in the area.

The USA and China are currently in disagreement over the South China Sea. This disagreement is exacerbated by the fact that the USA is not a member of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Nevertheless, the USA has stood by its maneuvers, claiming that “peaceful surveillance activities and other military activities without permission in a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), is allowed under the convention.

The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Non-claimants want the South China Sea to remain as international waters, with the United States conducting “freedom of navigation” operations.

There are disputes concerning both the Spratly and the Paracel islands, as well as maritime, areas near to sea, boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin and elsewhere. There is a further dispute in the waters near the Indonesian Natuna Islands. The interests of different nations include acquiring fishing areas around the two archipelagos; the potential exploitation of crude oil and natural gas under the waters of various parts of the South China Sea, and the strategic control of important shipping lanes.

In February 2016, President Obama initiated the US-ASEAN Summit at Sunny lands for closer engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea were a major topic, but its joint statement, the “Sunnylands Declaration” called for “respect of each nation’s sovereignty and for international law”. Analysts believe it indicates divisions within the group on how to respond to China’s maritime strategy.

China has reacted angrily to a US decision to impose sanctions on a Chinese bank accused of laundering North Korean money. A foreign ministry spokesman urged the US to “stop wrongful actions” to avoid harming co-operation. The US announced the move, as well as sanctions on a Chinese shipping company and two Chinese nationals, on Thursday.

It said the blacklisting was aimed at cutting funds to North Korea’s weapons programmes.

“We will follow the money and cut off the money,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a news conference. But he said the move was not a response to Chinese inaction on North Korea, saying: “This is not directed at China, this is directed at a bank, as well as individuals and entities in China.”

The UN has already imposed several rounds of sanctions on Pyongyang, but China is widely seen as the nation most able to impose economic pain on North Korea.  Washington has been pushing Beijing for tougher measures amid a series of missile tests by Pyongyang. But in a tweet earlier this month, President Donald Trump said China’s actions had “not worked out”.

The sanctions mean that the Bank of Dandong will be barred from doing business in the US.

The US Treasury said it had been “a conduit for illicit North Korean financial activity” and facilitated “millions of dollars of transactions for companies involved in North Korea’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and ballistic missile programs”. Two Chinese nationals accused of creating front companies for North Korean entities and a shipping company, Dalian Global Unity Shipping, accused of smuggling luxury goods to North Korea, have also been blacklisted. Mnuchin said that the US could impose more sanctions in the future. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the US action went “against the important spirit” of the apparently friendly meeting between Trump and US President Xi Jinping at the US president’s Florida resort in April.

The sanctions came as the US announced the sale of $1.42bn (£1.09bn) worth of arms to Taiwan, the first such transaction under the Trump administration. US arms sales to Taiwan always anger Beijing because it considers the self-governing island part of its territory. It also came as new South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited Washington for talks with Trump on security issues.

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U.S.’ Unperturbed Response to Indian BrahMos Launch in Pakistan: Aberration or New Normal?

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As India’s nuclear-capable BrahMos cruise missile crashed into the territory of its nuclear-armed and ever-hostile adversary on the evening of March 9th almost pushing the two countries to the brink of catastrophic tit-for-tat exchange, the usually vociferous strategic experts and arms control enthusiasts in the USA maintained a cautionary conspicuous silence. Even it took the US State Department Spokesperson 06 days to issue a formal statement on the precarious issue and that too after being asked by a journalist during the daily press briefing. If one thinks for the USA – the self-proclaimed champion of nuclear safety and security – such a belated response to such a potentially hazardous “accident” constituted an anomaly, having a look at what the USA’s State Department’s spokesperson finally stated would be handy, which in essence uncritically endorsed the ambiguous and self-contradictory Indian viewpoint on the issue while refusing to make any further comments.

One does not need to wonder what would have been the reaction in the West had something of this character landed in India from Pakistan. Hell would have readily broken loose and the relevant academic, policy-advocacy, and policy-making circles in the West would have been up in the arms predicting a nuclear holocaust owing to irresponsible handling of sensitive weapon systems by Pakistan and making calls to fulfill their long-held desire of ‘securing’ Pakistan’s strategic arsenal. But given it was a breach on part of India, the belated and unperturbed response despite the profound precariousness associated with the fiasco makes complete sense. Anomaly! Not really, because the apparent aberration is all set to be the new normal: only those nuclear safety and security breaches would concern the Western (specifically the US) strategic community happening apropos countries considered on the other side of the geostrategic equation and India – given its geostrategic utility vis-à-vis China – is positioned on the same side as with the Western world so even the strategic blunders like the recent one would be conveniently brushed under the carpet. Reason: any criticism of Indian BrahMos blunder or even expression of concern about the safety and security of India’s cutting-edge weapons systems would have infuriated overly touchy souls in New Delhi, which Washington has been trying so desperately to woo. 

Though the convergence of geopolitical interests forms the most consequential and undoubtedly the umbrella reason for the USA’s unperturbed response to India’s BrahMos launch into Pakistan, it is not only the only one. Currently, the Indian diaspora constitutes one of the most powerful lobbies in the USA domestic political and electoral landscape augmented by their deep ingress into academia, policy advocacy, and policy-making spheres, where they primarily act as the arm of Indian foreign policy and security establishments essentially safeguarding and qualifying all rights and wrongs by New Delhi and by default working to discredit its prime adversary Pakistan using a wide range of means and mediums. The relegation of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute from a self-determination demand of nearly 20 million people once backed by the USA at international forums to a mere Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in complete concurrence with the Indian standpoint and conspicuous apologetic attitude of the USA government and intelligentsia over India’s now almost undisputed plunge into the abyss of fascism under Modi are the most vivid case studies of the lobby’s influence in the USA, though backed by the umbrella of convergence of geostrategic interests.

Though the USA and Pakistan being long-time allies have their own baggage of alleged betrayals, sanctions, and double-games, the steep decline in the goodwill for Islamabad during the past few decades is attributable to years-old concerted efforts by the Indian lobby and the muted reaction to India’s BrahMos launch in Pakistan even by the strategic and focusing on South Asia intelligentsia within the USA was another manifestation of the reality that the lobby has gained considerable check over the academic and policy discourse in the USA.

Ironically, the trend of overlooking India’s shenanigans at home and aboard and potentially catastrophic breaches of safety and security of destructive weapons systems is all set to be the new normal as the aforementioned factors of geopolitical convergence and the lobby’s role in influencing academic and policy discourse responsible for the setting the trends are only likely to be reinforced in the coming years and decades. However, there is a big question mark whether unwaveringly covering up New Delhi’s abysmal domestic and regional track records undermines the USA’s international legitimacy as the principal sponsor of “rules-based international order”? An unequivocal yes! But it appears policymakers in Washington are willing to let their legitimacy tarnish in barter for India’s utility vis-à-vis China – a characteristic case of power politics triumphing idealistic charades.       

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Nuclear Weapons: How Safe Are We?

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Some sixty years ago, American psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated a five tier hierarchy of needs.  First, food and shelter followed by safety and so on, not that each need had to be satisfied fully to move to the next.   

It might explain why thousands marched in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s when bellicose threats by leaders were not uncommon.  Among the more notorious was Khruschev’s, ‘We’ll bury you,’ in 1956 during the Suez adventure by Britain, France and Israel.  They seized the Canal after the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalized the controlling Suez Canal Company.  Receiving no support from President Eisenhower, they somewhat shamefacedly retreated.  

If one presumes all of those tensions were over with detente, then political and economic rivalries compounded by spheres of influence and their expansion have been overlooked.  Thus to Ukraine with President Vladimir Putin unable to retreat further when NATO attempted to plant a dagger in the heart of Russia.

Well, some of the tensions have returned, and while an all-out nuclear war is still unthinkable, it can happen by miscalculation.  For example, when one side deploys tactical weapons that a commander in an asymmetric war is unable to resist using against a large grouping of elusive combatants.

If fewer nuclear weapons are more desirable, the question remains, how few?  Hence the START treaty signed by George Bush (Senior) and Mikhail Gorbachev although proposed originally by Ronald Reagan.  It removed 80 percent of their nuclear weapons.  So how many nuclear weapons are there in the world thirty years later, and how safe are we?

According to the latest count, Russia possesses 6,257 nuclear weapons of which 4587 are operational.  In numerous ICBM silos and 11 nuclear submarines that can patrol close to U.S. shores, it is a formidable arsenal.

Of course the world has changed and Russia has removed all of its nuclear weapons from Ukraine.  At the same time, it is developing new weapons and new delivery methods.  This includes the very serious threat of a nuclear-propelled cruise missile with unlimited range.  A very serious threat because cruise missiles can fly close to the ground under the radar.  There is also Sarmat, a new ballistic missile capable of carrying up to 15 nuclear warheads, each with its own target.  Thus a single missile could destroy just about all US major cities.

So what has the US been up to?  It has 5600 nuclear weapons of which 3700 are operational.  ICBMs based both in the US and the territory of its NATO allies place some of these next door to Russia.  The very limited warning time requires a hair trigger response and should give us pause.  Let’s hope Putin is not enjoying a sauna at the time and some general frightened with a use-it or lose-it scenario decides to let loose and save his motherland. 

Then there are the other countries:  UK (200 nuclear weapons), France (300), China (350), India (160), Pakistan (165), Israel (90), and last but now least North Korea (45).  With all of this, how safe does one feel?  An exchange between any of them — India and Pakistan come to mind — would cause a nuclear winter and mass starvation. 

The real problem is that a small country with a large more powerful neighbor — again Pakistan and India — achieves a measure of equality or perhaps a stalemate through nuclear weapons, and thus security.  It would be very difficult to persuade Pakistan (or for that matter Israel) to relinquish its nuclear arsenal.  Perhaps the best safety lies in an inclusive non-threatening world. 

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CSTO anniversary summit: New challenges and threats

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The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has marked its 30th year, at anniversary summit hosted by Moscow, with renewed multilateral documents strictly tasking its members forge a united security bloc to fight for territorial sovereignty and integrity, and against the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At least, one of the landmarked achievements is, if anything at all, its establishment and existence in the political history of member states.

After the collapse of the Soviet era that consequently witnessed all the 16 Soviet republics attaining their political independence, only six of them by agreement became what is referred to as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). It is a dreamed replica of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

During the meeting held on May 16, at the suggestion of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the CIS will receive observer status at the CSTO, according to various official reports. It implies that CSTO will undergo steadily, of not urgent expansion in numerical strength. Despite the sharp political differences, vast levels of economic development and all kinds of social difficulties, the CSTO currently is made of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. 

Reports say the Collective Security Treaty Organization stands for solving international problems by political and diplomatic means, a statement by the CSTO Collective Security Council on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Collective Security Treaty and the 20th anniversary of the organization said.

“With the appropriate capacity to ensure the security and stability of member states, the organization firmly believes that there is no alternative to the solution of existing international problems by political and diplomatic means and gives priority to the development of coordinated approaches to the problems of improving the international situation, countering threats and challenges faced by Member States of the CSTO,” the statement published on the Kremlin’s website reads.

The statement notes that the peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan in January “has confirmed the readiness of the collective forces (of the CSTO) to effectively solve the problems of ensuring the security of its member states,” and demonstrated to the international community the ability to quickly deploy and conduct missions, “thereby demonstrating the high status of the CSTO in the system of international and regional organizations.”

At the same time, according to the statement, during the period since the signing of the Collective Security Treaty, international relations in conditions of fragmentation of the world community “are increasingly characterized by the aggravation of tension.”

According to the materials prepared by the Kremlin, the member states aim at deeper military cooperation and more efficient interaction on an entire range of current and new challenges and threats, including those emanating from Afghanistan. The focus is also on the problem of biosecurity, as well as on enhancing their collective security system, peacekeeping potential, and mechanisms of rapid response to crises, heeding the experience the organization gained during its peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan.

Besides the group summit, Putin held separate bilateral interaction in a working breakfast format which was reportedly focused on forging ways toward deeping and strengthening military cooperation, and further on the situation in Ukraine. The Collective Security Council is the supreme body of the CSTO. It includes the heads of the states that are members of the organization.

It follows therefore that Vladimir Putin held these separate bilateral meetings with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov and President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon.

Putin at the bilateral meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, noted that Moscow and Yerevan saw a good growth in bilateral trade in 2021, and both agreemed to maintain regular contact “on all issues on the bilateral agenda and on regional problems.” Russia and Armenia plan to continue their joint efforts to settle the Karabakh problem in the trilateral format, together with the partners from Azerbaijan.

Putin at the bilateral meeting with President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov praised relations between the two countries, noting there are issues requiring further detailed discussion. “Now there is an opportunity to talk about our bilateral relations,” Putin said. “There are many questions, but I would like to note right away that, on the whole, our relations are developing positively.”

The president highlighted a “rather serious” increase in trade between the two countries last year, which climbed by more than 30%. “Russia confidently occupies the first position in trade by Kyrgyzstan. There are, of course, issues that require a separate discussion,” he said. “I am very glad that on the sidelines of our international event today we can talk about these issues.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko strongly suggested, at the opening of the summit, the CSTO members step up political cooperation to resist foreign pressures and further warned that “opponents and foes” were systematically shaking loose the basis and relations of alliance. “In this respect we play into the hands of the West in a sense. I am certain that if we presented a common front, there would have never been what they call ‘sanctions from hell’,” he stressed.

“Stronger political cooperation and coordination by the CSTO member-states. The effectiveness of the mechanism of foreign policy and security consultations must be increased. We should speak out on behalf of the CSTO on international platforms more often to make the organization’s voice and stance well-heard and seen. There must be a common voice and a common stance, the way they are in the West,” he said.

Lukashenko noted that the West has been waging a full-fledged hybrid war against Belarus and Russia. “The unipolar world order is becoming a thing of the past, yet the collective West is waging an aggressive war to defend its positions. It is using all means, including in our organization’s zone of responsibility – from threatening the use of NATO weapons along our western borders to waging a full-fledged hybrid war, primarily against Russia and Belarus.”

He described NATO as “aggressively building up its muscles” with the aim of seeking to include neutral countries and acting under the you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us principle and “is hypocritically continuing to declare its defensive nature. The Collective Security Treaty Organization’s really defensive and peaceful position stands in contrast against this backdrop. It is evident that not a single country is a threat to the North Atlantic bloc.”

On the Russia-Belarus Union, he noted that Belarus’ participation ion the Union with Russia and in the CSTO has sobered up its potential opponents in the West. “Otherwise, I am afraid a hot war might have been unleashed in Belarus. By the way, they tried to do it back in 2020,” he added.

According to a joint statement by the leaders that was adopted, it noted to ensure the security of its borders amid an alarming situation in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. “The situation in Afghanistan and on other external frontiers of the CSTO member-states is alarming,” the statement said. “In connection with this, we express readiness to maintain security at the borders within the CSTO’s zone of responsibility.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, local Russian newspaper, reported that the attendees noted the significant role of the CSTO and peacekeeping forces in quashing the January insurrection in Kazakhstan, and also assessed the global situation and the topic of NATO’s expansion. President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus noted that the members of the organization do not have unity. Some of them support the West’s actions against Moscow. He stated that “Russia should not fight alone against the expansion of NATO.”

Director of the East-West Strategy analytical center Dmitry Orlov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the CSTO is still not active enough. “In general, the CSTO still justified itself, but with some nuance. Not all members of the organization quickly and unconditionally decided to participate in peacekeeping missions. In particular, Kyrgyzstan argued for a long time whether to send their military to quell the protests that erupted over economic problems. The CSTO showed that the only guarantor of the security of the Central Asian region is Russia, because it had the largest contingent,” the expert said, adding that the post-Soviet security bloc did not become a serious alternative to NATO.

However, the organization may have a future, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin predicted the expansion of the association. According to him, the number of participants will increase to dozens of countries.

Chairman of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, Speaker of the State Duma (lower house of legislators) Vyacheslav Volodin congratulated the speakers of the parliaments of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Collective Security Treaty.

“The CSTO has proven its effectiveness as a guarantor of regional stability, protection of the independence and sovereignty of the member states. Today, the organization serves as a dependable deterrent to the challenges and threats posed by international terrorism and extremism. The CSTO contributes significantly to the battle against drug trafficking and weapons, organized transnational crime, illegal migration,” Volodin was quoted on the website of the State Duma.

Volodin stated that the CSTO peacekeepers’ efficiency in supporting Kazakhstan in stabilizing the situation in January of this year indicates the organization’s maturity.

The CSTO is an international security organization, which currently includes six member-states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. On May 15, 1992, in Tashkent, the leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (which is no longer a member of the CSTO since 2012) signed the treaty establishing the organization. In 1993, Azerbaijan, Georgia (both countries left the CSTO in 1999) and Belarus joined the organization.

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