The US dollar is so important in today’s economy for three main reasons: the huge amount of petrodollars; the use of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the decision taken by US President Nixon in 1971 to end the dollar convertibility into gold.
The US currency is still a large part of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), the IMF’s “paper money”.
A share ranging between 41% and 46% depending on the periods.
Petrodollarsemerged when Henry Kissinger dealt with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, after “Black September” in Jordan.
The agreement was simple. Saudi Arabia had to accept only dollars as payments for the oil it sold, but was forced to invest that huge amount of US currency only in the US financial channels while, in return, the United States placed Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC neighbouring countries under its own military protection.
Hence the turning of the dollar into a world currency, considering the importance and extent of the oil market. Not to mention that this large amount of dollars circulating in the world definitely marginalized gold and later convinced the FED that the demand for dollars in the world washuge and unstoppable.
An unlimited amount of liquidity that kept various US industrial sectors alive but, above all, guaranteed huge financial markets such as the derivatives – markets based on the structural surplus of US liquidity.
After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States always thought about world’s hegemony and, above all, imagined to oppose the already active Eurasian union between China, Iran and Russia – the worst nightmare for US decision-makers – both at military and financial levels.
As early as those years, following Brzezinsky’s policy line, the US analysts warned against the unification of Eurasia – to be absolutely prevented – and against the subsequent reunification of Eurasia with the Eurasian peninsula, to be avoided even with a war.
At that time, the three aforementioned Statesstill conducted their business in dollars: China wanted to keep on becoming the “world factory”; Russia had run out of steam and wasnear breaking point; Iran had to inevitably adapt to the rest of Sunni OPEC.
With Putin’s rise to power, Russia’s de-dollarization began immediately.
The share of dollar reserves declinedyear after year, while Putin proposed new oil contracts.
Since last year, for example, dollars cannot be used in ports.
In the case of Iran, the sanction regime – in particular – has favoured the discovery of means other than the dollar for international settlements.
The operations and signs of the de-dollarization continued.
The war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein was also a fight against the Rais who wanted to start selling his oil barrels in euros, while the war in Afghanistan wasviewed by China as part of the ongoing overall encirclement of its territory.
Hence the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative. Also the war in Afghanistan was an attempt to stop the Eurasian project of economic and commercial (as well as political) union between Russia, Iran and China.
As further sanction, the EU required EU designated Iranian banks to be removed from the SWIFT network, which is also a private company.
Iran, however, has immediately joined the Chinese CIPS, a recent network, similar to SWIFT, with which it is already fully connected.
Basically China’s idea is to create an international currency based on the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights and freely expendable on world markets, in lieu of the US dollar, so as to avoid “the dangerous fluctuations stemming from the US currency and the uncertainties on its real value “- just to quote the Governor of the Chinese central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, who will soon be replaced by Yi Gang.
In the meantime, Russia and China are acquiring significant amounts of gold.
In recent years China has bought gold to the tune of at least 1842.6 tons, but the international index could be distorted, as many transactions on the Shanghai Gold Exchange are Over the Counter (OTC) and hence are not reported.
Again according to official data, so far Russia is supposed to have reached 1857.7 tons.
Both countries have so far bought 10% of the gold available in the world.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has already accepted payments in yuan for the oil sold to China, which is its largest customer. This is a turning point. If Saudi Arabia gives in, sooner or later all OPEC countries will follow suit.
In many cases, India and Russia have already traded with Iran by accepting oil in exchange for primary goods and commodities.
China has also opened a credit line with Iran amounting to as many as 10 billion euros, with a view to gettingaround sanctions.
It is also assumed that North Korea uses cryptocurrencies to buy oil from China.
As devastated as its economy is, Venezuela no longer sells its oil in dollars – and it is worth recalling it can boast the largest world reserves known to date.
Furthermore, China will buy gas and oil from Russia in yuan, with Russia being able to convert yuan into gold directly on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange.
Keynes’ “tribal residue” takes its revenge.
So far the agreements for trade in their respective currencies were signed between China and Kazakhstan (on December 14, 2014),between China and South Africa (on April 10, 2015) and between Russia and India (on May 26, 2015) while, at the end of November 2015, the Russian central bank included the yuan into the list of currencies that can be accepted as reserves. On November 3, 2016 an agreement was signed between Turkey and Russia for the exchange of their currencies and in October 2017 a similar agreement was reached between Turkey and Iran.
For financial institutions, the de-dollarization continued with the establishment of the BRICS Fund worth 100 billion dollars (on July 16, 2014) and with the establishment – on January 16, 2016 – of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), made up of 57 member countries, including Italy, which automatically caused the US anger.
In May 2015 the Russian-Chinese Investment Bank was created, followed in July 2015 by the opening of the new bank for the development of BRICS, based in Shanghai. In November 2015, however, Iran approved the establishment of a bank together with Russia.
It is worth underlining that in April 2015 the Russian national credit card system was opened, dealing also with small currency transfers.
It is also worth recalling the Duma law on de-offshorization of November 18, 2014, i.e. the legislation obliging the Russian companiesresident abroad to pay taxes directly to the Russian Treasury.
The above mentioned Chinese CIPS started operating in October 2015, while in March 2017 Russia implemented a system similar to SWIFT (interacting with the Chinese one).
The issue is complex because with fracking, the United States has become the first oil producer – hence there is less need to keep the huge amount of petrodollars. This happens while a natural oil and gas shale deposit has just been discovered, off the coast of Bahrain, with reserves of 80 billion oil barrels and 4 trillion cubic meters of gas.
The United States does no longer buy oil and gas because it does not need them, but China is increasingly the best global buyer.
Apart from the stability of gas and oil prices, which should be guaranteed in the coming years, China and its allies should be ever more able to select between the supply and, certainly, between the countries which accept the non-oil bilateral exchange with China and payments in yuan or gold.
Still today, the US GDP accounts for 22% of world’s GDP, while 80% of international payments are made in dollars.
Hence the United States receives goods from abroad always at comparatively very low prices, while the massive demand for dollars from the rest of the world allows to refinance the US public debt at very low costs.
This is the economic and political core of the issue.
In fact, the Russian government held a specific meeting on de-dollarization in spring 2014.
This is another fact to be highlighted. It is a political operation that appears to be a financial one, often in contrast with the “volatility” of current markets, but its core is strategic and geopolitical.
In theory, the de-dollarization regards three specific issues: payments, the real economy issue and ultimately the financial issue, namely the financial contracts denominated in dollars.
In the first case, China will tend to eliminate every transaction denominated in US dollars by third countries and to removesettlement mechanisms involving the dollar and operating in its neighbouring areas.
In the second case, the dollar transactions will be – and are already – largely prohibited for individuals.
In the third case, the share of foreign contracts denominated in yuan is now equal to 40% and strong acceleration will be recorded in 2018.
The oil futures denominated in yuan are now booming. The first attempt was made in 1993, when China opened its stock exchanges in Beijing and Shanghai.
China itself closed operations two years later, due to market instability and to the yuan weakness.
Two other things have changed since then: in 2016 the yuan was admitted as a currency making up the IMF Special Drawing Rights and in 2017 China overtook the United States as the world’s largest oil importer.
Hence, thanks to the oil futures denominated in yuan, China is reducing its dependence on the dollar and, in the meantime, it is supporting its oil imports, as well as promoting the use of the yuan globally and expanding its presence in the world.
Russia has done the same.
Therefore the United States is about to be ousted as world’s currency due to its continuous series of wars and military failures (former President Cossiga always told me: “The United States is always on the warpath and up in arms, but then it is not able to get out of it”) and, like everyone else, it shall pay for its public debt, which is huge and will be ever more its problem, not ours.
Here it is worth recalling what the US Treasury Secretary,John Connally, said to his European counterparts during a meeting in 1971: “The dollar is our currency, but your problem”.
Obviously, in relation to all these issues which also concern primarily the euro, the European Union is silent and sleepy.
The Thucydides’ Trap: the Avoidable Destiny Between the US and China
The controversial “Thucydides trap” argument has sparked a heated debate since 2013, when President Xi Jinping of China told a cluster of western guests: “We must all work together to avoid Thucydides’ trap.” Later, this concept was elucidated by Professor Graham Allison in his articles, talks and famous book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap. So, what exactly is this Thucydides ’trap?
The phrase originates from the ancient Greek historian Thucydides who had observed that the Peloponnesian war (431BC-404BC) was caused by the growth of Athens, the rising power, and the corresponding fear of Sparta, the ruling power. Currently, this historical scenario is applied to discuss the relations between China, the emerging power, and the United States (US), the established power. The rise of China and the relative decline of the US allude that a gradual power imbalance may repeat history and lead to war. In fact, 12 of the 16 historical power shifts have resulted in catastrophe. More importantly, this narrative, to some extent, suggests the current dominant power is taking preemptive measures against the rising one. In reality, the US-initiated Sino-American trade war reflects this precautionary attitude.
The world may argue that although China has become more assertive than before, this war is the consequence of President Donald Trump’s radical foreign policy. Consequently, Trump started this war even though it may harm the Sino-American economic ties, leading to a negative economic impact on both sides. As a matter of fact, the Sinophobic turn in Washington is essentially a bipartisan consensus that realistically considers the economic facts thanks to strategic thinking. Based on the research of Alyssa Leng and Roland Rajah, the US had been at the helm of world trade until 2000, trading with over 80% of countries worldwide. However, in 2018, this number has plummeted to just 30%, as China has replaced the position of the US in 128 of 190 countries. Thus, “this bipartisan shift may have coincided with Trump’s arrival but the very fact that it is bipartisan demonstrates that it was not Trump who created it. Like a rooster at dawn, his crowing simply called forth the inevitably rising sun”. This situation raises the following questions: which side suffers the least? If the US achieves its goal of putting down China, who will win? According to Bruno Macaes, “in the end, the question of whether a new world order will be born, or the status quo preserved is less important than the question of whether the outcome will be determined peacefully or whether China and America are destined for war”.
This does look like the inevitable Thucydides’ trap, but where is the solution? It is conceivable that the trade war is just a sign that might follow more fierce disputes militarily. As historical determinists, Professor Graham Allison and Professor Jonathan Holslag both believe that the strategic transformation of structural forces between China and the US are doomed to conflict that has already emerged and will transpire more dramatically, ineluctably reshaping the global geopolitical landscape. Currently, China is not strong enough to compete with the US in general and “the balance of power could continue to be in America’s favor for quite a long time into the future.” It is then justifiable for the US to want to suppress China’s growth right now. However, I argue that the reality is far more complex than the aforementioned circumstance and there indeed exists some way to avoid this “inevitable” trap.
First, diplomacy and leadership in the US and China play pivotal roles in avoiding this dilemma. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd argues that political leaders and elites are not “simply some kind of puppet of anonymous structural forces”, but can change the historical tendency, to some extent. He proposes “constructive realism” as a solution by saying, “agency—what leaders decide, and those elites who advise them shape— actually determines the future course of history”. By suggesting that based on reality, the leaders of both sides should differentiate between the non-negotiable and negotiable national interests, thus managing the Sino-American strategic competition. In this context, the China-represented authoritarian capitalism versus the US-led liberal capitalism, is able to compete without one devastating the other and finally let the winner prevail.
Similarly, Chinese prominent scholar Jin Canrong suggests that when drawing on the wisdom of the Chinese and American leaders and diplomats, the two countries should neither have a “Hot War” nor a “Cold War”. The first may result in total planetary destruction with the example of the two World Wars during which great losses were suffered due to militaristic action worldwide. The later might bring about a deconstruction of the entire international trade system. Because of today’s economic globalization, a “Cold War” would devastate our internationally integrated economy, specifically, the existing Sino-American interdependent economic connections.
Nevertheless, Professor Jin proposes that the two sides should have a “Chess War”, as a metaphor of playing chess, which denotes that the two sides should be more transparent, reveal their strategic capabilities and intentions and reasonably bargain with each other. This is analogous to Rudd’s approach of distinguishing clearly between the non-negotiable and negotiable national interests of both parties. Furthermore, Jin argues that when China develops to a certain level, it will comprehensively compete with the US in all aspects. The US, as a commercial and pragmatism-centered empire, will compromise and accept China’s position, thus forming the global bi-core leadership and co-governing the world. He argues that the new global system is akin to the Concert of Europe/Age of Metternich, the balance of European powers between the Napoleonic War and World War One. The notion is to forgive France, the war initiator, and invite it to be part of European leadership, maintaining peace in Europe for a whole century.
The second plausible approach to this dilemma can be taken from the angle of a third party. Facing the increasingly Sino-American tension and the potential outbreak of a proxy war, Professor T. V. Paul advocates for “Soft Balancing”, meaning small-scale countries relying on “international institutions, limited ententes” to unite and enhance their strength. Uniting smaller countries thwarts the threatening behavior of the rising or ruling powers through economic instruments or moral and legal condemnation, thereby avoiding the Thucydides’ Trap. By comparison, the military capabilities or “Hard Balancing” of a country, remain important, but are clearly not as cost-effective as the institutionally driven “soft” method. Taking the ASEAN states’ soft balancing strategy toward China as an example, in addition to aligning with the American navy as hard balancing tactics, the ASEAN has involved diverse institutional engagements such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan, and South Korea), the Chiang Mai Initiative and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. These measures not only benefit the ASEAN countries from the economic rise of China, but simultaneously limit China’s territorial claim in the South China Sea by the united voice of ASEAN. To some extent, this strategy alleviates the Sino-American hostility and competition for leadership in this area, allowing the countries involved to have a fighting chance in the race for power.
To summarize, both approaches are aimed at constructing the scarce asset through frequent diplomatic communication: trust. In the anarchical international system, due to the fact there is no central authority to enforce laws, international actors, in the course of interactions, are always suspicious of each other’s real intentions. Indeed, human beings are distrustful and forgetful, repeating 12 identical mistakes throughout history. As the Western philosopher George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Similarly, the Chinese poet Du Mu wrote about how a destroyed dynasty vanished before it could reflect on its mistakes. Du details that the later generations of the dynasty felt the impact of this failure, yet did not learn from the past, continuing the cycle of collapse. While Graham Allison believes that the US and China may be destined to a violent collision, his relevant Ted Talk leads one to believe that the last two power shifts of the world were peaceful. Between the US and Soviet Union power shift from the 1940s to the 1980s, and the UK, France and Germany power shift from the 1990s until now, demonstrated how we are able to break the cycle of destruction. Especially, the European power shift proved the importance of diplomatic leadership. Hopefully, as time progresses, mankind may learn to draw lessons from a series of historical tragedies. When the political leaders of the world face irreconcilable conflicts of interest, they will look into the dark and bottomless chasm in front of them and say, “that is indeed a very deep hole which we should not fall into.”
From our partner RIAC
A story of resilience: China’s revival against Covid-19
A nation that embraces resilience in catastrophic times can retaliate and cope with any calamity that comes their way. A resilient nation is able to gather their abilities in the face of adversity and utilize their resources and strengths to cope and recover from unprecedented hardships and challenges. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, China has curbed the deadly pathogen, after a formidable fight, with courage and conviction. The joint, and globally lauded, efforts of Chinese officials and health professionals along with its unprecedented organized and proactive dynamics of disaster management has provided an abundance of assistance in restraining the pandemic.
The epicenter of Covid-19, Hubei province of China, has recorded zero new cases for the consecutive four days, 19th to 22nd March, contrary to the 15,000 cases reported on 13th February 2020. From the recovery and discharge of 70 percent out of 80,000 patients in the overflowing hospitals of China to the completion of world’s first lung transplant of a Covid-19 patient by ingenious and committed doctors; and the construction of two 1000-beds hospitals, Huoshenshan and Leishenshan, in two weeks, China’s efforts to intercept the pandemic have proven to be extraordinary, heroic and unforeseen.
The strategic trajectory China has adopted to curtail the outbreak is threefold. During the first phase, the approach was to block the transmission and contain the source of the virus, therefore abating the further spread of the infection; the main strategy was to prevent importation and exportation of the virus in and from the Hubei province, respectively. On that account, about 50 million people were put under lockdown in Wuhan and other cities of Hubei, consequently diminishing the number of cases. For the diagnosis, The National Medical Products Administration of China, in collaboration with biotech companies, developed sufficient and reliable diagnostic kits for all fever clinics and hospitals in the country within two weeks. The testing was, publicly made free and easily accessible.
Fever clinics – especially designed clinics used in 2002-03 for containing SARS epidemic – were re-established to isolate, triage and test the patients; the health professionals and workers in PPE were/are employed to treat the affected patients. Additionally, laboratory testing and epidemiological researches were conducted accompanying the initial management of contact tracing. The use of contact tracing to track every potential individual infected by the virus has been a critical tool for China. For instance, in Shenzhen city as of 17th February 2842 contacts were traced, out of which 2240 completed the medical testing and among those, 88 were found to be infected. This technique was used in every part of China with officials militantly and steadfastly tracing every single individual that had come to contact with Covid-19 patient. In an interview, Dr. Bruce Aylward of World Health Organization (WHO) has said that he was impressed by the speed of carrying out the procedures and the key to containing the virus from proliferating depends on your ability to “swiftly detect and isolate the infected patients and trace their close contacts.”
In the second phase, the foremost approach was to lessen and limit the intensity of the pandemic. The active treatment of the patients was conducted in Wuhan and other provinces; the aim was to reduce the number of deaths and further enhance the prevention of exportation of the infection, therefore redlining mass gatherings and other public transport activities.
The guidelines to educate people of the basic precautions and updates regarding the Covid-19 was enhanced nationally. In six weeks, the national knowledge on how to take care of an infected person was expanded by six times. To tackle the spread of disinformation, Chinese social media outlets such as WeChat, ten-cent, and Weibo shared centralized, accurate and reliable information and blocked the misleading keywords on the internet. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has issued a statement that if a website or an individual would misinform the public, they would have to face legal consequences. Moreover, food delivery services were, efficiently, activated by the country to facilitate the citizens and the non-urgent medical cases were consulted online by doctors and medical consultants.
The third phase of the outbreak bring out new technologies such as big data and artificial intelligence to thoroughly control the pandemic; contact tracing was strengthened. The deployment of facial recognition cameras and phone tracking technologies in public places helped Chinese officials to detect elevated temperatures and track close contacts. In Zhejiang province, health QR codes were established: the red code is for 14-days self-quarantine; the yellow code requires 7-days self-quarantine; the green code authorizes you to travel freely. Additionally, scientific and medical research was conducted to develop relative vaccines and medicines.
Furthermore, other provinces have also sent help to assist Wuhan’s administration, for example, 42,000 doctors and other related staff were sent from other provinces to Hubei. Even at the individual level, the people of China have adhered to the measures given by the government, whether it is the lockdown or travel restrictions; the Chinese populace came out as a resilient and dedicated nation. They endorsed the sense that the duty is ours to help the country in catastrophic times.
Where the exemplary response by China is being commended and deliberately studied globally, China is dedicated to helping other infected countries as well to surpass this pandemic. It is nearly impossible for the developing and resource-less countries to deal with an unprecedented pandemic. Hence, China is continuously sending millions of masks, medical supplies and other related and much-needed items to Italy, Serbia, Spain, Belgium, Iraq, Iran, United States, France, and Pakistan; It is also sending doctors and medical teams to these countries with the constant help and funding of Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba.
Concisely, Chinese people’s dedication and its visionary leaders’ untiring and zealous efforts have helped China revive its stability inside and outside the borders.
China’s experience in fighting the COVID-19 could serve as a lesson for other countries
There is substantial fear that most of the countries are not acting seriously and quickly enough, or taking urgent and aggressive actions against the spread of the COVID-19. Even those countries or communities where the virus has spread throughout can be controlled and suppressed. While it is reasonable when the COVID-19 hit China, a country with more than 1.44 billion people –aggressively fights tooth and nail against the spread of the disease. Their struggle bears fruits; it is now on the decline in China. Thanks to the Chinese government and people who enthusiastically liaise and fight against the COVID-19.
A few weeks ago, in the mid of February, the Chinese hospitals, including the two new-build makeshifts, were overflowing with patients; after three weeks, the beds are no more overflowed. The Chinese bold and aggressive measures to control the rapid spread of the COVID-19 has altered the course of the rapidly escalating epidemic. So far, it will not be an exaggeration to say that hundreds of thousands of people didn’t get infected because of the aggressive response by the Chinese government and people.
The question now is whether the world can learn a lesson from the Chinese measures against the COVID-19 or whether massive lockdown and pushing the citizens with electronic surveillance will work in other countries. The matter is now a serious threat to the entire humanity, and the world must follow the Chinese measure to fight against the novel-corona. Chinese said that the containment measures are working, complete lockdown, strict quarantines, travel restrictions for the internal citizens as well as for foreigners.
It might be worthy of understanding that how China makes it? However, it’s nothing new or state-of-the-art but well-intentioned to know. The latest report published by the World Health Organization, it is mentioned that an infected person appears to spread the virus to an average of 2.6 people, which means that after massive transmission within a week, the initial infected person can infect almost 3500 people. The fact is, somehow, the world has seen and observed. China, on the other hand, followed the same astute measures and broke the cycle of human interactions, in the same vein, China imposed the most substantial and more draconian quarantine in human history. Factories are closed, public transport stopped, people remained indoors for more than two months, strict measure for people entering China, build two makeshifts in a week or two for the infected people to ensure proper isolation. Following such measures stringently, the virus in China is on the decline, but the rest of the world is now faced with the most significant challenges.
Elsewhere in the world, Italy, Germany, Iran, America, and France are struggling to control the virus. So far, more than 41,000 confirmed cases are recorded in Italy, almost 20,000 in Germany 19,000 in Iran, more than 19,500 in the US, and nearly 13,000 in France, with more than 172,600 active cases worldwide as of Saturday. As mentioned above, the number of infected people rapidly escalating day by day, and yet most nations couldn’t even logistically attempt it or take a severe measure to control it.
Before it’s too late, the other countries must learn from China, the rapid imposition of quarantines, the use of advance digital surveillance for tracing the potential virus carriers, massive mass testing possibly help China to control the spread of the virus. Besides, such measures will indeed work for other infected states. The most affected countries where the virus is multiplying every single day should follow the Chinese strategy, which provides a vital lesson for a global response. The Italian National Health Institute’s chief epidemiologist Rezza said that at first, he was doubtful of implementing the Chinese strategies against the COVID-19 in Europe; however, as the number increased dramatically over the weekend, he changed his mind which was a huge mistake. Here and now Italy is the most suffered state in the whole Europe.
The fact that other countries would like to face significant problems while implementing the same measures, which required patient, tolerance, and willingness. Yet without Beijing’s tactics, it would be pretty tough for the rest of the states to control the virus. In order to get rid of the virus or, indeed, lessen the number of infections and deaths, the world must follow the experienced Chinese strategies, which, according to Beijing, work more than any other thing.
International relations experts warn that instead of accusing China or other states of being responsible for the spreading of the virus, the world must come together to fight against the virus. It’s the right time for the states to unite and fight with one voice, power, and passion.
Finally, in such harsh circumstances, the world can learn from the Chinese government and people as well. Well-educated citizens must work together with the government, follow the rules, and implement the rules. The Chinese government indeed perform outstanding work while fighting with the virus; on the other hand, the Chinese people willingly cooperate with the Chinese government, and without their cooperation, Beijing may not have eliminated the virus as fast as they did.
Every epidemic can be pushed back with more force only with coordination and a comprehensive approach that engaged the entire government administrations to work collectively with the citizens. Consequently, it is not just the state’s responsibility; the citizens of each state must work together with their government to fight the disease.
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