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Asian Leaders Call for Rules-Based Geopolitics, Reject Unilateral, Protectionist Moves

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With a rapidly oscillating geopolitical dynamic, one underscored by escalating trade tensions between major powers, Asian leaders called for adherence to a “rules-based” order, and rejected unilateral and protectionist moves, on the closing day of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN, held in Ha Noi, Viet Nam.

“I think we need to establish rule-based international order and any unilateral challenge to the status quo; the international community needs to stand up against it,” remarked Taro Kono, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan. The “collapse of multilateralism, stemming from the trade war” between the United States and China, he reiterated, must follow the same principles and existing liberal international order.

ASEAN leaders and their counterparts from Japan, South Korea and Sri Lanka echoed concerns over rising unilateralism with regard to rising trade tensions and territorial concerns in the South China Sea, raising critical questions about the geopolitical implications of the global rebalancing.

“Looking at the geopolitics in Asia and friction between America and China, I am concerned about the rebalancing of the global order,” observed Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. “What will happen to multilateral law? What we have built up is multilateral law. Will that law be decayed, diminished or can it be strengthened?”

China’s territorial moves in the South China Sea, commented Lynn Kuok, Associate Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore, will reveal what type of regulatory environment will prevail: “I will be watching out for developments in the South China Sea. China is consolidating its control over the region and resources. This matters because it will change the balance of power in the region and whether the balance of power in the region is governed by might or right,” noted Kuok.

While there are clear regional fractures, Kang Kyung-Wha, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, pointed out that there are also moments of geopolitical alignment, such as current moves to advance denuclearization efforts on the Korean Peninsula, which look much more promising than they did a year ago.

“On US-China relations, if you look at just the trade side it does look tense, but I think these are two big players on the global stage with strategic calculations that sometimes diverge, but also at times converge. And I think on the North Korea nuclear issue, they have converged,” said Kang, ahead of a third summit on the issue scheduled to be held in Pyongyang next week.

Rejecting nationalistic and protectionist trends that are resonating across the region, Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, turned to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the theme of the meeting, cautioning that future growth must be inclusive otherwise disparity will become a geopolitical threat. “It is undeniable that the revolution offers tremendous opportunities; but if a country cannot seize the opportunities,” he said, “They can be left behind.”

In addition to traditional geopolitical threats, such as maritime security and freedom of navigation and trade, the Japanese foreign minister said that one of his biggest geopolitical concerns is catastrophic weather changes on the back of climate change.

“The biggest concern is probably climate change, the sea water level is very high and we are getting stronger typhoons, stronger cyclones, heavier rain,” said Kono of Japan’s position, “Once-in-a-hundred-years rain turns out to be once every two years. It is not just an environmental issue, but involves water supply management and food security. We really need to be serious about taking care of this issue.”

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U.S. Now Past 3,000,000 Covid-19 Cases- World Nears 12,000,000 Cases

Eric Zuesse

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The most-authoritative site presenting, in real time, the number of coronavirus-19 (Covid-19) cases and data, country-by-country, throughout the world, and they now show America having soared past three million cases, and the entire world likely, by July 8th, to cross the threshold past twelve million cases.

They show the daily number of new cases as having steadily ascended ever since May 15th (100,393). The only lull (less-sharp rise) had been the moderate ascent which extended during the period of April 3rd (84,056) to May 15th (100,393). The first soaring period had extended during the period of March 17th (15,763) to April 3rd (84,056). 

On July 4th, the number of daily new cases reached 190,662. On July 3rd, it had been 210,467. (The daily figures vacillate considerably.) So, it has approximately doubled between May 15 and now. That’s just 50 days. Overall, it seems that we’re still sharply ascending.

Many people continue to doubt the usefulness of these data, because the understanding of the virus continues rapidly to develop, and almost nothing was scientifically established about it prior to January 22 of this year. Because so much about the virus continues to be not scientifically well-established, many people who distrust science and have higher trust in the beneficence or other rightness of the ‘natural order’ or of ‘God’, continue to believe that the globally reported figures should be ignored, and “nature should just be allowed to take its course” in order that a ‘herd immunity’ will develop and no Man-made vaccine will be needed in order to overcome whatever problem might possibly exist regarding this virus.

Also, many people believe that scientists are more corrupt than whatever authority the individual person happens to trust is. A great many individuals distrust the opinions of a majority of scientific experts on a given matter, regardless of how large that majority of expert opinions may happen to be. For example, there exists widespread disbelief in the peril that over 90% of climatologists assert to exist that unless humans cut way back fast on our burning of fossil fuels, this planet’s biosphere will soon become doomed to end within perhaps even less than a thousand years — producing a dead planet.

Consequently, many individuals reject these data, and trust instead that ‘herd immunity’ will develop after all of the non-immune people will have died-off — and that those believers will themselves turn out to be among the immune ones, instead of among the ones who will die off from this disease (if the disease is real, at all, which some contest).

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World Bank- India $750M Agreement for Emergency Response Program for MSMEs

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The World Bank and the Government of India today signed the $750 million agreement for the MSME Emergency Response Program to support increased flow of finance into the hands of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

The World Bank’s MSME Emergency Response program will address the immediate liquidity and credit needs of some 1.5 million viable MSMEs to help them withstand the impact of the current shock and protect millions of jobs. This is the first step among a broader set of reforms that are needed to propel the MSME sector over time.

The agreement was signed by Sameer Kumar Khare, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance on behalf of the Government of India and Junaid Ahmad, Country Director, India on behalf of the World Bank.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the MSME sector leading to loss of livelihoods and jobs.  The Government of India is  focused on ensuring that the abundant financial sector liquidity available flow to NBFCs, and that banks which have turned extremely risk averse, continue taking exposures in the economy by lending to NBFCs,” said Sameer Kumar Khare, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance. “This project will support the Government in providing targeted guarantees to incentivize NBFCs and banks to continue lending to viable MSMEs to help sustain them through the crisis,” he added.

The World Bank Group, including its private sector arm – the International Finance Corporation (IFC), will support the government’s initiatives to protect the MSME sector by:

Unlocking liquidity

India’s financial system benefited from early and decisive measures taken by the RBI and the Government of India (GOI) to infuse liquidity into the market. Give current uncertainties, lenders remain concerned about borrowers’ ability to repay – resulting in limited flow of credit even to the viable enterprises in the sector. This program will support government’s efforts to channel that liquidity to the MSME sector by de-risking lending from banks and Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) to MSMEs through a range of instruments, including credit guarantees.

Strengthening NBFCs and SFBs

Improving the funding capacity of key market-oriented channels of credit, such as the NBFCs and Small Finance Bank (SFBs), will help them respond to the urgent and varied needs of the MSMEs. This will include supporting government’s refinance facility for NBFCs. In parallel, the IFC is also providing direct support to SFBs through loans and equity.

Enabling financial innovations

Today, only about 8 percent of MSMEs are served by formal credit channels. The program will incentivize and mainstream the use of fintech and digital financial services in MSME lending and payments. Digital platforms will play an important role by enabling lenders, suppliers, and buyers to reach firms faster and at a lower cost, especially small enterprises who currently may not have access to the formal channels.

“The MSME sector is central to India’s growth and job creation and will be key to the pace of India’s economic recovery, post COVID-19. The immediate need is to ensure that the liquidity infused into the system by the government is accessed by MSMEs. Equally important is to strengthen the overall financing ecosystem for MSMEs,” said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director in India. “This operation seeks to achieve both these objectives by furthering the role of NBFCs and SCBs as effective financial intermediaries and leveraging fintech to broaden the reach of finance into the MSME sector.” 

The World Bank has to date committed $2.75 billion to support India’s emergency COVID-19 response, including the new MSME project. The first $1 billion emergency support was announced in April this year for immediate support to India’s health sector. Another $1 billion project was approved in May to increase cash transfers and food benefits to the poor and vulnerable, including a more consolidated delivery platform – accessible to both rural and urban populations across state boundaries.

The $750 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), has a maturity of 19 years including a 5-year grace period. 

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Environment

Norilsk Nickel has a permafrost monitoring plan

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Russian nickel and palladium producer will monitor the state of permafrost

Russia’s Norilsk Nickel, a major global nickel and palladium producer, has created an environmental task team, independent of the board of directors, to monitor progress in the Russian major’s environmental programmes, the company said.

A state of emergency was declared in Norilsk as a result of permafrost thawing. Several tons of diesel fuel leaked from the fuel tank at the TPP of Norilsk Energy Company No. 3 and leaked into the neighboring river on May 29.

Nornickel said it had appointed Andrey Bougrov, who has worked at the company since 2013, as its senior vice president for environmental protection.

The company plans to boost its cooperation with Russian and foreign researchers focused on Arctic ecology and permafrost zones to find solutions and improve industrial safety in the region, Bougrov said in the statement.

In addition, the post of deputy director for ecology will be introduced in the Polar division of Nornickel.

Commenting on his appointment, Bougrov said that Nornickel plans to step up its cooperation with Russian and foreign researchers, and specialist organisations focused on Arctic ecology and permafrost zones, to jointly study permafrost environments and find solutions to improve industrial safety in the Arctic region.

“Our joint efforts based on transparency will provide us with the most advanced solutions, while also contributing to the protection of the Arctic nature,” said Bougrov.

The company and emergency specialists are collecting contaminated soil and fuel from local rivers, and President Vladimir Putin has said the scale of the clear-up operation is unprecedented for Russia.

According to Nornickel’s estimate, over 90% of spilt fuel has been collected and removed so far. It said previously the accident was caused by thawing in the permafrost weakening the foundations of a storage tank.

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