Neutrality’s back in style

Neutrality’s back in style

Plus: China relaxes its Coronavirus curbs, the Pakistani Taliban order more terror attacks, and Biden’s (not so) willing to talk with Putin

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Today’s briefing is a ~4.5 min read:

  • 🏳️  Non-Alignment: Past and present.
  • ➕ Plus: China relaxes its Covid restrictions, the Pakistani Taliban order more terror attacks, and Biden’s (not so) willing to talk to Putin.

Neutrality’s back in style!

In brief:

  • The principles behind the ‘Non-Alignment Movement’, established during the Cold War, are coming back into vogue due to accelerating geopolitical polarisation.
  • India, Turkey, and Indonesia are three insightful examples of how countries are executing foreign policies that balance the interests of the US, China, and Russia.

Geopolitics, Taylor Swift style.

Leave me out of it

While we tend to leave forecasts to professionals like investment bankers or carnival fortunetellers, we’re certain one geopolitical trend from the 60s is due for a comeback.

  • Big tech offers a hint: Google searches for the term ‘non-aligned movement’ spiked between February and May this year, reaching their highest peak in a decade.

Some context: Established in 1961, the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) is a forum of 120 countries that do not wish to be pulled into a big power games.

  • While its relevance declined after the end of the Cold War, the movement – or its core principles – is currently enjoying a resurgence.

As the geopolitical rivalry between the US and China (and Russia) intensifies, many nations are choosing to stay out of the swirl – if they can help it.

Get with the movement

The following three countries have all pledged to pursue an independent foreign policy.

1. 🇮🇳 India 

As a member of the US-led ‘Quad’ alliance and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), India has been spread its allegiances across geopolitical groupings.

Currently, it enjoys a wary but cordial relationship with China, a friendship with the US, and warming economic ties with Russia – particularly when it comes to weapons and cheap oil.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar doesn’t mince words

“quite honestly, we have seen that the India-Russia relationship has worked to our advantage […] So, if it works to my advantage, I would like to keep that going.”

2. 🇮🇩 Indonesia

According to Ben Bland, nobody does neutrality quite like Indonesia. The country demonstrated this as this year’s G20 Chair:

“As G20 president, Indonesia has shown a desire to find the slim common ground between competing, even warring, nations. […] That is a valuable service to the world in these fractious times.”

Ben Bland, Director of Chatham’s House Asia-Pacific Program

While Indonesia’s non-commitment might keep its allies on their toes, Jakarta could become a key balancing force between the US and China’s regional rivalry.

3. 🇹🇷 Turkey 

Interestingly, Turkey is not a NAM cardholder, but its foreign policy over the past few years has been everything but aligned.

As a NATO member, Turkey enjoys close defence ties with the West. But instead of imposing sanctions on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, Turkey nearly doubled its trade volume with Russia since February.

What’s next?

One thing is certain: the world has no appetite for a big power showdown.

  • According to opinion polls by the Central European Institute of Asian Studies, people across Asia, Latin America, and Africa don’t feel the need to choose between China and the US.

This may be why the Non-Alignment Movement is here to stay, and might even be good news for us all.


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North & Central Asia

🇨🇳 China

China may be shifting away from its strict Covid-zero policy, with authorities easing lockdowns in Shanghai and Guangzhou despite rising cases.

  • The shift follows protests around the country that criticised the government’s pandemic response.

🇯🇵 Japan

The first trans-Arctic undersea cable linking Japan to Europe via North America has secured its first investment.

  • An earlier iteration of the project involving Russia was scrapped last year due to Russia’s reluctance to lay cables in its territorial waters.

🇵🇰 Pakistan

The Pakistani Taliban have broken its June ceasefire with the Pakistani government, and called for fighters to carry out attacks.

  • The announcement may have been strategically timed as Pakistan just selected a new military chief.

🇹🇼 Taiwan

Last week, Taiwan welcomed a delegation of UK lawmakers seeking to promote Britain’s economic and political interests in the Indo-Pacific.

  • China responded by labelling the visit a “gross interference” in its internal affairs.

🇹🇯 Tajikistan

Tajikistan is stepping up its military cooperation with China by agreeing to conduct joint anti-terrorism exercises once every two years.

  • Security ties between the two countries have deepened since 2016, when unconfirmed reports emerged of a secret Chinese military facility in eastern Tajikistan.

Time to get down to business?

The news: US President Joe Biden has announced he’d be willing to sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the ongoing Russo-Ukraine War.

  • The remarks are the farthest Biden has gone in suggesting openness to a diplomatic dialogue with Putin.

The conditions: The hypothetical talks will first have to be approved by America’s NATO allies, and would only occur if Russia demonstrates a sincere willingness to end the war.

  • Since the latter doesn’t seem to be on the cards, we suggest you don’t hold your breath for a save-the-date.

There’s a French twist: Biden’s remarks came during French President Emmanuel Macron’s US visit, where the two leaders sought to portray a united front vis-a-vis the war.

  • According to New York Times journalists Roger Cohen and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Biden’s comments had an audience of one, but maybe not the one you’re thinking:

“Mr. Biden’s public expression of conditioned willingness to reach out to Mr. Putin gratified French officials and provided unexpected support for President Emmanuel Macron’s outreach.”

Your move, Russia: For its part, the Kremlin is demanding that the US recognises the four recently-annexed territories as a prerequisite to any negotiated peace. This is a definite no-go for Ukraine and its Western allies.

  • And so, we’re back to square one.

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