🌍 Sunak reshuffles his cabinet as UK growth falters
Plus: Democracy on trial in Hong Kong
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Today’s edition is a 4.5 min read:
- 🇬🇧 Will the magic shuffle succeed in jumpstarting the UK’s growth?
- 🇭🇰 Democracy activists stand trial in Hong Kong.
- ➕ Plus: Wildfires in Chile, how the papers are covering a new power ranking in Asia, and some Grammy fun facts you didn’t know you needed (because you probably don’t).
– VC & EP
🗺️ AROUND THE WORLD
- 🇸🇾 Syria: The collective death toll from Monday’s earthquake has now surpassed 8,000. The city of Aleppo, which bore the brunt of the Syrian government’s civil war counter-offensive in 2012-16, is among the worst hit areas.
- 🇵🇰 Pakistan: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reinstated Wikipedia on Monday (6 February) after the website was banned for “sacrilegious” content. Pakistani authorities have charged around 1,500 people for blasphemy over the past three decades.
- 🇮🇩 Indonesia: Separatists from Indonesia’s Papua province have taken a New Zealand pilot hostage, demanding that Jakarta grant independence. The resource-rich province has been restive since a controversial 1969 vote brought it under Jakarta’s control.
- 🇨🇴 Colombia: Balloon-gate continued, as another high-altitude surveillance balloon was spotted hovering over Colombia. Beijing has claimed ownership of the aircraft but again insists the balloon is for civilian purposes and not for spying.
- 🇮🇹 Italy: Italy’s cybersecurity agency sounded the alarm over a huge ransomware attack across Europe and North America over the weekend (5 February). There is no evidence the cyberattack involved state-backed groups.
- 🚀 Our goal to find 10,000 new subscribers in February is off to a strong start, with ~1500 of you joining since we announced the challenge! Thanks for sharing the Intrigue, but we beg you: don’t stop now!
- 🎧 Also, the first episodes of Intrigue Outloud drop next week on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts!
🇬🇧 THE UK | ECONOMY
UK economy lags in forecasts, Sunak reshuffles his cabinet
Briefly: UK Prime Minister Sunak reshuffled his cabinet on Tuesday (7 February) in an attempt to breathe new life into his government. Between a cost of living crisis, widespread strikes, and a deputy prime minister under investigation, a political shake-up was inevitable.
Sunak has a herculean to-do list:
- Jumpstart the lagging British economy (without almost breaking it like his predecessor).
- Turn Brexit’s many lemons into lemonade (or at least a delightful lemon meringue pie).
- Patch up the Conservatives’ image ahead of the next general elections (due by 2025).
None of the above will be easy. According to the IMF, the UK will be one of the few major economies likely to fall into a recession this year. Even Russia, at war and under heavy Western sanctions, is expected to see more economic growth than Britain. Blimey…
There are plenty of factors contributing to the UK’s dim economic outlook, but economists seem to agree Brexit isn’t helping. As Bank of England policymaker Catherine Mann put it: “no other country chose to unilaterally impose trade barriers on its closest trading partners”.
Intrigue’s take: This grim picture not only makes life more difficult for Brits. It potentially also weakens the UK’s international brand and credibility, distracts its leaders from global challenges, and limits its ability to project power abroad (UK aid has cratered since 2019). It’s a perfect – if dispiriting – example of how domestic and foreign policy are interrelated.
As we were saying, herculean…
Also worth noting:
📰 GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES
How different newspapers covered: The Lowy Institute’s annual ranking of the most powerful countries and territories in Asia.
Sponsored by 1440
“I stopped watching the news a year ago, so sick of the bias everywhere. I decided to finally give 1440 a try. Finally, Walter Cronkite-style reporting!”
The team from 1440 monitors scores of news sites to find the stories that matter the most, from science and culture to business, politics, and even sports. They then pull the most important pieces together into a single digest every weekday morning.
🇭🇰 HONG KONG | DEMOCRACY
The trial of pro-democracy activists is another test for Hong Kong’s autonomy
Briefly: The trial of the ‘Hong Kong 47’ – a group of pro-democracy politicians, students, academics, and others – began on Monday (6 January) more than two years after they were arrested. 16 of the 47 have pled not guilty and will stand trial.
Backtrack: In 2020, following months of protest, mainland China imposed a sweeping “National Security Law” (NSL) which observers warned would end Hong Kong’s political autonomy. Shortly after, the Hong Kong 47 attempted to hold an unofficial pre-election primary in an effort to push back against the NSL. Experts say their declared plan would not have violated the city’s constitution. Unofficial primaries were once common in Hong Kong.
Intrigue’s take: Hong Kong’s status as a global financial hub has been surprisingly durable since the NSL was passed. This is thanks largely to capital inflows from the mainland, plus optimism that courts will continue to protect commercial contracts, if not democracy. But foreign investment has fallen, foreign firms are moving out, and the city suffered a steep recession in 2022. Bigwigs and board rooms around the world will no doubt be watching this trial closely to see just how much Hong Kong has now entered Beijing’s orbit.
Also worth noting:
📸 PHOTO OF THE DAY
Wildfires spread across Chile…
… thanks to record-breaking heat, with temperatures peaking well above 40°C (104°F). Authorities say several people have been killed and more than 270,000 hectares have burned, making these fires the most damaging since 2017.
Climate change is driving the fires, according to Chilean Interior Minister Carolina Tohá. Chile is in the 13th year of an unprecedented drought which has forced its capital, Santiago, to develop water rationing plans.
Other countries in the region are facing similar challenges. The Uruguayan government declared a state of emergency in October after drought conditions dried out more than half of the country’s agricultural land, and caused billions in losses.
👀 EXTRA INTRIGUE
To celebrate Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, here are some fun facts about the prestigious music awards ceremony.
- Beyoncé is now the most-awarded Grammy artist in history with a stunning 32 wins.
- The first Grammys were held in 1959 with only 28 awards (there were 91 this year).
- The gramophone-shaped awards are made using a custom metal alloy called ‘grammium’ (we did not make this up) and have only ever been crafted by two artisans.
- The youngest Grammy winner ever was 14 years old, while the oldest was 97 – proof it’s never too early or too late to follow your dreams.
🗳️ POLL TIME!
Does Hong Kong still have a future as a financial hub?
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Yesterday’s poll: Will NATO hopefuls Sweden and Finland be extra keen to offer Turkey emergency assistance?
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🤔 Yes, it’s savvy and honourable at the same time (83%)
🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🙅 No, aid is aid only if given with no ulterior motives (17%)
Your two cents:
- 🤔 J.D: “The citizens receiving the aid will not care what motives are behind it.”
- 🙅 V.N: “Turkey won’t change its mind regarding Sweden even with the aid. The same goes to aid that Greece is ready to give.”