Posts Tagged ‘Norway’

Oil hits 4-year high ahead of Opec-Russia supply meeting

April 19, 2018

Energy stocks and crude-linked currencies rally as investors eye longer production curbs

Image may contain: sky, cloud, twilight, outdoor and nature

Production cuts by Opec and Russia have helped crude prices rally © Bloomberg

Michael Hunter and Adam Samson in London and Peter Wells in New York

Oil prices touched four-year highs on Thursday, lifting energy-related companies to the top of global stock indices buoyed by expectations that Opec would extend supply curbs.

The prospect of a longer-term ascent became a talking point among investors in anticipation of a deal on Friday between Opec and Russia to increase the duration of their agreement to limit global oil supply to 1.8m barrels a day.

They are increasingly expected to maintain the cuts into 2019, with Saudi Arabia giving little indication it is keen to reduce the cuts, even as prices hit further heights.

Brent crude rose as much as 1.3 per cent on Thursday to $74.72, taking the international marker’s year-to-date gain to almost 8 per cent. At the time the production curbs were approved in January 2017, Brent was trading at about $55 a barrel.

Production cuts by Opec and Russia have helped crude prices rally, with the latest leg higher coming as geopolitical risks to crude supplies rise, from Venezuela’s economic spiral downwards to the risk of the US reimposing sanctions on Iran.

“We are rapidly transitioning from a market drowning in oil to a new reality of undersupply and low storage levels,” said Richard Robinson, manager of the Ashburton Global Energy fund.

“At the same time, the market is facing heightened risk to current supply — as a result of the lack of spend and increasing political volatility in oil-producing nations — such as Venezuela, Angola and Iran. The seed is being sown for a structurally higher oil price, combined with heightened probability of risk premium,” he added.

This week’s meeting in Jeddah between Opec’s ministerial committee and the Russia-led producing countries outside the cartel comes as the outlook for demand improves.

Fears about the impact on global growth of the US-China trade dispute eased as the two countries held back from a further escalation this week, while confirmation of high-level talks between Washington and North Korea also brightened the geopolitical backdrop.

In the US, the rebound for crude has brought investors back to resource stocks in April, after a moribund showing for the sector for the rest of 2018. The energy component of the S&P 500 was up 9 per cent over the month to date, outperforming a rise of about 2.6 per cent for the wider S&P 600.

The trading pattern was also helped by a drop of 1.1m barrels in US inventories, according to data released on Wednesday.

Oil-linked currencies also stood out, making notable gains over the month to date on global markets. The Australian and Canadian dollars gained by about 2 per cent against their US equivalent. Norway’s krone was up 0.6 per cent over the same period against the euro.


Sweden charges Chinese with spying on Tibetan refugees — Who could possibly fear Tibetan refugees?

April 11, 2018
© AFP | China has ruled Tibet since the 1950s, and has been accused of trying to eradicate its Buddhist-based culture through political and religious repression

STOCKHOLM (SWEDEN) (AFP) – Swedish prosecutors on Wednesday charged a 49-year-old Chinese man with espionage for allegedly gathering intelligence on Tibetan refugees in Sweden and Norway for China.The man, identified in the charge sheet as Dorjee Gyantsan, is accused of infiltrating the Tibetan community to pass information on their personal and political activities to Chinese officials in exchange for money.

His lawyer, Mikael Soderberg, told AFP his client — who faces up to four years in prison — denied all charges.

Dorjee acquired resident status as a refugee in Sweden in the early 2000s, and posed as a supporter of Tibetan independence, prosecutors said.

He also attended Tibetan anti-China protests in Norway, and covered a visit of the Dalai Lama to Norway as a reporter for the pro-Tibetan Voice of Tibet, in order to collect information on Tibetan refugees.

The espionage is believed to have taken place from July 2015 to February 2017, when he was arrested.

“This is a very serious crime. The espionage has affected very vulnerable people,” prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist told AFP.

“People who have fled to Sweden from totalitarian regimes must be able to feel safe and feel that they can exercise their constitutionally-protected freedom to protest against a regime without fear of persecution or attacks on themselves or their families.”

Some 130 Tibetans live in the Scandinavian country, according to the organisation Tibetan Community in Sweden.

Prosecutors believe Dorjee met repeatedly with a Chinese embassy secretary in Poland to pass on information, receiving thousands of dollars (euros) in exchange.

The suspect had also contacts with a person in Finland believed to be connected to the Chinese regime.

The meetings were held outside Sweden “to make it more difficult to uncover the operation”, the charge sheet said.

At the time of his arrest, Dorjee had just returned from a trip to Warsaw and was carrying $6,000 in cash, which prosecutors believe was payment for his information.

The prosecution’s evidence includes witness testimonies about his contacts with the Tibetan community, as well as the suspect’s phone and travel records.

Beijing says it “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1951 and considers it an inseparable part of China.

Regimes often spy on refugees to find out who has fled the country, why, and where they are now — or to put pressure on family members who have stayed behind.

Brexit Committee MPs demand Norway-style deal with the EU

April 4, 2018


But MPs who voted Leave say Remainers are trying to reverse the referendum result by stealth.

Anti-Brexit demonstrators wave EU and Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament
Image:The Brexit committee has published its report on a deal with the EU

A UK trade deal with the EU similar to those of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway is being demanded by an all-party committee of MPs.

The Brexit committee of MPs wants Theresa May to consider keeping the UK in the European Economic Area (EEA) or join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Europe’s EEA agreement, which came into force in 1994, extends membership of the EU’s single market to non-EU members Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

But the MPs’ proposal is likely to be rejected by the Government, since Brexit Secretary David Davis has previously ruled out both options, calling them “in many ways, the worst of all outcomes”.

The EEA/EFTA recommendation comes in the latest controversial report by the 21-member Brexit committee of MPs, chaired by the former Labour Cabinet minister Hilary Benn.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 11: Former Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, arrives to attend a press conference held by former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle in which Eagle announced her intention to challenge Jeremy Corbyn for leadership pf the Labour Party, on July 11, 2016 in London, England. Mr Corbyn has faced numerous frontbench resignations, but has said he would not betray the party members, who elected him last year, by standing down.
Image:The Brexit committee is chaired by Hilary Benn

And for the second time in less than three weeks, Mr Benn has faced a mutiny by Brexit-supporting MPs on his committee, led by Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Last month Mr Rees-Mogg and fellow pro-Leave committee members disowned a report calling for the Brexit transition period to be extended. Now he says the latest report serves no useful purpose.

As well as voting against the EEA/EFTA proposal, the committee’s Brexiteers also voted against the new report in its entirety, but they were defeated by 10 votes to six.

The majority of committee members are recommending that if Brexit negotiations on a “deep and special partnership” fail, EEA/EFTA membership should “remain an alternative”.

The committee is also proposing 15 “key tests” for the Government’s final deal with the EU, including the contentious issue of the Northern Ireland border.

Launching the report, Mr Benn said: “Our tests set a high bar, but they are based on the Prime Minister’s vision for our future outside the EU and the statement by David Davis that any new deal would be at least as good as what we have now.

“It is vital that UK businesses are able to continue to trade freely and sell services into our largest market after we leave, without additional costs or burdens or a hard border in Northern Ireland and that we maintain close co-operation on defence, security, data and information sharing and consumer safety.”

And he added: “Should negotiations on a ‘deep and special partnership’ not prove successful, we consider that EFTA/EEA membership remains an alternative which would have the advantage of continuity of access for UK services and could also be negotiated relatively quickly.”

Besides keeping an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the committee’s tests also include co-operation on crime and terrorism and tariff-free trade between the UK and EU.

The report also calls on the Government to maintain convergence with EU regulations in “order to maximise access to European markets” and advises that any new immigration arrangements “must not act as an impediment to the movement of workers providing services across borders”.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 17:  Jacob Rees-Mogg MP speaks during a 'Bruges Group' press conference at on May 17, 2016 in London, England. The event focused on the issues surrounding the European Arrest Warrant and how Britain would be, in the opinion of the speakers, better placed outside of the European Union.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Image:Mr Rees-Mogg says Remainers are simply trying to re-fight the referendum

But Mr Rees-Mogg declared: “The committee’s report is another effort by Remainers to reverse the result. The High Priests of Remain on the select committee voted to thwart Brexit by stealth.

“This serves no useful purpose as select committees’ reports are only influential if they are unanimous, dividing on Leave-Remain lines simply re-fights the referendum.”

A spokesman for Mr Davis’s Brexit department said: “As the Prime Minister said at Mansion House, the UK Government is seeking the broadest and deepest possible partnership with the EU, covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today.

More from Brexit

  • Legal challenge to decision to award British passport contract to continental firm

  • Uncertainty persists as May faces ‘clear hurdles’ despite Brexit Day joy

  • Recap: Prime Minister tours UK to mark one year until Brexit

  • PM to ‘strengthen bonds’ as she embarks on UK-wide tour to mark ‘Brexit Day’

  • Rudd: No agreement on whether immigration will be part of next phase of Brexit talks

  • Forecast of Brexit job losses from City of London drops by half

“When we leave the EU we will leave the single market and customs union so that we take back control of our money, laws and borders.

“To do otherwise will see us forever implementing, in their entirety, new EU legislation over which we will have had no say, and leave us with less control over our trade policy than we have now.”

Half of European flights face delays after computer failure

April 3, 2018

BRUSSELS (AFP) – European air travellers faced mass disruption on Tuesday with up to half of all flights delayed after the system that manages air traffic for the continent broke down.

Nearly 15,000 flights could be held up by the problem, acording to Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based agency in charge of managing Europe’s skies.

Several of the EU’s biggest airports, including Amsterdam’s Schiphol, warned of problems and advised passengers to check on their flights because of the computer breakdown.

 Image result for Eurocontrol, signs, photos

“Today 29,500 flights were expected in the European network. Approximately half of those could have some delay as a result of the system outage,” a Eurocontrol statement said.

“We very much regret the inconvenience caused to passengers across Europe today, however safety is our number 1 priority at all times. We are working hard to ensure the network returns to normal operations over the coming hours,” it later tweeted.

Eurocontrol — which covers 41 countries including all 28 EU nations plus others in Europe including Ukraine, Turkey and Norway — said it hoped to have the system back up and running by late Tuesday.

It blamed a “failure of the Enhanced Tactical Flow Management System”, which tracks and manages traffic demand across the continent, and said it had activated contingency plans which reduced European flight capacity by 10 percent.

The cause had been identified, it said, without saying what it was.

Eurocontrol added that flight plans from before 1026 GMT were “lost” and asked airlines to refile them.

“We have never had anything like this before,” a Eurocontrol spokesman told AFP.

Image result for Amsterdam, Schiphol, photos

– ‘Vicious circle’ –

The breakdown comes a day after the Easter holidays when many travellers are on the move around Europe, and as commuters across France faced disruption from a massive rail strike in protest at President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms.

Several airports across the continent warned of problems, with Amsterdam’s Schiphol saying that the “system failure” at Eurocontrol could have “possible consequences” for departures.

Brussels airport said departures were limited to 10 flights an hour. The Belgian airport manages 650 flights a day, according to its website.

Helsinki, Prague, Copenhagen and Dublin airports also warned of delays.

Frankfurt airport, Germany’s biggest and one of the busiest in Europe, said the effects were “limited” but added that planes from Brussels “might not be able to arrive”.

“We have delays at departures, but this is nothing dramatic. Punctuality is currently under 80 percent,” a spokesperson of Fraport, which runs the airport, told AFP.

German air traffic control operator Deutsche Flugsicherung warned of a possible “vicious circle” of delays.

“Since 2 pm this system, the network manager, has failed in Brussels. This is the system, the department, that controls the flight schedules,” a spokeswoman said.

“You work from experience, but things are going slower. But of course, a vicious circle can arise. If nobody takes off, nobody can land. We don’t know how long it’ll take,” the spokeswoman added.

The main airports in Paris and Rome, and the organisation that runs all of Spain’s airports, said, however, they had no initial reports of disruption.

by Alex PIGMAN

Russia tells 23 countries that envoys must go

March 30, 2018
 / 10:39 PM March 30, 2018

Image may contain: outdoor

A van leaves the U.S. consulate in St.Petersburg, Russia, Friday, March 30, 2018. Russia announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, on Thursday and said it was closing a U.S. consulate in retaliation for the wave of Western expulsions of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain, a tit-for-tat response that intensified the Kremlin’s rupture with the United States and Europe. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

PETERSBURG, Russia – Russia’s Foreign Ministry says it has informed ambassadors of most of the countries that ordered expulsion of Russian diplomats that an equal number of their diplomats have been declared persona non grata.

A ministry statement Friday said the ambassadors were from 23 of the countries that are expelling Russians in connection with the poisoning in Britain of a former Russian double agent and his daughter. Russia on Thursday announced it was expelling 60 US diplomats and closing the consulate in St. Petersburg in retaliation for Washington’s moves.

The countries informed Friday of expulsions were Australia, Albania, Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Finland, France, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Estonia.


It said it Russia would consider mirror expulsions of diplomats from Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro.

The statement did not mention NATO, which is expelling seven Russians.

Read more:
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Norway’s Christian Democrats to decide government’s fate in row — “Putting terrorists’ rights before national security.” — Facebook post may topple Norway govt

March 19, 2018


Picture taken on March 15, 2018 shows Norwegian Minister of Justice and Public Security Sylvi Listhaug speaking to the media at the Norwegian Parliament in Oslo, Norway. (AFP/NTB Scanpix/Gorm Kallestad)
OSLO: Norway’s Christian Democrats, holding the balance of power in parliament, are expected to decide on Monday whether to back a no-confidence vote against Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug, a rarely used step that would probably bring down the government.
Listhaug recently rocked Norway’s traditionally consensual politics by accusing the opposition Labour Party — target of the country’s worst peacetime massacre — of putting terrorists’ rights before national security.
Five center-left parties last week said they would vote on Tuesday to oust the minister, leaving her fate in the hands of the small Christian Democratic Party, which has scheduled meetings on Monday to discuss its vote.
On Sunday, daily Verdens Gang and broadcasters NRK and TV2 quoted sources close to Prime Minister Erna Solberg saying her cabinet would stand by Listhaug and resign if the no-confidence vote succeeds.
Snap elections are not allowed, and Norway’s next general election is not due until 2021. This may allow Solberg to form a new government, but may also throw the job to Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere if the Christian Democrats switch sides.
On July 22, 2011, far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people in downtown Oslo with a car bomb and then shot dead 69 people, many of them teenagers, at a Labour party camp on Utoeya Island.
On Facebook, Listhaug recently posted a photograph of masked people clad in military fatigues, black scarves and ammunition with the text: “Labour thinks terrorists’ rights are more important than the nation’s security. Like and Share.”
The comments unleashed a political storm, and Listhaug, a member of the right-wing Progress Party, apologized in parliament on March 13. Most opposition parties, however, said her gesture was not sincere enough.
But although many attempts have been made by parties in parliament to oust governments via no-confidence motions, the last vote to succeed in bringing down a cabinet was in 1963.
Daily Aftenposten on Monday said that Solberg and Christian Democrats leader Knut Arild Hareide had discussed the possibility of defusing the situation by having Listhaug apologize a second time.
The dispute erupted after Labour and the Christian Democrats helped defeat a bill allowing the state the right, without judicial review, to strip individuals of Norwegian citizenship if they are suspected of terrorism or joining foreign militant groups.
While Hareide’s party has backed Conservative leader Solberg for prime minister since 2013, it has declined invitations to join the cabinet, primarily due to its opposition to the Progress Party.
 Justice Minister Sylvi Listhaug heightening the risk that the minority cabinet will fall.


EU to double funding for military force in West Africa’s Sahel region

February 23, 2018


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is set to double its funding for a multi-national military operation in West Africa’s Sahel region to counter Islamist insurgencies on Friday, EU diplomats said, part of a broader effort to fight militants and people traffickers.

At a donor conference of some 50 countries including the United States, Japan and Norway, military power France hopes to win enough backing to allow a regional force first proposed four years ago to be fully operational later this year.

No automatic alt text available.

“There is a direct European interest in restoring stability to the region,” a senior EU diplomat said. “There is a general awareness now that the future of the European Union is also the future of Africa.”

Fears that violence in the arid zone could fuel already high levels of migration towards Europe and become a springboard for attacks on the West have made military and development aid there a priority for European nations and Washington.

The G5 Sahel force, made up of troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, needs more than 400 million euros ($494 million) to be able to meet the demands of its Western backers, up from the 250 million euros it has now.

Image result for G5 Sahel force, photos

French President Emmanuel Macron observed operations in northern Mali in May 2017 [Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA]

France, which has more than 4,000 troops in the region, hopes to reach at least 300 million on Friday, as the European Union pledges another 50 million euros to take its contribution to 100 million for the force that has struggled to meet expectations while militants have scored military victories in West Africa.

So far, the United States has pledged 60 million euros to support it. Another 100 million euros has been pledged by Saudi Arabia, 30 million from the United Arab Emirates and 40 million on a bilateral basis by EU member states, separate from the EU’s joint effort.

Separately, France is set to pledge 1.2 billion euros to fund development in the region over the next five years, a 40 percent increase over current levels, an EU diplomat said.


The deaths of two French soldiers this week in Mali and four U.S. soldiers in October in Niger, where most Americans did not know the United States had forces, has highlighted the security threat in the vast scrublands spanning from Mauritania to Chad.

French President Emmanuel Macron will call for more to be done to support a separate EU train-and-advise mission in Mali, a second EU diplomat said, and is seeking some 50 more EU troops after Belgian soldiers ended their tour in the mission.

Image result for G5 Sahel force, photos

Chadian soldiers march a training mission for African militaries

France has been frustrated that it is the only EU member with combat troops on the ground, although others have contributed trainers. By training African forces, Paris sees an eventual exit strategy for what is its biggest foreign deployment, diplomats said.

“There’s a lack of EU training troops that we must fill,” a EU diplomat said.

Macron will also call to redouble efforts to broker peace through talks with Tuareg rebels in the desert north.

Tuaregs and jihadists took over northern Mali in 2012 before French forces pushed them back in 2013 in an intervention that alerted Washington to the growing threat in the region.

The G5 Sahel operation, whose command base is in central Mali, is set to swell to 5,000 men from seven battalions and will also engage in humanitarian and development work.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that training soldiers was not the only strategy and called for greater efforts to relieve the roots of the conflict in poverty, poor governance and climate hazards.

“When you add more weapons, you add more suffering,” Patrick Youssef, deputy head of the ICRC’s operations for Africa, told Reuters. “That needs to be accompanied with real measures to alleviate the suffering that is the main reason why this war was created.”

China’s polar ambitions cause anxiety

February 20, 2018

It’s set to expand presence in Antarctica and the Arctic in positioning itself as a polar power

Chinese tourists going abroad must be used to it by now – the lists of dos and don’ts to prevent them from tarnishing their country’s image.

“Do not spit phlegm or gum” and “don’t take a long time using public toilets” are just two of the exhortations in a 2013 pamphlet from the National Tourism Administration.

But the latest set of regulations is different, with rules against collecting soil, rocks and animals, carrying toxic objects and leaving behind solid waste. They are meant to protect Antarctica’s environment and promote sustainable development of China’s activities in the region, said the China Arctic and Antarctic Administration.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, night and outdoor

The rules – released by the State Oceanic Administration earlier this month – include a ban on violators from the area for three years.

They come at a time when the number of Chinese tourists to Antarctica and the Arctic has spiked. Antarctica attracted 5,289 Chinese visitors last year – making up 12 per cent of visitors – overtaking Australians as the second-largest group of travellers there.

Up in the Arctic, Chinese tourists going to the Russian Arctic National Park and the Finnish Lapland have risen as well.

 No automatic alt text available.

The regulations also come amid closer scrutiny of China’s expanding polar activities.



China needs to clearly signal its intentions and strategic interests in the Antarctic, as other Antarctic states have done before them.

PROFESSOR ANNE-MARIE BRADY, of Canterbury University in New Zealand, on China’s ambitions in the Antarctic.


Chinese diplomacy in the polar regions can be collaborative and cooperative, rather than provocative and challenging.

DR LIU NENGYE, of Adelaide University in Australia, on how China’s interest in the polar regions differs from its areas of core interests such as Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Tourists are the most visible signs of the growing Chinese presence in the polar regions, which now feature mainly scientific research activities, but will increasingly include economic activities.

This is occurring as global warming causes ice melt in the polar regions, leading to possibilities in shipping and the exploitation of natural resources there.

This increasing Chinese presence in the poles has drawn mixed responses from other parties, whether those with direct stakes like the Arctic states and claimant states to Antarctica, or those with no direct claims but which want a piece of the action.

China is set to expand its activities as it positions itself as a polar power, in line with its foreign policy to be a global presence. As early as 2014, then director of the State Oceanic Administration Liu Cigui wrote: “Today, we are already standing at the starting point of a brand-new historical era, of striding towards becoming a polar-region power.”

Its 13th five-year development plan of 2016-2020 includes a major programme to explore the polar regions. China’s polar ambitions are a function of its rise, said Dr Liu Nengye of Adelaide University.

“China is now able to reach remote parts of the world, be it the Arctic, Antarctica, deep seabed or outer space,” he said in an e-mail interview. He added that economic interests are key, but there are geopolitical reasons as well.

The rest of the world, particularly nations that have been driving polar policies, “may be worried that they will no longer play leading roles in the international decision-making process or at least (are) not as comfortable as they used to be”, he added.


A key foreign relations moment for China this year was the publication of its first White Paper on its Arctic policy last month. Dr Liu said it was well crafted, adding: “It clearly explains China’s objectives in the Arctic and reaffirms China’s full support of the existing Arctic international legal regime.”

The sovereignty of the Arctic states – those that ring the Arctic Circle like Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States – is also respected, he noted.

China positions itself as an important stakeholder as a “near-Arctic state” whose climate and environment are affected by changes there.

While scientific and environmental research is talked about in the policy paper, economic activities also figure strongly. China wants to take part in the development of Arctic shipping routes.

It wants to develop a Polar Silk Road to link with its Belt and Road Initiative  to build infrastructure along land and sea routes that link China to Africa and Europe.

Beijing is keen on the Polar Silk Road because it not only cuts by about a third the travel time from China to Europe, compared with the route via the South China Sea and Indian Ocean now, but also runs through an area free of pirates.

It also wants to take part in the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and mineral resources, utilise fisheries and other living resources and develop tourism in the Arctic.

In addition, it wants to take part in shaping its governance.

Response to the White Paper has been mixed among Arctic states.

Canadian analysts worry about its ambiguity on Canadian jurisdiction over the North-west Passage that runs through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. While the White Paper acknowledges the sovereignty of Arctic states, it also says international law needs to be observed.

“We don’t know how China places the hierarchy between Arctic states and international law,” Universite Laval professor Frederic Lasserre told CBC News.

He found the ambiguity over what China wants to do in the Arctic “a bit troubling”.

But the Russians have welcomed China’s engagement in the Arctic. China National Petroleum Corporation has a 20 per cent stake in the Yamal liquefied natural gas project in Siberia, and the two nations are looking to cooperate on developing rail and port facilities at Arkhangelsk city near the Arctic Circle.

China has also cooperated with Nordic state, including Iceland, on scientific research. What worries the West is that China and Russia appear to be stepping up military cooperation, having held naval drills in the Baltic Sea last year.

Chinese naval vessels have also at times operated close to the Arctic waters, noted Dr Marc Lanteigne of Massey University in New Zealand.

However, he added: “There is little sign that Beijing has any interest in sending military vessels to the Arctic on a regular basis, especially since doing so would likely prompt a strong reaction from both Russia and the United States.”


In Antarctica, China’s activities are also coming under greater scrutiny.

China runs four research stations there and is building a fifth that is expected to be completed in 2022.

Antarctica is not governed by any one country but by the Antarctica Treaty signed in 1959. China is one of 29 consultative nations of the treaty that govern the territory.

One of the treaty’s objectives is to keep Antarctica demilitarised and nuclear-free, and ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only.

China published a White Paper on its Antarctic activities last May that focused heavily on its scientific concerns and interest in cooperating with other states on projects related to the environment and climate, noted Dr Lanteigne.

However, a report published last August by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said China “has conducted undeclared military activities in Antarctica, is building a territorial claim, and is engaging in military exploration there”.

It also said China is looking for resources, including minerals, hydrocarbons and fish.

All territorial claims have been suspended since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961, while the Madrid Protocol forbids any activity related to mineral resources other than for scientific research. This protocol is up for review in 2048.

The report said that for the Chinese, the protocol simply postpones what they believe is the inevitable opening up of Antarctic resources. It suggests that China should be encouraged to issue an official Antarctic strategy.

Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University in New Zealand, who wrote the report, said in an e-mail: “China needs to clearly signal its intentions and strategic interests in the Antarctic, as other Antarctic states have done before them.”

As a consultative nation, China is entitled to help shape the evolution of Antarctic governance, she added.

As a non-Arctic state and non-claimant to Antarctica, China is seeking to walk a fine line between avoiding being seen as a “gatecrasher” and not being marginalised, said Dr Lanteigne.

Dr Liu thinks that China’s interest in the polar regions differs from its areas of core interests such as Taiwan and the South China Sea. Thus “Chinese diplomacy in the polar regions can be collaborative and cooperative, rather than provocative and challenging”, he added.


As Gaza deteriorates, Israel turns to world for help

February 15, 2018

In this file photo smoke rises in Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike. Four years ago, Israel inflicted heavy damage on Gaza’s infrastructure during a bruising 50-day war with Hamas militants. Now, fearing a humanitarian disaster on its doorstep, Israel is appealing to the world to fund a series of big-ticket development projects in the war-torn area. (AP/Dusan Vranic, File)
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Four years ago, Israel inflicted heavy damage on Gaza’s infrastructure during a bruising 50-day war with Hamas militants. Now, fearing a humanitarian disaster on its doorstep, it’s appealing to the world to fund a series of big-ticket development projects in the war-battered strip.
In a windfall, the wealthy Gulf Arab state of Qatar, a key donor, has become an unlikely partner in Israel’s quest, and has urged other nations to follow suit.
But it remains unclear whether the rest of the international community is in a giving mood.
Donors say that while there have been some successes with reconstruction since the 2014 war, Israeli bureaucracy and security reviews are still too slow and Israel’s ongoing blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza is stifling the broader goal of developing the territory’s devastated economy.
“Israel now realizes the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and its impact on the population,” said the World Bank, which has helped oversee international reconstruction efforts. “Donors will be more encouraged to invest if the right conditions on the ground are put in place to allow sustainable growth.”
Gaza, a tiny strip of land sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, has seen conditions steadily deteriorate since Hamas overran the territory in 2007 and took control from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority.
Israel and Egypt clamped a blockade in an attempt to weaken Hamas, and Israel and Hamas have fought three wars. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, hoping to regain control, has stepped up pressure on Hamas by cutting salaries of civil servants and limiting electricity deliveries.
The last war, in 2014, was especially devastating. Nearly 20,000 homes were destroyed, and over 150,000 others were damaged, according to UN figures. Hospitals, schools and infrastructure were also damaged.
Following the war, international donors gathered in Cairo and came up with a $3.5 billion reconstruction plan. But only 53 percent of the promised money has been delivered, according to the World Bank, and Gaza’s economy is in shambles. Unemployment is over 40 percent, tap water is undrinkable and Gazans receive only a few hours of electricity a day.
Signs of distress are visible throughout Gaza’s potholed streets. Young men sit idly in groups on sidewalks, shopkeepers kill time on their smartphones as they mind their empty shops and the smell of sewage from the Mediterranean often wafts through the air.
Israel blames Hamas, a militant group sworn to its destruction, for the conditions. It says it has no choice but to maintain the blockade, which restricts imports and exports, because the group continues to plot ways to attack Israel.
But fearing a humanitarian disaster that could spill over into violence, Israel has begun to soften its line, echoing warnings by international officials.
“We are well beyond a humanitarian crisis, but on the verge of a total system failure in Gaza, with a full collapse of the economy and social services with political, humanitarian and security implications to match,” UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov said.
Looking forward, Israel and the international community have different visions for how to fix the situation.
On Jan. 31, Israeli Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who oversees Israeli civilian policies for Gaza, appealed to an emergency gathering of donor nations in Brussels to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars for long-delayed projects sought by the international community.
According to a document obtained by The Associated Press, the Israeli list included a power line, natural gas line, desalination plant, industrial zone and sewage treatment facility.
“Israel is ready to provide its technological skills and infrastructure to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, on the condition that the funds come from the international community and that we know that they will not go to strengthen Hamas,” Hanegbi told the Ynet news site.
In a rare interview, Mohammed Al-Emadi, the head of Qatar’s Gaza reconstruction committee, urged other nations to support the effort.
“We have to fund as soon as possible,” he told the AP. “When you want to do work in Gaza, you have to go through the Israelis.”
Qatar, along with the United States and European Union, has been a leading donor to the “Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism,” a system set up after the 2014 war to rebuild the territory while avoiding contact with Hamas.
Under the arrangement, the Palestinian Authority leads the projects, Israeli security officials review and approve them, while the UN monitors the delivery of goods to make sure that items like cement and metal pipes don’t reach Hamas. It relies on various tools, including authorized vendors, security cameras and spot inspections of construction sites.
Israel considers the system to be a success, given the challenging circumstances. According to Israeli figures, nearly 90,000 homes have been rebuilt, while 380 large projects, such as hospitals, housing complexes and water treatment facilities, have been completed.
Qatar has funded some of the most high-profile projects, including an $84 million highway running the 40-kilometer (25-mile) length of Gaza, a $114 million high-rise development in southern Gaza and a $17 million state-of-the-art rehabilitation hospital.
Life-size pictures of Qatar’s former emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and his son, current emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, greet visitors at the hospital entrance.
In Brussels, Jason Greenblatt, the White House Mideast envoy, also called for donors to “rededicate” themselves to investing in Gaza’s infrastructure.
Other key donors, however, seem to be more hesitant. It appears unlikely they will open their wallets with internal Palestinian reconciliation at a standstill, the Trump administration unable to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and continued international frustration over Israel’s 11-year blockade of Gaza. US cuts to UNRWA, the UN agency that assists more than half of Gaza’s population, have further complicated the situation.
Illustrating the atmosphere, the new Qatari hospital overlooks a beach contaminated by untreated sewage water that pours into the sea due to power failures.
Guri Solberg, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman for Norway, one of the sponsors of the Brussels meeting, said the gathering was meant to reiterate support for a two-state solution and to enable the Palestinian Authority to regain control of Gaza.
It was “not a pledging conference,” she said, adding it was impossible to say whether countries are ready to pledge more funds. A “number of donors” expressed concerns over the cuts to UNRWA, she added.
UN and World Bank officials say the reconstruction mechanism has worked well on routine projects but that Israeli bureaucracy and lengthy security reviews on complicated pieces of equipment have resulted in delays of up to six months.
Rebhi Sheikh-Khalil, deputy head of the Palestinian Water Authority, said a one-year project to build the first phase of a desalination plant end up dragging on for three years.
“This is due to the Israeli approvals that take a long time and so many procedures,” he said.
In Brussels, the Israelis pledged to ease some restrictions to speed up construction — a step welcomed by the World Bank.
Mladenov, the UN envoy, said that for Gaza’s economy to truly recover, the world must focus on broader goals: enabling Abbas’ government to retake control, ending the Israeli blockade and halting Hamas’ militant activities.
“This will fully enable the international community to support the economic and social revival of Gaza,” he said.

Russia and China vie to beat the US in the trillion-dollar race to control the Arctic

February 6, 2018

Febfruary 6, 2018

Call it a new cold war: Russia, China and the United States all vying for influence and control in a part of the world that, this time, is quite literally cold.

With more than half of all Arctic coastline along its northern shores, Russia has long sought economic and military dominance in part of the world where as much as $35 trillion worth of untapped oil and natural gas could be lurking. Now China is pushing its way into the Arctic, announcing last month its ambitions to develop a “Polar Silk Road”through the region as warming global temperatures open up new sea lanes and economic opportunities at the top of the world.

At play is between one-fifth and a quarter of the world’s untapped fossil-fuel resources, not to mention a range of mineable minerals, including gold, silver, diamond, copper, titanium, graphite, uranium and other valuable rare earth elements. With the ice in retreat, those resources will come increasingly within reach.

At a December meeting of climate scientists in New Orleans, a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared that the Arctic as we’ve known it is now a thing of the past. Coining a new phrase — the New Arctic — they described the uptick in ocean surface warming and decline in sea ice since 2000 as unprecedented in the past 1,500 years. The Arctic, they wrote, “shows no sign of returning to [the] reliably frozen region of past decades.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) during their bilateral meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit on November 10, 2017 in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) during their bilateral meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit on November 10, 2017 in Da Nang, Vietnam.

As the ice pulls back, corporations and governments are moving in. Seaport facilities, mining operations, oil and gas pipelines — as well as new roads, railways and airstrips to serve them — are arriving in the region at an accelerating pace. An inventory of planned, in-progress, completed or canceled Arctic infrastructure projects compiled by global financial firm Guggenheim Partners tallies roughly 900 projects, requiring a total of $1 trillion in investment, some of which is already on the way.

With $300 billion in potential projects either completed, in motion or proposed, Russia is the clear leader in Arctic infrastructure development. The world’s largest country has moved to reopen some abandoned Soviet-era military installations and place new facilities and airfields in its northern territory, while also establishing a string of seaports along its northern coastline. State-controlled oil company Rosneft started drilling the northernmost rig in the Russian Arctic shelf last year in an attempt to tap into a field that could hold more than half a billion barrels of oil. In June it found its first oilfield, in the Laptev Sea in the eastern Arctic. Meanwhile, Russian energy giant Gazprom Neft already pumps oil from beneath Arctic waters via a different offshore field, in the Pechora Sea.

The ultimate goal: to have offshore Arctic oil account for between 20 and 30 percent of Russian production by 2050.

The Prirazlomnaya offshore ice-resistant oil-producing platform is seen at Pechora Sea, Russia.

Sergey Anisimov | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
The Prirazlomnaya offshore ice-resistant oil-producing platform is seen at Pechora Sea, Russia.

Russia isn’t alone. Finland, the United States and Canada have also proposed significant infrastructure investment within their respective Arctic zones. Norway’s state energy company is pursuing exploration activities in the far reaches of the Barents Sea even as its sovereign wealth fund considers divesting from fossil fuels. In January the Trump administration announced plans to open up much of the U.S. outer continental shelf to offshore drilling, including areas off the north shore of Alaska.

An oil rig Beaufort Sea

Trump to expand offshore drilling off Atlantic, Pacific  

But it’s the emergence of China — a nation with no territorial claim to the Arctic — as a rising polar power that has the potential to shake up the competition for resources and influence in the region. With its economic and naval power on the rise, China has begun underwriting Arctic development projects despite its lack of territory there, underscoring the region’s growing global importance.

Though not all of the Arctic infrastructure projects logged by Guggenheim will be completed, “the level of projects has been improving,” says Jim Pass, a senior managing director at Guggenheim Partners who has traveled extensively in the region. Projects once deemed largely conceptual have matured into well-thought-out capital infrastructure projects that show meaningful return on investment, he says. As the ice continues to recede, a race is on to develop or buy into the projects that can best position states and companies to compete in the New Arctic.

Racing for Arctic riches

In December, at about the same time climate scientists were discussing the latest Arctic Report Card in New Orleans, a tanker departed Russia’s Yamal LNG facility on the country’s northeastern Yamal peninsula bound for the UK. The tanker carried the first shipment of liquified natural gas (LNG) produced by the Yamal LNG facility, which officially opened in the first week of December with Russian President Vladimir Putin presiding over the occasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin inspects Yamal LNG, Russia’s second liquefied natural gas plant, which is under construction in the Arctic port of Sabetta, Yamalo-Nenets district, Russia December 8, 2017.

Sputnik | Alexei Druzhinin | Kremlin via Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin inspects Yamal LNG, Russia’s second liquefied natural gas plant, which is under construction in the Arctic port of Sabetta, Yamalo-Nenets district, Russia December 8, 2017.

The project, one of the Arctic’s more complex energy infrastructure undertakings to date, is but one of nearly $275 billion in potential Arctic energy investments logged in Guggenheim’s database, and a milestone project for Russia, which accounts for nearly $150 billion of that potential investment alone.

A look at Russia’s icebreaker inventory underscores its commitment to the region; Russia has nearly 40 icebreaker ships in service, with five more under construction and six more planned. Finland, owner of the world’s second-largest icebreaker fleet has seven, followed by Canada and Sweden at six apiece. The U.S. has five, only one of which is a so-called heavy icebreaker. Scrambling to update its aging fleet, the U.S. Coast Guard plans to build six more (three heavy and three medium icebreakers), though the first won’t be delivered until 2023.

People attend a ceremony to float out the nuclear-powered icebreaker "Sibir" (Siberia), which is under construction, at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia September 22, 2017.

Anton Vaganov | Reuters
People attend a ceremony to float out the nuclear-powered icebreaker “Sibir” (Siberia), which is under construction, at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia September 22, 2017.

Energy resources will likely remain the driver of major investments in the Arctic for the foreseeable future, but for all the fanfare around them highly visible energy projects like Yamal LNG only paint a fraction of the economic picture in the Arctic, Pass says. Guggenheim’s Arctic project inventory includes a data center in Norway, a Finnish biomass-to-ethanol plant, and a Swedish lithium-ion battery factory, among many other projects that fall outside the more conventional categories of fossil fuels, mining, roads and railways.

But the greatest opportunity, he says, is arguably in transport — not just within the Arctic but through it. Much of the Arctic likely won’t see ice-free summertime shipping lanes for some time, perhaps two decades or longer. But other routes, like the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s northern shore are already navigable — albeit not easily — during certain times of the year, trimming some 30 percent to 40 percent off the distance ships would travel between East Asia and Northern Europe if they traversed the conventional Suez Canal route instead. Russia has already installed more than a dozen seaports along the route at places like Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, in the country’s northwest, to Tiksi and Pevek in the northeast.

The city of Murmansk, the Barents Sea port in the Arctic Circle, Russia, August 3, 2017.

Sergei Karpukhin | Reuters
The city of Murmansk, the Barents Sea port in the Arctic Circle, Russia, August 3, 2017.

Meanwhile, if data really is the new oil, the New Arctic could be home to those pipelines as well. Undersea cables laid through the Arctic could one day connect Asia, Northern Europe, and North America more directly, providing far shorter routes for data traveling around the northern hemisphere.

“Whether it’s the fraction of a millisecond it takes for financial transactions to travel between Tokyo and London or whether it’s shorter shipping routes from Northern Europe to China, the Arctic shortens distances,” says Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “As globalization continues to emphasize speed, the Arctic will continue to be an important part of our story.”

More from Global Investing Hot Spots:
Investors get ready for a surge in blockbuster China IPOs
Argentina’s president powers biggest stock market boom in the world
How Trump can crush the emerging markets stock rally in 2018

The New Arctic

The story of the New Arctic could nonetheless prove slow to unfold. Though the ice is receding, the Arctic remains a difficult environment in which to operate. The intense cold alone presents challenges not present in other maritime environments, and while sea-ice measurements from last year were, on average, a full quarter lower than the average across three decades prior to 2010, there’s still plenty of ice in the water. Shipping concerns dreaming of an Arctic that’s both easily navigable and inexpensive to traverse will have to wait, perhaps for decades.

The icebreaker Tor (right) at the port of Sabetta in the Kara Sea shoreline on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic circle, some 2450 km of Moscow.

Kirill Kudryavtesev | AFP | Getty Images
The icebreaker Tor (right) at the port of Sabetta in the Kara Sea shoreline on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic circle, some 2450 km of Moscow.

China has nonetheless taken a keen interest in what the Arctic has to offer in terms of global shipping, fishing stocks, energy security and other mineral resources. The Chinese government has taken what is arguably the longest view in the region, using its financial might to secure access to resources it cannot obtain through territorial claims.

For instance, when funding for the the Yamal LNG facility fell short following the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Russia in 2014, China stepped in with $12 billion in financing to finish the project. During President Trump’s trip to China in November, Chinese energy concern Sinopec inked a deal alongside China Investment and Bank of China to provide financing for Alaska LNG, a liquefied natural gas export facility on the other side of the Pacific.

The Yamal LNG plant in the port of Sabetta on the Kara Sea shoreline on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic circle, some 2500 km of Moscow.

Maxim Zmeyev | AFP | Getty Images
The Yamal LNG plant in the port of Sabetta on the Kara Sea shoreline on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic circle, some 2500 km of Moscow.

“They see themselves as a near-Arctic state and as an Arctic stakeholder, and they want to make sure they’re not blocked from the Arctic by the coastal states,” Conley said. “They want to make sure they are sort of an equal partner. Right now they’re exploring their economic opportunities and making sure they have a seat at the negotiating table if anything gets decided about future use of the Arctic.”

Last summer Chinese authorities expanded the country’s $1 trillion global infrastructure initiative, known as Belt and Road, to include an Arctic component, bringing the region into China’s larger vision for a connected world with China at the hub. At the same time, a Chinese icebreaker on a scientific mission completed a circumpolar navigation, traversing both the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s northern shore and the Northwest Passage atop North America. It continues to explore free-trade deals in Scandinavia and Canada, while pushing for scientific collaboration in the Arctic as well.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin as leaders gather for a family photo during the Belt and Road Forum on Yanqi Lake, outside Beijing, China, May 15, 2017.

Damir Sagolj | Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin as leaders gather for a family photo during the Belt and Road Forum on Yanqi Lake, outside Beijing, China, May 15, 2017.

“There’s high diplomatic engagement and initiative. The Belt and Road initiative now has an Arctic manifestation, and they have a continued interest in science,” Conley said. “The new economic dynamic is that China is very present in the Arctic.”

A thaw, and a slow refreezing

Climatological concerns aside — and there are many — one ancillary consequence of a melting Arctic is a rise in human activity there. This includes an uptick in commercial and scientific traffic and also in military presence and activity. For Russia, in particular, the receding sea ice represents the withdrawal of a natural barrier that has long protected its northern border, prompting its military to boost capability and presence in the region as a means for securing both its border and the increasingly valuable sea lanes and resource wealth beyond.

Soldiers during military training on March 16, 2015, in Murmansk, Russia.

Anatoly Zhdanov | Kommersant Photo | Getty Images
Soldiers during military training on March 16, 2015, in Murmansk, Russia.

“What we’re seeing now is a very slow refreezing of the Arctic geopolitically,” Conley said. “Russia has continued its military modernization in the north, and while it’s not massive, it’s definitely a change in posture.”

The growing Russian military presence in the region has stoked old feelings of mistrust, she said, producing antibodies within NATO that are now pushing for an increased Western military presence in the region as well. “We’re not going back by any stretch to a cold war posture, but you’re starting to see that muscle memory coming back,” she said. “And it’s because we’re seeing this uptick in military activity.”

Russia's reconnaissance unit members of the Northern Fleet's Arctic mechanized infantry brigade hold military exercises near the Lovozero settlement.

Lev Fedoseyev | TASS | Getty Images
Russia’s reconnaissance unit members of the Northern Fleet’s Arctic mechanized infantry brigade hold military exercises near the Lovozero settlement.

The notion that the Arctic might evolve into a flashpoint for global tensions remains remote. The region has long proved a place of international cooperation, where Arctic states settle boundary disputes and other conflicts amicably at the negotiating table (as Russia and Norway did as recently as 2010). But as military activity in the region trends upward alongside commercial activity, the chance of accidents, misunderstandings and miscommunications heightens as well.

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, holding pen, joins leaders in signing a joint statement adopting doctrine, tactics, procedures and information-sharing protocols for emergency maritime response in the Arctic in Boston on March 24, 2017.

David L. Ryan | The Boston Globe | Getty Images
U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, holding pen, joins leaders in signing a joint statement adopting doctrine, tactics, procedures and information-sharing protocols for emergency maritime response in the Arctic in Boston on March 24, 2017.

In a New Arctic with emerging strategic and economic value and where norms are still being established, the potential for tensions to escalate is real. If the Arctic shortens distances, countries that once felt quite far apart may soon find themselves much closer together as the ice recedes.

Wary of what geopolitical realities the New Arctic may hold, military planners are already taking such factors into consideration. At a Surface Navy Association event near the Pentagon earlier this month, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft noted that the Coast Guard’s new heavy icebreaker will be unarmed when it enters service in 2023. But the ship will have the space, weight and electrical power built in to ensure it can carry offensive weapons in the future.

— By Clay Dillow, special to