During the Easter holidays, a lot has happened around the world, so please enjoy a slightly longer briefing from us. We are committed to giving you the most important information so that you can keep up to date with current affairs, and will return to normal service next week.
This Easter: China warships encircled Taiwan on April 8th, and simulated more “precision strikes” on the following days. This came after Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, visited Kevin McCarthy, the speaker for the House of Representatives, in the USA on April 5th. Concerns are growing worldwide about an escalation in the region.
- French President Emmanuel Macron visited China just before the drills began, declaring it was not Europe’s business to “get caught up in crises that are not ours”, undermining his own credibility and Western unity, and he emphasised Europe’s autonomy from the USA. France currently contributes more than any other EU power to deter conflict in the region, using its military bases in the Indo-Pacific region.
- On April 4th, Chen Junne-jih accused China of “plundering” farmers’ rights after Chinese media showed “Mango Pineapples” growing in southern China. Taiwan spent 25 years developing these pineapples. In 2020, China bought $49 million worth of pineapples from Taiwan, more than 90% of Taiwan’s annual exports of the fruit. In 2021, China banned all Taiwanese pineapples.
UK Economics and Business
- Contrasting with trends of reduced inflation elsewhere in Europe and America, UK CPI inflation remains high, at 10.1% in the year to March.
- Much of continued UK inflation has been driven by high food prices, with the cost of milk up by 45% in the year to January.
- UK average nominal weekly earnings only grew by 5.9% year on year, representing a large real terms pay cut for workers.
- The Bank of England is widely expected to further increase interest rates by a quarter point at the Monetary Policy Committee’s next meeting on the 11th of May.
- UK banks report 14% increase in defaults of loans and mortgages by consumers and businesses in the 3 months to February, owing to higher borrowing costs.
World Economics and Business
- China’s economy grew by 4.5% in the first quarter and exports were up by 15% year on year in March, reversing months of economic decline.
- Annual inflation in the USA fell to 5% in March, the lowest level of the US CPI since 2021.
- Brent Crude prices continued to increase last week after US announced contraction in production on top of OPEC+ cuts announced earlier in the month
- Eurozone inflation slowed to 6.9% from 8.5% in March, and monthly industrial production grew at its fastest rate for 6 months in March, allaying fears of a recession
- The IMF reduced its estimate of worldwide growth this year to 2.8%
- In the last few months, Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei and SenseTime, all Chinese tech giants, have released new AI models which rival ChatGPT. The Chinese government has issued rules that content from AI should not subvert state power, harm national unity, or disturb the social order.
- The holders of $4.5bn in Credit Suisse bonds that were wiped out in the bank’s merger with UBS last month are suing Switzerland’s financial regulator.
- The FT reports that a trade deal between the EU and 4 South American countries has been delayed after disagreements regarding binding commitments to prevent the destruction of rainforests in the continent.
- Humza Yousaf was elected as the Scottish Nationalist Party’s new leader on March 27th as successor to Nicola Sturgeon, and was confirmed as Scotland’s 6th First Minister a day later.
Throughout April, the party has been plunged into chaos; Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, former SNP chief executive, was arrested on suspicions that funds for a referendum had been illegally spent; Colin Beattie, the party treasurer, was also arrested although both men have been released without charge pending investigation.
- At 3pm on the 23rd of April, mobile phones across Britain received a sharp notification in a large scale test of the government’s new Emergency Alert System. This represents a continued focus on contingency planning in Whitehall; in December, a special “resilience framework” was published, dictating to Cabinet how risk of emergencies ought to be managed.
- Joe Biden visited Northern Ireland for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which had ensured peace in the region by requiring unionists and nationalists to share power. The American President spent three days in Ireland, his ancestral homeland.
- Dominic Raab resigned as the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary on April 21st, following an investigation finding allegations of workplace bullying to be proven. This has been the third resignation in Sunak’s cabinet since he came to power.
- Strike action continues across many industries in the public sector, with junior doctors set to coordinate action with consultants. The government fears the a ‘summer of discontent’ in the NHS with sequential, rather than concurrent, strikes causing great damage because they would not allow the NHS to recover between actions. However, positive news emerged on April 21st as the Royal Mail struck a pay deal with their union that is now being put to workers, in an attempt to end a pay battle lasting almost a year.
- Fighting in Khartoum, Sudan began on April 15th. Since then, more than 450 people have been killed. The country is at the brink of civil war as two factions clash – the Sudanese Armed Forces (the governmental army), and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary unit accused of mass rape and genocide.
- On April 4th, Donald Trump was formally arrested and indicted with 34 felony charges of falsifying business records, relating to a $130,000 hush-money payment by lawyer Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election. Since the arraignment, the presiding judge and his family have reportedly received ‘dozens’ of threats and much harassment from Trump supporters.
- On April 26th, Xi Jinping and Volodymyr Zelensky spoke on the phone for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine. Zelensky described the talk afterwards as “long and meaningful”. Both sides are sending diplomats across borders, which Zelensky hopes will be a “powerful impetus” for bilateral relations.
- The French Constitutional Council validated Macron’s pension reform on April 14th. However, violence continued in France as people continued to come out in protest in Paris against the new legislation. Macron has now promised to improve working conditions by July 14th, Bastille Day.
- Joe Biden announced his re-election bid on April 25th. Polls currently suggest that the republican nominee will be Donald Trump. Should Mr Biden win and complete a second term, he would be 86 when he leaves office, while Trump would be 82 were he to serve again.
- A cache of highly classified US documents were reportedly shared to an online chatroom as early as December 2022, detailing US intelligence about the state of the war in Ukraine and sensitive information about American allies. The National Guard airman faces up to 15 years in prison, and remains in custody pending trial. Shockingly, it was not until intelligence material was posted out of the chat room group that the Pentagon became aware of the leak.
- Finland formally joined NATO, while Sweden’s bid is still being held up by Turkey and Hungary. Erdogan, the Turkish president, accuses Sweden of harbouring “terrorists”. This may also boost his public support for the upcoming Turkish election.
- Last month, all but two of 389 Ugandan MPs voted for a bill imposing death penalty for homosexuality. This is a huge blow for the LGBTQ+ community of Uganda, which fought to overturn the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014. The country now waits on whether Museveni, Uganda’s president, signs the bill into law.
Written by Zihan Tian and Angus McIntyre