diplomacy

A problem in a single electricity transmission line running between India and Bangladesh caused a nationwide blackout in Bangladesh on November 1. The outage lasted nearly 10 hours, making it the country’s worst incidence of power failure since a cyclone knocked out the national grid in 2007.

Insufficient energy production remains a major roadblock to Bangladeshi growth. Apart from such poorly maintained infrastructure, power generation is stifled by ancient land acquisition laws that impede mining and a severe shortage in the production of natural gas; coal and gas account for 70 per cent of energy generated in the country. Read more

Leaders from Kiev and Brussels were busy this weekend warming up their energy ties as Vladimir Putin bailed out early from the G20 summit in sunny Australia where he faced one could shoulder after another from international leaders over his actions in Ukraine.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko spent Saturday and Sunday receiving a warm welcome from Visegard state leaders meeting in Slovakia (he is pictured above with his Czech, Polish, Slovakian and Hungarian couterparts). He also received guarantees from Bratislava that his country – still at odds with Moscow over fair natural gas prices – would be guaranteed what officials said could amount to 21bn cubic metres of annual reverse flow inflows, enough to meet a majority of the country’s import needs. Read more

The last time an Albanian prime minister visited Belgrade, the Iron Curtain was just descending across Europe, rock and roll had yet to be invented and Pelé was just six years old.

In this context, the decision of current Albanian premier Edi Rama to delay his planned trip to Serbia by a mere two and a half weeks may not seem hugely significant. But Rama’s postponement comes after a spat triggered by an episode bizarre even by Balkan standards and in the wake of subsequent attacks on Albanian property in Serbia. Read more

Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, arrived in India on Wednesday for a visit expected to showcase significant investment deals and make progress toward resolving a decades-old border dispute.

But beyond the official bonhomie, the shallow foundations of an uneasy bilateral relationship are readily evident. Nowhere are they more obvious than with tourism. China’s outbound tourism boom appears to have largely bypassed India, which took only 2.5 per cent of its tourist arrivals from its northern neighbour in 2013.

This put Chinese arrivals behind those both from Malaysia – at 3.5 per cent of the total – and Russia – at 3.7 per cent. Read more

In another unhappy turn for Pakistan, China’s president Xi Jinping postponed a state visit to the country on Saturday after three weeks of anti-government protests. Moody’s, one of the three big international credit rating agencies, warned this was a credit negative for the country because it would delay “Chinese aid and a host of deals between the countries”.

Such deals with China, Pakistan’s largest trading partner, are reported to be worth $34bnRead more

It’s a common trick to make yourself look bigger than you are to win a fight. Rather rarer is for one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies frantically and consistently to try to hide its size. China, the 500kg panda in the global economic room, is trying an increasingly unconvincing tactic of squeezing itself into a corner and hoping no-one notices it is there.

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Russian lawmakers are debating measures to restrict the distribution of foreign films shown at domestic cinemas in a move that reflects growing anti-western sentiment. The threat of a new Cold War is giving Hollywood the shivers.

Robert Schlegel, a member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, has tabled a parliamentary bill that would place a 50 per cent cap on the share of foreign-made films distributed at Russian cinemas. Deputies are expected to debate the proposals in the next couple of weeks. Read more

By Kinga Dudzińska and Anna Maria Dyner of PISM

To the west, relations between Poland and Russia are often perceived as negative, mainly due to their history. However, one evident success of their bilateral cooperation in small border traffic (SBT) between northern Poland and Kaliningrad Oblast, with almost a year and a half of evidence showing it’s working well. Read more

Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s president elect, might well be excused for thinking she’s under fire from a new Triple Alliance.

In the next few days she can expect a binding court ruling that threatens to extend Peru’s maritime border into Chilean territorial waters. Meanwhile, landlocked Bolivia hasn’t given up its dream of a corridor through the Atacama Desert to the Pacific (though it must now do without the late Hugo Chávez’s boisterous support). And Argentina is suddenly making noise about wanting its own door to the world’s biggest ocean. Read more

A bar, a cinema, a bowling alley: all the essentials for an embassy?

Maybe so, but the Indian government has asked the US embassy in New Delhi to close down its onsite entertainments on the grounds that, as elements in a “commercial facility”, they are deemed to be illegal. It’s the latest move in a catty to and fro that has followed last month’s arrest and strip search of Devyani Khobragade (pictured), an Indian consular official, in New York. Read more

By Rodrigo Tavares of the São Paulo State Government

Although France was the first European country to recognize the independence of Brazil, in 1825, only three French presidents have since visited the country – de Gaulle, Chirac and Sarkozy. François Hollande’s visit to Brazil on December 12 and 13 aims to fill some of the empty space and to capitalise on a relationship that has brought good results recently on trade and investment, military contracts and education. But the most innovative outcome from his visit will be something to which few people are likely to pay attention. Read more

Tight relationship

Russia and Vietnam signed a raft of economic agreements on Tuesday that will strengthen their strategic partnership and counter rising Chinese influence in southeast Asia.

The deals, signed during a visit by Vladimir Putin to Vietnam, will see Russia step up involvement in Vietnamese energy markets and help boost security in the country that has been a close Kremlin ally since Soviet times. “Vietnam has been a long-term, trustworthy partner for Russia and the political dialogue between the two countries is at a high level,” Putin told reporters after talks with Truong Tan Sang, his Vietnamese counterpart. Read more

It was not exactly spying on presidents, but revelations in Folha de S. Paulo, a Brazilian newspaper, that Brasília spied on the diplomats of some would-be close friends are a bit embarrassing. Of course everyone does it and of course, the Russians, Iranians and Iraqis – the alleged victims of Brazilian spying in the Folha report – were probably doing it to Brazil at the time when the incidents occurred back in 2003 and 2004.

But the problem here is that Brazil has been taking pains to appear shocked and violated by accusations this year that the US was spying not only on Petrobras and other state-owned companies but on President Dilma Rousseff and her staff. Read more

Can North Korea’s Kaesong become an internationally competitive industrial park on the back of its ultra-cheap labour? Probably not. But at least its backers are trying. Seoul’s unification ministry in charge of inter-Korean relations said on Wednesday the two Koreas will hold a business fair at the North Korean border town in October to attract foreign investment, after they agreed to reopen the complex next Monday. Read more

Xi Jinping of China and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan in Astana, Sept 7, 2013.

By Usen Suleimen of the Kazakh foreign ministry and Xiaojiang Yu of Hong Kong Baptist University

The visit of Xi Jinping, China’s president, to Kazakhstan last weekend and the signing of $30bn of new agreements is another symbol of the growing closeness between two of the world’s largest countries. It is a relationship built on mutual challenges, geographic proximity and energy, as China increasingly looks to central Asia to power its growing economy.

But these links have also raised alarm bells in the west. Read more