China’s expanding marine corps. According to a report aired by China’s state broadcaster, the country’s marine corps “has been expanded and upgraded to a unit of its own.” China’s marine corps was first established in 1953, but the country has long been unable to field an amphibious force capable of retaking Taiwan, and with this announcement, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (the marine corps will still be part of the navy) is making clear its intention to increase efforts to build such a force. With China’s push into the South and East China seas, Beijing has more territory to defend, which requires amphibious capabilities. Recent estimates from the Jamestown Foundation put China’s marine corps at around 40,000 strong, much smaller than that of the U.S. (about 200,000 soldiers).
Off to the hypersonic races. Xiamen University in China has conducted a successful test flight of its own hypersonic plane in the Gobi Desert. This marks the first time a university, rather than a military, has carried out a successful flight of a hypersonic vehicle. Though Xiamen University made its design public, details of the flight remain classified, as the military helped fund the project – which isn’t surprising, given the inherent challenges of constructing hypersonic craft. On the other side of the Pacific, Lockheed Martin is working on approximately $2.5 billion in military contracts for hypersonic weapons, according to its CEO, who discussed the topic during the company’s quarterly earnings call. Last year, the United States’ National Defense Strategy highlighted the rapid development of hypersonic technology as an area of strategic importance.
Egypt passes constitutional amendments. Egyptians have voted by an overwhelming majority in favor of constitutional amendments that will allow President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to extend his current term in office by two years. The amendments extend presidential terms to six years and will allow Sissi to run for a third term. The amendments also grant the president new powers to appoint heads of certain judiciary bodies. As Egypt’s North African neighbors Libya and Algeria increasingly look to be heading toward institutional restructuring, Sissi looks to be further consolidating his grip on power in Egypt.
Russia talks tough on NATO. Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s military General Staff, said NATO continues to increase its military presence on Russia’s western borders – and that will force Russia to take retaliatory measures like deploying troops to its southern and western military districts. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu added that Russia will take retaliatory measures in a “timely manner, and not necessarily symmetrically with NATO actions.” Gerasimov also said, however, that Russia is not preparing for war.
An opening for Huawei. The U.K.’s National Security Council reportedly agreed on Tuesday to grant China’s Huawei restricted access to “non-core” parts of its 5G mobile infrastructure, the Daily Telegraph reported. In an interview with BBC Radio, the head of the cyber center at the U.K.’s signals intelligence agency drew a distinction between sophisticated network components that function as the network’s brain and those that merely transport data; Huawei would be limited to the latter. The United States has urged allies not to use Huawei out of concerns that the company’s products could be compromised, and several high-ranking British government ministers – including the foreign and defense ministers – reportedly raised concerns about the decision of the NSC, which is chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May. Speaking at a conference in Scotland on Wednesday, a senior official from the U.S. National Security Agency said the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance (comprising the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada and New Zealand) would not use Huawei or Chinese technologies in their most sensitive networks.
India cuts Iranian crude. India finally appears to be preparing to cut back on purchases of Iranian oil. When the U.S. first reimposed sanctions against Iran late last year, India, one of Iran’s biggest oil customers, pushed back hard (though the U.S. later granted India a waiver, so it could continue purchasing Iranian oil). But on Tuesday, India’s petroleum minister said that India is in fact planning to offset Iranian imports by purchasing oil from other countries before the waiver expires on May 2. The U.S. is still cutting India some slack, given the strategic alliance between the two; according to The Hindu newspaper, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said Indian-Iranian activities related to the Chabahar Port will be exempt from sanctions. The U.S. official clarified that the Chabahar Port supports economic development in Afghanistan, something that the U.S. does not wish to impede.
- China has signed a $1.8 billion investment deal with Ethiopia focused on electrical infrastructure, including power transmission and distribution lines. Funds will also support the development of infrastructure that will supply power to up to 16 industrial parks and a second railway line running from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, where China has a military base.
- The Chinese central bank injected some 267 billion yuan ($40 billion) into the banking system but announced that it would not cut banks’ reserve requirement ratios.
- Saudi Arabia and Mauritania have signed a trade agreement.
- U.S. presidential adviser Jared Kushner claimed that the Trump administration will unveil a new Middle East peace plan following the end of Ramadan, around June 4. No details have been released yet.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly will propose reviving the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program when he meets with Kim Jong Un in Vladivostok on Thursday.
- China will provide a 100 million euro ($112 million) loan to Belarus, according to the Belarusian Telegraph Agency. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is set to attend the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing later this week.
- The confidence of German business leaders unexpectedly fell in April, according to the Munich-based Ifo Institute’s business climate indicator, which has fallen in seven of the past eight months.
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will discuss increasing Canadian involvement in military exercises in the Asia-Pacific during Abe’s visit to Ottawa this weekend, according to anonymous sources who spoke to CBC News.
- The Lebanese parliament’s speaker of the house said the country is open to demarcating the disputed maritime border with Israel under United Nations supervision.
- Brazil’s controversial and much-needed pension reform legislation passed through the congressional Constitution and Justice Committee. The proposal now goes to a special committee where it will be subject to changes.
- Iranian Naval Commander Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi has met with his Chinese counterpart and stated that Iran will seek to increase naval ties with China.
- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would complete legislative preparations for a second independence referendum by the end of 2019, but she said she would wait for Westminster’s approval before triggering the vote. If Brexit goes ahead, she said, Scotland must have a choice to leave the U.K. before the current Scottish parliament’s term expires in May 2021.