The week in foreign policy

It has been another unprecedented week in foreign policy. As world leaders battle to save their populations and the economies from the coronavirus, ‘business as usual’ has very much fallen to  the wayside. We continue to bring you stories from beyond the mass of overwhelming Covid-19 news.

In a tumultuous week for the European Union as whole, tensions between north and south have resurfaced in squabbles over the correct economic response to the coronavirus. Headlines have also been dominated by the decline of the rule of law in Hungary. In light of Hungary’s parliament passing a law that allows prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, twelve prominent national leaders in the European People’s Party (EPP) have pushed for Orbán’s Fidesz party to be kicked out of the center-right political group. Maia de la Baume details the story for POLITICO. The group suspended Fidesz last March over concerns about the rule of law in Hungary, but this expulsion would be unprecedented.

Keith Zhai and Yew Lun Tian explore for Reuters the mysterious rise of Zhao Lijian, a diplomat returned from a posting in Pakistan. Whilst diplomats returning from overseas postings are not usually the subject of special attention at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao has been the subject of admiration, in part due to his role in a Twitter spat with Susan Rice, former national security adviser to Barack Obama. This behaviour comes after President Xi Jinping had urged diplomats to show more ‘fighting spirit’. Zhao is the same diplomat that  attracted controversy in recent weeks for promoting a conspiracy theory that the US military brought the coronavirus to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began last year.

The coronavirus crisis has caused oil prices to plummet, and most recently soar, after US President Donald Trump hinted that Saudi Arabia and Russia would make major cuts to supply. Catherine Ngai examines what this means in practice in Bloomberg. Prices rocketed despite skepticism over Trump’s comments, and as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin has not spoken to the Saudi crown prince Mohamad Bin Salman. Saudi Arabia has called for an urgent meeting of OPEC to reach a ‘fair deal’ to restore a balance in oil markets.

The global sanctions regime has been the target of much criticism recently as countries brought to their knees by Covid-19 face the double blow of sanctions on their already-struggling economy. This week, the UK, France and Germany successfully side-stepped the US’ sanctions on  Iran in order to deliver health supplies to the nation. Conversely, Colum Lynch argues for Foreign Policy that now is not the time to back down on sanctions. Ukraine has appealed to the United Nations to maintain the economic pressure on Russia and other rule breakers. Backtracking on sanctions now, they argue, is ‘appeasement’.

The Economist is making some of its Covid-19  coverage free to read, and we would highly recommend this piece on how Africa is equipped to deal with Covid-19. While much of the coronavirus coverage we are exposed to centres around the UK, the US and the EU, this piece  explores the realities of what coronavirus will mean to some of the world’s most vulnerable health systems and economies. The continent will not face this crisis in isolation, and the actions of western nations –  such as export bans and debt collections – have direct ramifications on the continent’s coronavirus response. Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, has asked the G20 for a $150 billion emergency package. How the world collaborates on this crisis will mark international society for years to come.

The British Foreign Policy Group is an independent, non-partisan think tank based in London. Through dynamic research, events and networks, we seek to strengthen the UK’s international engagement, and advance our understanding of global affairs in the 21st Century.

For more original research, comment and events from the British Foreign Policy Group, sign up to our Newsletter.

Flora Holmes

Flora Holmes is a Researcher at the British Foreign Policy Group.