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NEW ZEALAND’S NATIONAL PARTY ELECTS NEW PM
On Monday, New Zealand’s deputy leader, Bill English, is expected to be become the country’s next prime minister after a vote at the centre-right National Party’s caucus. This comes after Prime Minister John Key’s surprise decision to step down last week.
While current Finance Minister Bill English was not the only contender for the job, the two other candidates – Jonathan Colman and Judith Collins – pulled out after it became clear English had secured the majority support of the caucus.
Given New Zealand’s positive economic data and Mr English’s record of social and fiscal conservatism, it is unlikely the new prime minister will make any substantial changes to domestic or foreign policy. Crucial policy issues include managing New Zealand’s relationships with Australia, China and the US, as well as sourcing and maintaining markets for the country’s agricultural and food products.
New Zealand is slated to hold a general election in November 2017.
TOP LIBYAN MP VISITS MOSCOW
The President of Libya’s Tobruk-based House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh Issa, is scheduled to visit Moscow on Wednesday to continue discussions on the potential for an arms deal between Russia and Libya.
Following the outbreak of civil war in 2011, Libya was divided by two rivalling governments: the General National Congress in Tripoli and the House of Representatives, which is supported by the Libyan National Army (LNA), in Tobruk. Foreign states have become involved in the conflict, with Qatar, Turkey and Sudan backing the Tripoli-based government and the UAE, Russia and Egypt supporting the LNA.
Officially, the Kremlin says it pursues a neutral approach to the divided state. Previous LNA requests for Russian weapons were denied due to an international embargo against Libya. However, following two visits to Moscow by the chief of the LNA, General Haftar, earlier this year, Russia agreed to supply military hardware if the embargo is removed.
Moscow is interested in gaining a foothold in Libya to capitalise on the country’s natural wealth and bolster relations with other Arab states, principally Egypt, who also support the LNA. Wednesday’s visit may signal an uptick in Russian involvement in North Africa.
PUTIN, ABE MEET IN JAPAN
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet in Japan on Thursday for two days of bilateral meetings. The two leaders will discuss Russia’s control over the contested Southern Kuril Islands but no significant outcomes are expected by either side.
Abe has indicated a willingness to adopt the ‘two-plus-alpha’ approach, which is based on a 1956 joint declaration stating the Soviet Union would return two smaller islands upon the signing of a peace treaty to end World War II hostilities. The ‘alpha’ component is a new addition that involves establishing a common economic zone over all four islands, or shared possession of the two larger islands.
Such an agreement needs to take the bedrock US-Japan security alliance into account. If assurances are given that the US would not have the right to establish military bases on the islands, Washington’s commitment to defending Japan’s interests in the East China Sea might also be diminished.
EUROPEAN COUNCIL MEETS
The European Council will convene in Brussels on Thursday and Friday following a week of meetings by the EU Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has conspicuously been left off the invite list to an EU27 dinner on Thursday evening. The dinner will touch upon these discussions and the viability of establishing a Brexit working group ahead of UK’s triggering of Article 50.
The Council will also discuss prospects for Turkish visa liberalisation and accession to the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent vow to her party that there would not be a repeat of the past year’s migrant influx may also signal a winding back of liberal refugee policy across the EU. This shift may reduce Brussels’ reliance on the EU-Turkey migrant deal, which saw Turkey taking back refugees in exchange for $6.3 billion in aid and possible visa liberalisation. Austria has declared it will veto further membership talks, further reducing the likelihood of Turkey’s success.