China brokers a Middle East deal
Saudi Arabia and Iran announced that they had agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties on Friday after years of fighting proxy conflicts. The deal, facilitated by China, highlights Beijing’s growing importance in the Middle East — and, some say, the U.S.’s waning influence there.
Saudi Arabia and Iran said that they would patch up a seven-year split by reactivating a lapsed security cooperation pact, and that each would reopen an embassy in the other country. But differences run deep, and it remained unclear how far the rapprochement would actually go.
China’s involvement was a surprise and signaled Xi Jinping’s ambitions as a global statesman amid a shift in longstanding alliances and rivalries. “This is among the topsiest and turviest of developments anyone could have imagined,” wrote Peter Baker, our chief White House correspondent.
Some Gulf Arab officials say that they can no longer rely on the U.S. to guarantee their security and that China is ready to offer weapons, technology and investment with no strings attached. And Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, is trying to prove that the kingdom is not just an American “client state.”
But other analysts cautioned that Prince Mohammed was simply taking a pragmatic approach. While the U.S. remains the kingdom’s dominant security partner, they say, Washington could not have brokered a deal, given its deeply strained relations with Iran.
Iran’s gains: The deal could be a relief for the country, which is facing domestic unrest and an economy waylaid by harsh sanctions.
Saudi Arabia’s gains: The pact could help quiet the regional tensions that have inflamed costly wars, like the one in Yemen, which have deterred potential investors.
Israel’s fears: Its hopes for an anti-Iranian coalition with Saudi Arabia may be dashed.
Saudi nuclear fears: Officials have repeatedly expressed fear over Iran’s nuclear program, saying that they would be the foremost target for any attack. In exchange for normalizing relations with Israel, the kingdom wants security assurances from the U.S. and help developing a civilian nuclear program.
China’s new leadership
Xi Jinping swept into an unprecedented third term as China’s president on Friday. The unanimous vote cemented his dominance, as Xi steels China for an era of superpower rivalry and seeks to revive a battered economy.
The meeting of the National People’s Congress, which ends today, will also elevate new leaders for the first time in five years — many of them Xi’s loyalists. His new No. 2, Li Qiang, faces the challenge of reviving economic growth after three years of Covid-19 restrictions. Li oversaw the bruising lockdown in Shanghai last year and will probably extend a hand to a wary private sector.
On Friday, the National People’s Congress also approved a series of regulatory changes that reflect Xi’s efforts to centralize Communist Party control.
Some changes are aimed at stabilizing the financial sector and growing the power of the central bank amid a rolling real estate crisis. Others seek to boost tech and scientific innovation to compete with the West. And China will centralize how its data — which it views as the backbone of its economy in the future — is managed.
An Aboriginal alcohol ban
Australian authorities have reinstated a ban that prevented people living in most Aboriginal communities from buying takeaway alcohol. The move has reignited debates about race and control.
The ban was in place from 2007 until last July, when the Northern Territory let it expire, calling it racist. But little had been done in the intervening years to address the communities’ severe underlying disadvantages. Once alcohol flowed again, there was an explosion of crime.
Opponents believe that the ban, imposed by a largely white leadership, replicates the effects of colonialism and distracts from practical issues. Others argue that the benefits — like reducing domestic violence and other harms — could outweigh the discriminatory effects while long-term solutions are developed.
Context: The debate has flared up again as Australia begins to discuss constitutionally enshrining an Indigenous body that would advise on policies.
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The race to turn water into fuel
Hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested in a high-tech gamble to make hydrogen clean, cheap and widely available. Producers hope to find customers in Australia’s huge mining industry, which currently relies on fossil fuels.
“Green hydrogen” is made by using renewable electricity to split water molecules. (Currently, most hydrogen is made by using natural gas.) Because burning hydrogen emits only water vapor, green hydrogen avoids carbon dioxide emissions from beginning to end.
Green hydrogen’s biggest impact could be in steel production, which emits more carbon dioxide than all the world’s cars. Three of the world’s four biggest ore miners operate dozens of mines in Australia’s Outback, where 10 million new solar panels and as many as 1,743 wind turbines will go toward making green hydrogen. This month, a steel company there will open the world’s biggest electrolyzer factory, producing machines that split water molecules apart to isolate the hydrogen.
Critics say green hydrogen projects divert investment from surer emissions-reduction technologies. But if the rosiest projections hold, green hydrogen in heavy industry could reduce global carbon emissions by at least 5 percent.