Americas: US President-elect Biden to take office on 20 January amid heightened security risks

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; violent unrest

In the US, the risk of unrest and associated violence will remain heightened ahead of and after the 20 January inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Security force presence has been significantly increased across Washington DC following the 6 January storming of the Capitol building by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, which led to the killing of five people amid violent unrest. Around 20,000 National Guard troops have been deployed to support other law enforcement agencies in the capital as well as in Maryland and Virginia states after the FBI warned that “armed protests” were being planned in all major capitals between 16 and 20 January. Although there are signs that some far-right groups appear to be backing down from plans to disrupt the inauguration, protests led by Trump supporters will remain a high risk over the coming days.

Asia Pacific: China’s economy expands in 2020; agrees to railway deal with the Philippines 

Sectors: all
Key Risks: economic risks

In China, the National Bureau of Statistics unveiled that GDP expanded by 2.3 per per cent in 2020 following a 6.5 per cent and 4.9 per cent year-on-year expansion in Q4 and Q3, respectively. Despite being the only major economy to have expanded in 2020, the country’s economic recovery is largely uneven, with a priority for industrial production and state-sector investments. Private consumption and consumer confidence remained weak, with small businesses still struggling. With growth expected to accelerate in 2021, bad-debt issues and further defaults will pose a considerate challenge at local and state level. As the economy rebounds, Chinese investments in the region carry on. In the Philippines, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed to a US$940m deal to construct a 71-km railway, linking a number of industrial areas between Subic and Clark.

Eurasia: Russia moves to imprison Navalny; eyes on Biden’s Afghanistan policy

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability; political violence; civil war

In Russia, the drama of Alexei Navalny’s 17 January detention on his return to the country was replicated when authorities put him on trial in a police station the next day. Since Navalny’s conviction over violating the terms of a suspended sentence is unlikely to have a drastic effect domestically, its most significant consequence might be the bolstering of existing targeted sanctions regimes, especially given that the incoming US Biden administration is likely to take a tough stance on political oppression. The inauguration of President-elect Biden is also likely to have a significant impact in Afghanistan. The US currently has the lowest number of troops deployed in the country since the 2001 invasion, with full withdrawal scheduled by May 2021. Biden’s administration will have to act swiftly to decide whether to continue drawdowns amid Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation.

Europe: Dutch government resigns amid subsidies scandal; Germany’s CDU elects new leader

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political stability

In the Netherlands, the government of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte resigned on 15 January after accepting responsibility for wrongly accusing 10,000 families of tax fraud over childcare subsidies. A December 2019 parliamentary inquiry blamed several officials in the tax service for targeting families based on dual nationalities or their ethnic origin. A caretaker government will remain in place until the 17 March general election. Though far-right Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom could seek to capitalise on the scandal, Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy is still likely to secure a fourth term. Meanwhile, in Germany delegates of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party selected centrist Armin Laschet as its leader on 16 January. After Angela Merkel’s 18-year lead of the party, internal party unity will be Laschet’s biggest challenge.

MENA: Washington’s policy shift at top of regional agenda

Sectors: oil & gas; all
Key Risks: policy uncertainty; sanctions; political risks

Countries across the Middle East and North Africa are waiting for the policy shift of US President-elect Joe Biden as he accedes on 20 January. Biden’s administration will push heightened accountability for Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and Yemen’s war. In Iran, officials hope to see sanctions concessions if they return to the negotiating table for the 2015 nuclear deal, yet a blanket lifting of sanctions is unlikely. Turkey is seeking to engage Biden’s administration with a fact-finding mission on its Russian S-400 programme. For Israel, Biden could condemn and curtail the recently accelerated West Bank annexation plans, as well as take a harder stance on Israel’s two years of political tumult. In Iraq, an easing of US-Iran tensions would allow for more breathing room. These policy shifts, while unlikely to be Biden’s first priority, will filter down throughout the region.

Sub-Saharan Africa: Ugandan President Museveni wins sixth term; two killed in protests

Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability; violent unrest

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni was declared winner of the 14 January presidential election with 59 per cent of the vote, securing his sixth term in office. His main challenger, pop star Bobi Wine of the National Unity Platform, won around 35 per cent. At least two people were killed in protests over the results. Wine, who is popular among younger and lower-income Ugandans, rejected the outcome and announced he would contest it in court. The campaign was marred by reports of fraud and harassment of opposition members. Wine, who has repeatedly been detained by security forces, was placed under house arrest and a national internet blackout remains in place, which has slowed down election reporting. Although Wine has urged his supporters to refrain from violence, there is an elevated risk of violent unrest in the coming weeks.