Friday, Mar. 3

Friday, Mar. 3

The stories that matter before they happen.

EGGS IN THREE BASKETS: SYRIAN TALKS

Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

After seven days of talks between Syria’s warring factions, a glimmer of hope has emerged from the Swiss city of Geneva. While UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has cautioned against “excessive expectations” he insists the sides have made a “good start” to the multi-round negotiation process.

Backed by a UN Security Council Resolution, Mr de Mistura is proposing the sides agree to implement three ‘baskets’ – a new Syrian constitution, UN-supervised elections and a transparent and accountable government.

President Assad wants combatting “terrorism” included as a fourth basket. But the opposition has dismissed this, insisting the regime would manipulate such an initiative to undermine their position.

For their part, opposition groups want a ‘political transition’ (read: the removal of Assad) to be front and centre of future talks. Moscow has played its part, reportedly pressuring the Syrian government to consider this talking point and sending Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov to meet with opposition representatives.

While significant divisions remain, there’s cause for restrained optimism; opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri saluted the “deep discussions” over the past week.

Talks are set to resume on March 20.

Dig deeper: Syrian ceasefire talks

CONTINENTAL RIVALRY: INDIA IN AFRICA

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

A senior Indian delegation will continue a tour of Mali on Friday, where bilateral and regional initiatives will be on the agenda.

India is embarking on a historic revitalisation of relations with Africa; Friday’s tour comes on the heels of two earlier visits by Indian officials to Uganda (the first since 1997) and Rwanda (the first ever). Growing trade and aid flows form the crux of Indian-African relations, but New Delhi also seeks to ally with African states to bid for permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.

Yet India’s regional rival China – the only UNSC member that’s blocking New Delhi’s bid – has made similar headway into the continent, sparking (rather fanciful) speculation that the two Asian giants could be embroiled in a new Cold War-esque rivalry. Although Indian officials have denied the existence of any ‘competition’ with China, there are lucrative trade and development contracts at stake.

Accordingly, India will be eager to quickly build on gains made in Africa, with the delegation jetting from Mali to the Congo on Sunday.

DEMOCRACY WITH CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS

Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo

Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Today is as close as it gets to open policy debate in China. The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference will meet to discuss the state of the nation. Industry, academia, civil society, ethnic minorities and countless other interest groups take part. Just one third of the body is made up of Communist Party members, so the conference serves as a channel for China’s other societal stakeholders to voice their concerns and suggestions.

There will of course be no upsets: the conference always votes in accordance with the party line. President Xi Jinping is currently attempting deep reforms of the state and the economy, so the gathering will foreshadow plans he’ll lay out in the quinquennial leadership congress to be held this autumn.

Expect much trumpeting of Xi’s new official status as “core leader”, along with plans to address pollution, industrial overcapacity, social issues and China’s slowing economy.

Dig deeper: China’s leadership transition

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

Chief US central banker Janet Yellen will deliver a policy speech in which she’s expected to give some clues as to whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in March.

The Russia-NATO Council gathers to discuss ways to improve air and maritime safety in the Baltic Sea. Moscow recently agreed to turn on its warplanes’ transponders in order to reduce the risk of an incident.