🌍 Economic news from Russia, China and Japan

Plus: China touts laser weapon breakthrough

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Hi there Intriguer. Some leaders are long-time cast members on the world stage: Sobhuza II, for instance, ruled Swaziland (Eswatini) for almost 83 years. Others just make the briefest of cameos: like Louis XIX, who ran France for 20 minutes, or Pedro Lascuráin, who was Mexico’s leader for less than 1,000 seconds.

🎂 And speaking of cast members… today’s the birthday of our very own podcast host Ethan Plotkin! You can hear his velvety smooth voice on Intrigue Outloud 🎧

Today’s briefing is a 4 min read:

  • 💵 Mixed signals from the global economy.

  • 🇨🇳 China announces new laser weapon tech.

  • Plus: A very tall country, how the papers are covering a US-Iran prisoner swap, and why folks in the Philippines are googling ‘Michael Oher’.

⏱️ Around the world in sixty seconds

  1. 🇵🇰 Pakistan: Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, a relatively unknown lawmaker with ties to the military establishment, has been appointed Pakistan’s new interim prime minister. His caretaker administration is tasked with stewarding the government’s day-to-day operations while overseeing upcoming elections.

  2. 🇪🇺 EU: New data suggests most EU states will reach their solar energy goals ahead of the 2030 deadline. The EU added 41 GW in solar capacity last year and will add another 50 GW in 2023.

  3. 🇸🇬 Singapore: Authorities have issued a statement warning the city-state is not immune from foreign interference in next month’s presidential elections. Earlier, two veteran Singaporean diplomats said the US and China were in a “battle of narratives” to shape public opinion.

  4. 🇲🇽 Mexico: The president (‘AMLO’) has unveiled a new military-run airline to launch next month. AMLO has previously criticised the privatisation of state enterprises, and has placed ferry lines, train routes and other civilian projects under military command.

  5. 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia: Riyadh has asked to join a UK-Italy-Japan joint program building the next generation of fighter jets. Saudi participation would help share the costs, but could attract controversy due to criticism of the kingdom’s human rights record.

💵 Global | Geo-economics

Three economies, three directions

Several major economies posted data this week, offering insights into the state of the global economy.

🇨🇳 In China:

  • Beijing says it’ll no longer post data on youth unemployment, which hit a record 21.3% in June (exports then plunged in July), so…

  • The central bank just cut interest rates to support China’s recovery.

🇷🇺 In Russia:

  • The ruble has nearly halved in value since its peak mid last year, as the world’s most sanctioned country loses export income, so…

  • Russia’s central bank has again raised rates to support the ruble.

🇯🇵 And in Japan:

  • The world’s third-largest economy grew at an annualised rate of 6% in Q2, double what most economists expected

  • This is partly due to post-COVID freight and travel conditions allowing Japan to sell more cars abroad, while welcoming more tourists at home.

Intrigue's take: As always, there’s more to each story here:

  • China’s unique model was slowing well before US-China ties really deteriorated. So Western pressure isn’t the primary cause of China’s current woes, but it does narrow Beijing’s options to address them.

  • Russia’s economic survival is thanks in part to its competent central bank chief, Elvira Nabiullina. Once seen as a reformer, she dismayed international admirers by deciding to stay put after the invasion. The ruble’s fate is tied to hers, and Putin knows this.

  • And Japan’s net exports aside, most dash-lights (like consumption) are flashing orange right now. So don’t crack that saké just yet.

Also worth noting:

  • A spokesperson for China’s statistics bureau said authorities stopped posting youth unemployment data because their stats needed to be “advanced and optimised”.

  • Russians withdrew $1.1B in rubles from banks in a single weekend during June’s brief Wagner mutiny.

📰 How newspapers covered…

A prisoner swap deal between the US and Iran

Ankara, Turkey

“Iran confirms deal with US on prisoner swap, unlocking $10B in frozen assets in South Korea, Iraq”

Seoul, South Korea

“U.S. confirms unfrozen Iranian funds to be used for humanitarian purposes”


“US-Iran prisoner swap said to be part of larger deal that addresses nuclear program”

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🇨🇳 China | Defence & security

China announces new anti-satellite laser tech

Researchers at China’s National University of Defence Technology say they’ve developed a new cooling system that allows laser weapons to fire indefinitely without overheating, with possible use against satellites.

Are laser weapons a thing now? Yes, but not in the Death Star sense (yet). Militaries in the US, Israel, and elsewhere have developed laser systems to intercept small airborne targets, but their use is still pretty limited.

So China says its new breakthrough could be a game changer, by:

  • Extending engagement times

  • 🚀 Increasing range and damage, and

  • 💸 Reducing costs.

Intrigue’s take: We generally take these kinds of big futuristic claims with enough salt to make the Dead Sea jealous.

But China has form here: it made another intriguing laser announcement last year. And we’ve written often about how rapidly the future seems to be bearing down upon us. It just may not always be the future we want.

Also worth noting:

  • Israel’s Iron Beam laser weapon could be integrated into its Iron Dome defence system by 2025.

Extra Intrigue

Here’s what folks around the world were googling yesterday, 15 August.

  • 🇬🇷 Greeks were searching ‘Ποιοι γιορτάζουν σήμερα ‘ (who is celebrating today?) as they marked the Dormition of Virgin Mary.

  • 🇨🇦 Canadian fans were googling the latest from the FIFA Women's World Cup, after their team was unexpectedly eliminated last month.

  • Netizens in the 🇵🇭 Philippines read up on ‘Michael Oher’, the NFL player whose life inspired the hit film The Blind Side, and who’s now made damning accusations against his adoptive family.

🗳️ Poll time!

What do you think will be the next frontier of modern warfare?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

🗺️ Map of the day

Source: Reddit

The northernmost point in Brazil, Monte Caburaí, is closer to Canada and every other country in the Americas than it is to Brazil’s own southernmost point, Arroio Chuí. Big country, that!

Yesterday’s poll: Should the international community recognise and cooperate with the Taliban?

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 👍 Yes, it could help save lives (11%)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 ⛔ No, that'd cross too many red lines (84%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write-in) (5%)

Your two cents:

  • 👍 M.G: “As a former diplomat, and one who spent time in Afghanistan, I know the choices are bleak. But ignoring the Taliban will not reform them; that requires engagement, no matter how distasteful that is.”

  • ⛔ W.L: “[…] If the international community recognizes and cooperates with the Taliban, they will simply take the aid and change nothing.”

  • ✍️ C.W.F: “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t […]”

🍨 PS - our managing editor (Jeremy) will be in Sydney next Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24 August. Hit reply if you wanted to catch up over a frozen yoghurt!

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