East Asia and Pacific
Australia is set to redevelop a South Pacific naval base, once used by the US as a World War II launchpad, in an effort to bolster their presence in the Southern Pacific. On Thursday Australian officials met with their counterparts from Papua New Guinea to discuss upgrading the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, which lies to Australia’s north. The small island contains a 9,000-foot runway and wharves built at the time of the American campaign against the Japanese. The move comes ahead of a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders later this month, when China’s president Xi Jinping is expected to promise Pacific leaders further investments and loans as part of Beijing’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” project. A U.S. official said it’s too early to say whether the U.S. navy would attempt to use the base, but Australia has said there’s a “high likelihood” that its warships would utilize the port. Australia’s Prime Minister stated on the redevelopment of the port, “At a time of change, uncertainty and strategic competition, Australia will need to act with even greater purpose and conviction.” A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry countered that, “We hope the relevant countries, and relevant people, can discard the Cold War mentality.”
North Korea warned Friday that it may revive its policy of strengthening its nuclear arsenal if the U.S. does not lift sanctions. The statement comes ahead of a meeting this week between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Chol. The comments come as Pyeongyang becomes increasingly impatient with the U.S’ refusal to loosen sanctions after what they view as significant concessions on their side, as well as Washington’s refusal to allow South Korea to provide economic aid to the North. South Korean president Moon Jae-in has promised the North aid after sanctions are lifted and specifically discussed the development of roads and railways with Kim Jong-un on his last summit visit. The comments by the North reflect growing tension between the U.S. and South Korea over the best path forward concerning dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program, with Seoul advocating economic development versus further sanctions. Pompeo’s visit is in part to try and establish the conditions for a second Trump-Kim summit, which both sides hope would create new momentum on the stalled nuclear negotiations.
Europe and Central Asia
Ukrainian, pro-European, and anti-corruption activist, Kateryna Handzyuk, died after an assault with acid on July 31st. She had suffered severe burns on over 40% of her body and severe eye damage. She was a city council member in Kherson and, in the three months prior to her death, was quoted to have said, “I know I look bad now. But at least I’m being treated. And I definitely know that I look better than justice in Ukraine because no one is treating it.” President Petro Poroshenko called for the killers to be punished. Five suspects are now in custody.
A delegation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources of Turkmenistan has taken part in the Agriscape-2018 exhibition and conference, which will be held in Abu Dhabi. Currently Turkmenistan is working to ensure food security in the country, expand exports of products manufactured in Turkmenistan, ensure the sufficiency of goods, support entrepreneurship, and attract foreign investments. Turkmenistan has also received a special award from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for its achievements in the field of food and security.
Islamists in Pakistan have taken to the streets in protest of a Supreme Court decision to acquit Asia Bibi, a Christian who spent eight years on death row after she was charged with blasphemy. In response to the widespread protests, the Pakistani government has shut down cell phone networks in major cities across the country. The government also successfully lobbied Twitter to suspend the account of an extremist cleric who called for the murder of the Supreme court justices involved in the case. Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a hardline religious party fixated on defending Pakistan’s religious blasphemy law, was principally responsible for organizing the protests. In the past, TLP has also sought to protect those responsible for assassinating politicians who have criticized the blasphemy law or who have defended those who are convicted under the law. Late Friday, Pakistan’s religious minister secured an agreement from TLP to end the protests. In exchange, the government will conduct a review of the Supreme Court decision and may bar Bibi from leaving the country. If she does, TLP leaders have threatened “war.” Asia Bibi is seeking asylum from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
Political chaos in Sri Lanka continues following President Sirisena’s constitutionally dubious ousting of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe last week. Parliament is expected to reconvene on November 14th to determine the constitutionality of the act and if Rajapaksa, the President’s preferred successor, will be able to form a government. Meanwhile, the United States and Japan have suspended aid and loans amounting to $2 billion pending the resolution of the dispute. Both countries have urged all sides to abide by the constitution. There are also severe reservations regarding a Rajapaska-led government by outside observers due to his alleged human rights violations while President. China, on the other hand, has expressed support for a new government under Rajapaska.
Russia announced on Saturday that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has agreed to send a delegation to participate in multilateral peace talks with the Taliban in Moscow. Russia first proposed the conference in August. Initially, both Afghanistan and the United States declined to attend, citing the complexity of speaking to the Taliban in multiple forums. It is unclear if the United States will participate now that Kabul plans to attend. Many in Washington believe Russia is meddling in the peace process, inviting opposition figures from Afghanistan to the talks while seeking to sideline the United States. Russia claims its concern about the Islamic State’s activities in the country and growing instability are driving its interest in the peace process.
Middle East and North Africa
U.S. sanctions against Iran’s oil exports began on Monday. The aim of these sanctions is to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and according to Washington, to stop other “malign activities” such as cyber-attacks and ballistic missile tests. Eight of the U.S.’s closest allies will be given exemptions, allowing them to continue buying Iranian oil. Washington has not yet revealed the recipients of these waivers. Oil prices have lowered with the anticipation that there will still be oil flowing out of Iran.
In its first U.N. review in five years, Saudi Arabia told members of the U.N. Human Rights Council that it will prosecute those involved with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Many countries present called for a more thorough investigation into the death of Khashoggi as well as other human rights violations occurring in the kingdom. No new news has come out of Saudi Arabia concerning the case since a Saudi public prosecutor claimed Khashoggi’s death was premeditated.
The United Nations Security Council is set to lift sanctions imposed on Eritrea for allegedly supporting al-Shabaab insurgents in Somalia. The United Kingdom has been in favor of removing the sanctions since 2009, but US security advisor John Bolton has pushed back. The new decision is strongly tied to a July 2018 peace deal with Ethiopia after decades of hostilities. Foreign Ministers of countries in the region called for a lifting of the sanctions during the UN General Assembly in New York.
The death toll from Ebola has risen to 180 lives in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A total of 298 cases of hemorrhagic fever have been reported in the area, including 263 confirmed and 35 probable cases, since the declaration of this Ebola epidemic in the DRC. More than 25,000 people have received an experimental vaccine in the DRC since August to curb the spread of the virus.
Latin America and The Caribbean
Venezuela has closed its border to commercial trade with Colombia. The government cited an outbreak of Foot-and-Mount Disease as justification. Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing at the U.S. treasury identified the Maduro regime as a threat to regional security and “one of the largest criminal enterprises in the Western Hemisphere.” President Maduro also reached out to Brazilian President Elect Bolsonaro calling for peaceful diplomatic relations between countries.
On Monday, jury selection began in New York for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. El Chapo stands accused of leading the Sinaloa Cartel. The trial is expected to go for several months and pour over 300,000 pages in court documents – including El Chapo’s rise to power. It remains business as usual for the cartel despite Guzman’s arrest and extradition last year, though competitors like deadly CJNG have moved into the markets.