The World This Week: November 19th, 2018

East Asia and Pacific

Saturday at the APEC Summit held in Papua New Guinea, Vice President Mike Pence and Chinese President XI Jinping presented conflicting visions for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. In light of heated rhetoric from Pence over China’s vaunted Belt and Road Initiative, and the redevelopment of a WWII era naval base with Australia, Jinping warned against conflicts and unilateralism. He invoked the dark lessons of WWII and the destruction the war between the US and Japan brought to the region. Pence in turn attacked the Belt and Road initiative and the unsustainable debt it saddled small nations with. He said the initiative “coerces, corrupts, and compromises the independence” of the countries it is pursued in. China has begun modernizing its military to further project its strength into the South Pacific, which has been dominated by the US and its allies since WWII and is home to important shipping lanes and fisheries. To counter Chinese influence in the region the US has initiated 1,500 new projects and invested more than $61 billion in the area. The US also announced a trilateral partnership with Japan and Australia in July to invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific. The US has said it hopes that China will begin engaging the world in ways that respect the international trading system while China has called for the international community to rally around globalization and reject “arrogance and prejudice.”

On Thursday Rohingya refugees refused to return to their home country of Myanmar in what were to be the first repatriations since their expulsion in 2015. Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed last month in a plan endorsed by China to start large-scale repatriations of the Rohingya. Myanmar had said it is willing to allow 2,200 to return. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the crisis began in which police from the dominantly Buddhist state began forcing Rohingya from their homes and committing alleged human rights abuses. Myanmar authorities regard the operation as purely one to root out domestic terrorism and largely view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants. The government in Myanmar has said it will grant the Rohingya a form of identity short of citizenship if they come back but the Rohingya have refused repatriation until full citizenship is granted. The US government, UN, and various human rights groups have criticized the repatriation plan on the grounds that it is not safe for the Rohingya to return. Bangladesh has stated they will not expel the Rohingya against their will.

Europe and Central Asia

Italy is “likely” to leave the European Union and the eurozone in order to launch their own currency. The dismal conditions of the Italian banks could trigger Italy to withdraw from the common European currency in favor of a domestic option. This comes after the Italian government’s refusal to budge from their 2019 budget proposal, despite the European Union’s rejection of the budget.

Uzbekistan aims to become a regional transport hub. An official delegation from Uzbekistan, led by Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, visited Pakistan on November 1st and 2nd. In the discussions with Pakistani officials, Kamilov proposed several groundbreaking initiatives, including a railroad connection between the two countries that would pass through Afghanistan.

South Asia

Rajapaska, the man President Sirisena has selected to be Sri Lanka’s next Prime Minister, lost two votes of no confidence last week as he has struggled to consolidate political support in Parliament. Brawling erupted as Parliament voted, with Rajapaska’s supporters launching projectiles and throwing chili powder at MPs who opposed him. Rajapaska has since argued that the votes of no confidence are illegitimate. On Sunday, Rajapaska, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe met for negotiations, though they failed to arrive at an agreement. Social tensions in Sri Lanka are now rising, with thousands taking to the streets in Colombo to protest. With Parliament unable to remove him, it seems that the crisis has reached an impasse that only the Supreme Court may be able to overcome.

Political officials from the Taliban hosted US Special Envoy Khalilzad for three days of talks in Qatar, their second meeting this month. Khalilzad has publicly called for the war to end by April 2019. In his public comments, Khalilzad indicated that Taliban officials told him that they believed they could not win the war militarily. The Taliban issued a public statement in reply, stating that they had not accepted Khalilzad’s deadline because they believe that they are winning militarily. Both sides have described the talks as preliminary and have committed to meet again before the end of 2018. Some political analysts in Kabul, including western diplomats, believe that Khalilzad is moving to quickly and is not doing enough to include stakeholders in Afghanistan and around the region.

Middle East and North Africa

On Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will continue to export oil despite U.S. sanctions. Rouhani claimed that isolation and lack of support will make U.S. sanctions and “psychological war” a failure. Countries who were a part of the 2015 JCPOA have been trying to find ways around U.S. sanctions. The EU, for example, has been working on a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to initiate trade with Iran that does not use the US dollar.

Germany has banned 18 Saudi nationals suspected to be involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. As a member of the EU, Germany’s ban will extend to all countries of the Schengen zone. This adds to Germany’s earlier decision to ban weapon sales to Saudi Arabia until the Khashoggi case is cleared up.

Monday could present a turning point in the Yemeni peace effort as Houthi rebels said they are halting missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and its allies. The decision came as a result of U.N. demands for peace. The Houthis’ also stated they would be open to a wider cease-fire if Saudi Arabia is also open to peace.

Sub-Saharan Africa

A large group of injured migrants rescued by a cargo ship in the Mediterranean have been refusing to deboard after it docked in a Libyan port, voicing that they would rather die than be forced to disembark in Libya where they say they were held captive and tortured by smugglers. The ship brought them to Misrata on November 10th after picking them up from a boat off Libya’s western coast. Fourteen people including unaccompanied children and a mother and baby left the ship on Wednesday for official detention centers in Libya, but 77 migrants remain on board, insisting they will go anywhere but Libya.
Madagascar’s presidential election result is likely to face legal challenges following accusations of fraud and corruption against the electoral body, with appeals already lodged with the country’s High Constitutional Court. Madagascar’s electoral commission announced results on Saturday, confirming an expected presidential election run-off after neither of the candidates obtained the 50% of votes needed to win. According to the independent electoral commission, former presidents Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana will contest the second round having secured 39.19% and 35.29% respectively.

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