Cardinal George Pell. Picture: AAP

Cardinal George Pell. Picture: AAP

The World This Week: August 21, 2019

Asia and the Pacific

After 11 weeks of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the mainland Chinese government has issued a 43-page letter to foreign media outlets attempting to rectify what it views as errors in Western coverage of the protests. Alleging links between protesters and “foreign forces,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s document levies accusations of violence, mayhem and foreign meddling in the former British colony.

Protests in Hong Kong began in June after citizens there rallied against a perceived erosion of long-held democratic freedoms. The ongoing demonstrations have often turned violent as Hong Kong police, aided by the mainland government, have sought to crack down heavily on the protests. The protests come at a difficult time for the Chinese government, which has been under heavy attack from the United States for its intellectual property and trade policies, as well as from the United Nations over the crackdown and internment of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang Province.

The Chinese government has also opened a new front in its conflict with the Trump administration over a planned US-Taiwan arms deal. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on Tuesday that it had approved the sale of 66 F-16V fighters (among other defense articles) to the island nation for a total value of eight billion dollars – one of the largest arms sales to Taiwan in decades. The Chinese government threatened to sanction any US firm involved in the deal. China has previously issued these threats over defense cooperation between the United States and Taiwan, to little effect.

In Australia, Cardinal George Pell’s conviction for child sex abuse has been upheld by the Court of Appeal of Victoria state. The case has caused tension between the government of Australia and the Vatican. The Vatican is conducting its own investigation into the allegations against Pell, the former archbishop of Sydney. Pell was tapped by Pope Francis to run the Vatican’s economic ministry in 2014 but was removed from the position in March after his conviction. As the Holy See’s Secretariat for the Economy, Pell is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be convicted of sexual abuse in what has become an ongoing and global scandal regarding accusations against the church. The Vatican issued a carefully worded statement appearing to stand by Pell, stating that “the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.” Pell’s attorneys have announced their intention to petition the High Court of Australia to consider taking up a final appeal.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Two reports emerged this week of ongoing Back Channel negotiations between Trump Administration and Venezuela’s Maduro government. Their unnamed sources allege that Diosdado Cabello, a member of President Maduro’s inner circle, is involved in these talks. Mr. Cabello is a controversial figure with alleged involvement in directing paramilitary operations, illegal and forced labor mining operations, as well as drug trafficking. The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control currently designates Mr. Cabello as a Specifically Designated National. Tuesday night, Nicolás Maduro confirmed that official contacts between the his government and the United States have occurred for several months “with [his] express and direct permission.” 

Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez announced yesterday that doctors found a potentially malignant lung tumor. Vasquez has not reported any symptoms. but this is the second spat of difficult news in recent weeks for the country and the President. Just three weeks ago, they lost the First Lady, Maria Auxiliadora Delgado, to a heart attack. President Vasquez currently holds the second highest approval ratings in the region at 65% according to recent polling by Ipsos. Though Vasquez is not running for re-election, it is unknown what effect Vasquez’s announcement may have on Uruguay’s upcoming 2019 presidential election.

Argentina’s peso continues to see rapid depreciation in the fallout of current President Macri’s loss in the primary elections. Credit ratings agencies Fitch and Standard & Poor’s dropped the country’s ratings to “CCC” from “B” and “B” to “B-“ respectfully. Despite this, Argentina’s new treasury minister Hernán Lacunza claims that they will intervene and stabilize the market. 

Middle East and North Africa

A report released by the Iraqi government claims an explosion at al-Saqr base outside of Baghdad was the result of a drone strike. Al-Saqr base is home to both Iraqi police and mostly Shiite militias who have fought against the Islamic State. While there is no definitive evidence on who carried out this strike, there have been speculations of who was behind this and three other explosions that have occurred in Iraq within the last month. These explosions have targeted both militia bases and munitions depots, leading some to believe the blasts could be aimed specifically at Iranian influence in the country. As a result of these explosions of unknown origins, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi instituted a ban on all military flights within the country that did not have prior authorization.  

Along-side of Bahrain and Britain, Australia has joined the United States’ operation to guard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a news conference that the goal of joining this U.S. operation was strictly about freedom of shipping and not putting pressure on Iran. This operation to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz began after two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman in June. The United States blamed Iran for the attacks, but Iran has denied these allegations. Iran has also stated that it is nobody’s responsibility except for Iran and other countries of the area to secure the Persian Gulf.  

There are current reports and investigations into whether Syrian refugees in Turkey are being sent back involuntarily, even though war in Syria still poses a very real threat . Current Turkish rules require Syrian refugees to stay within the city in which they are registered with the government. While the Turkish government denies the claims, some Syrians say that unregistered refugees are being put on buses and forced out of the country. Similar to other countries facing economic downturns and rising unemployment, surveys taken throughout Turkey show negative opinions towards Syrian refugees are on the rise.  These negative opinions and economic hardships also contributed to President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party losing the most recent elections in Istanbul. At around 3.4 million, Turkey hosts the most Syrian refugees out of any other country.

North America

A Canadian Border Services agent was caught leaking confidential documents to her family. The document was a bulletin issued to agents warning them about a traveler expected to pass through the Calgary airport. The bulletin was never made public but did contain lots of personal identifiers and information about the suspected traveler. The CBSA agent emailed a photo of the bulletin to her brother, who then shared it with local police. The agent was “removed from the workplace and her access was restricted,” but it is unclear what further action was taken. 

President Trump has postponed his trip to Copenhagen after the Danish Prime Minister called his request to buy Greenland “absurd.” Trump originally claimed that the trip to Denmark was not related to his interest in buying Greenland, but had his White House staff send an overnight message to the Danish embassy to cancel the meeting nonetheless. Prime Minister Mette Fredericksen reaffirmed that this postponement does not in any way affect the close relationship between the United States and Denmark. Danish politicians, however, were deeply insulted by the suggestion that Trump could purchase Greenland, insisting on its position as an autonomous part of the country akin to Alaska. It is uncertain whether this postponement will affect his visit to Warsaw, another stop on this planned trip, where Trump is scheduled to appear at events commemorating the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.

Federal officials in Mexico arrested a U.S. citizen who is a suspected jihadist at a migrant center in Huehuetan, Chiapas, near the border to Guatemala. An Interpol “blue notice” was requested after the FBI provided information that the suspect had “published statements of support for violent jihad and radical Islam on digital platforms.” The Mexican Attorney General’s Office (FGR) and the National Immigration Institute participated in the suspect’s arrest. The FGR says he is to be deported to the U.S. this Friday. The Mexican government also worked with Argentine authorities to arrest Carlos Ahumada, a Mexican-Argentine businessman, in Buenos Aires last week. The FGR claims Ahumada failed to pay 1.5 million pesos in income taxes. Ahumada was subsequently released by an Argentine judge who claims he does not need to be detained while waiting for the extradition request to be fulfilled. Ahumada’s arrest is part of President Obrador’s crackdown on an old corruption scandal which has also resulted in the arrests of Juan Collado, lawyer for former president Nieto, and Rosario Robles, a former cabinet secretary. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has formally inaugurated his new cabinet following re-election earlier this year. A number of appointees from the last cabinet maintained their portfolios among others, Chris Ngige (Labour and Employment), Geoffrey Onyeama (Foreign Affairs), Babatunde Raji Fashola (Works and Housing) and Abubakar Malami (Minister of Justice). The Nigerian Senate vetted and passed all nominees and passed all of them for appointment. Senators postponed their annual recess for a week to screen the nominees. Out of the 43 appointees, seven of them were women.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the outgoing head of Sudan’s military council, was sworn in as head of the newly formed Sovereign Council in front of the head of the country’s judiciary. The remaining 10 members of the Sovereign Council will be sworn in later on Wednesday. Prime Minister-nominee Abdalla Hamdok is also expected to be sworn in later in the day. Sudan completed the formation of the 11-member Sovereign Council that will run the country for a three-year transitional period until elections. Hamdok, an economist who has served in international institutions, was nominated by Sudan’s main opposition alliance which negotiated for months with the Transitional Military Council to reach the agreement that led to the Sovereign Council’s establishment.

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