Prime Minister Boris Johnson has chaired his first Cabinet meeting in Downing Street this morning. Office of the Prime Minister. Wikimedia Commons.

The World This Week: September 9, 2019

East Asia

China continues to deny American accusations of ill intentions after newly appointed US Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s first major policy speech last Friday, in which he cautioned the US’s European allies in dealings with China and cited the latter’s military technology theft and ongoing campaign against minority Uighurs in Xinjiang. Meanwhile, the US-China trade war is still going strong in what could be a bad sign for the global economy at large. Billions of dollars in tariffs have been raised on imports from both nations, affecting a widening goods spectrum of crops, technology, and consumer goods. However, Chinese companies are facing a decrease in global consumer demand that could hurt the search for alternative export markets. President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to recommence talks for a trade deal, in a meeting that has been postponed until October.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam formally withdrew the controversial extradition bill last week, meeting one of 5 demands announced by Hong Kong protesters. However, protests have resumed going into Week 14, and Sunday brought out thousands of pro-democracy Hong Kongers in a march to the US Consulate. Chants and posters were accompanied by waving American flags in a call for US aid in ‘liberating’ the former British colony from mainland China. In particular they urged support through the passing of the Hong Kong Democratic and Human Rights Act, in which they proposed sanctions against local officials that have been suppressing both democracy and human rights in the city. What began as a peaceful march later erupted in violence between police and protesters, with those vandalizing subways and blocking traffic being met with fired tear gas.

As of Saturday, Japan planned to cancel a number of trains and flights over the weekend and into Monday in preparation for Typhoon Faxai incoming Sunday. Experts expect 130 mph winds and heavy rain to hit the greater Tokyo area and lead to severe storms off the coast. The Korean peninsula also faced cancelled flights, as well as thousands of houses damaged or without power after Typhoon Lingling struck this past weekend. The typhoon first made landfall in South Korea on Saturday, where 86 mph winds were recorded and three people were killed, then headed north. North Korea’s state media reported another 5 deaths and a few hundred houses damaged in the wake of the storm, and the flooding of 178 square miles of farmland could worsen already severe food shortages. DPRK leader Kim Jong-un reportedly reprimanded government officials on Friday for their lack of preparation for the coming typhoon, but the protection of crops, dams, and reservoirs were being given priority.

Eastern Europe and the Caucasus

Georgia’s controversial former interior minister Giorgi Gakharia has been selected as the country’s new Prime Minister. Gakharia, who is widely seen as “Moscow’s man”, is viewed by many Georgians as responsible for a bloody police crackdown during the anti-government, anti-Russian protests that occurred earlier this year. Georgia and Russia severed diplomatic ties after a brief 2008 war, and the relationship between the two countries remains a divisive issue. In June, Georgian parliamentarians invited a Russian politician to give a speech, sparking large protests in the capital city. The protests lead to the resignation of the Chairman of Parliament and substantial electoral reforms. The Russian government responded by suspending passenger flights to Georgia and raising import restrictions on a number of Georgian products. Opposition parties boycotting the vote for Gakharia, a largely symbolic gesture as Gakharia’s party holds a supermajority in the Georgian parliament.

Russia’s ruling United Russia party lost one third of its seats in Moscow’s city assembly elections this past week. The loss comes amidst growing domestic dissatisfaction with falling wages, pension reforms and electoral repression and is largely being seen as a massive setback for the Putin-supporting party. Alexei Navalny, the country’s most prominent opposition voice, is among the many candidates excluded from the election through various processes over the past year. He and his allies campaigned on behalf of various opposition groups in an attempt to unseat United Russia and build momentum for the upcoming national election in 2021.

South East Asia

The first U.S.-ASEAN joint maritime exercise ran its course last week, starting in the Gulf of Thailand and concluding in Singapore. Eight vessels and more than one thousand personnel participated in AUMX with representation from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam. Despite controversy and on-going sanctions, Myanmar also joined at the United States’ invitation. The event comes on the heels of increased U.S. freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the region and last October’s inaugural China-ASEAN exercise for Unplanned Encounters at sea. 

Air quality conditions inspire Malaysia to conduct cloud seeding. The regional haze has not risen to the 2015 levels,  but causes regular health issues and routine school closures. Officials hope the deployment of chemicals into the clouds will induce rain and reduce some of the smog. Malaysia has issued several diplomatic notes, but Indonesia continues to deny that peat fires from Palm Oil farmers in Sumatra are to blame. The country’s leadership has prioritized firefighting efforts, yet also may be entering a tit-for-tat tariff battle with the EU over palm biodiesel sales. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Tension in South Africa is rising due to the rise of xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg, and rape and femicide in Cape Town. August was the deadliest month for violent crimes against women the country has ever seen, and the last week alone four women were raped and murdered in the Western Cape. South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, spoke in Cape Town about the national crisis after days of protests for the implementation of policies to curb attacks and harsher punishment for offenders, specifically the reinstatement of the death penalty. Ramaphose has promised to instate school programs, workplace policies, and community initiatives, and establish 11 more sexual offenses courts.

In Johannesburg, xenophobia has led to months of violent riots and attacks targeting African immigrants. Ramaphosa is facing criticism in the region for his failure to stabilize the situation. Last week at least 10 people were killed in by mobs and hundreds were arrested for xenophobic violence and looting. Nigeran citizens have been heavily targeted in these attacks, putting the nation’s leadership in a difficult place because they lack the diplomatic power and military force to escalate the matter and cannot afford to lose South Africa as a trading partner.

South Asia

Clashes occurred on Sunday between local residents and forces in the main city of Srinagar province of Kashmir. The clashes occurred during a Muharram procession that had been banned since 1989. There has been a month-long lock down in the city that will now be tightened after confrontation between the groups. On August 5 India changed the legal status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The changed stripped the states of their autonomy and classified it as a “Union Territory” instead of a state. Some have speculated that it could be a way for India to eventually lead to a West-Bank style settlement plan, has India revoked the rule that forbadenon-Kashmiri settlement.

President Trump has temporarily called off the peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban. The reason the U.S. gives for pulling out of the talks is a Taliban-led attack that resulted in the death of a U.S. soldier in Kabul. Those in Afghanistan and elsewhere are worried that this pause in the peace talks will lead to an escalation in violence in Afghanistan leading up to the September 28 elections. Questions remain as to where the talks will go from here. Both sides have left open the possibility for further negotiations, but the Trump administration has given no possibilities for the next steps in the process.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed on Monday that Iran is preparing to use more advanced centrifuges in violation of the now defunct JCPOA. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action began in 2015 and ended when the United States unilaterally pulled out of the deal in 2018 and reestablished economic sanctions on Iran. The deal stated that Iran could only operate 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges but have been verified recently as establishing 30 newer IR-6 models, among a few other older types. The centrifuges have not yet been tested, but their preparations are seen as a way to put pressure both on the United States and the other signatories of the JCPOA who are still hoping to salvage the deal.

Western Europe

Many senior politicians in Germany this week voiced outrage at the election of Stefan Jagsch, a vocal neo-Nazi, as mayor of a small town in the central state of Hesse. Jagsch is a member of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) and was unanimously elected by seven councilors in Waldsiedlung near Frankfurt. Mr. Jagsch won the election due to a lack of opposition in the small town.

The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, pledged a “season of reforms” as he prepared his new left-leaning, EU-friendly government for a crucial confidence vote. Conte is attempting to rebrand the Five Star Movement (M5S) to encourage cohesion with the centre-left Democratic party (PD) it recently joined forces with following the collapse of its ill-fated 14-month alliance with the far-right League. Conte’s speech coincided with a protest outside the lower house of parliament by supporters of the League and the smaller far-right party Brothers of Italy. The administration will face a confidence vote in the lower house of parliament on Monday night and a second one in the upper house, the Senate, on Tuesday. If the government loses either vote, it will be forced to resign.

Boris Johnson, who has said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit, will face a legal obligation to do so on Monday and request an extension from the European Union. Legally, the departing government will have to ask for an extension, and EU leaders will discuss and reach a unanimous decision to grant more time. The UK has already had two Brexit extensions. EU diplomats say an extension would be granted for “a political event,” meaning an election or another referendum. An extension for other reasons is less certain, however is it unlikely that the EU will deny a request for an extension drawn up by MPs intent on avoiding no deal. Meanwhile Ireland, an influential voice in Brexit talks, sounds open to an extension to avoid a hard border.

South America

A major regional effort has begun to take shape in respect to the efforts to quell fires raging in the Amazon Rainforest. In response to mounting International pressure, a coalition of seven countries convened in Colombia to iron out a plan of action for the environmental disaster plaguing the “Lungs of the World”. Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana and Suriname have agreed to create a network to coordinate their responses to immediate and future environmental disasters. The agreement casts light into a dark-room as some concern about Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro’s desire to address the wildfires has been alleviated.

Economic woe continues to be the story emanating out of Argentina, as President Mauricio Macri has imposed new restrictions on access to foreign currency. International investors and financiers are watching closely as more interventionist policies like these currency restrictions evoke memories of Economic missteps under former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The feud between Colombia and Venezuela continues to escalate as Venezuela’s President Maduro has accused Bogota of harboring FARQ rebels. The collapse of the Venezuelan economy has exasperated tensions between the two countries as refugees continue to pour into Colombia. The outlook of the feud is beginning to look bleak as Maduro continues to use Colombia as a crutch for his domestic calamities.

The Middle East and North Africa

Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Tehran has destroyed a previously undisclosed nuclear facility. He accused the Iranian government of conducting “experiments to develop nuclear weapons” near the city of Abadeh, but provided no further details. Netanyahu’s opposition have dismissed this revelation of previously classified information as propaganda. The opposition claims Netanyahu is attempting to appear “statesmanlike” right before the election next Tuesday. Netanyahu has presented himself throughout his campaign as the only leader capable of dealing with global threats, but his opposition views this as another attempt to protect himself and his leadership at the expense of Israel’s international reputation.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates released a statement urging the armed groups in Yemen supported by their governments to stop all military operations against each other and put an end to hostile propaganda. Saudi and UAE forces have been fighting against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, but last month UAE-supported separatists ousted Yemen’s Saudi-backed government from Aden. This followed the UAE’s announcement that it will be pulling its forces out of Yemen. Saudi Arabia in return threatened to reinstate the rule of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, against the wishes of the UAE-supported southern separatists. It is unclear whether the proxy forces supported by these governments will heed the joint Saudi-UAE appeal, but this dispute between these former allies in the conflict in Yemen could negatively impact their standing in Washington.

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