The World This Week: October 9, 2019

Southeast Asia

On Thursday, the first inaugural ASEAN-U.S. Cyber Policy Dialogue convened in Singapore. The event, co-chaired by Laos and the United States found common ground in an open, interoperable, reliable and secure information communications technology. Co-chair’s statements called for increased confidence and cooperative capacity building measures on a range of topics including critical infrastructure security, combating cybercrime, and mitigating ICT-enabled terrorist activity. Though no concrete measures were announced, the dialogue reflected increased attention on digital issues by the U.S. and Southeast Asian states. 

A student from the Deep South region of Thailand has returned home after his arrest in Egypt over suspected links to the Islamic State. Egyptian authorities took the student into custody in late September after reportedly discovering an online video in which he pledged support to IS. Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan maintains state claims that “there is no evidence of any IS-aligned movement in the kingdom, especially the Deep South region where separatists have been battling for an independent Islamic State. The hard-fought insurgency there began in 2004.

North America

The impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump continues; a second whistleblower has come forward with allegations about Trump’s call with the Ukrainian President Zolensky this summer. Zolensky continues to deny the charges and Trump lashes out against all those around him. On Saturday he called U.S. Senator Mitt Romney a “pompous ass” after his critique of the president’s public request that foreign powers investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic political rival. He also criticized the top Democrat in Congress on Sunday, saying that Nany Pelosi could be guilty of treason. Trump’s calls for foreign involvement in domestic elections and his actions against those he views as political rivals threaten the security and stability of the American political system.

The U.S. has begun to pull back from Northern Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish offensive. President Trump ordered the Pentagon to clear the way for Ankara to work against Kurdish fighters. His decisions is only the latest sign of his desire to reduce America’s role in the Middle East. Kurdish fighters, who led the U.S. campaign against the Islamist State, warn of an all-out war with Turkey as a result. Washington and Ankara have been working for months to establish a deal along the Turkish-Syrian border but failed to come to an agreement; Trump’s decision to pull out of the situation will likely destabilize the situation further. His actions are especially concerning for Israel as it the Iranian presence on its border with Syria. Israeli officials have expressed concern about Iran’s ability to transport advanced weapons from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel has carried out strikes to push against Iranian regional influence.

East Asia

Hong Kong’s new face mask ban went into effect on Saturday in an effort by the government to deter protest violence, but rallies and riots have continued in anger. Monday, the first protesters were charged with violating Hong Kong’s new ban. But rather than calming the situation, anti-government demonstrations are expected to continue–tens of thousands already march defying the ban–and police remain ready to meet violence with tear gas and arrests.

In a deleted tweet, Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey spoke out in support of ongoing Hong Kong protests. He apologized on Monday for having offended Chinese Rockets fans and partners of the NBA, and the NBA also expressed regret in a later statement.

After the collision of a Japanese patrol ship and North Korean fishing boat Monday morning, the Japanese Coast Guard and Fisheries Agency readied ships and aircraft in a search party for the boat’s crew members. 60 crew members were found, rescued, and turned over to another North Korean ship. According to Fisheries Agency head Satoshi Kuwahara, the North Korean boat had been fishing illegally in a Japanese economic zone near the Yamato Shallows; the collision occurred while the Japanese warned the boat to leave the area.

South America

Important developments in the Peruvian political crisis have taken the form of President Martin Vizcarra emerging unscathed from the recent challenges to his grip over the country. Last week, opposition members attempted to anoint Vice President Mercedes Aroaz as interim president. These attempts failed as Vizacarras support from the Peruvian police and military forces reaffirmed their loyalty to his administration. Vizcarra continues to circumvent due-process in Peruvian politics with the ultimate goal of solidifying his power base. This week saw Vizcarra swearing in 19 ministers that will now serve as his presidential cabinet.

Environmental and cultural degradation continues to be the story emanating from Brazil. Experts have decried the Bolsanaro administration for peeling back policies that protect vulnerable indigenous populations throughout the Amazon. Indigenous populations now have less protection from the continued encroachment of illegal mining, logging and land-grabbing entities.

The situation in Venezuela seems to be getting worse for the average citizen. Sanctions from the United States are said to be punishing Venezuelan citizens more than the Maduro regime. Eight months after being named Interim President by the United States and 54 other countries, Juan Guaidó and his administration are nowhere closer to replacing Maduro’s administration. The vast majority of the international community continues to recognize the Maduro administration as legitimate. This does not bode well for Venezuelan citizens who continue to be crushed under the weight of mounting United States sanctions.

Sub-Saharan Africa

On Friday, October 4th, 14 people were killed in Rwanda near the Volcanoes National Park, which has a large amount of tourist traffic. Many of the victims were killed by traditional weapons, assumed to be knives. 18 of the surviving victims are currently being attended to by doctors. Rwandan security forces were able to hunt down and kill 18 of the assailants and capture five. The situation has been contained and police forces continue to search for more perpetrators. It is still not clear where the assailants came from or who they were associated with. Authorities believe that the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group active in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, may be involved due to previous attacks

The Middle East and North Africa

Turkish forces attacked Kurdish militia positions across the border from Turkey into northeast Syria just days after the U.S. withdrew forces from that region. The Kurds were bombarded by airstrikes and artillery in the Syrian town of Ras al Ain, resulting in multiple civilian casualties. President Trump condemned the attack, as did several Arab leaders. Turkey claimed the attack was intended to eliminate a “terror corridor on Turkey’s southern border.” There is global concern that this attack by Turkey could kick off an escalation in Syria’s eight year civil war and destabilize the region further. Turkey announced its intention to create a “safe zone” to return refugees to Syrian soil, but it is unclear when this will happen or what the Assad regime’s response to this attack will be.

Tunisian presidential candidate Nabil Karoui has been released from prison just days before the second-round runoff election on Sunday. Karoui was imprisoned in August before the first election for tax evasion and money laundering, charges he denies. The Tunisian appeals court decided to release him, easing some concerns about the transitional period post-election and what this could mean for Tunisia’s democracy. Karoui is a controversial candidate, with his supporters calling him a champion for the poor. The charges brought against him, however, were first uncovered by I Watch, a local chapter of Transparency International, which calls out corruption. The lawfulness of the candidate aside, Karoui’s detainment during the election cycle threatened the legitimacy of the election and undermined democratic reforms in Tunisia. Officials seem to be relieved that he has been released and the election is back on track before the second-round runoff.

Western Europe

The Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to “open the gates” for Syrian refugees in his country to migrate to Europe if the continent’s leaders label Turkey’s military campaign in north-eastern Syria an “occupation.” Erdoğan made this statement to the European Union states during a combative speech at a meeting of lawmakers from his Justice and Development party on Thursday afternoon. He rebuked critics of the operation in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and said ISIS fighters who were captured in the military campaign would be imprisoned in Turkey if their home countries refused to claim them. As he spoke, Turkish soldiers and their allies were clashing with the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in several border towns during the second day of an offensive that has caused tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

Jewish community leaders in Germany have criticized the police’s “scandalously” slow response to the terror attack on a synagogue in eastern Germany. A gunman in military outfit went on a rampage in the city of Halle, killing two people, with further bloodshed averted only because the attacker’s homemade firearms malfunctioned. The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said the police had been slow to come to the rescue of 60-70 people inside the synagogue in the city’s Paulus quarter, after the attacker tried to shoot open the gates. “It’s scandalous that a synagogue in Halle isn’t being protected by police on a holy day like Yom Kippur,” said Josef Schuster. In response to the attack, Germany’s interior minister announced his ministry would permanently improve security measures at synagogues across the country. “This government will do everything to make sure that Jews can live in this country without threats, without fear,” said Horst Seehofer.

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