Category 4 Hurricane Laura stuck Haiti and the Dominican Republican, where at least 25 people have died on the island of Hispaniola before reaching the United States. The State of Louisiana was the hardest hit, with at least 24. Unfortunately, the 2020 hurricane season refuses to relent. As of August 31st, four new tropical systems are under investigation in various stages of development. A critical component for this “extremely active” hurricane season is, according to NASA Deputy Program Scientist Aaron Piña, because of the warmer-than-average sea surface temperature in the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea. As the water heats up, more energy is available for hurricanes to spin up, grow, and strengthen.
On September 1st, H. R. 8143 was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Lance Gooden (R-TX-5) and Representative Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15). H.R. 8143 would give tax incentives for companies involved in the mining, reclaiming, and recycling of critical minerals, like rare earth elements, and metal from deposits in the U.S. The bill is part of a push in Congress to decouple U.S. supply chains in industries critical to national defense away from the People’s Republic of China and back to the U.S.
The U.S. State Department is suspending millions of aid to Ethiopia over the “lack of progress” in the country’s talks with Egypt and Sudan over the “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” on the Nile River on Wednesday. One media report claims that Secretary of State Pompeo and approved cutting up to $130 million in aid. Ethiopia’s Finance Minister Eyob Tekalign said the government has requested the U.S. provide a full explanation for the aid cuts but claims the situation can be resolved quickly.
Secretary of State Pompeo announced new sanctions would apply against Internal Criminal Court (ICC) Special Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda along with her top aide. The ICC is a permanent international tribunal whose purpose is to investigate and prosecute war crimes, torture, and genocide. On June 11th, U.S. President Trump issued an executive order effectively criminalizing anyone who works for the ICC. from judges to researchers. President Trump issued the executive order in response to the ICC’s investigation into alleged war crimes by U.S. forces in Afghanistan; the Trump Administration alleges the investigation poses a national security threat. Bensouda and her top aid are the first individuals sanctioned by the executive order.
Massive protests continue across Belarus in opposition to Alexander Lukashenko, nicknamed “Europe’s last dictator” after a fraudulent election took place on August 9, 2020. The main opposition candidate in the Belarus elections, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, urged the U.N. Security Council on Friday to “stop blatant human rights violations and cynical disregard for human dignity right in the middle of Europe.” Though Tikhanovskaya downplayed any threat from the Kremlin and said “We don’t see any reason for them to interfere in our internal affairs,” it seems that Russian President Vladimir Putin has already sent in “propaganda warriors” to take control of Belarusian state media. Russian reporters have replaced striking Belarusians on the country’s state-operated television, an occupation solicited by Mr. Lukashenko. “Desperate to look more in control, Mr. Lukashenko appealed to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, for help.” Meanwhile, The United States and European Union have made it very clear that West condemns the fraudulent election. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt on Friday that the U.S. is working with its European partners to achieve “basic freedoms that every human being is entitled to” for Belarus.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced Friday that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti have agreed to “economic normalization” after meeting with Trump administration officials. The talks included the agreement that Belgrade will be moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, an accord that is a “nod” to both the U.S. and Israel after the Trump administration controversially acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017. Trump said on Friday, “By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a major breakthrough.”
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that Russian opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, had been poisoned with the Soviet-era chemical weapon, Novichok. The Kremlin said that the Russian government had not been informed of Germany’s findings before they were announced and that Russian doctors found no evidence of poison in Mr. Navalny’s system before he was transferred to Germany. While ties between Germany and Russia have been uneasy since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, it is rare for Merkel to publicly condemn Russia. The Navalny poisoning is expected to create more tension between Moscow and Berlin. “The world will wait for answers,” Merkel said on Wednesday.
The president of the Czech Republic’s Senate, Milos Vystrcil, addressed Taiwan’s national legislature on September 1stand concluded a speech that underscored shared democratic values by proclaiming in Mandarin that “I am Taiwanese,” a throwback to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s famed 1963 anti-communist speech in a then-divided Berlin in which he declared he was a Berliner. China claims Taiwan as its own territory and strongly objects to any official contact between its diplomatic allies and the self-governing island. The visit from Mr. Milos Vystrcil is also in direct opposition to Czech President Milos Zeman, who has taken strongly pro-China views.
US and China relations further deteriorated as new restrictions imposed on Chinese diplomats in the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this Wednesday “State Department has established a mechanism requiring approval for senior Chinese diplomats in the United States to visit university campuses and to meet with local government officials.” In China, U.S. diplomats do not have unfettered access to a range of people and institutions. Relations between the US and China have plummeted as Beijing and Washington have taken a series of retaliatory measures in the past a few months since the outbreak of Covid-19.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving prime minister in Japan’s history, announced his resignation citing poor health, but his economic strategy, publicly known as the Abenomics will likely continue, an important economic mechanism for Japan’s economic well-being. A creditable source pointed out that Yoshihide Suga is likely to be bid for the position of being next Prime minister of Japan.
India captured a strategic and advantageous point along the south bank of Pangong Tso, a disputed territory between China and India. The conflict came after a further economic decoupling from India to ban Chinese investments, tightening scrutiny on visas, and moving to keep Huawei Technologies Co. out of 5G networks. This Wednesday, India banned 118 Chinese apps including Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s wildly-popular game PUBG Mobile Lite and payments service Alipay, followed by the ban of Tik Tok along with other companies back in June. India’s action to move troops in a disputed territory was viewed by China as aggression and violating the pre-agreed Line of Actual Control.
Malaita, the largest province in the Solomon Islands with a population of 200,000, intends to conduct an independence referendum in light of increasing tensions between the Solomon Islands and China. Tensions first arose in 2019 when China pressured the island country to drop its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. After its 36-year alliance with Taiwan, the national government complied and normalized ties with Beijing, but Malaita’s provincial government does not recognize the change. More anti-China sentiment resulted in Malaita after a direct flight from Guangzhou, China, landed in the Solomon Islands—the island country has had no reported COVID-19 cases since it closed its borders in March, and Malaita wants to keep it that way.
Draft legislation in Australia could require online platforms like Facebook and Google to pay news organizations for content use, if it becomes law. Facebook responded by threatening a ban on news sharing in Australia, from publishers as well as users. Google opposition criticized the “unfair advantage” that the law would give news organizations over individuals, and a potential threat to user data privacy.
Papua New Guinea’s prime minister James Marape wishes to increase his country’s share of economic gain from natural resources. His administration wants to hit back at multinational corporations that have become major investors in Papua New Guinea’s energy and mining sectors. Guidelines for negotiation include Marape’s demand for 60-65% share of revenue from future projects (in place of a 40% share now), and for developers to commit to use of local labor, goods, and services in domestic operations.
Sub Saharan Africa
Locusts continue to swarm on the African continent, furthering the problem of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa, and now parts of southern Africa. Early this year, tens of millions of locusts swarmed in eastern African countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, and Eritrea. This is problematic because swarms of locusts the size of which have been seen in eastern Africa can consume as much food as roughly 35,000 people in a single day. Now, these swarms are popping up across the southern part of the continent.
While the locusts seen earlier this year in eastern Africa were desert locusts, the locusts in southern Africa are African migratory locusts, and their swarms are much smaller, though still very destructive. The countries affected by these migratory locusts are Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. All four countries have launched pesticide spraying efforts, but these have become problematic. This is due to the fact that many of these locusts are either in hard to reach places, or ecologically sensitive areas such as the Okavango delta in Botswana, a place known for its ecological diversity. Spraying pesticides into these sensitive areas could prove harmful to the plants and animals that inhabit these places.
These locust swarms are coming amidst a prolonged drought in southern Africa, already leaving millions of people facing food insecurity. In countries like Somalia, rural farmers are combatting the effects of climate change on their growing season, along with the swarms of desert locusts. The people in these afflicted areas have been dealing with climate-related food insecurity, and these recent developments will only put further stress on an already vulnerable population.
Middle East & North Africa
After the deadly explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on 4 August 2020 and the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, a new Prime Minister was designated on 31 August 2020. Mustafa Adib served as the Lebanese ambassador to Germany since 2013. French President Emmanuel Macron visited and called for reform and opened an international donors’ conference for Lebanon. Macron said, “The Lebanese authorities now have to put in place the political and economic reforms which are being called for by the Lebanese people which is the only thing which will allow the international community to act efficiently side-by-side with Lebanon in its reconstruction.”
The peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on 13 August resulted in the two countries agreeing to normalize relations and Monday an Israeli airliner completed its first direct flight to the UAE. Officials said this would pave the way for formal diplomatic and commercial ties and might inspire other Arab nations to follow suit in normalizing relations with the Jewish state.
Tuesday the Turkish authorities announced the arrest of Mahmut Ozden, described as a top Islamic State figure in Turkey. They said they had recovered evidence that the group was planning an attack in the country.
The U.N. found that waves of Russian and Emirati flights have been fueling the Libyan War. The international arms embargo was breached by eight countries since the beginning of the year. At least five cargo airplanes filled with weapons from the United Arab Emirates and Russia were seen in the skies of North Africa, heading for the battlefields of Libya. A confidential report sent to the Security Council explains the breaches.