Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires burn in unincorporated Napa County, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The blaze went on to destroy multiple homes near Lake Berryessa. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heat wave continues. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires burn in unincorporated Napa County, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The blaze went on to destroy multiple homes near Lake Berryessa. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes as a statewide heat wave continues. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The World This Week: September 13, 2020

Asia Pacific

China’s exports roared back last month, increasing by 9.5% in dollar terms compared with August 2019. China’s monthly trade surplus with America rose to $34.2bn, the most since November 2018

China is launching its own initiative to set global standards on data security, countering U.S. efforts to persuade like-minded countries to ringfence their networks from Chinese technology.

The Chinese initiative comes about a month after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Clean Network program, which would exclude Chinese telecommunications firms, apps, cloud providers and undersea cables from internet infrastructure used by the U.S. and other countries. Under its new “Global Initiative on Data Security,” China would call on all countries to handle data security in a “comprehensive, objective and evidence-based manner” and maintain an open, secure and stable supply chain for information and communications technology and services, according to a text released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

This Wednesday, Two Myanmar military deserters say they were ordered to take part in the indiscriminate mass killing and rape of Rohingya Muslims in 2017, a human rights group claims, in video confessions which correspond with individual accounts given by survivors of the alleged atrocities. UN fact-finding commission described the violence against the Rohingya as “genocide.” Doctors Without Borders has estimated that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed within the first month of the campaign alone, including 730 children under the age of 5.

On Thursday, China and India met in Moscow during the annual meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization hosted by Russia this year, following months of tensions along the frontier between the two nuclear-armed nations, China and India agree to disengage troops on contested Himalayan border

Britain on Friday said it had secured its first major post-Brexit trade agreement – a free trade deal with Japan – the day after bitter wrangling with the European Union. The Department for International Trade said the deal, which largely replicates the current EU-Japan deal, will be worth £15.2 billion (US$19.5 billion). UK-Japanese trade was worth more than £30 billion (US$39 billion) last year, according to the British government.

CIS States, Russian Far East and N. Korea

The Justice Department has increased pressure on officials, (two North Korean and a Malaysian) involved in the assassination of Kim Jung Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam. They have brought up charges conspiracy to violate North Korean Sanctions Regulations, bank fraud, and conspiracy to launder funds.

Kim Jung Un made his third public appearance in a month this week. He has been visiting areas  severely damaged by typhoons on the North Korean coast. One of these storms, Typhoon Maysak has caused significant damage to the Russian Naval Base and commercial port in Vladivostok.

The area had also only recently been visited by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been discussing economic partnerships and tech transfers in the field of shipbuilding. They visited the Zvezda Shipbuilding Complex construction project which had been awarded the only contract for the leading Russian nuclear icebreakers. Much of their conversation regarded new shipping routes through the Arctic.

Uzbekistan was granted a $60 Million loan this week for developing hydropower plants from the Asian Development Bank. China and Kazakhstan have agreed to “work together on a Global Initiative for Data Security” a proposal to “crack down on false information.”

Oceania

Earlier this week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced plans for a new public holiday to mark Maori New Year, if her and her party are reelected next month. Many proponents want more recognition for New Zealand’s indigenous people, but business groups argue against the need for another holiday during an ongoing recession. The parliament was dissolved on Sunday to allow for a month of campaigning, before the general election on October 17.

The Republic of Palau invited the U.S. Pentagon to establish a military presence on its territory, asking for the construction of ports, bases, and airfields. Composed of hundreds of islands in the Philippine Sea, Palau hosted a visit from U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper as part of a National Defense Strategy push to counter Chinese influence in Asia. Palau’s offer to boost U.S. military expansion in the region would certainly aid that effort.

In preparation for the 2024 Paris Olympics, French Polynesia (a semi-autonomous French territory in the Pacific Ocean) bid to host the surfing competition without consulting Tahitiian locals. The group of locals fear environmental damage from development projects on the island, and want to discuss their concerns with the planning committee.

Fiji’s opposition party, the National Federation Party, reportedly breached the country’s Political Parties Act. The claim comes from funding discrepancies found in the party’s accounts, including use of an unapproved auditor and failure to issue receipts of $62,000 to donors. The NFP has been given 30 days to resubmit its audited accounts and a source list of party funding from 2018.

North America

Friday marked the nineteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence were present at the memorial service at Ground Zero in New York City. Nearly 3,000 Americans died from the attack in 2001; in response, the U.S. launched the Global War on Terror. The Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 (AUMF) is still in effect. Both the Trump and Obama Administrations have relied on the AUMF to justify operations against global terror networks.

Also, on Friday, President Trump announced that the Kingdom of Bahrain had agreed to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. The Trump Administration has credited this as its third foreign policy win over the last month. These other foreign policy achievements include the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel on August 13th along with the economic normalization between Serbian on September 4th

In the latest Trump Administration controversy, famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward released nineteen of his interview tapes with the President. According to the tapes, President Trump said in an interview on February 7th that COVID-19 was “deadly stuff” and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” Despite this understanding in early February, the President continuously downplayed the seriousness of the COVID pandemic in rallies and on Twitter. Trump defended his actions in a Press Conference on Thursday in his typical manner. Nearly 200,000 Americans have died from COVID as of this week.

The veteran reporter Julio Valdivia was found dead in Veracruz, Mexico, this week. His death marks the fifth journalist murdered in Mexico this year. Violent crime in Mexico has escalated in recent years, along with impunity. In 2018, 93% of all crimes went unsolved, according to government data. Last year Mexico recorded more than 35,000 homicides, a record number that exceeded the previous high of 33,341 in 2018. Many of the murders are drug cartel violence linked.

Images of San Francisco’s orange, smoke-choked skies went viral last week as wildfires continue to engulf the U.S. states of California, Oregon, and Washington. At least seventeen died, and thousands of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Oregon Governor Kate Brown described the wildfires within her state as a “once-in-a-generation event,” displacing more than ten percent of Oregon’s population. In the State of Washington, more than 600,000 acres have burned in active fires. In California, five of the state’s top twenty largest wildfires are actively burning, approximately 3.2 million acres of California have burned since January. While climate change is the primary culprit for the intensity of the wildfires, a confluence of other factors has exasperated the human and economic toll. State and municipal policies have pushed many into areas that are historically prone to wildfires.   

Sub-Saharan Africa

After the August 18 coup in Mali that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita following protests concerning destabilization, unemployment, poor governmental response to COVID-19, and rising inequality, the military-led government has announced their plan to appoint a new president.

The military junta, which calls itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (NCSP), has announced it will appoint an interim president to serve for 18 months until new elections can be held. Both the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have suspended Mali’s membership after condemning the August coup. ECOWAS has imposed sanctions on Mali since the coup, and has issued a deadline of September 15 (this Tuesday) to appoint a new civilian leader, although the NCSP has been sure to state the new president may be a soldier or a civilian. It is unclear if the NCSP will be able to decide on a new leader that will be acceptable to ECOWAS by Tuesday. Check for an update on the situation in Mali in next week’s edition of TWTW.

In Senegal, Senegalese-American RnB singer Akon has unveiled the blueprint of a new city in Senegal called “Akon City”. He announced plans to build the city back in January, and he has already raised $4 billion of his $6 billion goal. The Senegalese government has granted Akon 2,000 acres of coastal land and is giving him their full backing on this project. The city is designed to be futuristic while remaining true to the history and culture of the country, according to Akon, who plans to hire locally and source materials from West Africa. He claims he is building a real-life Wakanda, and he hopes it can be a refuge for people with African ancestry. The city is set to run on a cryptocurrency called “Akoin”. Akon has a history of entrepreneurial work in Africa as exemplified by his solar energy company “Akon Lighting Africa” which provides solar-powered electricity to rural villages across 14 countries on the continent. A video blueprint of Akon City can be found here. Construction is set to begin in early 2021.

Middle East and North Africa

The British-Iranian dual citizen, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, faces fresh charges from Iran as she nears the end of her five-year sentence. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran in 2016 while visiting family because Iranian authorities accused her of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. Her family and international rights groups have denied these charges for years. Mr. Ratcliffe and many others believe Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being used as collateral in a decades-old dispute due to tanks not being delivered from Britain to Iran in the 1970s. Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her lawyer were informed that she was to face additional charges, but they received no other information. Many believe this has further strained the already tense relationship between the two countries. 

Additionally, the Iranian government has sentenced the wrestler Navid Afkari to death. He was convicted of stabbing a water security guard to death and he faces other charges regarding anti-government protests in 2018. However, Afkari said he was tortured into making a false confession. The WPA, the leading voice of organized players in the governance of world sport said they believe “he is being unjustly targeted by Iranian authorities who want to make an example out of a popular, high-profile athlete and immediate others who might dare exercise their human right to participate in a peaceful protest.” The athletes’ union wants Iran expelled from sports if Afkari is executed. Iran’s judiciary has not announced a date for execution. 

Saudi Arabia issued final verdicts against eight suspects in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and Saudi journalist in 2018. Khashoggi was critical of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s policies. He was killed on October 2nd, 2018 in the Saudi consulate by men with close ties to high levels of the Saudi government. Saudi Arabia sentenced five of the defendants to 20 years in prison, one defendant was sentenced to 10 years and two others face seven years in prison. However, Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings who lead an independent investigation to the murder called the verdicts a “parody of justice.” The CIA have also concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing of Khashoggi. U.S. officials said that such a killing, including 15 men sent from the kingdom, could not have been carried out without the authorization of bin Salman. 

Friday President Trump announced that Bahrain would establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, following the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Trump announced the news on Twitter, saying it is, “a historic breakthrough to further peace in the Middle East.” 

Latin America

On Wednesday, people of Bogota took to the streets to protest the police killing of a cab driver. The protest started as a vigil but escalated to violence as protesters fought with riot police. The conflict resulted in over 200 civilians and 200 police being injured.13 people have died. Some fear that the protests will resurrect the anti-government demonstrations that plagued Colombia last fall.

President Martín Vizcarra of Peru faces possible impeachment proceedings after being accused of obstructing a corruption investigation. Congress voted to move forward with the impeachment process after receiving a tape in which the president seems to discuss hiding the fact that his administration spent almost $50,000 hiring a motivational speaker. The opposing party is outraged at the massive expenditure at a time when the country is in crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

President Maduro of Venezuela announced to the world that a US spy was captured near the Amuay and Cardon oil refineries on September 10th. He claims the man served “as a marine on CIA bases in Iraq” and was captured with weapons and large amounts of cash. The United States has not responded to Maduro’s announcement as of yet. 

Western Europe

In France this week, President Emmanuel Macron revived a postwar institution and announced a huge stimulus package to address the economic damage from COVID-19. The resurrection of the ‘Plan’ is intended to prepare France better for future crises while addressing the current one through stimulus and government – aid packages. Thus, the crisis will be turned into an opportunity to increase and redirect public spending while also securitizing France’s future.

Angela Merkel is increasingly losing patience with Russia and Vladimir Putin following the poisoning of the Russian political opposition’s leader, Alexei Navalny. However, the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline will likely go forward despite vociferous protests from American and European citizens alike, who view the project as an undeserved boon for Russia. The pipeline circumvents Ukraine and is expected to be complete within the year.

Finally, the 2015 migration crisis, declared at an end in 2019 by the formal EU commission, is hardly finished. Instead, arrivals by boat in Italy have increased by 44% since 2019. However, Malta’s weekslong refusal to allow a tanker filled with migrants to dock is only one example of the increasingly hardline tack that governments are taking in regard to migrants. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated such tendencies as fear of the virus spreading condones hard borders.

Eastern Europe

Today marks the fifth consecutive Sunday of mass protests in Belarus, involving around 100,000 people. Police arrested nearly 250 protesters ahead of talks between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Videos are circulating showing police pushing protesters into unmarked vans and detaining several women. The demonstration was dubbed the “March of Heroes”.

Earlier this week, one of the main opposition leaders of Belarus, Maria Kolesnikova, was pushed into a van by masked men and taken to the Ukrainian border. Kolesnikova refused to enter Ukraine and allegedly tore up her passport in effort to remain in her home country. Kolesnikova’s actions have sparked widespread support for her among protestors. No one has heard from Kolesnikova since Monday, though Belarusian state media has reported that she is being detained in Minsk.

In Russia’s Far Eastern City of Khabarovsk, an estimated 2,000 people took to the streets for the 64th consecutive day in a row to protest the arrest of Sergei Furgal, the region’s former governor. Furgal, who was arrested on July 9th, is facing charges connected to the killings of several businessmen from the region in the mid-2000’s. Many protesters believe that the charges against Furgal were fabricated in order for the United Russia party to regain control over the region.

Central Asia

Peace talks have opened in Doha, Qatar between delegations from the Afghan government and the Taliban. These talks occur amid ongoing fighting, but present an opportunity to establish a new form of Afghan government diplomatically for the first time in over forty years. Each side has expressed its hopes that peace may be reached, including the idea of a “humanitarian ceasefire”. These talks are the latest in a series of stops and starts over the last year. The effort has recently been aided by American concessions to the Taliban, though some claim these concessions go too far.

Natural gas exports are vital to the economies of Central Asia, particularly those of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The countries share pipelines which export this commodity both east and west. The largest market to the east, China, has drastically reduced its intake in response to the changing needs of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is likely to impact Turkmenistan the most, as it’s natural gas rents typically represent the highest percentage of GDP of the three countries. This may affect the policies of Kazakhstan less drastically, as the country is less reliant on natural gas then its two partners. Uzbekistan’s population is paradoxically expected to be aided by this development, despite the halt to plans for increased production over the next decade. As less natural gas is able to be exported, more will be used at home.

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