The World This Week: October 11, 2020

Asia Pacific

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his counterparts from Japan, Australia and India, the Quad nations, in an attempt to bolster a nascent alliance of democracies to counter China’s growing assertiveness. Pompeo described Japan’s new leader as “a powerful force for good.” He also met individually with his counterparts Marise Payne of Australia and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar of India ahead of joint talks and a dinner.

The Indians are seeing 60,000 Chinese soldiers on their northern border,” Pompeo said on Fox News late Friday. Each of the three major Indo-Pacific democracies — India, Australia and Japan — which form the so-called Quad along with the U.S., is under threat from the Chinese Communist Party, Pompeo said, according to a transcript released by the U.S. State Department. The comment came after a second ministerial-level meeting of the Quad in Tokyo last week, in which Pompeo called on the other participants to band together against coercion from China. The Trump Administration has been critical of Beijing on many topics from trade policy to the coronavirus, while India is growing increasingly wary of Chinese economic and military influence in South Asia.

On Friday, China said that it will join a World Health Organization-backed effort to distribute vaccines for the novel coronavirus, boosting a ­major public health initiative the White House pointedly rejected. More than 150 countries have agreed to participate in the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or Covax, which aims to develop and distribute 2 billion doses of a vaccine by the end of 2021. Under the plan, rich and poor countries pool money to provide manufacturers with volume guarantees for a slate of potential vaccines. The aim is to discourage hoarding and focus on vaccinating high-risk people in every participating country first.

On the midnight of Friday, North Korea celebrated 75 years of communism with a military parade, the country’s first military parade in two years, signaled a shift back to the more strident approach Pyongyang long took before softening its stance amid nuclear talks with the Trump administration that are now stalled. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, wearing glasses and a gray suit, entered as fireworks shot off into the pitch-black sky. He strolled to a balcony that overlooked the massive flag-waving crowd packed with soldiers and elites, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong. Tearing up at times during an emotional 25-minute speech, Mr. Kim thanked his military for contending with recent floods and the pandemic, repeating the country’s claim it has zero Covid-19 cases.

Central Asia

October 4 elections in Kyrgyzstan have been annulled following protests. Only a quarter of parties running reached the threshold required to earn seats in parliament. This, augmented by reports of rampant corruption—including bussing to important locations and dishonest financial incentives for voting—led to the protests. Government forces attempted to quell the demonstrators with non-lethal tactics, but multiple government buildings, including the parliament building. They seek new elections to replace the October 4 fiasco. In the wake of this confusion, Sadyr Japarov, an ambitious, colorful figure, has ascended from prison to the prime ministership in a matter of days. His past is checkered with corruption, ties to the fossil fuel industry, and a kidnapping conviction. However, he has been appointed by the short-handed parliament in Bishkek. Those opposing this move included former president Almazbek Atambayev, who was forced away from a demonstration against Japarov and later jailed for inciting the uproar. According to Japarov, current Kyrgyz president Sooronbai Jeenbekov intends to resign in the coming days, effectively making Japarov both president and prime minister. There are many constitutional obstacles to Japarov’s sudden ascent. Reaching quorum for his appointment in parliament was questionable and the stability of his control appears reliant on force. Also, his criminal record theoretically disqualifies him from holding his current office. However, given unrest in the country, it appears these factors may matter little. 

Tajikistan’s elections this week appear to be much less dramatic, with long-time president and “Founder Of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation” Emomali Rahmon set to defeat his faux challengers. These elections were moved forward to this week to avoid worsening economic conditions before the prior November date.

Oceania

The organization Aussie Ark, alongside partners Global Wildlife Conservation and WildArk, have begun to reintroduce Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia. As of Thursday, 26 Tasmanian devils were freed in a wildlife sanctuary near Sydney, Australia. This marks the first time in 3000 years that the endangered species has been in the wild on the mainland. Actor Chris Hemsworth has long supported Aussie Ark’s work, and he and his wife joined conservationists in releasing some of the creatures to their new home.

After a New Caledonian referendum last week, in which voters rejected independence from France with about 53 percent of the vote, pro-French Loyalists have called on France to prevent a third referendum. The Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) wants to invoke a third referendum allowed under the Noumea Accord, as pro-independence voters have some momentum: their vote share has increased by three percent in the two years since the last referendum. French president Emmanuel Macron maintains that he will honor New Caledonians’ choice to have a third referendum, but other officials are considering their options.

New Zealand’s health minister says that safe travel zones may be opened between New Zealand, Australia, and Pacific island states. It would be contingent on those areas having no community transmission of COVID-19. Once operational, safe zones would effectively split New Zealand’s Auckland International Airport into sections dividing safe zone transit passengers and non-qualified travelers. Some Australian states maintain a higher transmission rate which has slowed down the process.

Latin America

CORONAVIRUS cases in Brazil surpass 5 million, with deaths reaching nearly 150,000. Brazil, third hardest hit behind the United States and India, faces another problem. If the country does not move forward with additional planned COVID handouts, millions of Brazilians will fall back below the poverty line. Over the past months, 67 million Brazilians have received handouts intended to combat the effects of the virus, this led to a record low of poverty in Brazil.

The thousands-strong migrant caravan that departed from Honduras last week met its potential end in Guatemala on October 5th, after Guatemalan authorities prohibited public transport of Honduran nationals, forcing many to travel by foot. Mexican President Obrador stated that it was “fortunate” that the caravan was not continuing as he prepares for upcoming elections. Catholic migrant shelters in the region have been forced to limit care due to coronavirus concerns which further complicates the situation for displaced migrants.

According to the BBC, this 2020 US election will be the first time in US history that Latinos will be the largest minority demographic in the US electorate.

The Middle East and North Africa

After almost two weeks of fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the two sides agreed to a cease-fire early Saturday. It was brokered by Moscow and allows for an exchange of prisoners and collection of the dead. The agreement was short on specifics and the sides agreed to “additional” talks. The cease-fire came almost a week after news that Syrian rebels were being recruited to fight in the conflict for Azerbaijan as well. 

A fuel tank exploded in Lebanon Friday, killing at least four and injuring twenty. Only two months after the deadly port explosion, the blast caused widespread panic. The tank caught fire in the Tariq al-Jadid district and as of now there is no word for the cause of the explosion. 

The U.S. continues to impose sanctions on Iran. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on 18 major Iranian banks on Thursday. The order also targets non-Iranian institutions trading with them which completely cuts the banks off internationally. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Our sanctions are directed at the regime and its corrupt officials that have used the wealth of the Iranian people to fuel a radical, revolutionary cause that has brought untold suffering across the Middle East and beyond.” Iran’s UN ambassador accused the U.S. of committing “economic terrorism.” 

The approach of the U.S. elections is pushing Iraq and Lebanon to the brink. After Mike Pompeo threatened cutting off diplomatic relations with Iraq after several rocket strikes the stakes are raised in the Middle East’s geopolitical battlegrounds. Additionally, in Lebanon a French initiative to broker a political resolution may have completely halted due to hostilities between the country’s Saudi-backed politicians and Iran-backed Hezbollah. 

North America

After testing positive for COVID on October 1st, President Trump claims to be virus-free and “immune.” Trump has remained mostly absent this last week, making only a few phone interviews along with two prerecorded videos. Even Yesterday, Trump’s first public speech since his diagnosis was cut short to only 18 minutes despite White House statements would last roughly 30 minutes. 37 White House staffers have contacted COVID since the President’s diagnosis, including Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnaney and Senior Advisor Stephen Miller. Questions regarding the President’s last negative COVID test remain unanswered.

On Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Investigations charged 13 in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D). Whitmer has become a focal point for the right’s ire since her perceived heavy-handed COVID lockdown measures. President Trump even tweeted out “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” back in April. Two of the alleged conspirators had attended anti-lockdown rallies while carrying long guns and body armor. This event underscores FBI Director Wray’s warnings before the House Homeland Security Committee in September. During the hearing, Wray stated, “Within the domestic terrorism bucket, the category as a whole, racially motivated violent extremism is, I think, the biggest bucket within that larger group. And within the racially motivated violent extremist bucket, people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that.”

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