People with old Belarusian national flags march during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. Tens of thousands rallied in Minsk once again on Sunday, demanding the resignation of the country's authoritarian leader. Mass weekend protests in the Belarusian capital have continued since Aug. 9, when officials handed President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide victory in an election widely seen as rigged. (AP Photo)

People with old Belarusian national flags march during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. Tens of thousands rallied in Minsk once again on Sunday, demanding the resignation of the country's authoritarian leader. Mass weekend protests in the Belarusian capital have continued since Aug. 9, when officials handed President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide victory in an election widely seen as rigged. (AP Photo)

The World This Week: October 18, 2020

Asia Pacific

China is expanding distribution of its coronavirus vaccines outside of clinical trials, with a state-owned company offering them to students going abroad amid a campaign by officials to boost public confidence in homegrown inoculations. China National Biotec Group Co., a division of state-owned Sinopharm that is developing two Covid-19 vaccines, was giving them free to Chinese students planning to study abroad, according to a company website and students who applied for it.

China’s top economic-planning body is targeting Australian cotton, Australian industry groups say, the latest escalation in a diplomatic and trade row between the countries. China is Australia’s biggest two-way trade partner and top export destination, but tensions between them have reached new heights in recent months. After Australia began seeking support from European leaders for an investigation into China’s response to the coronavirus—which first spread widely in the Chinese city of Wuhan—China slapped restrictions on imports of Australian beef, barley and wine. It also warned its people against traveling to Australia, whether as a tourist or a student, saying racial discrimination against Chinese people was rising there. China, the largest trading partner for nearly two-thirds of the world’s countries, is increasingly willing to use its significant economic leverage. A recent study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a security think tank, found that of 27 countries subjected in recent years to what it calls Chinese coercive diplomacy—including state-issued threats as well as trade and tourism restrictions—Australia suffered the highest number of recorded cases, followed by Canada and the U.S.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a runaway reelection victory after widespread praise for leading a successful battle against the coronavirus pandemic. With most votes counted, Ardern’s liberal Labor Party was winning 49 percent of the vote compared to 27 percent for the conservative National Party, according to the Associated Press. Her government’s response to outbreaks of the coronavirus — including some of the strictest lockdowns and border controls in the world — is attributed to achieving some of the lowest death rates in the world with just 25 recorded fatalities.

Oceania

After severe criticism and concerns of press freedom, Australian authorities have dropped their investigation of reporter Dan Oakes. Oakes was the third journalist to be cleared, in addition to producer Sam Clark, and reporter Annika Smethurst; they had been accused of using classified information in a report on alleged troop misconduct in Afghanistan. The case was reportedly dropped by the prosecutor’s office due to a lack of public interest.

Papua New Guinea’s Dame Meg Taylor will finish her term as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum in January, with a replacement to be announced later this month. The position is an important one for a forum that strengthens regional solidarity among the Pacific islands, but several states’ leaders have threatened to leave if not given their way. Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia want their chosen candidate to succeed Taylor as Secretary-General. This week, Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister, Simon Kofe, called the situation unfortunate and spoke of his and other leaders’ concern over the threat.

The leader of Fiji’s National Federation Party (NFP), Biman Prasad, is under investigation by the island nation’s anti-corruption commission, the Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC). This follows a series of complaints against the party leader, and concerns related to donations he received in 2016 and 2017.

North America

On Friday, the Trump Administration rejected a Russian President’s proposal for a one-year New START extension. New START is a 10-year nuclear nonproliferation treaty between the U.S. and Russia scheduled to expire in February.  If the treaty is not extended or replaced, the world’s two largest nuclear powers will return to an era without substantive restraints on their arsenals for the first time in decades.

Also on Friday, while at a campaign rally in Western Michigan, Trump supporters began chanting “lock her up” as the President decried the Michigan Governor Whitmer (D) ‘s COVID policies. The President responded to the crowd, “Lock ’em all up.” This occurred a little of a week since the FBI announced the apprehension of now 14 people plotting to kidnap Whitmer.

This week, the New York Post has published stories based on supposed emails between Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, and a Ukrainian business executive. The story fits snugly into a narrative from President Trump and his allies that Hunter Biden’s zealous pursuit of business ties abroad also compromised the former vice president. The New York Post also published a story stating the emails confirm Chinese ties as well. However, the Post‘s source is exceedingly questionable. The Post received the information from President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Last December, National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien warned the President that Russian Intelligence was using Giuliani as a conduit for disinformation. The FBI is investigating whether the material is the Post‘s story originated in a foreign power’s disinformation campaign.

On Tuesday, the federal prosecutor assigned to review whether Obama-era officials improperly requested the identities of individuals whose names were redacted in intelligence documents has completed his work without finding any substantive wrongdoing. This is a huge blow to President Trump’s claims of a conspiracy by the Obama Administration to sabotage him.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to continue to defend human rights in China on Friday. Trudeau’s response came after Chinese Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu warned against granting asylum to Hong Kong activists. Peiwu claimed to grant such asylum could have consequences for the “health and security” of the 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong.

Sub-Saharan Africa

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is nearing completion. The dam has been a great source of hope for Ethiopians and a source of anxiety for Egyptians. 65% of Ethiopians are not connected to the energy grid, and this dam will provide clean energy for the country. Ethiopians see the dam as a path to prosperity, providing electricity to homes, letting children, particularly girls, attend school instead of searching for firewood, and allowing for businesses and investment to begin to flourish as a result of this new electricity.

Downriver in Egypt, people see the dam as a major threat to a country already facing drought and water shortages. In a country with a rapidly growing population, where 95% of people live along the Nile or in its delta, and where many in the country farm rice, a water-intensive crop, this dam threatens the way of life within the country. Illegal siphoning of water from the Nile has been a problem even before the construction of the GERD. Egypt remains concerned that if Ethiopia fills the reservoir of the dam to full capacity quickly, which would ensure long-term energy for Ethiopia, Egypt would be left with massive crop failures and intense water shortages.

While it is easy to cast the GERD in the role of wearing the “black hat”, this highlights larger problems of climate change-induced drought, a rapidly growing Egyptian population, and an Ethiopian economy that has been sluggish and is looking to the GERD to provide a major boost. Some in Ethiopia remain skeptical of the promised success of the GERD, such as an electrician in Adama, Ethiopia. In the previously cited Washington Post article, the electrician states a major problem remains power infrastructure, such as transformers, that break down constantly. The GERD can provide a lift, but underlying problems such as climate change, rapid population growth, a sluggish economy, and a lack of reliable electricity infrastructure will remain.

In Tanzania, fires are raging across the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro which is the tallest mountain in Africa. Images have emerged showing some of the efforts at putting out the flames, along with some of the shrubbery that has been destroyed as a result of the blaze. Mount Kilimanjaro has served as a major source of income due to tourism for Tanzania, but climate change is now threatening the mountain. Ice climbers have said that the ice melting from Kilimanjaro as a result of rising global temperatures has made it a different mountain than it was just ten years ago. Initial reports claim the blaze was caused by porters who were heating food for mountain climbers.

Eastern Europe

On Sunday, more than 50,000 protesters took to the street in Minsk, Belarus and demanded that Alexander Lunkashenko leave office. This is the first protest since the Interior Minister threatened the use of live ammunition on protesters. Today, thousands of pensioners, supposedly Lukashenko’s main supporters, gathered in the streets in peaceful protest against him. The same time last week, police officers used tear gas and stun grenades against the elderly marchers. Despite the increase in security measures and government crackdown, the protests are gaining momentum.

Extreme discrimination against the Roma population continues across Eastern Europe, as top officials are using the Covid-19 pandemic as a cover to target the minority group. In Bulgaria, Roma villages were sprayed with a disinfectant from helicopters, though there was no evidence that the villagers were exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms. In Slovakia, officials tested only Roma communities for the virus. In Western Ukraine, a top city official ordered police to remove all Roma from the town of Ivano-Frankivsk. Another top official in Moldova also blamed the Roma population for the spread of the virus, contributing to the negative stereotypes that are greatly affecting the minority group. Local authorities have not faced repercussions for the blatant discrimination and targeting of the Roma populations, leading some to believe that prejudicial tactics could be reintroduced as the pandemic worsens. “Next time, it could be even worse” said Ognyan Isaev, an activist in Bulgaria.

The Middle East and North Africa

Wednesday Lebanon and Israel had their first negotiations in 30 years over nonsecurity issues. The session was hosted by the United Nations and mediated by the United States. The aim is to end a long-running dispute over their maritime border in the Mediterranean Sea. The disputed area is more then 330 square miles in the sea that both Israel and Lebanon claim is their economic, gas-rich area. The teams are scheduled to meet again on October 8th

US hostages were released from Yemen Wednesday in a “prisoner swap.” The two prisoners, Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada were freed after being held by the Houthi rebels. The prisoner swap came after the Houthi rebels reported receiving almost 240 Yemenis who returned to the Yemen capital, Sanaa, from Oman where many were stranded after receiving medical treatment.  The operation was reportedly overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

The Egyptian blogger and satirist, Shadi Abu Zeid, was released after being held in jail for over two years. He was charged with spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group. However, the Egyptian president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has been known to target activists and bloggers accusing them of spreading false news and helping the now banned Muslim Brotherhood. Abu Zeid’s work focused primarily on prejudices in religion, sexuality, and within the Egyptian family.

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