This roundup covers news summaries across six regions: Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. Wherever possible I draw links to Singapore, but I think it is more important to understand geopolitical developments around the world, to draw attention to meaningful news stories, and to highlight both positive and negative events.
Around the world, I rely primarily on the email newsletters from “The Economist“, “Foreign Policy“, “Muck Rack“, “The New York Times“, “The Wall Street Journal“, and “The World Post“. In Singapore, the weekly digests from the European Union Centre and the Middle East Institute are handy. Do send me recommendations of news outlets or articles too, to jinyao.guan.yin.miao[a]gmail.com!
September 12 to 17, 2016
This is probably a week to celebrate for President Barack Obama and the United States on the domestic, economic front, as median household income rose 5.2 per cent, inequality eased, and the gender pay gap was narrowed to the smallest on record. The number of people living in poverty also fell 3.5 million to 43.1 million in 2015, pushing the poverty rate from 14.8 per cent in 2014 to 13.5 per cent in 2015. More also have health insurance, the president added when he was on the campaign trail for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Abroad – after the kerfuffles at the G-20 summit – President Obama had more success this week. A nationwide ceasefire in Syria went into effect, and it was also announced that economic sanctions against Myanmar would be rolled back. A record-breaking military aid deal was reached with Israel too. In addition, the president wants to increase the number of refugees admitted in the United States from 85,000 in 2016 to 110,000 in 2017, though Republican governors seem likely to continue their pushback.
There are persistent problems around the world, but – for the time being – thanks, Obama.
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- Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – the first woman in Africa elected to lead a government and the second to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to peacebuilding work – won her 2011 campaign with 90.7 per cent of the vote, and her term should end peacefully next year. While Miss Sirleaf steered the country through the Ebola crisis, the economy was affected, so in the future the health sector must be developed, infrastructure must be built, and institutions must be strengthened.
- “Malnutrition, measles, and malaria“: what young children are likely to be hit by in Nigeria, where Islamic extremist group Boko Haram – which wants to establish a Caliphate, or an Islamic form of government – runs amok, and where government-run camps are overflowing and struggling to cope with the millions of internally displaced people.
- It was announced at a White House meeting between American President Barack Obama and Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi that economic sanctions against the country will be rolled back. Trade benefits will also be restored, though there are persistent concerns about the hade sector, which is “controlled by drug lords and entrenched military elites“.
- At least 25 were killed by a suicide bomber in a mosque in Pakistan. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing.
- President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte called for American special forces to leave the southern part of the country, “where they have advised and assisted the Armed Forces of the Philippines in missions against Islamist insurgents since 2002“.
- Super typhoon Meranti which hit Taiwan was the strongest in 21 years, though there were no reports of fatalities or serious injuries.
- “Foreign Policy” described a socio-economic paradox in Hungary – which may be familiar around the world – that “sometimes, countries that vehemently eschew immigration actually have a structural, economic need for newcomers willing to work for low wages“.
- Three months after Brexit, leaders of the European Union are gathering in Bratislava, Slovakia to discuss issues such as the continued migrant crisis, economic disparities between countries, and joint military headquarters.
- More than half a million in Barcelona, Spain participated in a mass rally on Catalonia’s national day, expressing a longstanding desire for secession. Catalonia is – at the present moment – described as an autonomous community. The unrest is exacerbated by the fact that “two inconclusive general elections have left [the country] without a new national administration for more than eight months“.
The Middle East
- Israel and the United States agreed on a S$51.8 billion military aid deal, described as the “single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in United States history“.
- A nationwide ceasefire in Syria – brokered by the United States and Russia last week – came into effect on Monday, though rebel groups expressed reservations about a deal “they see as skewed in [President Bashar al-Assad’s] favour“. If violence is reduced to acceptable levels for a week, political negotiations between the two countries may follow.
- “Foreign Policy” is not as optimistic, arguing that beyond the short reprieve and a persistent trust gap “Washington and Moscow do not agree on the principal driver of the Syrian conflict“: the former believes the Assad regime is to blame, while the latter says it is the terrorist groups. Not to mention: the other countries now involved in Syria.
- To escape the civil war – and regional proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran – between the forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, some Yemenis have sought refuge up in the mountaintops.
Curious about the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia? A reporter of “The New York Times” – using a mix of videos, tweets, photos, reflections, and quotes – provides an informative first-hand coverage.
- The United States of America commemorated the 15th anniversary of the September 11 or 9/11 attacks in 2001. Six moments of silence were held in New York, “to mark the times four hijacked planes crashed and the two World Trade Centre towers fell“.
- President Barack Obama – for diplomatic reasons, and fearing that a precedent could be set for other countries to also sue American diplomats or service members for other attacks – intends to veto a bill allowing families of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot, but it is likely to “lead to the first veto override of his presidency, as the legislation drew the backing of lopsided majorities in both the House (by a large margin) and Senate (without opposition)“.
- Russian hackers leaked private medical information about American athletes Serena Williams (tennis), Venus Williams (tennis), and Simone Biles (gymnastics), though there are broader concerns that the upcoming presidential election may be compromised.
- Brazil ratified the Paris climate agreement, which means the three biggest carbon emitters – including China and the United States – are now on board. The agreement goes into force “once 55 countries representing at least 55 per cent of global emissions” join it.
- For the fourth time, President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro extended the state of emergency, in a country with one of the world’s highest inflation rates, at 121.7 per cent in 2015. The opposition is looking to vote the president out this year.