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!
October 3 to 8, 2016
Former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres – who was also the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) between 2005 and 2015 – is set to become the next UN Secretary-General. The UN Security Council first announced him as its pick, ahead of a formal vote before the UN General Assembly is called upon to approve the selection. With his experience in the UNHCR and the unanimous support he received from the five permanent members, perhaps even more attention will be paid to the refugee crises, for instance, in Africa (where over 11,000 migrants were rescued from the deadly North African migrant route, which “The New York Times” featured in a heart-wrenching photo-essay), in Afghanistan (where a new repatriation deal was announced), and in Hungary (where voters rejected mandatory European Union quotas for accepting relocated asylum seekers).
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for his resolute efforts to end the conflict with former terror group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, even though Colombians voted against the peace deal earlier this week. Despite that – and even without a Plan B – the president has promised that the peace process will continue.
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- Dozens died in a stampede in Ethiopia “when a religious celebration [involving about two million people] … turned into an anti-government demonstration that triggered police to fire tear gas and rubber bullets“.
- The Italian Coast Guard rescued more than 11,000 African migrants – from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and other sub-Saharan countries – in the Mediterranean. This migrant route from North Africa remains the deadliest, and “Foreign Policy” some haunting photographs.
- How did ancient Roman coins get to a 12th-century castle in Okinawa, Japan? Via China, according to some archaeologists.
- The Chinese yuan was officially added to the International Monetary Fund’s special drawing rights basket of currencies. The move – one lobbied for by the Chinese government – “does not force anyone to acquire the yuan“, but symbolically it means China’s controlled currency has been deemed “safe for central banks around the world to add the yuan to their reserves”.
- Japanese Renho Murata, in September, “became the first woman and the first person with partial foreign ancestry to lead the Democratic Party” in Japan. “Foreign Policy” further noted that in these two months Japan has elected Tokyo’s first female governor and appointed a female defence minister, which should pave the way for greater gender acceptance.
- Telling United States President Barack Obama to “go to hell”, President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte said that his country was realigning its foreign policy because the United States refused to sell missiles and other weapons.
- Reportedly in the United Nations (UN), China wants to run the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, while Russia wants to run the Department of Political Affairs. Such reports – unfortunately – also raise questions about “the near-monopoly on top jobs” by the five permanent members and the independence of the UN Secretary-General.
- Hungarian voters – through a referendum, and in support of their government – rejected mandatory European Union (EU) quotas for accepting relocated asylum seekers. The turn-out of 43.9 per cent was lower than the “fifty-percent-plus-one vote threshold” needed for the results to be binding, and the EU said it would go ahead with the migrant quotas.
- A gathering of 30,000 protestors in Poland may have forced lawmakers in Poland to drop their push for a full abortion ban. Abortion is already banned in the country for women who are not victims of rape or incest, or if their lives are not threatened by the fetus, but a science minister in the cabinet said the protests had “caused us to think and taught us humility”.
- Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May said her government will trigger Brexit negotiations in the first quarter of 2017, a move which will “plunge Europe’s second largest economy into two years of painful horse-trading with its [European Union] partners“.
The Middle East
- The European Union and Afghanistan announced a new repatriation deal, under which Afghans whose asylum applications were rejected would be sent back. International aid workers, however, argue that Afghanistan remains “a hazardous place“.
- The United States formally suspended its talks with Russia on the ongoing war in Syria, shelving plans for a joint military targeting of jihadists too. Both sides are blaming one another for not living up to their own commitments, with deadlock in the United Nations.
- The government of Turkey extended its state of emergency – declared after a failed coup in July this year – to fight terrorism. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said: “Steps will be taken to do whatever needs to be done to cleanse the state of these terrorist organisations, and with the legal capabilities provided by the state of emergency”.
- A “The New York Times” article claimed that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump – based on tax returns obtained – reported a S$1.25 billion loss in 1995, “a tax deduction so substantial it could have allowed him to legally avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years“.
- Continuing with Mr. Trump’s horrible, no good, very bad week: New York State Attorney General ordered the Trump Foundation – which does not have the necessary certification – to stop fund-raising in the state.
- “The New York Times” also added that the foundation “has come under increasing scrutiny amid questions about [Mr. Trump’s] fulfilment of large charitable pledges and his lack of financial support in recent years“.
- The vice-presidential candidates, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, faced off in the first and only debate. Most thought Mr. Pence did better, though the debate is unlikely to sway many.
In a piece for “The Economist“, President Barack Obama outlined four areas in economic policy which must be tackled by his successor: to restore productivity through innovation, to reduce inequality, to increase labour participation, and to continue Wall Street reform.
- Colombians voted 50.23 per cent to 49.76 per cent against a historic peace deal with former terror group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The shock result went against the trend of earlier polls, and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos has previously said “it had no Plan B if voters rejected the accord“.
- With only a 38 per cent turn-out rate, many cited absenteeism as a factor. Others thought the accord was too lenient.
- Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti, a country which has been battered by natural disasters in recent years. The death toll is expected to be in the hundreds, and it has also postponed a presidential election scheduled for Sunday.