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!
January 30 to February 4, 2017
Last week, President Donald Trump started his stint with executive orders focused on domestic issues. This week, however, he turned his attention to geopolitical issues, and his contentious call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – when the conversation turned to an agreement with the Obama administration, for the United States to accept 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention centre – made the headlines. This came days after President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico cancelled a planned trip to the United States, and a phone call was arranged in place. The Trump administration also had harsh words for Iran, after the country confirmed the conducting of a missile test, but the executive order banning refugees of certain countries from entering the United States has led not only to a spontaneous protest outside Kennedy International Airport, but also criticisms from around the world.
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- In Ethiopia at the volcanic Danakil Depression – one of the world’s lowest and hottest places, described as a geological wonder – planetary scientists “are studying this area to understand the possibilities of life on other planets and moons“.
- A child in a developed country who is diagnosed with cancer has a 80 per cent chance of survival, while a child in Africa has less than 20 per cent. In Kenya, advocacy and the creation of public awareness are cited as key points to correct this.
- A burqa ban – of manufacturing, but not wearing – in Morocco “has drawn attention to the tension that exists in … between official moderate Islam and conservative Islam“, with implications for women’s rights and the Islamisation of society.
- A phone call between President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull turned contentious and ended abruptly when the latter “pressed [Mr. Trump] to honour an agreement to accept 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention centre“.
- Bangladesh is proceeding with its plan – previously criticised by rights activists – to relocate Rohingya refugees.
- While Indonesia still has to widen its tax base, its tax amnesty programme has been hailed as one of the most successful around the world. Its success has been attributed to the low tax rate and the promise of confidentiality.
- In Russia, the Duma (parliament) voted last week to decriminalise domestic violence against family members, unless it is a repeat offence within the same year or causes serious medical damage. There are fears “that decriminalisation will legitimise abuse“.
- Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – who had a less-than-stellar report card – said he would not run for the presidency of South Korea. Despite being touted as a viable contender initially, his approval ratings have been falling and “he has been the subject of negative news coverage about his policy positions and a scandal involving his relatives“.
- France has banned vending machines from schools, has limited servings of french fries in school cafeterias, and has imposed a “soda tax”, and now “no restaurants can offer free refills of sodas and other sugary drinks“.
- Nine out of 10 Swedes “live in a municipality facing houses shortages“, and the increasing privatisation of public housing and low construction rates are cited as driving factors. Landlords also use renovations as an excuse for rent increases.
- Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom was the first foreign leader to meet with President Donald Trump. The early meeting was critical for discussion on more pressing issues: NATO, Russia, security, and post-Brexit trade.
The Middle East
- Iran confirmed the conducting of a missile test, but “rejected accusations that [it] violated a Security Council resolution“.
- There are accusations in Iraq that agents of Asayish, security forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government are “torturing terrorism suspects into forced confessions“. Many suspects are young boys accused of fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
- Israeli security forces began to forcibly evacuate settlers in the occupied West Bank, where they were met by angry protestors.
- In the first military operation ordered by President Donald Trump, in Yemen on al-Qaeda forces, a Navy commando was killed.
- Six people were killed in Canada, when a gunman opened fire at a mosque. The “lone-wolf” operation happened in a mosque. In 2016, a bloodied pig’s head wrapped in cellophane and decorated with ribbons was placed in front of this mosque.
- “Life is winning“: Vice-President Mike Pence told abortion opponents protesting the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision from 1973 at their annual march. He was the highest-ranking official to ever speak in person at the march.
- In response to President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban refugees of certain Muslim countries from entering the United States, a spontaneous protest erupted outside Kennedy International Airport, with others happening around the country.
- Later, Mr. Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who would not go along with the immigration ban. She had said on Monday that “the Justice Department would not defend the order against court challenges“, and she was fired hours later.
- Also, Mr. Trump picked Judge Neil Grouch – described as a “clone” of the late Justice Antonin Scalia – as his nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, while the Democrats boycotted committee votes on Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees.
- Costa Rica – in the World Economic Forum’s Happy Planet Index, based on life expectancy, well-being, environmental footprint, and inequality – has been ranked as the most environmentally advanced and happiest place on Earth in 2016.
- Following a cancelled trip and diplomatic disagreement over a border wall and its financing, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and President Donald Trump spoke by phone for an hour. “Neither side disclosed who had initiated the phone conversation“, but both presidents agreed to push forward with negotiations on other bilateral issues.