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!
February 6 to 11, 2017
In contrast to President Donald Trump’s loud and abrasive approach to diplomacy – amplified by Twitter and the allure of sensationalism to news outlets – China’s embrace of globalisation and its complementary predilection for quiet diplomacy has changed the complexion of the global world order. In the past week, for instance, Africa started service on its first electric, transnational train, made possible by Chinese financing and Chinese engineers. In the even broader picture, China has steadily increased its footprint in the African region: spending billions of investment dollars on new infrastructure, surpassing the United States in 2009 to be the region’s biggest trading partner, as well as providing African countries with training in the technical, engineering, and operational responsibilities. And if Mr. Trump holds steadfast his promises of protectionism, in the years to come, China’s partnership with Africa will only strengthen.
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- The first electric transnational railway in Africa – which supplied the trains and imported engineers for this six-year project, as part of its Silk Road initiative – took its first journey from Djibouti to Ethiopia. “Having constructed one of the world’s most extensive and modern rail networks at home, China is taking its prodigious resources and expertise global“.
- President Donald Trump’s executive order to freeze refugee flow has left many Somali refugees in Kenya trapped in limbo. Already, “the resettlement process usually takes four to six years to complete … [and] the tiny percentage of refugees who make it all the way through are selected because they are considered the most vulnerable of the vulnerable“.
- Morocco was readmitted to the African Union (AU). It withdrew from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) – the predecessor of the AU – in 1984, when it opposed a decision of admitting a separatist entity as a member state within the OAU.
- Violence in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has not gone down since the start of the civil war in 2013 and even after the peace agreement in 2015. In addition to an immediate cessation of hostilities, a new agreement, a representative national dialogue, as well as aid and peacekeeping support are necessary components for a more lasting peace.
- To document a Hong Kong gradually taken over by taller buildings with higher property values, explorers of HK Urbex – an urban exploration collective – are forging “a video archive of [the city’s] colonial-era environment“.
- A massive fire through a crowded shanty town in the Philippines left 15,000 people homeless. Seven people were injured.
- King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun of Thailand, or Rama X – who succeeded the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej – has refused to put into effect a new constitution adopted by referendum, and has also sought to expand his own powers.
- In the race to replace France’s President François Hollande – who has some of the worst approval ratings in history – the Republican candidate François Fillon has been seen as the favourite. He is, however, losing ground to leader of the euro-sceptic National Front party Marine Le Pen, after accusations that his wife had received money for a fake job as a parliamentary assistant.
- A decree in Romania which would decriminalise abuse-of-power offences in which the sums involved are less than S$67,500 drew hundreds of thousands to the streets. Resignations of ministers and office-holders have also followed.
- The government later vowed to repeal the controversial emergency decree.
- Speaker of Parliament of the United Kingdom John Berkow said that while he could not prevent Prime Minister Theresa May from inviting President Donald Trump to visit, Mr. Trump “will not be welcome to speak … in parliament“.
- Large-scale fighting in Ukraine died down since the signing of the Minsk II cease-fire agreement in February 2015, yet in the past week “full-blown war returned to eastern Ukraine“, with the heaviest shelling recorded since the war started in 2014.
The Middle East
- Iran’s National Day celebration “often features homemade versions of the American and Israeli flags going up in flames“, but this year some Iranians are going against the hardliners and saying no to the burning of the flags.
- After a failed military operation in Yemen, the country “has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups“. Civilians and a member of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 were killed.
- There are two separate but overlapping conflicts in Yemen at the moment – between the Yemeni government and al-Qaeda, and between the government and the Houthi minority – so the Trump administration must have a strategy for both. “Getting more deeply embroiled in Yemen’s first war without a strategy for resolving the second would be a mistake“.
- After one of the most contentious Senate confirmations in history, wealthy donor Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary by a vote of 51 to 50, “with the help of a historic tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence“.
- A few days later, Senate also confirmed Republican Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general despite strong Democratic opposition, and even though he was deemed too racist by the Senate then to be a federal judge in 1986.
- A federal appeals court unanimously upheld a temporary suspension of President Donald Trump’s executive order to restrict travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, prompting the president to tweet: “See you in court“.
- The government of Bolivia declared a state of emergency, after “more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land have been devastated by the locusts“. Crops and pastures of corn and sorghum have since been destroyed.
- Outcomes from a drug programme in Brazil demonstrate that “policymakers must move beyond the binary of seeing drugs as either a criminal problem or a health issue“. Complex responses are needed, and social services can therefore be handy.
- A year after the Zika virus was declared a global health emergency, Brazil is now struggling to cope with the worst outbreak of yellow fever in decades. “Global vaccine stocks are dwindling, and the disease is far more deadly than Zika“.