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 20 to 25, 2017
Remember the rise of the ecological migrants? Of Chinese and sub-Saharan Africans forced to relocate – respectively – because of desertification and coastal erosion in their countries? Climate change has worsened the coffee rust blight in Guatemala, driving former farmers to leave the country to the cities or to the United States. And beyond the climatic changes, environmental degradation is causing disruption and destruction around the world: air pollution in northern China has been worsened by higher steel production last year, Mexico City in Mexico is facing a water crisis and the threat of collapse, and in the western Pacific Ocean persistent organic pollutants have been found in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans.
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- In DR Congo, a battlefield video showing the killing of civilians by soldiers seems to show “a government-sponsored massacre of civilians [and the video] could be used as evidence of war crimes“. President Joseph Kabila has refused to hold elections.
- To estimate agricultural productivity yields, researchers compared two methods in Kenya: first, conducting ground surveys; and second, using satellite imagery and a computer model to predict yields. Whereas the first method is more tedious, the second could be used to “test intervention strategies in poor regions of the world where data are currently extremely scarce“.
- A doctor’s strike in Kenya has been going on for nearly three months, and both sides are refusing to budge. The doctors are calling for “fair working hours, improving work environments and equipment, training, research, and remuneration“.
- Famine has been declared in two counties of South Sudan. 50 per cent of its population are severely food insecure.
- The world’s oldest national ruler, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe – who turned 93 – has been “accused of holding onto office through ruthless repression of dissent and election-rigging“. An economic crisis also persists in the country.
- China brought more steel production online last year, and a report by Greenpeace noted that the production has worsened air pollution in the northern part of the country. China remains the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
- Former Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang was found guilty of misconduct, and therefore sentenced to 20 months in prison.
- Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died after falling ill with a cardiac condition.
- The de facto head of South Korean conglomerate Samsung, vice-chairman Lee Jae-Yong, was arrested by prosecutors on bribery charges. The case is linked to the scandal involving President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached in December last year but is looking to overlook that impeachment, and the shadowy influence of long-time confidante Choi Soon Sil.
- In the western Pacific Ocean, scientists have discovered “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans. These persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, do not break down in the environment, and because so little is known about the flora and fauna on the deep ocean floor, the POPs may even be more pervasive.
- Following politically charged deals involving state-owned Chinese enterprises acquiring companies abroad, Germany, France, and Italy are urging the European Union to “re-examine the rules to allow them to veto, or impose strict conditions on, state-backed acquisitions and ‘buying up of important technologies’ for strategic objectives of their home country“.
- On a more whimsical note, the President of Iceland Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson casually joked that pizza topped with pineapple should be outlawed. “For pizzas”, he later wrote in a Facebook post, “I recommend seafood”.
The Middle East
- Political rivals in Libya failed to meet directly for mediation talks, and only communicated through their mediators.
- Libya still remains run by “competing militias and multiple weak governments“, and while there is little confidence in the unity government, Italy is training the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats before their entry into international waters. This is part of a broader effort to curb the European refugee crisis, to shift it off the shores of Europe.
- More American troops may be needed in Syria “to speed up the campaign as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria“.
- There are two separate but overlapping conflicts in Yemen at the moment, but the citizens are paying the price for the war and destruction. The United Nations estimated that seven million in the country “are closer than ever to starvation“.
- A week after White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned for misleading Vice President Mike Pence on his contact with Russian officials, President Donald Trump picked Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his next National Security Adviser. Previously, retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward had turned down the offer earlier in the week because of operational concerns.
- Days after President Trump said that Sweden had experienced more crime and violence after taking in large numbers of refugees, his supporters are using a clash of immigrants and police officers in Stockholm as support for that remark. However, the numbers “do not show a major increase in crime from 2015, when the country processed … 163,000 asylum applications, to 2016“.
- Having reached designated demobilisation zones in Colombia, members of the former terror group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have begun to surrender their weapons to the United Nations. Voters had voted against a historic peace deal with the FARC rebels in October last year, but the Colombian government signed a new deal the following month.
- Coffee rust in Guatemala has been worsened by the impact of climate change. Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall – coupled by “poor agricultural practices like crop crowding and poor fumigation” – have caused extensive financial damages, and are pushing former farmers in the country and in the central American region to the cities or to the United States.
- Mexico City in Mexico faces a water crisis, exacerbated by climate change. Because of the greater demand for water, residents are draining underground aquifers, and given the composition of the soil this could also “hasten the city’s collapse“.
- Trinidad and Tobago wants to stop young Muslims from joining the Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In the country, it is not illegal to join ISIS, “though the government wants to change that” through criminalisation and travel restrictions.