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!
March 6 to 11, 2017
China’s governing elites gathered in Beijing for the “Two Sessions” meetings, to set the economic and social agendas for the country, and to emphasise importance of reform. Premier Li Keqiang announced an economic growth range of 6.5 to seven per cent for this year, while President Xi Jinping outlined economic priorities in four areas: cut excess capacity, curb financial risks and strengthen financial regulation, cool the property markets, and revive the manufacturing sector. But as these domestic issues were discussed, geopolitical challenges emerged. In North Korea – also in the middle of a diplomatic spat with Malaysia – Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for a suspension of missile and nuclear technology tests, after the country test-launched four missiles. And in South Korea, China raised its objections to the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System, or Thaad, by the United States, and a spokesman said China would “take the necessary steps to safeguard our own security interests“.
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- Volatile climatic conditions and dwindling natural resources have led to emigration from Benin, and in the rural society women “are more vulnerable to the impact of climate change … because of their locally defined roles as wives and mothers“.
- With a small territory, population, and army, Gabon has relied on defence diplomacy “to establish itself in the regional game of influence” – as they are doing in the Central African Republic – with officers converting war capital into political capital too.
- In Papua New Guinea, a resource extraction project – operated by ExxonMobil, to extract liquefied natural gas – “has failed to deliver on its promises to landowners [resulting in] immense frustration, disappointment, and palpable anger“.
- Microplastics are causing major damage to the marine life in South Africa, and it has been suggested that synthetic garments made of polyester blends and carpeting “may breakdown during the washing process releasing small microfibres into waterways“.
- And then there were three. It started with four in Hong Kong, but only three candidates to be the next leader of the city secured the minimum of 150 nominations from a nearly 1,200-member committee. Former head of the civil service Carrie Lam had 580 backers, ahead of the 180 and 165 backers of her closest rivals, and while “the Communist Party in Beijing prefers her (since the “election committee” makes the decision) … far more in doubt is whether Mrs. Lam will command public support“.
- In India’s Nagaland, women may be safer – with comparatively lower rates of rapes and crimes against them – but demands for women political participation has led to two deaths and further clashes over the exclusion of women in political realms.
- Following the painful death of Kim Jong-nam – half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – the North Korean Ambassador in Malaysia Kang Chol left the country after facing an expulsion order. “North Korea has not acknowledged the dead man’s identity but has repeatedly disparaged the murder investigation, accusing Malaysia of conniving with its enemies“.
- In retaliation, North Korea expelled the Malaysian ambassador to the country. In further tit-for-tat actions, North Korea barred all Malaysians from leaving the country, and Malaysia responded in kind, with North Koreans prevented from leaving Malaysia.
- After South Korea’s constitutional court “unanimously upheld a parliamentary vote to impeach [President Park Geun-hye]“, she was removed from office. The court said the president held long-term confidante Choi Soon Sil extract bribes from South Korean conglomerates, and impeachment decision was widely expected. The country has two months to elect a new president.
- After federal authorities in Germany withdrew permission “for political rallies targeted at Turkish residents in Germany” – in a run-up to a referendum in Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likened the stance to Nazi practices of the past. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been accused of bowing to Mr. Erdoğan’s demands, after a refugee deal last year.
- To move toward closer political integration within the European Union, “the leaders of the lower chambers of parliament of France, Germany, Italy, and Luxembourg [are calling] for a European ‘Federal Union of States’” in an open letter.
- Sweden will reintroduce military conscription next year, “due to difficulties filling the ranks on a voluntary basis at a time of increased security concerns“. Conscription ended in 2010, but 4,000 men and women will be called each year for military training.
- Finance minister of the United Kingdom (UK) Philip Hammond said that his country will fight back, if there is no acceptable deal by the European Union (EU) on Brexit. Reaching a deal, however, will remain challenging for the EU and the UK.
The Middle East
- In broad daylight in Afghanistan, “gunmen disguised as medical staff members stormed the main military hospital … killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens“. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for the attack.
- Vice President Mike Pence – as governor of Indiana – used a private email account to communicate public business with top advisers, echoing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server and email account, a campaign issue.
- Days after President Donald Trump – on Twitter, without evidence or substantiation – accused former President Barack Obama of tapping his phones, FBI director James Comey “asked the Justice Department … to publicly reject [the] assertion“. Mr. Trump later demanded a congressional inquiry, which was initially met with scepticism by Republican lawmakers.
- After his original, haphazard executive order to restrict travel from seven Muslim-majority countries was suspended, President Donald Trump signed “a revised version of his executive order … to bar migrants from predominantly Muslim nations, removing citizens of Iraq from the original travel embargo, and scrapping a provision that explicitly protected religious minorities“.
- An ongoing yellow fever outbreak has been limited to rural areas in Brazil, but there are concerns that the virus could spread to urban centres. The virus is “mainly spread to humans by two rural species of mosquito that likely bit infected monkeys“.
- A blaze in a government-run children’s shelter in Guatemala killed 20 girls. Past warnings about poor conditions went unheeded.
- Environmental campaigners in Honduras – opposing development projects – have been killed or have received death threats.
- The election of President Donald Trump has united political factions in Mexico, with more strident wall-and-deportation rhetoric across the border, but local governments need to be empowered before “strengthening the rule of law and political accountability“.