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!
September 25 to 30, 2017
Political turbulence is expected in Germany, Japan, and New Zealand. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel might have secured a fourth term in power, but the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) will enter parliament as the first far-right party in more than 50 years. Still, “all roads lead to [Chancellor] Merkel“, and in the move from electoral rhetoric to the parliament, the AfD has to find parliamentarians “who can master detailed briefs inside parliamentary committees“. In New Zealand too, the winner of the country’s general election – Prime Minister Bill English (whose predecessor resigned in December last year) and his centre-right governing party – did not capture a parliamentary majority, “meaning it will have to assemble a coalition if it wants to extend its nine-year hold on power“. And in Japan, in a bid to seek “a fresh mandate to overcome ‘a national crisis’ amid rising threats from North Korea” and to shore up his government’s fluctuating approval ratings, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a snap election.
- In Botswana, nine elephants were electrocuted “after they came into contact with a fallen power line near a water source“. The country has one of the biggest concentrations of African elephants – a vulnerable animal – in the world.
- “Due to historically low rainfall and high temperatures“, countries in the Horn of Africa – Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia – are suffering from severe drought, and there are consequent concerns over the threat of famine.
- “Amid fears of an imminent volcanic eruption“, nearly 50,000 people evacuated their homes in Bali, Indonesia. The number of people who fled their homes later increased to more than 122,000. The alert level was raised to the highest level.
- A snap election – coming a year early – was announced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
- In Myanmar, at least 14 people were killed “when a boat carrying Rohingya fleeing violence … capsized“. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh, as criticisms mounted against Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
- In New Zealand, Prime Minister Bill English and his centre-right governing party won the general election.
- North Korea accused the United States of a declaration of war, and reserved the right to take counter-measures such as “shooting down [American] strategic bombers even if they are not in the country’s air space“.
- Former Prime Minister of Thailand Yingluck Shinawatra was sentenced “in absentia to five years in prison … for mismanaging a rice subsidy scheme that cost the country billions of dollars“. She had fled the country before an arrest warrant was issued.
- After an election campaign deemed to be “boring“, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel secured a fourth term in office, though support for her conservative bloc slumped to the lowest since national elections were first held in the post-war country in 1949. And with 13.1 per cent of the vote, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany will enter parliament as the first far-right party in more than 50 years.
- Foreign secretary of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson drew criticism – from within and beyond his own party – for a 4,000-word article for “The Telegraph“, which sets out “his wide-ranging vision for post-Brexit Britain“.
- Prime Minister Theresa May then delivered a speech in Florence, Italy, detailing her government’s position and the need for a two-year transition period after Brexit, ahead of the fourth round of Brexit talks.
- And also in the United Kingdom, government body Transport for London said Uber “was not fit and proper to hold a London private hire operator licence“, with particular concern over the carrying out of background checks on drivers. The app was not re-licensed.
The Middle East
- Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly in a referendum, “in favour of declaring independence from Iraq“. More than 92 per cent of the voters voted “yes” to independence, though nearly all neighbouring regional powers have opposed the referendum.
- Despite Israeli objections, the International Police Organisation, or Interpol, approved the membership of Palestine.
- Saudi Arabia ended a longstanding policy which prevented women from driving. The change will take effect in June 2018.
- President Donald Trump announced a new travel ban – after the previous one expired – adding Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela. In addition, whereas the previous ban was temporary, this new ban is indefinite.
- Struck by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico has no power, and its 3.4 million citizens face a humanitarian crisis. Earlier this year in May, its governor also moved the island’s debt crisis into federal bankruptcy court.
- The Trump administration later authorised the waiver of the Jones Act – which prevents foreign ships from picking up and delivering goods between ports in the United States – for 10 days, to loosen shipping rules for the island.
- Despite multiple attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare – previously in March, in May, and in July – the Republicans were again “unable to win enough support from its own senators” for a bill.
- Hurricanes Irma and Maria have swept through the Caribbean in the past weeks, in a region where “disaster damages are frequently amplified by needlessly protracted and incomplete recoveries“. Both hazard exposure and social vulnerability determine disaster risk, and it is often the most vulnerable communities in these countries which are the most affected.
- Two powerful earthquakes have struck Mexico in the past weeks (including one last week), and the country’s poorest states have suffered the most damage. “Unequal development in Mexico is an ongoing challenge“, and the need for social change is emphasised.