Tue. Nov 12th, 2019

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. | Photo by: Presidential Executive Office 2019 (Russia)

US energy secretary resigns amid Trump’s inquiry, Venezuela wins seat on UN Human Rights Council, and Google under fire for flouting EU copyright law

North America and Canada

  • Following political attacks and increasing media scrutiny, Hunter Biden, the son of former US Vice-President Joe Biden, has defended his foreign business dealings; telling ABC news that he had done “nothing wrong”. US President Donald Trump has been accused by the Democrats of violating the law by pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart to produce incriminating evidence on Mr Biden’s dealings – consequently triggering the Democratic-led impeachment investigation against Mr Trump himself.
  • The House of Representatives has thrown its weight behind Hong Kong’s protesters. With the Human Rights and Democracy Act passed by the House, annual reviews will be conducted to ascertain whether China has disregarded Hong Kong’s civil liberties and rule of law as enshrined in Hong Kong’s very own Basic Law. The bill, however, still needs to pass the upper house – the Senate. 
  • Former US presidential candidate Hilary Clinton has said that Russia is “grooming” a female Democrat in the 2020 White House race. While no explicit mention of any names has been made, it is believed that she is referring to congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. In response to the allegation, Ms Gabbard retorted in a tweet accusing “queen of the warmongers” Mrs Clinton of orchestrating a campaign to “destroy my reputation”.
  • US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who has been implicated in the Trump impeachment inquiry, is set to resign. Mr Perry has been under heavy scrutiny by US lawmakers for his role in efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Mr Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden. Often dubbed as one of the Three Amigos, Mr Perry was one of three US officials who wield considerable influence over US policy on Ukraine.
  • Canadian MP Jody Wilson-Raybould will be running as an independent in the upcoming election after being booted from the Liberal Party by Justin Trudeau. This comes after her refusal to play ball when pressured by Mr Trudeau to cut a deal with Quebec company SNC-Lavalin. It has been widely perceived that Trudeau’s vested interest in the SNC-Lavalin affair stems from the fact that Quebec has long been seen as a swing province that could help the Liberal Party win a majority in parliament.

Latin America

  • A state of emergency has been declared in Santiago last Saturday (Oct 19), after protests that were triggered by metro fare hikes turned violent. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has said that the government would “call for a dialogue…to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the increase in fares”. Santiago’s underground system is considered one of the most modern in Latin America, with 140km of tracks and 36 stations.
  • Following an ambush in El Aguaje last Monday (Oct 14) which resulted in at least 13 police officers being killed, Mexico has deployed an army to the Western Michoacán state. It is believed that the attack was orchestrated by the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel. The area is said to be of strategic importance between the cartel and its rival cartel known as Los Viagras. Michoacán has been plagued by cartel-related violence for years despite the government’s effort to tackle drug crime.
  • Amidst violent demonstrations, Ecuador’s government has agreed to repeal laws that would entail cuts to fuel subsidies as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a loan. This is seen as an attempt to cool off the ongoing protests. In addition, a new law will also be discussed to prevent subsidies from being exploited by people who smuggle fuel to neighbouring countries.
  • Venezuela has won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council despite widespread criticism of its poor human rights record. The Maduro administration hailed it as an “important achievement”. Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, has expressed opposition at the development, saying: “A vote for Venezuela is a vote for the torture, murder, and impunity that have become trademarks of President Nicolás Maduro’s government”.
  • Argentinian presidential hopefuls have vowed to champion for the return of the Falklands if current President Mauricio Macri is deposed in national elections later this month. Frontrunner Alberto Fernandez accused President Macri of “forgetting to claim the islands’ sovereignty”, and said that he would renegotiate with the United Kingdom over ownership of the islands.

Asia

  • US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has warned that new tariffs on $156 billion worth of Chinese goods will be imposed in the event if a trade deal between China and the US is not finalised by Dec 15. Despite his comments, Mr Mnuchin has also said that he hopes for a formal approval of a tentative US-China deal that would halt fresh tariffs.
  • Amidst sluggish growth and low inflation, the Monetary Authority of Singapore is tempering the rate at which the Singapore dollar is appreciating, so as to fit market expectations. The move last Monday (Oct 14) marks the first easing move by the central bank since April 2016.
  • Indian-born professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo won the Nobel Prize in Economics last Monday (Oct 14). The economist couple are best known for their book, Poor Economics. They are also seen as one of the most substantial contributors to the study of poverty as founders of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-Pal) at MIT, and the conduct of extensive field studies in India and Africa to create a sensing of the behavioural tendencies of the poor.
  • Jimmy Sham, leader of Hong Kong democracy group Civil Human Rights Front, was attacked with hammers on Mong Kok street last Wednesday (Oct 16). Ng Tak-nam, chief inspector of Mong Kok district, has expressed condemnation towards the attack, and believed that the crime was organised. Mr Ng also added that investigations are ongoing to see if the case was linked to a previous attack in August.
  • China warns of ‘countermeasures’ over US bill supporting Hong Kong protesters, making it clear that China would not compromise on national sovereignty matters. At a press briefing in Beijing, it said: “With regards to the incorrect decision by the US, China must take strong countermeasures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty, security and developmental interests”.
  • The Abe government signed off on a bill last Tuesday (Oct 16) that would ratify a new trade deal with the United States. The deal is estimated to rake in approximately four trillion yen to Japan’s gross domestic product and a creation of about 280,000 jobs.

Europe

  • Despite pressure from the US, Germany will not ban Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from its national 5G networks. Germany’s decision serves as a huge blow to the US which has been relentlessly pressuring its allies to exclude Huawei from its 5G infrastructure on grounds that it enables Chinese espionage.
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has requested for a Brexit delay via an unsigned letter to the European Union last Saturday (Oct 19) alongside a separate note saying that he did not want an extension. Instead of voting on his divorce deal, lawmakers voted to back an amendment which delayed a final decision until formal ratification legislation has passed.The government is set to ask for a further meaningful vote today, presenting MPs with a binary choice to approve or oppose the deal in principle. Commons Speaker John Bercow will decide if he allows that vote.
  • France has accused American internet giant Google of flouting EU copyright law meant for helping news publishers. France’s law requires Google to pay what is known as a “link tax” to display snippets of press articles on Google news. Google responded to the law’s passage by saying that French publishers are free to ask for their snippets to be published, but it would not pay for the right.
  • Fresh clashes broke out in Barcelona last Friday (Oct 18) between riot police and protesters amid anger over the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders. Catalan regional leader Quim Torra asserted that the sentences handed down to the separatist leaders would not deter the campaign for independence saying: “We’ll return to the ballot box again on self-determination”.
  • A long list of European goods, published by the US, will now be subjected to a 25 per cent tariff. This comes after the World Trade Organisation ruled aircraft subsidies paid by the EU to airbus illegal – after a 15-year battle between the US and the EU. The EU has said that it has no choice but to retaliate with its own tariffs on US goods.
  • Following a decision by EU leaders to postpone opening membership talks with North Macedonia, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has called for snap elections. Mr Zaev has also announced his intention to resign. In defence of France’s decision to reject North Macedonia, President Macron said the accession process had to be reformed and the EU “should do more to help those countries develop, not just make pledges”.

Middle East

  • Turkey has agreed to suspend Syria offensive to allow Kurdish-led forces to withdraw. This deal comes after President Erdogan and US Vice-President Mike Pence met for talks in Ankara. Despite the agreement, both sides accused one another, of violating the ceasefire, last Saturday (Oct 19). President Erdogan has said that if Kurdish fighters did not withdraw by Tuesday evening – as agreed in the ceasefire – “we will start where we left off and continue to crush the terrorists’ heads”.
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s brother is said to have begun a five-year prison sentence last Wednesday (Oct 16) on grounds of corruption. His brother, Hossein Fereydoun, has denied any wrongdoing and deemed the case as a ploy by hardliners in the judiciary to discredit him.
  • The Lebanese government has decided to scrap Whatsapp tax as protests go on. The government initially announced a daily charge to be made on voice calls via Whatsapp and other applications. This was however met with fierce protests amid an economic crisis that many blame on the government. Last Friday (Oct 19), Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said the country was going through an “unprecedented, difficult time”.

Africa

  • Partial results for Mozambique’s general election were released last Friday (Oct 18) indicating that President Filipe Nyusi and his party are headed for a dominant victory. Despite the overwhelming statistics, the Mozambique Democratic Movement slammed the “shameful electoral process”. In addition, the US embassy in the capital Maputo said its observers witnessed several irregularities such as the presence of “ghost voters” in which names were not aligned with real voters.
  • Conservative outsider candidate Kais Saied wins landslide in Tunisian presidential elections. The independent academic defeated his opponent, business mogul Nabil Karoui, by a huge margin of 1.5 million votes. Mr Saied stands for the decentralisation of governance and strengthening relations with Tunisia’s Arab and African neighbours.
  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa calls for unity of the African National Congress at Mugabe memorial service. Mr Ramaphosa has also touted the African free trade plan as a significant move in the continent’s pursuit of economic integration. In his address, Ramaphosa continued to promote the readiness of the African continent for more investment, and less foreign aid saying: “We have reached a moment in our history where Africa needs investments more than it needs foreign aid”.
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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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