Hassan Rouhani giving a speech, 9 January, 2020. | Photo from: Getty Images

Jan 20: US-China “phase one” trade agreement reached, Brazil’s culture minister sacked, Iran dismissed UK’s request for new nuclear deal

North America and Canada

  • The US and China have signed an agreement aimed at easing a trade war that has rattled markets and weighed on the global economy. Under the agreement, China has pledged to boost US imports by US$2 billion above 2017 levels and strengthen intellectual property rules. US President Donald Trump has said that the accord signed last Wednesday (Jan 15) is a “phase one” agreement and promised that the administration will take up other issues – such as China’s state subsidies – in future negotiations.
  • US politicians expressed concerns about the accuracy and growing use of facial recognition software, at a hearing last Wednesday (Jan 15). The technology is being developed by firms including Amazon and Microsoft and increasingly used by law enforcement worldwide. Some facial recognition technologies misidentify women and people of colour. Some tech experts have also raised concerns about how growing facial recognition databases – controlled by governments and private companies – are being used. US lawmakers are currently working on a proposal for a bill to limit the use of facial recognition.
  • The US House of Representatives has passed a resolution to submit articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate for a trial. The resolution was passed largely along party lines by 228 votes to 193. The Senate, controlled by Mr Trump’s Republican Party, will decide whether to convict and remove him from office. The president is accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He denies trying to pressure Ukraine’s leader during a phone call on July last year to open an investigation into his would-be Democratic White House challenger Joe Biden. 
  • Canadian telecom giant Rogers has started rolling out the country’s first 5G network in the downtown areas of Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver last Wednesday (Jan 15). Rogers has managed to get a jump on competitors Bell and Telus with the 5G rollout by partnering with Swedish equipment manufacturer Ericsson for its kit. In an emailed statement, Bell director of communications Marc Choma said: “Canada has the opportunity to lead the world in 5G if our regulatory environment continues to encourage wireless infrastructure investment.”
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada will compensate the families of the victims of the Ukraine Airlines crash. Fifty-seven Canadian nationals were on the plane when it was hit by an Iranian air defence missile earlier this month. Last Thursday (Jan 16), ministers from five nations which lost citizens on the flight demanded full cooperation from Iran in a transparent international enquiry into the crash.

Latin America

  • Pro-government groups in Venezuela have attacked a convoy of opposition lawmakers outside the parliament building in central Caracas. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó said the violence had forced him to transfer a planned meeting to a building on the outskirts of the city. The attack on the convoy comes eight days after Mr Guaidó and 100 fellow opposition lawmakers pushed past police to enter the National Assembly. It is the latest escalation in Venezuela’s political crisis. 
  • Peru’s top court has ruled that the dissolution of the country’s Congress on 30 September was legal. The constitutional court ruled in favour of President Martín Vizcarra, saying that Mr Vizcarra had not exceeded his powers. While opposition lawmakers denounced it as a coup, heads of armed forces and the police backed the president. The ruling is a victory for President Vizcarra, who had argued that he had the right to dissolve Congress under article 134 in the constitution. Snap elections were announced to be held on Jan 26.
  • The bodies of at least 29 people have been found in a mass grave on the outskirts of the city of Guadalajara in western Mexico, officials say. Many of them are thought to have been killed by Mexico’s powerful criminal gangs, their bodies disposed of in makeshift graves. The discovery of mass graves in Mexico is not unusual. Some are believed to have been gang members killed either by their own gang for perceived trespasses or by rival gangs. Others were kidnapped for ransom and killed when their relatives were not able to pay up. 
  • Four Chilean nationals who stole jewellery from the London home of celebrity chef Marcus Wareing and then photographed themselves wearing it have been jailed. Having broken into the Wimbledon house in October last year, the four men admitted conspiring together to trespass with intent to steal when they appeared at Kingston Crown Court last Tuesday (Jan 14). They were each jailed for 40 months.
  • Brazil’s culture minister has been sacked after using parts of a speech by Nazi Germany’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels in a video, sparking outrage. In a video detailing the National Arts Awards, Roberto Alvim detailed an award for “heroic” and “national” art in which parts of it were identical to a speech quoted in the book Joseph Goebbels: A Biography, by German historian Peter Longerich, who has written several works on the Holocaust. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that the speech had been “unfortunate”.
  • Mexico says it will not grant transit visas or free passage for hundreds of migrants who have left Honduras in an attempt to reach the US border. Each migrant would have their status checked and be offered the option of remaining in the country legally. Last Wednesday (Jan 15), Honduran police fired tear gas after people tried to enter Guatemala without going through checks. Many migrants are actually fleeing violence and poverty. The movement is similar to other groups of Central Americans who tried to reach the US in recent years in what has become known as “caravans”.


  • The number of people already infected by the mystery virus emerging in China is far greater than the official figures suggest. There have been 45 laboratory-confirmed cases of the new virus, but UK experts estimate the figure is closer to 1,700. Two people are known to have died from respiratory illness, which appeared in Wuhan city in December. Chinese officials and the World Health Organisation have concluded that the infection is a coronavirus. 
  • Thailand finally reached an agreement for the construction of a high-speed rail line linking three airports serving Bangkok, after making an unusual pledge to secure all land for the builders in a timely fashion. A consortium led by Charoen Pokphand Group, Thailand’s biggest conglomerate, signed a contract with the State Railway of Thailand. The new rail line represents a core infrastructure development project for Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor program to establish an advanced industrial zone as Thailand seeks to escape the middle-income trap.
  • According to the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects (UNWESP), the Indian economy is expected to register a GDP growth of 5.7 per cent, lower than the 7.6 per cent growth forecast in WESP 2019. According to the report, only China has a higher growth rate than India among the world’s largest economies with a 6 per cent forecast for the current calendar year. External factors such as growing trade tensions have been cited as a contribution to a prolonged sluggish Indian economy, especially so for a country that is heavily reliant on international trade.
  • Thailand and Japan each reported new cases of a coronavirus that has left two people dead and at least 40 sick in China. Last Friday (Jan 17), health officials in Thailand said they had found a second case of the mysterious pneumonia-like coronavirus in a Chinese woman. Last Thursday (Jan 16), Japan’s Health Ministry said that a Chinese man in his thirties tested positive for the coronavirus. The disclosures last week brought  the total number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus reported outside of China to three.
  • Heavy rains and thunderstorms have lashed parts of Australia’s east coast, dousing some of its fires but bringing a new threat of flooding to some areas. Despite heavy downpours that have helped to tackle some of the blazes, major roads were closed in Queensland and power cuts were reported in parts of New South Wales as a result of the weather. Major bushfires continued to rage on Saturday in regions in the south and south-east of the country – including on Kangaroo Island – which has so far missed out on the rain.


  • Spain’s Balearic Islands have passed a law banning pub crawls and happy hours in three popular tourist destinations in a bid to crackdown on alcohol-fuelled holidays. The new law includes a string of measures aimed at cracking down on so-called “booze tourism”, where visitors are encouraged to binge drink. The measures adopted last Friday (Jan 17) are just the latest effort by authorities to try to rein in heavy drinking on the Mediterranean islands. 
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has rejected a resignation offer by Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk over a leaked audiotape scandal. Mr Honcharuk’s second chance is however contingent upon tackling a number of pressing issues – with one of the issues being the problem of high salaries amongst government ministers. The controversial audiotape was uploaded to an anonymous YouTube channel last Wednesday evening (Jan 15). Mr Honcharuk said the recordings had been edited from several fragments of government meetings to create the false impression that he did not respect the president.
  • Two Chinese nationals in their early 20s have been found dead at the site of a 1973 plane crash in southern Iceland. A police spokesman said a post-mortem would take place early this week to establish the causes of death. For decades, the Sólheimasandur crash site has attracted tourists keen to see something a little more unusual among the natural beauty of Iceland.
  • A British teenager found guilty of lying about being gang-raped in Cyprus has launched an appeal against her conviction. Last Thursday (Jan 16), lawyers have filed the grounds for the teenager’s appeal at the Supreme Court of Cyprus. The teenager said she was raped by up to 12 Israeli tourists in a hotel room in the resort town of Ayia Napa on July 17, before being charged herself after signing a retraction statement 10 days later.
  • Prince Harry and Meghan will no longer use their HRH titles and will not receive public funds for royal duties, Buckingham Palace has announced. HRH, an abbreviation of His/Her Royal Highness, is used as part of the title of some members of the royal family. Meghan and Harry have already begun a transition phase of living in Canada and the UK. The move was agreed by the Queen, Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron has a plan to lure tech talent into France. In the third edition of his “Choose France” summit, the French president will detail measures in his 2020 budget that have improved stock options for startups in France. Ever since his years as an economy minister since 2014, Mr Macron has been actively attempting to lure investors into France. More recently, the French 2020 budget law enacted on Jan 1 seeks to make stock options of startups more attractive.

Middle East

  • Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has dismissed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for a new “Trump deal” to replace the 2015 nuclear agreement. Mr Rouhani warned that “all Trump has done is break promises”. After the Trump administration increased the pressure on Iran in May last year, the country responded by gradually lifting all limits on its production of enriched uranium. In a televised speech last Wednesday (Jan 15), Iran’s president criticised the European powers’ decision and their failure to ensure his country enjoyed the economic benefits of the nuclear deal.
  • Despite a truce, at least 18 civilians are reported to have died in airstrikes that hit a market and an industrial zone in the Syrian rebel-held city of Idlib. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said children and rescue workers were among the casualties. Syria’s government has said it is determined to recapture Idlib province, where the strongest armed faction is a jihadist group that used to be linked to al-Qaeda.
  • Some of Syria’s leading figures met in secret last week in Berlin to overcome the sectarian divides that are tearing their country apart. Sunni tribal chiefs sat opposite Alawite dignitaries with close links to the Assad regime. The meetings, which are funded by private donations and European governments, take place in Berlin partly because Germany is seen as a relatively neutral country. In November 2017 this group’s founders first signed a charter for peace, known as the “Code of Conduct for Syrian Coexistence”, which contained principles that all parts of Syrian society can agree to. Separately, Libyan warring factions (General Khalifa’s Libyan National Army and the UN-backed government) are joined by major powers such as Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia to negotiate a ceasefire to halt the civil war in Libya that has been ongoing since the 2011 Arab Spring.
  • Hundreds of Jordanians demonstrated in downtown Amman last Friday (Jan 17), calling on the government to cancel an agreement in which Israel began pumping natural gas to the kingdom this year. At odds with the kingdom’s official policy, many Jordanians still see Israel as an enemy. Over half the population are believed to be Palestinian refugees or their descendants. The deal is expected to provide 45 billion cubic meters of Israeli gas to Jordan over the next 15 years.


  • Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, a Kenyan MP, was arrested last Friday morning (Jan 17) for allegedly shooting a reveler at a nightclub. In a statement on his Facebook page, Mr Owino said there was an exchange of gunfire while he was surrounded by a large group of aggressive individuals. The reveler’s condition is still unknown.
  • Ugandan academic, writer and feminist activist Stella Nyanzi has won the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression 2020. Ms Nyanzi is a controversial academic, who campaigns on a variety of issues, from sanitary pads for schoolgirls to gay rights. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison in August last year for “cyber harassment” after she published a poem on Facebook criticising President Yoweri Museveni.
  • Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have reached an initial deal on the filling and operation of what will be Africa’s biggest hydro-electric dam. The three nations agreed, following a meeting in Washington DC, that the mega-dam on the River Nile should be filled in stages during the rainy season. The preliminary agreement, brokered by US treasury secretary and the World Bank president, is still short on details. The agreement largely hinges on balancing the countries’ interests such as shortage of electricity and water reliance for Ethiopia and Egypt respectively. 
  • Zambia is already restructuring, renegotiating or refinancing its extensive Chinese project finance debt, and Chinese companies are playing hardball, according to new research. Southern Africa’s third-largest economy is already financially strapped from its inability to finance electricity imports. With external debt rising by US$10.05 billion at the end of 2018 compared to US$8.74 billion a year earlier, China is demanding collaterals from Zambia in light of the Belt and Road Initiative.
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