Mourners place flowers, messages, and mementos at a makeshift memorial in honor of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the US Supreme Court on September 19, 2020 | Photo Credit: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Sept 21: Japan appoints new prime minister, Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies, hundreds in Belarus protests arrested

North America

  • The US city of Louisville, Kentucky announced last Tuesday (Sept 15) that it will pay a US$12 million (S$16.3 million) settlement to the family of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in a botched raid earlier in March this year. Along with the settlement, city officials also agreed to institute several major police reforms aimed at preventing future deaths by police officers. 
  • The WTO ruled last Tuesday (Sept 15) that the US violated trade rules when it imposed additional tariffs on more than US$200 billion (S$271.8 billion) in Chinese goods in 2018. A report by a three-person panel of WTO trade experts stated that the US had not met its burden of demonstrating that the measures were provisionally justified. This is considered a blow to the Trump administration’s trade war against China and exacerbates US-WTO tensions, but will likely have no consequences for American tariff policy because the organisation’s appellate body currently does not function after being undermined by the Trump administration.
  • The US charged five Chinese citizens last Wednesday (Sept 16), for their involvement in a global hacking campaign which targeted more than 100 companies and institutions in the US and abroad. The Justice Department outlined schemes planning to steal source codes and other key business data from telecommunications and energy firms, medical providers, software development companies, nonprofit organizations and video game companies. 
  • Barbados announced its intention to remove the UK’s Queen Elizabeth as its head of state next year and become a republic before the end of 2021. “The time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind,” the Caribbean island nation’s government said.
  • The Trump administration said that it would bar the Chinese-owned mobile apps WeChat and TikTok from US app stores. Additionally, the US government will also ban American companies from processing business transactions for WeChat or hosting its internet traffic. The US Commerce Department said similar prohibitions will also apply to TikTok on Nov 12 unless it resolves the administration’s national security concerns by then. TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, is currently in talks with Oracle about a deal that could transfer some control to the American software maker. 
  • Amazon announced a US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) initiative named the Climate Pledge Fund. The fund was set up to invest in companies that are tackling climate change. Last Thursday (Sept 17), Amazon named its first five recipients: Redwood Materials, Rivian, CarbonCure Technologies, Pachama and Turntide Technologies.
  • US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, champion of gender equality, passed away at the age of 87 last Friday (Sept 18) from metastatic pancreatic cancer. Her passing will inevitably set in motion a political battle over who will succeed her and who will be the one to pick the candidate to succeed her. President Trump said he would quickly name a successor “without delay”, a move that could tip the court further to the right.
  • The company Snowflake jumped 112 per cent in its IPO debut last Wednesday (Sept 16), making it the biggest software company IPO in 2020. The cloud data company is now worth US$70 billion (S$95.13 billion). 
  • The Trump administration will reportedly sell Taiwan US$7 billion (S$9.51 billion) worth of mines, drones, cruise missiles and other hardware. This would be one of the largest arms deals between the US and Taiwan, and it comes after rising concerns of China’s growing military presence near the island nation.
  • A federal judge temporarily blocked the controversial changes to the US Postal Service (USPS) last Thursday (Sept 17), citing that the recent USPS changes, including significantly restricting late and extra trips, were an “intentional effort” to politically undermine fair elections. US District Court Judge Stanley Bastian said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states in a case against the US President Donald Trump, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the USPS.

South America 

  • A report released by the UN last Wednesday (Sept 16) said that the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has committed systematic human rights violations including killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity. The report was based on more than 270 interviews with victims, witnesses, former officials and lawyers.
  • Former Paraguayan Vice President Óscar Denis Sánchez was kidnapped last Wednesday (Sept 16) by the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a communist guerrilla movement active in the country’s northeast. It is said to be an attempt to negotiate for the exchange of two of their jailed leaders in return for Mr Denis’ release.
  • Bolivia’s interim President Jeanine Anez withdrew from the country’s election race last Thursday (Sept 17), in a bid to unite votes against the MAS party of former leader Evo Morales, who is currently in exile in Argentina.
  • Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra survived an impeachment vote last Friday (Sept 18), where he was accused of interfering in a corruption probe in which he incited aides to lie to anti-corruption investigators. He has been in power since 2018.
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first US secretary to visit Suriname and Guyana and directly pitched for the new leaders of the two South American states to favour US firms over Chinese ones. The discovery of oil in the two states has drawn a sudden new global interest, with Pompeo warning of the risks of China during an oil boom. 

Asia-Pacific

  • The Indonesian Foreign Ministry lodged a protest with Beijing after a Chinese coast guard vessel spent two days in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone off its Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. While Indonesia does not consider itself a party to the South China Sea dispute, the pursuit of the ship by Indonesia’s maritime security agency Bakamla shows a hardening of its stance on China’s claims in the South China Sea.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to expand agri-food imports from the EU and cooperate on climate change, in a video call with three European Union leaders last Monday (Sept 14). However, he stopped short of making concessions on the issue of market access and hit back hard at the EU’s criticism of human rights in China. The virtual meeting was aimed at patching up a relationship which has been strained by the coronavirus pandemic, but the European Commission President said that “a lot, a lot, still remains to be done”.
  • Retail sales in China rose 0.5 per cent in August from a year ago, China’s National Bureau of Statistics said last Tuesday (Sept 15). This is the first positive report for the year so far and is a sign of further economic recovery from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, after retail sales plummeted 8.6 per cent in the first eight months, compared to a year ago. 
  • Yoshihide Suga, 71, was appointed as Japan’s new prime minister last Wednesday (Sept 16) after winning the ruling Liberal Democratic Party leadership election by a large margin. This is following Shinzo Abe’s resignation in late August over health concerns. Mr Suga is considered a close ally of Mr Abe and is likely to continue his predecessor’s policies.
  • China’s consulate in Sydney dismissed allegations of political interference last Wednesday (Sept 16), in the form of a plot to infiltrate the Labour Party and influence voters as “totally baseless and nothing but vicious slander”. The statement was released after Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, reported on Tuesday (Sept 15) that Chinese consul Sun Yantao had been identified in an Australian federal police investigation into Shaoquett Moselmane and his policy adviser, John Zhisen Zhang.
  • A senior US envoy, Keith Krach, arrived in Taiwan last Thursday (Sept 17) in the Trump administration’s latest move to bolster its support of the island in defiance of threats from Beijing. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen pledged deeper ties with the US on Friday (Sept 18) as China sent 18 fighter jets to harry the island to express its anger at the trip. Krach was the highest-level State Department official to visit the island in four decades. 
  • China released a white paper last Thursday (Sept 17), claiming that its far western Xinjiang region has provided “vocational training” to nearly 1.3 million workers every year on average from 2014 to 2019. This was a response to mounting criticism from Western countries and human rights groups over Beijing’s policies in the region, where it is believed to have detained at least one million Uighurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities in internment camps.
  • The Indian army admitted that its soldiers in Kashmir exceeded their legal powers last Friday (Sept 18), in the killing of three men who had previously been described as Pakistani terrorists. The men were now identified as residents of Rajouri district whose families had filed a complaint accusing the soldiers of killing them in a staged gunbattle.
  • Thousands of protesters marched in the Thai capital of Bangkok over the weekend, calling for reform of the political system and the role of the monarchy. Since July, rallies have called for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha who took power in a 2014 coup and won disputed elections last year.

Europe

  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has intentions to renege on the Brexit agreement he signed last year, causing much dissent in the parliament. The chaos came after Johnson proposed the controversial Internal Market Bill, which empowers the UK to rewrite parts of the Northern Ireland protocol negotiated last year to prevent a hard border on the island, breaching the Brexit agreement.
  • Twenty-nine police officers in western German state of North-Rhine Westphalia were  suspended, following a raid which discovered five far-right chat groups that shared over 100 rightwing extremist and Neo-Nazi images. Images shared by the officers reportedly depicted Adolf Hitler, the swastika flag, a photoshopped collage of a refugee inside a gas chamber and the shooting of a young black person.
  • The Belarusian interior ministry reported on Sept 13 that the police arrested 774 people at anti-government rallies across the country, where at least 100,000 protestors flooded the streets. Amidst the mass protests that demanded for his resignation, Belarus President Lukashenko placed the military on alert and closed borders with Poland and Lithuania in a decision made last Thursday (Sept 17). Meanwhile, the European Union deemed the results from the Aug 9 election as fraudulent and still does not recognise Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus.
  • Greek police have detained six Afghan nationals last Tuesday (Sept 15), over the devastating fire that destroyed most of Europe’s largest migrant camp Moria and left 13,000 people homeless in Lesbos, Greece. Germany has made the move to take in more than 1,500 migrants that have been displaced. Refugees and migrants have also been rehoused in the temporary camp Kara Tepe, but this is not without fears of unsanitary and dangerous conditions.
  • The European Parliament voted in favour of assigning new tax revenues to the European Union last Wednesday (Sept 16), to repay the bloc’s joint borrowing of 750 billion euros (S$1.21 trillion) for economic recovery post-Covid 19. Since repayment of the loan does not start until 2028, concrete decisions on what taxes will be levied may take several years.

Middle East 

  • Gulf states are shifting to austerity measures of spending less and borrowing more, hurting growth prospects in a region where government spending is the main engine of economic growth. Previous bouts of spending reduction have relied on rebounding oil prices to replenish state coffers, but the risks are greater this time as the outlook for oil demand is more uncertain. 
  • Last Tuesday (Sept 15), US President Donald Trump hosted leaders from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House for the signing of agreements for normalising relations with Israel, making them the third and fourth Arab states to take such steps since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. However, the deals were protested by Palestinians, who refused to participate in Trump’s Middle East peace initiative.
  • Afghanistan and Taliban peace talk negotiators held their first direct session last Tuesday (Sept 15) in Doha as the warring sides try to work out an agenda and schedule for how to negotiate a peace deal as the United States withdraw troops. While the agenda was unclear, an Afghan presidential palace official said a top priority was getting the Taliban to agree on a ceasefire or significant reduction in violence.
  • The United Nations’ humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned last Tuesday (Sept 15) that famine has returned to Yemen and singled out Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait for giving nothing to this year’s desperately needed aid. Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, managed to avert famine two years ago because donors swiftly met 90 per cent of the UN’s funding requirements.
  • Lebanon missed the mid-September deadline set by French President Emmanuel Macron to form a new government to address the nation’s economic crisis, following a mass resignation in the wake of a deadly explosion in Beirut’s port last month. Macron had set himself up as a broker for finding common ground among Lebanon’s rival political factions.
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council that he cannot take any action on a US declaration that all UN sanctions on Iran had been reimposed because “there would appear to be uncertainty” on the issue. Iran urged the UN’s top court last Wednesday (Sept 16) to hear its bid to overturn US nuclear sanctions as they have caused record drop in Iran’s trade, a near-doubling of food prices and “severe” effects on the health system. The US argued the sanctions were necessary because Iran posed a “grave threat” to international security.
  • The US hopes to move ahead with plans to name Qatar as a major non-NATO ally (MNNA), a status that provides foreign nations with benefits in defence trade and security cooperation with Washington, a senior US official said last Thursday (Sept 17). Currently, 17 countries hold the MNNA status, including Gulf Arab states Kuwait and Bahrain.
  • The UN urged Turkey to investigate possible war crimes and other rights violations in a statement last Friday (Sept 18), which it said were carried out by armed groups in the area of northern Syria under Turkish control. Turkey rejected the human rights violations claims, calling them “unfounded allegations” and “baseless claims”. 

Africa 

  • Nigerian health workers launched a strike last Monday (Sept 14), after a meeting with the authorities failed to meet their demands on the back pay, a virus hazard allowance as well as badly needed hospital repairs, according to the Joint Health Workers Union (JOHESU). The industrial action came just four days after resident doctors called off their strike.
  • Former Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedie promised to let political exiles, including former president Laurent Gbagbo, return home if he wins the October election. Bedie is considered President Alassane Ouattara’s main challenger in the Oct 31 vote. Ivory Coast’s top court has cleared the way for Ouattara to run for a contentious third term, as protests turned violent in several cities since Ouattara announced his candidacy last month.
  • The US military’s Africa Command is pressing for new authorities to carry out armed drone strikes targeting al-Qaeda-linked Somali-based Shabab fighters in portions of eastern Kenya, potentially expanding the counterterrorism drone war into another country under certain circumstances. The push for the extended authorities traces back to a Shabab attack in January on a military base in Kenya that housed US troops. According to Africa Command’s director of intelligence, Al Shabab is the most capable terrorist group on the African continent.
  • The trial of Sudan’s former president Omar al-Bashir over his role in the 1989 military coup that brought him to power was adjourned to Sept 22, the judge said last Tuesday (Sept 15). If convicted, Bashir and 27 other defendants, including former top ministers, could face the death penalty. Bashir, who stayed in power for 30 years before being overthrown, is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in the western region of Darfur. 
  • West African leaders met the head of Mali’s military junta last Tuesday (Sept 15), to press for the return to civilian rule nearly a month after rebel officers seized power in the fragile state. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) slapped sanctions on Mali after the coup, including closing borders and banning trade and financial flows, and has called for elections within 12 months. The 15-nation bloc also gave Mali until Tuesday (Sept 22) to name a civilian president and prime minister to head a transition government.
  • Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed picked newcomer Mohamed Hussein Roble as prime minister ahead of looming elections, cementing power around the presidency. Roble replaces Hassan Ali Khaire, who was sacked in July after a power struggle in the decision whether to delay a national election due next year.
  • Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), announced a conditional lifting of a months-long oil blockade by his forces. Haftar’s backers shut down the country’s oilfield and terminals in January in a bid to put pressure on their rivals, the UN-recognised Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). The blockade resulted in severe losses in revenue, as oil is Libya’s main source of income.
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