Mrs Carrie Lam shaking hands with the director of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, Mr Zhang Xiaoming, in 2017. | Photo Credit: South China Morning Post

Nov 23: Sagasti becomes interim President, Beijing announces updates to Hong Kong Basic Law, negotiations resume over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

North America

  • United States’ (US) President-elect Joe Biden said that “more people may die” if outgoing President Donald Trump continues to hinder efforts for the transition of US power as the pandemic worsens. Business and labour leaders showed signs of cooperation and willingness to fix the US economy but stressed Covid-19 as the top priority to be brought under control and urged Congress to pass relief legislation, according to Biden last Monday (Nov 16). The pandemic has taken more than 246,000 lives and millions of jobs have also been affected.
  • Top US disease expert Anthony Fauci said last Tuesday (Nov 17) that he was extremely impressed with Moderna’s early Covid-19 vaccine which uses a drug called mRNA-1273, translating to an efficacy rate of 94.5 per cent.
  • President Donald Trump fired top cybersecurity official Chris Krebs last Wednesday (Nov 18), accusing him of mishandling the elections and insisting that voting was not secure, calling results a fraud.
  • President-elect Joe Biden announced his appointment of nine close campaign aides to be promoted to key White House positions last Tuesday (Nov 17). Such included his 2020 presidential campaign manager Jen O’ Malley Dillion as deputy chief of staff, Ron Klain as chief of staff, and Cedric Richmond and Mike Donilon as senior advisors to the president.
  • A letter published by US doctors and nurses urged the Trump administration to share Covid-19 data with the upcoming Biden administration to avoid unnecessary delays in tackling the pandemic as it worsens in America. The letter was signed by the leadership of the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Hospitals Association.
  • Giant technological corporations founders of Twitter and Facebook, CEO Jack Dorsey and CEO Mark Zuckerberg respectively defended their stances on handling US election misinformation last Tuesday (Nov 17) as a key senator said the platforms were the “ultimate editor” of political news. Both face pressure to remove harmful information and fight for claims of suppression of certain political views.
  • Three US senators said they would introduce laws that seek to stop the Trump administration’s efforts to sell more than US$23 billion (S$31 billion) of drones and other weapons systems to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a showdown with the president two months before he is due to leave the office. Additionally, there would be an introduction of four separate resolutions of disapproval of President Donald Trump’s plans to sell drones and other munitions worth billions of dollars to the UAE, which is an important security partner to the US but recent behaviours indicated that the weapons may be utilised in violations of the US and international law.
  • Three diplomatic sources said that outgoing US President Donald Trump made no plans to host a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies consisting of the United Kingdom (UK), France, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the June gathering was cancelled. However, there has been no outreach for a plausible summit meeting which could be done online and there has been no work on a joint statement that typically takes months to process.
  • President-elect Joe Biden named three Latinos to be part of his White House senior staff last Wednesday (Nov 18), all of whom were alumni of the Obama-Biden Administration. They are Julie Chávez Rodriguez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, as well as Anthony Bernal and Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon, both of whom were named senior advisor and chief of staff respectively to the upcoming First Lady Jill Biden. 
  • US District Court Judge Matthew Brann threw out President Donald Trump’s campaign attempt to invalidate the millions of votes in Pennsylvania on Saturday (Nov 21). Some Republicans in Congress called on Trump to concede and congratulate Biden on his victory. 

South America

  • Hurricane Iota, a category four storm, destroyed homes and buildings in the Nicaragua Caribbean Coast last Wednesday (Nov 18). The nation’s death toll was 16. In the coastal city of Bilwi, 72-year-old Filimon Wilfred said Iota destroyed five of his family houses and left 18 family members homeless, including himself.
  • In Peru, 76-year-old Franciso Sagasti of the centrist Purple Party was selected to be the country’s third president in a week on Tuesday (Nov 17) after the previously sworn-in President Manuel Merino resigned after five days of being in office. Sagasti was welcomed by international leaders, including the Organisation of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro, who wrote on Twitter that “we trust in his capacity to guide the country through this crisis until the next presidential election”.
  • The US has appointed its first Venezuelan ambassador, 50-year-old South Carolina native James Story, who will carry out his job from the US Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. It has been a decade since both countries have exchanged ambassadors, as relations were strained under the late President Hugo Chavez. Washington and Venezuela broke off diplomatic ties last year when the former backed the latter’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader, thus withdrawing their diplomats. 
  • A US federal judge granted the US government’s request to drop charges against former Mexican defence minister Salvador Cienfuegos on Wednesday (Nov 18), saying that the move made would restore trust in the strained cooperation ties between US and Mexico. The top military official was taken into US custody for drug-related corruption and money laundering conspiracy charges. US prosecutors, however, said that “sensitive and important foreign policy considerations” currently outweigh the US government’s interest to continue to prosecute Cienfuegos, thus charges against him were dropped.
  • The killing of a black man by two white security guards sparked outrage and anti-racism protests across Brazil last Thursday (Nov 19). The victim, Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas, aged 40, was punched in the face repeatedly by the security guards at a Carrefour store in Porto Alegre.

Asia-Pacific

  • Thailand’s economy posted a slower contraction of 6.4 per cent year on year in the third quarter, aided by improved exports, private investments and consumption. The economy was recovering from a 12.1 per cent slump recorded in April-June 2020, according to Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC). The country’s manufacturing continued to shrink but at a slower rate of 5.3 per cent in the third quarter, coming from a 14.6 per cent decline in the previous three months. Construction posted a stronger growth of 10.5 per cent from a 7.4 per cent pace in the second quarter.
  • Fugitive businessman Jho Low has claimed that the millions of dollars siphoned from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) were “loans” to him, and blamed former Prime Minister Najib Razak for the downfall of the fund. Low argued that he had no authority to make any decisions and that the blame lay with the finance minister, who at the time was also Najib. Ever since the scandal, Low has been on the run and has allegedly been living in Macau, China. 
  • National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono has stated that Jakarta’s police chief Nana Sudjana and West Java’s police chief Rudy Sufahriadi had failed to carry out orders to enforce health protocols, and have therefore been reassigned. Both have been widely criticised for allowing a series of mass gatherings to take place two weeks ago, one of them organised by supporters of Rizieq Shihab, an Islamist cleric and leader who has recently returned from exile. Shihab fled the country in 2017 when a number of charges including pornography and insulting the state’s ideology of Pancasila were levelled against him.
  • Japan and Myanmar signed ¥42.78 billion (S$551 million) worth of low-interest loans for infrastructure build-up and development of finance for small and medium-sized businesses in Myanmar. According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, ¥27.78 billion (S$358 million) will be used for a project to build a bridge on the east-west economic corridor. The corridor itself will cross Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, and will boost the efficiency of the logistics sector. The loan itself will be repaid over 40 years with a 10-year grace period and is expected to weaken the pandemic’s economic impact on Myanmar’s industrial and business sectors.
  • Goldman Sachs has revised its growth forecast for India in the financial year 2021 to a 10.3 per cent contraction, from the 14.8 per cent that it had projected in September. 
  • Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s governing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is poised to form a government in the semi-autonomous state of Gilgit Baltistan, a part of Kashmir. Opposition leaders have started protests in the state, claiming that election officials are making backdoor attempts to ensure that the PTI will attain a majority.
  • The Asian Development Bank has approved a US$121 million (S$162 million) loan to Uzbekistan to complete the modernisation of an Uzbek railway network in its eastern regions. The project is expected to boost tourism and trade between Uzbekistan and its neighbours and is part of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Programme’s Corridor 2.
  • Major food-producing countries are growing increasingly frustrated with China’s scrutiny of imported products and have called on it to stop aggressive testing for the coronavirus, which some say is tantamount to a trade restriction. China said it has found the virus on the packaging of products from 20 countries, including produce from Germany, Brazil, and India, but foreign officials argue that the lack of evidence produced by authorities means it is damaging trade and hurting the reputation of imported food without reason. 
  • Zhang Xiaoming, a deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing, stated that further changes are to be implemented to the Hong Kong Basic Law, including a loyalty clause for the legislative council. Other changes include judicial reforms, as well as ‘oath optimisation’ and ‘qualification screening’ for civil servants, national education, and judicial reforms.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi and her ruling National League for Democracy have been declared the winner of the Myanmar elections on Nov 8, by the Union Election Commission. Ethnic parties in Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, and Mon states won just 13 seats compared to the NLD’s 396, though Aung San Suu Kyi has reached out to them to join the NLD in building a federal union. U Zaw Myint Maung, the vice-chair of the NLD, said the party is determined to come up with a sustainable peace deal within its next five years in office to boost development and improve the lives of the masses.

Europe

  • Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last Wednesday (Nov 18) that Hungary vetoed the European Union’s 2021-2027 budget and post-coronavirus recovery fund in relation to immigration, which Viktor is staunchly against. Along with Poland, both countries argued that the budget law included a clause which makes access to money conditional on respecting the rule of law. Viktor Orban added that Hungary had accepted the recovery fund and long-term budget package in July “because we are committed to European solidarity and support financial aid to the states that need it as quickly as possible”.
  • Denmark’s food and agriculture minister Mogens Jensen stepped down last Wednesday (Nov 18) over an illegal order by the government to cull the country’s farmed 17 million minks. The government’s drastic decision came about when health authorities said the mink industry posed risks to public health due to widespread outbreak of the farm, intensified by the findings of a mutated virus strain that could compromise the efficacy of future vaccines. 
  • Britain’s current Labour leader Keir Starmer said last Wednesday (Nov 18) that the former leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, will not be restored as Labour Member of Parliament as he undermined efforts to tackle anti-Semitism.  
  • Greece said last Wednesday (Nov 18) that the country promised to build new reception centres for asylum seekers and cut the maximum stay in camps on its now overcrowded islands. The construction of better-equipped camps on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos are to be completed by 2021, said Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi. 
  • France became the first European nation to reach the two million mark for Covid-19, said its top official last Tuesday (Nov 17). Director-General of Health Jerome Salomon said the total of confirmed cases was 2,036,755. France is fourth globally in the number of infections behind the US, India and Brazil. It ranks seventh in the number of deaths globally, with a death toll topping 45,000. 
  • Protesters gathered with saucepans and blew whistles in central Berlin last Wednesday (Nov 18) against Angela Merkel’s plans to provide her government powers to curb the spread of Covid-19. Berlin authorities said that the protestors did not adhere to social distancing rules and were not wearing masks. A small number of critics controversially linked the proposed change to the “Enabling Act” of 1933 where politicians had transferred legislative power to Adolf Hilter.
  • After the Vienna attack held on Nov 2, anti-Muslim rhetorics rose last Thursday (Nov 19). Nadim Mazarweh, an extremism and deradicalisation expert at the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGÖ) said that “the assassin could and should have been arrested in advance”. Instead, the Austrian government presented measures against “terror” and “political Islam”, where the latter term was rejected by experts. Mazarweh added that the term ‘political Islam’ is completely redundant and “it is like talking about political Christianity or political Hinduism”. For the Muslim community, such rhetoric implied an automatic suspicion for the people. Currently, between 700,000 and 800,000 Muslims reside in Austria, which is 8 per cent of the population.
  • The UK has announced the largest military investment since the Cold War. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted to carve out a leading role for the UK in the area of free trade and global cooperation, which is backed by contemporary technology and cyberspace capabilities. The increased spending reflected a necessity to upgrade military capabilities, including pioneering new technology with plans for new space command and artificial intelligence agency. This would cement the UK’s position as the largest defence spender in Europe and the second-largest in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

Middle East

  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US will label the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeted at Israel over its treatment of Palestinians as anti-Semitic. The BDS campaign is a non-violent, people-led movement that aims to economically pressure Israel into providing equal rights and a right of return to Palestinians, and is modelled after the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo completed a farewell tour of the Middle East last week. During the tour, he urged nations to take action against Iran for its human rights abuses and visited an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The settlements are regarded by many countries and international organisations as illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee, said Pompeo is “trespassing on Palestinian land stolen by Israel” and “has done enough damage”.
  • Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif announced that Iran would “automatically” return to its nuclear commitments if US President-elect Joe Biden lifts sanctions. Outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, has responded by vowing to keep imposing “painful consequences” on Iran.
  • Iranian officials have condemned a United Nations (UN) resolution sponsored by Canada that among other things calls for the upholding of human rights of protesters in Iran. In response to the resolution, Iran summoned its Italian ambassador, who represents Canadian interests in Iran, and told the ambassador that Canada has become a safe haven for the world’s economic offenders and financial criminals. The comments refer to several Iranians wanted for economic corruption who have fled to Canada, which has refused to extradite these Iranians.
  • Iraq and Saudi Arabia have reopened the Arar border crossing for trade exchanges last Wednesday (Nov 18). The Arar crossing is the only land port linking Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and authorities had previously only allowed pilgrims to use the border while prohibiting the passage of goods and passengers.
  • Israel has launched air raids on Syria, killing three soldiers and wounding another. The Israeli army has stated that they were retaliating against an Iranian-sponsored operation, in which Syrians planted explosives near an Israeli military base in the occupied Golan Heights.
  • Saudi Arabia hosted the Group of 20 (G-20) summit last Saturday (Nov 21), and is the first Arab nation to do so. The summit was attended by leaders of the 20 largest economies in the world, though US President Trump was conspicuously absent except for a brief appearance. The leaders pledged to fund a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus, and ensure “equitable distribution” of the vaccine.
  • Saudi Arabia has announced that it will review a controversial decision to triple the value-added tax once the current economic crisis is over. The tax hike was announced following two economic shocks this year and was introduced alongside increased customs fees, reduced cost-of-living allowance for public sector workers, and funding cut for a key government aid program. For a start, the government also introduced an increase in the minimum wage for Saudi employees by a third, though the government has not stated when this change will take effect.
  • A prominent Egyptian human rights group has said security officers arrested a second staff member, just days after its office manager was also detained. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said last Wednesday (Nov 18) that Karim Ennarah, the organisation’s director of criminal justice, was “arrested while on vacation in Dahab, South Sinai”.
  • After a breakdown in talks several weeks ago, foreign ministers and water ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia resumed negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam last Friday (Nov 19). The conflict dates back to 2011 when dam construction began and Egypt raised concerns about the dam and its effect on the Nile River.
  • Turkey has announced its biggest interest rate rise in more than two years as it signalled a change of direction after a drastic shake-up in the country’s economic management. In the first rate-setting meeting chaired by new central bank governor Naci Agbal, the bank moved to tame double-digit inflation and bolster the Turkish lira by lifting its benchmark one-week repo rate by 4.75 percentage points to 15 per cent.
  • Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday (Nov 19) specified Lebanon’s starting point for demarcating its sea border with Israel under US-mediated talks, in the first public confirmation of stance sources say actually increases the size of the disputed area. Israel and Lebanon launched the negotiations last month with delegations from the long-time foes convening at a UN base to try to agree on the unresolved border that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area.
  • The Palestinian Authority (PA) will resume coordination with Israel that it suspended in May, in response to an Israeli plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, a senior Palestinian official has said. Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA’s civil affairs minister and close aide to President Mahmoud Abbas, tweeted on Tuesday (Nov 17) that “the relationship with Israel will return to how it was” following “official written and oral letters we received”, confirming Israel’s commitment to past agreements.

Africa

  • Ethiopia’s army chief has accused the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) of lobbying neighbouring countries to provide arms and other support to rebels in the Tigray region. Director-General of WHO Tedros Andhanom Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian himself, has close links to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and served as foreign minister and health minister when the TPLF dominated the country’s ruling coalition.
  • Six people were killed and another was wounded after rebels stormed Kokola village in Beni territory, North Kivu province, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The attack was blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan rebel group.
  • Civil society groups in Mali have accused the military of seeking to dominate the National Transition Council, which is meant to serve as the country’s interim parliament. According to a government decree, the military was allocated 22 out of 121 seats, which civil society groups argue are a part of a larger plan to “bury Malian democracy”.
  • A Zimbabwean judge ordered the release of an investigative journalist charged for tweeting about alleged corruption within Zimbabwe’s National Prosecuting Authority and was previously detained for six weeks before being granted bail on a separate charge of inciting violence in September. Hopewell Chin’ono is one of Zimbabwe’s most prominent critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, accusing it of corruption and human rights abuses. The government denies the charges. Western embassies, journalist associations and other sympathizers say Chin’ono is being targeted for using Twitter to expose government graft.
  • The International Criminal Court has acknowledged the receipt of a petition to indict General Museveni, the current President of Uganda.
  • South African police have fired tear gas at opposition activists protesting against alleged racism at a school in Cape Town. Activists were protesting against a “whites-only” year-end dance party supposedly organised by parents and accused the police of being heavy-handed.
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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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