- United States (US) President Donald Trump will re-enter private life next year on Jan 20 with an array of opportunities such as another White House run in 2024 or new pursuits in media. However, these are clouded by potential legal jeopardy and business challenges. This is due to the failure of legal efforts to overturn Trump’s Nov 3 election loss to Democratic Joe Biden, who won the state-by-state Electoral College vote which determined the US presidency last Monday (Dec 14).
- President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Pete Buttigieg to lead the US Transportation Department, making him the first of Biden’s Democratic rivals to land a role in his Cabinet. If confirmed, Buttigieg would be the first LGBTQ person nominated to Biden’s administration and Cabinet secretary to be approved by the Senate. Despite being viewed as a rising star, Buttigieg’s potential nomination to a Cabinet post has been opposed by black leaders and progressive groups regarding civil rights.
- The US energy department was hacked and found to have malicious software in its systems last Thursday (Dec 17). Many suspected the Russian government was responsible for the hack, but it denied. Apart from the energy department, the US treasury and commerce departments have also been among other targets of the sophisticated, months-long breach since March 2020.
- A panel of health experts endorsed a second coronavirus vaccine to be approved in the US. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn said the agency had informed Moderna it would work “rapidly” towards issuing emergency use authorisation. The US has agreed to purchase 200 million doses, and six million could be ready to ship as soon as the vaccine gets FDA approval.
- First Lady Melania Trump broke mask policy at Children’s National Hospital on Tuesday (Dec 15) when she removed her mask to read a holiday book to children. Despite the pandemic, she continues the tradition of visiting children at the hospital. Although Trump practised social distancing, the hospital policy required all visitors to wear a mask.
- America’s top military officer General Mark Milley met with representatives of the Taliban in Qatar during an unannounced trip through the Middle East. Joint Staff spokesman Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty said in a written readout of the meeting that “discussed the need for an immediate reduction of violence and accelerate progress which contributes to regional stability and safeguards US national interests.” Despite peace talks with the Afghan government in Qatar, the insurgent group’s attacks continue, and they have not broken ties with al Qaeda as well, the main condition of the February agreement with the Trump Administration.
- International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva announced that 62 per cent of the fund’s lending to the coronavirus pandemic has gone to Latin America. The IMF’s forecast for the region’s growth rate is also significantly lower than for other regions, and Georgieva has warned that a K-shaped recovery could lead to greater inequality in the region.
- Mexico’s congress has approved a new national security law restricting the activities of foreign law enforcement officers. The law strips foreign agents of diplomatic immunity and requires foreign officials in the country to share any intelligence they have obtained to Mexican officials. The law supposedly targets US agents working in Mexico.
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have congratulated US President-elect Joe Biden six weeks after the election, and are the last few heads of state to do so.
- Fitch Ratings has revised the Rating Outlook on Peru’s Long-Term Foreign- and Local-Currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) to Negative from Stable. In addition, Fitch has affirmed the Long-Term Foreign and Local-Currency IDRs at “BBB+”.
- Peru has suspended trials for China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine due to a ‘serious adverse event’ that occurred with one of the volunteers for the study. A volunteer supposedly experienced decreased strength in his legs, and the health ministry said the event is under investigation to determine if the symptoms are a result of the vaccine.
- Singapore and Vietnam have agreed to “expeditiously conclude ongoing discussions” on a “green lane” agreement for essential business and official travel said Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) last Tuesday (Dec 15). Permanent secretary Chee Wee Kiong and Vietnam’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Quoc Dung have “tasked officials to finalise the green lane agreement by early next year” and “Singapore will be among the first few countries with which Vietnam will resume regularised essential business and official travel.”
- Tokyo’s governor Yuriko Koike said last Tuesday (Dec 15) that she saw “no circumstances” where the virus-postponed 2020 Olympics will be cancelled, even though there had been public scepticism and a rise of Covid-19 infections in the country. She warned that the fate of the Tokyo Games would impact future Olympics such as the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. Koike also acknowledged that a majority of the Japanese public opposed hosting the Games but was convinced those concerns could be handled.
- South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kyun pleaded with residents last Tuesday (Dec 15) to adhere to social distancing rules to avoid even greater restrictions regarding Covid-19 infections. He said in televised remarks at a government meeting that “while most citizens bear the inconvenience to comply with the rules, some are adding fuel to the ferocious spread of the virus with their carelessness and irresponsibility.” The government moves closer to impose Level 3 restrictions that would mean a lockdown of Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
- Biotechnology company Moderna said it concluded an agreement with Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to supply mRNA-1273, its Covid-19 vaccine, last Tuesday (Dec 15) where the agreement will “support ongoing efforts to secure access to a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine for the people of Singapore”. Additionally, Moderna said there were no serious safety concerns with mRNA-1273. Common side effects include fatigue, injection site redness, headache and body aches that increased after the second dose and were short-lived.
- Veteran Philippine journalist Maria Ressa refused to enter a plea in a second cyber libel case regarding businessman Wilfredo Keng who had filed a new cyber libel suit. He accused Ressa of sharing screenshots of a 2002 article that linked him to a criminal report last Tuesday (Dec 15). She said the charges against her were ludicrous. Ressa also faces other cases such as tax offences and violation of media foreign-ownership rules.
- Bangkok introduced measures to tackle rising pollution, as concentrations of microparticles hit unhealthy levels in several parts of the Thai capital on Tuesday (Dec 15). While the pollution has eased slightly, the city’s Air and Noise Pollution Management office said that concentrations of PM 2.5 – tiny particles found in dust, soot and smoke that can lodge deep in the lungs and enter the bloodstream – remained at unhealthy levels in 13 districts of Bangkok.
- Singapore Airlines (SIA) said on Friday (Dec 18) that they will resume flights to Dubai, Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, Moscow and Munich from January next year. It will also increase the frequency of existing flights to destinations in the US and Europe. Due to border restrictions and lockdowns, SIA group implemented across-the-board pay cuts and retrenched thousands of employees, reporting a first-half net loss of S$3.5 billion.
- China pledged financial support for recovery efforts during a key annual policy meeting last Friday (Dec 18). Its economy has improved after authorities managed to contain the infection, suggesting that China is likely to be the only major global player to record positive growth. However, officials at the Central Economic Work Conference presided over by President Xi Jinping, said the recovery would be “unstable and uneven”, and signalled a fiscal policy focused on maintaining economic stability.
- Russia tested the first samples of its Sputnik V vaccine that were produced in India, its embassy in New Delhi said on Twitter last Friday (Dec 18). Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) commented that “India will produce about 300 million doses or more of the vaccine for us next year.” India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, is freeing up capacity and accelerating investments ahead of the global rush for Covid-19 shots.
- The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors rejected calls by exiled Uyghurs last Monday (Dec 14) in investigating China for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity. The office of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that the alleged acts happened in the territory of China, which is not a signatory to The Hague-based ICC, thus it was unable to act. The Uyghurs handed evidence to the court in July that accused China of locking up more than one million Uyghurs and Muslim minorities in re-education camps, and of forcibly sterilising women. China called the accusations baseless, saying the facilities in the northwestern Xinjiang region are job training centres to steer people away from terrorism.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) in Europe warned of a “further resurgence” of Covid-19 in early 2021, as it urged families to wear face masks during this year’s Christmas gatherings last Wednesday (Dec 16). WHO said in a statement that while some “fragile progress” has been made, Covid-19 transmission across the European region remains “widespread and intense.”
- Swiss health authorities showed that Covid-19 infections rose by 5,625 in a day last Wednesday (Dec 16), alongside calls from a senior government adviser to impose an immediate lockdown. The total number of confirmed cases in Switzerland and neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 394,453, while the death toll rose by 89 to 5,781.
- More than 370 religious leaders in the globe are calling for a ban on conversion therapy, the attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Signatories to the representation of major faiths include South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Chief Rabbi of Ireland David Rosen. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeated his promise to ban conversion therapy, saying that the practice was “absolutely abhorrent” and “has no place in this country”. However, many conservative religious groups say that a ban could infringe on religious freedom and criminalise pastors.
- French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for Covid-19 last Thursday (Dec 18). Macron attended a number of high-profile events including a European Union (EU) Summit. His wife, Brigitte Macron, aged 67, is self-isolating but has no symptoms.
- The issue of animal rights regarding a Belgian ban on kosher and halal slaughter of animals without being stunned was rejected by religious groups and backed by the European Court of Justice. The EU’s highest court backed a Flemish decision to require the use of stunning for livestock on animal rights grounds. The head of the conference of European rabbis, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said that “this decision goes even further than expected and flies in the face of recent statements from the European institutions that Jewish life is to be treasured and respected”. However, nationalist animal welfare minister Ben Weyts said that “we’re today writing history”.
- The bill to legalise euthanasia in Spain was approved by 198-138 votes in the lower house last Thursday (Dec 17). Health Minister Salvador Illa told lawmakers it was a significant ruling as “we are moving towards a more humane and just society and for those people who are in a situation of serious suffering”. However, there was strong opposition from religious groups and right-wing parties like Popular Party and Vox. Vox leader Santiago Abascal commented that “the euthanasia law is a defeat for civilisation and a victory for the culture of death, for those who believe that some lives are more worthy than others.”
- A French court sentenced Islamist militant, Ayoub El-Khazzani, to life in jail over an August 2015 plot to attack Americans on a high-speed train that travelled from Amsterdam to Paris. Three other men were found guilty of helping El-Khazzani to plan the attack.
- Documents from the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) indicate that a tanker chartered by the National Iranian Oil Company is loading Venezuelan crude for export. Venezuela is under sanctions by the US, and the US State Department has said that such deliveries illustrate that Venezuela has turned to international pariahs for exports.
- Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi asserted that Indonesia has no intention to open diplomatic ties with Israel.
- Israel’s supreme court has rejected an appeal by alleged child sex abuser Malka Leifer to block her extradition to Australia.
- Israel has carried out a test of its air defenses, which for the first time reveals a highly integrated system that can knock out a broad spectrum of targets, from manoeuvring ballistic missiles to simple drones. This accomplishment has far-reaching implications, not only for Israel’s defense capabilities but for the United States. The US Army is in the process of developing an integrated tactical defense system called the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System.
- Egypt’s Mostaqbal Watan Party, which strongly backs President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi secured nearly 55 per cent of the contested seats in a parliamentary election. The results confirm the party’s position as a dominant force after it won nearly 75 per cent of contested seats for Egypt’s newly-created Senate in August.
- Italian recipients of France’s Legion d’honneur are returning their awards in protest at Paris’ close relations with Egypt. Egyptian President Sisi was also a recipient of the award.
- Saudi Arabia expects to receive up to 25 billion riyals (S$8.93 billion) in dividends this year from its sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), in a one-off measure aimed at boosting coffers battered by low oil prices.
- MPs in France have voted to return prized artefacts to Senegal and Benin. Benin is to receive 26 pieces of the Treasure of Behanzin, which was looted by French forces during colonial times.
- The UN has released emergency funding for civilians in the Tigray region. US$36.6 million (S$48.6 million) has been released so far, for civilians caught up in the conflict since early last month.
- A South African court dismissed insurer Guardrisk’s appeal last Thursday (Dec 17), against a previous ruling that found it was liable to pay a Cape Town cafe’s rejected coronavirus claim.
- Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi announced last Monday (Dec 14) that Belgium will return a tooth taken from the remains of assassinated Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba to his family by the end of June.
- Rights campaigners in Zimbabwe have decried a police statement warning social media users against engaging in what it described as “cyberbullying” of government officials, calling it an attempt to muzzle freedom of expression in the country. In its statement last Monday (Dec 14), the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) said arrests were “imminent” for unnamed “suspects” who have been “issuing threats and harassing government officials” on social media.
- Angèle Dikongué-Atangana, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) deputy director of Southern Africa, visited Cabo Delgado in Mozambique last week. Dikongué-Atangana described the situation there as “really dire” and urged Mozambique’s neighbours and the wider international community to intervene in what she said had been, for too long, an “invisible” crisis. Mozambique has been suffering from a rebellion, which the government blames on foreign Jihadist insurgents.