Iran's Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi, a candidate for upcoming vote on the Assembly of Experts, speaks during a campaign gathering of candidates mainly close to the reformist camp, in Tehran February 23, 2016. | Photo Credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA /File Photo

Feb 15: US Senate revives Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, Italy swears in a new Prime Minister, Iran threatens to pursue nuclear weapons

North America

  • Canadian Security Intelligence service director David Vigneault has stated that China poses a serious strategic threat to Canada, both through attempts to steal secrets and a campaign to intimidate the Chinese community.
  • Air Canada announced last Tuesday (Feb 9) the suspension of 17 United States (US) and international routes until the end of April, as well as layoffs of 1,500 workers. London, Hong Kong, and Tel Aviv are among the suspended routes, alongside several more in the US and South America.
  • Six Republican senators joined 50 Democrats last Tuesday (Feb 9) in voting to proceed with Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. The vote addressed the constitutional question of whether the Senate has the power to try former presidents that have since left office. All 50 democrats and seven Republicans voted ‘guilty’ on Trump’s impeachment trial last Sunday (Feb 14), the highest bipartisan margin in favour of conviction in history.
  • A US official told a World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting last Tuesday (Feb 9) that Washington will join a programme to boost Covid-19 testing, diagnostics and vaccines as officials urged it to increase financing for a global response to the pandemic. This comes after former president Donald Trump had criticised the agency and halted funding.
  • A bipartisan group of senior US senators reintroduced a bill on Tuesday (Feb 9) to make it easier for people from Hong Kong fearing persecution after joining protests against China to obtain US refugee status. The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would make “Hong Kongers who participated peacefully in the protest movement and have a well-founded fear of persecution” eligible for processing as refugees in Hong Kong or a third country.

South America

  • Bolivia healthcare workers launched a 48-hour strike in the Covid-hit region to demand stricter lockdown measures to combat rising infections in the country. The Bolivian government has been reluctant to put more measures in place because of an economic downturn caused by the pandemic. 
  • Peru started its coronavirus vaccination campaign after the first consignment of 300,000 Sinopharm vaccines arrived on Sunday (Feb 14) amid a second wave of the pandemic that hit the country. 
  • In response, the United Nations Special Committee for Decolonisation (UNSCD) board unanimously ratified a resolution calling for “the resumption of negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom (UK) to find a peaceful solution to the sovereignty controversy over the Malvinas Islands.”
  • The changes indicate that the migrants will now be able to apply for temporary protected status, making it easier for them to work, seek permanent residency and get access to health services. 

Asia Pacific

  • New Zealand is suspending all ties with Myanmar and imposing a travel ban on its military leaders following last week’s coup. The suspension is to ensure that any funding New Zealand put into Myanmar does not support the military regime in any way. The travel ban on Myanmar’s military leaders is said to be formalised in the coming week. 
  • As the WHO team in Wuhan are currently at the end of their investigation mission, they dismissed the theory that the coronavirus was leaked from a lab in China after visiting the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
  • India and China held bilateral talks on the issues of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) agenda amid border disputes on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) last Tuesday (Feb 9).
  • India and China pulled back troops from part of their disputed Himalayan border on Thursday (Feb 11). The move is seen as a breakthrough after the deadly clash along the LAC between the two in June. 
  • Thai protesters returned to the streets, calling for reforms of the monarch and the abolition of the royal defamation law is one of its key demands. The pro-democracy movement was kicked off last July and slowed in recent months due to a fresh wave of coronavirus infections in Thailand. However, the recent detention of the leaders of this youth-led movement spurred protesters back into action. 
  • China’s decision did little to improve the already strained relations between the two countries since the introduction of new security law in Hong Kong, Britain’s former colony. 
  • The generals remain undeterred by the widespread condemnation on the streets and overseas as they justified seizing power with claims of widespread voter fraud in November’s election, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in a landslide. 

Europe

  • European Union (EU) foreign policy chief has proposed further sanctions against Russia amid a row over the treatment of the jailed Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny. In response, Russia warned the EU that a break in ties could be triggered by EU sanctions.
  • Italy’s new prime minister now faces the challenge to lead a unity government that has to steer Italy out of the Covid-19 crisis and an economic slump. Draghi will unveil his programme in the upper house of parliament on Wednesday and the lower house on Thursday. 
  • Germany is imposing border restrictions and travel bans with Tyrol and the Czech Republic, which will come into force on Sunday (Feb 14). The restriction is deemed as unavoidable to prevent the spread of dangerous virus variants, even though it affected cross-border workers, families and trade. 
  • Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to appeal to leaders of the world’s richest nations to unite in a “colossal mission” to get Covid-19 vaccines to every country and to lead a sustainable recovery from the pandemic. A virtual meeting of the world leaders chaired by Johnson for the discussion of this mission is said to be held on Friday (Feb 19). 
  • Welsh ministers expressed concerns on how new barriers and increased friction in trading between the EU and the UK impacted people in Wales after Brexit, which cannot be dismissed as merely “teething problems”. These complexities included additional bureaucracy and non-tariff barriers for businesses, ports concerned about reduced freight volumes due to hauliers choosing more direct routes to Europe or businesses stopping selling to Europe. 
  • The UK and the EU have had a “frank but constructive discussion” on problems implementing post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland. Both sides reiterated their “full-commitment” to the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, which was designed to ensure an open border remained on the island of Ireland after Brexit. However, there have been tensions at ports in Northern Ireland since the new rules came into force. 

Middle East

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to court last Monday (Feb 8) to formally respond to corruption charges against him. Netanyahu is the first Israeli premier to be indicted in office and is facing re-election in six weeks.
  • Saudi Arabia has announced new judicial reforms, putting the kingdom on a path to codified law. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was quoted as saying that the new laws represent a new wave of judicial reforms in the Kingdom. The reforms are designed to meet the needs of the modern world while adhering to Sharia law.
  • Saudi Arabia’s central bank is set for its most significant changes in decades as a new law comes into force. The reforms will make supporting economic growth a part of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority’s mandate and could diminish the role of investing the nation’s hard currency surpluses in favour of the sovereign wealth fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
  • Iran’s intelligence minister raised the possibility that his country would be forced to seek nuclear arms if American sanctions are not lifted, an attention-grabbing break from the country’s pledge that its atomic energy program would always be peaceful. US President Joe Biden has responded that he will not lift sanctions against Iran as long as Iran is not adhering to its nuclear deal commitments and declared that Iran would first have to stop enriching uranium.

Africa

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on the world community to make sure Africa gets its fair share of Coronavirus vaccines. The ICRC also stated that it, in close cooperation with Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies and other partners, is ready to help with global vaccine rollouts.
  • The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) stated it was “concerned” by a new Human Rights Watch report that says Zimbabwe’s government is using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  • Hopewell Chin’ono, a top Zimbabwean journalist, has been honoured with a media award following his reporting last year which unearthed a corruption scandal concerning the government’s procurement of Covid-19 material.
  • Rwanda recorded a decline of 47.1 per cent of investments in 2020, from US$2.46 billion (S$3.26 billion) in 2019 to US$1.3 billion (S$1.72 billion), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) said in a statement last Thursday (Feb 11).
  • Gibril Ibrahim, a former leader of a rebel group with Islamist origins, was named Sudan’s new finance minister by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok last Monday (Feb 8). Ibrahim said he was committed to working with all of Sudan’s people and international partners to rejuvenate the economy. New ministers were also announced for the foreign, interior, industry, and information ministries, while the defence, justice, and irrigation ministers were among a small number to retain their positions.
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