Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and other leaders addressed the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly in a video in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. | Photo Credit: United Nations/via Reuters

Weekly Recap: Sep 20 to Sep 26

Sep 27: World leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to enforce pledges to end energy poverty, Kim Jo-Yong negotiated that talks to discuss an end to the Korean war will only be done if “hostile policies” cease, new tally by the United Nations (UN) puts the death toll of the Syrian war at 350,000.

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North America:

  • United States (US) President Joe Biden held the first in-person meeting of the Quadrilateral security dialogue, an informal strategic forum of the US, Australia, Japan and India last Friday (Sept 24). Biden and the prime ministers of these countries discussed efforts in “promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific”. According to Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Malcolm Davis, the Quad can now be considered a very significant player in the Asia Pacific region in terms of cooperative security.
  • World leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last Friday (Sept 24) to enforce pledges to end energy poverty. Nations also discussed accelerating pledges to advance clean energy for all by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 in efforts to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Before the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy (HLDE) that day, about 138 energy compacts had already been signed by various UN member states. However, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 760 million still have no access to electricity even with a growth in energy access in recent years, and clean, affordable energy remains a challenge.
  • US border agents pushed Haitian migrants back across the Rio Grande River into Mexico under President Biden administration’s plan to expel and deport Haitians. The majority of the approximately 14,000 Haitians who had camped in Southern Texas in hope of seeking asylum in the US were deported. The plan had been condemned and criticised by immigration advocates and international experts as “obscene” and “inhumane”. According to Oscar Chacon, executive director at Alianza Americas, the anti-immigrant sentiment still dominates political discourse, and the Biden administration has not done enough to change that narrative.
  • ​​According to the European Union’s (EU) Earth monitoring service, wildfires in North America and the Mediterranean had caused record levels of carbon dioxide emissions this summer. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported last Tuesday (Sept 21) that more than 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted in July and August alone. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate science advisory panel concluded that “globally, increases in temperature and aridity have increased the length of fire seasons and doubled potential burnable area”.
  • In a joint statement made last Wednesday (Sept 22), French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Biden agreed to meet in Europe at the end of October to repair relations. This came after relations with France were affected by the announcement of AUKUS, a security pact formed by the US, the United Kingdom (UK), and Australia. The French ambassador who was recalled due to the surprise partnership will also return to Washington this week. Biden had reassured Macron that the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region remains strong.

South America:

  • Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Quiroga tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday (Sept 21) after being present at the UNGA. The minister had met with several high profile leaders before testing positive, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Other members of the Brazilian delegation had since tested negative, including President Jair Bolsonaro, who remains unvaccinated.
  • Rights groups urged Ecuadorian officials to address the root causes behind the surge of migrations from Ecuador into the US this year. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that more than 17,000 migrants entered the country in the past two months, up from 13,000 in June. The Ecuadorian government said they would lay out a four-pronged plan to reduce irregular migration, including bolstering economic development and establishing more pathways for regular migration.
  • According to reports last Wednesday (Sept 22), more than 19,000 migrants were amassed on the north coast of Colombia, where they hoped to cross into Panama and head for the US. Some migrants have reportedly been stranded on the coast for weeks as only 250 boat tickets into Panama are available daily. The migrant crisis had seen more than 50,000 border crossings between Colombia and Panama this year. The migrants, a majority of whom are Haitians, are heading to the US due to high inflation rates, unemployment and political turmoil in the region, as well as the fallout from the recent earthquake in Haiti.
  • Colombian authorities reported last Friday (Sept 24) that they had confiscated an illegal shipment of almost 3,500 shark fins bound for Hong Kong from Bogota. Authorities were informed when a shipping company alerted them of it, launching an investigation. Environmental authorities said that judging from the size of the shipment, between 900 and 1,000 sharks were probably killed. 
  • A Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident claimed responsibility last Thursday (Sept 23) for the bomb attack on the military base in Cucuta, Colombia, as well as the attempted takedown of a helicopter carrying President Ivan Duque. The attack in June wounded 44 people, including two US military advisers. According to the group’s militant commander Javier Alonso Velosa, the bombing was targeted at North American advisers and Colombian military commanders. Most FARC militants have laid down their arms under the 2016 Peace Deal, however, as many as 2,500 are still active in anti-government operations. 

Asia Pacific: 

  • The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) responded last Friday (Sept 24) that South Korean President Moon’s proposal for the Koreas and their respective allies (China and the US) to declare an official end to the Korean war was “premature”. Later that day, however, Kim Jo-Yong, influential sister of Kim Jong-un, negotiated that talks to discuss such a proposal can and will only be done if the South stopped imposing “hostile policies” against them, such as crippling economic sanctions.
  • India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar urged the UK last Tuesday (Sept 21) to quickly resolve the quarantine issue in light of the new rule where Indians visiting are to be quarantined even if they had been vaccinated. India’s Covishield vaccine is also unrecognised by the UK even though it is identical to the doses given to Britons. India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla deemed the issue an offensive and discriminatory act, and that it may lead to New Delhi retaliating by taking reciprocal steps towards the UK. In response, the UK government amended its foreign travel guidance last Wednesday (Sept 22) to recognise India’s Covidshield vaccine, but has yet to respond to the quarantine issue.
  • India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron last Tuesday (Sept 21) about cooperating in the Indo-Pacific region amidst the establishment of AUKUS. This came after Australia pulled out of the 2016 multibillion dollar deal with France to build conventional diesel-powered submarines, agreeing to build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines under AUKUS instead. Macron had assured Modi of France’s continued commitment to the strengthening of India’s strategic autonomy. According to a statement from Macron’s office, this cooperation between France and India would be aimed at promoting “regional stability and the rule of law, while ruling out any form of hegemony”.
  • Taiwan’s chief trade negotiator John Deng reported last Thursday (Sept 23) that Taiwan’s application to become a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will be at risk if China joined it first since the two have a complicated relationship. Both Taiwan and China’s applications were submitted after the security deal AUKUS was announced. However, for a country to join the agreement, there must be unanimous approval of all 11 members.
  • The Taliban’s notorious former head of religious police Mullah Nooruddin Turabi highlighted that extreme and harsh punishments under the Sharia law will resume in Afghanistan. Despite promises to have a more merciful rule compared to their previous ruling, violations to human rights had already occurred across the country, including restricting women’s freedom of movement, imposing compulsory dress codes and killing nine members of the Hazara minority. The Taliban had shared that they are in the midst of discussions to determine whether punishments should be held in public and that a “policy” would be developed.  

Europe:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the nation’s parliamentary elections as “free and fair” and held in “strict accordance with the law” on Saturday (Sept 25). President Putin’s United Russia party claimed a majority in the newly-elected State Duma with 324 out of 450 seats. The election results sparked protests in Moscow, with more than 1,000 demonstrators denouncing the election results as fraudulent.
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told France to “get a grip” last Wednesday (Sept 22) after the French government expressed anger over being sidelined by Australia in favour of the AUKUS deal. France reacted by pulling its ambassadors out from Australia and the US, as well as cancelling a meeting between the French and British defence ministers. The three nations have since attempted to ease the French government’s displeasure through assurances that Paris remains an important ally to them.
  • Germany held its parliamentary elections on Sunday (Sept 26) in a close and uncertain race among the country’s major political parties. The election marked the end of outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16 years as the head of government, prompting uncertainty about the future of German politics. The Social Democratic Party (SPD), Chrisitan Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and Greens Party had each led the polls in various points of the campaign. Regardless of the final seat allocation in the Bundestag, ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to remain in office under a caretaker role at present. 
  • Countries across Europe grapple with an unprecedented crisis in the power sector after natural gas prices quadrupled this month as compared to last year. The UK has suffered significantly compared to its neighbours, with major energy suppliers at risk of closure. As of last Wednesday (Sept 22), seven companies have gone bust. Households  shuffled onto new suppliers were grappling with higher costs of gas and electricity. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his administration considered cash bailouts for energy suppliers and that the crisis was part of the “growing pains of the global economy coming back to life”.
  • Intensified volcanic activity has necessitated the evacuation of more than 1,000 residents of the Spanish island of La Palma, and forced the closure of its airport on Friday (Sept 24). The Cumbre Vieja volcano entered a ‘fresh explosive phase’, after its initial eruption last Sunday (Sept 19). No fatalities have been reported.

Middle East:

  • According to a tally reported by the UN on Friday (Sept 24), more than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria since the war began in 2011. The UN human rights chief warned that the newest figure is an “undercount”. It is the first report since the UN stopped tracking the official death toll in 2014, claiming it had become impossible to do. Other groups place the death toll higher; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 500,000 fatalities and a further 200,000 currently under investigation.
  • At least four Palestinians were killed in overnight Israeli raids on Sunday (Sept 26) in the occupied West Bank. They were killed in a confrontation with the Israeli army in their villages in Jenin and Jerusalem. In Gaza, more than 260 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since May and an estimated US$497 million (S$672 million) have been incurred in damages. Gaza is to begin the first phase of its reconstruction plan set by Gaza’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing, the Qatar Committee for Reconstruction of Gaza and other international parties. Both Egypt and Qatar have pledged US$500 million (S$677 million) to rebuild homes and infrastructure.
  • The US approved an additional US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system last Thursday (Sept 23), after days of controversy that ultimately ended in an overwhelming 420 votes in support and only nine against it. The move came just hours after Democrats introduced a bill that would call for the US’ “two-state solution” and “robust oversight” on US aid to Israel to ensure it is not used in violation of human rights.
  • More than 100 prominent members of Tunisia’s Ennahda party have resigned over the party’s failure to oppose President Kais Saeid. In a statement released last Saturday (Sept 25), the members denounced the party’s inability to confront the “imminent tyrannical danger” from what they viewed as the President’s attempt at a coup. President Saied had dismissed ex-Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspended parliament and assumed executive authority in response to anti-government protests, drawing criticism of a “power monopoly” and loss of legitimacy from numerous political parties. 
  • The Turkish student-led protests against high costs of living carried on for a fourth consecutive night last Wednesday (Sept 22). Students camped in poor weather conditions in Istanbul park, demanding government action against exorbitant rent prices in the country. In response to the criticism, President Erdogan said his administration was tackling price gouging and had significantly increased dormitory accommodation and scholarships for students. Turkey has been facing increased inflation, driving up rent and consumer good costs dramatically this year. 

Africa: 

  • South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted last Thursday (Sept 23) at the UNGA that the current inequity of COVID-19 vaccine distribution is worrying. He shares that more than 82 per cent of the world’s vaccine doses have been provided to wealthy countries while less than 1 per cent has been provided to low-income countries. He urged UN member states to agree to the proposal of temporarily waiving certain intellectual property rights established by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) so that such countries can have access to the vaccines.
  • Many witnesses from the town of Kobo have claimed that Tigray forces killed men and teenage boys, with one claiming that 55 corpses were seen when he escaped from his town in northern Ethiopia. Tigrayan forces have been pushing through the Amhara region in an attempt to pressure Ethiopia’s government to end the 10-month long war on their home. Tigray forces have denied allegations of any killings.
  • A suicide car bombing claimed by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group killed at least eight people near the presidential palace in the Somali capital last Saturday (Sept 25). The incident is said to be one of Al-Shabab’s attempts to overthrow the government to impose its interpretation of Islamic law.  Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble condemned the attack and suggested to his people that they must cooperate in the fight against these “ruthless terrorists”.
  • Rwandan President Paul Kagame arrived in Mozambique last Friday (Sept 24) and deployed about 1,000 soldiers to aid local security forces in tackling fighters who are contributing to the chaos in North Africa. Al-Shabab is one such armed group that has raided villages and towns and killed more than 3000 civilians. Kagame shared that the Rwandan troops would help to secure and rebuild the areas that have been affected.
  • South Africa has raised concerns over Britain’s decision to keep the country listed on its coronavirus “red list”. This means that travellers are required to pay more for hotel quarantine for 10 days on their return to the UK. As such, many British tourists have decided that visiting South Africa would not be worthwhile, causing the tourism industry there to be severely affected. In response, South Africa’s leading genomics expert Tulio de Oliveira said that the UK’s decision was a “really unscientific” and discriminatory one, adding that South Africa has a higher vaccination rate than some of the non-red listed countries.
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