US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi prepare to pose before to their meeting in Rome on Sunday. | Photo Credit: AFP

Weekly Recap: Oct 25 to Oct 31

Nov 1: General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan ousts Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in a military coup in Sudan, Iran’s nuclear negotiations to resume by the end of November, China’s Foreign Minister warns that countries, including the US would pay the price if they continue to “wilfully” push their overtures on Taiwan.

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North America:

  • United States (US) Navy Secretary Del Toro has warned that it is necessary to deter China and Russia from aggression after they sent a group of 10 warships through the Tsugaru Strait and the island of Hokkaido last Monday (Oct 25). Contravening the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea where territorial sea claim extends up to 12 nautical miles, Chinese and Russian warships only counted three nautical miles from the Japanese shores. Del Toro stressed the importance of maintaining a rules-based international order, and that the US is “going to do everything as a navy to be as forward-leaning as possible to ensure that we can protect our country’s national security and economic interests, and those of our allies and partners”.
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on all United Nations (UN) member states last Tuesday (Oct 26) to support Taiwan’s “robust, meaningful participation throughout the UN system”, only a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping criticised US’s attempts at involving Taiwan’s participation in the UN. While the US has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the Biden administration has accelerated its commitment to the defence of Taiwan if China were to attack, departing from a long-held “strategic ambiguity” policy.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau overhauled the Canadian Cabinet last Tuesday (Oct 26) and added new faces with the intention of another gender-neutral cabinet. Prime Minister Trudeau named Mélanie Joly as foreign minister and Anita Anand as defence minister, while Chrystia Freeland retained her positions as deputy Prime Minister and finance minister. Since his election in 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government has emphasised a gender-balanced group of government’s top officials. 
  • US authorities have appealed to Britain’s High Court to overturn a ruling to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last Wednesday (Oct 27). US prosecutors previously indicated that Assange would be charged on 17 counts of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over publications of thousands of leaked confidential military records and diplomatic cables, but an extradition request was ruled over, citing enduring mental illness and potential suicide. The US has included in its appeal report a guarantee towards British judges that Assange will be transferred to Australia to serve the US judiciary sentence.
  • Following pressures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, Mexico has received nearly 6 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses just after receiving almost 6.5 million Sputnik V vaccine doses last Tuesday (Oct 26). While Mexico has fully vaccinated over 43 per cent of its population, the Mexican government has yet to introduce an immunisation programme for children. Hundreds of parents have disputed the government’s decision against vaccinating children in court, and have succeeded.
  • The US has been actively engaged in tracing the origins of COVID-19 since US President Biden ordered it in May 2021. In an updated assessment released last Saturday (Oct 30) of the origins of COVID-19, the Office of the US Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) concluded that while there was not enough information, animal-to-human transmission and a lab leak were plausible hypotheses for how it spread. China has opposed and condemned the US for politicising the issue by relying on its intelligence apparatus instead of supporting science-based efforts.
  • Following a diplomatic row over the US, United Kingdom (UK), and Australia security pact, referred to as AUKUS, US President Biden admitted that the US had been “clumsy” last Saturday (Oct 30). France had previously protested by recalling the France ambassador to the US after accusing that the US and Australia had “lied” about the submarine deal, which cost a US$60 billion (S$80.9 billion) loss in French revenue. French President Macron has clarified that it was key for the two allies to develop “stronger cooperation” and “look to the future”.

South America: 

  • In a political rally on Monday (Oct 25), Peru President Pedro Castillo urged Congress to nationalise the country’s Camisea gas field from which multiple international corporations are drilling for gas. The Sociedad Nacional de Minería, Petróleo y Energía (SNMPE), a lobby for extraction in Peru objected to it, saying that it “shatters the ongoing economic recovery. Castillo later tweeted that his administration respects “business freedom”.
  • The Central Bank of Brazil (BCB) reported on Monday (Oct 25) that they have a current account deficit of 1.3 per cent (of GDP) in September. Fernando Rocha, the BCB’s head of statistics, explained that the deficit-to-GDP ratio had fallen over the past 12-months because of COVID-19’s impact on the economy.
  • 1,500 indigenous people marched in protest of price increases on Tuesday (Oct 26) after Ecuador President Guillermo Lasso vowed last week (Oct 22) to freeze fuel price hikes. Fuel prices have been reported to be twice as expensive as they were last year — now US$1.90 (S$2.56) per gallon (3.8 litres) for diesel, and US$2.55 (S$3.44)
  • Coca farmers released 180 soldiers they had held hostage after witnessing them destroying their plants in Colombia on Friday (Oct 29). The farmers felt that the government was not properly aiding them in transitioning to growing legal crops. The military’s operations in destroying crops come under President Duque’s campaign to eradicate the illegal drug trade. Colombia is the world’s largest cocaine exporter, with the US being its largest importer.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro commented on Monday (Oct 25) that he is considering privatising the state-run oil company Petrobras. He had first mentioned such a move earlier in October. Brazil’s double-digit inflation is seen to be driven by higher costs for energy.
  • Vowing not to “go down on its knees” before the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Argentina President Alberto Fernández criticised the IMF’s “neo-liberal policies”. This refers to the loan made under his predecessor’s term. They have received US$44 billion (S$59.5 billion) of the initial agreement of US$57 billion (S$77 billion). A former IMF official predicted that Argentina will not pay the loan and that they are “not going to do good macro-micro institutional policies”.

Asia Pacific:

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping has criticised the US attempts at involving Taiwan’s participation in the UN during the 50th anniversary of Resolution 2758 last Monday (Oct 25). According to the resolution, “the Government of the People’s Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the UN”. President Xi stressed global respect towards the adopted resolution, and that “[e]very country in the world should uphold the international system with the UN at its core”, and discriminated against “any kind of hegemonism, power politics, unilateralism and protectionism”.
  • According to a report by the Japan Center for Economic Research (JCER) released last Monday (Oct 25), COVID-19 has resulted in the loss of Asia’s combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$1.7 trillion (S$2.29 trillion). While Asia’s combined GDP has recovered to levels nearing pre-coronavirus forecasts, the situation remains challenging except for Taiwan, whose GDP expanded amidst COVID-19 due to high demands for information technology products attributed to remote work.
  • ASEAN countries, most notably Malaysia and Indonesia, have expressed wariness of a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK, and the US. Styled as the AUKUS alliance, it equips Australian forces with the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines in a bid to counter Chinese presence in the South China Sea. Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri has commented during the ASEAN summit last Tuesday (Oct 26) that “Malaysia finds it regrettable that there was a lack of unity on issues that could impact regional peace, stability and security”, whereas Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed concerns to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that Indonesia is worried about an arms race within the region.
  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has announced an upgrade in its relationship with China to a comprehensive strategic partnership last Friday (Oct 29), which came a day after elevating strategic ties with Australia. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of China, China will deepen friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation with ASEAN countries through a six-point proposal which includes health, economic integration, inclusive development, innovation-driven approach, green cooperation, and education.
  • Under the Chinese national policy of zero-tolerance of domestic coronavirus clusters, fresh lockdowns in China are expected to increase. The Beijing marathon, one of the biggest Chinese sporting events, was cancelled. China also placed Lanzhou city, a population of 4 million, under COVID-19 lockdown after recording one new case of infection to subdue a potential outbreak last Friday (Oct 29). Analysts have lowered the forecast for China’s growth due to sudden outbreaks and supply chain bottlenecks.
  • In a phone conversation last Friday (Oct 29) congratulating British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for hosting COP26, President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s commitment to accelerate green and low-carbon development. On the eve of the UN COP26, China has pledged to achieve peak emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. However, these pledges were announced by President Xi in 2020. The updated Chinese nationally determined contribution (NDC) only includes China’s commitment to “strictly limit” the increase in coal demand by 2025 before “phasing it down” by 2030.
  • Speaking at the G-20 meeting in Rome last Saturday (Oct 30), China’s Foreign Minister (FM) Wang Yi remarked that there is no prospect for Taiwan other than its reunification with the Chinese mainland. Chinese officials had previously criticised the US for attempting to increase Taiwan’s presence in the United Nations. Under international law, the 1934 Cairo Declaration, and the 1945 Potsdam Declaration, China has unequivocal sovereignty over Taiwan. Replying to a media question, FM Wang Yi warned that countries, including the US, would pay the price if they continue to “wilfully” push their overtures on the Taiwan issue.

Europe:

  • Despite much pressure to make headway in tackling climate change before the COP26 summit in Glasgow, no consensus on a collective commitment has been developed. Last weekend, G20 leaders convened in Rome for a two-day conference (Oct 30 – 31), focusing on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations, global economic recovery following the epidemic, and addressing climate change. However, progress was achieved on other fronts, with the formal approval of the worldwide corporate minimum tax previously agreed upon in July.
  • Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Rome with demands for immediate action against climate change; meanwhile, others were marching in protest against the administration of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, as the G20 Summit commenced on Saturday (Oct 30). Following recent violent rallies against Italy’s new vaccine mandates, the Italian authorities have increased security by deploying an additional 6,000 police and law enforcement officers for the summit weekend out of fear that the protest would descend into violence.
  • A British trawler was detained by French authorities last Thursday (Oct 28) and another fined for allegedly operating in its territorial seas without a license. In the latest spat over post-Brexit fishing rights, France accused the UK of failing to issue half of the licenses promised to its fishermen and claimed UK’s activities violate the deal struck last December. Unless a satisfactory agreement is achieved by Tuesday (Nov 2), Paris will prohibit UK fishing vessels from specified ports and intensify customs inspections on British products entering France.
  • In yet another escalation of the conflict over the rule of law between Warsaw and Brussels, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ordered Poland to pay a daily fine of €1 million (S$1.56 million), till it complies with an interim ruling issued in July to abolish a disciplinary tribunal with the authority to penalize or demote judges, which is deemed incompatible with European Union (EU) legislation. The ECJ’s ruling last Wednesday (Oct 27) adds to Poland’s financial woes; an addition to the €500,000-per-day (S$779,000) fee levied in September after Poland refused to close the Turow coal mine near the Czech border.
  • According to the most recent Eurostat figures, inflation in the eurozone has reached 4.1 per cent, the highest level since the Great Recession in July 2008 and nearly doubled the European Central Bank’s annual forecast of 2.2 per cent. Rising energy prices have fueled this surge in prices in October across Europe; its inflation rate hit an all-time high of 23.5 per cent (up from 17.6 per cent in September), driving up costs for all types of goods and services along the way.

Middle East:

  • Turkish President Erdogan reversed his decision last Monday (Oct 25) with regards to the expulsion of 10 Western envoys and adopted a more conciliatory stance after foreign embassies issued statements promising to adhere to diplomatic conventions of non-interference. The diplomatic row erupted as a result of the joint appeal for the release of Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned for over four years without a conviction.
  • Following the discussions in Brussels, Iran’s chief negotiator announced last Wednesday (Oct 27) that nuclear negotiations with JCPOA signatories would resume by the end of November. Tehran’s return to the negotiation table would bring an end to a five-month stalemate and spark hope for change amid escalating tensions given the recent signs of stepped-up nuclear activities in Iran.
  • Israel government’s approval of plans to construct more than three thousand new settlement homes for Jewish settlers last Wednesday (Oct 27), in addition to the 25 existing settlements in the occupied West Bank, raises concerns about ongoing attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Germany and 11 other European nations have urged Israel to reconsider its decision, and America, Israel’s closest ally, has also expressed strong opposition to the expansion of settlements, as such a move would only further jeopardise the prospects of an already elusive peace process.
  • Afghanistan’s neighbouring states convened in Tehran for a second meeting to call for the establishment of an inclusive government. Along with a need for greater cooperation and commitment of the international community to aid in the realisation of a steady transition of the situation in Afghanistan. The conference, coordinated by Iran last Wednesday (Oct 27), brought together foreign ministers of Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, China and Russia. Nonetheless, the struggle over how to deal with the present situation has only continued to demonstrate the reluctance of the international community to formally recognise the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan.
  • President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi declared the end of Egypt’s countrywide state of emergency last Monday (Oct 25), which gave the government broad, unregulated powers, including the ability to jail suspects and dissidents, monitor private communications, confiscate property, among other things, with little or no judicial oversight. Egypt’s emergency statute 167 was invoked in April 2017 in response to the bombings of two Coptic churches in Tanta and Alexandria and has been renewed every three months for four years, even though Article 154 of the constitution restricts a state of emergency to three months, renewable once.

Africa:

  • General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan overthrows Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in a military coup in Sudan on Monday (Oct 25). Hamdok, many of his ministers, and pro-government supporters have all been arrested. In mass protests since the coup, at least 14 civilians have been killed, and over 140 are reported to be injured. General Burhan declared a willingness to bring Prime Minister Hamdok into his new cabinet in reaction to internal and international condemnation. Hamdok has since rejected the offer, stating that he wants reinstatement of the original system.
  • Suicide bombings in Uganda on Monday (Oct 25) and Friday (Oct 29) injured three and killed two children respectively. On Monday, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus that carried 52 people and only killed himself. On Friday, children were given an explosive device while they were playing that was disguised like a “jackfruit”. The Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamic terrorist group, have been identified as responsible for the first bombing.
  • The Nigerian Army, on Thursday, claimed that they had killed the new leader of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Malam Bako, two weeks after they had announced the killing of their former head, Abu Musab al-Barnawi.
  • Ahead of polls next week, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Wednesday (Oct 27) that he will be deploying 10,000 soldiers to ensure security during municipal elections. 95,000 candidates are contesting the seats, where 26 million people are allowed to vote.
  • The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), in an effort to stop exchange rate volatility, approved the blockage of money supply through various policies on Friday (Oct 29). This measure would stop speculative borrowing and will increase national savings.
  • Nigeria becomes the first African nation to launch a digital currency, the eNaira. The government hopes that this will increase access to banking and remittances. Its central bank announced on Monday (Oct 25) that the platform has “2.5 million visits per day, 33 banks integrated, US$1.2 million (S$1.6 million) minted and 2,000 new customers”. They are the world’s 7th country to do so.
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