An aerial view shows a deforested area of Amazonia rainforest in Labrea, Amazonas state, Brazil, in September. | Photo Credit: Mauro Pimentel AFP via Getty Images

Weekly Recap: Nov 15 to Nov 21

Nov 22: Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon forest soared to the highest level since 2006, US President Biden and Chinese President Xi met to discuss how to improve their ties, COVID-19 protestors in the Netherlands turned violent as they pelted the police with stones and fireworks. 

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North America:

  • United States (US) President Joe Biden announced last Thursday (Nov 18) that the US may be boycotting the upcoming Olympics Games in China. This could potentially hurt the ties between both countries. The boycott aims to punish China for several cases of human rights abuse, such as the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang Province where they are subjected to torture and concentration camps for their ethnicity. The United Nations (UN) believes it could potentially lead to genocide. The Chinese government considers these all to be domestic issues integral to the identity they are responsible for. Many have urged Biden to boycott the Olympic games for months, believing that it was the bare minimum one could do to prevent the genocide.
  • An 18-year-old Asian-American student from Central High School in Philadelphia was assaulted on the subway last Friday (Nov 19). She was beaten after intervening when she saw four girls yelling racial slurs at three Asian boys. The assault left some Asian students and parents worried about their safety. COVID-19 has increased the amount of Asian-American harassment across the US. The Central principal Timothy McKenna wrote to the parents and school community to assure them the school will provide extra counselling and support services to students feeling anxious or concerned for their safety. He met with parents and community advocates to create a plan to ensure that students can safely travel to and from school. Following the incident, some police officers are assigned to monitor train stations near Central on schooling days.
  • US President Joe Biden met with the President of Mexico and Canada to discuss extending visas for temporary workers and deepening regional supply chains last Thursday (Nov 18). All three North American leaders wanted to promote regular migration pathways through labour mobility programmes. The first trilateral meeting between the three leaders happened in 2016 amid tensions due to Biden’s decision to offer tax credits on electric cars made by the US, breaking international trade rules. However, US President Biden has tried to diffuse the tension between the leaders through their diplomatic ties. They are now working closely together to make North America more competitive in international trade, and are coordinating with allies to overcome the global supply chain disruption to compete with China.
  • The US Indo-Pacific Commander, Admiral John Aquilino mentioned last Saturday (Nov 20) that the US and its allies have to operate with a greater sense of urgency due to rising tensions between China with their increasingly assertive military actions. Aquilino reaffirmed the US commitment to the Indo-Pacific region at the Halifax International Security Forum. The Forum is where military and academic experts gather together to discuss security issues. The US has to quickly increase its capabilities due to the rising tensions between China and Taiwan. China has already sent an increasing number of fighter jets near Taiwan and will use brutal force to unite with Taiwan if necessary. With the world’s second-largest military budget after the US, China is currently developing submarines, stealth aircraft and ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned last Saturday (Nov 20) that they will invest in Africa without imposing unsustainable levels of debt. Some contracts signed were worth more than US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) in Senegal’s capital Dakar. The deals between four US companies and Senegal are part of the US’ pitch to help Africa build infrastructure with transparent and sustainable deals. Blinken expressed his deep concern for the stability of neighbouring Mali, which has experienced two coups in the last 18 months and is unable to hold presidential and legislative elections. However, Blinken mentioned the US will continue to assist them after they elect a democratic government in office.

South America:

  • The Chilean Senate voted last Tuesday (Nov 16) against removing President Sebastian Pinera over allegations of corruption in the sale of a mining company. The Senate fell 29 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to impeach President Pinera. The proceedings included a fierce debate and speeches defending and attacking the President. It resulted after the Pandora Papers were exposed, revealing documents about off-short transactions involving prominent political and business figures from around the world. 
  • Chilean citizens headed to the tolls last Sunday (Nov 21) to elect their next president, legislators and regional council members. This comes two years after Chile experienced political flux. The recent polls have indicated two clear frontrunners on the left and far-right. Political scientist, Daniela Campos Letelier explained the election was an important and complex one as it would “define various forces in the political system.” 
  • El Salvador President Nayib Bukele announced last Saturday (Nov 20) that they plan to build the world’s first “Bitcoin City”, which will be funded initially by Bitcoin-backed bonds. The city has been planned to be built in the eastern region of La Union and would get geothermal power from a volcano. Additionally, there will be no taxes except for value-added tax (VAT). President Bukele also explained half of the VAT would be to fund the bonds issued to build the city while the other half would pay for services such as garbage collection. 
  • The Brazil space research agency (INPE) said last Thursday (Nov 18) that deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest soared by 22 per cent in one year to the highest level since 2006. According to the PRODES satellite data, Brazil recorded 13,245sq km of deforestation, undercutting President Jair Bolsonaro’s assurance that the country is curbing illegal logging.
  • With most of Argentina’s national votes tallied last Sunday (Nov 21), the centre-left party of President Albert Fernandez is on track to lose its majority in Congress after almost 40 years. The conservative opposition Juntos held strong leads in key swing Senate races and for lower-house seats. The results are seen as a punishment against President Fernandez’s government amid spiralling inflation and growing poverty. 

Asia Pacific:

  • US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping gathered last Tuesday (Nov 16) for a discussion that emphasises the heavy responsibility of the two world leaders in the global economy. Thickened competition between both countries had led to tension in many areas such as trade, competition rules and expanding nuclear arsenal. However, President Xi mentioned the growing need for communication and cooperation between both countries. He believes that establishing a stable relationship between the US and China will eventually promote progress for both nations and maintain peace in the international system. As long as there is mutual respect and peace, President Xi is confident that the US and China can cooperate. President Biden then promised to address concerns like human rights issues in the Indo-Pacific region. President Xi also expressed the willingness to improve ties with the US and build a stronger relationship with President Biden. 
  • The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, highlighted the many challenges for Singapore’s wealth fund at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) 40th-anniversary dinner last Tuesday (Nov 16). One of the main challenges highlighted was economic uncertainties that included prolonged low tax rates and fiscal deficits. Inflation could also pose a potential problem as it has been stirring again. GIC has invested in a lot of foreign markets, the values of these assets are highly dependent on the global financial market. Additionally, since geopolitics plays a crucial role, tensions between the US and China have affected supply chains. Countries are now heavily emphasising the need for supply chain security and resilience. Climate change also affects GIC’s investment strategy and its use of funds. There is a new shift in focus on green technology to decarbonise and prevent climate-related disasters. 
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the strengthening of risk prevention measures and the greater control over the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) last Friday (Nov 19). The BRI infrastructure has helped to connect China to the rest of the world. Due to the increasingly competitive and complex international environment, there need to be active strategies to adapt to this volatile environment. President Xi launched the BRI in 2013 to harness China’s strengths in financing and infrastructure construction as well as create a community with shared interests. The BRI has proven to have improved infrastructure and increased economic growth. China plans to protect their interests overseas and increase security for Chinese firms.
  • A senior Indonesian government official announced last Friday (Nov 19) that Indonesia is currently planning regulations to finance more mangrove restoration programmes. As part of their carbon-neutrality plan, Indonesia launched a mangrove rehabilitation programme that aims to restore 600,000 ha (1.5 million acres) of degraded mangrove by 2024 to help absorb carbon emissions. The country aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 or sooner. For the government to reach their goal, they would have to invest another US$150 billion (S$204 billion) to US$200 billion (S$272 billion) per year in low carbon programmes. This year, the government has already restored 33,000 ha of mangroves which was less than what they initially aimed to restore. The Peatland and Mangrove Restoration agency estimated that the restoration programme would require 38 trillion rupiahs (S$3.6 billion) by its third year.
  • India decided last Friday (Nov 19) to repeal three agricultural reforms that had sparked almost a year of protests by farmers. Since last November, thousands of farmers have camped out on the borders of New Delhi, blocking roads and major highways. Two-thirds of the 1.3 billion population relies on agriculture for their livelihood. The government believed these reforms would increase the efficiency of this sector and the income of the farmers. However, protesters view the changes as allowing Indian conglomerates to take over the farming industry, long protected by state-run bodies that guarantee minimum prices. 

Europe:

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has urged Russia to be more transparent about its military activities near Ukraine last Monday (Nov 15). NATO will also be closely monitoring the “large and unusual concentrations” of Russian forces close to Ukraine’s borders. This comes after Ukraine accused Russia of keeping tens of thousands of troops and equipment near the common border earlier this year. 
  • The European Union (EU) has agreed to widen sanctions on Belarus last Monday (Nov 15) due to the deepening migration crisis along its border with Poland. The sanctions will prevent the facilitation of illegal border crossings into the EU. Due to the dispute, thousands of people have been stranded in freezing conditions on both sides of the border, barred from entering the EU. 
  • Austria announced last Friday (Nov 19) that it will undergo full COVID-19 lockdown due to a new wave of infections. It is the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a full lockdown due to the country’s infection rate, which is the highest in the continent. Additionally, it will require the entire population to be vaccinated by February. As of last Friday (Nov 19), only two-thirds of Austria’s population has been fully vaccinated, which is one of the lowest rates in Western Europe. 
  • The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addressed the nation last Monday (Nov 15) that it will be imposing more restrictions on unvaccinated individuals. They will be largely barred from indoor spaces, including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms, even if they test negative for COVID-19. Greece is the latest country in the European Union (EU) to impose such restrictions, which comes after the surge in infections. Authorities hope that 70 per cent of its population will be fully vaccinated before the European winter sets in during the year-end. 
  • Over 400 Iraqis stranded in Belarus are being repatriated on a charter flight from Minsk to Baghdad. The first deportation flight last Thursday (Nov 18) aimed to return citizens who travelled to Belarus in hopes of entering Europe. Though 430 Iraqi migrants were documented to board the evacuation flight, it is unsure as to how many passengers boarded the plane. 
  • A total of eight soldiers were killed in the Azerbaijan-Armenia border clashes last Tuesday (Nov 16). The soldiers consisted of seven Azerbaijani service members and one Armenian soldier. The clashes can be considered to be the worst fighting between the two ex-Soviet nations since the six-week war last year over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, killing over 6,500 people. While the Armenian defence ministry said they have reached a ceasefire with Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan government did not immediately confirm it. 
  • COVID-19 protests in the Netherlands turned violent last Saturday (Nov 20) night over the Dutch government’s measures. Protestors pelted police with stones and fireworks in The Hague. Thus, officers had to wear riot gear and even opened fire on protesters as rioters ran rampage through Rotterdam’s shopping district and even set fires. A water cannon was required to put out a pile of blazing bicycles at a busy intersection. The protests have resulted in five police officers being injured and at least seven people arrested. 
  • Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili agreed to end his 50-day hunger strike in prison last Friday (Nov 19) after authorities offered to move him to a military hospital from a prison hospital. He had been abused by fellow inmates and had not been receiving appropriate medical treatment. His hunger strike resulted in him fainting last Thursday (Nov 18), causing doctors to urge authorities to move him to a regular clinic to be treated. It also raised political tensions in Georgia and drew concerns from the US. 

Middle East:

  • Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu supported negotiations between Lebanon and several Gulf countries last Tuesday (Nov 16) to resolve a continuous diplomatic rift. The crisis sparked due to a circulated interview video of Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi making critical remarks about the Saudi-led coalition war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Thus, the interview resulted in countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait retracting their envoys and banishing their Lebanese ambassadors. Saudi Arabia even banned all imports from Lebanon. Since then, the Lebanese government has been trying to reach out to the Saudis and Qataris but much to no avail. Cavusoglu has decided to support Lebanon through contributions to the infrastructure and superstructure. Turkey wants to increase imports from Lebanon and has also sent 60 tonnes of food to their cash-strapped army.
  • Iran’s Youthful Population and Protection of the Family law came into effect last Monday (Nov 15) to encourage higher childbirth rates as they face a crisis due to its ageing population. Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei wants to increase the current population of Iran by tens of millions over the decades. The implementation of this law was quick due to the makeshift parliament committee with no public parliamentary vote. However, last Tuesday (Nov 16), the UN called on Iran to repeal this law that violates women’s rights as it bans them from getting an abortion. The UN believes the new law would cripple the rights to health for women by restricting safe abortion methods. Additionally, it bans sterilisations of both genders affecting marginalised women and sexual abuse victims.
  • Thousands of protesters gathered in Isfahan in central Iran to demand the revival of a major river that dried up last Friday (Nov 19). The river dried up due to drought and diversions. Many angry protesters, mainly farmers, demanded more action from the government to restore the river as it could potentially impact the livelihoods of the farmers living in Isfahan. However, the river has been facing several water shortages and droughts for many years. There were numerous protests throughout the years due to the lack of attention given to the issue, but officials have yet to find a solution to the problem. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held a meeting with environmental experts, while his first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, addressed the protesters and promised a strict follow-up and a solution to the issue.
  • The Commandos with the naval force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized a foreign tanker in the Persian Gulf for smuggling diesel last Saturday (Nov 20). The ship was found to be illegally carrying 150,000 litres (32,995 gallons) of diesel. Through intelligent monitoring and a well-coordinated operation, they were able to seize the foreign ship with 11 crew members. The crew members were then handed over to the local judiciary for processing. Earlier this month, Iran also seized a Vietnamese-flagged tanker called Sothys in the Sea of Oman after a confrontation with the US Navy and kept its cargo. The IRGC believed that the ship was used by the US to “steal” Iranian oil whose exports are banned under unilateral sanctions imposed since 2018 when former US President Donald Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
  • The US was condemned by Iran after announcing their sanctions last Thursday (Nov 18) on several Iranians and one Iranian group for trying to influence the 2020 US presidential election. Iran condemned these sanctions as it was a failed policy of Trump’s maximum pressure that is desperate and illegitimate. The US believed several Iranians had created a cyber-disinformation campaign that was shared with selected voters. Iran argued these acquisitions by the US, which have meddled with many other country’s affairs, were baseless. Iranians who were charged in federal court in New York, US allegedly obtained confidential voter information and pushed out false information to influence Democratic and Republican voters and attempted to hack into state voting-related websites.

Africa:

  • A prominent Somali journalist, Abdiaziz Mohamud Guled, was killed by a suicide bomber in the capital, Mogadishu, last Saturday (Nov 20). The blast was claimed by Al-Shabab, a group waging a violent armed campaign against the country’s fragile government. The suicide bomber had run onto Abdiaziz’s car window and detonated himself. It also left the director of Somali National Television and a driver wounded. According to an al-Shabab military operation spokesperson, Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group has been looking for Abdiaziz for a long time as he apparently committed crimes against Islam and was involved in the killing of mujahideen.
  • The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Somali government released a joint statement last Thursday (Nov 18) that Somalia’s rapidly worsening drought has resulted in over two million people facing severe food and water shortages. Over 80 per cent of Somalia is estimated to suffer from severe drought conditions, forcing more than 100,000 people to flee their homes. 
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced last Friday (Nov 19) that US President Joe Biden plans to hold a summit with African leaders. The summit will help to drive high-level diplomacy and engagement to “transform relationships and make effective cooperation possible”. 
  • Following the twin suicide bombings in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, last Tuesday (Nov 16), the Ugandan police killed five suspects and arrested 21 people last Thursday (Nov 18). The bombing was claimed by an ISIL (ISIS) affiliate. The arrests were part of a crackdown on the Allied Democratic Forces (CDF), an armed group active in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo that the US has linked to ISIL. 
  • The US issued a warning last Wednesday (Nov 17), informing pilots flying in and out of Ethiopia’s main international airport about ground weapons fire or surface-to-air fire due to the clashes between Ethiopian forces and fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). While the Federal Aviation Administration said there have not been reports of disruptions at the airport, there might be a higher risk should the Tigrayan fighters encircle the capital. 
  • The Nigerian military was found to be culpable in the shooting and killing of unarmed citizens protesting against police brutality in Lagos last October. The report by the panel of inquiry which was leaked last Monday (Nov 15) found there were 48 casualties, including 11 people killed and four missing. The incident was also described as a “massacre”. The army not only did not adhere to its own rules of engagement but also refused to allow ambulances to render medical assistance to victims.
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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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