This photo provided by the North Korean government shows what it says was a test launch of a hypersonic missile in North Korea on Jan. 5, 2022. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image. | Photo Credit: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

Weekly Recap: Jan 3 to Jan 9

Jan 10: United States (US) officials raise the possibility of restricting military manoeuvres and missile deployments in Eastern Europe, North Korea successfully tests hypersonic missile, Armed bandits attack the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara, leaving an estimated 200 dead.

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North America: 

  • Mexico’s government announced last Thursday (Jan 6) that President-elect Gabriel Boric of Chile has been invited to visit, with the two countries vowing to form a “strategic relationship” once the new leader takes office. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard remarked that lithium mining will likely be on the bilateral agenda in the future. He added, “The business of lithium is sure to be one of the priorities on the shared agenda between Chile and Mexico.” According to the ministry, the alliance will work with other progressive countries in the region to develop “a common voice to face challenges in the international arena.”
  • Inflation in the United States (US) is likely to have reached its highest level in four decades. This contributed to a shift in the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy and increased consumer worry about the economy. Last Wednesday (Jan 5), the consumer price index was expected to rise seven per cent for the year through December, up 0.4 per cent from a month ago.
  • Canada reached an agreement-in-principle to compensate Indigenous children who were discriminated against and placed in the welfare system. The federal government said last Tuesday (Jan 4) that US$15.75 billion (S$21.35 billion) would be given to First Nations who were removed from their homes, and those who were not able to access services. This came after Indigenous advocates waged a years-long fight for justice and reform.
  • Mexico’s central bank expressed concern about growing inflation and labour costs last Thursday (Jan 6). This came after it raised its benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points to 5.50 per cent last month. “All members mentioned that headline and core inflation expectations for 2021, 2022 and the next 12 months increased again, along with medium-term expectations, while long-term expectations have remained stable at levels above the target,” the Bank of Mexico stated. “Most members noted that the recent increase in the minimum wage could exert pressures on labour costs,” adding to the concerns the bank must consider. 
  • US officials raised the possibility of restricting military manoeuvres and missile deployments in Eastern Europe last Saturday (Jan 8) regarding tensions over Ukraine. The Biden administration was reportedly open to discussions with Russia on limiting possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and putting limits on US and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe. However, this was said to be possible only if Russia reciprocates ahead of talks on growing tensions as Russian forces encircle Ukraine. The US officials warned that if Russia were to intervene in Ukraine, it would be hit with crippling sanctions.
  • There was a spike in crude prices due to a disruption of oil flow in Canada and the Northern US. With temperatures below 0 deg F (-18 deg C) from North Dakota to Northern Alberta, TC Energy Corp.’s Keystone pipeline was shut down last Tuesday (Jan 4) before reopening later the next day. The disruptions meant less supply of oil at a time when inventories in the US have been falling every week since mid-November. Production has begun to rise in North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield, driving local crude prices to their highest level since November. 

South America: 

  • The US announced that eight Cuban government officials will be barred from entering the country. According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last Thursday (Jan 6), the Cuban officials were accused of being involved “in attempts to silence the voices of the Cuban people through repression, unjust detentions and harsh prison sentences”. The Cuban people had peaceful protests last July against rising food prices and other socio-economic issues but were repressed by the government, with some being arrested. Blinken said in a statement that the US “continues to use all appropriate diplomatic and economic tools to push for the release of political prisoners and to support the Cuban people’s call for greater freedom and accountability”.
  • The Chilean assembly elected epidemiologist Maria Elisa Quinteros as the body’s inaugural president after rounds of voting last Tuesday (Jan 4) and Wednesday (Jan 5). Quinteros replaces Indigenous Mapuche professor and activist Elisa Loncon, and her appointment was welcomed last Wednesday (Jan 4) by Chile’s newly elected next president, Gabriel Boric. The assembly is tasked to draft a new constitution by the end of nine months and must thereafter go to a referendum to be set up by Boric’s government, which takes office on March 11. Environmental activists and indigenous leaders hope the new constitution will drive major change in Chile, such as implementing environmental protection and establishing a new relationship between indigenous communities and the state respectively.
  • At least 23 fatalities resulted from the violent conflict between Colombian rebel groups near the country’s border with Venezuela, according to Defence Minister Diego Molano last Monday (Jan 3). The fights occurred in Arauca, involving members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A statement from Colombia’s army claimed that the groups fought over control of illegal economies such as drug trafficking. Colombian President Ivan Duque said a meeting with security officials was held and security reinforcements have been sent to Arauca following the clashes.
  • Authorities in the US charged Mario Antonio Palacios, a former Colombian military officer, for being involved in  the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse last July. Palacios was charged with “conspiracy to conduct murder or kidnapping outside the United States,” according to a statement released by the US Department of Justice last Tuesday (Jan 4). Additionally, he was charged with “providing material support resulting in death, knowing or intending that such material support would be used to prepare for or carry out the conspiracy to kill or kidnap.” Palacios is now in US custody and faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if he were to be convicted of the charges.
  • A volcano erupted on an island in the Galapagos according to the Galapagos National Park last Friday (Jan 7). Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute added that there was a cloud of gas and ash that rose to 3,793 meters (12,444 feet) above sea level after the eruption began last Wednesday (Jan 5). The eruption posed no immediate danger to populated areas, which are located on the opposite side of Isabela island, the largest in the Galápagos chain.

Asia Pacific: 

  • Pakistan’s judicial commission confirmed the first female Supreme Court judge in the Muslim-majority country’s history last Thursday (Jan 6). Ayesha Malik, 55, will become the first female Supreme Court judge in the country’s 75 years of independence. Despite its historical significance, the confirmation has sparked controversy. Her promotion to the Supreme Court was denied by the nine-member body that was supposed to approve her appointment last year, and lawyers and judges expressed concern that Malik’s appointment went against seniority lists. Nonetheless, Women Lawyers Association’s Zahrah Vayani said that “the appointment of the first female judge is a great step in the right direction”.
  • The Prime Minister of Cambodia’s meeting with Myanmar’s military commanders sparked protests and outrage. Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived in Myanmar last Friday (Jan 7) for a meeting with coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, being the first foreign leader to do so since the military seized control nearly a year ago. The meeting was held despite the ongoing demonstrations in Myanmar and criticism from civil rights groups over the trip. Hun Sen’s “rogue diplomacy,” according to Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research Emerlynne Gil, could cause more harm than good. She added, “If Hun Sen truly wants to help, he should cancel this trip and lead ASEAN to strong action to address the country’s dire human rights situation rather than indulge in empty gestures that will likely result in little more than a self-congratulatory photo op.”
  • According to the country’s Disaster Mitigation Agency, the new year started with severe rains on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, displacing over 30,000 people and killing two children as of last Thursday (Jan 6). For days, heavy rain pounded parts of the western island, particularly the provinces of Jambi and Aceh. This fuelled fears that the floods could affect the local economy or even result in an increase in COVID-19 cases. Muhammad Hatta claimed that his village, which is located on the outskirts of the Aceh Province town of Lhoksukon, has been underwater since the beginning of the year and that there is little sign of relief. ​​Day labourers in the area, according to Hatta, have not been able to work as a result of the flooding.
  • North Korea claimed that the missile test last Wednesday (Jan 5) involved the usage of a hypersonic weapon that successfully struck its target that was 700km away. Despite a United Nations (UN) ban on nuclear tests and ballistic missiles by North Korea, the launch, which was the first since October, was detected by Japan and South Korea. KCNA, a state news agency, reported that “The successive successes in the test launches in the hypersonic missile sector have strategic significance in that they hasten a task for modernizing [the] strategic armed force of the state.” It added that the test also verified components like flight control and the aircraft’s capacity to perform in the winter, displaying a “multi-step glide jump flight and strong lateral manoeuvring.”
  • In a virtual meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, and the two countries’ defence ministers discussed strengthening security ties. This was in light of China’s expansionist efforts. According to a statement, the ministers “expressed their concerns that ongoing efforts by China to undermine the rules-based order present political, economic, military, and technological challenges to the region and the world.” They also expressed alarm over China’s activities in the East China Sea, where Japan is disputing the Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea. The parties agreed to increase focus on Japan’s international role in response. Wang Wenbin, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said last Friday (Jan 7) that China condemned the US and Japan’s recent statements.

Europe: 

  • The European Union’s (EU) top diplomat Josep Borrell visited the easterly Luhansk region last Wednesday (Jan 5) to observe the front line of Ukraine’s war with Moscow-backed separatists. This visit was part of a Western diplomatic push in support of Ukraine. Borrell highlights that there will be “massive consequences and severe costs” for Russia if it were to launch a new military offensive against Ukraine. With the conflict at the border increasing tensions affecting European security, Borrell added that the EU has a firm stance and a strong commitment “that any military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs.
  • The US imposed sanctions on Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, accusing him of corruption and threatening Bosnia and Herzegonia’s stability and territorial integrity. The sanctions will block any assets Dodik may have under US jurisdiction and criminalise transactions with him under US law. According to the US Department of the Treasury last Wednesday (Jan 5), the imposing of sanctions on Dodik was part of President Joe Biden’s administration’s plan to hold individuals who “undermine the stability of the Western Balkans region through corruption and threats to long-standing peace agreements” accountable for their actions. 
  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+) announced last Tuesday (Jan 4) that it will adhere to its plan to gradually boost oil output in February, brushing off concerns about Omicron’s impact on global crude demand. The 23-nation member group and the cartel’s allies led by Russia agreed to increase oil production by 400,000 barrels a day in February. According to Capital Economics chief commodities economist Caroline Bain, “the new Omicron variant, although highly transmissible, is not leading to the same rates of hospitalisation and death associated with earlier variants,” and thus, oil demand is expected to be unaffected as most governments have not imposed any widespread lockdowns or travel restrictions.
  • The German government said last Monday (Jan 3) that it considered nuclear energy dangerous and objected to EU proposals that allow it to remain part of the bloc’s plans for a climate-friendly future. According to government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit, the radioactive waste left behind will be a challenge for future generations to solve. Instead of nuclear energy, Berlin plans to rely on natural gas until it can be replaced by non-polluting energy sources. However, environmentalists criticised the reliance on natural gas as it still produces the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when burned. In response, Hebestreit said the usage of natural gas is only to serve as a “bridge technology” and aims to eventually replace it with non-polluting alternatives like hydrogen produced with renewable energy.
  • The US, United Kingdom (UK), Russia, China and France pledged to prevent atomic weapons from spreading and to ensure a nuclear war is never fought. The five major powers announced this in a joint statement made last Monday (Jan 3), ahead of a review of a key nuclear treaty later this year. These states that are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) consider the avoidance of war between nuclear states their main responsibility. They aim to work with all countries to attain international security. “We hope that, in the current difficult conditions of international security, the approval of such a political statement will help reduce the level of international tensions,” Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Middle East: 

  • According to Lebanese media, unidentified individuals attacked members of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in southern Lebanon last Tuesday (Jan 4). The troops were attacked on their way to meet members of the Lebanese Armed Forces to conduct a normal patrol. According to Kandice Ardiel, a UNIFIL spokesperson, UN vehicles were vandalised and official items were stolen. Ardiel added that “UNIFIL condemns attacks on men and women serving the cause of peace, which are violations of both Lebanese and international law.” 
  • Israeli authorities and Palestinian Authority (PA) agreed to release a Palestinian prisoner on a hunger strike last Wednesday (Jan 5), following protests for his release and concerns over his probable death. Hisham Abu Hawash pleaded guilty to terrorism charges stemming from his membership in the Islamic Jihad and served jail time in Israel. He was re-arrested and was imprisoned without charge or trial for over a year in August. He started a hunger strike in protest of the arrest, which led to street demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in support of him and his release. Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second-largest militant group, vowed retaliation if he died in jail and Hamas termed the situation a “red line.”. ​​A deal was thus made between the Israeli authorities and Palestinian Authority (PA) to free him next month.
  • A string of attacks that demonstrated the reach of Iran-allied militias took place last Monday (Jan 3), on the second anniversary of America’s killing of a top Iranian general. The attacks included Yemen’s Houthi rebels seizing a ship in the Red Sea, armed drones targeting Baghdad’s international airport, and hackers attacking a major Israeli newspaper. All three occurrences fell on the same day as a major tribute in Tehran for General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq by a US drone strike in 2020. The events of Monday highlight tensions in the Middle East, which have been exacerbated by Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from an agreement aimed at restricting Tehran’s nuclear program in 2018.
  • Iran stated that it is willing to have bilateral discussions with any country whose citizens were among the 176 people killed when an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) air defence battery shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 on January 8, 2020. Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement last Friday (Jan 7) that it has started the process of paying the $150,000 compensation promised to victims’ families, and will continue to convene court sessions with relatives present to bring the 10 unidentified people it has indicted to justice. 
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian claimed in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera broadcast last Thursday (Jan 6) that an agreement on the Iran nuclear deal could be achieved if all sanctions were abolished. In Vienna, the eighth round of talks aimed at salvaging Iran’s historic 2015 nuclear deal is underway, with Iran still seeking assurances that US sanctions will be lifted. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) talks are still taking place with the United States participating indirectly.
  • According to Anadolu News Agency, Turkey slammed Israel’s approval of new plans to build over 3,500 extra illegal settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem last Thursday (Jan 6). In a statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said “settlements built by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories contravene international law, including UN resolutions.” The Ministry also said that these “new illegitimate acts are aimed at rendering a contiguous State of Palestine physically impossible, while also seriously damag[ing] the vision of a two-state solution and the ground for lasting peace.” In recent years, Israel has increased its settlement activity in East Jerusalem. Under international law, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is considered occupied territory, rendering all Jewish settlements there illegal.

Africa: 

  • Ethiopia reportedly freed several opposition leaders from prison last Friday (Jan 7) as part of government efforts to begin a dialogue with political opponents. Among those freed were some leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) (the party fighting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s central government) such as Sebhat Nega, the founder of the TPLF. This move is the most significant breakthrough since war broke out in the northern Tigray region. According to Will Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst at a Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group, the freeing of opposition leaders possibly indicated “the first signs in some time that the federal government is looking to take serious actions towards political reconciliation”.
  • Armed bandits attacked the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara last Monday (Jan 3), causing an estimated 200 fatalities, according to residents in the area. More than 300 gunmen then engaged in mass shootings in eight villages in the Anka local area in Zamfara last Tuesday (Jan 4), killing at least 30 people. Residents from villages in Anka and Bukkuyum districts were also victims of the firing that occurred last Wednesday (Jan 5) and Thursday (Jan 6). President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement that “The latest attacks on innocent people by the bandits is an act of desperation by mass murderers, now under relentless pressure from our military forces,” adding that the government would not relent in its military operations to address the armed gangs.
  • An air raid on a camp for displaced civilians in Ethiopia’s Tigray occurred last Friday (Jan 7), resulting in at least 56 fatalities and 30 others wounded. These people at the camp included those displaced due to the conflict in the northern region, as well as those who had previously fled fighting in western Tigray. In response, the US Department of State said that the “airstrikes in Tigray resulting in civilian casualties are unacceptable. We redouble our call for an immediate end to hostilities, the prompt launch of an inclusive national dialogue, and unhindered access so aid can reach all Ethiopian communities in need.”
  • The governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), has been losing voter backing, according to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Last Saturday (Jan 8) marked the ANC’s 110th anniversary since Nelson Mandela took office in 1994, helping South Africa achieve democracy. However, President Ramaphosa highlighted that the party has been losing public support after being embroiled in corruption scandals and involved in factional rivalries. Ramaphosa said many who supported the ANC punished it by not voting. The ANC seems to be divided between those supporting Ramaphosa, and those supporting former President Jacob Zuma. Melanie Verwoerd, a former member of parliament for the ANC, mentioned that “[The ANC now] is a very, very different party from the 1994 ANC party. At the moment, the party is struggling organisationally.”
  • Sudanese security forces fired tear gas at anti-coup protesters last Tuesday (Jan 4). There were thousands of protesters gathered across Sudan, including Khartoum, Omdurman, and the eastern city of Port Sudan and the South Darfur capital of Nyala. Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall said that protestors in southern Khartoum and in Bahri that tried to march towards the presidential palace were “met with tear gas”. The protestors in general chanted slogans against the military and called for the disbandment of Sudan’s ruling council led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who led a coup in October that delayed the transition to civilian rule. This came after the resignation of civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
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