A radar vehicle of the S-400 Triumph surface-to-air missile system drives along a road on the way to Belarus to join military drills, in Khabarovsk region, Russia, in this still image taken from video released January 21, 2022. | Photo Credit: Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

Weekly Recap: Jan 24 to Jan 30

Jan 31: The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspends Burkina Faso following the military coup, Russia deploys massive military equipment and troops throughout Belarus, North Korea allegedly fires the most powerful missile tested since United States President Joe Biden took office.

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North America:

  • Thousands of people peacefully protested in the streets of Ontario with the “Freedom Convoy” last Sunday (Jan 30) against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The “Freedom Convoy” began as a truckers’ protest against a cross-border vaccine mandate but then developed into a demonstration against vaccinations and government overreach during the pandemic. The protest organisers stated that they would remain in Ottawa until the government repealed the mandates. However, Trudeau stated that the convoy is a “small fringe minority” that does not represent the views of Canadians. Approximately 90 per cent of cross-border truckers and 77 per cent of the Canadian population have had two COVID vaccines. Downtown streets are expected to remain congested for the coming days.
  • Tang Mingfang, 43, called out Amazon’s lack of interference last Sunday (Jan 30) in his sentencing to prison for whistleblowing a Foxconn plant in China. The plant he exposed was located in Hengyang, China. It conducted illegal activities such as the underpayment of child labour to manufacture Amazon’s popular Echo, Echo Dot, and Kindle gadgets. Upon discovery, Amazon penalised Foxconn about £165,000 (S$299,713) for underpaying these workers in Hengyang. However, Tang was quickly charged, convicted, and sentenced by Foxconn to two years in jail without any intervention.
  • Mr John Kerry, United States (US) President Joe Biden’s global climate envoy, cautioned nations last Thursday (Jan 28) that the world is “not on pace” to fulfil its objective of shifting away from fossil fuels. Mr Kerry requested ministers to detail what their countries are doing to cut greenhouse gas emissions and follow through on pledges made at the United Nations climate conference last year in Glasgow, Scotland. The gathering brought together some of the world’s largest polluting countries, including China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, as well as small island governments most susceptible to climate change.
  • United States (US) House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said last Friday (Jan 28) that the House will vote on a 2,900-page “America Competes” Act this week, claiming it would “make greater strides in innovation, technology, and sophisticated manufacturing.” This is part of a plan to enhance competition with China and sustain the US chip sector, which includes a US$52 billion (S$70.46 billion) subsidy for semiconductor production and research. The measure authorises US$45 billion (S$6.1 billion) in funding to promote supply-chain resilience and key commodities, industrial equipment, and manufacturing technology. President Joe Biden’s administration has urged Congress to authorise financing to subsidise chip manufacturing in the US, in light of supply chain bottlenecks caused by component shortages in automobiles and computers.
  • The Justice Department announced last Saturday (Jan 30) that an American woman who was a battalion commander of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had been arrested. According to federal prosecutors, Fluke-Ekren rose through the ranks in ISIS and trained women and children in Syria to use assault rifles and suicide belts under her role. According to federal Raj Parekh, she was transported into Syria from Libya in 2012 and returned to engage in “violent jihad”. Only a few charges have ever been brought against American women connected with the violent organisation.

South America:

  • An armed rebel group attacked a United Nations (UN) convoy last Friday (Jan 28) in southeastern Colombia’s town of Puerto Nuevo, setting two vehicles on fire. It was later revealed by Senior presidential adviser Emilio Archila that the perpetrators were members of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group. According to the UN, the attack occurred when its workers were travelling with members of the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Norwegian Refugee Council to the rural area of Guayabero to meet with communities. In response to the incident, the UN mission highlighted that it “firmly rejects the attack suffered by our team” and condemned any attempts by “illegal armed groups” to intimidate UN and humanitarian agencies.
  • Leader of the left-wing Libre Party, Xiomara Castro, was sworn in last Thursday (Jan 27) as the first female president of Honduras. She claimed in her inauguration speech that utmost will be done to address issues regarding corruption, inequality and poverty, which she believed were worsened under the previous administration. These were also issues that contributed to the movement of Hondurans towards the North. Washington thus seeks to cooperate with Castro on her concerns of battling corruption and increasing economic opportunities in Honduras, since a number of Hondurans have migrated to the US due to these main issues.
  • A 5.3-magnitude earthquake and a series of smaller tremors struck near the city of Les Cayes in southwest Haiti last Monday (Jan 24). According to rescue teams, two fatalities were reported and an estimated 50 others were injured. The incident also left hundreds of houses damaged or destroyed in the Nippes district. In response to the situation, Canada hosted a virtual meeting in Haiti last Friday (Jan 28) that included representatives from 19 countries. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “immediate action” was needed to address the situation and pledged an additional US$39 million (S$52.84 million) in aid. On top of that, a donors’ conference has also been scheduled for February, with the expectation of the United States and other nations to contribute to the donations.
  • Four oil executives of the oil company Repsol were barred from leaving Peru last Friday (Jan 28), as authorities conduct investigations on the massive oil spill incident that happened earlier in January. According to Judge Romualdo Aguedo, the travel ban that lasts for 18 months will apply to the general manager of La Pampilla refinery, Jaime Fernández-Cuesta, and company directors Renzo Tejada, Gisela Posadas and José Rey. The incident occurred when a ship unloading crude oil to La Pampilla Refinery was shaken by a volcanic eruption in Tonga, spilling more than 6000 barrels into the waters. Peruvian President Pedro Castillo had to declare a state of environmental emergency and called it an “ecological disaster.”  However, Tine Van Den Wall Bake, a Repsol spokesperson, denied that the company should be held responsible for the incident, adding that they had sought permission from the Peruvian Navy to operate as normal during the time.
  • Colombia’s top court ordered the government last Friday (Jan 28) to protect disarmed former left-wing rebel fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Approximately 300 FARC fighters were murdered even though they had signed a 2016 peace deal with the government to bring an end to the conflict in the state. As such, Judge Cristina Pardo of the Constitutional Court said the “fundamental rights to life, personal integrity and peace … were ignored” by the Colombian state, declaring a “state of unconstitutional things” due to the violations of rights and the inability of the state to protect them. The judgement passed by five votes to four, meaning the government is to adopt necessary measures to guarantee the safety of FARC rebels.

Asia Pacific:

  • Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, visited Myanmar last Friday (Jan 28) to meet with military officials, marking the first visit by a head of state to the Southeast Asian country since the coup. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit, according to a ministry delegate close to the prime minister’s office, was not intended to legitimise the military junta that toppled the democratic government. Instead, it was intended to aid in the resolution of the issue. As the new leader of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Cambodia has struggled to persuade Myanmar’s military leadership to end the country’s carnage, unlike what has been outlined in ASEAN’s five-point consensus plan agreed in April 2021.
  • Malaysia’s Human Resources Ministry announced last Sunday (Jan 30) that it will summon any firm facing major United States (US) bans over claims of forced labour practices. Due to complaints of migrant worker exploitation, major Malaysian corporations such as YTY Group and Sime Darby Plantation, have come under increased scrutiny. Over the previous two years, Malaysian firms have been exposed to seven similar restrictions.
  • Beijing had the largest number of new COVID-19 cases in a year and a half last Sunday (Jan 30). This comes as  the city prepares to host the Winter Olympics in five days. As part of their zero-COVID policy, China plans to host the Games in a stringent “closed-loop” bubble. This includes targeted lockdowns, border restrictions, and extended quarantines. The strategy has helped the world’s second-largest economy contain new infections at a far lower rate than many other nations, but it is still dealing with small epidemics in a number of cities, as well as in the Olympic bubble. The forthcoming Chinese New Year, the country’s most important national holiday, will pose new obstacles as millions of people return to their hometowns to celebrate with family and friends.
  • The National Healthcare Security Administration (NHSA) reported last  Saturday (Jan 29) that executives from AstraZeneca China have been summoned for an investigation into possible medical insurance fraud. Several employees in Shenzhen, China’s southernmost city, were accused of tampering with or assisting in the manipulation of patients’ testing results, according to a statement released by the company last Friday. According to the state medical insurance fund’s regulator, authorities have ordered the arrest of all suspects
  • A United Nations official claimed last Saturday (Jan 29) that Laos police had discovered 36 million methamphetamine tablets, the country’s second-largest single seizure of illicit substances. The drug search in the northern province of Bokeo occurred three months after authorities in the same area discovered Asia’s largest-ever haul of meth tablets in a beer truck, totalling 55 million pills. Laos has long served as a crossroad for the lucrative drug traffic in Southeast Asia and has become a transit point for trafficking meth from Myanmar’s Shan state across the Mekong River into Thailand.
  • North Korea was said last Sunday (Jan 30) to have fired the most powerful missile it has tested since United States President Joe Biden took office. According to Japanese and South Korean forces, the missile fired proceeded on a lofted trajectory to avoid territorial areas of neighbouring countries and reached a maximum height of 2,000km (1,242 miles) after travelling 800km (497 miles). The launch came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un chaired a ruling party meeting earlier this month, at which senior party members reportedly threatened to lift the moratorium. The firing of the missile could potentially violate this self-imposed moratorium on longer-range weapons testing and could result in condemnation from the US and its allies.

Europe:

  • Italian parliamentarians re-elected Sergio Mattarella, the country’s current president, last Saturday (Jan 29). This allows Italy to maintain the status quo, avoid early elections, and extend Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s current age of stability. Mr Mattarella was elected following a dismal six-day secret ballot in which competing political groups within the ruling coalition failed to unite around a new candidate. Mr Mattarella is expected to step down early from his second term as president, allowing Mr Draghi to be installed at a less politically sensitive time by Italy’s next Parliament.
  • Russia deployed tanks and artillery, fighter aircraft and helicopters, modern rocket systems, and tens of thousands of troops throughout Belarus, bolstering a combat force that surrounds Ukraine on three sides last Friday (Jan 28).  Russia claimed the troops arrived in Belarus for military drills set to begin next month. However, the buildup in Belarus might signal an attack from a new direction, one close to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. With much of Ukraine’s military strength focused in the nation’s east, where a conflict with Russian-backed separatists has raged for eight years, military analysts and Ukrainian generals think the government may struggle to gather the soldiers needed to protect its northern border.
  • The British police said last Friday (Jan 28) that they had asked for key details to be withheld from a much-anticipated government investigation into Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lack of action towards parties held during England’s COVID-19 lockdowns. The announcement provoked outrage from critics, considering the consequences of the lack of enforcement towards these illegal gatherings. London’s Metropolitan Police clarified they had not requested the report to be delayed nor had they removed facts that are under investigation. 
  • Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was selected as the country’s new ruling party’s head last Friday (Jan 28). Tokayev succeeds Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled Kazakhstan for decades and controlled the country’s politics. Following fatal protests across Kazakhstan earlier this month over rising oil prices and living conditions, the election solidified the President’s position while simultaneously reducing Nazarbayev’s influence. During the riots, Tokayev took over as chairman of the security council from Nazarbayev, with many protestors chanting “old man out.”
  • The British government submitted legislation last Saturday (Jan 29) in efforts to  empower Britain in imposing economic penalties on banks, energy corporations, and “oligarchs close to the Kremlin,” according to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. The plan is the United Kingdom’s latest attempt to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin not to invade Ukraine. It was unveiled only hours after Britain stated it was prepared to send extra troops to Estonia and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in Eastern Europe.

Middle East:

  • At least three rockets struck the Baghdad International Airport compound and near a US airbase last Friday (Jan 28). According to Iraqi police sources, while one civilian aeroplane that was not in use got damaged, no other damages or injuries occurred. Though no flights were affected by the attack, the interior ministry noted that the rockets hit Baghdad International Airport’s runways and parking areas.
  • The Biden administration announced last Friday (Jan 28) that it will cancel US$130 million (S$176.15 million) in military aid to Egypt due to violations of human rights. According to the State Department, Egypt had not satisfied conditions to receive the foreign military financing that has been on hold since last September. In light of the upcoming deadline (Jan 31) of having to meet those conditions, it is expected that Egypt will not be able to fulfil all of them by then. Hence, the State Department noted that even though the “[government of Egypt] made notable progress on the conditions”, “the secretary intends to reprogram the monetary aid to other national security priorities”. This announcement comes after the approval of a massive US$2.5 billion (S$3.39 billion) arms sale to the country. When asked about the inconsistency, US officials said the military aid and the arms sale are unrelated, and that Egypt will shoulder the cost of the arms sale.
  • Lebanese, Syrian, and Jordanian officials signed a deal in capital Beirut last Wednesday (Jan 26) that would supply 250 megawatts of energy from Jordan to Lebanon via Syria. This comes as an effort to tackle Lebanon’s electricity crisis and power outages. Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayyad said the Lebanese “need every hour of electricity they can get,” and that the deal marks a significant moment. However, energy experts highlighted concerns that the deal itself might not be enough to address Lebanon’s energy crisis, adding that  restructuring the energy sector is also a necessary step.
  • Another 250 ISIL (ISIS) members surrendered last Wednesday (Jan 26) as the United States (US)-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commandos cleared the prison that was under attack earlier this month. Two car bombs were detonated outside a prison holding more than 3,000 ISIL (ISIS) detainees and 200. It is said that some trapped inside the prison, which is in the northeastern city of Hassakeh, include hundreds of children and guards held as hostages. Before the attack, Human Rights Watch estimated the SDF held about 12,000 men and boys suspected of ISIL affiliation at the prison, including 2,000 to 4,000 foreigners from about 50 countries.
  • Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said last Saturday (Jan 29) that Lebanon will not “hand over” Hezbollah’s weapons. This comes prior to a meeting with his Gulf Arab counterparts to mend ties with Beirut and the Gulf Arab States. “I am not going (to Kuwait) to hand over Hezbollah’s weapons. I am not going to end Hezbollah’s existence, it is out of the question in Lebanon. We are going for dialogue,” The meeting in Kuwait this week expects Lebanon to deliver its response to tense relations that arose from the power accumulation of the Hezbollah armed group in Beirut and the region. Hezbollah is an Iran ally and works with Iran in its regional struggle for influence with United States-allied Gulf Arab states.

Africa:

  • The death toll from Tropical Storm Ana in Madagascar rose to 70 last Thursday (Jan 27). The storm occurred last Monday (Jan 24) in Madagascar before moving towards Mozambique and Malawi. There were 41, 18 and 11 fatalities reported in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi respectively. Emergency teams continue to repair damaged infrastructure and provide aid to thousands of victims. According to Mozambique’s weather service, another storm is to form over the Indian Ocean and up to six tropical cyclones are expected before the rainy season ends. In response, the national power utility said “our priority now is restoring power to health establishments, water treatment distribution systems, and schools”.
  • The M23 rebel group on an army position in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) attacked Congolese soldiers in Nyesisi last Monday (Jan 24). According to Gentil Karabukala, civil society head of Kisigari near Nyesisi, 29 Congolese soldiers were killed in the attack. The M23 group, known as the March 23 Movement, is a Congolese Tutsi group that was destroyed in 2013 after launching a rebellion. Willy Ngoma, a spokesperson of the group, said it was “merely retaliating against attacks launched by the FARDC against its positions since October”.
  • Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera dissolved the country’s entire cabinet last Monday (Jan 24), amid charges of corruption against several ministers. He allowed three ministers and other public officers that were accused of corruption to face their charges. The ministers accused are Minister of Lands Kezzie Msukwa, for allegedly benefitting from land deals, Labour Minister Ken Kandodo, for diverting COVID-19 funds and energy Minister Newton Kambala, for being involved in the awarding of fuel import deals. President Chakwera said he would announce a reconfigured cabinet.
  • Denmark said last Thursday (Jan 27) that it will start pulling its troops out of Mali after the transitional government insisted on an immediate withdrawal. This comes as a challenge to France as security operations in the Sahel region begin to heighten. The decision comes amid tensions between Mali and its international partners that sanctioned Mali after the military government failed to organise elections following two coups. Denmark’s Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said they “will continue the good and close cooperation with our European allies” and continue to put pressure on Mali’s rulers “to get democracy back, to create safety for the population in Mali, to fight the terror groups”.
  • The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a West African regional bloc, suspended Burkina Faso last Friday (Jan 28), following the military coup. The coup that occurred last Monday (Jan 24) saw Burkina Faso’s army announcing it had forced President Roch Marc Christian Kabore to reign, which dissolved the government and national assembly. The soldiers from Burkina Faso’s army then announced on state television their military takeover of the country, which they said was under siege from armed groups. Current ECOWAS chairman Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, described the recent coups in West Africa as “a direct violation of our democratic tenets”. West African leaders are said to meet again in February to determine whether additional sanctions should be imposed along with suspension.
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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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