A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings, Montana on last Tuesday (Feb 1). (Photo: Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP)

Weekly Recap: Jan 30 to Feb 5

US Military shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon
Half a million British workers go on strike to demand better pay and working conditions in biggest strike in a decade
Philippines strikes deal to strengthen US military presence in the country

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North America

  • The United States (US) military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina last Saturday (Feb 4). The balloon was previously spotted in US territory above the Aleutian Islands on Jan 28, before passing through Alaska, Canada, and then re-entering American airspace over northern Idaho. President Biden is said to have ordered the balloon’s removal earlier, but military officials waited for the operation to be conducted over a body of water for the safety of civilians. The incident has escalated already tense relations between the US and China, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelling a crucial trip to Beijing over the debacle. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has maintained that the ship was a weather research airship that had lost its course, and emphasised that it was not a spy balloon under their government control. China has since criticised the shooting of the balloon as an overreaction and warned that they reserve the right to take further action. 
  • Republicans successfully voted in favour of removing US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee last Thursday (Feb 2). The move comes after Congresswoman Omar faced backlash for voicing criticism of Israel and pro-Israeli lobbying groups in Washington. Omar previously suggested that political donations from such groups were aimed at promoting support for Israel in the American political sphere, and referred to it as an “apartheid state”. The official removal of Congresswoman Omar has sparked a backlash from the White House and prominent Democrats such as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, claiming it was a calculated attack by the Republicans to remove Omar Ilhan, a former Muslim Somali refugee and woman of colour. 
  • The Chinese government accused Canada of political manipulation in its recently passed motion to provide asylum for Uyghur refugees last Thursday (Feb 2). Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning accuses the motion of “spreading disinformation and misleading the public”, reinforcing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony. This is in direct response to a report from the motion acknowledging Uyghur refugees that have been refused asylum and face arrest in their birth country of China. The non-binding motion seeks to present a program outline by May 2023 to begin operations the following year.
  • US President Joe Biden shared a private lunch with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hussein last Thursday (Feb 2). President Biden shared his support for Jordan’s management of the sensitive Al-Aqsa Mosque in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, reaffirming the “critical need to preserve the historic status quo”. Under the agreement enforced by the Jordanian Waqf Department, non-Muslims can visit the site but are not allowed to pray on the grounds. The mosque, known to the Jewish community as Temple Mount, has been central to the long-standing conflict between both warring factions, as Palestinians have been angered by Israeli nationalist Jews who have been covertly praying at the site. President Biden and King Abdullah also reiterated their support for Iraq, hailing Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s efforts to strengthen Iraq’s sovereignty and independence. 
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced last Friday (Feb 3) that the US has reopened its embassy in the Solomon Islands after a 30-year closure. Referring to it as a “symbol of renewal”, the embassy in Honiara opened a year after Washington announced the plan to reopen the diplomatic mission as part of rebuilding a presence in the Indo-Pacific region. US diplomat Russell Corneau will be the US’s diplomatic representative in the new embassy and oversee the bilateral relations between both states after reports that the Solomon Islands had agreed to a secret security pact with China in 2019.

South America

  • At least 23 people were killed and 979 have been reported injured as wildfires spread across forests in Chile in the last week. More than 1,100 people have also sought refuge in shelters. As of last Sunday (Feb 5), the Chilean government has declared a state of emergency in regions Biobio, Nuble, and Araucania. Around 232 wildfires were still considered active as of Saturday (Feb 4) according to authorities. 
  • Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva alleged that his former President Jair Bolsonaro actively participated in planning for his supporters to storm government offices on January 8. This allegation comes after a senator revealed the former president attended an anti-election plot meeting. As a result of Bolsonaro’s failure to accept loss during the recent Presidential elections, thousands of his supporters broke into the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court buildings in Brasilia a week after Lula’s inauguration. The former president was not in the capital at the time and did not attend Lula’s inauguration. 
  • The Peruvian Congress last Friday (Feb 3) voted down another proposal to bring forward elections to 2023, a day after a similar bid was rejected amid nationwide protests. The motion put forward by the Free Peru party was rejected last Thursday (Feb 2) with 75 votes against and only 48 in favour, with one abstention. In addition to moving elections up from April 2024 to July 2023, the proposal included the calling of a referendum on forming a constitutional convention. 
  • Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro has applied for a six-month US tourist visa as reported last Tuesday (Jan 31). As of last week, Bolsonaro has been residing in the state of Florida since December of last year and plans to stay on while awaiting the outcome of his visa. His stay in the US comes amid a current investigation in Brazil after rioters stormed government buildings last month. 

Asia Pacific

  • During a visit to Manila, Philippines, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, announced last Wednesday (Feb 2) that the US and the Philippines had come to an agreement to restart joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea. The officials further announced a deal that allows US troops access to another four bases in “strategic areas” in the Philippines. The Marcos administration has been planning to repair ties that were fractured under previous Philippine president Duterte, who favoured China over the US.
  • US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last Tuesday (Jan 31) said the US will increase its deployment of advanced weapons such as fighter jets and bombers to the Korean Peninsula as it strengthens joint training and operational planning with South Korea in response to a growing North Korean nuclear threat. Both country’s officials also discussed preparations for a simulated exercise between the allies in February aimed at sharpening their response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons. 
  • At the year’s first ministerial Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting, Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi announced last Saturday (Feb 3) the country’s plans to broaden talks with China and other Southeast Asian countries to finalise a code of conduct (COC) for the South China Sea amid escalating tensions in the disputed sea. Negotiations on the COC have stalled for years as some member states prioritised bilateral ties with China over a regional consensus.
  • At least 100 have been killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar last Monday (Jan 30). The tragedy comes amid escalating security challenges from armed groups within the country. According to a local medical official, the vast majority of those killed in the bombing were police officers and were targeted at worshippers during the afternoon prayer at the mosque. The Inspector general of police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Moazzam Jah, acknowledged there was a clear “security breach” in the area despite multiple checkpoints. A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) armed group has denied any participation in the blast.
  • According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Thailand’s ranking on a democracy index has seen the biggest improvement among 165 countries in the world over the past year, rising from 72nd to 55th. The rankings are based on the EIU’s analysis of five key areas. These include electoral processes, the functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties. The score was a result of factors such as  the dramatic improvement to greater space for the country’s opposition parties, more political participation and a reduced threat from secessionist movements.


  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned last Saturday (Feb 4) that the situation on the eastern front line was getting tougher as Russia throws more and more troops into battle to break down Ukrainian defences. Zelenskyy’s comments came as shelling continued in Ukrainian officials meanwhile reported continued shelling in the Chernihiv, Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk and Mykolaiv regions. Russian troops have been trying to close their grip on the town of Bakhmut and are also trying to capture the nearby coal-mining city of Vuhledar, also in the eastern region of Donetsk.
  • At a summit in Rabat, Morocco last Thursday (Feb 2), Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says Spain and Morocco have agreed on a commitment  of ‘mutual respect’ and set aside their differences to repair a relationship marked by frequent disputes over migration and territory. At the summit, the two countries signed about 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros (S$1.14 billion). 
  • Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic announced in a parliament meeting last Thursday (Feb 2) that the country does not plan to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and will stick to its military neutrality. Serbia has been a candidate to join its single-biggest trade partner and investor, the European Union, since 2012. It is militarily neutral but maintains ties with NATO and has bought weapons from its member states. In the Balkans, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are the only countries that have not joined NATO.
  • A migration agreement between Italy and Libya was automatically renewed for three years last Wednesday (Feb 1). The Memorandum of Understanding on Migration that was signed six years ago on February 2, 2017, aimed to provide Libyan authorities with financial and technical support to “combat illegal immigration”. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) among other humanitarian organisations warned that assisting Libya in the facilitation of the return of thousands of people to serious human rights violations will make Italy complicit in crimes against humanity. HRW has also called on Italy and the European Union (EU) to halt their support to Libya. 
  • Up to 500 thousand British educators, civil servants, and train drivers walked off their jobs on a strike last Wednesday (Feb 1) to demand better pay and working conditions as current wages fail to keep pace with soaring inflation. According to the Trades Union Congress, about 300 thousand people on strike are teachers. Union bosses say wages in the public sector have failed to keep up with skyrocketing prices, effectively meaning workers have been taking a pay cut. The average public sector worker is 203 pounds (S$325) a month worse off compared with 2010 when inflation is been taken into account. Other workers including those in the healthcare sector such as nurses are expected to go on strike in the coming days and weeks. 

Middle East

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Emmanuel Macron met on Thursday (Feb 2) to discuss how both countries can work together to ensure peace and security in the region. The meeting covered the rising nuclear threat of Iran, the recent violence in Israel and the Abraham Accords between Israel and its neighbouring Arab countries. President Macron also called for Palestinians and Israelis to avoid actions that could “lead to a cycle of violence” following a spate of violence between both camps in the past week.
  • The Iranian mission to the United Nations (UN) reported on Thursday (Feb 2) that reports found Israel of being responsible for a drone attack that left an Iranian Defence Ministry facility in the city of Isfahan damaged. Iranian analyst Farzin Nadimi at the Washington Institute suggests that the targeted complex held sensitive information related to Iran’s nuclear technologies, and the attack was a clear message to the Iranian government. The Israel Defence Forces and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have refused to confirm or deny if Israel is responsible for the attacks, claiming that everything “Israel is blamed or given responsibility — sometimes we are, sometimes we’re not.”
  • Israelis continue their fifth week of protests against controversial changes to the judicial system by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government (Feb 5). Protest groups in Tel Aviv and 20 other cities fear that the changes will damage Israeli democracy as it tightens political control over judicial appointments and limits the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn government decisions known as Knesset laws. Prime Minister Netanyahu has dismissed the protests as a refusal by leftist supporters to accept his election win last November, producing one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history.
  • Sudan’s military ruler Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen last Thursday (Feb 2) and announced that both countries have agreed to sign a peace treaty to normalise relations between the two countries. Foreign Minister Cohen made an unprecedented one-day visit to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, where he emphasised that Sudan is an Arab, Muslim and strategic ally for Israel. In return, Sudan is expected to appoint a civilian government to replace Burhan’s military regime in order for relations to formally resume. Sudan formally agreed to normalise relations with Israel in 2021, as a quid pro quo in exchange for the US removing it from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism.”
  • Chadian President Mahamat Deby’s office announced on Wednesday (Feb 1) that Chad will inaugurate an embassy in Israel. The announcement comes during a two-day state visit by President Deby in Israel, building on renewed relations between the two nations reignited in 2018 by the late former Chadian President Idriss Deby. The African nation Chad had previously severed ties with Israel in 1972 following a decision by the now-defunct Organisation of African Unity to cut diplomatic ties with the state in solidarity with Palestinians. The announcement comes as part of a diplomatic push by newly-reinstated Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his outreach to Arab and Muslim countries. There have been no further announcements on the plans of the embassy, including its proposed location and intended date of inauguration.


  • President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced plans to establish a war college in Ghana as the pinnacle of military education in the country. The President was attending the Ghana Armed Forces West African Soldiers Social Activities celebrations in Accra on Wednesday (Feb 1) when he announced that the Defence Ministry and military high command were working under his orders to have the War College operational by the end of 2023. The college will receive seed capital from the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) and will widen the scope of training programmes provided by the GAF Command and Staff College to improve the professional education of senior GAF and allied officers of Africa. The college will focus on advanced military tactical and strategic thought, doctrine and policy studies.
  • Morocco Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein signed a memorandum of understanding last weekend to reopen the Moroccan embassy in Baghdad. Iraqi Minister Hussein said it was “crucial for Iraq to build a relationship with the Kingdom of Morocco, in order to start the build of futuristic solid relationships with various African countries.” Morocco previously shut down its embassy in Baghdad 18 years ago following the kidnapping of two Moroccan nationals. The relationship between both states has since been on the mend, Minister Bourita has called for the end of Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent days.
  • Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko arrived in Zimbabwe on Monday (Jan 30) to meet with President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the capital of Harare. The two Presidents were due for a diplomatic meeting on Tuesday (Jan 31) to strengthen their relations in politics, mining and agriculture amidst Western sanctions on both states. The historic visit is President Lukashenko’s first to a sub-Saharan African nation and comes after accusations by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project of ties between Lukashenko’s family and gold mining ventures in Zimbabwe.
  • Pope Francis began a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)  and South Sudan last Tuesday (Jan 31) in an effort to remind the world to not ignore decades-long conflicts. Leaders of the Anglican Church and the Church of Scotland will be joining the Pope during parts of his trip, beginning in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa before travelling to the South Sudanese capital of Juba. The conflict between armed groups in the DRC has displaced half a million people, while the civil war in newly sovereign South Sudan has caused almost 400,000 deaths and displaced almost 4 million Sudanese refugees. Aid organisations have reported that donors have shifted attention to the war in Ukraine, with the UN reporting that 7.76 million Sudanese citizens, about two-thirds of their population, will face acute food shortages this year.
  • Somali President Hassan Sheik Mohamud hosted his counterparts from Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia to host a regional summit to coordinate military offensive strategies at the al-Qaeda affiliate armed group al-Shabab. Held in the capital of Mogadishu last Wednesday (Feb 1), the meeting comes a day after regional defence ministers and security chiefs met to prepare for the summit. The aggressive security strategy comes as part of President Mohamud’s declaration for an “all-out war” to quash the al-Shabab fighters that have waged violence in the Horn of Africa for more than 15 years. The four countries contribute to an African Union face known as ATMIS which has recently reclaimed chunks of territory in an operation backed by US air raids.
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