This roundup covers news summaries across six regions: Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. Wherever possible I draw links to Singapore, but I think it is more important to understand geopolitical developments around the world, to draw attention to meaningful news stories, and to highlight both positive and negative events.
Around the world, I rely primarily on the email newsletters from “The Economist“, “Foreign Policy“, “Muck Rack“, “The New York Times“, “The Wall Street Journal“, and “The World Post“. In Singapore, the weekly digests from the European Union Centre and the Middle East Institute are handy. Do send me recommendations of news outlets or articles too, to jinyao.guan.yin.miao[a]gmail.com!
November 7 to 12, 2016
The election of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States may have made headlines this past week, but uncertainty persists in Asia. An oath-taking controversy in Hong Kong and Beijing’s intervention in the local court case have sparked widespread protests in the city. Tens of thousands marched in Jakarta, demanding that Governor Ahok – even though he is still heavily favoured to win the election in February next year – be jailed for blasphemy. And beyond the political realm, levels of dangerous PM 2.5 in New Delhi soared to over 16 times the limited considered to be safe by the Indian government, with no solutions in sight.
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- Former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki spoke of the crisis that his country is confronted with. South Africa “is trapped in a general and deepening political, economic, and social crisis which has … begun to turn what was an Age of Hope into an Age of Despair“, he said in a speech.
- President Jacob Zuma, in less than a year, survived a third vote of no confidence in parliament. Sullied by corruption scandals, the ruling African National Congress has been losing local elections, and corruption allegations against Mr. Zuma have persisted.
- A large-scale soil survey in sub-Saharan Africa – focusing on “the importance of soil microbes to ecology and agriculture” – seeks to improve agricultural practices and to protect crops in the face of climate change. Past researchers have looked extensively at social science, but not necessarily on social microbes, which are more likely to be affected by climate change.
- Around 70 per cent of Australians want to see same-sex marriage legalised, but a bill that would have allowed a national plebiscite on the issue was defeated on the grounds of cost and concerns that it could become “a possible platform for hate speech“. Some lawmakers, therefore, are instead advocating for Parliament to decide the issue.
- For the first time – without a request by the Hong Kong government or judiciary – Beijing intervened in a local court case “and essentially [blocked] two politicians from taking seats in Hong Kong’s legislature“. The two lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai Ching, pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” during a swearing-in ceremony last month, and this oath-taking controversy has sparked widespread protests in the city.
- Levels of the most dangerous air particles (PM 2.5) in New Delhi, India soared to over 16 times the limit considered to be safe by the Indian government. Sustained exposure to such high PM 2.5 concentrations “is equivalent to smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day“. The lack of coordination between city, state, and government bodies means no long-term solution is in sight.
- Following the announcement by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the government was scrapping the 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee banknotes to clamp down on corruption and to sieve out counterfeit currency in circulation, many scrambled to exchange their banknotes. “The move is designed to bring unaccounted money into the mainstream and to the attention of the tax authorities“.
- In Indonesia, tens of thousands marched in Jakarta, demanding that Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – or Governor Ahok – be jailed for blasphemy. Governor Ahok is the first Christian to lead the city of Jakarta in 50 years, in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. He is, however, still heavily favoured to win the election in February next year.
- Lawmakers in Japan voted to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, but it “was pushed through a special committee only after shoving matches and scuffles broke out on the committee floor“. TPP passage, however, remains slim.
- Concerns over American commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO, has led to discussion in the European Union on “the need to deepen its defence cooperation and talks of a European army“.
- A cost-cutting reconfiguration (instead of raising prices) to Swiss chocolate bar Toblerone in the United Kingdom – “with narrower triangles and a larger gap between peaks” – has aggrieved consumers.
- For the first time in the country’s history, the incomes and assets of officials and lawmakers in Ukraine were made available in an online database, so as to “provide transparency and do away with the corrupt practices [of the government]“. Frustrations over the lack of reforms, over the inability of the government to implement policies, and over rampant corruption persist.
The Middle East
- Economic reforms – from a value-added tax to allowing the country’s pound to float – by Egypt‘s president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, is proving unpopular. Weeks ago a shortage of sugar and other essential goods led to brewing anger, and prices of goods have only continued to increase.
- Headless bodies were found in a mass grave in Mosul, Iraq. Investigators described the site – in an area once held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – as a “massacre”, and “the victims had been blindfolded and had their hands and feet bound“.
- Saudi Arabia stopped a shipment of oil products – as part of a billion-dollar aid programme – to Egypt, which is said to be triggered by the “lack of reforms and support for regional issues” in Egypt.
- A group of Kurdish and Arab rebel forces in Syria are looking to take back the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This comes days after American-backed forces entered Mosul, Iraq.
- Despite losing the popular vote by a slim margin, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump – with his appeal to white, blue-collared and working-class voters – was elected as the 45th President of the United States.
- Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton – like outgoing President Barack Obama – called for unity, for Americans to give President-elect Trump a chance to lead, and for an orderly transition of executive power.
- The bank accounts of Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, has been frozen by the government for its failure to pay millions of dollars in overdue debt. Public workers have not been paid, tax revenues have fallen, and further austerity measures are expected.
- President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega won a third consecutive term, in an election “that the opposition called a farce” because of domination over all branches of government and the ousting of opposition politicians.