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 21 to 26, 2016
Leaders around the world are struggling to solve persistent problems in their countries. In the political realm, the presidents of Nigeria, South Korea, and Zimbabwe – Muhammadu Buhari, Park Geun-hye, and Robert Mugabe – confront low approval ratings, as a result of scandals and the inability to moot effective political or economic proposals. And in Italy, where Prime Minister Matteo Renzi seeks to fix institutional paralysis, he faces defeat in the upcoming referendum. In the socio-economic realm, even though the World Health Organisation has declared an end to the Zika emergency, some public health experts argue that it may slow international response instead. And in the environmental realm, a powerful earthquake off the coast of Fukushima in Japan has reignited debate about the restarting of nuclear plants, and two weeks after levels of dangerous air particles in New Delhi, India, soared to over 16 times the “safe” limit, air quality in the region is expected to remain dangerous for months to come.
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- A year after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari won a historic election, by unseating an incumbent president as an opposition candidate, his popularity – for his inability to articulate a coherent economic plan, for his ineffectual anti-corruption crusade, and for his “gradual turn toward authoritarianism” – has gone down.
- In the midst of a cash crisis, and years after hyperinflation caused its currency to collapse in 2009, the government of Zimbabwe plans to introduce “bond notes” denominated in US dollars this month. But widespread distrust of the government persists, and some have said that President Robert Mugabe is a key problem.
- 108 people in India were killed, when fourteen coaches of a train derailed early. Because passengers were sleeping at the time, deaths and injuries happened when people were “falling over each other and colliding against the compartment“.
- Two weeks after levels of dangerous air particles or PM 2.5 in New Delhi, India, soared to over 16 times the limit considered to be safe by the Indian government, “The New York Times” interviewed two families – one poor, the other rich – on how they coped. Air quality in North India, however, will remain dangerous for months, “as poor people fight the dropping temperature by burning things – leaves, plastic, anything – to stay warm“.
- After a powerful earthquake off the coast of Fukushima in Japan, the Tokyo Electric Power Company restored the cooling pump at the Fukushima Daini plant – “about seven miles south of Fukushima Daiichi, the ruined plant where three reactors melted down five years ago after tsunami waves inundated the power station and knocked out backup generators” – in about an hour and a half, but public opinion in the country on the restarting of nuclear plants remains split.
- For the fourth straight weekend, hundreds of thousands took to the streets, demanding the resignation of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, for allowing a personal friend with no government position to meddle in state affairs. The president cannot be charged while in office, but prosecutors have said that they will continue with their investigations, “while opposition leaders [have] said they would redouble their efforts to force [Miss] Park from office“.
- In France, former Prime Minister Alain Juppé is favoured to win the primary of his mainstream centre-right Republican party, and to go on to face president of the National Front Marine Le Pen in the presidential election in April next year. Mr. Juppé has set himself up as a defender of European unity and also as a bulwark against raging global populism.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she would seek a fourth term in the federal elections next year. She said: “The coming election will be difficult … We will probably be criticised from everywhere, from the right-wing parties and also because of the polarisation of our society, also from the left party.”
- Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi is proposing reforms to reduce the power of the Senate and to fix institutional paralysis, but “The Economist” argues that an unwillingness to reform is the biggest problem: “Mr. Renzi would have been better off arguing for more structural reforms on everything from reforming the slothful judiciary to improving the ponderous education system“.
- Pope Francis in the Vatican City wants “to build a Roman Catholic Church that emphasises inclusion and mercy, and focuses on serving poor and marginalised people“, but he has to appoint enough like-minded cardinals. “The New York Times” has an interesting feature about the politics and the voting process, the diversity of cardinals, as well as their shifting views.
The Middle East
- In its sixth week, the military campaign to retake Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul – currently held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – has displaced almost 70,000 people so far. “The New York Times” is documenting how aid camps now serve as homes, the hazardous journey for military-age men, and the separation of families.
- A suicide truck bomb killed about 100 people in Iraq. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
- Condemning the repressive measures taken by the government of Turkey, after a failed coup in July this year, the European Parliament voted to suspend talks with the country on European Union membership.
- President-elect Donald Trump has chosen three hawkish loyalists for key positions: Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Representative Mike Pompeo as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as national security advisor. Mr. Trump also agreed to pay S$35.7 million to settle lawsuits pertaining to the now-defunct Trump University.
- He also said the United States will quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal on his first day in the White House. The 12 countries who have signed the TPP cover 40 per cent of the world’s economy.
- Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton widened her lead in the popular vote to over 1.5 percentage points, “a spread not seen for a losing candidate since the disputed election of 1876“.
- In February, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Zika emergency, and in a later meeting added that the risk was not sufficient to cancel the Olympic Games in Brazil. Nine months later, the WHO has declared an end to the emergency, though it has prompted “dismay from some public health experts confronting the epidemic“, that it may slow international response.
- Cases of robberies and boat hijackings by pirates in Brazil have surged, yet for the police “patrolling the Amazon’s colossal rivers for pirates can resemble a futile game of cat-and-mouse“.
- Almost two months after Colombian voters voted against a historic peace deal with former terror group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the Colombian government signed a new peace deal with the group. “Instead of facing another referendum, the accords will now head to the country’s Congress“, where the governing coalition of President Juan Manuel Santos – who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – holds a majority.