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 28 to December 3, 2016
Leaders around the world are feeling the pressure, in the past week. For being embroiled in a scandal and for the inability to deliver on socio-political issues, respectively, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and French President François Hollande look to be on their way out. Gambian President Yahya Jammeh – among the most repressive leaders in the African region – once said he intended to stay in power for a billion years, yet that will be tested as his citizens go to the polls. And finally, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under fire for the flawed implementation of his well-intentioned demonetisation campaign, while United Nations Secretary-General has formally apologised to the people of Haiti for the country’s cholera epidemic, an implicit acknowledgement of his organisation’s complicity.
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- Gambia goes to the polls, to decide whether to reinstall President Yahya Jammeh, “who once said he intended to stay in power for a billion years“. He is among the most repressive leaders in the region, arresting and torturing journalists and political activists and disregarding human and socio-economic rights. He recently announced the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court.
- With warnings of a possible genocide in South Sudan – the world’s newest country – the United States is struggling to amount an international response in the United States Security Council. Against the backdrop of a three-year civil war, “ethnic cleansing has characterised this entire war [with] villages looted and abandoned and civilians killed based on ethnicity“.
- The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has suffered its worst coral die-off ever recorded, and scientists say “about two-thirds of the shallow-water coral on the reef’s previously pristine, 430-mile northern stretch is dead“. The government said it is committed to protect the reef, but environmental advocates say these efforts have fallen short.
- In a surprise announcement in November, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi took the two highest-denomination banknotes the 500-rupee and 1000-rupee out of circulation. The intent was to clamp down on corruption and to sieve out counterfeit currency, but implementation has been flawed, and it is the poor and ordinary Indians who use cash to get by who have been affected.
- It will take a long time for the many ethnic divides in Myanmar to heal. In the decades which follow, “Foreign Policy” argue that investing in education and reducing the footprint of international experts are necessary.
- For the fifth week in a row, more than a million in South Korea protested and called for President Park Geun-hye – who allowed a personal friend with no government position to meddle in state affairs – to resign. She later offered to step down. Impeachment would be a protracted endeavour, whereas a resignation will pave the way for an election in 60 days.
- Taiwan could be the first Asian government to legalise marriage equality, but the public is deeply divided.
- Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, became Thailand’s new king after accepting an invitation from parliament to succeed his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died at the age of 88 in October.
- In Vienna, Austria, OPEC agreed to lower collective oil production by about 4.5 per cent or 1.2 million barrels a day, though the cartel “could not figure out how to spread the cuts among the countries“. Analysts say it is a great headline number, but persistent competition, the problem of non-compliance, and non-cooperation of non-OPEC countries could complicate matters.
- Denmark’s new coalition government picked an outspoken Eurosceptic, Anders Samuelsen, as its new foreign minister.
- In “Foreign Policy“, on the ramifications of the Russian disinformation campaigns in the European Union: “Long an issue in Eastern and Central Europe, Western European countries are just waking up to the scope of Russian propaganda and influence as election season in Germany and France looms“.
- Former Prime Minister François Fillon, a socially conservative free-marketer, won France’s centre-right presidential primaries, “setting up a likely showdown next year with far-right leader Marine Le Pen that the pollsters expect him to win“.
- With some of the worst approval ratings in the country’s modern history, France’s President François Hollande – a Socialist who has had to grapple with terrorist attacks and who has struggled to cut unemployment – said he will not seek a second term in office. This is the first time since 1958 that an incumbent president has not sought re-election.
The Middle East
- As Israel continued to battle its worst wildfires since 2010, the country’s security officials are attributing the cause to hot, dry conditions and strong winds, though there are suspicious that “almost half of the fires are suspected of being arsons“. Critics, however, say more investigations and evidence are needed.
- Libya will achieve victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, but because the operation has been an ad-hoc affair, concerns over weak institutions, anarchic conditions, and the influence of external powers persist.
- Government forces took control of a large stretch of territory in Aleppo, Syria, “in what could prove to be a turning point in the conflict, both militarily and psychologically“. And it seems increasingly likely that President Bashar al-Assad would take back control of the city, even as large parts of the country remain outside his control.
- After the European Parliament voted to suspend talks with Turkey on European Union membership last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to open the floodgates of migrants into Europe again. Estimates put the number of refugees in the country at between 2.7 and 3.5 million, a majority of whom are Syrians.
- The Clinton campaign said it “will participate in the election recount in Wisconsin initiated by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein“. But most say there is no realistic chance of changes to the outcomes, even though there are fears over Russian hacking. An election recount has also been filed in Pennsylvania.
- The Senate voted unanimously to extend “the president’s authority to impose sanctions on Iran for another decade“. While it is largely symbolic, the move could inflame Iranian conservatives who expect more benefits from the landmark nuclear accord struck last year.
- Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro died at the age of 90. He has been praised domestically for raising literacy levels and for improving healthcare conditions, though “he has been criticised for his authoritarianism, for cracking down on dissidents, and for jailing opponents“. Geopolitically, he has defied the United States for over five decades.
- A chartered plane carrying a Brazilian professional football team crashed in Colombia. 76 were killed. Only five survived.
- Also in Columbia, a new peace deal signed with former terror group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia has been ratified.
- United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologised to the people of Haiti, “expressing deep regret for the loss of life and suffering caused by the country’s cholera epidemic“. This was an implicit acknowledgement that the disease was not present in the country until the arrival of UN peacekeepers from Nepal.