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!
January 9 to 14, 2017
News from China and the United States makes the headlines this week, and in this vein questions about the global world order – perhaps moving from American unipolarity to a bipolar configuration, shared by these two countries – have emerged. In the United States, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama delivered their final speeches, respectively offering encouragement for an uncertain future and urging young Americans to fight for their own future, as the world awaits the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. And amid the two waves of protectionism and climate-change scepticism and a trainwreck presidential press conference in the United States, President Xi Jinping will be the first Chinese head of state to address the World Economic Forum, and his country is also spending hundreds of billions on renewable power sources to dominate one of the world’s fastest-growing industries.
Times, they are a-changin’.
Follow my Facebook page to keep track of news and developments, or subscribe to this blog (by entering your email address in the sidebar) to be notified when a post is published.
- A multi-party democracy since the 1990s, and serving as a democratic example in Africa, Ghana is preparing to peacefully welcome its new president, Nana Akufo-Addo. Efforts were taken to make sure that the elections were free and fair.
- Soldiers in the Ivory Coast trapped the country’s defence minister inside the house of a local official, just after “President Alassane Ouattara announced he had agreed to the soldiers’ demands for bonus payments and improved living standards“. Given previous revolts and deals, there are worries that soldiers may be emboldened to do it again.
- With Cambodian nationalism – as a result of history – defined in opposition to the Vietnamese, Cambodian politicians therefore look for geopolitical powers to stand against Vietnam. In this vein, with this hatred, “If Vietnam truly does threaten the sovereignty of Cambodia, closer relations with China is a geopolitical imperative“.
- Northern and central China have been blanketed by thick smog in the past month. “Air quality usually deteriorates during the winter when demand for heating soars and coal-fired power plants rev up“, and the concentration of PM 2.5 has increased. There are concerns that China’s acknowledgement of the problem has only led to normalisation.
- China plans to spend hundreds of billions on renewable power sources like solar and wind “to dominate one of the world’s fastest-growing industries” and to curb the growth of greenhouse gases as well as to reduce air pollution.
- And President Xi Jinping will be the first Chinese head of state to address the World Economic Forum, “as China positions itself as a champion of globalisation amid a wave of protectionist sentiments [in the West]“.
- Economic ties between China and the European Union (EU) deepened in 2016: the EU is China’s biggest trading partner, while China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner after the United States. Despite criticisms and expected headwinds, “the connection between the two sides is deepening with the progress of the [One Belt, One Road initiative]“.
- A city in Sweden concluded an experiment with a six-hour workday, and found that “shorter working hours make for happier, healthier, and more productive employees“. But the practice is thought to be too expensive and too unwieldy.
The Middle East
- Ex-President of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, died at the age of 82. He was closely associated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolutionary leader who overthrew the shah in 1979, though “his time as president left a bitter legacy for many Iranians who struggled to get by“. Later in his life Mr. Rafsanjani became a leading critic of the clerical establishment, and his death is expected to hurt Iran’s moderate camp.
- Since October last year, Iraqi forces have sought to retake the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, and have now retaken at least 80 per cent of its territory from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
- Weeks after regaining control of industrial capital Aleppo, and after a planned cease-fire was announced, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his government is ready to negotiate on “everything” in proposed peace talks in Kazakhstan. It is, however, still not clear when the talks will be held, and who will represent the opposition.
- After being found guilty of federal hate crimes in December last year, self-radicalised white supremacist Dylann S. Roof – who killed nine African-American churchgoers in 2015 – was condemned to death by a federal jury. Mr. Roof, throughout the judicial proceedings, was unapologetic, “insisted on denying any psychological incapacity, called no witnesses, presented no evidence in his defence, and mostly sidelined his court-appointed lawyers“.
- Verizon is moving forward with its purchase of Yahoo, and some portions of the latter will be left behind and renamed Altaba Inc. It will also hang on to its 15 per cent stake in Alibaba and its 35.5 per cent stake in Yahoo Japan.
- After meeting with four top intelligence chiefs, President-elect Donald Trump “acknowledged that cyber-attacks by Russia, China, and other countries threaten institutions, political parties, and businesses [in the United States]“, but there was no direct acceptance of the conclusion was responsible for the cyber-attacks during the 2016 presidential campaign. Previously, in December last year, President Barack Obama had expelled 35 Russian officials and hit Russia with sanctions.
- In her final speech as First Lady, Michelle Obama “urged young Americans not to fear the future but fight for it“. Despite leaving with a 72 per cent approval rating, she has repeatedly said that she has no political ambitions herself.
- And in his farewell speech, President Barack Obama conceded disappointments and offered encouragement at the same time, though most of his accomplishments – given the rhetoric of President-elect Donald Trump – remain in question.
- The latest prison violence in Brazil has escalated with more riots in different states, pushing the death toll to 93 around the country. “The bloodshed is revealing a war between drug gangs [and criminal factions], a failed prison system, and a weak government“, as well as decades-old problems of corruption, overcrowding, and mismanagement in Brazilian prisons.
- In response to demands by President-elect Donald Trump to pay for a massive American border wall, Mexico’s new foreign minister Luis Videgaray said there is “no way” that his country will pay for the infrastructure.