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 16 to 21, 2017
Billionaire real estate developer and mogul Donald Trump has just been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, as the 44th – President Barack Obama – took his leave. With 52 per cent of Americans disapproving his transition performance, unusual for a President-elect, Mr. Trump starts with low approval ratings, while Mr. Obama’s approval has hit 60 per cent, “his highest approval rating since 2009“. Along this tangent, data journalism site “FiveThirtyEight” noted that “presidential approval ratings do a reasonably good job of suggesting where presidents rank in the longer term”. And while Mr. Obama’s presidential legacy will be debated for years and decades to come, “FiveThirtyEight” also evaluated public opinion on 32 big issues, finding in general that even though the United States has become more progressive, on abortion and on same-sex marriage in particular, there has been growing dissatisfaction with foreign policy.
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.
- An election is looming in DR Congo, and there are concerns that its music, “its biggest cultural export, is polluted by politics“. There are historical precedents for this arrangement, of music naming politicians in the country.
- A misfiring Nigerian fighter jet – targeting the terrorist group Boko Haram – killed more than 50 refugees in a camp.
- 200,000-strong AfriForum is the leading civic organisation advocating for the rights of Afrikaners in South Africa, with the ambitious aim of rebranding “the Afrikaners from oppressors to the oppressed“. It remains a tall order.
- China is now regulating Internet detox camps, which are often “a last resort for parents exasperated by their child’s habit of playing online games for hours on end“. Abusive electroshock therapy, for instance, will be banned.
- As the first Chinese head of state to address the World Economic Forum, Xi Jinping – vis-à-vis the waves of protectionism in Europe and the United States – mounted a strong defence of globalisation, outlined China’s contributions, and “built a case that [the country] should have a greater formal role in guiding the world economy“.
- President Xi also urged President-elect Donald Trump to keep the United States in the Paris climate agreement.
- With 55,000 Rohingya refugees registered with the United Nations in Malaysia, the government is now working on a pilot plan to grant “300 Rohingya legal permits to work in the plantation and manufacturing sectors for a three-year period“. There is greater urgency now, given the worst unrest in Rakhine, with an army crackdown and at least 65,000 fleeing to Bangladesh.
- “The number of refugees flowing to Europe has abated but the routes they take remains deadly“, and the United Nations is calling for European governments to do more to help refugees and migrants and their poor living conditions in the winter.
- Malta took over the rotating presidency of the European Union, and in particular its prime minister Joseph Muscat has taken a clear stand on Brexit negotiations, that the deal for the United Kingdom should be “inferior” to membership.
- Snap elections have been announced in Northern Ireland, though given the province’s sectarian voting patterns the political stalemate could persist. “If, after the elections, the largest Protestant British Unionist and Catholic Irish nationalist parties cannot agree to form a new executive, the province could end up being governed from London“.
- Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May outlined a clean break from the European Union (EU). “Unless May does a complete U-turn from here, any hope of full single market access for post-EU Britain is more or less out of the question“.
The Middle East
- Iran Air acquired its first Airbus passenger plane, the first plane purchased from Western manufacturers since 1979. “This move signals Iran’s integration into the international community … and its growing relations with Europe“.
- An agreement was reached – “after a three-day negotiation in the Russian capital, Moscow” – for the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to form a unity government with rival organisation Hamas. Palestinians last staged elections in 2006.
- New United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised the importance of the Geneva peace process in Syria.
- President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence analyst who had leaked American military and diplomatic activities. She will be released in May this year, rather than in 2045.
- Billionaire real estate developer and mogul Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.
- The death toll from recent prison violence in Brazil has increased from 93 to more than 120. These killings are said to reflect “the escalation of a deadly gang war [with] gangs fighting for control of lucrative drug smuggling routes“.
- Last Wednesday, an entire day passed in El Salvador without a single murder, though “there was no particular reason” for it, and it did not last. The country has one of the highest murder rates of any country not at war.
- A month after the government said it would introduce six new notes and three new coins to alleviate the problem of inflation, Venezuela has phased them in, after problems with implementations at the banks.