The World This Week 10/31

Asia Pacific

Ahead of President Trump’s trip later this week, the US administration appears to be planning to revive the so-called Asia-Pacific “Quad” security forum including India and Australia. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) was established in 2007, but soon ceased after then-Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd withdrew his country to signal a closer relationship with China. Many things have changed in the past decade, so much so that the new Quad would go beyond maritime security cooperation to coordinate non-Chinese alternatives for regional infrastructure financing. It appears that China’s major-power diplomacy and trade expansion are eliciting a response from conservative hardliner governments in the US, Japan, India, and Australia. Trump’s surround-and-enforce Asia strategy will be facilitating a coordinated anti-dumping barrage over China’s heavy industries in exchange for maritime security with a close range of key geo-economic partners. To escape the perceived Thucydides trap, the US is accelerating toward an Asian balance of power within a new multipolar world order. China’s legal position in response is weak, as the WTO Anti-Dumping Agreement amply covers the rules and procedures being unilaterally enforced by the four Quads.

Investors piled into the Chinese government’s first global dollar bond sale since 2004, oversubscribing the issue by more than 10 times, underscoring the overwhelming demand for the rare debt offering. The new sovereign issue is a move by the Chinese government to ward against a rising US dollar, and to provide a more diversified capital market amid sluggishness in the yuan-denominated debt market, sold outside mainland China. By holding on to dollar-denominated Chinese sovereign bonds, Chinese investors can hedge against a strengthening dollar. China’s decision to issue a dollar bond was particularly significant given the continued surge in the volume of offshore bond issuances coming out of China, with Chinese issuers accounting for more than 65 per cent of total issuance in the Asian US dollar bond market so far in 2017. While the Chinese government does not need to borrow offshore, with a domestic debt market that’s now the world’s third-largest, analysts said the bond sale could be intended to create a benchmark that other dollar bonds by Chinese state-owned enterprises can be measured against. Before this issuance, there was no official sovereign credit benchmark for corporate US dollar issuances out of China.

Japan said that it will help the Philippines rebuild conflict-torn southern Marawi city, as well as other infrastructure, in a deepening of ties to counter China’s regional influence. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the pledges in a joint statement with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte following talks in Tokyo. Mr Duterte on Oct 23 announced the end of five months of military operations in Marawi, which was occupied by ISIS rebels in a conflict that destroyed much of the city’s centre and displaced some 300,000 people. Japan also offered to help with other projects, ranging from rail infrastructure to river defences, including a possible 600 billion yen loan to help fund development of a subway in Manila.

Chinese police arrested several North Koreans in Beijing on suspicion of plotting to murder Kim Jong Un’s 22-year-old nephew. Two of seven North Korean agents were arrested over the alleged plot to kill Kim Han Sol, whose father Kim Jong Nam was assassinated in Malaysia earlier this year. South Korean government officials have speculated that Kim Jong Un was behind the murder of his half-brother, a critic of his leadership who had lived outside the country for years. The DPRK leader is seeking to eliminate any rival claimants to power, especially those with Chinese ties. There is a fear that China may attempt to remove Kim Jong Un and establish a ruler amenable to Beijing.
The Middle East and North Africa

The Gulf Crisis continues, as Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid al-Khalifa calls for Qatar’s membership to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to be suspended. He also stated Bahrain would not attend the next GCC summit if Qatar attends. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani responded saying, “our sovereignty is a redline.” This exchange signals that the Gulf Crisis might not end soon.

Today, Syrian government officials and members of some of the armed opposition groups are meeting in Astana. The aim of the talks are to establish four ‘no-escalation zones’ in opposition held territories, with Russia, Turkey, and Iran enforcing these zones. Representatives from the US and UN will also be in Kazakhstan for these talks. The international community has high hopes that the no-escalation zones will be a breakthrough for peace in Syria.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to allow women more freedom in Saudi Arabia. Yesterday it was announced that Saudi women would be allowed to attend sporting events in three stadiums across the country. This, along with ending the ban on women driving, has led many to believe that the Crown Prince will bring more changes in regards to women’s rights.

South Asia

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and China, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana meet on October 30. In addition to the celebratory nature of the meeting, a $1.5 billion infrastructure project was also discussed. The Chinese investment in Sri Lanka is crucial for China’s “Belt and Road” initiative. Reports of a Chinese submarine docking in Colombo triggered security concerns in India.

Mohammad Nabi Ahmadi, the deputy governor of Kunar, a region of Afghanistan’s northwestern province, was kidnapped in Pakistan on past Sunday. The Afghan Taliban denied involvement in Ahmadi’s kidnapping.

Following President Donald Trump’s visit to China, Prime Minister Modi plans to meet with Trump next month to strengthen South Asia Strategy.  Apart from the fight against terrorism, the key focus of the Trump-Modi meeting will be to gain strong ties in Indo-US relationship and to deal with Chinese activity in the South China Sea. The US is also expected to enter a joint economic project with Japan, India, and Australia to counter China’s OBOR.

After Head of US Secretary of state, Rex Tillerson’s recently visits to Kabul and Islamabad, combating terrorism and identifying India’s role in war-torn Afghanistan are highlighted as Trump administration’s new strategy for South Asia. As world’s two largest democracies, Tillerson and Swarai, India’s foreign minister, urge to strengthen ties and enhance shared values between the US and India, especially as the U.S. sees China as operating outside global rules-based norms as China’s increasing economic and military activities in the region.

Prime_Minister_Narendra_Modi_with_President_of_Kenya_Uhuru_Kenyatta
The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi meeting the President of Kenya, Mr. Uluru Kenyatta, Wikimedia Creative Commons 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya went to the polls again on October 26th after the constitutional court made the surprise decision to annulled the results from the August 8th voting due to “irregularities.” Incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta won that vote as well as the most recent vote. His closest competition, Raila Odinga, withdrew from the race because electoral reforms he was demanded were not being met. His gamble did not pay any dividends, though without him on the ballot, only about 39% of eligible voters showed up to vote (albeit voting 98% in favor of Mr. Kenyatta).  The election in August saw at least twice as many people show up to the polling stations. James Gondi, a political analyst in Nairobi, told Al Jazeera that, “In Kenya people vote against somebody and with Odinga not in the race, many people had no one to vote against and decided not to come to the polling station.”

The Economist wrote an excellent piece digging into why separatist sentiment has started to simmer once again in Biafra, against which the Nigerian government found a civil war with between 1966 and 1970. Nearly one million people were killed. Reasons listed for the uptick in resentment include: the launching of propaganda-heavy Radio Biafra, the use of deadly force by the Nigerian army against the Igbo ethnic group whenever nationalist sentiments are expressed, and the “perception of the army as a northern institution.” The Igbo people group is one of three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, yet the country has not seen a President come from their ranks since 1966, which could lead to additional resentment. Though President Muhammadu Buhari has said the state must stay united, he will not get his way by employing violence.

Latin America

The Venezuelan democratic opposition was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. As the name suggests, the Sakharov Prize honors individuals and groups committed to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought. A European Parliament lawmaker, Jose Ignacio Salafranca said the award choice was a symbolic gesture towards restoring freedom, democracy, peace and human rights in Venezuela.”

Venezuela has experienced political crises for several years under President Nicolas Maduro, who has constricted the nation’s rule of law and constitutional order. The Democratic Opposition has denounced votes and combatted Maduro’s largely un-democratic rule. Since the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision to strip the National Assembly of all legislative power, the number of Venezuelan political prisoners has increased to nearly 600, according to the Venezuelan Penal Forum. Venezuelan prisons are reportedly wrought with torture and inhumane treatment, something the oppositional party has fought tooth and nail to stop.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to French Guiana was met with police-protester clashes. Petrol bombs and tear gas were exchanged in response to Guianese sentiments regarding social deprivation. Earlier this year, a strike and road blockade, as well as a public occupation at Kourou erupted as many Guianese citizens sought greater independence from France.

Macron further irked Guianese residents when he denied the impoverished South American territory increased state aid saying, “I am not Father Christmas.” Line Ltardé, a local councilor, said Macron’s approach was “extremely damaging,” suggesting that he “show respect for Guiana… by giving it what it has the right to expect from the French Republic.” Many French Guianese see Macron and his references towards the food and public health risks in the small territory as colonialist and worthy of great dissatisfaction. Many Guianese are unhappy with the territory’s lack of aid, the influx of illegal immigrants and neglected healthcare and school system aid.

Cuba claims there have been no sonic attacks against the US embassy in Havana. Further, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez regarded the claims as “totally false” and “political manipulation” intended to damage bilateral relations between the US and Cuba.

The story first broke in September, when a “medical mystery” plagued 21 diplomats at the Embassy in Havana with symptoms ranging from mild brain trauma to dizziness and hearing loss. Reports suggested that sonic attacks were to blame, but nothing was ever officially proven. As a result, the US removed 15 diplomats, claiming that Cuba had failed to protect its employees.

In a meeting of Cubans living in the US, Mr. Rodriguez said the allegations created a “serious deterioration in the relationship between both governments and both countries.” It is not clear what, if any, the US response to the occurrence will be.

Europe and Central Asia

England’s Parliament last week was rocked by allegations of sexual harassment between some of its MPs and their administrative staff. Specifically, Minister Mark Garnier is being investigated for breaching protocol after asking his secretary to buy sex toys and calling her a vulgar name. This case has opened up a larger discussion of what MP Harriet Harman calls, “a sleazy, oppressive culture” within the governing body, which she and others believe has been remisce in protecting the anonymity and rights of staff to work in a safe, respectful environment. Speaker Bercow has since given a speech calling for “zero tolerance” of this culture of harassment and improve the handling of future cases.

The controversy of Catalan independence escalated last Friday with the decision of Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to fire Catalonia’s President Puigdemont and his government. This power is derived from article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and also resulted in Spain’s subsequent act of imposing direct rule on Catalan and setting up another election for December 21. On Monday, the state’s attorney general announced that, in response to the decision of Catalonia’s government to declare independence, charges of “rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds” would be pressed against them all. It was soon after this that media reported that the former Catalan president and five of his cabinet had driven to France and boarded a plane for Belgium. While there are some concerns of them being given asylum, Belgium leadership has dispelled the rumor, though there is still a possibility they may attempt to form a government in exile. In the meantime, the rest of Catalonia’s civil servants returned to work on Monday as usual, a sign that perhaps the Catalan people are willing relinquish their zeal for independence along with their former President.

Featured Image: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe meet on the sidelines of the 2016 ASEAN Summit in Laos, Vientiane on September 6, 2016, Wikimedia Creative Commons. 

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