In the News
The Foreign Affairs Symposium is dedicated to informing its community about the state of international affairs. On a weekly basis, we present to you news updates from around the world, covering Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East.
December 3 - 8, 2018
This weekend marks the fourth weekend of the “gilets jaunes” or “yellow vest” protests in France. These violent demonstrations are in opposition to fuel tax rises, higher living costs, and a number of other issues. Macron announced that he would be directly addressing the crisis this Monday, but until then about 1,200 protesters have been taken into custody with 125,000 taking to the streets this Saturday. These protests have been hailed as an economic and societal crisis by members of the French government including the French minister of Finance, Bruno Le Maire. The nation now awaits Macron’s official statement this Monday, until then, the capital continues to be under fire, as damage is has already surpassed 1 billion euros.
Protests in Lalibela, Ethiopia:
Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s most famous and tranquil towns, cherished by many tourists and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians for its concentration of churches and holy institutions. However, recently this revered tranquility has been disrupted by local protests over deteriorating conditions. Many locals have been protesting against the disregard and neglect of one of the country's most holy settings, arguing that renovations have not happened despite promises from international donors and the government. Lalibela has been marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978 and has become one of Ethiopia's most popular tourist destinations. The area comprises of a cluster of 13 churches that bring much-needed revenues and employment opportunities to Lalibela. Now, concerns have been rising over the conservation and management of revenues that are generated from these monuments; many criticize the role of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which gains revenue from the churches.
Controversy over DRC’s Upcoming Elections:
Joseph Kabila, the outgoing president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has announced that he plans to stay in politics and does not rule out running again for the position in 2023. He has reportedly explained that he wants to protect his legacies and accomplishments by staying in politics, but he is scheduled to step down after long-held elections are held on December 23. Kabila was due to step down in 2016 at the end of his constitutional mandate, but elections to replace him have been delayed repeatedly, thereby igniting strong protests in which dozens were killed. The upcoming election in a couple weeks will thus mark the DRC's first democratic transfer of power and an end to Kabila's presidency, which began in 2001 after the assassination of his father. This delay in elections has been accompanied by unrest across the country, as armed rebels fight over land and resources. International scholars say these security breakdowns will make it difficult to hold elections across the country and thus create opportunities for Kabila’s coalition to cheat, but Kabila has announced that the DRC is ready to hold fair elections.
November 19 - 25, 2018
Last Tuesday, Israel commenced an operation named “Northern Shield” along its northern border with Lebanon to "expose and thwart cross border tunnels" dug by the Hezbollah. Hezbollah – “the Party of God” – is a Shia Islamist political party and militant group backed by Iran. It was created in the 1990s to drive Israel out of Lebanon, and has recently revealed the tunnels which would allow them to secretly enter Israel. The Israeli troops have “placed explosives inside the tunnel to make sure it cannot be used to infiltrate into Israel." The tunnels are reported to have cross-sectional dimensions of 2 meters by 2 meters, with an estimated length of 200 meters. In response to Northern Shield, the Deputy Chief of Hezbollah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, fired back in an interview on Saturday that “There is no point in the Zionist entity that is not in the range of Hezbollah’s rockets.”
Following his landslide victory, Andrés Manuel López Obrador was sworn into office last week, becoming Mexico’s first leftist president since the 1970’s. His victory was rooted in citizen’s discontent with the current political structure, rising crime, and governmental corruption in Mexico. President López Obrador denounced the previous economic policies, calling them neoliberal in his inaugural address. He furthermore vowed to end political corruption and called for a strengthened role for the government in the economy. By expanding the role of social programs and instituting more public works, Mr. Obrador plans to pave a new path for governmental capacity in Mexico.
The public has embraced the new president’s promises with hope, but also have raised expectations for the governmental apparatus. The poor and working-class citizens felt that the previous administration had left them out of their plans for development. “We will carry out a peaceful, orderly transformation, but at the same time it will be deep and radical,” promised Mr. López Obrador. Opponents see his platform as threatening and could put democratic institutions in jeopardy. He is the first president since 1997 to hold the majority in both houses of congress, making his plans more possible than ever.
How President López Obrador handles the intensifying immigration crisis at the US-Mexico boarder and addresses rising levels of violence in the coming weeks will be of importance to the future of his administration.
…“But if we stay it could be double,” sang British rock band The Clash, spelling a serious reality for current Brexit negotiations that have been ongoing this last week. While the question for voters was uncomplicated during the 2016 referendum, the British divorce from the European Union has proven to be arduous. British desires to leave the EU have been clearly identifiable. Besides seeking to shed the weight of their disproportionally large contributions to the EU (which increased from $4.15 billion in 2008 to $17.4 billion in 2013), Britain also believes the single-market system of the EU impedes with trade outside the bloc. Add the financial friction (incited by the UK’s decision to retain its own currency), sentiments against the Union’s policy in respect to migration, and British nationalism for independence, a storm has been brewing in Britain for years. With the decision to leave the EU in the rear-view mirror, British officials face more obstacles in constructing a plan to shake off the EU.
What the 2016 vote failed to do answer was what the nature of the split should be. The gap in voter knowledge has left politicians to fill in the blanks for a compromise that is being challenged from all angles. Coming under fire from within parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May’s own party, and the EU, the past week has displayed the fragility for agreeing on terms to split. The root of this problem (and the basis of talks for the plan) is the disputed relationship between Britain’s economic continuity and perceived sovereignty. Did the British people prioritize the independence of their own decision making at an economic cost? Or will they prefer to stay close with their biggest trading partner to minimize the impact of Brexit on their economy?
The negotiations occurred against a backdrop of infighting within both Prime Minister May’s party and the ardently divided parliament. Besides the difficulty of getting the plan approved by the skeptical and divided parliament, Mrs. May’s position is also threatened by her own conservative party, who has reportedly aired several calls for her removal from office. Her Brexit plan focuses on keeping the UK involved with the EU’s economic system after leaving the trading bloc this March. Why stay so close to the institutions that they have been fighting to leave? May ensures that this plan is a necessity to avoid a “no deal” and a subsequent economic disaster upon splitting with the EU. The EU held their ground in response, maintaining that Britain wouldn’t receive any of the benefits that their single-market membership offers. While Britain will pursue new trade deals, it will be subject to the EU’s tariffs and sanctions.
The bottom line for the deal that Prime Minister May has proposed is that the United Kingdom will remain in the European Union’s economic orbit for several years following the final split this March, complying with the bloc’s tariffs and regulations. They will also pay a divorce bill over those years amounting to $50 million. With the cabinet giving the green light, the ball is now in the EU’s court. At the November 25th summit they will have the opportunity to agree to the withdrawal agreement.
Source: Wall Street Journal, CNBC and BBC
France agrees to return Beninese artwork
Emmanuel Macron has decided to return Beninese ancestral artwork to the hands of the Beninese government. These artifacts were seized during the colonial period and are currently displayed in a multitude of French museums. The recent contemporary art museum Musée
du Quai Branly in Paris, holds most of these works, along with artifacts from numerous other African ex-colonies. For years now, the Beninese government has demanded for that these artifacts be returned until a commission was specifically put in place by Macron in order to investigate the possibility of returning these works. The French president has now confirmed that the cultural artwork will be returned “as quickly as possible.”
In the referendums on Saturday, Taiwan voters rejected same-sex marriage. Taiwan’s high court ruled that it was unconstitutional to ban same-sex marriages in May, 2017. The parliament was divided on enacting the legislation, and thus conservatives called a referendum in hopes of stopping same-sex marriage. The rejection of gay marriage is a move others countries will look to as Taiwan is the trailblazer for LGBTQ rights in Asia.
President Tsai Ing-wen also resigned as leader of Taiwan's governing party, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), as local elections showed several major defeats. Political experts suggest that the slowing economy – as a result of Tsai’s stricter approaches with Beijing – influenced the citizens.
North Sentinel Island
The Sentinelese – indigenous people of the North Sentinel Island situated in the Bay of Bengal – killed 27-year-old American John Allen Chau. Chau bribed fishermen to take him to the reserved island – which is illegal – in a mission to convert the Sentilinese and spread Christianity. Believed to have been killed on November 17, Chau was most likely taken down by arrows. The Sentinelese are one of the last of the "uncontacted" tribes in the world with a history of hostility, and there is concern about retrieving Chau’s body as any virus could wipe out the population, as the Senitlinese are not immune to anything.
South Korean Kim Jong Yang was elected as Interpol President, after previous President Meng Hongwei was detained and charged in China for accepting bribes.This was a surprise as Alexander Prokopchuk, who had been Russian Interior Ministry official, was the expected front-runner. However, with pressure from the US and suspicions that Russia’s government would take advantage of Interpol, the vote ultimately elected Kim. Kim has been Interpol Vice-President for Asia since 2015, and for a year in 2011, was head of Interpol’ National Central Bureau in Seoul. He will serve until 2020.
Death of Syrian radio host Raed Fares:
A prominent Syrian radio journalist, Raed Fares, has been shot dead by gunmen in the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib. Fares was a well-know Syrian activist and the founder of Radio Fresh, an independent radio station that broadcast from within opposition-held countries in Syria. His activism had previously sparked anger from both militants and the Syrian government; 2 years ago, he was the target of a failed assassination attempt by two gunmen for the Islamic State (IS) as well as other attacks by the Nusra Front and the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Fares was a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling for the end of his reign. His death has sparked heavy protest as well as an outpouring of grief from activists and international journalists. These protests are mounting in the midst of expert reports of an escalation in assassinations in Idlib over the past year that have targeted leaders of major factions and political dissidents who publicly disagree with governance.
Protests in Tunisia:
Protests are rising in Tunisia as politicians and civil society groups express their rejection of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's upcoming visit to the country. The visit is part of the crown prince’s first tour abroad since the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi and the rising accusations that have blamed the prince for his death. Hundreds of protestors are expected to gather in front of the presidential palace when the crown prince arrives, and a team of Tunisian lawyers says they will file a lawsuit commissioned by bloggers and journalists who are calling for the visit to be banned. The Tunisian press syndicate has also openly penned its protest against the visit, citing human rights violations that the crown prince has been accused of. These protests coincide with one of the nation’s largest strike over wages in decades. An estimated 650,000 Tunisians left their jobs this past week to stage a nationwide strike over wages. Many public sector employees have been demanding pay increases and better economic conditions since the Tunisian Revolution in 2011.
Started in 1960, the Copa Libertadores has become the most significant match for South American football. This year’s tournament came down to the final, or the “Final to End All Finals,” between two of Argentina’s teams, River Plate and Boca Juniors, scheduled for November 24th. However, after an attack, staged by River Plate fans against the Boca Juniors team as they made their way to the stadium, left a number of Boca Juniors players injured, the match was postponed by one day. According to sources, Boca Juniors captain Pablo Perez and midfielder Gonzalo Lamardo, along with other team players affected by tear gas sprayed by local police to control the outbreaks of violence, were eventually hospitalized, and on Sunday, November 25th, Conmebol, the South American football confederation, once again, decided to push the game back. This has not been the first time that there has been conflict between the two teams. In a round-of-16 match three years ago, Boca Juniors fans pepper sprayed River Plate members, leaving Boca eliminated from the match. With speculation as to whether or not the games will resume soon, many have expressed their concern over how the games will play out, with a December 18 Club World Cup semifinals on the line.
November 4 - 9, 2018
October 8 - 13 , 2018
Now that the Midterm Elections are Over… What’s Happening Across the Atlantic?
While the United States’ focus has been fixated on the frantic midterm elections the last couple weeks, the European world has observed important developments in political and foreign affairs. Most notably, the announcement from current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, informed the public that she will be handing over leadership of the Christian Democratic Union this December and therefore not participate in the following federal election in 2021. Symbolizing the most pertinent figure of stabilization for post-war Germany, her coming absence raises many questions as to what Germany’s political future will look like. Will the CDU swing left or right in lieu of its moderate leader? Or perhaps the right-wing AfD will take advantage of the power vacuum being left behind. The future of German politics is sure to be volatile following the departure of a figure many went as far to call the new leader of the free world.
Another notable matter is the approaching meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and President Trump. After Trump requested more support from Europe in the form of military spending, European leaders such as Macron and Merkel were pressed to publicly question the United States is a power Europe can truly rely on. While the security ties between the European continent and the States has historically been a base for security, Euro-American relations have come into question. Marcon went as far to list the United States as a potential threat to Europe. His recent request for the formation of a “true European army” is a clear representation of this deterioration of relations with the United States and reveals a critique on the trans-Atlantic ties currently being practiced. The notion of European departure from its historical American reliance will be more defined following President Trump’s visit this month.
At least 81 people, 79 of which were students, were kidnapped on the night of November 4th at the Nkwen Presbyterian Secondary School in Bamenda, northeastern Cameroon. This is the largest hostage crisis that has occurred since the beginning of socio political unrest in the Anglophone region of the nation. According to military sources, the perpetrators are unknown, but are believed to be secessionist militia that have been consistently targeting the region. Security has been reinforced in the region, as this is the largest but not the first, attack of educational establishments in Bamenda. The president, Paul Biya, has for two years promised to address ongoing unrest in the region, seemingly with little results.
At the UN Human Rights council meeting on Tuesday, China dismissed international criticism of its Muslim detainment camps in the northern Xinjiang province, calling the assertions “biased” and “politically driven.” China has detained up to one million ethnic Uighurs and Muslim minorities in what China calls “re-education camps” for vocational training. However, people leaving the camp have said otherwise. A recent study by Jamestown Foundation showed that spending on “security-related facility construction” doubled between 2016 and 2017 and satellite data corroborate the findings, pointing to a different story than the one China has told.
North and South Korea
On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol in New York to further talks of North Korea’s denuclearisation. North Korea has not tested missile or nuclear weapons for nearly a year, saying that it has closed most of its facilities. Meanwhile, South Korean and the US resume its military drills ahead of the talk. The drills were suspended after President Donald Trump visited North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in June and promised to end the joint drills to encourage cooperation. Larger drills are still suspended, but South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense announced that smaller drills would recommence.
After a military crackdown in August 2017, nearly 750,000 of Rohingya – a Muslim minority – have escaped Myanmar into Bangaldesh. There has been severe prosecution of the Rohingya population and countless accounts of widespread killing and horrific violence. On October 30, Bangladesh and Myanmar reached an agreement to begin settling Rohingya refugees to Myanmar in mid-November, however a UN expert on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, urges Bangladesh to put a break on the plans as the Myanmar government still has not guaranteed protection of the Rohingya. This was after a study on Facebook’s role in the genocide was released on Monday. UN investigators accused Facebook of failing to stop the spread of hate in Myanmar online. They said that violent posts perpetuated the discrimination in real life. Facebook issued a statement accepting the report and pledging to do more to “prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence.”
Jordan Flash Floods:
Heavy rains and flooding have killed at least twelve people in Jordan and forced the evacuation of over 3,500 tourists from the ancient city of Petra and other populated cities. Tourists were taken to safe areas before flash floods inundated parts of the mountainous city, but rescuers continued to search for missing people. The downpour and flooding in the region began November 9th as water surged from nearby mountains into the community. Many experts say that the floods are a result of bad infrastructure and climate, pointing to recent unexpected floods and ineffective safety mechanisms and resource distribution in the desert areas.
Update on the Khashoggi case:
Turkey has shared recordings related to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi with Saudi Arabia, the United States, Germany, France and Britain, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish sources have said previously that authorities have an audio recording allegedly documenting the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but the existence of such a recording has never been officially confirmed. Saudi Arabia has changed its narrative about the details of the crime several times, initially insisting that Khashoggi left the consulate and then later admitting that the journalist died in a fistfight in the building. Most recently, Saudi Arabian officials conceded that the death was premeditated murder but insist that it was part of an unplanned rogue operation. Meanwhile, Erdogan has accused the Saudi government of ordering the murder while other officials have blamed the crown prince despite denials from Riyadh.
Battle for Hodeidah, Yemen:
Yemeni forces, backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have seized control of a hospital in the western city of Hodeidah in Yemen. The city was taken over by Houthi fighters earlier this week in violation of international law. Hodeidah, a large city on Yemen's Red Sea coast, is the latest battleground in the fight for control over the country waged between the Houthis and a Saudi-UAE military alliance. Aid agencies and international organization have long warned that fighting in Hodeidah risks escalating war-ravaged Yemen’s dire humanitarian crisis since over 70% of the country’s food, aid, fuel and commercial goods used to enter into Yemen through the city's port.
The European Union Responds to American Sanctions
Following the United States’ withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and imposition of new sanctions, the European Union has established a course of action aimed at repairing the currently fragmented global economic system. Last month, the European Union announced their plans to reinstate a global payment system to facilitate trade with Iran in the face of the United States’ policies. A council of European Union representatives has constructed several initiatives to support the present nuclear deal in addition to assisting Iran with economic benefits. Possibly the most important messages from the European Union’s actions are the assertion of their position in the future of American-Iranian relations as well as their ability to construct a strong-willed policy path. The world will be closely watching Iran’s intentions to reform the nuclear deal and the European Union’s implementation of their new policies in the coming months.
Mohammed Dewji, often hailed as Africa’s youngest billionaire, was kidnapped earlier this week in Tanzania. The Tanzanian businessman was attending his habitual public gym when he was abruptly taken away by a group of masked men. Gunshots were fired before the vehicle drove away with the billionaire. There is still very little information on the motivations behind the kidnapping or the possible whereabouts of Mr. Dewji. Witnesses to the scene said it occurred rapidly, but all confirm that at least two white men were amidst the masked group of kidnappers.The information confirmed by the Tanzanian government and Mr. Dewji’s family has confirmed his disappearance.
There are major implications for the Tanzanian government in the wake of this sudden event. According to Forbes, Dewji is the 17th richest man on the continent, and his various industrial enterprises are heavily intertwined with the country’s provisions of petroleum, insurance and real estate. In a region that has unfortunately seen increasing violence, this upset may urge the government into adopting more comprehensive policies towards securing the country.
On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund warned that the effects of the US-China Trade War will hit in 2019, slowing economic growth for both countries. The IMF advocated that both countries resolve their disagreements to prevent future disadvantages on the macroeconomic level.
In domestic news, Interpol chief Meng Hongwei “disappeared” last month and is reportedly being detained by the Chinese government on charges of corruption. On Monday, his wife Grace Meng reported his absence publicly and accused the government of detaining him without reasonable evidence. She believes his life is in danger after his last text was a knife emoji. Meng Hongwei is the latest of several high-profile disappearances after China’s most famous actress Fan Bingbing hasn’t been sighted for 4 months now, most likely outed for tax evasions.
Additionally, the government has been detaining hundreds of thousands of Muslims for weeks to months at a time in the Xinjiang region bordering Kazakhstan. The government claims that the camps are educative “vocational training centers”, but according to former inmates, they were held there with the goal of eradicating “extremist” ideas.
South and North Korean relations appear to have progressed as South Korean President Moon Jae-in made an unprecedented speech during his three-day visit to Pyongyang, while attending the North Korean Arirang Games. Moon is now the first South Korean leader to have given a speech in the public when he spoke during the games on Wednesday. He stated his belief that the two countries would reunite and end the war.
On Friday, the Philippines was elected 192 to 165 for a third term on the United Nations Human Rights Council, prompting widespread criticism. The council’s goal is to protect human rights, especially by monitoring countries with human rights violation. Critics point out that the Philippines has a record of human rights abuse stemming from President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war and extrajudicial killings. The membership of several other countries with a poor track record – including Eritrea, Cameroon, and Bahrain – have also been questioned.
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain a document pertaining to his divorce so he could re-marry. However, he has not been seen since. Turkish sources have told media outlets they believe the Saudi critic was killed inside the consulate, describing it as premeditated murder. Saudi officials have countered this claim, insisting that Khashoggi left the building before he vanished. Turkish officials have began releasing some evidence, and Turkish intelligence often cooperates closely with Western intelligence agencies so Turkey could presumably share its evidence without exposing sources. Sharing further evidence with Western governments would increase the pressure on Saudi Arabia to explain more about Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. So far, US and Turkish officials say that there are audio and video recordings proving Khashoggi was tortured and murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and Turkish intelligence is also examining Mr. Khashoggi’s Apple Watch for evidence.
The outcry and response to the disappearance has been growing every day. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has again denied any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi, while Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven called for a transparent probe into the mystery. The UN Security Council released a statement demanding a thorough investigation into the disappearance of Khashoggi, and many countries including the United Kingdom, France, Egypt and Germany have called on Saudi Arabia and Turkey to mount a credible investigation. In the meantime, media companies and technology companies like Google, Ford, JP Morgan, The New York Times, and CNN are pulling out of an upcoming Saudi investment conference because of growing outrage over Khashoggi's disappearance.
Jair Bolsonaro won with a 46% of the vote during the first round of the Brazil’s General Elections on October 7th against his main contender, Fernando Haddad of the Worker’s Party. The success of the far right candidate comes after a series of government crackdowns on corruption, which has left former President Lula de Silva in custody over a court sentence for money laundering back in April, as well as the waning support for the Social Democracy Party, the respective party for current President Michel Temer. Amidst the backlash from disgruntled Brazilians, Jair Bolsonaro’s platform holds a number of serious implications for the country’s political climate, most notably with his immense support base from the military under a rhetoric that is openly approving of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime. Moreover, he “openly denigrates women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT people,” a stance that aligns with his veneration for President Donald Trump. With run-off elections expected to take place on October 28, 2018. Bolsonaro’s current poll lead has caused many to become concerned about the possibility of an increasingly authoritarian future, a major step away from its democracy.