Week #21 (28/10-03/11/2019)

The 35th ASEAN Summit is held from 31st October to 4th November 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. | Photo:  Kementerian Sekretariat Negara RI

The 35th ASEAN Summit is held from 31st October to 4th November 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand. | Photo: Kementerian Sekretariat Negara RI

AFRICA & THE MIDDLE EAST

A new research published in the journal Nature (28/10) suggested northern Botswana as the “homeland for all modern humans”, where the ancestors of Homo sapiens thrived for 70,000 years before being forced to migrate out of Africa due to climate change. Working together with local communities in Namibia and South Africa, researchers collected blood samples to study how closely different individuals are related. The researchers also analyzed the fossil and geologic record in the region.

Saad Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, has resigned (30/10) from office following 13 days of political protests across Lebanon. Before his announcement, supporters of two Shia groups, Amal and Hezbollah—the latter being part of the coalition government—attacked the anti-government protesters. After police intervention, protesters were back on the street to celebrate Hariri’s resignation.

The Islamic State (IS) has confirmed (01/11) the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi as his successor and “caliph”. Baghdadi died in northwest Syria after US-led attack destroyed his compound and he was forced to commit suicide. Other than IS’ description of their new leader as a “prominent figure in jihad”, there is no further information about Hashemi available.

Kuwait’s officials found (01/11) slave market apps on Google and Apple stores. Women on the apps were advertised as “maids for transfer” or “maids for sale”. The authorities said they have formally ordered the owners of the apps to take down their ads and signed a legal document that states they will no longer trade domestic workers. BBC News Arabic also reported that they found illegal online trade of domestic workers in black market.

This week is a symbolic week for South Africa after their rugby team, the Springboks, beat Britain 32-12 (02/11) in the rugby world cup final in Japan. The team was captained by Siya Kolisi, the first black South African to hold the position, making it another symbolic moment. After Saturday’s victory, South Africa equaled the record of three wins held by New Zealand. The victory is also expected to bring hope to South Africans as their country is facing sluggish economy.

An attack on a military post in Indelimane, eastern Mali (02/11), has left  49 soldiers dead. The attack is believed to be carried out by the Islamic State (IS) group. Mali, who has suffered from Islamist militants since 2012, regained the region with France’s help. However, violence continues to exist and expanded to other countries.

ASIA

Reported in Business Insider (30/11), Japan-South Korea trade dispute reaches its 18th week with no signs of abating. This time beer exports from Japan to South Korea reported fell 99.9% year-on-year in September. From previously JPY 783.6 million (USD 7.2 million) in September 2018, the trade value plummets to just JPY 588,000 (USD 5.400). The 2019 trade dispute started when a South Korean Supreme Court ruling last year called on Japanese companies to compensate Korean laborers during the occupation, to which Japan declined, maintained they had repaid it all in a 1965 treaty. Tension escalates thereafter with both countries removing each other from their “white lists” of preferred trading partners.

Thirteen weeks after announcing its plan to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, India has recently passed a legislation (31/10) that removes the region’s semi-autonomous status, including eliminating its own flag and constitution, and downgrading them into two federally-governed territories under India’s control. The states will soon be able to hold their own elections, albeit with some fear that, with the new status, Indian Hindus will move into the mostly-Muslim region and alter its religious and ethnic makeup—most people in the region either want independence or to be ruled by Pakistan. Similar to Pakistan, China also objected India’s move, calling it “illegal and ineffective”. India responded that China should stay out and “respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Reported recently (03/11), five migrant (Bengal) laborers and four truck drivers, who mainly came from outside Kashmir, were killed. The murderers are believed to be members of Pakistan-based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Reported in The Washington Post (01/11), Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan who visited the country last week, and the Taliban are negotiating over a deal for a prisoner exchange. Khalilzad seeks to free an American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks from the Taliban, both of whom are professors at the American University of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban requires the release of several Taliban commanders, including Anas Haqqani, a son of the founder of the Haqqani network, the Taliban’s ally.

Entering the 22nd week, the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests show no signs of relenting. The government has been more resolute in their approach and the protesters are more likely to resort to illegal conducts, including ignoring the frequent bans on marches and continuing to wear masks at demonstrations. Although not sanctioned, protesters insisted on staging a rally at Victoria Park early on Saturday (02/11). As a pretense, they had pro-democracy candidates for upcoming local elections hold individual rallies at the same time. Despite being overwhelmingly peaceful, the rally prompted police to fire tear gas at the marchers; some election candidates were pepper-sprayed and at least one was arrested. Following after, the police cancelled two authorized rallies due to be held at the evening because of “violent conflicts” and “breach of peace”. Irate protesters later in the day started blocking major roads; vandalizing pro-Beijing businesses and Chinese state news agency Xinhua’s office; and throwing petrol bombs, which some of them were aimed at police.  

The 35th ASEAN Summit officially kicked off on Sunday (03/11) morning in Bangkok, Thailand, presenting the theme “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability.” The agendas include to review and study current issues and ASEAN Community agenda as well as to endorse the ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together (ASEAN Vision 2025). Specifically, issues to be discussed will be around (political-security pillar) the implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific with external partners, the strengthening of ASEAN-led mechanisms, and current situations in the region; (economic pillar) economic integration, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), digital economy, and increased connectivity; (socio-cultural pillar) cooperation on human resource development, climate change, and regional efforts to resolve the haze pollution. In addition to the main summit, several meetings will also take place, among others, the 22nd ASEAN-China Summit, 16th ASEAN-India Summit, 14th ASEAN-East Asia Summit (EAS), 10th ASEAN-United Nation (UN) Summit, 22nd ASEAN Plus Three Summit, and the 3rd RCEP meeting.

AUSTRALIA & OCEANIA

According to the latest data (28/10), the rate of alcohol consumption and drug use is higher in regional Australia despite Sydney and Melbourne being the capital of cocaine and heroine. The average use of methamphetamine, oxycodone, fentanyl, MDMA, cannabis, alcohol, and nicotine in regional Australian exceeds the consumption of the capital cities. The data, which only represent 55% of Australia’s population, still have some limitations including its inability to differentiate where the samples came from.Further study is needed to establish baseline data that can be used to inform policy- and decision-makers.

Protesters clashed (29/10) with police outside the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre where International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) was being held. The protesters consisted of around 250 environmental, animal rights, and worker activists from 20 organizations. Police used capsicum spray and horses to keep the protesters away from the building entrance. Forty seven people were arrested for blocking access to enter the building and attacking police horses. Many protesters suffered injuries from pepper spray and police horses. A spokeswoman for the IMARC Blockade alliance, Emma Black, said, “We’re the non-violent ones. The police have been incredibly violent this morning.” 

A final vote on voluntary assisted dying (VAD) bill in Western Australia is unlikely to happen before Christmas after new claims of filibustering emerged. Liberal MP Nick Goiran—an opponent of VAD—proposed 357 amendments to the bill on Wednesday (30/10) night. Supporters of the bill accused Goiran’s move as a way to delay a final vote and that he was doing it on behalf of Liberal leader Liza Harvey. Although the government has to fight hard against the amendments, they also plan to prepare several changes on its own.

Koala habitat 300 km north of Sydney has been destroyed (30/10) and hundreds of koalas are thought to have died due to Australian wildfire. The fire, which was started by a lightning strike on Friday, has burned around 4,900 acres. Based on 50 per cent survival rate, Sue Ashton, the president of Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, predicted that 350 koalas have died during the fire. This is unfortunate as the koala colony in that area was “genetically diverse and particularly healthy”.

Libraries in Canberra have adopted (31/10) a new policy that scraps fines for overdue books, starting on November 21. Instead of paying fines, people with overdue books will get their borrowing and computer use suspended until the books are returned. A trial showed that this policy resulted in the increase of books returned. The City of Sydney, Tasmania, and the Yarra Plenty library system in Victoria adopted the same policy in 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively. But it was Tasmania who became the first state to completely remove fines. The new system also rules that the borrower will still have to pay a fine if they lost the book.

South Australia has been given (02/11) the go-ahead for their first-ever Black Friday sales, scheduled on November 29. During Black Friday—the American retail phenomenon—stores in Adelaide are allowed to open until midnight. Treasurer Rob Lucas claimed that Black Friday sales are “fantastic opportunities for consumers, retailers, and employees alike” to gain profit.  Black Friday midnight sales are also supported by department stores such as David Jones, Sephora, and H&M.

In early October, the government of Samoa declared a nationwide measles outbreak. After three deaths were believed to be related to the outbreak, officials ordered (30/10) to close all pre-schools and childcare centers to stop the measles virus spreading. The measles outbreak is believed to have started in New Zealand, before spreading to Western Australia, Tonga, and finally Samoa. Measles vaccination centers have now been set up in Samoa’s Upolu and Savai’i islands.  

EUROPE

French-speaking liberal Sophie Wilmès has been appointed (28/10) as Belgium’s first female prime minister in 189 years. She replaced Charles Michel who will become the new president of the European Council. One of Michel’s former coalition partners, the right-wing Flemish nationalist Nieuw-VlaamseAlliantie (N-VA), wasted no time attacking Wilmès, accusing her of “supporting French-speaking imperialism on the outskirts of Brussels”. Although fluent in Dutch, Wilmès is little known in Dutch-speaking and N-VA dominated Flanders. Combine with the domination of the Francophone Parti Socialiste (PS) in the French-speaking Wallonia and the Greens in Brussels, Wilmès will find a hard time forming a new federal coalition government. 

Spain will host (01/11) the United Nations (UN) climate change summit (COP25) in December after Chile withdrawn due to the recent protests over inequality in its cities. Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida welcomed the decision to move the event to his city, stating that it was a “good opportunity to show our commitment in the fight against pollution”. However, the sudden change has left Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg stranded on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Thunberg, who refuses to fly by plane because of its large carbon footprint, is already in the U.S. after traveling from the U.K. with a sailboat and planned to continue to Chile for the climate change summit. She tweeted that now she will need a lift to cross the Atlantic in November.

Greece’s conservative New Democracy government faced backlash (01/11) after it passed a new asylum law aimed to restrict more arrivals. Increased arrivals from Turkey have put Greece under extreme pressure, with the country processing 11% of all EU’s asylum applications or seven times its fair share.  However, the government’s decision to pass the controversial law was said to break the European and international humanitarian law as it can result in asylum applicants’ deportation and even death.

Dresden, a city in eastern Germany infamous for the stronghold of the far right and the birthplace of the anti-Islam Pegida movement, has declared (02/11) a “Nazi emergency”. Max Aschenbach from the Germany satirical political party Die Partei said that “the open democratic society is threatened” because there are not enough actions from the government to tackle the far right. The “Nazi emergency” resolution won 39 votes to 29 in the city council.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed (03/11) his regret to Tory members for failing to take the United Kingdom (U.K.) out of the European Union (EU) on October 31 as promised. He blamed the parliament who passed the Benn act in early autumn, which required Johnson to ask the EU for an extension should he fail to get his deal agreed by October 19. Six days prior to Johnson’s apology, the EU has granted (28/10) the U.K. an extension to January 31, 2020, with an option to leave earlier if a deal is agreed on. After Johnson formally accepted the extension, the EU will begin planning on post-Brexit trade agreements in December. The President of the European Council Donald Tusk, however, warned (29/10) the U.K. on his tweet, “To my British friends, the EU27 has formally adopted the extension. It may be the last one. Please make the best use of this time.”

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage confirmed (03/11) that he would not stand as a candidate in December’s general election. A general election was set on December 12 after Members of Parliament (MPs) voted 438 to 20 on to end Brexit paralysis and let the people decide (30/10). The snap election was said (02/11) to be “a gamble” with no clear prediction of how the result will turn out. Many fear that the election will only result in “another hung parliament, more deadlock, and more Brexit paralysis”.

LATIN AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN

A spreading fire over Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands has burned at least 50,000 hectares (01/11) of wetlands. The fire, which started on October 25, was exacerbated by a combination of fast wind and hot temperatures. Officials have issued a 30-day moratorium on fire use. In addition to relying on firefighters on ground, planes are also used to stop the fires from above. More than 8,000 blazes in the area are recorded since October 30, rising significantly compared to last year in the same period.

The source of oil spill washed in the Brazilian coastline remains (01/11) a mystery weeks after it was first discovered. The spill contaminated thousand kilometers of Brazil’s coastline, leaving nine states having to clean their shores from the thick sludge. The Brazilian experts said that they would analyze and investigate the spill further, but suspecting Venezuela as the oil’s origin. Furthermore, the expert team speculated that the spill might come from a tanker accident, a leak from a sunken cargo, or even a leak from oil transfer between ships that went wrong.

Paulo “Brazilian Forest Guardian” Paulino Guajajara was shot and killed(02/11) by illegal loggers in Araribóia, a very exclusive territory for indigenous people in Maranhão state. He was not the only Guajajara tribesman who got shot by the loggers. Laércio Guajajara was also shot but luckily survived and is hospitalized. The government of Brazil has called the federal police to conduct investigation for the shooting case. Yet another Guajajara leader, Sonia Bone Guajajara, chooses to remain skeptical to the Brazilian government.

The government of El Salvador, who does not recognize President Nicolás Maduro as legitimate leader of Venezuela, has ordered Venezuelan diplomats to leave San Salvador on Saturday (02/11) and is waiting to receive the opposition Juan Guaidó’s diplomatic team.  Guaidó declared himself as interim president earlier this year and is backed by over 50 countries, including the U.S. Ronald Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador praised the Salvadorian government’s decision. In a tit-for-tat response, Venezuela expelled (03/11) the Salvadorean diplomats from the country. The Venezuelans also accused El Salvador of “breathing oxygen into the failing U.S. strategy of intervention and economic blockade against the people of Venezuela”.

THE UNITED STATES (U.S.) & CANADA

As of Tuesday (29/10), there are 17 blazes actively burning across California, the United States (U.S.), with a new fire—the Getty Fire—started on Monday morning near Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Kincade Fire and the Tick Fire are still burning (28/10) near San Francisco and Santa Clarita respectively. To prevent more wildfires to spread, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) shut off power of its 960,000 customers, leaving more than one million people in the dark. On Thursday evening, a new blaze called Maria Fire broke out in South Mountain, south of Santa Paula, and grew rapidly on Friday (01/11), prompting Governor Gavin Newsom to expand the state of emergency to the entire state. On Saturday (02/11), the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced that “most fires that ravaged California over the past two weeks are now more than 70% contained”, except for Maria Fire that is only 20% contained.  

The Democrat-led House of Representatives passed (01/11) a resolution to open public hearings in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. Trump has been suspected of abusing the power of his office, pressuring Ukraine to gain personal political gain. The resolution was put forward by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and was voted 232 to 196. The only two democrats who voted no, Collin Peterson and Jeff Van Drew, are from Minnesota and New Jersey respectively—the districts where Trump won in 2016. The approval of the resolution means that the House can now set the rules for the public hearings.

Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, announced (03/11) that the company is banning “party houses” after a mass shooting took place during a Halloween party at an Airbnb rental in Orinda, California on Thursday (31/10). The shooting left five people killed and several injured. The owner of the Airbnb, Michael Wang, said that a woman rented his house for a family reunion and there would be only 12 people at the house. However, when the Orinda officers arrived following reports of a shooting, they found more than 100 people attending the party. Airbnb’s spokesman Ben Breit stated that the company is “urgently investigating” the incident.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is planning (02/11) to hold one-on-one meetings with each of the opposition leaders. So far, only Jagmeet Singh of New Democratic Party (NDP) has confirmed to be meeting Trudeau. Despite winning the election, Trudeau and his Liberal Party have been reduced to a minority government that leads them to rely on support from one or more other parties to pass legislation or survive votes of confidence in the House of Commons.