Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs
Europe: Cameron Fulton
In the lead-up to the German national elections next month, the Green party are beginning to recover from their initial slump in the polls. After initial success building on the 2019 European Parliament elections, the party has been dogged by accusations of plagiarism and resumé inflating by their first-ever Chancellor nominee, Annalena Baerbock. But the party has since recovered to represent 20% of votes on recent polling, compared to the leading 28% of the CDU. Robert Habeck, co-leader, talked of ‘defending freedom’ to voters as his party introduced a ‘climate emergency protection programme’ that has been popular amongst voters. Four weeks after devastating floods hit Germany, climate has become a leading point of contention in the upcoming German election. And with it, comes the opportunity for Habeck’s party to recover its campaign trail.
Europe has been declared the leader of the ‘vaccine marathon’ by the FT this week. This comes as Emmanuel Macron was on TikTok, to dispel doubts about COVID vaccines, encouraging younger generations to get jabbed. The bloc’s push on younger generations receiving their jabs has propelled them past the rest of the world. Fears over the Delta variant remain prominent across France and Europe, but are cause of a resurgent European programme, initially criticised for its slow pace, that has now overtaken the US in terms of vaccinations per 100 people.
Poland’s de facto leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has ended the legal battle between his nation and the European Court of Central Justice, stating amendments will be made to the controversial Polish judicial system for disciplining judges. This comes after previous fighting-talk from the country’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, who suggested his country was being ‘blackmailed’ and even threatened breaking away from the central bloc. The European Commission had given until the 16th of August for the member state to comply with the ECJ ruling.
Asia Pacific: Sophie Evans
Vietnam has recently been facing its worst wave of coronavirus outbreaks thus far in the pandemic with a record 9,716 cases reported this Saturday. Of the nation’s 177,813 total cases, over 85% were reported in just the last month, and only a startlingly minute 1% of the 96 million population has been fully vaccinated. Cases in Vietnam have stayed relatively low throughout the pandemic and the national GDP actually increased by 2.9% in 2020; however the Delta variant has proven aggressive in infiltrating the country’s initially robust virus containment programme. To mitigate rising cases, the government has imposed strict lockdowns on Ho Chi Minh City and 18 other cities and provinces in the southern region. These sudden lockdowns have heavily affected numerous industries. The food and agriculture sector has been especially impacted in terms of production and export of goods to overseas markets. As residents are banned from leaving home, farm workers can no longer harvest crops and it is estimated that exports of fruits and vegetables will drop 30% in the latter part of the year.
Last Friday, two Myanmar citizens were arrested in New York in an alleged plot to kill or injure the Myanmar UN ambassador. The perpetrators, Phyo Hein Htut and Ye Hein Zaw had planned to hire attackers to force Kyaw Moe Tun to resign or kill him if he refused. Moe Tun is an avid champion of the democracy movement and an open critic of Myanmar’s current military regime. Though the junta fired him, he has remained as representative for the nation’s civilian government for the United Nations. US Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that law enforcement acted “quickly and diligently” after hearing of the potential assassination. The two perpetrators have also named a Thai arms dealers as being implicit in the plot – a claim which the manufacturer denies. This is currently being investigated by Thai police. The pair appeared in federal court this week and could face up to five years in prison.
Anti-government protests continue in Bangkok as over a thousand protesters clashed with police this Friday. The protests are against the government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak and the economic impacts of government-imposed restrictions. Thailand had an increase of 22,000 new cases in a single day on Saturday and also recorded its highest number of deaths with 212 fatalities. Protesters marched on the office of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha – yelling for his immediate resignation. Police used containers and shot tear gas and rubber bullets to force protesters back. The Thai government has been criticised recently for its policies throughout the pandemic and its slow rollout of the vaccine – with protesters also demanding the introduction of mRNA jabs such as Moderna and Pfizer rather than China’s Sinovac.
India: Rudra Sen
Prime Minister Modi chaired a high-level virtual debate in the United Nations Security Council titled ‘Enhancing Maritime Security- A Case for International Cooperation’. It primarily focused on discussing how the international community can effectively counter maritime crimes and strengthen its coordination in this area. India called for a framework of mutual understanding and cooperation on maritime security and urged members to consider implementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
India’s renewable energy capacity crossed 100 GW excluding large hydro and is now the fourth largest in the world in terms of installed renewable energy capacity. An additional 50 GW of renewable energy capacity is under construction and another 27 GW in the tendering stages. The installed renewable energy capacity mix includes solar, wind, biomass and small hydro projects. India has also set ambitious renewable energy targets of 175 GW by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030.
China: Tommy Pigatto
Chinese media outlets declare China winner of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by augmenting their medal count to include those won by athletes from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau.
As U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Chinese diplomats establish closer diplomatic and economic ties with the Taliban, despite officially recognizing Afghanistan’s democratically elected government in Kabul.
Chinese cities issue flooding “red alerts” as death toll surpassess 300, with hundreds still missing.
The Chinese government extends its surveillance of Uyghur Muslims abroad, working with the Pakistani government to monitor and extradite potential Uyghur “threats”.
Africa: Laura da Silva
Zambia’s opposition leader Hakinde Hichilema has taken an early lead in the national presidential election. The election is expected to be the tightest yet in the third contest between President Edgar Lungu and long-standing opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema. The vote, which opened on Thursday, has tested the usually peaceful democracy as iit takes place against a backdrop of heightened tension between the incumbent Patriotic Front (PF) party and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND). Clashes have broken out in several provinces, and chairman of the ruling PF party has been killed after violence occurred in North-Western province – a Hichilema stronghold. The final election results are expected by end of the day on Sunday.
The war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, which was declared by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last November, has significantly escalated. On Tuesday Mr Ahmed called all capable Ethiopian citizens to take up arms in the fight against rebel forces. This announcement has effectively ended the unilateral cease-fire called by the government in June. In recent weeks, the government has increased the arbitrary arrests of Tigrayans, an ethnic minority group, and hundreds are reportedly being held without cause in military detention camps. Humanitarian organisations have expressed great concern for the growing devastation of the nine-month war that has resulted in thousands of deaths, widespread gang-rapes and desperate famine conditions in the Tigray region.
On Sunday, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied invoked article 80 of the country’s constitution to dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspend parliament. Although the move to sack the unpopular Prime Minister was celebrated by many Tunisians, Tunisian academics as well as Tunisia’s parliament speaker and head of the Ennahda Party, Rached Ghannouchi, have called the president’s move a coup. Indeed, President Saied’s decision to suspend parliament and dismiss the Prime Minister with the support of the army and national security forces, coupled with his threats of violence and limitations on freedom of speech in the media are the very definition of a coup d’etat. This move by the president has been denounced by six out of the twelve Tunisian political parties, and has fueled concerns about a possible slide into authoritarianism.
Middle East: Dhruv Shah
Emboldened by the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban now control more territory since they were ousted from power in 2001. As of Saturday, the Taliban control over half of the provinces within the country – around 18/34 provinces, and are predicted to be only 7 days away from capturing the capital city, Kabul. Given the swift advancement by the Taliban, alongside the rapid collapse of Afghanistan’s security forces, the UK and US have deployed 600 and 3000 troops respectively back to the country, to aid with the evacuation of embassies and local translators from the country.
Last week, Iran elected a new president, President Ebrahim Raisi, largely considered to be ultra conservative, and sharing many of the hardline views shared by the country’s powerful clergy and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. With a majority in parliament, the new president will be able to quickly push through legislation and shape Iran’s domestic and foreign policies. Raisi has promised an “active and dynamic foreign policy,” raising many questions about the future of the Iran Nuclear Deal and ongoing tensions within the Middle East between Iran and other countries.
North America: Amelia Brown
As the delta variant forces increased restrictions in some states that had previously relaxed measures such as indoor mask wearing, the FDA has approved Moderna and Pfizer for booster shots for immunocompromised individuals. Despite an early differentiation in delta spread between states with low vaccination rates, like Alabama and Florida, versus states with near herd immunity rates, like Connecticut and Vermont, hot spots of high transmission are now all over the country and can become very localized. An analysis found that even in those communities with over 70% of the population vaccinated, 6 out of 10 residents are in a hot spot. This has led to Alabama issuing a limited state of emergency as the healthcare system strains under the amount of covid cases—a huge increase in vaccinations, pushed by the governer, has also helped.
A $1 trillion infrastructure deal passed in the Senate this week, with bipartisan support. President Biden applauded the passage of the bill, as bipartisanship is a key point of his leadership style. The bill includes plans for increased electric transport such as charging stations, busses, and trains. It also focuses on updating power grids to withstand the extreme weather that is increasingly common due to climate change, among other changes within the bills 2,700 pages. The bill must still go through passage of the House before it lands on Biden’s desk, which could prove trickier. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bill wouldn’t even be put to a vote until a seperate social spending package, which progressive members want over $3 trillion for, is made and passed.
Protesters took to the streets of Montreal, Canada as the Quebec province announced earlier this week that a vaccine passport is to come into effect on 1 September. Although details of the passport are not confirmed yet, it likely will only allow fully vaccinated Canadians to access things such as festivals, bars, restaurants, and gyms. The Quebec Premier refused opposition parties calls for a public debate about the vaccine passports, fearing they would just cause conspiracies to take hold.
Latin America: Leo Le Borgne
Talks between Venezuela’s Maduro government and political opposition groups started off with low expectations in Mexico, as government representatives refused to attend upcoming meetings should Carlos Vecchio, an envoy to the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, attend. This political drawback already endangers the fragile negotiations between the two parties, as previous talks ended with no consensus twice in 2016 and 2019. As Venezuela reels from sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies, the Maduro administration will have to explore options to reduce the global economic pressure that has aggravated the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
In Nicaragua, the government led by President Daniel Ortega continues to crackdown on dissent, eliciting a global diplomatic response. Police raided La Prensa, a national newspaper that has been critical of Ortega in the past, labelling him as a “dictator” over his handling of the 2018 Nicaragua protests that resulted in 326 deaths. In light of the Ortega administration’s ongoing clampdown on opposition groups and critics, Spain joined a growing cohort of countries expressing their diplomatic disapproval by recalling its ambassador. Other countries such as the United States and members of E.U. have imposed sanctions on Nicaraguan government officials. The volatile political situation in the country is feared to set off a migrant crisis, as Costa Rica received a record number of refugee applications from Nicaraguans since the 2018 protests.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s hopes to constitutionally reconfigure Brazil’s voting system were quashed by the lower house of congress. His plan, which sought to reinstate the printout paper ballot system that was entirely replaced by electronic voting machines in 2000, was proposed following his claims of election insecurity. With an upcoming election, a dwindling approval rating, and Brazil having the second highest Covid 19 death toll worldwide, Bolsonary faces an uphill political battle in order to stay in power for another presidential term.
Business: Aoife Doyle
It may be the height of summer, but industry experts are urging parents to start buying Christmas presents now as consumers will face higher prices and greater scarcity on shelves this year due to a ‘perfect storm’ of economic burdens which have interrupted the supply chain. It has been problematic for those trying to ship goods from China to the US or Europe. The Covid pandemic put enormous pressure on the container shipping industry, followed by the Ever Given, which has blockaded the Suez Canal for 6 days. And to add to the chaos partial closures of key ports in China – Yantian earlier this year and now Ningbo – the industry is battling to stay afloat.
At least $611 million worth of cryptocurrencies was stolen and since returned by a hacker. The Blockchain site Poly Network claimed the hacker had exploited a vulnerability in their system and offered $500,000 and immunity from federal prosecution as a reward for returning the stolen money. The hacker bragged that they attacked for fun and encouraged the cryptocurrency exchange firm to improve their security. The company dubbed the hacker “Mr. White Hat” in reference to white hat hackers who are ethical security researchers who use their skills for good to assist organizations in finding security flaws. Losses from fraud in the Defi (decentralized finance) sector hit an all-time high in the first seven months of 2021, and this latest attack will not ease regulators’ worries about the risks posed by cryptocurrencies.
Culture: Armaan Gheewala
Afghan Women are being forced to quit their jobs (an only recent freedom that was given two decades ago) as Taliban fighters are threatening their livelihoods, as the group is reasserting itself within Afghanistan. Under their regime, women should not be allowed to work, girls not allowed to attend schools, females have to cover their faces in public as well as be accompanied by a male relative. Many working Afghan women have been killed in a wave of attacks since peace talks began between the US backed Afghan Government and the Taliban, signaling that the progress of women’s rights in Afghanistan are at risk of being lost.
As Spain has ordered and already started the expulsion of hundreds of unaccompanied minors back to Morocco, human rights groups are condemning and pressuring the Spanish government to halt this process. These migrants were a part of 10,000 moroccans who attempted to enter Ceuta in May mainly by scaling fences or swimming. Civil rights groups cite that the Spanish government is violating several international laws and that they are ‘legally obliged to care for the young migrants until their relatives can be located or until they turn 18’. Ione Belerra, the leader of another political party has also been critical of the decision and has been in communication with the Interior Minister.
Thousands of people are marching in an LGBTQ+ pride parade in Bucharest, Romania to oppose new legislation (e.g. ban on ‘gay propoganda’ being shown in schools from September) that is planned to be implemented by the Romanian government – where same-sex marrige and civil partnerships haven’t yet been legalised in the country. This follows other socially conservative European countries like Poland and Hungary who have already implemented similar legislation.
Theory: Cassi Ainsworth-Grace
Housing prices are booming across the world. In Australia, prices in Sydney rose 1000 Australian dollars a day over three months to July, so that the median house price is now 1.04 million dollars. A decade ago in Columbus, Ohio, the average house would be on the market for 100 days before being sold. Now, it be on the market for just 10 days. The average sale price of an average Columbus house increased 15.8% in the past year.
Record low interest rates have reduced the differential between renting and buying properties, leading to more people entering the property market and snapping up the relatively limited supply of prime real estate. Economists have been saying such growth in prices is unsustainable, whilst central bankers have remained relatively cool about it. However, last month, US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen did express concern over the pressure that these higher prices will have on first time homebuyers and lower income earners.