Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs
United Kingdom: Harry Street
With continued reports that inflation remains high, and may exceed 4.0 per cent, the Conservative party now fear that there could be a backlash from voters. The cost of energy, food and other necessities for UK households are seeing sharp increases, which could lead many families to struggle through the colder, winter months. Despite this, the UK’s chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has not listened to calls for more financial support for families, as he hopes the recent price surges will not sustain and eventually stabilise. Nevertheless, this issue is being exacerbated as staff shortages continue to affect many businesses across the UK. This week, BP announced that some of their petrol stations will temporarily close as they could not supply fuels to the stations. The lack of lorry drivers is not only affecting the fuel industry, but many others too. Consequently, Boris Johnson is now expected to relax visa laws so that more foreign workers could help to ease the shortage of lorry drivers. This change could help to alleviate the pressure for many firms, and potentially ease the issues of inflation.
Europe: Cameron Fulton
Olaf Schulz, candidate for the SPD, remains the front runner for the closely contested German elections. Voting is being held today (Sunday) with results expected in the early hours of Monday. Final stages of election campaigns were clouded by recent mass protests organised by the Fridays for Futures student movement. The likeliest outcome, according to analysts, is a ‘traffic light’ coalition between the SPD, Greens and FDP.Investors are worried about the political shift to the left, if this coalition was to pass, that could bolster national spending and partly ruin the financial credibility Angela Merkel has built over nearly two decades in power.
Mario Draghi promised an additional €3 billion in post pandemic spending for Italy on Thursday. Speaking at his nation’s business confederation, he believed recent rises in energy prices were putting at risk the country’s accelerating economic growth. Electricity and gas prices could rise by as much as 40% and 30% respectfully without government intervention. The Italian PM believes the economy will grow 6% this year, well over the previous 4.5% forecast.
Turkey’s central bank has further dropped interest rates in a shock move for markets, with the nation already facing rising inflation. Borrowing was already cost negative in real terms; hence, the move has caused the lira to fall by 1.5% to a record low TL 8.80 to US dollar. Inflation was at 19.25% last month, but the central bank is being forced into the questionable move by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He believes that borrowing costs need to be further brought down, to ensure post-pandemic recovery. In March, he sacked preceding Central bank deputy governor Murat Cetinkaya and governor Naci Agbal after they raised interest rates to curb the rising inflation.
Asia Pacific: Sophie Evans
Leaders of the so-called Quad nations – the US, Japan, India and Australia – have agreed to work together to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific region, in a summit at the White House this week. The group also agreed to a joint plan to provide Covid-19 vaccines to Asian countries. The Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla stated that this was an “immediate delivery from the Quad into the Indo-Pacific region” and these would be “quality and affordable” vaccines. The group was due to deliver a billion doses of vaccine to Asia this year, however Delhi suspended exports in the wake of a coronavirus wave in April. The leaders also reaffirmed their aim to promote the “free, open, rules based order, rooted in international law”. Though China was not explicitly mentioned, it is clear the summit also dealt with concerns regarding maritime order in the East and South China Seas and marked a further cementing of US leadership in Asia.
Climate education continues to be a ‘peripheral topic’ in Southeast Asian curriculums and there have been calls to make it compulsory. Few countries have placed climate change and sustainability at the core of their syllabi, however there has been a push for action to make climate change focused learning a greater priority for governments. In Southeast Asia, there has been little traction in rolling out education programs that empahsise sustainability. As a region already feeling the effects of climate change, organisations such as UNESCO have admitted that inequalities in education have made it challenging to develop sustainability centered education. Nonetheless, strides continue to be made to embed climate education content into fee paying schools by using materials provided by external sources, before advocating that governments begin providing this themselves.
North Korea has stated that they are willing to consider another summit with South Korea as long as mutual respect between the two nations can be assured. South Korea has also welcomed the prospect. The comment came from Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who stated that discussions between the two neighbours was a chance to find solutions to issues such as “the re-establishment of the north-south joint liaison office and the north-south summit” as well as the “timely declaration of the significant termination of the war”. However, North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has complicated the process of ending the war formally, as the US is reluctant to take part in any such termination agreement unless the nation gives up their nuclear weapons.
India: Rudra Sen
Prime Minister Modi addressed the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He paid condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the pandemic and emphasised the need for the United Nations to remain relevant. PM Modi also touched on other topics like poverty alleviation, reforms required in the Security Council and the recent developments in Afghanistan. Furthermore, he referred to India as the ‘mother of all democracies’ and spoke about his political journey. While Pakistan’s Prime Minister named India more than a dozen times in his address, Modi did not directly mention any country by name. He instead made indirect references to Pakistan by saying that “regressive thinking and extremism is rising in the world” and highlighted that those using terrorism as a political tool are a significant threat too.
The United Kingdom received backlash from both the Indian government and diaspora after its travel guidelines did not recognise Covishield, a locally manufactured version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Although the UK has now included Covishield as a recognised vaccine, it still does not accept India’s vaccine certificate. This could eventually result in India imposing reciprocal measures by not accepting the UK’s vaccine certificate as well. The British government has sought details regarding India’s vaccine certification process which means that Indians travelling to the UK will have to self-isolate for the time being.
Africa: Laura da Silva
The great inequality in access to COVID-19 vaccinations came into focus as many African leaders used the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday to highlight the disparity in access to the life-saving vaccines. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised the importance of access to vaccines to end suffering due to the pandemic in Africa. He expressed great concern that “the global community has not sustained the principles of solidarity and cooperation in securing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines”. He added that “it is an indictment on humanity that more than 82 percent of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than 1 percent has gone to low-income countries”. Similarly, Namibian President Hage Geingob criticised what he labeled “vaccine apartheid”, saying that it was shocking that some countries are beginning to offer booster jabs, whilst many people in low-income countries have yet to receive a first dose. Many African leaders have urged UN member states to support a proposal to temporarily waive certain intellectual property rights established by the WTO to allow more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Although many wealthy countries have promised donations of vaccines to lower-income countries, the WHO has said that only 15% of the promised donations have actually been delivered, and as the rollout of booster shots gains pace this number is unlikely to improve. Many world leaders from wealthy countries took to the podium during the conference to deliver messages highlighting the importance of unity at a time when many are still suffering due to the pandemic, but one can not ignore the glaring irony as they continue to hoard vaccine doses. Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa summed up this sentiment well: “Vaccine nationalism is self-defeating and contrary to the mantra that no one is safe until everyone is safe”.
Paul Rusesabagina, a former hotel manager who is credited with saving over 1,200 lives during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison on terrorism charges. Rusesabagina boycotted Monday’s verdict after declaring that he did not expect justice from a “sham” trial. He was arrested in August 2020 after being lured onto a private plane in Dubai that he believed was destined to Burundi but was instead flown to the Rwandan capital. Although Rusesabagina describes the arrest as kidnapping, and Human Rights Watch has said that his arrest amounted to an“enforced disappearance” that is in serious violation of international law, the Rwandan court ruled that it was lawful. The Rwandan authorities have accused Rusesabagina of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN) which is a rebel group blamed for a series of deadly gun, grenade, and arson attacks in 2018 and 2019. Justice Beatrice Mukamurenzi said during sentencing that Rusesabagina “founded a terrorist organisation that attacked Rwanda, [and] he financially contributed to terrorist activities”. However, Michela Wrong (who is an author focused on Rwandan history) has said that “this seems like a show trial, which is really aimed at silencing dissent, making sure that anyone standing up, criticising and challenging [President] Kagame is simply will not be allowed to do that”. Rusesabagina has maintained his innocence, while his supporters continue to view the trial as proof of President Kagame’s ruthless treatment of political opponents.
Middle East: Dhruv Shah
Yesterday, Iranian officials indicated that Iran will return to the table “very soon” to discuss a nuclear agreement with the West. The Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian stated that once Iran was done reviewing the existing nuclear policies proposed, Tehran would return to the discussions. Under the prior 2015 nuclear agreement, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for lifting heavy sanctions placed on the country by the West. However, talks to revive the deal in recent months by Britain, France, Germany and Russia, have stalled after Ebrahimi Raisi, Iran’s hardline cleric, gained power.
The Taliban have begun to introduce more hardline rules in Afghanistan, contradicting their earlier assertions of promoting inclusivity and tolerance. In the last week, the Taliban have revealed several new rules which roll back the rights of girls and women, such as, gender segregated studies at school and strict adoption of Islamic dress code. In Kabul, female workers have also been told to stay at home unless their work cannot be carried out by a man. Aside from gender rights, the Taliban have stated an intent to reintroduce harsher punishments, which could see convicted thieves losing their hands for crimes such as theft. These punishments were notorious in the 1990s, under the previous Taliban regime.
North America: Amelia Brown
After the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) meeting this week, the US Federal reserve indicated that it would start cutting back on bond buying and keeping interest rates low sooner than anticipated. The FOMC meeting gave projections for GDP, inflation, and unemployment, which all gave strong indication of a recovering economy. While the bond buying program has been spending billions a month to keep interest rates low, Chairman Powell said that they would reduce buying as soon as November, and completely end by the middle of 2022. Powell also indicated that the central bank could raise interest rates, which have been incredibly low for the duration of the pandemic, beginning in 2022. While he acknowledged that the inflation rate is over the 2% target that the Fed usually aims to maintain, the Fed believes that inflation will fall quickly and is not concerned, although other economists disagree.
President Biden spoke at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday amid tension between the US and many other countries, including France, China, and Germany. The recent Aukus deal between the US, Australia, and the UK left France and Germany, longtime allies of the US, feeling less than amicable. Along with the messy pullout of Afghanistan, Biden has placed the US in the crosshairs of lots of international fire. No wonder he insisted in his speech that, “all the major powers of the world have a duty, in my view, to carefully manage their relationships so we do not tip from responsible competition to conflict.” In what seems as an effort to placate relations with China slightly, the US brokered a deal in Canada that saw two Canadians released from Chinese prison, and the CFO of Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, released from Canadian prison. Prosecutors in New York agreed to drop charges against Meng, while two Canadians, arrested on espionage charges right after Meng was arrested in Vancouver three years ago, were released and landed home Saturday. The move to arrest Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor was seen as politically motivated by the Canadian and US governments, so the release of both sets of prisoners could be taken as a success in diplomatic relations between the countries.
Latin America: Leo Le Borgne
The water level of the Paraguay River, a vital economic artery and water source to the country, has reached a historic low of -0.55 metres, after having dropped a drastic 2 centimetres within the span of 24 hours. With the river serving as the only major water route from landlocked Paraguay to the Atlantic ocean, the ramifications of the dangerously low water levels are far-reaching, and will impact services ranging from fishing to international trade. Government officials are directing a large-scale effort to clear shallow areas of the river so that boats with a 10 foot draught can pass. As of now, only ships with 7 foot draughts can navigate throughout the river. Last month, grain ships had to halve their carrying capacity to be able to continue downriver. Should the Paraguay river continue to shallow, its effects will entail a series of chronic issues that will economically batter the country.
Venezuela and Iran have agreed upon a novel oil contract that will increase Venezeulan importing of Iranian oil condensate to improve the Latin American nation’s use of heavy oil, which is generally unsuitable for most types of vehicular fuel. Both countries are under U.S. sanctions, in the case of Venezuela due to President Nicolas Maduro unilateral consolidation of political and governing power within the country. The Treasury Department of the U.S. has emphasised that the contract is a violation of sanctions on both countries, and has threatened to extend its punitive measures on the two nations.
Business: Aoife Doyle
The People’s Bank of China announced on Friday that all transactions of cryptocurrencies are illegal, effectively banning digital tokens such as Bitcoin. This action by the central bank is the latest in the country’s crackdown on what it describes as a speculative investment at best, claiming that online trading gives a platform for money laundering to continue. Trading cryptocurrencies have been banned in China since 2019; it has continued through foreign exchanges. However, there has been a significant crackdown on such activities this year. In the wake of the Chinese announcement the price of Bitcoin fell by more than $2000.
The World’s largest real estate developer is on the brink of collapse as concerns over the company’s ability to repay its $300bn debt strengthen. The company missed the deadline for a $3.5m interest payment after striking a deal regarding another interest payment worth $35.9m earlier in the week. Global markets have felt the impact as Evergrandes’ stock fell almost 12% in Hong Kong on Friday, despite jumping more than 17% the previous day. The Chinese government have made no significant announcements regarding the company. Still, the central bank injected money into the country’s financial system, and Chinese regulators have instructed the property developer to repay some of its debts. Analysts have cautioned that the failure of such a prominent and heavily indebted property developer could have a major impact on the Chinese economy and could potentially have vast implications on the global financial system.
Details of a temporary visa scheme to make it easier for foreign HGV drivers to work in the UK are to be announced on Sunday following a week of distributed fuel deliveries forcing some petrol stations to close. Any changes to the current immigration and Covid rules would be for a minimal period and the government would enforce a cap on the number of workers allowed in the country under such changes. The Road Haulage Association has estimated that the UK is short of 100,000 HGV drivers increasing pressure on an already diminished workforce. The shortage of hauliers threatens to bring more distribution to the deliveries of petrol, food and other goods – industries already suffering from shortages.
Culture: Armaan Gheewala
On Sunday, Switzerland hosted a referendum deciding on one of the longest heated debates the country has seen, marriage equality. Whilst same sex couples have been allowed to enter into civil partnerships since 2007 (which gives them the same household and tax benefits), they have been unable to adopt/have children with both partners being registered as a parent. Same sex marrige was legalised in December 2020 however this decision has the potential to be reversed as conversative Christian parties have swayed the swiss parliment to host a referendum to allow citizens to voice their opinion. If the popular vote sways towards marriage equality, Switzerland would become the 30th country globally to legalise same sex marrige.
In an attempt to reduce the impacts of income inequality in the UK, labour leader Keir Starmer has added to his manifesto, that if he becomes prime minister, he will reintroduce VAT to private schools (which are currently exempt) which is worth £1.6 billion and they will have to pay an additional business rate which will generate an additional £104 million in government revenue, This totals to £1.7 billion which Starmer plans to redistribute to state schools as part of his ‘learning revolution’ to increase opportunities for state educated children and reduce the inequality that this lack of opportunity causes.
Two German activists have secured a meeting with Chancellor Candidate Olaf Scholz to discuss the current climate emergency. This started with a hunger strike from the 20th of August however on the 25th of September, the two vowed to also stop drinking fluids as the hunger strike failed to achieve their initial goal of securing this meeting. This past Saturday, Olaf Scholz has agreed to meet with them to discuss how Germany can change their policies to ensure a limit on carbon emissions and a movement towards the widespread use of renewable energy resources.
Theory: Cassi Ainsworth-Grace
The UK Government has issued a quarantine waiver for ministers from ‘red list’ countries attending the COP26 summit that is quickly approaching. Ministerial heads of departments, who are also members of their national party delegation plus two named essential members of their immediate staff are exempt from all quarantine requirements. This comes as the UK submits to pressure from multiple countries that they would otherwise not be able to attend the summit. The Government has also decided to accept all varieties of the Covid-19 vaccine for those attending the COP26. Outside of these special circumstances, the UK does not consider those vaccinated in Latin America, Africa and some parts of South Asia as “fully vaccinated”, with many seeing it as ‘discriminatory’ and ‘offensive’.