The World This Week

Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs

United Kingdom: Harry Street 

The Bank of England’s new chief economist, Huw Pill, has announced that high levels of inflation may persist longer than expected. This suggests that increases in interest rates could be likely as a tool to combat the rising prices across the UK; markets currently expect a 15 basis point increase by February next year. These high rates of inflation are the result of the reopening of the country as COVID-19 restrictions were eased earlier this year. Businesses used higher prices to help offset the losses incurred by long periods of low economic activity; however, this problem has now been exacerbated by supply and staff shortages, which have driven up business costs and, therefore, the price of goods. 

Last week, the annual Conservative Party Conference started, with analysts expecting a large emphasis on the new slogan “Build Back Better”. They were proved right, as Johnson has emphasised that he is keen to unite and level up the UK in one of his speeches. He claimed that the country’s economy will reemerge from Brexit and the pandemic with high-wages and high-skilled workers; however, little policy was revealed during this speech and was mainly driven by jokes and rhetoric. Furthermore, there was little focus on the current issues facing the economy such as supply chain issues and high levels of inflation, which has unnerved many critics. Although Johnson’s speech was well received, many fear that his focus on vague promises rather than tackling current issues show a lack of motivation to correct the economy. 

England’s widely criticised traffic light system for international travel has seen a major overhaul to help encourage overseas travel and make it more affordable. The amber designation was removed, leaving only green and red lists, which has made it easier to travel to many destinations as they were changed to green. Furthermore, the government has now greatly reduced the number of countries in the red list from 54 to seven and plans to make the COVID testing more accessible and cheaper. These amendments to the system have been warmly welcomed by the travel industry, as they hope these changes will encourage more tourists to travel to and from the UK, boosting the income for an industry that has greatly struggled since the start of the pandemic. 

Asia Pacific: Sophie Evans 

As Australia begins the process of reopening, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated this Friday that bans on international travel will be lifted in November. This is a month ahead of schedule. The plan will allow states with an 80% vaccination rate to permit immunised overseas visitors. In turn, Australians will be able to travel abroad with no restrictions regarding location. Additionally, the caps on the amount of travellers able to enter Australia will be lifted and returning Australians will only need to do a shortened seven-day home quarantine. Australia has since been experiencing one of the strictest controls on travel world-wide since the start of the pandemic. However, as vaccination rates grow rapidly, Morrison has been pushing state leaders to reduce lockdown measures which have been badly damaging the economy and kept half the nation’s population at home. New South Wales and Victoria have already produced roadmaps to reopen as soon as they hit certain vaccination states, but the easing of restrictions is not nation-wide, as states like Western Australia are adamant in keeping their borders shut to contain the virus.  

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen will pledge to defend the nation’s sovereignty and democracy in a major speech to be delivered on Sunday. She will relay that the island is facing complex challenges as tensions with China rise. In a brief outlining her speech, she is set to state that Taiwan is determined to defend itself and maintain regional peace and stability and will not “advance rashly.” This comes following an earlier speech on Saturday by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who vowed to realise “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan. Taiwan reacted to the speech with animosity, stating that only Taiwan’s own people have the right to decide their future. China has refused to engage in discussions with President Tsai, suggesting that she is a seperatist. Tsai has held the belief throughout her presidency that Taiwan is an independent country known as the Republic of China and is making strengthening Taiwan’s defences a pivotal part of her administration in an attempt to build a more credible deterrence to China’s own rapidly modernising military.  

Filipino journalist Maria Ressa has jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize with Russian Dmitry Muratov for their fights to defend freedom of expression in their respective countries. The two have been hailed by the Nobel committee as “representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal.” Ressa co-founded the news site Rappler, which has been commended for “exposing abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in […] the Philippines. Her win has been hailed by activists as a “triumph” as the Philippines is currently one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world. Since the election of Duterte in 2016, Ressa and her news site have endured a series of criminal charges, investigations and online attacks. Ressa is an open critic of Duterte’s regime and government policies – including a drug war that has been estimated to have killed tens of thousands of impoverished men in the country. Rappler was amongst the few domestic news outlets to publish images of the killings and question their legal basis. Ressa, who is currently on bail pending an appeal against a conviction of cyber libel, has stated that she hopes this win will provide a protective shield for journalists and  “allow journalists to do our jobs well without fear.”  

India: Rudra Sen

India might soon face a power crisis due to the lack of sufficient coal in more than half of its coal-fired power plants. While this crisis has been escalating over the past few months, the increase in power consumption by approximately 17% compared to 2019 has not helped the situation. Furthermore, India’s coal imports have fallen to a two year-low and the global coal prices have increased by 40 % as well. Experts predict that if the crisis continues, it is likely going to have an impact on the cost of electricity which will directly be felt by consumers. The situation is so severe, that Delhi’s Chief Minister, Kejriwal has warned that the national capital may face a complete blackout in two days. 

India’s national carrier, Air India has finally been sold to Tata Sons conglomerate in a 2.4-billion-dollar takeover deal. The Government of India has been trying to sell Air India for quite some time as it has accumulated losses worth 9.5 billion dollars. Although Air India may not seem lucrative at first due to its significant debts, it still boasts of having over 130 aircrafts and prized slots around the world. The inclusion of Air India in its fleet will enhance the conglomerate’s ambition in the aviation industry as it already has stakes in two domestic airlines, Vistara and AirAsia India. 

China: Tommy Pigatto 

Last week, 39 PLA military planes were intentionally flown over Taiwanese airspace in celebration of Communist China’s National Day of Celebration—the largest such incursion to date. Following last week’s development, PRC President Xi Jinping has said that “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled”, promising his people a “peaceful” reincorporation of Taiwan into the PRC. Beijing, however, has not fully ruled out using force and intimidation to reclaim the island of Taiwan, as made evident by last week’s violations of Taiwanese airspace, and the testing of missile systems near the island. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen responded to this statement by reiterating that Taiwan’s future will lay in the hands of its own people. Taiwan’s Defense Minister has also made a statement, claiming that Sino-Taiwanese relations are currently at their worst in four decades. China’s recent aggressive posturing in the region can also be viewed as a response to the recent AUKUS defense partnership between the U.S., U.K., and Australia, a pact commonly regarded as anti-China, that the PRC has deemed “extremely irresponsible”.

In other news, Xi Jinping has ordered China’s coal miners to boost output in reaction to China’s current energy crunch, undermining the President’s repeated promises for climate progress. China has historically always struggled to provide electricity to meet demand, especially in the summer and winter months; however, this year, a number of factors have come together to make the problem especially serious. As the world reopens after the COVID-19 Pandemic, Chinese factory output has surged at the same time as coal prices have surged, causing an especially tight shortage this year, and causing many factories to drastically reduce their output to avoid running at a loss.

Africa: Laura da Silva 

Tanzanians are celebrating this week as Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah is named the winner of the 2021 Nobel Literature Prize. The Nobel Committee for Literature has praised his “dedication to truth”, and said that “his novels recoil from stereotypical descriptions and open our gaze to a culturally diversified East Africa unfamiliar to many in other parts of the world.” Gurnah was born in Zanzibar in 1948 and arrived in England in the late 1960s as an asylum-seeker. Although his first language is Swahili, English became his literary tool and he has since published 10 novels and a number of short stories. Gurnah’s works discuss the effects of colonialism and the harsh realities of life as a refugee. He hopes that the winning of this award will mean that these issues become part of social discourse: “These are things that are with us every day. People are dying, people are being hurt around the world – we must deal with these issues in the most kind way,” he said. Abdulrazak Gurnah is the first black African to win the award since Wole Soyinka in 1986.

MPs in Sierra Leone have voted unanimously to abolish the death penalty. Friday’s vote means that Sierra Leone has become the 23rd African country to end capital punishment, which is largely a legacy of colonial legal codes. A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty has been in place in Sierra Leone since 1998 after the country controversially executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt the year before. Despite this, death sentences have continued to be handed down and as many as 39 were handed down last year. According to the country’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty could be prescribed for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny, and treason. Director of the women’s rights group AdvocAid, Rhiannon Davis, has said that the abolition is a particularly large win for women and girls accused of murdering an abuser. This is because the death penalty was mandatory in these cases, and so a judge could not take into account any mitigating circumstances such as gender-based violence, rape, or abuse.

Middle East: Dhruv Shah  

Despite calling for early elections in Iraq, many young Iraqis are boycotting voting in today’s important election. Previously, the majority Shia population rose up in hundreds of thousands to protest free elections to break the hold of militias running the country. However, many of the voters now feel cynicism, convinced that Iraq’s armed factions will never cede power if they lose. There is certainly some truth in this. Iraq’s leading factions have only grown in power, shooting dissidents with no impunity, and killing and kidnapping any protestors who challenge their authority. Nonetheless, boycotting today’s election is likely to only tighten the sectarian and militias’ grip on the country. 

The Lebanese government has finally  restarted discussions with the IMF about credit following a year-long delay. Following the Beirut port blast, a majority of the Lebanese government resigned in August 2020. The new government was recently assigned in September of 2021, after much political pandering. In the background, the country has collected a huge amount of debt while its currency has dropped by 90% in value. Talks with the IMF are important, initiating a process of debt restructuring, which is a key demand of potential donor countries. 

North America: Amelia Brown 

The US Fed is watching the economic recovery closely since their plan to taper off stimulus spending is supposed to start next month–however the weak job growth announced for September could put a pause on those plans. Although President Biden focused on the lowered unemployment rate of just under 5%, less than 200,000 jobs were added. In contrast, economists expected half a million jobs to be added to the economy. A slow growth in jobs but also a lower unemployment rate, which only counts workers in the market actively seeking employment, could be a product of the increasing frustration workers are having with such low wages and other working conditions for in person jobs that now put them in danger of getting the virus. 

Despite Biden’s optimism at the economy’s recovery, the people may also be less convinced. His approval rating, after having plummeted in August due to the messy pull out of American troops from Afghanistan, has remained with more disapproving of the President than approving. This week, his approval rate stood at 44.8% while his disapproval rating stood at 47.9%, according to FiveThirtyEight polls. Although the government passed a debt spending extension through December to avoid a potentially catastrophic default, the big issue of the debt ceiling, and infrastructure spending bills not making much progress passing through the government could also be dampening public support for Biden, and Democrats in general. 

Canada’s federal Court upheld a Human Rights Tribunal decision from 2019 to provide compensation to Indegenous children, who were taken from their homes and sent to infamous residential schools from the 1880s until the last closed in 1996.  Reports came out about the physical and sexual abuse rampant at these schools, which were supposed to force Indigenous children’s assimilation to the Eurpoean/Canadian culture. The court upheld the 40,000 CAD compensation to the families. The chief of the Assembly of First Nations, an Indigenous rights advocate group said that this decision was justice for the children and families, but also that “nothing can replace the childhoods and connections to languages, land and loved one’s stolen by Canda’s discrimination.” 

Latin America: Leo Le Borgne 

Colombia and Venezuela reopened their land border this week. The border, which was closed in 2019 following Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s crackdown on political uprising from governmental opposition, holds vital humanitarian aid routes to the economically crippled country. Later during the week, Colombia drew heavy criticism from security experts after the nation sent 14,000 soldiers to the Venezuelan border. With tensions already high between US-backed Colombia and Venezuela, there are fears that military escalation at the border could only worsen the current diplomatic situation. The dangerous region shared among the two Andean nations is host to guerillas and traffickers, among other heavily armed criminal groups.

Business: Aoife Doyle 

The £20 a week increase to Universal Credit (UC), introduced to help low-income people struggling throughout the Covid pandemic, had been withdrawn. The change, which will see a £1040-decrease a year to families incomes, represents the most significant overnight cut in benefits since the creation of the British welfare state. Though the government has always said that the extra money would be a temporary measure, social security support has fallen behind economic growth in recent years. For example, had it grown in line with the UK GDP since 1990, benefit payments would now have been £40 a week higher. When the cost of living is increasing – spurred by rising gas prices and the winter months setting in – it is expected to see 4.4million additional households struggling this winter.   

As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) fixes for its annual conference this week, the disparity in the economic outlook from the spring could not be starker. In April, amid a sense of optimism for the year ahead, sharp upgrades for global growth were forecast, led by stronger-than-expected recoveries in the UK, US, and other advanced economies.  Fuelled by vaccines, rapid recovery from the worst global recession since the Great Depression was expected. The IMF is anticipated to issue a downbeat economic outlook as continuous supply-chain bottleneck and rising inflationary pressures worsen as the months’ tick on. The 6% predicted growth for the global economy in 2021 is most likely to be scaled down. Low-income nations are still not getting adequate access to Covid vaccines, so Georgieva, the head of the IMF, will call for a significant push in vaccinating those forgotten. Concern is mounting over the strength of the global economy, and a period of stagflation – stagnant growth and high inflation, reminiscent of the 1970s – could be on the cards.   

Culture: Armaan Gheewala

A new law implemented in California has now made menstrual products free in all public schools and colleges to combat menstrual inequality – where low income people simply cannot afford nor have access to the appropriate menstrual products. The bill includes all necessary menstrual products to be provided in all gendered bathrooms to include trans men and gender non conforming individuals. This is followed by another progressive bill that was passed last year where all VAT taxes on menstrual related products were lifted as VAT is a regressive form of taxation that again hits low income households the hardest.

October is the month where the UK celebrates black history month – reminding us of the discrimmination that black people still face within the country. The Black Cultural Archives (BCA), founded in 1981, is an organisation that celebrates the history and preservation and national heritage of afro-caribbean people in the UK. However, it is important to note that the issues talked about surrounding civil tights are not confined to this month (which is often taken advantage of through performative activism) – it represents issues and inequalities that black people face on a daily basis.

Science & Technology: Abi Byrne

This week the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine was awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, who share the award for their work which identified the receptors in our bodies which allow us to sense temperature and touch. As well as informing our understanding of how our senses work on a molecular basis, these discoveries have several potential medical applications. It is hoped these findings could be used to combat medical problems involving pain, the receptors isolated are sure to be popular targets for drug development in the near future. The Nobel prize for physics was split between Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi. All three received the prize in recognition of their work on describing complex physical systems. Their work has had far reaching applications; from creating a pioneering mathematical model of Earth’s climate and predicting that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere would raise global temperatures, to discovering how granular materials pack. Benjamin List and David MacMillan, who independently developed catalytic techniques which speed up and control chemical reactions have won the Nobel prize for chemistry. There was some disappointment that none of the Nobel committees had recognised COVID-19 vaccines, especially those which had used new mRNA vaccine technology, instead the Nobel’s went to fundamental advances which have been favoured to win for several years. 

Facebook has suffered an exceptionally hard week, including a 6 hour outage of its social media platforms, and whistleblower testimony to lawmakers claiming the company operated on a toxic culture which valued profits above the interests of users. The 6 hour long shutdown was claimed to be due to “configuration changes on the backbone routers that co-ordinate network traffic between our data centers”. These technical problems not only affected Facebook but also its other services including WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook messenger. Shares in Facebook fell sharply by 4.9% following the outage and whistleblower testimony, costing founder and CEO Mark Zukerburg $6 billion personally. 

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