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Weekly News Digest for April 14th, 2023


Compiled by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Trinity Gates, Sara Anis Ali, Zoe Shepherd, Hayes Orr, and Quinn Phillips

Edited by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Sara Anis Ali, and Riley Mied


Asia and the Pacific

North Korean Missile Launch Triggers Evacuation Order in Hokkaido, Japan

On Thursday, a test missile launched by North Korea struck fear on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido after the government's emergency alert system instructed residents to take cover. Millions of people received the evacuation order, but it was quickly lifted as reports emerged that it had been sent in error. Local officials clarified that there was no possibility of the missile hitting the island, and Tokyo confirmed that it had fallen outside Japanese territory in waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. Despite this, many residents were critical of the government's decision to send the alert. This was not the first time that Japan’s emergency alert system, J-Alert, has malfunctioned. Last October, residents in nine of Tokyo's island towns and villages were mistakenly sent alerts, turning fear into both anger and confusion.


North Korea fired the missile, which appeared to be a mid or long-range ballistic missile, at around 7:23 a.m. local time on Thursday, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff. This marks the 12th day this year when North Korea has fired at least one missile. The South Korean military suspects that the launch was a test involving a new ballistic missile, which North Korea had previously showcased in a military parade earlier this year. Experts believe that the missile could be solid-fueled, a type of missile that can be launched quickly and moved around more easily than the liquid-fueled long-range missiles North Korea has tested in the past. This most recent missile launch comes only days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged for the reinforcement of war deterrence in order to counter what was labeled as aggressive actions by the United States. While the U.S. has condemned the latest string of North Korean missile tests, it has renewed its offer to open talks between the two rivaling nations.


Central America and the Caribbean

Cuba Reverses Ban on U.S. Dollar Deposits

The Cuban government announced it would allow deposits of U.S. dollars into the local banking system on Tuesday. The Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) published the resolution to reverse the ban in Cuba’s Official Gazette and is effective immediately. This resolution reverses the ban on deposits, which was enacted in June 2021, claiming it was necessary due to continuing difficulties caused by the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The U.S. government implemented a trade embargo after Cuba’s 1959 revolution, citing the need to stop the flow of funds to a Communist regime. Under former President Donald Trump, the U.S. tightened its restrictions on Cuba, banning almost all travel to the island and imposing further economic sanctions. In 2018, the United Nations estimated that the Cuban economy had lost almost $130 billion over the past six decades due to the embargo.


The BCC stated that reversing the ban was “advisable” in Cuba’s current economy, which is facing its worst crisis in decades. Cuba’s economy remains largely undiversified and dependent on the foreign exchange of commodities. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted Cuba’s economy, which is largely based on tourism. Increased inflation resulted in social unrest, and Cuba soon saw large anti-government demonstrations. In 2022, annual inflation hit 39% as Cuba continued to experience nationwide shortages of foreign currency, medicine, fuel, and food. Cuba’s government has continued to repress any dissent that has arisen in response to the economic crisis, detaining demonstrators without warrants and arresting individuals on their way to protests. Cuba is also struggling to manage the large numbers of Cubans trying to migrate to the United States. While U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has largely maintained Trump-era restrictions, U.S. officials have been working with Cuban representatives to mitigate the increased migration from Cuba.


Europe

Norway Expels 15 Russian Diplomats

Norway said it would expel 15 Russian diplomats citing intelligence activities under diplomatic cover on Thursday. The Norwegian government accused the diplomats of espionage while working in Oslo. This is an unprecedented move for the generally neutral and quiet politics of the Scandinavian nation, although Norway expelled three Russian diplomats on similar charges last year. As tensions continue to rise across Europe, Norway has maintained efforts to hold comfortable diplomatic relations with Russia. The country also plays a crucial role in the defense of Europe as the war with Ukraine persists. This latest accusation of espionage follows recent warnings from Northern European security officials who have noted raised threats of Russian espionage, cyberattacks, and hybrid warfare in the midst of the Ukraine war and growing regional hostility.


Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Officials Hold Peace Talks with Houthi Leaders

In Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, Saudi officials and Houthi rebels met to resume negotiations for a peace treaty. Initial peace talks began in 2014 after the Houthis gained control of the majority of northern Yemen and the capital, but Saudi Arabia refused to concede, choosing to continue to back the internationally recognized government instead. This action prompted Iran to continue to fund Houthi rebels' efforts, creating a prolonged proxy war.


The proxy war taking place within Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran dampened the possibility of reconciliation between the two nations for nearly ten years. Even as the Houthis asserted control over Yemen, the lack of formal recognition often made it difficult for them to run government services or maintain control over airports. The Houthis’ need for international recognition, combined with Saudi Arabia’s desire to end a prolonged war led to temporary ceasefires that continued to this year. Recent peace negotiations hope to permanently resolve these matters.


Yemen’s renewed desire for diplomacy likely stems from Iran and Saudi Arabia’s most recent agreement to re-establish ties in a deal brokered by China earlier this year. At the time of the meeting between Saudi and Iranian officials, it seemed uncertain if the two countries would end their proxy war. However, following this peace negotiation, it appears certain that both nations want to build ties and end existing hostilities. Iran and Saudi Arabia’s attempts at achieving goodwill may act as a catalyst for Yemen, which hopes to convince Saudi Arabia to lift its current blockade on its ports in exchange for an official ceasefire, alongside concessions.


North America

Leaked Pentagon Documents Provide Potentially Damaging Information

A Pentagon document leak last week contained sensitive information about U.S. intelligence activities which may prove damaging to U.S. foreign relations. Officials confirmed the authenticity of the leaked documents, which contain intelligence about Russia, Ukraine, and China. Many of the documents include classified information about the Russia-Ukraine War and the involvement of the United States and NATO. The leaked documents detail plans to strengthen Ukrainian forces based on reports of Ukrainian weaknesses from classified intelligence. For instance, the document revealed that if the Ukrainian defense system is hit with a massive influx of weapons, it may fall apart. This would make it easy for Russia to further infiltrate the Ukrainian airspace with the power of its air force.


This leak is detrimental not only to the security of Ukraine, but also to the plans of the U.S government. The documents reveal that the U.S. government has infiltrated Russian security to gather information about planned attacks on Ukraine. Another set of documents within the leak detail wildcard scenarios that could completely alter the course of the war, including the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The leak proves something many already knew: the U.S. government spies on both its allies and adversaries. However, it may still damage U.S. relations with its allies, in the midst of joint support of Ukraine. The FBI is currently pinpointing the source of the leak as a 21-year-old air national guardsman who led a small online chat group that served as a forum of discussion for interest in guns, racist online memes, and video games.

Biden Administration Proposes New Rules from the EPA to Combat Climate Change

The Biden administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have proposed the most ambitious U.S. climate regulations yet. The two plans announced have the goal of two-thirds of new cars and a quarter of new trucks sold in the United States to be completely electric by 2032. If these two plans proposed by the EPA are authorized, the U.S. economy could be on track to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions at the rate scientists predict is necessary to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change. However, this plan poses a massive challenge for automakers as electric vehicles accounted for only 5.8% of new cars sold in the United States last year. The sales rate for electric trucks were even lower at 2%. Meeting the EPA’s proposed goals could substantially improve air quality in the United States.


As the second biggest polluting country behind China, the EPA and the Biden administration have proposed this extremely challenging goal to demonstrate action. However, this proposal is already experiencing pushback from Republican attorneys who have previously filed lawsuits against the Biden administration's climate change policies. These Republican attorneys believe this proposal will make us more dependent on foreign resources. There is also concern that quick transitions to all-electric vehicles could result in job losses and lower wages. The proposal demonstrates how serious Biden is about fulfilling his pledge to cut the country's emissions in half by 2030.


South America

Lula’s China Visit Marks Change in Brazilian Foreign Policy

On Wednesday evening, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva arrived in Shanghai, beginning a four-day state visit aimed at strengthening ties between the two nations. According to a statement from the Brazilian government, at least 20 bilateral trade deals will be signed between the two nations during the trip. In a planned meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Lula plans to discuss the Ukraine conflict, in which both hope to act as mediators, despite Western concerns.


Lula's visit to China highlights a significant departure from his predecessor’s approach. His predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, prioritized bilateral ties with the United States, while Lula has sought to shift Brazil’s foreign policy to an internationalist stance, emphasizing good relations with China and the rest of the developing world. In his speech at the New Development Bank in Shanghai, Lula urged developing nations to work toward replacing the U.S. dollar with their own currencies in international trade. His comments were met with thunderous applause from the audience of Brazilian and Chinese dignitaries.


In 2009, China overtook the United States to become Brazil’s largest trading partner. Since then, bilateral trade between the two nations has grown to $150.4 billion in 2022. The growing economic relationship encouraged both countries to promote greater use of their respective currencies in bilateral trade. China and Brazil make up two of the five emerging economies collectively known as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS). This group of developing countries has pushed for changes in what they say is a U.S.-dominated system of managing global political affairs. Although the dollar is still crucial to international trade, Lula’s visit to China is another reminder of Washington’s waning influence in Latin America. These talks, combined with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, have sent a tremor through the political landscape of a region where U.S. interests traditionally dominated.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Protests Erupt in Amhara Following Disarmament Plans

On April 6, Addis Ababa announced its plans to incorporate the regional armed forces of Ethiopia's ten semi-autonomous regions into the centralized security system via the national army or police force. This decree has prompted outrage, protest, and fighting across the region of Amhara, the first to face disarmament. Since the announcement, multi-day protests have been held in Amhara, with demonstrators lighting tires on fire in order to block roads. There have also been reports of gunfire across the region, including in Amhara’s capital, Bahir Dar. Additionally, two Catholic Relief Service aid workers died on Sunday, although the perpetrators remain unknown. On Wednesday, the violence escalated as armed forces brigaded a police station and seized weapons.


The central government has responded harshly to the protests and violence. As such, they have also begun detaining Amhara journalists, signaling their determination to move forward with the military reforms, in spite of resistance from regional authorities. Amhara’s government has also issued curfews and has restricted internet access in some areas.


Addis Ababa insists that its motivations lie in fostering national unity and stability. However, Amhara protesters believe that they need their armed forces for the security of their people. The region itself has been burdened by conflict. During its recent civil war, Amhara regional forces fought alongside Ethiopia’s federal army against Tigray and their allies in Oromia, whose armed groups were accused of ethnic killings of Amhara people. Furthermore, Amhara is also engaged in a protracted territorial dispute with Tigray over borderlands that both regions have made historical claims to. While Amhara currently has control of the disputed territory, citizens fear that they will once again lose control if their regional forces are disarmed. Tensions remain high as Oromo armed groups continue to operate and Amhara’s security forces seek to remain active and autonomous. Ethiopia’s stability balances on a needle.


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