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Weekly News Digest for February 24th, 2023

Updated: Mar 13, 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

China and Japan Hold First Formal Security Talks in Four Years

On Wednesday, officials from China and Japan met in Tokyo to engage in formal security talks for the first time in four years with an aim to stabilize the increasingly strained relations between the two states. Concerns over the growing tensions have been rising following Japan’s comments last week about suspected Chinese spy balloons in its airspace. Both countries expressed their concerns as they discussed a myriad of topics involving regional security. China noted that it was troubled by Japan’s military buildup, while Japan emphasized its apprehension over China’s suspected use of spy balloons as well as China’s other military activities around Japan.

Japan announced in December a historic rise in defense spending, pledging to double its defense budget to 2% of GDP by 2027. Much of this plan comes as a result of wanting to deter China from resorting to military action against not only Japan but Taiwan as well. Beijing’s close ties to Russia have led Japanese officials to worry that the recent invasion of Ukraine may inspire China to act against Taiwan. Such a move would lead to a wider conflict that would massively disrupt global trade, given that China and Japan make up the second and third-largest economies in the world. Furthermore, Japan’s official national security strategy, released in December, remarked that China was “the greatest strategic challenge” to Japan’s peace and security.

In response to China’s apparent use of spy balloons, Japan reported that it planned to clarify military engagement rules. These ordinances would allow jet fighters to shoot down unmanned aircrafts that invade Japanese airspace. Following the meetings, both China and Japan agreed to attempt to establish a direct communication hotline "around spring" and are aiming to strengthen dialogue between their senior security officials.


Central America and the Caribbean

Guatemalans Protest Exclusion of Leftist Presidential Candidate

Thousands of Guatemalans protested nationwide on Tuesday after candidates from the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP) party were blocked from participating in the 2023 general elections. Guatemalan farmers blocked up to 12 national highways in protest of the decision to deny Indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera and human rights advocate Jordán Rodas from running for president and vice-president on the MLP ticket. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the highest authority in electoral matters in Guatemala, ruled that the MLP ticket should be barred from the June ballot because Rodas did not meet all the legal requirements. The electoral tribunal held that Rodas could not be the vice president because he did not have a letter certifying he had no legal cases pending against him, and this inability to certify his legal status prevents Cabrera from running. However, other candidates from other parties have been allowed to register to run despite confirmed pending cases. Cabrera and Rodas have vowed to fight the tribunal’s decision and must now bring their complaint to the Constitutional Court to try and reverse the ruling.

Many Guatemalans believe the decision to bar Cabrera and Rodas from running is part of a larger attempt to keep the left-wing party, whose base is rural farmers, off the presidential ballot. Guatemalan politics is notably intertwined with violence and riddled with crime with several past presidents having been arrested for corruption. Many experts believe this tumultuous history is why so many Guatemalans are drawn to Cabrera's campaign and messaging. Cabrera ran in the 2019 presidential elections and finished fourth in Guatemala’s general elections, missing the chance to participate in the runoff ballot by less than 4%. Cabrera could also be the first Indigenous president of Guatemala if granted the opportunity to run – all of Guatemala's previous presidents have been men of Spanish descent. As Cabrera and Rodas navigate appealing the tribunal’s decision, protests for systematic change are expected to continue across the country.


Europe

U.S. President Meets With Leaders in Poland

Earlier this week, United States President Joe Biden met with the Bucharest Nine and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to praise the Western line of defense for their efforts in the Ukraine-Russia war. The Bucharest Nine include the Baltic nations Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungry, and Bulgaria. The visit also corresponds with Chinese diplomat Wang Yi’s visit to Europe to repair European-Chinese relations. The Bucharest Nine had previously been at the center of Beijing's campaign to expand Chinese influence in the region.

Biden’s trip was intended to reaffirm U.S. relations with Europe amid the larger fight against the destabilizing actions of autocratic nations. Biden’s visit, also significant due to his stop in Ukraine during wartime, also offers a glimpse into his ongoing efforts to strengthen U.S.’ foreign policy stance regarding the war in Ukraine. Biden’s meetings simultaneously bolstered support for Ukraine among European nations and countered China.


Rishi Sunak Struggles to Reach a Deal in Northern Ireland Protocol

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s proposed deal with Belgium made waves this week as he continues to navigate Britain’s exit from the European Union. The deal proposed that goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland would pass through a ‘green’ channel with routine checks, while those destined for the Republic of Ireland would pass through a ‘red’ channel with more controls. The plan also suggested minimizing the role of the European Court of Justice in determining trade disputes, giving Northern Ireland greater consultative powers before implementing European legislation.

This protocol has been received poorly by the Democratic Unionist Party (D.U.P.), a loyalist, national conservative party in Northern Ireland. The D.U.P. has considerable influence over a pro-Brexit caucus of Conservative lawmakers, and the D.U.P. would rather see Sunak’s proposed deal completely scrapped. Sunak also seems to have upset D.U.P by leaving consultations with Northern Ireland officials until late last week when an outline of the deal had already been drafted in Brussels, Belgium. Furthermore, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s previous efforts in outlining the Northern Ireland trade protocol appear contrary to Sunak’s new deal, making the path to success even more difficult. Hardline Brexit supporters remain hostile to any accommodations with the European Union. Instead, they align with a more purist vision of sovereignty and support post-Brexit deregulation and tax cutting.


Middle East and North Africa

Turkey’s Investigation Into Building Code Violations

The death toll continues to rise in Turkey following the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck the country over a week ago. Hoping to avoid blame, President Recep Erdogan launched a probe to evaluate the contractors that committed code violations. The investigations come at a critical time for Erdogan’s administration. The opposition party accused President Erdogan of misusing taxes designated to fortify buildings after the country’s last debilitating earthquake in 1999. The opposition argues that under Erdogan’s negligence, many contractors cut corners, constructing buildings that were far too tall or not properly grounded.

As conditions worsen in Turkey, more information regarding how the contractors engaged in code violations have come to light. Erdogan vowed to charge the contractors, and he has already detained more than 130 people involved in the construction of the buildings. Even those attempting to flee the country were arrested at the airports and now await trial. Erdogan hopes that by implementing severe punishments against the contractors, he can preserve his reputation as elections draw near. In a desperate bid to change public sentiment about his handling of the earthquake, Erdogan promised to rebuild much of the destroyed buildings within a year, but only the polls will tell if his rushed efforts will pay off in the election.


North America

Biden’s Secret Trip to the Ukrainian Capital on the War’s Anniversary

U.S. President Joe Biden traveled to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on the anniversary of the Russia Ukraine war to show America’s continued support of Ukraine. His presence in Kyiv symbolized Russia’s failure to take the Ukrainian capital. President Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and promised more weapons for Ukraine’s military. President Zelensky is urging Biden to hurry the supply of weaponry, but Biden is worried that supplying F-15 fighters and long-range missiles might push President Putin to reach for his supply of nuclear weapons.

President Biden’s nuclear concerns are not unfounded, as President Putin announced in a speech on Tuesday that Russia would suspend its participation in the New START nuclear arms control treaty. The treaty places limits on both countries’ long-range nuclear weapons and in turn enhances U.S. national security. The treaty is the last major agreement remaining between the U.S. and Russia. There is virtually no communication between the two countries, as the last face-to-face meeting was the strategic stability talks in June of 2021. Still, President Biden suggested the U.S. will not change its compliance with the treaty no matter what Russia does. In the separate addresses given thousands of miles apart by President Biden and President Putin, there were contrasting narratives. President Biden put the sole responsibility for the war on President Putin, while President Putin said Russia invaded in self-defense. However, both agreed the war would not end soon.


Biden Administration Reveals New Immigration Measure at the Southern Border

The Biden Administration announced a new measure to crack down on immigration at the southern border. With the upcoming removal of the pandemic measure Title 42 in May, this measure attempts to avoid an influx at the southern border. The Trump Administration implemented Title 42 during the pandemic as a health emergency measure. The measure enabled border security to immediately return migrants to Mexico. Title 42 will be removed May 11 and it is expected for this new measure to be implemented that same day.

This new measure proposed by the Biden Administration is their toughest immigration policy yet. The policy assumes that migrants are ineligible for asylum if they entered the country unlawfully. The measure would authorize the immediate deportation of migrants if they failed to apply for protection from another country while traveling to the U.S. or if they failed to notify border security of their intent to seek asylum through the mobile app. However, the app has software glitches that need attention as many migrants report that while their life is on the line, the app is refusing to cooperate. This new policy is very similar to one proposed by the Trump administration which denied asylum to most migrants who had not first applied for it in Mexico or another country along the way. President Biden intends for the new measure to ensure the manageable and humane entry of migrants once Title 42 is lifted.


South America

Brazil Hit by Devastating Floods

Severe rainstorms have triggered intense flooding and landslides in coastal areas of Brazil’s São Paulo state. As of Thursday, the floods have killed 48 people, while dozens remain missing. São Sebastião, a city located some 124 miles away from the regional capital, has suffered the majority of storm-related casualties. The natural disasters also affected the nearby towns of Ilhabela, Caraguatatuba, Bertioga, and Ubatuba.

Local television and social media footage show the carnage left by the disastrous storm. Rushing water submerged entire neighborhoods, and the presence of downed trees and loose debris continue to slow recovery efforts. In São Sebastião, 24 inches of rain fell in just under 24 hours. Despite unleashing an already enormous quantity of rain, the storms show no sign of slowing down. The state government said to expect more rain as a new cold front favors the formation of heavy clouds over the region.

On a visit to the region earlier in the week, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) pledged government support for reconstruction. He also called for contractors to build new homes in safer flood-resistant areas of the city. In a speech addressing the citizens of the affected areas, Lula expressed his concern with the state of Brazil's infrastructure saying, "sometimes nature takes us by surprise, but sometimes we also tempt nature." The recent floods are the latest in a series of natural disasters highlighting critical weaknesses in the country’s infrastructure. Cost-cutting measures, sloppy construction methods, and low-quality building materials all have a part to play in Brazil’s infrastructure woes, and combined with São Paulo's mountainous topography, these factors form a recipe for disaster.


Sub-Saharan Africa

A Look at Nigeria’s Presidential Candidates as Elections Approach

On February 25th, over 200 million Nigerians will get the opportunity to vote for the next president of Africa’s largest economy and most populous state. With a slow-growing economy, worsening corruption, and the escalating prevalence of violence linked to jihadists, bandit gangs, and political groups, Nigeria is facing a critically important election, the results of which could greatly impact the lives of individuals across the country.

The incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, has reached the constitutional limit for terms in office, so no matter the results, Nigeria is in for a change in leadership. Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress party (APC), focused his own presidential campaign around fighting corruption and insecurity, while also growing the economy, but his failure to deliver on these promises while in office could negatively affect the chances of the APC’s new candidate, Bola Tinubu, come election day. Because of this, Tinubu is relying on his history as Lagos State’s governor to show his credentials for leading a government and fostering economic growth. During his tenure as governor, Tinubu spurred Lagos State on the path to becoming the ninth largest economy on the continent, though some credit this growth to his successor, Babatunde Raji Fashola.

The main opposition to the APC is the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has chosen Atiku Abubakar as their candidate for Nigeria’s highest office. Like Tinubu, Abubakar is using a stint as an elected official to try and garner support. While Tinubu governed Lagos, Abubakar held the post of Vice President where he was acclaimed for his liberalization and privatization of the economy. His critics, however, have accused him of corruption, which is a charge he has never been officially tried for. The last major candidate for Nigeria’s presidency is Peter Obi, a candidate from the Labor Party who is popular with the country’s large youth population. Obi and the Labor Party represent a deviation from the usual parties in power, the APC and the PDP. Obi’s history in politics culminated in his tenure as governor of Anambra State. Obi’s identification as an outsider has garnered support from those disaffected with Nigeria’s politics, helping him develop a devout cadre of supporters known as Obi-dients. The Obi-dients believe he can succeed in tackling insecurity and growing Nigeria’s economy where previous administrations have failed, but others view him as a political opportunist and accuse him of using his political office to benefit his personal business interests. In polls produced by Stears, Obi is expected to win the election, but turnout could become an issue for his campaign. If turnout is low, as it has been in the past, the results are expected to swing in favor of Bola Tinubu, allowing the APC to retain their hold on power.


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