Compiled by Kelly Dobso, Trinity Gates, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Announces Retirement
On January 26, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement. In 1994, Bill Clinton appointed Breyer to the court where he is currently part of the Supreme Court’s three-member liberal wing. His retirement allows Biden to appoint a Democrat as Breyer’s successor. Previously, during his presidential campaign, Biden pledged to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court and is still expected to do so. With Democratic control of the Senate, Biden could successfully appoint Breyer’s successor if Sinema and Machin stay unified with the party. According to Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, “we want to move quickly, we want to get this done as soon as possible.”
Asia and the Pacific
North Korea Considers Resuming Official Missile Tests
Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a meeting with North Korea’s chief policymaking committee to discuss its missile programs in relation to the “hostile policy and military threat” of the United States. In the meeting, top party leaders contemplated restarting “temporarily-suspended” activities, alluding to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and nuclear tests that were allegedly paused back in 2017. However, these sentiments and ultimately this decision are of little surprise; in January alone, North Korea conducted at least four missile tests and what North Korea described as a test of a hypersonic missile. In response to these startling actions, the U.S. implemented new sanctions on North Korea and continues to push for coordinated sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. Now, leaders of the U.S. and South Korea are awaiting an upcoming closed-door meeting of North Korea’s party leadership, especially as the U.S. and South Korea’s joint military exercises are still slated for spring.
China Wins $645 Million Trade Dispute with the U.S.
In 2012, China filed a complaint against the United States with the World Trade Organization (WTO), alleging that the U.S. imposed illegal countervailing duties, which are tariffs placed on imported goods to offset domestic subsidies given by the exporting country's government. Some of these Chinese imports include pipes, citric acid, and solar panels. In general, a country will impose countervailing duties because subsidized imports can harm the domestic industry, potentially leading to factory closures and job losses. Subsidizing exports is widely considered an unfair trade practice, and the WTO does offer a recourse process; however, it first requires the affected country to conduct a lengthy five-year investigation into the imports.
On Wednesday, the WTO ruled that China can retaliate against $645 million worth of annual American exports, in response to the U.S.’s 2012 countervailing duties. Although the amount was significantly less than the $2.4 billion that China requested legal authority to target, the U.S. considers this ruling a serious loss. After the ruling, both countries released statements; the U.S. argued that this marks another example of a failing WTO that desperately needs major reform, a sentiment held by many free-market countries, while China says that this ruling confirms a pattern of unethical trade practices by the U.S.
The WTO decision comes at a contentious time in U.S.-China trade relations. In 2020, the U.S. and China signed a trade agreement that called upon China to increase its purchases of U.S. goods. Recently, it was reported that, to date, China has met just 60% of its commitment.
Denmark Prepares to Leave Mali
After Mali’s new transitional junta government issued a statement expressing frustration with increased forces and intervention from Europe and calling for an immediate withdrawal, Denmark agreed and started the withdrawal process. Previously, Denmark had deployed 105 military personnel in a joint European special mission, named Takuba, in an effort by Mali to tackle Islamist militants, following an invitation by Mali. Recently, however, tensions have risen dramatically between Mali and the European Union, with the EU imposing sanctions on Mali after it failed to organize legitimate elections following two coups. Denmark’s withdrawal will negatively affect counter-terrorism operations led by France and may affect future deployments expected to occur later this year by countries like Norway, Portugal, and Romania.
Rwanda to Re-Open Uganda Border
Rwanda is set to reopen a border crossing with Uganda next Monday. The border was previously closed in 2019 amid hostile actions by both states; each accused the other of espionage and aiding rebel groups. The border closure has caused severe trading and economic barriers in the region. After mediation by Angola and efforts by Rwanda, the border opening will stimulate trade and economic growth in the region. Both states are members of the East African Community trade bloc, and mended relations will greatly improve regional tensions and economic health following COVID-19.
Russia-Ukraine Border Dispute Reveals Contrasting Stances between the West and Ukraine
The Russian-Ukrainian border crisis has increased tension as more Russian military troops build up on the two countries' shared border. Following military drills conducted by Russian forces near Ukraine, the Biden administration indicated intentions to help supply Europe from sources other than Russia, given the prospect that Putin could refuse fuel sales to the West. Although the United States and other NATO countries are concerned about the threat of a Russian invasion, Ukrainian officials have remained calm and asked people not to panic. Moreover, Ukraine’s head of national security accused Western media outlets of exaggerating the situation for political gain. Even as members of Ukraine’s government claim that the border dispute is not a significant issue, the country’s military intelligence reports of 127,000 Russian troops on the border, corroborated by satellite images of the region, which is a far greater amount than were present in the spring.
Analysts believe that there are multiple reasons for the differences between Western and Ukrainian perceptions of Russian troop buildup. In an address last week, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, remarked that Russia’s behavior is nothing new, stating, “isn’t this the reality for eight years?” Some believe that President Zelensky’s message may be in an effort to prevent provoking Russia while also maintaining access to aid from the West. Ukraine's head of national security and defense council, Oleksii Danilov, states the importance of not showing fear, because to do otherwise would play into Russia’s plans to cause panic in Ukrainian society. In contrast, analysts argue that the United States desires a harsher stance to send a message to allies such as Germany that are less willing to take action against Russia. Consequently, however, the U.S.’s actions and statements may be used by Russia to justify aggression.
Macron Faces Pressure Following Resolution Passed by Parliament
France’s National Assembly declared in a resolution passed last Thursday that China’s treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region is “genocide” and considers the violence against said minority by the Chinese government “crimes against humanity” as well as genocide. However, said resolution poses a complex issue for French President Emanuel Macron, as France is set to compete in the Beijing Winter Olympics in two weeks, in contrast to countries such as the United States, Belgium, and Lithuania which are boycotting the event. Moreover, the Chinese embassy in France made a statement expressing its concern over how the resolution would damage China-French relations. Adding to the controversy of France’s plans to compete in the Beijing Winter Olympics, Macron continues to back an investment deal between the European Union and China, which was brought up during the debate on Sino-French relations following the resolution in the French parliament.
French trade minister Frank Riesiter suggested that although China had violated human rights, only international organizations should be able to define genocide, similarly to how both Italy and Belgium have criticized China’s policies against the Uyghurs but have not considered the policies to be genocide.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Honduras First Female President, Xiomara Castro, is Sworn In
President Castro was sworn in on January 27th amid a political crisis that threatens her pursuit of social justice and transparency. During her campaign, she promised to tackle “powerful drug trafficking gangs and liberalize strict abortion laws,” and stated, “the economic catastrophe that I’m inheriting is unparallel in the history of the country.” U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris was among the foreign officials at the inauguration, and stated the Biden administration hopes President Castro will “fight corruption, poverty, and violence.” Taiwanese Vice-President William Lai also attended the ceremony, to solidify the diplomatic ties between Honduras and Taipei.
President Castro marks the end of a 12-year right-wing reign in Honduras by the National Party, a period plagued with scandals, corruption, and poverty. She is replacing former President Juan Orlando Hernández, who was accused of ties with the drug trade in the country after his brother was jailed.
President Castro is also taking office amid a dispute between her own party. She reached an agreement with another candidate, Salvador Nasralla, who stepped down from the race, in return that President Castro supported Luis Redondo, from Nasralla’s party, as Congress leader. However, a group of Libre lawmakers, President Castro’s party, were against Redondo and aligned with the right-wing National Party to vote for its members as head of Congress. Each candidate has declared themselves head of Congress, leading to legislative paralysis.
Third Journalist Killed in January in Mexico
Mexican journalist, Lourdes Maldonado López, was shot dead on the northern border of Tijuana, the third journalist to be killed in the country this month. Close activists stated that she had “feared for her life,” and was enrolled in a “scheme to protect journalists.” Mexico has been deemed one of the most dangerous for journalists, and dozens have been killed in recent years, especially those who covered corruption and drug cartels stories. The motive for Maldonado’s killing is not clear and no one has been arrested, but campaigners say the killings are rarely fully investigated and the killers usually go free. According to Rights group Article 19, she had previously been attacked because of her work and was already registered in the Mexican program to protect journalists, who stated to be “shocked” about the murder.
Taliban Calls for the U.S. to Unfreeze $9.5 Billion in Afghan Foreign Assets
This week, Norway chaired a UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan in Oslo with the Taliban, Western governments, and members of Afghan civil society. The Taliban pressed the U.S. and its allies to unfreeze the $9.5 billion in foreign assets amid deteriorating economic conditions and a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. According to aid groups, about 23 million people face severe hunger, and 9 million are on the brink of starvation. In addition, the economic conditions have deteriorated so poorly that people have to burn furniture for warmth and even sell their children. As a result, many humanitarian organizations are pressing Western governments to end sanctions and unfreeze Afghan assets to save millions of lives. In response, Western officials are attempting to make the release of aid and end of sanctions conditional on the Taliban increasing rights for Afghan women and girls and sharing power with Afghan minorities.