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Weekly News Digest for March 31st, 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

Taiwanese President Begins Trip to Central America and the U.S. Despite Pushback From China

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is embarking on a 10-day trip to Central America with two stopovers in the United States where she is expected to meet with congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. Despite the U.S. not formally recognizing Taiwan, its support for the country remains significant. China, which regards Taiwan as its own territory and rejects its democratic rule, has consistently cautioned U.S. officials against meeting with Tsai. China views the U.S.’s willingness to support Taiwan as an endorsement of the island’s aspiration for independence and a violation of the ‘one-China’ principle, which makes clear the government’s claim over Taiwan. As such, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has issued an official warning to the U.S. stating that should they allow Tsai’s transit through the country, China will view it as a “provocation” and has promised to retretaliate.


At present, Tsai is still expected to give speeches in New York and California during her trip. A U.S. official clarified that any meeting between McCarthy and Tsai would not signify escalation from the U.S., as members of Congress have routinely met with Taiwanese leaders in the past. The U.S. government has openly stated that Tsai's recent stopover in the U.S. is "normal" and has warned Beijing against using it as an excuse for aggressive behavior.


Central America and the Caribbean

Honduras Cuts Ties with Taiwan, Prompting Taiwanese Tour in Central America

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen departed for a 10-day trip to Central America that will include two days of meetings in the United States on Wednesday. Tsai will make official state visits to Guatemala and Belize, two of Taiwan’s last diplomatic allies in the region. The trip comes after Honduran President Xiomara Castro officially severed ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing a diplomatic relationship with China on Sunday. Honduras had been one of Taiwan’s longest allies and, up until Sunday, had been one of only 14 countries that recognized Taipei over Beijing. Taiwan must now evacuate its embassy, the second-largest in Honduras, within 30 days. Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister Antonio Garcia defended the decision to pursue relations with China saying, “We have to go there to explore the big projects that China can give us.” China has already invested substantially in Honduras, most recently having brokered a deal with the Chinese company SINOHYDRO. The company will build a hydroelectric dam in Honduras with $300 million supplied by the Chinese government.


China claims Taiwan is merely a providence, and under the One China Policy, Taiwan cannot develop its own state-to-state relations. China has thus launched an aggressive campaign targeting Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, which are mainly small and developing countries in Central America and the Pacific. To prevent further support for an independent Taiwan, China has funneled billions of dollars into infrastructure projects across Central America in an attempt to assert its dominance in the region. China has also increased military pressure on the island state. This push by the Chinese has not dissuaded Tsai from fighting to maintain diplomatic allies. “External pressure won’t stop our determination from moving toward international society,” Tsai assured before embarking on her tour. “We’re calm, confident, uncompromising and unprovocative.”



Europe

Finland Set to Join NATO

Turkey’s Parliament approved Finland’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization late Thursday. Finland now only needs to complete paperwork to solidify its new position as a NATO member following Turkey's ratification. This eastward expansion of NATO is a major gain for NATO strategy and member nations' interests in deterring Russian aggression as the war with Ukraine continues. The addition of Finland offers NATO a stronger position to deter Russia, including access to a strong military as well as Finnish airspace, ports, and sea lanes.


Sweden, which has also applied for membership alongside Finland as a neighbor nation and close security partner, has not been granted membership due to opposition from both Turkey and Hungary. The Russian Embassy in Sweden also threatened both Finland and Sweden with military retaliation if they join NATO earlier this week.


Terrorism Threat Level Raised in Northern Ireland

Following an intelligence assessment from MI5, the United Kingdom's domestic counterintelligence agency, the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland has been raised from substantial to severe, reversing the 12-year downward trend in threat levels. This threat level indicates that an attack is expected imminently. Officials are confident that the threat level could once again be lowered in time but paints concerns over rising tensions and crime in the region. An announcement delivered by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris followed several isolated shootings, one executed against a police deputy at a football match by the New Irish Republican Army (IRA). Secretary Heaton-Harris also told of a discovery of large quantities of ammunition during a search operation into the New IRA in Derry.


Middle East and North Africa

Backlash Over Netanyahu’s Judicial Overhaul

Months earlier, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a judicial overhaul plan allowing his party, the Likud Party, to appoint judicial appointments and allow parliament to overturn judicial review. Netanyahu’s decision was met with adverse reactions, with many Israelis taking to the streets to protest the move as undemocratic. Demonstrations spread across the country, with thousands of people clashing with the police. The protestors included business leaders, military members, security commanders, and bank chiefs, among many others.


On Monday, Netanyahu announced he would delay the plan, but would still focus on creating judicial reform. The Israeli Supreme Court faced Netanyahu’s scrutiny for years following his indictment in three corruption cases. The prime minister vowed to restructure the court, in order to limit their undemocratic powers. Netanyahu’s insistence to conduct judicial elections has strained his relationship with American president Joe Biden. Biden expressed his concerns about the judicial proposal and even stated that the Israeli Prime Minister would not be invited to the White House for some time in response. Despite pressure and demonstrated distaste against his actions, Nethanyahu has continued to defend his plan, and has asserted that Israel’s sovereignty and democratic process has allowed for peaceful, accepted change. He stated the nation would not succumb to the pressures of its allies, so while it is evident that Nethanyahu faces external and internal constraints, he will likely continue to push forward with his reforms in the future.


North America

Following the Nashville Shooting, Congress has no Plans to Act

In Nashville, 28-year-old Audrey Hale killed six people, including three 9-year-old students at Covenant School. Hale, a former student of the conservative evangelical private school, identifies as transgender and was in the process of treatment for an emotional disorder. The police arrived and killed Hale within 14 minutes. As of now, law enforcement speculates that the school and church were the targets, not anyone specific. Hale owned 7 guns that were purchased legally in the months leading up to the shooting. However, his parents did not believe he owned any weapons. After another tragic shooting in 2023, lawmakers are showing no desire to take further action to enact gun restrictions.


Following the shooting, U.S. President Joe Biden admitted he was unable to take any further action against the gun violence plaguing America. President Biden continues to rely on and call on Congress to pass legislation. However, Congress replied to this plea by announcing they had no intentions of considering any additional gun safety measures. Many lawmakers are also claiming that any potential ban or adjustments to the Second Amendment have already been taken as far as possible. As of now Representative Tim Burchette of Tennessee has this to say: “We're not going to fix it. Criminals are going to be criminals.” This statement suggests it is unlikely America will see major changes to gun regulations anytime soon.


Behind Atlanta's "Cop City"

Behind the city of Atlanta's plans to build a "Cop City" is an opposition movement in favor of the environment and peaceful policing. The plan for "Cop City" was an 85-acre plot of land in the middle of the forest for police and firefighter training including a gun range, a helipad, classrooms for training sessions, and several other resources. Besides taking up a vast area of greenspace, the most controversial aspect of the plan is the mock city to prepare police for active shooters. Many challengers of the plan believe this "Cop City" will make police forces more militarized and violent.


With the proposed training ground being right outside of a black community, there is even more pushback from the “defund the police” movement. The budget for this plan is expected to come partly from taxpayers, but mostly from the Atlanta Police Foundation. After the plan passed earlier this year, protests against Cop City became more violent, with one protest ending in the death of a protester by 13 gunshots and another protest resulting in the destruction of several buildings. With the plan still moving forward, Atlanta is determined to counter rising crime rates even with activists demanding these resources be allocated elsewhere.


South America

Rebels Kill Nine Colombian Soldiers

On Wednesday, a rebel group fired mortar shells at Colombian soldiers stationed at a military outpost in the rural state of Norte de Santander. The attack killed nine soldiers and wounded eight others. According to the Colombian government, the National Liberation Army (ELN) was responsible for the attack. The recent attack comes two weeks after the government and ELN held ceasefire negotiations.


Founded in 1964, Colombian guerillas established the ELN as a left-wing paramilitary group. Today, the ELN maintains a force of 2,000 to 4,000 fighters in Colombia and neighboring Venezuela. As a part of his domestic policy initiative, President Gustavo Petro vowed to make total peace with the ELN. Using this approach, Petro hoped to end hostilities with armed rebel groups through negotiation instead of violence. As a former guerilla fighter himself, Petro has called for a new approach to end the violence, emphasizing dialogue. Unfortunately, Wednesday’s attack set these negotiations back considerably.


Violence between armed groups continues to threaten the country’s civilian population. In a report released last week, the Red Cross found that in 2022, violence displaced more than 180,000 people. Though the report noted declines in violence between the government and armed groups, the armed groups themselves often fight over control of illegal mining operations and lucrative drug smuggling routes. So despite the government’s lofty ambitions, the recent attacks have cast doubt on the president’s ability to keep innocent Colombians safe. President Petro summoned the government delegation and guarantor countries involved in the peace negotiations for a meeting on Monday, where they will discuss the future of the peace process.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Escalating Protests in Kenya Amidst Rising Cost of Living

Protests in Kenya concerning the high cost of living became violent early this week, leading to the death of one protester. The demonstrations escalated as security forces responded with tear gas when protesters began hurling stones at them. A body, shot to death, was dumped at a hospital, but the perpetrator of the shooting has not been revealed. The violence mirrors protests from last week which resulted in the death of a university student after police began firing live rounds when they ran out of tear gas.


These protests come at the behest of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, who has called for bi-weekly protests to be carried out indefinitely. The protests are centered on the high cost of living for Kenyans, as the price of necessities, such as maize flour, continues to rise. Odinga, who lost the presidential election in 2022, has also consistently claimed that the election was stolen, and opposition party lawmakers have expressed fear of what they believe to be democratic backsliding in the country. They have also criticized Kenyan President Ruto’s decision to roll back government subsidies for gas and maize flour, which were removed last year in an attempt to lower the country’s debt.


President Ruto has censured Odinga’s protests, saying that they are meant to stir up political and ethnic unrest. Meanwhile, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua also cited the economic impact of the protests, claiming that at least $15 million was lost as a result. The protests are expected to continue despite the police deeming them illegal. Inspector General Japhet Koome indicated to reporters that the police will intensify their response to protests if they continue.


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