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Weekly News Digest for November 19, 2021

Compiled by Alex Barrett, Kelly Dobso Trinity Gates, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith


North America


North American Leaders Fail to Resolve Tensions

The leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico rekindled their partnership after their first summit in five years, however, tensions over trade and immigration remain largely unresolved. The representatives of the three countries met in Washington, DC, on Thursday for the first time since 2016, after the summit was discontinued during former President Trump’s administration. President Biden has often emphasized strong relationships with Canada and Mexico, as part of a wider effort to rebuild alliances and Washington’s support for international organizations.


After the summit, President Biden stated that issues such as trade, immigration, climate change, and the pandemic, can be addressed “if we just take the time to speak with one another.”


However, the meeting did not yield as many breakthroughs as President Biden hoped. The three countries are still trying to repair and rebound from Trump administration policies, such as threatening to abandon the free-trade agreement and impose tariffs on Canadian aluminum, declaring a national emergency on the Mexican border, and using incendiary and xenophobic language about Mexican migrants. Canada and Mexico see echoes of Trump’s “America First” policies in some of Biden’s plans, especially Biden’s proposal for a tax credit encouraging U.S. production of electric vehicles, which are the most traded manufactured between the three countries.


Asia and the Pacific


Biden-Xi Virtual Summit Offers Little

On Monday, United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a three-hour meeting, discussing U.S.-China competition, human rights, trade, and Taiwan. Given historically low relations between the two countries, analysts expected the meeting to yield very little. However, the meeting had three notable points. First, both leaders walked away without negative remarks. President Biden emphasized that both countries must establish “guardrails” to avoid tension, and President Xi said he was glad to see his “old friend.” Second, both countries agreed to loosen the Trump-era restrictions on each other’s journalists, increasing the length of visas and the number of journalists in either country. Third, and most interestingly, China declared victory domestically after the meeting. Chinese state media claimed that Biden specifically stated a lack of support for Taiwan’s independence. U.S. officials countered, indicating that Biden never mentioned independence. According to the White House, Biden affirmed the U.S.’s commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the U.S. to support Taiwan with the means to defend itself.


CCP Heightens Xi Jinping to Mao, Deng; Paves Way for Unprecedented Rule

Throughout Chinese President Xi Jinping’s second term, leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has taken both overt and more subtle steps to extend Xi’s tenure. In 2018, the CCP removed term limits for Xi's presidency. In the following years, CCP officials frequently told journalists that President Xi might need more time to ensure the success of his reforms and initiatives. Now, party leadership has almost certainly affirmed Xi’s intentions to seek a third term and remain in power, which would break with a two-decade-old party tradition.


On Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held a major party meeting where it issued a rare resolution on its history. In this resolution, leaders of the CCP praised President Xi Jinping for his role in China’s rapid economic and geopolitical expansion. Although it directly highlighted certain efforts, such as those reducing corruption, the resolution also claimed that Xi’s ideology and leadership were decisive in “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” CCP leaders often receive great respect; however, this language and praise was exceptionally gushing. Most importantly, the CCP has only offered three resolutions since its founding 100 years ago. With the previous two resolutions written under Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, legendary figures in CCP history, the CCP symbolically raised Xi to their historical stature.


Africa


Deepening Crisis in Ethiopia

The initial conflict has escalated according to new reports from the United Nations and Amnesty International. Ethiopia declared a state of national emergency on November 2 after rebellious forces made larger advances on the nation's capital. This week, the government declared that UN or African Union workers that do not live in the territory would be arrested for any lawbreaking after the arrest of nearly 12 UN workers. Several foreign citizens from the UK and Italy have also been detained in recent escalations from the Ethiopian government, prompting the European Union to evacuate non-essential workers, and many countries to advise nationals to leave if possible.


A new report from Amnesty International said that fighters associated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have committed large scale rape and sexual violence against women, while these claims cannot be verified at this time, interviews with the women suggest war crimes and possible crimes against humanity taking place. Witnesses also report that Tigrayans are being arrested in Addis Ababa after allegedly ethnic targeting by government authorities; these witness reports also align with existing accusations from Amnesty International who also found arbitrary arrests of ethnic Tigrayans in their investigations.


Europe


Belarus Border Crisis Leads to Imposition of Further EU Sanctions

On Monday, the European Union decided to broaden its sanctions against the Belarusian government for the ongoing migrant crisis at the country’s border, where thousands of Middle Eastern migrants have been abandoned. These sanctions are designed to target Belarusian officials and companies involved in the migrant crisis. According to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the EU plans to expand sanctions to 30 additional Belarusian officials as well as airline and travel agencies responsible for transporting the migrants. In response to the proposed sanctions on Belarus, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to cut Russian gas supplies that run through Belarus to the rest of Europe.

The European Union’s dispute with Belarus began in 2015, when over a million Syrian refugees arrived at the state’s border, conflicting with the EU’s stance against illegal immigration. Further complicating the issue was Poland cutting off entry to the country and prohibiting journalists and officials from Brussels from overseeing the situation. Moreover, Belarus has been accused by EU officials of supporting human traffickers who bring migrants into the country and guide them towards the border to provoke a conflict. However, Belarus denies this claim.


Disputes with Belarus have grown since 2015. In August 2020, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom alongside the EU placed sanctions on Belarus due to election fraud that allowed Lukashenko to win the presidency and the subsequent brutal crackdown on protests. As stated by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday, the EU will tighten its sanctions further despite Lukashenko’s wishes.


Austrian Government Places Quarantine Order on The Unvaccinated

On Monday, Austria imposed a 10-day quarantine order on about 2 million of its citizens who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or who have not been infected with the virus in the past 180 days. The order contains several exceptions, such as for those who must leave home for work or school, as well as those who shop for groceries, visit pharmacies, attend religious services or visit a friend or family member. Similarly, several regions in Germany will prohibit those who have not been vaccinated or those who do not have immunity against COVID-19 from public places such as restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and museums starting Monday. The Austrian government emphasizes that measures against the unvaccinated are important given the low vaccination rate of the country compared to other European countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schalnneburg stated that the government will determine whether further decisions need to be made regarding restrictions until the full effect of the measures could be evaluated.


Latin America and the Caribbean


Amazon Deforestation Surges to Worst in 15 Years

According to the National Institute for Space Research’s Prodes, the Brazilian Amazon deforestation has increased 22% since 2020, approximately 13,235 square kilometers, the highest since 2006. The surge in deforestation comes despite President Bolsonaro’s efforts to show his government’s credibility about protecting the Amazon Forest, considered a critical role against climate change. At the United Nations climate summit this month, COP26, Brazil’s government pledged to end illegal deforestation by 2028, which would require extreme reductions in the destruction.


Before President Bolsonaro took office in 2019, the Brazilian Amazon hadn’t recorded a single year with more than 10,000 square kilometers of deforestation in more than a decade. Between 2009 and 2018, the average deforestation was 6,500 square kilometers, compared to this past year’s average of 11,405 square kilometers.


Middle East


Iran Strikes U.S. Base Responding to Israeli Attack

An armed drone strike hit a United States military base in Southern Syria. While Iran does not claim responsibility for the attacks, it is being considered retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria. Both American and Israeli intelligence indicates that Iran is responsible via proxy fighters. The drone strike left no fatalities and represents the first time Iran has directly attacked the United States in response to an Israeli attack. Thanks to Israeli intelligence the base was evacuated of its 200 troops prior to the attack. This represents an escalation of the shadow war between Israel and Iran as the United States is being dragged into the conflict.


Israel Lobbies the United States to Defend Spyware Abuses

Israel uses the spyware software Pegasus made by NSO Group, an Israeli company, to spy on Palestinian journalists, opposition groups, and activists. In response to reports that indicate the software has been supplied to foreign governments to maliciously target dissent, the Biden administration has imposed sanctions on the company, effectively blacklisting the company in the United States. However, Israel asserts that this software is a crucial element to their foreign policy and is lobbying the U.S. to remove NSO from the blacklist. The U.S. Commerce Department said that NSO had acted “contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.” It seems unlikely for the Biden Administration to back down as claims continue to surface of using Pegasus spyware against human rights activists.

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