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Weekly News Digest for September 24, 2021

Compiled by Trinity Gates, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith

North America

U.S. To Soon Lift COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

On Monday, the U.S. announced that it would lift COVID-19 restrictions on air travel for those who are fully vaccinated, thereby reopening its borders to the world for the first time in over a year. According to the head of the White House's COVID-19 Response Team, Jeff Zients, those coming from foreign countries will have to show proof of vaccination as well as a negative COVID-19 test three days before boarding a plane to the United States. Furthermore, Zientz stated that the CDC would be deciding which vaccines are acceptable in this process. Zients also remarked on how this new international travel policy follows scientific guidelines to "keep Americans and international air travel safe" through implementing strict safety protocols such as contact tracing and vaccine requirements.

Asia and the Pacific

Chinese Real Estate Giant Faces Debt Crisis; Implications Loom

Evergrande Real Estate is one of the largest real estate groups in the world, owning more than 1,300 development projects in more than 280 cities across China. Its parent company, Evergrande Group, boasts a massive portfolio of businesses ranging from automotive and sports to media and tourism. To expand so aggressively, Evergrande borrowed more than $300 billion.

Last year, however, the Chinese government introduced new debt regulations for corporate real estate developers. To satisfy these new debt obligations and ensure proper cash flow, Evergrande began offering massively discounted properties. Even then, Evergrande remained the world's most indebted real estate developer and continues to struggle with its immense debt. In 2021 alone, this uncertainty caused Evergrande's stock price to fall by roughly 85% and global credit rating agencies to downgrade Evergrande's bonds. This week, Evergrande faces a critical test in its financial future—a deadline of $84 million on bond interest payments.

While these uncertainties might seem limited to the business world, Evergrande is China's second-largest real estate firm, and its financial troubles could have far-reaching implications. First, many people paid deposits on future Evergrande property development, leaving them with the potential to lose personal money. Moreover, Evergrande's contractors, including materials suppliers and construction firms, could incur major losses and even go bankrupt without owed payments. Second, Evergrande owes debt to over 280 banks and financial firms. If a company of Evergrande's magnitude defaults, banks and other lenders may have to lend less, leading to a potential credit crunch, where companies cannot access loans at affordable rates. Furthermore, this financial uncertainty could scare foreign investors, seeing China as a less attractive place to put their money.

Finally, there are political challenges beyond economic ones. Given the potential fallout of such a massive player in the Chinese economy, some analysts believe the Chinese government may rescue it. However, the Chinese government and President Xi Jinping recently announced plans to rein in capitalism, which means that such a high-profile bailout could be seen as setting a bad example. Looking toward future consequences, Evergrande's precarious debt situation presents new debates about corporate debt responsibility and the Chinese government's role in the already tightly controlled economy.

On Thursday, ahead of Evergrande's looming debt deadline, China's central bank injected $17 billion into the financial system. Along with the largest liquidity boost in eight months, the Chinese government also announced that it would work to stabilize market expectations. This move comes as a surprise, given the Chinese government's earlier sentiments.

Taiwan Submits Application for the CPTPP Trade Agreement

The original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement sought to counter China's growing influence economically. In 2017, however, former United States President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the pact. This year, China disrupted the initial intent, submitting an application for a new version of the TPP, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Now, less than a week later, Taiwan also formally applied to join the CPTPP. Although China's international weight diminishes Taiwan's ability to participate in international bodies, the United States and the European Union's recent trade developments and their support for Taiwan's political independence certainly reassured Taiwan's confidence in this decision.


Attempted Coup Fails In Sudan

An attempted military coup in Sudan failed this week. Police arrested nearly 40 military officers for trying to gain control of the major broadcasting stations and a military command center. Military and civilian members of the attempted coup were supporters of the former regime under Omar Bashir. Bashir was previously ousted in April 2019, and in December 2019, he was found guilty of corruption and possession of unlawful possession of foreign currency. The Sudanese government recently released a statement indicating it will transfer custody of Bashir to the International Criminal Court for his actions in the Darfur conflict. Bashir faces additional charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur. In light of the failed coup, the Sudanese government asked the public to be vigilant but maintained that they are still in control.


Merkel's German CDU Party Loses Its Key Voter Advantages Before Election

Germany's general election comes in less than a week, and current Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrat Union (CDU), faces a deficit in the polls. According to survey data of Merkel's 16 years as Chancellor, her centrist and unperturbed approach allowed the CDU to create a diverse voter base of traditional conservatives and large swaths of women, older voters, and centrists. However, weeks before Sunday's general election, many voters waned in their support of the CDU. The change in support levels illustrates that about one-third of its supporters backed the party because of Merkel. Because of this trend and CDU's alliance with the Christian Social Union, both parties are now behind the Social Democrats in the polls. The lack of mobilization from CDU's typical voter base means that the party is losing its advantage in crucial voting demographics, especially women. Polls conducted by POLITICO show that the gender gap in the voters of Merkel is essentially gone, and polls done by YouGov and INSA in August and September indicate that for the first time since the beginning of Merkel's chancellorship, the CDU did better among men than women.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Brazil's President Bolsonaro Speaks at UNGA

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil was the first head of state to address the 2021 U.N. General Assembly in New York. Upon taking the podium, the far-right leader of Brazil remained defiant against his critics and started, "I came here to show a Brazil that is different from what is shown in the newspapers and on television." The U.N. is working from an "honor system" to ensure that world leaders have been vaccinated before speaking at the Assembly. Although President Bolsonaro has made public his distrust for the vaccine, he was still allowed to speak.

In the speech on Tuesday, Bolsonaro spoke about the COVID-19 virus, the vaccine, and pushed back on criticism of his government's political and environmental record. The president stated that "More than 140 million Brazilians, representing almost 90% of our adult population, have received (…) the first dose." Although the president has publicly cast doubt on vaccines, including saying that vaccines would turn people into crocodiles, Brazil is currently vaccinating anyone over 12 years old, and according to the World Bank, more than 84% of people over 14 years old have received the first dose of the vaccine. However, only 37% of Brazil's population is fully vaccinated, compared to 55% in the United States, 61% in the European Union, and 66% in the United Kingdom. The president also said that "there has been not a single case of corruption in the past two years and eight months," which ignores the fact that has been ongoing corruption cases since he became president in 2019, along with an inquiry by the Brazilian Congress looking at the official pandemic response and criminal negligence.

Policeman in Colombia Becomes the First to Face Trial Over Death of Teenager

Prosecutors announced last week that they would seek a murder conviction against Major Jorge Mario Molano. The officer is accused of shooting dead 19-year-old Santiago Murillo while walking home alone in central Colombia. The prosecutors investigating the case said Molano shot Santiago from 32 meters (approximately 100 ft) as the student crossed a street on May 1st. Police and protesters had been slashing on the same street corner, and a video taken by a protester shows the teenager collapsing after being shot. This occurred only minutes after protesters threw rocks at the police, who responded by firing warning shots at them. The case is being closely monitored by human rights groups in Colombia that continue to fight against police brutality.

The Colombia Attorney General's office said that at least 26 people were killed during the wave of protests in Colombia but did not respond to requests for information on the number of police officers currently under investigation for allegedly killing protesters. The officer had denied the charges, and his lawyer says the "officer left the area on a motorcycle two minutes before Mr. Murillo was shot and therefore, he is not the man seen firing a gun in the videos." Nevertheless, evidence shows that Mr. Murillo was killed by a police officer, though it is yet to be determined if it was Officer Molano.

Thousands of Haitians Deported from the United States

On September 23rd, the United States already deported thousands of Haitian migrants, and thousands more continue to wait for deportation hearings. Eduardo Maia Silva, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, stated that the "migrants who were not deported were being released with monitoring devices, such as ankle bracelets." However, he did not release the criteria for who was allowed to stay or sent back to Haiti, though single male adults were mainly being deported. Many Haitian migrants were forced out of their homes by previous disasters, instability, and poverty; however, these are usually not enough to win asylum in the United States.

Part of the dilemma President Biden faces is that his offers to use the power of his office to enact lasting immigration change have been blocked by federal judges skeptical of executive power and slowed by a bureaucracy that supports former President Trump. As a result, his proposal for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws has not moved in Congress, and his hopes to grant millions of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship was dealt a serious setback in the Senate on Sunday. To many immigration activists, Biden's declaration to close the border and refusal to allow many migrants to seek refuge in the United States reminded of the Trump years and Obama's policies.

The U.S. special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned on Wednesday, stating that he "will not be associated with the United States inhumane counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti." Foote went on to say that "the U.S. approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed," and his input has been "marginalized when not edited to project a narrative different from my own."


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