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Weekly News Digest for September 29th, 2023


Compiled by Sara Anis Ali, Alex Hsu, Meagan McColloch, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Zoe Shepherd

Edited by Sara Anis Ali, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Zoe Shepherd, Niamh Dempsey


Asia and the Pacific

China, South Korea, and Japan Agree to Hold Trilateral Summit

On Tuesday, high-ranking diplomats from China, South Korea, and Japan met in Seoul, reaching an agreement to hold a trilateral summit at the “earliest convenient time.” The summit will renew high-level trilateral meetings between the three countries that had started in 2008. This development signals a fresh start for trilateral cooperation that the COVID-19 pandemic and other disputes had previously hindered.


The three East Asian nations share extensive economic ties and have common security concerns, particularly regarding North Korea. Since the pandemic, China’s relationships with Japan and South Korea have remained strained while Tokyo and Seoul have continued to strengthen relations with the United States, their mutual ally. In August, Japan, South Korea, and the United States bolstered security cooperation following their trilateral meeting at Camp David where they agreed to coordinate in the face of “dangerous and aggressive behavior” by China in the South China Sea and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


As the geopolitical competition heats up in the Asia-Pacific, China is looking to leverage its significant trade ties with South Korea and Japan to counterbalance the increasing U.S. influence in the region. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea have both demonstrated an interest in maintaining a stable relationship with China while trying to decelerate North Korea’s nuclear arms development. The proposed trilateral summit would create opportunities for enhancing strategic dialogue, fostering trust, and implementing measures to avert potential crises in East Asia.


Central America and the Caribbean

President Obrador Calls for Urgent Meeting on Migration

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called for a meeting of foreign ministers representing 10 countries around Latin America on Wednesday. During the meeting, which he expects to take place in 10 days, President Obrador plans to discuss migration, as record numbers of people from throughout Latin America make their way through the country in hopes of reaching the southern border of the United States.


President Obrador has stressed the need for cooperation between Latin American countries saying, “It's not an issue that concerns only Mexico, it's a structural issue and we need to face it this way." Earlier this week, the Mexican government's migration authority said it had deployed a large number of buses and vans to disperse over 8,000 migrants from the southern city of Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, to other parts of the country. Despite being the single most common country of origin for people looking to cross the U.S. southern border, the percentage of Mexican nationals crossing the border has fallen in recent years. However, the percentage of crossings attributed to people from other Central and South American countries has increased significantly during the same period of time.


Migrants from South America who reach the U.S. southern border by land must cross the dangerous Darien Gap, a remote, roadless crossing on the border between Colombia and Panama that consists of more than sixty miles of dense rainforest, steep mountains, and vast swamps. With immigration showing no sign of slowing down, President Obrador has positioned Mexico as a leader in the growing international struggle to find a balance between hospitality and sovereignty.


Europe

Hungarian Prime Minister Threatens to Pull Support From Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán threatened to pull support from Ukraine in the war against Russia over concerns of mistreatment toward Hungarians on Monday. The prime minister claimed that he was protesting a 2017 Ukrainian law that limits ethnic Hungarians from speaking their language. Until the law is resolved, Prime Minister Orbán said Hungary would not support Ukraine on international issues. Yet, the prime minister continued to express support for a peaceful solution to the Ukraine conflict, stating that “Hungary is doing everything for peace.”


Hungary is no stranger to disagreement with Ukraine. Over the course of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Hungary has maintained closer relations with Russia than other European allies. Furthermore, Hungary has been highly critical of the aid packages sent from the European Union to Kyiv. In May 2023, Hungary blocked a substantial military aid package intended for Ukraine, demanding that Kyiv remove the Hungarian bank, OTP, from its list of international war sponsors. In addition, Hungary recently joined Poland and Slovakia in banning grain imports from Ukraine. The three countries argued that a surplus of Ukrainian grain would threaten their domestic markets, to which Kyiv has responded by threatening to sue the three countries over the bans.


Without Hungarian support, Ukraine’s standing in central Europe would be significantly weakened. In lieu of military aid, the Hungarian government has provided $195 million worth of financial aid to Ukraine. Hungary has accepted roughly 35,000 migrants from the country since the start of the war, a policy that undermines the country’s firm anti-immigration stance. If Hungary removed its support, Ukraine would lose a source of significant financial aid and a safe destination for the millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country.


Middle East and North Africa

Negotiations Between Iran and the United States Results in Prisoner Exchange

After long and contentious negotiations, a prisoner exchange agreement has been reached between Iran and the United States. Iran has released five Americans in exchange for the U.S. unfreezing $6 billion in oil assets, alongside dropping charges on Iranians accused of violating U.S. sanctions. The negotiations are the result of the Biden Administration’s long-going effort to resume dialogue following the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018 under the Trump Administration.


Following the U.S. departure, actions like the U.S.-ordered drone strike on prominent Iranian military leader, Qasem Soleimani, only worsened the relationship between Iran and the United States. Since entering office, the Biden Administration has attempted to reinstate non-hostile conversations with Iran. Both Washington and Tehran seek to bring back the nuclear deal, but the United States disagrees with Iran’s demands for enriching its nuclear stockpile. Continued disagreements have made the relationship tumultuous, but finally, Qatari- and Omani-led interventions allowed the US and Iran to meet and discuss a deal for returning prisoners.


Just as the deal was coming to fruition, Iran attacked a maintenance facility in Syria, killing an American contractor. President Biden retaliated by ordering an airstrike on an Iranian facility. This setback almost ended all negotiations between the two countries, but in a bid to save the recent progress, Iran reaffirmed their commitment to reduce tension and proceed with negotiations. The deal ultimately allowed both countries to receive its citizens and unfroze Iran’s oil money with specific stipulations ensuring that Iran would only use the money for humanitarian aid. While this negotiation shows both nation's desire to further renew and expand relations, it is unclear whether the hostilities developed over the past five years will be easily undone.


North America

The House Attempts to Avert a Government Shutdown

The lack of border security in the U.S. could be the key to averting a government shutdown this weekend., Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are concerned with the rapid pace migrants are crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, is hopeful this common ground can keep the government open past September 30th, the end of the fiscal year. Any progress on the immigration issue needs to be feasible for both the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House. Both parties are pleading with Speaker McCarthy to ignore the demands of certain conservatives who have continuously blocked progress toward a compromise on this issue. With Republicans barely having the majority in the House, McCarthy has little leeway to pass bills with only Republican support, yet he has resisted collaboration with House Democrats.

Speaker McCarthy plans to hold a series of votes on Thursday to test the Republican's unanimity. Republicans will first have to vote on Ukrainian aid after they recently voted to remove $300 million for aid from the defense appropriations bill. After this vote, they will turn their focus back towards the four remaining bills required to fund the government. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer believes this move to take away Ukrainian aid demonstrates how restricted McCarthy is by his conservative wing. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell agrees with Chuck Schumer and has urged his colleagues in the House to reconsider their position. McConnell also wants his colleagues to consider the deal proposed by the Senate: a continuing resolution. This would grant a temporary extension to negotiations and would be implemented to avoid a government shutdown. A government shutdown threatens to worsen the border crisis and put border patrol officers in more danger. A shutdown would also mean federal agencies stopping all non-essential actions and a pause of payroll. It brings uncertainty of time and money for many Americans.


South America

Half a Million People Threatened by Drought in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest

On Tuesday, Brazilian authorities announced that the Amazon Rainforest is experiencing a severe drought that has the potential to harm over 500,000 people in the coming months. Many people, most of whom are concentrated in the state of Amazonas, are struggling to access food and medical supplies typically supplied via an extensive network of waterways. The lower water levels caused by the drought have also impacted the locals’s ability to catch fish, a major source of subsistence in the region.


In response, the Amazonas state government pledged $20 million to a humanitarian effort that aims to provide locals with necessary food and water supplies as well as personal hygiene kits. According to port officials, the Rio Negro's water level has fallen by an average of 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) a day since mid-September. As of Wednesday, the river’s water level stood at 16.4 meters (54 feet) which is about six meters (19 feet) below the level officials measured on the same day last year. As extreme weather phenomena become increasingly common throughout the world, natural disasters will force governments to expend greater resources to combat growing humanitarian issues.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Turbulence in West African Junta-led States

The past week has seen myriad developments in West Africa’s junta-led states. The military leaders of Mali, one of West Africa’s first countries to experience a coup during this recent string of military takeovers, announced delays to upcoming elections. The elections, which had already been postponed by two years after the originally negotiated transition to civilian rule, were expected to be held in February 2024. The junta claims that the delays will be short and are the result of payment disputes with French company IDEMIA, which provides civil registration services.


In Niamey, long-standing tensions between France and Niger’s coup leaders have come to a head, resulting in France pulling troops out of the insurgency-plagued state. Along with the 1500 troops to be evacuated by the end of the year, the French ambassador to Niger has returned to Paris as well. These actions mark a shift in French policy towards the Nigerien junta. During the first days following General Tchiani’s ousting of democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum, France planned on keeping their troops and ambassador in the country, stating that only President Bazoum could order their departure. France still refuses to recognize the coup leaders but will now work with them in order to ensure a smooth departure.


In Burkina Faso, the current ruling military junta narrowly avoided getting a taste of their own medicine. Current interim President Ibrahim Traore seized the reins of the country from the original coup instigator, Paul-Henri Damiba, in 2022. Now, the ruling junta says they have prevented an attempt to depose Traore, arresting several officers. Intra-military transitions by use of force have become a common theme throughout the coup-ridden states, and the recent events in Ouagadougou exemplify the increasing instability of governance.

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