The World This Week

Our editors give us a breakdown of this week’s current affairs

India: Rudra Sen

An Indian court has sentenced 38 people to death and ordered life imprisonment for 11 others for their role in a series of bomb blasts in 2008 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. On the 26th of July 2008, 20 bombs exploded within an hour across residential areas, markets, hospitals and other such places in Ahmedabad. This resulted in the deaths of fifty-seven people and injured hundreds. The Indian Mujahideen, an extremist Islamic militant group later claimed responsibility for these attacks by sending an email to certain media outlets. While 78 people faced trial for the Ahmedabad blasts, 28 were acquitted by the court. In the course of the trial, the prosecution examined over a thousand witnesses. However, those convicted for their role in these blasts can still appeal against their sentences in a higher court.

The Government of India has recently released its green hydrogen policy as a step towards achieving its National Hydrogen Mission that was launched by Prime Minister Modi last year. This policy aims to promote green hydrogen and ammonia production by simplifying the processes such as renewable energy purchase and storage. Experts claim that this policy is in the right direction to make India a green hydrogen energy hub and can facilitate in helping the country meet its climate targets by reducing its dependence on fossil fuels. India aspires to produce 5 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030.

China: Tommy Pigatto 

As the Winter Olympic games in Beijing come to a close this week, it appears that the Norwegian Olympic team, with their 15 gold medals, will be the champions of the Winter Olympics, with Germany (10) and the United States (8) coming in at second and third place respectively. This will be Norway’s—with a population smaller than that of London—second consecutive victory at the Winter games. However, despite an exciting year of winter sports, these games were not without their fair share of controversy. As athletes like Sweden’s gold medalist Nils Van der Poel criticize the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee’s decision to hold the games in Beijing amidst allegations of human rights abuses across China, many Olympians have found themselves caught up in the Sino-American rivalry. One such athlete, 18-year-old half-Chinese US-born skier Eileen Gu, has found herself particularly embroiled in the nationalist rivalry between China and the United States on account of her 2019 decision to switch her sporting allegiance from the United States to China, from where her mother hails. While American news outlets like Fox News denounced the 3-time gold medalist’s decision as “ungrateful” and “shameful”, Gu has been largely embraced by the Chinese people, who showered Eileen—or Ailing as she is known in China—with praise for her decision to compete for China, and as Gu herself said, taking “the opportunity to inspire millions of young people where my mother was born”. Despite questions about her citizenship and loyalties, the teenager insists that her decision was non-political, and exhibited superior skiing skills to all the other female skiers at this years games.

In other news, as Western NATO allies display disunity and apathy towards the seemingly impending Russian invasion of Ukraine, American intelligence as well as Taiwanese politicians fear that Russian aggression in Eastern Europe will embolden the Chinese Communist Party to invade the autonomous Taiwanese Republic of China. In the words of Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu, once the Olympic games are over, the Taiwanese military is expecting a Chinese attack to occur “at any moment”. With the Chinese air force testing the waters in recent years by conducting an increasing amount of illegal missions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, analysts fear that inaction from the United States and its allies on the situation in Ukraine could indicate to China that an invasion of Taiwan would go similarly unopposed.

Africa: Laura da Silva 

The African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) sealed a “renewed partnership” on Friday as leaders of their member countries met in Brussels. Friday’s meeting included the launch of a “€150 billion European investment strategy and increased aid to produce vaccines against Covid in Africa”. This sizeable investment strategy is to be phased over the next seven years in order to “help projects wanted and carried by Africans”, with a specific focus on transport infrastructure, digital networks, and energy. Moreover, the Europeans have promised to provide a cumulative total of at least 450 million doses of anti-Covid vaccines to Africans by the summer as well as to help African countries build the capacity to produce mRNA vaccines on African soil. In addition, the Europeans used Friday’s meeting to advocate for a greater reallocation to Africans of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) special drawing rights (SDR) for rich countries. So far, the Europeans have collectively reallocated $13 billion of their SDRs to Africa, out of $55 billion reallocated by rich countries globally, far short of the AU’s $100 billion targets. Both the African and European leaders attending this meeting emphasized their common vision “to consolidate a renewed partnership for solidarity, security, peace, and sustainable economic development”.

Belgium has taken steps to restore Congolese artwork to its original home. This past Thursday Belgium prime minister Alexander de Croo submitted an inventory list of artwork and artifacts which could potentially return home to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was a former colony of Belgium. The list was submitted during a visit by DRC’s prime minister and contains 84,000 objects. Belgium’s prime minister celebrated this decision as a step forward in building a “partnership of trust” between the DRC and its former colonial power. The museum from which these artworks are being returned, ​​The Royal Museum of Central Africa, opened in 1898 by Belgian King Leopold II and contains the world’s largest collection of African objects.

Middle East: Dhruv Shah  

Optimism in Iran has grown about reaching a nuclear deal with the US. Iran has suggested it would swap prisoners and directly open channels to discuss nuclear policy with America, as long as America would make a gesture of good faith such as unfreezing Iranian assets abroad. This development comes after Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, stated the countries had “never been closer to reviving a nuclear agreement now. Much of these developments have been driven in recent years by crippling economic sanctions which have had a significant impact on business activity. However, this newfound optimism is tapered by the uncertainty on whether Iran’s hardline government is willing to negotiate and importantly compromise. 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India have signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) expected to double bilateral non-oil trade to $100bn within 5 years. The agreement covers goods, services and digital trade and will allow 90% of exports and imports between countries to access markets duty free. The India-UAE CEPA will be the first of the bunch of trade agreements that India aims to ink with other developed nations over the next few months. The UAE is currently India’s third-largest trading partner and the second-largest export destination, after the US. 

North America: Amelia Brown 

The import of avocados from Mexico to the United States resumed on Friday after a week of halted trade for the popular fruit. After a call threatening a US inspector last week, the Department of Agriculture’s Plant Health Inspection Service suspended their work as they worked with Mexican authorities to enact new measures to keep inspectors safe. The Mexican state of Michoacán is the only area allowed to export avocados to the US, supplying about $2.7 billion worth in 2021. The state has been gripped by cartel violence in recent years, the spillover of which led to this debacle. Trade between the US and Mexico has been rocky while the two countries and Canada continue to negotiate a new trade deal, but reaching an agreement to start the avocado trade again is a positive sign for the two authorities working together for an important cause.   

The Biden administration said Tuesday that they may suspend the federal gasoline tax in order to help with rising costs, especially of oil and petroleum. Per gallon prices are at increasingly high levels, which would only climb higher if sanctions on Russia materialize or conflict breaks out in Ukraine. The 18.4% federal tax on gas is meant to act as a disincentive to buying it and push more people toward eco-friendly options for cars or transport. Biden has made a big show of wanting his administration to wean the American people off the environmentally harmful fuel. However a suspension of the tax on gas would basically act as a government subsidy for the substance, fueling higher use across the country. While prices rise for all household goods, people are struggling to make ends meet, and not being able to fill up a car with gas to get to work is a huge political blunder for Biden’s ratings. 

Police in riot gear, armed with non-lethal ‘mid range impact weapons’ and pepper spray,  have been in Ottawa, Canada all weekend trying to clear some of the protesters after their third week of demonstration. The protests have consumed the streets in front of government buildings constantly since they started protesting vaccine mandates and other public health measures. Over 170 arrests have been made, with the police promising that anyone involved, even those leaving on their own accord, will be followed up with charges and fines. A state of emergency is still enacted nationwide following the first ever use of the Emergencies Act, a controversial move within parliament. The Act gives the police more power to remove the ‘Freedom Convoy’ from the streets across the country, although local provinces had also enacted their own states of emergencies to try and clear the protests earlier in the demonstration. 

Latin America: Leo Le Borgne 

Massive landslides hit the Brazilian city of Petropolis, claiming 117 lives so far with more casualties to be expected. Rescuers are racing against the clock to find the 134 missing people still suspected to be trapped under the landslides. The scenic ‘Imperial City’, which lies just northeast of Rio de Janeiro, experienced heavy downpours in the days leading up to the landslides. Residents reported intense flooding and warlike destruction of many buildings, sweeping through vast swaths of the city’s slums. Hundreds are currently displaced and staying in temporary shelters. Experts point out many factors behind why the landslides caused such a devastating impact: including climate change and inadequate urban planning. Marcelo Seluci, a coordinator at the government’s National Centre for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters, explains that climate change will only “increase the frequency” of natural disasters in Brazil. Other impacts of the landslides can be attributed to the underfunded construction of infrastructure and homes in the poorer regions of Petropolis as the city’s population grew rapidly.

Business: Aoife Doyle 

Stockmarkets remained skittish amid the possibility of a Russian invasion of the Ukraine. As the US government warned that a Russian invasion was impending both the S&P500 and the Nasdaq dropped over 2% in a day, with a trading seesaw in reaction to each diplomatic move. The concern also spread to European markets, in particularly where share prices of airlines – disrupted by no-fly conflict zones over most of Ukraine and eastern Europe – were hit hard. The suspension of Lufthansa flights to Ukraine’s’ capital is indicative of general sentiment regarding the concern investors have. Energy markets are hypersensitive to any disruption in oil-and-gas flows from Russian, and this past week a barrel of Brent crude oil hit close to $97 a barrel, the highest in seven years. Continuous increases in energy, oil and gas, as well as general increase in consumer-price inflation is pressuring governments to consider myriad ways to ease spiralling household costs. In Russia, the central bank has increased interest rates for the eighth consecutive time, lifting its key rate from 8.5% to 9.5%. The rouble has weakened significantly as markets weight the effects of sanctions imposed if Russian invades Ukraine.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the UK wage growth continued to drag behind the rising cost of living between October and December. Wages rose, but when taking inflation into account, pay showed a 0.8% fall from the previous year. There are signs that current household wage pressures might feed through to faster wage growth in the coming months. Employee’s regular pay grew by 3.7% between October and December last year, which is high growth compared with rates seen over the last decade is evidence of this wage growth. However, the rising cost of living pushing inflation up by 5.4% in the previous year, and the Bank of England warning a further squeeze on workers and indicating that inflation may rise above 7% this year, could dampen any real wage growth prospects. Job vacancies hit a record high, with most industries finding it harder to recruit employees, is meaning that employers are increasing salaries for their current workers. With such a tight labour market, pay rises may reach double-digit before statistical confusion works itself out.

As demonstrations across Canada enter their third week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken the unprecedented step of invoking the Emergencies Act to crack down on anti-vaccine mandate protestors. These measures will allow Mr Trudeau to freeze personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests without the requirement of a court order.  The Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke at a news conference that “it’s all about following the money”. By this she spoke after hackers released details of donations totalling $8.4m to the crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo, in support of the truckers. As part of the Emergencies Act, the government are broadening Canada’s “Terrorist Financing” rules to cover cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding platforms, attempting to stop any financial support getting through to the protesters. After a week-long stalemate, law enforcement managed to clear anti-mandate protesters from the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, which is a critical pathway for Canada-US trade. More than $323m in goods cross the bridge each day, and for a week not one dollar made it to the US or back. However, more clusters of protesters continue to form as what began as a rally has grown into a broader challenge to all Covid health restrictions in Canada.

Culture: Armaan Gheewala

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has introduced plans for legislation to help combat drink spiking in the UK, which has been a very big concern for women’s safety, especially in the last few months where the rates have been growing at an alarming rate where in October, many students and young people protested by having a ‘sit in protest’ outside nightclubs to show their support. The law would encompass all types of drinking spiking, including those that are used for purposes not associated with sexual offences, making spiking a standalone offence and therefore easier for local ministers to prosecute. This isn’t the government’s first attempt however to improve women’s safety where last year they launched a ‘Safety of Women at Night Fund’ which focussed on improving women’s safety in public spaces. However, the government has now taken a more direct step towards halting the actual offence rather than trying to tell women how to protect themselves against them.

The SNP is set to announce whether the bill that will ‘allow people to change gender within six months without showing evidence of gender dysphoria; people as young as 16 can apply for a gender recognition certificate’. However, several activists are ‘ready to take the Scottish government to court to try and block this legislation’. This also follows the government’s failed bid at changing the legal definition of ‘women’ to include trans women where ‘For Women Scotland’ (FWS) claimed that this ‘oversteps the government’s authority and would breach the UK equality Act that was passed in Westminster’. However, Tim Hopkinks, Director of the Equality Network stated that ‘gender recognition reform is not part of equality law and proposals do not introduce any new rights for trans people or change single sex exceptions in the Equality Act of 2010’ highlighting the need to be able to differentiate between these types of legislation, These decisions emphasises the fact that LGBT+ individuals are not treated with the respect that they deserve and shows how ‘convoluted British gender recognition law is and urgently it needs to be reformed’.

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