Weekly Report 18 October, 2019 — CANVAS

Myanmar

In Kachin state, Myanmar’s Arakan army has picked up recruitment efforts in light of ongoing clashes with Myanmar forces and failed cease-fire talks. The Arakan Army has set up multiple training camps in Kachin state, home to fellow Northern Alliance member, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Currently, the Arakan Army allegedly possesses 7,000 troops. The goal of the Arakan Army is self-autonomy and control over their territory in Northern Myanmar.  

Cambodia

As the return of famed opposition leader Sam Rainsy nears, Cambodian officials have escalated the repression of his supporters. This year, at least 27 members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have been arrested, facing five to ten years in prison. In the case of civil servants found conspiring against Prime Minister Hun Sen, a life sentence will be given. Social Media and private phone calls have been closely monitored by Cambodian officials, leading to the increase of arrests within the CNRP’s critical ranks. 

Maldives

Maldivian Chief Justice Ahmed Abdulla Didi stated on Wednesday that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) lacks the constitutional mandate to investigate Supreme Court justices over the top court’s decisions, despite its intention to launch an independent investigative probe. The JSC planned to examine 17 instances where the Supreme Court allegedly violated the constitution or usurped the powers of state institutions. However, neither the legitimacy nor constitutionality of Supreme Court decisions could be undermined, as it would impede the independence and freedom of the court, according to Chief Justice Didi. 

Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih affirmed on Wednesday that criticism of Islam and the use of religion to create discord will continue to be illegal, warranting punishment from the government. 

Thailand

This Thursday, Thai opposition Future Forward Party protested the transfer of two Army units to the command of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, citing the move as inconsistent with the laws of the constitutional monarchy. A leader of the Future Forward Party,  Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, stated that the royal decree unjustly used emergency provisions to bypass parliament, despite its confirmation by a majority of lawmakers this Thursday. The disagreement has heightened tensions in Thailand’s struggle between military and democratic rule, in which pro-military and royalist supporters have portrayed their opponents as threats to the monarchy. 

Vietnam

This Tuesday, Vietnamese President and Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong called for restraint in the disputed South China Sea amid a tense stand-off involving Chinese ships. Tensions escalated this summer when Beijing deployed a research ship to conduct an energy survey in waters controlled by Vietnam. Though President Trong assured the public that Vietnam and China maintain good relations, the rising tensions represent challenges to Vietnamese sovereignty and security. The announcement comes after Dreamworks movie ‘Abominable’ was pulled from theaters this week due to its feature of a map that validates China’s claim to the South China Sea, negating Vietnam’s legal claim to the territory. 

Malaysia

In a video documentary by Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi,  Malaysian fish farmers and activists call on the government to improve marine pollution. Malaysia’s marine pollution has been affecting fish farmers in Northern Malaysia, causing them financial losses. In coming years, marine pollution is only expected to worsen, raising concerns among Malaysian fish farmers for further financial losses. 

The creation of artificial islands has also sparked outrage among fish farmers. Proposed artificial islands will cover approximately 18 square kilometers.  The most controversial artificial island is expected to be built in the center of rich fishing grounds, where farmers catch the majority of their fish, prawns and crabs. This construction would likely devastate the fish farmers’ income. 

North Korea

This Tuesday,  North Korea and South Korea met for the first time since 1990 on the football field for the World Cup qualifiers. The match, however, was not your typical match. There were no fans in the stadium and no media to broadcast the game. One of the few attendees was FIFA President Gianni Infantino. In a statement he made after the game he expressed that he was “disappointed to see there were no fans in the audience.” The historic match, which ended in a tie, demonstrates the slow progress in North and South Korean diplomatic relations. These teams accepted competing against each other, however advances must still be made in order to normalize relations. 

Hong Kong

Parliamentary proceedings were disrupted this week as 11 opposition members were removed from the chambers after Carrie Lam’s annual policy address. The ejected lawmakers, holding white flowers in solidarity with those injured in the protests, interrupted and criticized her for not addressing the ongoing political crisis in her policy speech. Lam’s sentiments centered around a commitment to nonviolence and adhering to the rule of law, which proved unsatisfactory. 

This week, leader of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), Jimmy Sham, was hospitalized after being attacked by a hammer. The violent act against Sham occurred just hours after Carrie Lam suspended her annual policy address after the interruption from opposing lawmakers. From the hospital, Sham reassured the public via social media of his continued commitment to nonviolent resistance. The CHRF is a principal organizer of the ongoing demonstrations across Hong Kong, and one of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy organizations

Libya

The Libyan government has started its first steps of economic reform; this week, the commercial price of kerosene was raised to .85 Libyan dinars ($0.6 USD) per liter, though the domestic prices will remain the same, at .15 dinars per liter. The Libyan government intends on lowering domestic prices following an increase in commercial sales. The Libyan ministry additionally stated that “the aim of this decision is primarily to combat the smuggling of this substance”. It is unclear whether this tactic will be effective, though the measure is surprising due to the Libyan government’s unwillingness to start reforms in the midst of widespread conflict. 

Sudan

Talks between the transitional government and rebel groups started this week in Sudan. The aims of the talks are to foster peace and communication between the two parties. President Abdalla Hamdok has voiced his hope for ending conflict with rebel groups in addition to helping Sudan transition to civilian rule. The peace talks between the groups is the next step in creating a strong foundation for a formal transition to a civilian-run government and signifies forward progress in the way of change.   

Iran

Iran has announced that the country will be limiting nuclear inspectors’ access to the nation’s nuclear plants. The action comes as a continuation of reducing responsibility in accordance with the nuclear deal. The deal, which was signed by major world powers, started to fall apart following U.S. President Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement. The European powers remain vocally committed to the deal and it appears that this measure by Iran serves to put pressure on the European signatories, who had previously promised increased trading between the EU and Iran.  

Pakistan’s foreign minister reported that Iran and Saudi Arabia showed willingness to have talks, following weeks of rising tensions between the two countries. Neither Iran nor Saudi have announced a plan for talks, and the prospect of dialogue at this juncture seems somewhat unlikely on the Saudi side. However, the threat of war between the nations, following an alleged Iranian attack on a Saudi oil facility, appears to be decreasing. 

Iraq 

This Thursday, the Iraqi government has announced their plan to restore 3G services. The services were initially cut off in the first week of October when deadly protests broke out in the capital, killing at least 110 people and wounding 6,000 others. The government aimed to control the sharing of grotesque images, in an effort to stop potential sympathizers. After the protests calmed and the news of the amount of deaths and injuries spread, protesters demanded the government “to produce a report on who in the Iraqi Security Force was responsible for firing at civilians.” Protesters also called for a nationwide protest on October 25th, coinciding with the deadline they put in place on the government to produce the report on responsibility. After the government received notice of the protest, in an effort to calm tensions the government then announced their plan to restore 3G services. 

Syria 

Following a deal brokered by Moscow, Damascus has allied with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to secure the Syrian-Turkish border. Though the deal resulted in significant territorial losses for the SDF, which had previously established an autonomous territory in Northeastern Syria, the security of Kurdish people is its top priority. President Assad’s forces have viewed this development as strategic both in terms of regaining territory previously lost during the civil war, and also securing access to resources located in the area. 

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean doctors have continued to strike for the sixth consecutive week, ignoring court orders to return to work. Public workers joined the doctor’s this week in a show of support. Doctors started to strike in response to drastically decreased monthly wages; demonstrators were made more enthusiastic following the kidnapping and eventual release of the doctors’ union leader, Dr Magombeyi, by government authorities. The doctor’s strike reflects the worsening economic situation of Zimbabwe; the economic environment has appeared to worsen under President Mnangagwa, whose administration followed the Mugabe regime. 

Cuba

In reaction to strict US sanctions, Cuba is making due with only 62% of the petrol it needs to fully operate. The Cuban government has prioritized petrol use for  “hospitals, schools and food distribution.” All other petrol using substances have been placed on the back burner. Transportation, for example, is facing harsh realities as hundreds of people cram into public busses, while many are left behind on bus curbs. The resilience of the Cuban government and its citizens has been demonstrated during this shortage, however, has left many to question for how long can this continue? 

Venezuela

This week, Guatemala’s president-elect Alejandro Giammattei was denied entry into Venezuela. Here, he planned to hold a meeting with Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition party in Venezuela. However, once he landed at Simon Bolivar International Airport he was denied entry and immediately placed on a departing flight. This act has been seen as a message from President Maduro demonstrating his intolerance of Guaido supporters. In reaction to his denied entry, Giammattei shared “we are with you,” referring to Guatemala’s strong support for Guaido. 

Russia

Russia’s zone of permafrost has come under threat due to climate change, potentially costing the country $2.3 billion a year. The area of permafrost has started to thaw, following an increase in temperature in the region. The thawing has caused the ground to soften, threatening the infrastructure of the entire area; the permafrost region is home to a significant portion of Russia’s oil facilities and the destruction of said facilities would be very harmful to the Russian economy. 

Russia has accused United States diplomats of attempting to gain access to restricted areas in the country. Russian officials allegedly caught 3 U.S. diplomats in a secure military testing site. This accusation comes as a continuation of consistently heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow. 

United States

The United States has brokered a deal with Turkey that allows for a five day ceasefire in northern Syria. The pause in attacks will hopefully allow Kurdish fighters, a group formerly allied with the United States until President Trump’s sudden withdrawal from the region, to retreat. President Trump has dealt with criticism from both the Republicans and the Democrats on the matter of withdrawal, as was indicated by a House resolution condemning his decision.