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World roundup: April 18 2023
Stories from Qatar, Thailand, Mexico, and elsewhere
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
April 17, 1895: Representatives of the Empire of Japan and China’s Qing Dynasty sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki, ending the First Sino-Japanese War. Reflecting the decisive Japanese victory, the treaty obliged the Qing to renounce Chinese claims on Korea, cede islands in the Taiwan Strait (including Taiwan itself) to Japan, pay reparations, and establish “most favored nation” trade status with Japan. European powers France, Germany, and Russia intervened to force Japan to give up control of the Liaodong Peninsula, which had been another stipulation of the treaty. The newly independent Korea quickly fell under Japan’s sway, which brought the Japanese into Russia’s orbit and led to the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War.
April 17, 1975: The Cambodian Civil War ends with the Khmer Rouge capture of Phnom Penh and the ouster of the short-lived Khmer Republic. The Khmer Rouge briefly restored the Cambodian monarchy before embarking on one of the most brutal genocides in history, in which upwards of 25 percent of the Cambodian population was killed through a mix of mass executions, forced labor, and other more indirect forms of violence. That genocide finally ended when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 and removed the Khmer Rouge from power.
April 18, 1897: The Ottoman Empire declares war on Greece, marking the official start of the Greco-Turkish War (which had unofficially begun the previous month).
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal b. Farhan Al Saud became the latest and most significant regional luminary to call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday. He is the first Saudi FM to visit Damascus since the two countries mostly severed their relationship in the early days of the Syrian civil war. There’s still been no indication that Assad will be invited to next month’s Arab League summit in Riyadh, but the Syrian-Saudi relationship, at least, is trending toward normalization.
The Biden administration on Tuesday blacklisted 52 individuals and entities linked to Nazem Ahmad, an alleged Hezbollah financier who was sanctioned by the US in 2019 and is now, as of Tuesday, facing US federal criminal charges. The charges involve Ahmad’s alleged efforts to evade those 2019 sanctions. The UK government also blacklisted Ahmad on Tuesday.
Israeli forces wounded at least six people during an arrest raid in the West Bank city of Jenin on Tuesday. In East Jerusalem, meanwhile, an apparent Palestinian gunman shot up a vehicle in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, wounding two Israelis. Israeli authorities are searching for the shooter.
The UAE and Qatari governments have reportedly agreed to reopen their mutual embassies, fully restoring relations that they’ve been slowly rebuilding for several months now. The UAE was one of the quartet of countries (Bahrain, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia were the others) that broke off relations with Qatar back in 2017 over a range of grievances. That episode officially came to an end in early 2021, but the process of getting back to a pre-2017 relationship has been ongoing. UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Qatar in December, signaling that the two countries were close to a full rapprochement. There’s no official timetable for the grand reopening(s) but speculation is that they’ll be operating again, with ambassadors, by mid-June.
According to The Guardian, United Nations officials are preparing to pull up stakes and leave Afghanistan altogether next month, except in the unlikely event that they’re able to convince Taliban leaders to walk back their decision to bar Afghan women from working for UN aid operations. The ban adds significant logistical complications to the UN’s work, and continuing to operate in a country whose government has barred women from virtually any aspect of public life could carry reputational risks in terms of the UN’s ability to raise humanitarian funds more generally. The Afghan populace, which is heavily dependent on humanitarian relief in a country that Western sanctions have largely cut off from the global economy, will pay heavily if the UN does withdraw.
I’m sure this is not indicative of any sort of systematic global trend or anything, but much of Asia is currently under a crippling heat wave that has hit Thailand particularly hard:
April and May are typically Thailand’s hottest months, but the heat fueled the country’s all-time hottest temperature late last week. On Friday, Thailand surpassed 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 Celsius) for the first time ever, topping out at 114 degrees (45.4 Celsius) in the town of Tak amid the country’s New Year’s celebration. Residents were advised to stay indoors to avoid heat stroke as several all-time heat records were set in the country.
Arabiaweather.com, a private weather company based in Jordan, reported that Thailand’s previous all-time record high was 112 degrees (44.6 Celsius), set in 2016 in Mae Hong Son province. Other all-time records reached Friday in Thailand include 112 degrees (44.6 Celsius) at Tak Airport and 110 degrees (43.5 Celsius) in Phetchabun.
“Thai authorities have issued health warnings as meteorologists estimate temperatures of up to [122 degrees] in the sun,” according to Arabiaweather.com, which also reported that smog “has caused thousands of people to develop respiratory problems and sore throats in recent weeks.”
Temperatures are also skyrocketing in, among other places, Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Again I’m sure these are all isolated incidents with no connection to any broader phenomenon.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday criticized US claims that two men who were arrested in New York the previous day had set up a secret “Chinese police station” in the US. According to US authorities the two men in question, who are both US nationals, ran a business that ostensibly helped Chinese nationals living in the US with services like renewing their Chinese ID documents. This business was allegedly a front for an operation meant to locate Chinese “dissidents.” In a statement, the ministry insisted that “the relevant claims have no factual basis, and there is no such thing as an overseas police station.”
The Sudanese military and the “Rapid Support Forces” paramilitary unit, who have been battling one another for four days now, agreed to a 24 hour humanitarian ceasefire that was to have begun at 6 PM local time on Tuesday. As far as I can tell that ceasefire hasn’t materialized. Witnesses in Khartoum and Omdurman reported airstrikes and artillery fire in both cities shortly after the ceasefire was supposed to have gone into effect. Each side has unsurprisingly accused the other of breaking the agreement. It’s still possible the ceasefire will kick in at some point but the outlook doesn’t seem terribly good.
I haven’t seen any updates since Monday in terms of casualties and, really, any casualty figures at this point are likely to be very tentative at best given the diffuse nature of the conflict and the difficulty of compiling information from across Sudan under these circumstances. The heaviest fighting has been concentrated in Khartoum and its sister cities, Omdurman and Bahri, but there are reports of clashes nationwide, including in the Darfur region. Needless to say there’s little to no chance of humanitarian relief making its way to civilians, nor of evacuating civilians from the areas of heaviest fighting, without an extended ceasefire.
For now, at least, this conflict remains a highly personalized clash between the two key figures in Sudan’s ruling junta, military commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Their dispute over whether the RSF should come under military command or remain independent has compounded their competition for status in whatever government emerges if/when the junta transitions to something else (a transition that now seems farther away than ever). And their dueling international connections have contributed to their rivalry and could fuel an expansion of the fighting. Dagalo’s ties to Russia, and specifically the Wagner Group, probably haven’t endeared him to the US government, though Washington’s interactions with Sudan in recent years have been limited to counter-terrorism and encouraging Khartoum to implement its “Abraham Accord” deal with Israel and consequently it likely doesn’t have a tremendous amount of leverage here.
A landmine blast wounded two UN peacekeepers in central Mali’s Mopti region on Tuesday. There’s no indication as to who planted the explosive.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned ambassadors from Canada, the UK, and the US on Tuesday to complain about their criticism of the trial of Russian political activist Vladimir Kara-Murza. A Russian court sentenced Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison on Monday on treason charges that several Western officials have characterized as politically motivated. The three ambassadors publicly criticized the verdict on Monday, prompting Russian officials to complain of their “interference” in internal Russian affairs.
In Ukraine news:
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky both made visits near the front line on Tuesday, with Putin meeting Russian military commanders in Kherson oblast and visiting another Russian facility in Luhansk oblast while Zelensky spent time in the town of Avdiivka in Donetsk oblast. According to Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Ukrainian army, Russian forces have escalated their air and artillery strikes on Bakhmut.
Ship inspections under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which Moscow had blocked earlier this week, have resumed. It’s unclear why the Russians started blocking the inspections in the first place—all Russian officials have said is that there was some sort of procedural issue that’s now been resolved.
On a related note, the Polish government on Tuesday agreed to allow overland Ukrainian grain shipments to transit through Poland. Warsaw had imposed a ban on all Ukrainian grain shipments, whether destined for Poland or beyond, because the flood of cheap Ukrainian grain is undercutting prices for farmers in Poland and elsewhere. Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia now have bans in place on the importation of Ukrainian grain and Romania may be next. Farmers in Czechia, whose government says it is not considering an import ban, say that Ukrainian products are crowding them out of European export markets.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Brasília on Monday, which will undoubtedly make the folks in Washington happy. Lula is apparently irritating the US foreign policy establishment by insolently acting as though he were the head of state of an independent nation rather than the manager of a US subsidiary. During a recent trip that took him to China and the UAE, Lula suggested that the US was “encouraging” the conflict in Ukraine and that Ukraine bears some responsibility for the war, remarks that White House spokesperson John Kirby deemed “deeply problematic.” But Lula has also criticized the Russian invasion, something he did again on Tuesday during an event with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. He’s also offered to try to mediate an end to the conflict, though the Ukrainian government has not exactly embraced that offer.
Facing potential impeachment over embezzlement charges, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso on Tuesday suggested that he would dissolve Congress if it moves forward with that process. Ecuador’s Supreme Court has given a green light to potential impeachment hearings, so the only question is whether Lasso has enough legislative support to block them. Under Ecuadorean law’s “mutual death” provision, Lasso does have the authority to dissolve Congress and call a snap election, but he’s also obliged to call a snap election for the presidency at the same time.
The Nicaraguan government on Tuesday declared that it will not accept the credentials of the European Union’s ambassador-designate, Fernando Ponz. This decision was apparently prompted by an EU statement marking the five year anniversary of large-scale protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega that, among other things, called for a “return to the rule of law.” Nicaraguan authorities expelled the EU’s previous ambassador back in September.
The Mexican Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador violated the constitution last year when he transferred control of his National Guard unit to the Mexican military. The constitutional change that liquidated Mexico’s former federal police force and replaced it with the Guard positioned the new unit within the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection, and the court agreed with AMLO’s opponents that another constitutional change would be required to move it to the Secretariat of National Defense. AMLO, who in general has significantly expanded the Mexican military’s role in domestic law enforcement, contends that putting the Guard under the military would minimize the sort of corruption that infested the federal police. It’s unlikely that he has enough votes in Congress at this point to pass another constitutional change.
A New York Times investigative report looks at the Mexican government’s unique role in the Pegasus spyware scandal:
The spyware, known as Pegasus, has since become a global byword for the chilling reach of state surveillance, a tool used by governments from Europe to the Middle East to hack into thousands of cellphones.
No place has had more experience with the promise and the peril of the technology than Mexico, the country that inaugurated its spread around the globe.
A New York Times investigation based on interviews, documents and forensic tests of hacked phones shows the secret dealings that led Mexico to become Pegasus’ first client, and reveals that the country grew into the most prolific user of the world’s most infamous spyware.
Mexico went on to wield the surveillance tool against civilians who stand up to the state — abuses the country insists it has stopped. But The Times found that Mexico has continued to use Pegasus to spy on people who defend human rights, even in recent months.
Elite liberals can sense that they are losing ground and are anxious to redeem a tradition that has plainly been unable to deliver on its great promises. Liberalism is in crisis, and for the first time since the Cold War’s end, liberal thinkers feel the need to justify liberalism itself. From Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities to Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal to James Traub’s What Was Liberalism?, writers have begun to man the intellectual barricades, defending and promoting liberalism as the best possible solution to the world’s problems.
Fukuyama’s recent Liberalism and Its Discontents is part of this liberal counteroffensive. As a thinker, Fukuyama is the most distinguished of liberal apologists, and if anyone could make the positive case for liberalism, it’s him. But Liberalism and Its Discontents is not especially illuminating, repeating tired criticisms of the left and the right that don’t add much to scholarly analysis or political conversation. In essence, Fukuyama believes that embracing centrist liberalism was, and remains, the “mature” thing to do. While adolescents and fools endorse politics of radical change, adults accept that the limited reforms of liberalism are the best humanity can hope for. Though Fukuyama is willing to acknowledge many of liberalism’s limitations, he cannot envision a world beyond it.
The tragedy of our times is that he doesn’t really need to, because the argument he proffered in “The End of History?” has proved correct. No ideology has arisen to challenge liberalism, whether in the United States or elsewhere. Fukuyama and the other defenders of liberalism thus don’t actually have to be that persuasive. Liberalism reigns, and it looks set to do so into the foreseeable future. History, for the moment at least, remains at its end.
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