World roundup: May 16 2023
Stories from Australia, South Africa, Ecuador, and elsewhere
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TODAY IN HISTORY
May 16, 1916: The British government ratifies the Sykes-Picot Agreement, establishing it as the Allied blueprint for the post-war remains of the Ottoman Empire.
May 16, 1961: The South Korean military, under army general Park Chung-hee, overthrows the country’s civilian government in the appropriately named “May 16 Coup,” instituting a period of military rule in South Korea that lasted in one form or another until 1993. Park himself ruled the country until his assassination by the head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service in 1979. The military government is credited, if you want to call it that, with rapidly industrializing the South Korean economy, at the cost of basic rights and liberties.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs on Tuesday issued a new economic forecast for 2023 that’s slightly more optimistic overall than its previous forecast but still pretty gloomy for most of the world. The UN is now expecting global economic growth to hit 2.3 percent for the year, which is a bit better than the 1.9 percent it predicted back in January but still lagging the 3.1 percent growth the global economy experienced last year. That boost, however, is largely due to better forecasts for major developed economies—China, the EU, and the US. The rest of the world is likely still on the earlier, lower growth, path. Which means in addition to 2023 being a difficult year for much of the world, it’s likely to see global inequality increase.
One peculiarity that has emerged from Sunday’s Turkish election is that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) apparently did quite well in areas of Turkey that were heavily impacted by February’s massive earthquake event. This is interesting in that the slow government response to the disaster, coupled with revelations that Erdoğan’s government had a) doled out disaster relief funds to the president’s pals for infrastructure work and b) played fast and loose with enforcing building codes, was expected to cost AKP some of its support. According to Reuters, residents of these areas were simply more comfortable with the idea of Erdoğan in charge of rebuilding than with the opposition. These regions have long been AKP strongholds, so I think the more accurate explanation is that these people wanted to vote for Erdoğan despite the quake fallout and the comments that some of them gave to Reuters were post facto attempts to justify their decision.
I’m hedging a bit with the “apparently” because opposition parties are reportedly beginning to question the official vote count to some degree. I don’t have a piece to link here but you can find chatter on Twitter about opposition parties filing challenges to the official count in several localities. I don’t think there’s any evidence of systemic fraud and there’s certainly no indication that enough votes are being disputed to change the outcome, but it’s something to watch. Reports that Turkish authorities arrested election observers don’t necessarily confirm that anything suspicious went on during the vote count, but they don’t do much to dispel speculation on that front.
An apparent Turkish drone strike may have killed at least three people in northern Iraq’s Sinjar region on Tuesday. I say “may have” because that’s what Kurdish authorities are saying, but according to AP a local political official claimed there were no casualties. The targets were members of the Yazidi YBS militia, which is closely affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The French government on Tuesday issued a warrant for the arrest of Lebanese central bank governor Riad Salameh, after he failed to appear at a hearing regarding several corruption charges that he’s facing. Salameh is the key figure in a sweeping money laundering investigation involving authorities in Lebanon and several European countries. He’s unsurprisingly maintained that he’s innocent and said he plans to appear the warrant. He’ll have to do so remotely, though, because while he’s not going to be extradited he could be arrested if he leaves Lebanon. Salameh has held his position since 1993 and as you might imagine is not held in particularly high regard these days. His term ends in July and he hasn’t indicated anything regarding another term, though as Lebanon is without a legitimate government it’s unclear who would actually preside over either reappointing him or replacing him.
According to Pakistani authorities, at least 15 people were killed on Monday in an outbreak of inter-communal violence in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The tribal dispute, apparently, involved ownership of a coal mine. Police deployed to the area and that seems to have calmed things down.
The Pakistani government is intending to try supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan who were arrested during last week’s protests over his brief detention in military, rather than civilian, court. They’ve decided to label the protesters, at least those accused of having acted violently, as “terrorists,” in order to allow the military tribunal option. Pakistani military courts are subject to weaker standards in terms of evidence and due process, so this is definitely a way to ensure convictions. It’s also a government endorsement of Pakistan’s security state, whose support the government wants to cultivate heading into a general election that Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf seems likely to win.
The Washington Post reported ominously on Tuesday that, according to the headline anyway, “China wants to make the yuan the global currency.” Scary stuff! If China wants to make the yuan the global currency that means supplanting the dollar, and supplanting the dollar means a full frontal challenge to US global hegemony using all the same tools the US has used to maintain the dollar’s global dominance. Needless to say the risk of World War III in a scenario like that would be disturbingly high.
Of course, if you read seven paragraphs into the piece, you learn that China does not, in fact, want the yuan to be the global currency:
The deal was welcome news for Beijing, which has long wanted its currency in wider use and to enjoy some of the power and prestige that the United States enjoys thanks to the dollar’s global domination.
It turns out that China actually wants the yuan to be a global currency, which is a lot different than trying to make it the global currency. It still means challenging the dollar, but it’s much more in keeping with the Chinese government’s repeated insistence that it’s not trying to replace the US as the world’s sole superpower but rather wants recognition as a second superpower in a multi-polar world.
Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu inaugurated a new bilateral military hotline on Tuesday. The hope is that the system will improve communication and minimize the risk of an unintended confrontation breaking out over, say, the two countries’ overlapping claims in the East China Sea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly toured the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on Tuesday, which may indicate that there are plans in the works for a new attempted space launch in the near future. Satellite imagery has shown significant activity at Sohae over the past few days though the analysis organization 38 North says more work needs to be done before any launch could be undertaken. Kim has made the successful launch of a spy satellite one of his key military goals.
US President Joe Biden is canceling his planned trip to Australia, which was supposed to take place after his visit to Japan for a G7 leaders summit that begins on Friday. Biden was to have attended a meeting of the leaders of the “Quad” member states (the US plus Australia, India, and Japan). It’s unclear whether that meeting is still going forward in some altered form. Biden was also scheduled to make a stop in Papua New Guinea to conclude a new defense agreement with that country and formally sign an agreement extending the Federated States of Micronesia’s Compact of Free Association agreement. That part of the trip is now apparently off as well.
It seems Biden needs to be in Washington in case he and Republicans in the US House of Representatives fail to reach agreement on an increase in the US government’s debt ceiling and the US has to undergo what would have to be considered the dumbest default in modern history.
Fighting between the Sudanese military and the “Rapid Support Forces” paramilitary group seemed to intensify in Khartoum and its sister cities, Bahri and Omdurman, on Tuesday. Negotiations between the parties are continuing in Saudi Arabia, though it’s not clear what they’re actually talking about these days. Although they agreed on a “declaration of principles” last week that included the protection of civilians and making allowances for humanitarian relief, there’s no evidence that either side has done anything to uphold those principles.
The parliament based in eastern Libya has suspended Fathi Bashagha, the man it appointed as prime minister last year. The body’s finance minister, Osama Hamada, is now serving as interim PM, or interim contested PM since there is of course a whole other government in western Libya that never accepted Bashagha’s appointment in the first place. Al Jazeera’s reporting suggests that the UAE has been working behind the scenes to build ties between that western government—led by its own PM, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh—and the eastern government that is backed/controlled by “Libyan National Army” boss Khalifa Haftar. That may explain Bashagha’s suspension, though as far as I know that’s just speculation.
Unspecified gunmen attacked three villages in North-Central Nigeria’s Plateau state late Monday, killing at least 29 people and possibly more—a number of people remain missing. Plateau is frequently affected by farmer-herder violence and these sort of attacks are typically attributed to gangs of herders or ex-herders. Another group of similarly unknown gunmen attacked a US embassy convoy in southeastern Nigeria’s Anambra state on Tuesday, killing two local embassy staffers and two police officers. Authorities are investigating the incident but Biafran separatist militants are active in Anambra and suspicion will undoubtedly be in that direction unless contradictory evidence emerges.
World Politics Review’s Obiora Ikoku offers a helpful overview of Cameroon’s Anglophone separatist conflict:
Since 2017, Cameroon has been engulfed in a bloody civil war that has claimed more than 6,000 lives, forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes and left nearly 4 million people dependent on humanitarian assistance. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have repeatedly failed, most recently in January, when a Canada-backed initiative was aborted before it even got off the ground. Now divisions among the armed separatist movement fighting the government risk escalating the conflict, raising further obstacles to reaching peace.
According to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have both agreed to receive “an African leaders peace mission.” Said mission would include, in addition to Ramaphosa, the leaders of Egypt, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Uganda, and Zambia. They all have the advantage of being on reasonably good terms with Putin and several have good reason to want an end to the Ukraine conflict and the disruption it’s caused to global commerce, particularly with respect to food. There’s no reason to expect this mission to have much luck, but internation peace efforts like this one and China’s planned mission certainly can’t hurt.
European Union member states are working on a new round of Russia sanctions, and it sounds like several members of The Gang are getting gun shy about targeting “third party” countries—particularly China. With not much left to sanction with respect to the Russian economy itself, focus has shifted to strengthening enforcement of sanctions violations. But that inevitably means blacklisting governments and/or companies outside of Russia that are enabling those violations, and it especially means a willingness to sanction China and/or Chinese companies for continuing to trade with Russia. The appetite for that does not appear to be very great, particularly in the German government. The EU is likely to wait to see what the G7 does at its aforementioned summit this weekend before it does anything more.
Elsewhere, the Russian Duma voted on Tuesday to withdraw from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which went into effect in 1992 and is supposed to limit the build-up of non-nuclear military forces near European borders. Russia already stopped participating in the treaty in 2015 so a withdrawal would be a formality at this point. On a related note, the US on Tuesday decided to release information on its nuclear arsenal as required under the New START accord. This is notable because the Biden administration announced back in March that it would no longer release that information in an effort to pressure Russia to come back into compliance with the treaty’s inspections regime. Since that didn’t work it appears the new plan is to shame Russia back into compliance. I suspect that won’t work either.
The Russian military launched another heavy overnight barrage of drones and missiles targeting Kyiv in particular. Ukrainian officials are claiming that they shot down everything the Russians fired at them, including six more of Russia’s Kinzhal hypersonic missile. Ukraine’s air defenses have been upgraded in recent weeks by an influx of Western systems like the US-made Patriot, but downing six Kinzhals, which are supposed to be nigh-impossible to defend against except by sheer luck, would be quite a feat.
The EU is also working on another round of military aid for Ukraine, but the Hungarian government is reportedly blocking final approval. A Hungarian spokesperson said the government objects to the EU’s repeated use of its “European Peace Facility” fund, which is meant to allow bloc members to respond quickly to potential security threats, for Ukraine when there are “other areas” where that money could be put to use, like North Africa and the Balkans. It’s likely Budapest will come around eventually on this, perhaps after some sort of concession from Brussels.
The Ecuadorean National Assembly began an impeachment trial for President Guillermo Lasso on Tuesday. Lasso is accused of involvement in an embezzlement scheme involving a state-owned oil firm. He’s maintained his innocence and has threatened to dissolve the legislature and send Ecuador to a snap general election rather than allow himself to be removed from office via impeachment. He may be waiting to see which way the legislative winds are blowing, though at this point they don’t look particularly favorable—92 votes are needed to remove him and there were 88 votes to open the impeachment trial in the first place, in a session in which several legislators were absent.
The leader of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group, Pablo Beltrán, declared on Monday that his group’s peace talks with the Colombian government are “on pause.” Beltrán is apparently upset by comments from Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who last week openly questioned how much control ELN senior leaders have over their fighters and argued that lower level ELN commanders are little more than drug traffickers dressed up as political insurgents. I guess that didn’t go over very well within ELN. Beltrán said he’s looking for “an explanation” for Petro’s remarks before resuming negotiations, which are (or were) in their third round in Cuba when this happened.
Finally, if you didn’t see it earlier today please check out Alex Thurston’s latest FX piece, assessing the state of revolutionary political movements around the world in light of recent events in Sudan:
On April 15, a violent power struggle broke out in Sudan, pitting the Sudanese Armed Forces under General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces under General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti. The violence, which has blighted the capital Khartoum and affected the rest of the country as well, is the latest tragic episode in a series of disappointments for the citizens whose mobilization sparked the coup that overthrew Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 after thirty years of rule.
Let me signal right away that this essay gives no answers for a way out of what appears to be a cul-de-sac for revolutionary politics in Sudan and worldwide. For one thing, it would be presumptuous of me to give advice to protesters and revolutionaries on the front lines of violence, repression, and predation. And for another thing, some of the smartest activists in the world are breaking their brains over the question of how to achieve and sustain genuine systemic overhauls, and are coming up short. The contest between protesters and elites is deeply unequal, and the supposed “pro-democracy” West has often deliberately, or inadvertently and sloppily, empowered elites against revolutionaries, a dynamic now under the microscope as violence shakes Sudan. The best I can do is to take stock of where global revolutionary dynamics stand, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.
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