World update: June 16 2020
Stories from Turkey, India, North Korea, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
June 15, 1215: King John of England signs Magna Carta at Runnymede, under pressure from a group of rebellious barons. The document included provisions protecting church prerogatives and establishing protection from illegal imprisonment, a right to a speedy trial, and limitations on taxation (for the barons, not in general, though it’s since been interpreted more broadly). Instead of ending the rebellion the charter inflamed it, as John and a council of barons created to oversee its implementation quickly fell out and John had the document declared null by Pope Innocent III. This led to the First Barons’ War, in which the rebels and their French ally were defeated but young King Henry III (John had died during the war) and his regent, William Marshal, reissued a revised Magna Carta as a concession to help end the unrest.
King John signing Magna Carta, an illustration by 19th century English artist James William Edmund Doyle (Wikimedia Commons)
June 15, 1389: The Battle of Kosovo
June 16, 632: Yazdegerd III is crowned ruler of the Sasanian Empire. He ruled for 19 years and was the last Sasanian emperor. He fled his capital, Ctesiphon, after the Persians’ catastrophic defeat to the invading Arabs at Qadisiyah in 636 and spent the rest of his life alternately running for his life and raising armies in a futile attempt to stop the oncoming Arabs. A miller assassinated Yazdegerd at Merv (near modern Mary, Turkmenistan) in 651, though it’s unclear whether he did so in order to rob the shah or at the orders of the regional governor.
June 16, 1407: Ming Chinese forces capture the emperor of Đại Ngu (northern Vietnam today), Hồ Hán Thương, as well as his father and predecessor, “Retired Emperor” Hồ Quý Ly, thus bringing the 1406-1407 Ming-Hồ war close to its end. The conflict’s roots lay in the Hồ dynasty’s overthrow of the Trần dynasty, a Ming vassal, and the breakup of Đại Việt (Vietnam) in 1400. Hồ Quý Ly resisted a Ming demand for the reinstatement of the Trần and the rest, as they say, is history. The Ming annexed northern Vietnam, calling it Jiaozhi province, but that only lasted until 1427, when a rebellion led by Lê Lợi drove the Ming out and reestablished an independent Vietnam.
Worldometer’s coronavirus figures for June 16:
8,251,224 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide (3,503,249 active, +142,557 since yesterday)
445,188 reported fatalities (+6592 since yesterday)
In today’s global news:
The United Nations Human Rights Council is scheduled to hold an “urgent debate” Wednesday to discuss systemic racism in the United States, with a group of African nations circulating a draft resolution that would call for an investigation into, among other things, the role racism plays in police violence. The US delegation will obviously vote against…oh, wait, I’m sorry, the Trump administration pulled the US off of the council in 2018, so the US delegation won’t be voting at all. There will undoubtedly be a lot of wailing about the hypocrisy of council members with their own laundry list of human rights abuses criticizing the US, but then many of those same countries can make that same complaint about the US criticizing them.
The UN General Assembly will vote Wednesday on a number of UN positions, but none of the other votes will matter as much as those for the five opening seats on the UN Security Council. Two of those elections are uncontested: India for an Asia-Pacific seat and Mexico for a Latin America-Caribbean seat. Three others are being contested: Djibouti and Kenya are contesting an African seat and Canada, Ireland, and Norway are contesting the two “Western” seats. The pandemic has mostly prevented these countries from conducting a typical UNSC campaign, which consists of trying to bribe ambassadors with fancy parties and junkets, so it will be interesting to see how things shake out.
A new report from the Polaris Project argues that pandemic lockdown measures are exacerbating human trafficking. In much the same way that people living in abusive domestic situations have seen their circumstances worse, people who are vulnerable to trafficking (migrants, domestic workers, etc.) may now find themselves locked down with their potential traffickers. Others who are struggling to make ends meet due to the economic downturn may be more vulnerable to recruitment by traffickers.
At World Politics Review, The Fletcher School’s David Kampf argues that the pandemic is highlighting a growing risk of major global conflict:
That may be surprising, since before the outbreak, most statistics indicated that, on the whole, the world had never been better. People were wealthier, healthier and safer than ever, and the chance of a major war between two countries was arguably lower than it had been in centuries.
But that overlooked the ways in which the risk of interstate war was already rising before COVID-19 began to spread. Civil wars were becoming more numerous, lasting longer and attracting more outside involvement, with dangerous consequences for stability in many regions of the world. And the global dynamics most commonly cited to explain the falling incidence of interstate war—democracy, economic prosperity, international cooperation and others—were being upended.
If the spread of democracy kept the peace, then its global decline is unnerving. If globalization and economic interdependence kept the peace, then a looming global depression and the rise of nationalism and protectionism are disconcerting. If regional and global institutions kept the peace, then their degradation is unsettling. If the balance of nuclear weapons kept the peace, then growing risks of proliferation are disquieting. And if America’s preeminent power kept the peace, then its relative decline is troubling.
Now, the pandemic, or more specifically the world’s reaction to it, is revealing the extent to which the factors holding major wars in check are withering. The idea that war between nations is a relic of the past no longer seems so convincing.
177 confirmed coronavirus cases (unchanged)
6 reported fatalities (unchanged)
Syrian protesters in Suwaydah have reportedly suspended their demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad’s government, not because economic conditions are improving (quite the opposite) but because they’re hoping authorities will release protesters who were arrested on Monday. Apparently officials have demanded an end to the protests as a condition for freeing those already detained.
Al-Monitor’s Fehim Taştekin reports that the Turkish government is dumping Turkish lira into the parts of Syria under its military control as an alternative to the increasingly worthless Syrian pound. The main motive seems to be avoiding the potentially sweeping new US sanctions that are coming online as soon as tomorrow, and there’s an open question as to whether the Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria plan to make their own currency move over that same issue. Ideally they’d convert to US dollars but there aren’t enough dollars in northeastern Syria to make that realistic. They could switch to the lira but that carries political implications and invited some dependence on Turkey. They could switch to the Iraqi dinar, but that carries some risk of dependence on Iraq and the dinar isn’t a fantastic alternative.
181,298 confirmed cases (+1467)
4842 reported fatalities (+17)
According to Al-Monitor’s Mustafa Sönmez, Turkey’s weak economy and the government’s unsatisfying response to the pandemic may force Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to hold an early election:
Turkey plunged into economic turmoil in mid-2018, shortly after Erdogan was reelected under a new governance system that concentrated power in the president’s hands. The Turkish economy, which grew only about 1% last year, was still fragile when the coronavirus hit in March and was probably bruised worse than many other economies.
Ankara failed to offer support packages of the scope that other governments introduced to cushion the blows of the pandemic. Its measures focused largely on facilitating access to credit, i.e., borrowing means, and offered little to the worst-hit groups, including the jobless — whose number is estimated to have hit some 13 million — and small businesses and farmers, who needed mostly cash support and grants.
As a result, popular discontent has grown and grievances have become louder. The mounting political threats to the AKP stem also from two new opposition parties founded by ex-premier Ahmet Davutoglu and former economic tsar Ali Babacan, who quit the AKP last year.
Erdoğan may well decide that his position is only going to weaken between now and the next scheduled general election, in 2023, and therefore his best chance to retain an parliamentary majority is to hold an election as soon as possible. On the other hand, it’s already too late to avoid the economic crisis, and calling an election now, when people are feeling the crash most acutely, could very well backfire on him. All of this, of course, assumes a free election—Erdoğan doesn’t really allow “fair” elections anymore by the generally understood meaning of that term.
22,700 confirmed cases (+1385)
712 reported fatalities (+60)
Somebody fired three rockets at Baghdad International Airport late Monday to no apparent effect. No group has claimed responsibility. Elsewhere, Turkish military aircraft bombed Kurdistan Workers’ Party positions in northern Iraq again on Wednesday. The Turks have begun a new operation called “Claw-Eagle” against the PKK in northern Iraq and this was the second round of strikes in the past few days.
981 confirmed cases (+2)
9 reported fatalities (unchanged)
The Trump administration may suspend US aid to Jordan due to Amman’s refusal to extradite Ahlam Tamimi to Israel. Tamimi has already been convicted by an Israeli court in absentia of participating in a 2001 bombing in Jerusalem. Israeli authorities released her in a prisoner swap with Hamas in 2011 and she’s been living in Jordan ever since, but the US wants to try her since two of the 15 people killed in that 2001 attack were Americans. Jordanian King Abdullah is scheduled to meet virtually with members of the US Congress next week to discuss Israel’s plan to annex portions of the West Bank, and supporters of the Trump administration will probably use the Tamimi case as a way to undermine Abdullah’s effort to lobby against the annexation.
192,439 confirmed cases (+2563)
9065 reported fatalities (+115)
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (the so-called “E3”) are circulating a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency demanding that Iran comply fully with IAEA requests for site access and with its questions about the “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of past Iranian nuclear research. The IAEA has complained of late that Iranian officials aren’t allowing its inspectors access to two sites and are refusing to answer questions about a third site related to the PMD issue, based on information supposedly gleaned from the alleged “archive” of Iranian nuclear research that the Israeli government has said it’s uncovered. The E3 want to force Iran to cooperate with the IAEA, but they’re also looking for a way to be Tough On Iran under the misguided belief that it gives them credibility to try to convince the Trump administration not to take any more action that risks destroying the 2015 Iran nuclear deal entirely. There is no reason to believe that anything European countries do with respect to Iran is going to give them any leeway in negotiations with Washington.
354,161 confirmed cases (+11,135)
11,921 reported fatalities (+2006)
The lingering Indian-Chinese border dispute took a sharp turn into “alarmingly violent” territory on Monday night, when a new confrontation between border forces in the Galwan Valley area of the Ladakh region left 20 Indian soldiers and some number of Chinese soldiers (Beijing won’t say how many) dead. The fighting did not escalate past hand-to-hand so no shots were fired. Indian witnesses claim the Chinese soldiers suddenly attacked with “iron rods” and there was rock throwing on both sides. Chinese officials claim that Indian forces “provoked and attacked” the Chinese side. Each side claims that the other has violated their border, and since the India-China border in that region is essentially undefined either or both could be correct. Given the high altitude at the location, at least some of the deaths may have been due to falls and others to soldiers who succumbed to their injuries amid the harsh elements.
Beijing and New Delhi had been engaging in diplomacy to de-escalate their border issues, but the status of that effort is now very much up in the air. Given that the border is so undefined the ideal outcome here would be for both sides to claim they’ve upheld their national prerogatives and stand down. It would only be a short-term solution, but that’s better than the alternative. Still, at this point it seems unlikely. On the plus side, despite Monday’s death toll the fighting still hasn’t escalated past brawling and that’s a lot easier to pacify than a true military clash.
No acknowledged cases
North Korea exploded the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong on Tuesday afternoon, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. Needless to say this has not gone down particularly well in South Korea. The office functioned as a de facto embassy and was the point of contact between the two Korean governments, but it’s now apparently rubble. The office is ostensibly a casualty of North Korea’s anger over defector organizations in South Korea surreptitiously sending leaflets and humanitarian supplies across the border, but if you subscribe to the belief that the punishment should fit the crime then this is a massive overreaction by Pyongyang and it’s likely something else is at play.
The North Koreans may be trying to distract from their COVID-19 problem (by which I mean both the actual pandemic and the economic crisis it’s caused) and/or trying to ratchet up pressure on South Korea and/or the US in order to extract concessions on sanctions. Maybe Kim Yo-jong, who seems to be the driving force behind these latest provocations, is just trying to make a splash in her new, more prominent role. She’s also said that she’s preparing the North Korean army to move into a demilitarized zone on the North Korean side of the border. Previous diplomacy between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in had produced an agreement to reduce the joint military presence in the border region. Pyongyang on Wednesday rejected a South Korean offer for immediate negotiations and seemed to suggest that the re-militarization of the border was a foregone conclusion.
484 confirmed cases (+17)
10 reported fatalities (unchanged)
The Turkish government on Tuesday criticized France for having “exacerbated the crisis in Libya” by supporting “the putschist and pirate” Khalifa Haftar. This was Ankara’s response to criticism the French government leveled a day earlier over the role Turkey has likewise played in “exacerbating the crisis in Libya” via its support for the Haftar rival Government of National Accord. The French government denies backing Haftar, who is a would-be dictator and possibly a war criminal, but it’s mostly supported him while paying lip service to the idea of supporting the internationally-recognized GNA.
1885 confirmed cases (+25)
104 reported fatalities (unchanged)
At his Sahel Blog, Alex Thurston has some pessimistic thoughts about the newly-inaugurated French “Coalition for the Sahel” and its likely impact. It’s a short post so I encourage you to click over there and read it in full.
55,369 confirmed cases (+689)
318 reported fatalities (+6)
After having his security forces raid the bank that used to employ one of his political rivals last week, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko allegedly had one of his flunkies anonymously threaten to seize the children of another political rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Like former Belgazprombank boss Viktor Babariko, Tikhanovskaya is running against Lukashenko in August’s presidential election. Her husband, blogger Sergei Tikhanovski, was planning to run but he’s already been arrested, and now she’s (again allegedly) been threatened with losing her kids unless she drops out of the race. Lukashenko is essentially a dictator and Belarusian elections are always rigged, but there has been a large (for Belarus) outpouring of popular anger toward Lukashenko over his mangled response to the pandemic and he now appears to be in fear for his political future.
4077 confirmed cases (+1)
565 reported fatalities (+2)
The Hungarian parliament voted Tuesday to lift the emergency measures it imposed over the pandemic, effective Saturday. Those emergency measures allowed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree and raised concerns that whatever was left of Hungary’s democracy had just been flushed down the commode. Orbán and other Hungarian officials insisted that this was just a temporary emergency measure and would be repealed once the pandemic had subsided. Well, the pandemic has largely subsided in Hungary, at least for now, and they have indeed lifted the emergency. Critics, however, are warning that Orbán’s government will still have more unimpeded authority when the emergency powers are lifted than it had when they were imposed. Among other things, the initial emergency declaration empowered the government to more easily declare future emergencies in which the rule by decree power could be reinstated.
928,834 confirmed cases (+37,278)
45,456 reported fatalities (+1338)
The World Health Organization’s regional director for the Americas, Carissa Etienne, warned Tuesday that the pandemic is still surging across the region. Nowhere, not even in the beleaguered United States, is that more readily apparent than it is in Brazil, which experienced a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday less than a week after setting its previous record. Brazil’s outbreak, once confined mostly to major urban areas, now appears to be spreading into the countryside, which is a nightmare scenario from a logistical perspective and also means that the country’s precarious indigenous populations are at increased risk.
236 confirmed cases (+7)
6 reported fatalities (+1)
Suriname’s electoral authorities have tallied and verified the results of the country’s May 25 election, and suffice to say it’s not looking good for incumbent President Dési Bouterse. His National Democratic Party won 16 seats in the 51 seat parliament, a loss of ten and exactly that far short of a majority. Former justice minister Chan Santokhi’s Progressive Reform Party won 20 seats, and he’s the odds-on favorite to become the country’s next president assuming he can cobble together a parliamentary majority (Surinamese presidents are elected indirectly). Bouterse may find himself in legal jeopardy very quickly once he leaves office. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year over the 1982 “December murders” of 15 activists (he had immunity as president but obviously won’t anymore), has been sentenced to 11 years in prison in the Netherlands for drug trafficking, and is wanted by Europol also on trafficking allegations. Santokhi has not suggested he would extradite Bouterse.
171 confirmed cases (+12)
12 reported fatalities (unchanged)
Meanwhile, neighboring Guyana’s political situation is getting very complicated:
Authorities in Guyana were under international pressure on Tuesday to certify an opposition victory in national elections even as the head of the Elections Commission argued that the March 2 vote was badly flawed and should be thrown out.
The commission was meeting Tuesday to consider the report by Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, who said hundreds of people who were dead or has emigrated were recorded as having voted and that some ballot boxes were stuffed only with votes for the main opposition party.
He said over the weekend that an audit found so many irregularities that the vote in the small South American nation can’t be described as “credible.”
But the Organization of American States issued a statement Monday dismissing his report, adding, “His contention that the entire election be set aside on this basis alone is astonishing.” It suggested that he has “displayed partisan behavior.”
It called on the government of President Davide Granger “to begin the process of transition, which will allow the legitimately elected government to take its place.”
The OAS hasn’t exactly crowned itself in glory lately, but the Carter Center has also indicated that the vote was fair and the complaints from within Guyana’s electoral system mostly seem to be coming from people with ties to Granger’s government. So it’s hard to know who’s got credibility on their side here. Guyanese elections are frequently intense given the divisions between the country’s Afro-Guyanese and Indo Guyanese populations, but this one is particularly intense because it could determine which of Guyana’s political factions will control the first revenues from the country’s offshore oil and gas deposits.
54,931 confirmed cases (+1868)
1801 reported fatalities (+75)
You can count Colombian President Iván Duque among the world leaders who have gained stature during the pandemic. A new poll finds that Duque’s approval rating has shot from a mere 23 percent in February to 52 percent in April. The improvement may not have so much to do with Duque’s handling of the pandemic as with the opportunity the crisis afforded him to reorient public attention away from the difficulties he was having before COVID-19 hit. That means his popularity may crash again once things have subsided, or if Colombia’s outbreak worsens significantly.
150,264 confirmed cases (+3427)
17,580 reported fatalities (+439)
The Mexican and US governments decided Tuesday to keep their border closed to non-essential travel for another 30 days due to the pandemic.
2,208,400 confirmed cases (+25,450)
119,132 reported fatalities (+849)
Finally, the Trump administration is planning to nominate a US national, current National Security Council member Mauricio Claver-Carone, as the next head of the Inter-American Development Bank. This is noteworthy because, since its 1959 creation the IDB has always been headed by someone from Latin America. It’s been an unwritten rule. But the administration wants to put a loyalist in charge because it views the IDB as a key level to force Latin American countries to choose the US over China in what Washington is increasingly turning into an either/or choice. There may be some resistance to Claver-Carone’s candidacy, but the administration is apparently dangling the possibility of a cash infusion for the IDB if he’s approved.