World update: January 10 2018



The Myanmar military has admitted that its soldiers murdered ten Rohingya prisoners in September, during its excessive crackdown/ethnic cleansing campaign. It’s one of the few instances in which they’ve allowed that perhaps some of their soldiers acted inappropriately during the episode that saw mass atrocities committed against the Rohingya community.


Beijing’s Belt and Road romance with Pakistan might be hitting a bit of a rough patch, and the Pakistanis aren’t the only ones who seem to be chafing a bit at some of the giant infrastructure project/colonial enterprise’s terms:

Pakistan’s relations with Beijing are so close that officials call China their “Iron Brother.” Despite that, plans for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were thrown into turmoil in November when the chairman of Pakistan’s water authority said Beijing wanted an ownership stake in the hydropower project. He rejected that as against Pakistani interests.


China issued a denial but the official withdrew the dam from among dozens of projects being jointly developed by the two countries.


From Pakistan to Tanzania to Hungary, projects under President Xi Jinping’s signature “Belt and Road Initiative” are being canceled, renegotiated or delayed due to disputes about costs or complaints host countries get too little out of projects built by Chinese companies and financed by loans from Beijing that must be repaid.


Donald Trump seems, so far, to be fine with North Korea and South Korea talking to one another, and even told South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a phone call on Wednesday that he would not authorize a US attack on North Korea as long as the talks were ongoing. Hey, baby steps.

With this new break in Korean tensions, a number of Very Serious Foreign Policy Thinkers are so intent on predicting failure that they actually seem a little disappointed that might not get their war. John Feffer examines a few of these cases:

Scott Snyder, from the Council on Foreign Relations, speculates that Kim Jong Un’s overture is a ploy to trap South Korean President Moon Jae-in “into concessions that might weaken South Korea’s alliance with the United States.” According to Danny Russel, the top Asia policy person in the Obama administration, “This is a classic united we stand, divided we fall situation. It’s always easier to maintain five party solidarity when North Korea is behaving badly.”


And from the American Enterprise Institute on the right, Nicholas Eberstadt warns that “Pyongyang regards South Korea as the weakest link in the gathering global campaign to pressure North Korea to denuclearize” and urges Seoul not to “get played.”


Then there’s the Wilson Center’s Robert Litwak, writing a piece in The New York Times entitled “A United Front Against North Korea.” Here’s the core of his argument:


We should be wary of Mr. Kim’s intentions. His gambit may be a ploy to buy time for the additional testing needed to acquire the capability to strike the continental United States. He may simply be trying to extract economic relief. Or his overture may be purely strategic, an attempt to drive a wedge between South Korea and its superpower patron, the United States.


Everything revolves around the pronoun “we.” Is Litwak speaking about he and his family? He and the Trump administration? All Americans? All Americans and South Koreans? Or perhaps he means the entire world except for North Korea?


Well, we should be wary of all such arguments. And by “we,” let me very specific: all people who want, above all, to avoid war on the Korean peninsula.


Special kudos for much of the above should be given to Moon, who had the idea to very publicly laud Trump for making talks between North Korea and South Korea possible by pressuring Pyongyang. Now, Donald Trump is partly responsible for these talks happening, but only insofar as by demonstrating to the rest of the world that he’s a dimwitted maniac who might actually be willing to fire the first shot in a nuclear war he left the rest of the world, particularly Moon, desperate to leap at any outreach from Kim Jong-un. Mostly the reason the talks are happening is that North Korea feels it’s close enough to completing its nuclear weapons project that it can afford to slow down and try talking for a change. But Moon left all of that out in crediting Donald’s brilliant efforts for bringing North Korea to its knees. His bread thoroughly buttered, the extraordinarily narcissistic Trump seems to be perfectly content letting Moon pursue this diplomatic opening. For now, at least.



The United Nations says it will work toward elections in Libya by the end of 2018. The hope is that national elections would reduce the number of governments currently trying to run Libya from at least two to a nice, tidy one, thereby perhaps putting the worst of the country’s civil war behind everybody. Voter registration is apparently going well, hence the drive to get something done by the end of the year.

Of course, not everybody is necessarily on board with that plan. Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar isn’t sure Libya is ready for democracy, and he made a pretty unsubtle threat to seize power in the event that the election fails to end the war. I know, I’m as surprised as you to find that Muammar Gaddafi 2.0 isn’t gung-ho for democracy, but at least Haftar seems to be willing to let the election play out before he decides he doesn’t like the results and tries to step in. To be fair, though, Haftar has made the same threat/promise to take power multiple times over the past few years, so often that one might start to question whether or not he’s actually capable of doing it.


Tunisian police say they’ve arrested 237 people over the past several days, as protests against the weak Tunisian economy and government-imposed austerity measures have spread across the country. They insist that the arrests are related to looting that’s been going on alongside the protests, not to the protests themselves.


Melchior Wathelet, the Advocate General for the European Court of Justice, advised on Wednesday that the European Union’s fisheries deal with Morocco should be invalidated because it includes the disputed Western Sahara. Since the UN has held that the people of Western Sahara are being denied their right to self-determination, Wathelet held that the fisheries deal amounts to exploiting Western Sahara’s waters on Morocco’s behalf.


A group of soldiers in Bouake looted weapons from the base of another military unit and then set that base on fire on Wednesday. The mutineers were from Ivory Coast’s regular military, while the base they raided belongs to the country’s elite CCDO unit. Ivory Coast was plagued with repeated mutinies through the first half of last year, so this is definitely not a great way to ring in 2018.


The African National Congress’s executive committee apparently did not take up the idea of scandal-plagued President Jacob Zuma being removed from office early during its meeting on Wednesday. This could reflect a behind the scenes effort to nudge Zuma toward leaving on something that looks like his own terms, rather than forcing him out.



Chechen authorities appear to be using phony drug charges as a way to arrest and harass  human rights activists and other political opponents of Ramzan Kadyrov’s authoritarian government:

A human-rights activist in Chechnya has been detained by the police on drug possession charges in a case that colleagues and international observers say is part of a concerted effort to drive dissidents out of the Russian republic.


The activist, Oyub Titiev, 60, has run the Chechen branch of the Memorial Human Rights Center since the 2009 abduction and murder of another activist, Natalya Estemirova, a case that remains unsolved.



Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that fabricated drug charges were being used by the authorities to rid Chechnya of people who question Mr. Kadyrov’s rule.


“Framing people for drug crimes has become an increasingly frequent tactic,” she wrote.

Washington DC has renamed the street upon which the Russian Embassy sits after murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. I bet the Russians are going to be really mad when we get to recess.


Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki thinks he can convince the European Union that Poland’s recent judicial “reform” actually was a reform and not a way to undercut the judiciary’s independence:

Speaking in Warsaw on Wednesday, Mr Morawiecki said he believed that dialogue with the European Commission would lead to “mutual understanding and de-escalation”.


“I generally believe that with added effort to explain our intentions we will be able to clarify the misunderstandings,” he said.


“I want the European Commission to be assured, to be convinced that our judicial system is more independent, is more objective, is more transparent.” Mr Morawiecki added.

Morawiecki says the new judiciary law, which puts that branch under the control of the executive, was necessary to root out judicial corruption and reduce bloat, and argues that it’s similar to measures other European countries have taken in recent years. Brussels clearly disagrees, but maybe they just haven’t heard his best argument yet.


Catalan separatist parties, who won a narrow majority in the regional legislature in the December 21 snap election, are probably going to reelect Carles Puigdemont as Catalan president. Puigdemont is, of course, in exile in Belgium on account of he’ll be arrested by Spanish authorities if he goes back to Spain, so this is kind of an exquisite troll even if it further extends this increasingly pointless dispute.



Attacks by ELN rebels against an oil pipeline and a naval base prompted Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to recall his negotiators from planned peace talks with the rebel group in Ecuador. A previous ceasefire with the ELN ended on Wednesday and the attacks were launched shortly after. ELN leaders urged Santos not to abandon negotiations that could lead to a new ceasefire, which seems like a bit of a mixed message.


The US State Department issued a “Do Not Travel” warning on Wednesday for five Mexican states: Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán. and Guerrero. This puts those parts of Mexico–Mexico–on par with hotspots like Libya, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. All five states are mired in violence related to the drug trade, which is why the Trump administration is planning to drastically rethink America’s failed and destructive “war on drugs” build a big wall and see how that goes.


Canadian government officials are warning that Donald Trump might scrap NAFTA by the end of January, though White House sources downplayed those warnings later in the day. There’s a round of NAFTA talks scheduled for January 23 which I guess could be the last ditch effort to keep Trump in the fold. Personally I’ll believe this when I see it, but the rumors were apparently believable enough to affect stock and currency markets.

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