THE WRAP — 10 September 2016
ASEAN Summit, ISIS losing Aleppo, Calais ‘jungle’ camp, and more…
Asian-Pacific leaders met this week in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, for the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The annual meeting on trade and diplomacy has been rife with barely-veiled power struggles and intrigue.
Predictably, the elephant in the room is China’s burgeoning territorial ambition in the South China Sea. Earlier in the year this ambition was dealt a ringing blow by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague which concluded that China couldn’t claim ‘historic title’ over the region. The ruling invalidated China’s efforts to build military bases, ports, and runways on dredged reefs. And despite China’s contention that The Hague has no jurisdiction over the matter, the ruling has emboldened both the Philippines and Vietnam who attended the summit with a list of demands.
North Korea’s recent provocations were also discussed in depth at the summit with the hope of de-escalating tension in the Korean Peninsula. The international community’s inability to manage Pyongyang was made startlingly clear on Friday when the nation conducted its fifth nuclear test at an underground weapons range (and caused a 5.0-magnitude earthquake). Japanese and South Korean authorities immediately deployed resources to survey the area for radiation. The pariah state had already been threatened with new sanctions after it launched three long-range missiles (capable of carrying nuclear warheads) into Japanese waters on Monday.
ISIS is losing ground rapidly in northern Syria, evacuating fighters and equipment from the strategically important town of al-Bab, its last stronghold in the Aleppo province. The group is being squeezed by Syrian government forces, Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army rebels, and the Kurdish militia. Insiders say that ISIS has moved much of its heavy artillery back to Raqqa, its de-facto capital. Meanwhile regime soldiers backed by Russian air-power have again encircled the rebel-held city centre in Aleppo. Fighting in the southern suburbs was particularly ferocious as rebels struggled to hold onto recently won territory. And reports emerged earlier in the week of yet another chemical attack by the regime; graphic videos surfaced of children struggling to breathe after the suburb of As-Sukkari was barrel-bombed.
Turkey in Syria
Even as ISIS prepares for the imminent assault on Raqqa by Turkish forces, spot fires are popping up across the north of Syria. Turkey has successfully ‘liberated’ a 70-kilometre buffer zone across its southern border, crushing any dreams of a united Kurdish state in Syria. Washington has demanded that Turkey (and its allied rebel groups) stop targeting the Kurds, but their calls have fallen on deaf ears. Meanwhile, within the southern Turkish province of Hakkari, state security forces have been involved in deadly clashes with the Kurdish PKK militia.
In Iraq, the Baghdad suburb of Karrada suffered yet another deadly car-bombing at the hands of ISIS. A truck full of explosives was detonated near a hospital, killing at least 9 and wounding dozens more. This is the same majority-Shia district that was the scene of the horrific truck bombing in July, in which 324 market-goers were killed and hundreds more were wounded.
Further East, destabilisation in Afghanistan is on the rise. Taliban fighters are on the march in Helmand and Uruzgan. They also launched a brazen assault on Tarinkot, the capital of Uruzgan province, sending officials fleeing to the city’s airport. In Kabul the Taliban have detonated multiple car-bombs and assaulted an international charity. The armoured gates of CARE International’s heavily fortified headquarters were blasted open by a truck bomb and Taliban fighters occupied the building, leading to a all-night battle against the army. The security situation is fast collapsing in many parts of the country as the Taliban tests the government’s resolve.
The British government has set aside £1.9m to build a protective wall between the Calais ‘Jungle’ refugee camp and the road to the Channel Tunnel. This new measure is an attempt to stop refugees from stowing away on trucks entering the port of Calais en route to the UK. The Calais road was shut down during the week when hundreds of French and British citizens protested against the wall. French rhetoric over Calais also ramped up last week with the government threatening to clear the camp. Refugee advocates say that doing so would drastically worsen the humanitarian problem. Despite the best efforts of aid groups, living conditions in the camp and surrounding areas are dire for many of the refugees. Of particular concern are the estimated 700 unaccompanied minors who are trying to eke out an existence in the ‘Jungle’.
Trump and Clinton
Now that the US Labour Day weekend is over, the ‘real’ Presidential campaign is set to begin. Controversy and scorn continued to swirl around both candidates this week. Republican candidate Donald Trump left Americans scratching their heads when he heaped praise on Russian President Vladmir Putin during a town-hall style debate. His rival Democrat Hillary Clinton described the remarks as “scary” and unpatriotic. But Clinton herself was also rounded upon for claiming that ISIS is “praying” for Donald Trump to win. Clinton also continues to be attacked for her apparent ill-health by various segments of the conservative press, a factor that has possibly worked in her favour because it has obscured even more damaging concerns about the Clinton Foundation’s dealings.
Paris Climate Deal
The ambitious Paris Agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been ratified by the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters: China and the US. The momentous occasion was announced by the two Presidents, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping at the start of this week’s G20 summit in Hangzhou. The United Nations has agonised over the agreement for two decades. Now another huge emitter, India, has also promised to ratify the agreement in 2017. This leaves the ball firmly in the European Union’s court. The EU signed the agreement as a bloc but have not yet followed through on its prescriptions.
Hopefully the recent ratification will be a catalyst for more concerted global action on climate change.
This isn’t where I parked my… — Two years ago the European Space Agency made history by landing a probe on a comet. But contact with the Philae lander was lost almost immediately because it failed to send signals to its orbiting partner. Well, the ESA just found it. The photo above shows that it is a little bit broken and wedged in a crevice.
The pot calling the kettle not black — Iran (a country with more than 70 million Muslims) and Saudi Arabia (a country with more than 28 million Muslims) each claimed that the other one isn’t Muslim enough. A war of words has erupted in the lead-up to the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Deleting history — Facebook is embroiled in controversy after deleting posts from both a Norweigian newspaper and the Norweigian Prime Minister’s Facebook pages that contained Nick Ut’s ‘The Terror of War’ photo, Facebook says the iconic image of naked children fleeing an American napalm attack during the Vietnam war breaches its guidelines on nudity. Everyone else says it’s an important part of history.
What ruled this week? This corker of a story about an ancient amphitheater on the Greek island of Delos. The crumbling theatre had lain unused for 2,100 years and is now being used to host plays for the island’s population of Syrian refugees.
What shook us to the core? Well, it may not have a death toll attached to it, but we discovered that the coffee plant may be extinct by 2080 because of climate change. Not happy. It’s time to start stockpiling Nescafe.
That’s a wrap team. Be well.
p.s., Yes, we know a new iPhone was announced this week. However we decided to exercise some editorial discretion and not flood your wrap with yet more promotional material for Apple. Instead, if you must, you can watch this video mashup of all the iPhone launches.