Now that January’s finally done and dusted we can get back to drinking, knock all that exercise on the head and eat whatever the hell we like. On top of that we can all agree that the start of the year was as drab and uneventful as it always is, right? Right? Wrong! The past 31 days have been littered with nuclear weapons, errant cartel bosses and an army of disenfranchised NHS doctors. The world’s nicest sport got dirty, China cleaned up its one-child policy and Iran got to flex its economic muscles for the first time since 1979. And what did you do? Jogged a bit more.
It’s hard to wrap your head round a month’s worth of world events, let alone take stock of what they might mean long-term, so to help you get to grips with international news (and to make sure that we’re kept on our toes) we’ll be sending a missive 12 times a year with a digest of stories of global significance. We’ll point you in the direction of some of the best journalism we’ve read on each, as well as giving you the Weapons of Reason take on them too. Nice of us, right? Right.
Without further ado…
China’s Changing Take on Children
The Chinese government’s one-child policy was introduced in 1979, a time of surging population growth and mass migration from rural to urban areas. The name is self-explanatory, but the effects of the policy have been rather more complex, initially leading to the infanticide of many female first-born and latterly a huge gender imbalance throughout the population.
To counteract the nation’s slowing population growth and increasingly ageing demographic, the policy was lifted on January 1, replaced with the equally restrictive two-child policy. Critics argue that this move does not go far enough and state control over women’s bodies has to be brought to an end. But this seems to be just one of many planned moves to prevent the stagnation of China’s economy, the exponential growth of which has slowed dramatically in recent months.
North Korea’s Nuclear Victory
On January 6, North Korea’s propaganda machine announced that it had successfully detonated a number of hydrogen bombs, the latest in a decade of spurious claims about its military capabilities. Seismic studies suggest that the military have vastly overhyped the outcome of their tests, but there is growing concern over the nation’s consistent nuclear advancement and its gross violation of international law.
North Korea’s closest allies, Russia and China, have been fiercely critical of the move, vowing to take part in significant punitive measures against Pyongyang in collaboration with the U.N. Security Council.
Whether or not these tests were a success, it’s highly unlikely that North Korea has the capabilities to engineer a warhead that could reach a US target. Phew!
El Chapo Returned to the Penn
The former leader of Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa Cartel was captured by authorities on January 8, putting an end to a six month manhunt after his intricately executed escape from a maximum security prison. Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was responsible for countless deaths as a result of his involvement in the war on drugs, and claims to have supplied more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana to the US than any other person in history.
Before he was detained, El Chapo consented to a 7 hour interview with actor Sean Penn, published in Rolling Stone Magazine on the day he was captured. The frustratingly impenetrable and overwrought piece has come under heavy fire for its total failure to ask any critical questions of a man responsible for so much violent crime, and for giving El Chapo final approval on the article before it went to press — not to mention the phrase: “We sit within quietude of fortified walls that are old New York hotel construction, when walls were walls, and telephones were usable without a Ph.D.” He’s still a good actor.
Guzmán now faces potential extradition to the US.
Junior Doctors Strike Back
After months of failed negotiations between the BMA and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s junior doctors finally took strike action on January 12. A total of 38,000 doctors walked out of over 150 hospitals in the first NHS industrial action in 40 years, with 98% of votes in favour of the strike.
The dispute hinges on the government’s proposed changes to junior doctor contracts, that will extend ‘normal’ working hours from 7pm to 10pm on weekdays and include Saturday from 7am to 7pm. As junior doctors routinely work outside of normal hours, this is widely seen as a cut to hourly pay.
Iran Shakes off Sanctions
Since the revolution of 1979 Iran has operated under US and international sanctions, most recently those imposed by the UN Security Council after it refused to halt its uranium enrichment programme in 2006. These have been crippling for the nation’s economy, but were lifted on January 16 after the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had restricted its nuclear activities.
This has numerous political and economic consequences, notably heightening tensions in the region between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and flooding the market with Iranian oil, now available for export for the first time in decades. This has compounded the global slump in oil prices, already plummeting due to the decreased demand of the slowing Chinese economy.
Game, Set, Match Fixing
The squeaky-clean work of international tennis has been wracked by allegations of match-fixing at the highest level. A BBC and Buzzfeed collaborative report has allegedly uncovered a Russian/Italian betting syndicate who approach players in their hotel rooms, offering vast sums for concrete results. World number one Novak Djokovic claims to have been courted by fixers early on in his career, but is adamant that this is not endemic within the sport.
Currently there is no more than statistical analysis and anecdotal evidence to support the claims, but Buzzfeed suggests a group of 16 top-50 players are complicit in the corruption, including former grand-slam winners. Libel lawyers will be bracing themselves for a windfall.
Economies Over a Barrel
On January 18 oil prices slumped to 12-year lows, dropping to $28 per barrel. Cue market panic and a glut of alarmist statements from investment banks predicting global financial meltdown and the end of days.
The immediate cause of the crisis was the lifting of sanctions on Iran, but China’s economic troubles are also a key factor. The consequences of this dip are wholly unpredictable, and economists can’t agree what comes next. Will this help growth, or is it the start of a worldwide recession? Will investment in green energy collapse, or will renewables grow?
The only thing that’s certain is that global politics will be fiercely shaken up. It seems likely that Russia will be in serious trouble, and may not be able to fund future military posturing. Putin has already claimed that this is all part of a Western conspiracy.
Everything’s Fine on Planet 9
Ever since Pluto was relegated from the celestial big leagues, astronomers have been on the hunt for another planet for our solar system to call its own. On January 20 they stumbled upon Planet 9, an ice giant beyond Neptune in the Kuiper Belt. The body is estimated to be ten times the size of Earth, with a solar orbit that takes some 20,000 years to complete.
Currently the planet cannot be observed directly, but its gravitational disturbances have affected other bodies.
Doomsday cults have had a field day with the news, claiming the discovery surely forecasts the decimation of mankind, when the planet smashes into Earth and destroys us all. The Daily Star seem to agree.
Until next month!
Weapons of Reason’s issue #2: Megacities, is available to order now.