World update: July 24 2018

OK, the power is back on, but since it’s late and I fear it may go out again this is going to be a bit of a rush job. I’ve updated tonight’s Middle East post a bit as well so you may want to go check that out again.


We don’t usually talk about natural disasters in these updates unless they have some implication for international affairs. We do talk about climate change from time to time, mostly around long-term threats like displacement and resource (i.e., water) wars. I try to avoid talking about particular natural disasters as functions of climate change because, well, we get pissed off when idiots say things like “buuhhh it’s snowing, what happened to global warming?” and it would be disingenuous to do the reverse of that. Weather is not climate, etc. But can we take a look around the world for a second?

  • Torrential rains have destroyed a dam in Laos, causing massive flooding that displaced thousands of people and has left hundreds missing and feared dead
  • Torrential rains in Turkey are causing buildings to collapse
  • A drought, unprecedentedly hot weather, and high winds have combined to cause large and very fast-moving wildfires in Greece that have already killed more than 70 people–some of them drowned jumping into the sea to escape the flames–and destroyed entire villages

Weather is not climate, but climate begets weather. If you’re still wondering what a future with climate change is going to be like, stop wondering and start looking around because we’re already there.



At least four people were wounded on Tuesday in “multiple” explosions across Kabul. So far two of the explosions are confirmed to have been caused by rocket fire, but as yet nobody has claimed responsibility. Elsewhere, Afghan special forces undertook an operation in Kapisa province late Sunday night that left at least 12 Taliban fighters dead including the group’s provincial “governor.” And fighters believed to have been with the Taliban killed four Afghan police officers in Nangarhar province late Monday evening.


Time zones being what they are, Pakistanis have begun voting in Wednesday’s parliamentary election. The contest will come down to the currently ruling Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz party and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, led by populist (and alleged favorite of the Pakistani military) Imran Khan. PTI has been polling slightly ahead of PML-N recently but the vote looks like it will be tight and neither party is likely to emerge with a majority of the seats in the next parliament. That would leave the Pakistan Peoples Party, the party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the third largest party in Pakistan, in a strong position to negotiate its way into a coalition. Khan has already said he would not form a coalition with the PPP, but we’ll see if he sticks to that at the cost of becoming PM.

On Tuesday, four Pakistani soldiers guarding a convoy of election workers were killed when their convoy was attacked by militants in the Turbat district of Baluchistan province. It’s unclear who was behind the attack.


Journalist Nithin Coca says that China’s frequently brutal crackdown on its Uyghur population in Xinjiang is being facilitated by the silence of Muslim leaders around the world:

Many Muslim governments have strengthened their relationship with China or even gone out of their way to support China’s persecution. Last summer, Egypt deported several ethnic Uighurs back to China, where they faced near-certain jail time and, potentially, death, to little protest. This followed similar moves by Malaysia and Pakistan in 2011.

This is in stark contrast to how these countries react to news of prejudice against Muslims by the West or, especially, Israel. Events in Gaza have sparked protests across the Islamic world, not only in the Middle East but also in more distant Bangladesh and Indonesia. If Egypt or Malaysia had deported Palestinians to Israeli prisons, the uproar would likely have been ferocious. But the brutal, and expressly anti-religious, persecution of Uighurs prompts no response, even as the campaign spreads to the Uighur diaspora worldwide.

Part of the answer is that money talks. China has become a key trade partner of every Muslim-majority nation. Many are members of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or are participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In South Asia, this means infrastructure investment. In Southeast Asia, China is a key market for commodities such as palm oil and coal. The Middle East benefits due to China’s position as the world’s top importer of oil and its rapidly increasing its use of natural gas.

Money isn’t the only factor. Uyghurs struggle for recognition within the Muslim world in general, and China does a very good job of repressing media coverage of their mistreatment.


Reuters reports that gasoline prices in North Korea “have nearly halved since late March,” and since there’s been no change in international sanctions against North Korean petroleum imports since then, that means somehow Pyongyang is probably evading the sanctions. It’s likely that China has resumed shipping fuel in to North Korea, though it insists that it continues to abide by UN sanctions.



A group with ties to ISIS reportedly killed at least two Libyan police officers at a checkpoint in the town of el-Agheila in eastern Libya early Tuesday morning.


Somebody shelled an airport outside of the town of Sevare in central Mali overnight. There were no casualties and so far there’s been no claim of responsibility. Mali is due to hold a presidential election on July 29, in which incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is facing several challengers, most prominently former finance minister Soumaila Cisse.


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress party lost 16 members in the Nigerian Senate to defections on Tuesday. Of the 16, 14 went over to the main opposition People’s Democratic Party. To make matters worse, Senate President Bukola Saraki, a senior APC leader, told reporters that he was strongly considering leaving the party as well. Another group of APC members broke away from the party earlier this month, signifying that Buhari’s coalition, which formed in 2013 largely to support his presidential candidacy in the 2015 election, is beginning to implode.


Three new guinea worm cases have been diagnosed in South Sudan, a disappointment for efforts to eradicate the disease there and around the world. South Sudan reported no cases of guinea worm last year, raising hopes that it had been wiped out. Where it was once active in more than 20 countries, international efforts have reduced the incidence of guinea worm to only three countries: Chad, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.


The Rwandan government signed a total of more than $300 million loan agreements for infrastructure projects with both China and India on Tuesday. India’s emergence as a financial player in Africa is an interesting development in its rivalry with China and something that bears watching.


The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says it is pleased with “the widening of the democratic space in Zimbabwe ahead of the 30 July presidential elections,” but adds that things are not perfect:

We remain concerned however at the increasing number of reports, particularly in some rural areas, of voter intimidation, threats of violence, harassment and coercion, including people being forced to attend political rallies. There has also been the worrying use of disparaging language against female political candidates. We call on the authorities – and political parties and their supporters – to ensure that the elections are not marred by such acts so that all Zimbabweans can participate free from fear in a credible election process.


Chinese President Xi Jinping is in South Africa now on the third leg of what is a four leg African visit (apologies, I had understood it to be three legs in previous updates). Xi will attend a summit with leaders of the other BRICS–Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa–countries, which will probably focus on criticizing US protectionism, before heading off to Mauritius to complete his journey. He met with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and the two leaders signed $14 billion worth of investment agreements.  At the Monkey Cage, if you’re interested, Johns Hopkins’ Deborah Bräutigam examines China’s shift from an industrial power to a financial power that’s supporting Africa’s industrial growth.



Canadian officials say the man who shot 15 people in Toronto on Sunday, killing two (including a 10 year old girl) does not seem at this point to have been a terrorist:

“At this stage, based on the state of the investigation, which is led by the Toronto police service, there is no connection between that individual and national security,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said.

Relatives of the shooter, who was killed by police at the scene, have talked about his struggles with mental illness, but so far the investigation has not determined a motive.


Tariffs are the greatest!

They’re so great that Trump is pumping $12 billion into new short-term handouts to farmers to compensate them for retaliatory levies that other countries are now imposing on US agricultural exports. This is a pretty naked attempt to buy votes from otherwise angered farmers in November, but it’s unclear whether it will work.

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