Category Archives: International Conflict

Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of May 16, 2022)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of May 16, 2022.

Global News

Coronavirus infections have risen by 14% in the Americas and 12% in Africa, have been steady in the Western Pacific and have fallen in the rest of the world.

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International donors have fallen short of promised financial aid for Syria for a second year.

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Satellites revealed 4,000 square kilometers of tidal wetlands have been lost over the last two decades. About 27% of losses and gains were from human activities such as draining swamplands and attempts to restore mangroves, and 70% of the loss are in Indonesia, Myanmar and China.

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Americas

White hat hackers attempted several dozen hacking attempts against Brazilian voting machines and failed. This was in response to President Jair Bolsonaro’s claims of potential risks to the vote based on hacking.

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Thousands in the United States rally to defend the right to abortion access and reproductive autonomy. Draft opinion leaked from the Supreme Court indicate that the conservative majority will overturn Roe v. Wade, the law that established a legal right to abortion in the United States. If overturned, abortion access would be left to individual states, though Republicans have indicated they might make a case for a federal ban outlawing abortion nationally.

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Honduras has abolished the ZEDE law, which allowed private companies to create effectively autonomous enclaves in country with investors effectively governing those enclaves rather than the local government. The current enclaves can stay as long as they reapply and follow national laws and regulations from the government.

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Africa

Mali is pulling out of the G5 Sahel force, which was assembled to counter local Jihadists, claiming the force has not been effective in countering the militants.

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Protestors took to the streets demanding a return to democracy in Tunisia last week, in opposition to President Kais Saied’s rule.

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Somalia has a new president after Hassan Sheikh Mohamud won the elections last week.

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Europe

A larger view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Day 82.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is headed to Northern Ireland to try and solve the political gridlock based on the Brexit deal with the EU.

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Turkey lays out their conditions for Sweden and Finland to join the NATO.

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Middle East

Protests over price hikes and loss of government subsidies have turned political in Iran, where almost half of the population is under the poverty line.

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The United Arab Emirates appointed Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the new president of the nation.

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15 European nations criticize Israeli plans to build more than 4,000 housing units in the Occupied West Bank, settlements considered illegal under international law.

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United Nations calls for an investigation into the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who had been shot during her coverage of a raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Akleh was wearing a journalist helmet and vest at the time.

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Asia

Sri Lanka’s government has four new ministers. This comes two days after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to help stabilize the country following protests and economic instability.

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Yohannes Abraham has been named as ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by U.S. President Joe Biden. This follows the U.S.-ASEAN summit in Washington DC.

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The election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will likely be accompanied by his supporters taking both houses of Congress in the Philippines.

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North Korea is facing a pandemic of COVID-19 infections in country, much to the anger of the government.

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During the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Washington, DC, the National Unity Government (NUG) Foreign Minister Zin Mar Aung met with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah. The military junta running Myanmar since the coup against the NUG has been effectively shunned from official events and meetings at ASEAN after the junta refused to work towards a peace plan.

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Filed under Asia, Climate Change, Coronavirus, International Conflict, Russia, South Asia

Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of May 1, 2022)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of May 5, 2022.

Global News

The war in Ukraine is causing major shortages in food supply globally.

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has a thriving community of sea life, complicating efforts to combat pollution.

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Climate change will drive the emergence of new animal-originated diseases in heavily populated areas.

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Americas

Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin developed new enzymes that can dissolve plastics in a matter of hours to days. Normally plastics can take decades or even centuries to biodegrade naturally and are mostly left in landfills rather than recycled.

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Economic inequality in Latin America is the core factor in COVID-19 deaths, according to a report by Amnesty International and the Center for Economic and Social Rights.

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Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela might not be attending the Ninth Summit of the Americas in June.

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Africa

South Africa could be facing a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections.

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Many nations in Africa are employing mercenaries to fight armed groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram. In some cases, the mercenaries are supplemental forces assisting local military forces, while in other cases, the mercenaries are replacing local military forces.

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After reporting on allegations of Malian military abuses, two French media outlets were suspended in the country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the latest move by the Malian government to limit press freedoms.

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Europe

Sweden and Denmark have summoned their Russian ambassadors over Russian spy planes violating airspace. Both nations are strengthening their Western ties, with Sweden considering joining NATO and Denmark being a member.

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Serbia showed off newly acquired Chinese-made surface to air missiles, along with weapon systems from other countries as part of Serbia’s military buildup.

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The main events of the Ukraine War, at day 67.

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Finland is likely to join NATO in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Middle East

Security forces have seized around 6.2 million pills of Captagon, an amphetamine that is primarily consumed in the Middle East.  

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Islamic State may be reestablishing in North East Syria.

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Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are in discussions to increase investments after the kingdom deposited $3 billion in Pakistan’s central bank.

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Asia

The terror attack targeting Chinese academics in Karachi University in Pakistan is an example of evolving tactics by Baloch insurgents. There is more to the story as explained in this story.

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Afghanistan is facing hunger during Eid, with more than 90 percent of Afghans facing food shortages due to the devastated economy and inflation and mismanagement by the Taliban.

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Uzbekistan has outlined regulations for cryptocurrencies and their mining and trading.

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North Korea’s leader called upon the military to “bolster strength” in a night time parade.

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The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is coming to an end after decades of prosecuting cases against former Khmer Rouge.

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Filed under Asia, Climate Change, Coronavirus, News, Terrorism

Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of April 3, 2022)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of April 3, 2022.

Global News

U.S. Federal Reserve is mulling another interest rate bump after positive news on job growth. The federal interest rate affects global financial assets denominated in the U.S. dollar, such as treasury bonds or debts denominated in dollars.

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The United Nations is appointing a 16-member panel to investigate climate change projects and efforts by private sector actors to determine their effectiveness and how to improve corporate efforts to fight climate change. The announcement comes after environmental groups accuse some large corporations of ‘greenwashing’- when a climate damaging activity is rebranded as fighting climate change.

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The Middle East and North Africa are experiencing more frequent and damaging climate disasters and higher temperatures than anywhere else in the world.

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Only 2 million Bitcoin left untapped globally.

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Americas

Amazon workers in Staten Island, New York, now have a unionized warehouse after successfully voting for one. This comes after more than 25 years of Amazon preventing unionization company-wide and may inspire other Amazon warehouses.

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Workers for Brazil’s central bank have voted on an indefinite strike starting April 1, while the president of the central bank, Roberto Campos Neto, vacations in Miami. This threatens the Pix payment system that 67% of Brazil’s adult population use.

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The Biden Administration may end Title 42 by May 23, though this has not been finalized. The administration is seeking to address “root causes” for migration in a shift in immigration policy.

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Africa

The duct fiber foundations of a smart city are being laid out in Lagos. Another smart city project, the Eko Atlantic, also in Lagos, held a ground breaking ceremony for a new U.S. consulate.

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Aid is reaching Tigrayans for the first time since December 15, 2021 after a truce was called last week. More then 90% of the Tigrayan population need food after the 16-month long civil war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front left the thousands dead and brought hundreds of thousands to starvation since November.

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The United Nations voted unanimously to endorse an African Union force fighting armed groups like al-Shabab and Daesh. The new force will transition responsibility for Somalia’s domestic security to the Somali transitional government over time as the government gains strength.

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Europe

Putin’s war is not a sign of genius, and has been a disaster.

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Ukrainian officials and civilians accuse Russian military personnel and the Russian government of atrocities and massacres across the Kyiv region.

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Lithuania stopped importing Russian gas at the beginning of April, the first European nation to stop buying Russian gas.

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Middle East

In Jordan, Prince Hamza bin al-Hussein has renounced his title and claim on the throne.

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The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is working with nations in West Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East to develop water conservation and use strategies to promote stability and cooperation. Known as the Blue Peace Strategy, the SDC believe this could be a tool to promote peace in the Middle East and beyond as water scarcity becomes a greater threat.

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Yemen’s 7-year long war might be seeing peace as all warring factions agreed to a two-month truce for the month of Ramadan.

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Asia

Pakistan is headed for early elections after president Imran Khan avoided a no-confidence vote and dissolved Parliament.

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 Several cryptocurrency mining companies took advantage of tax cuts and exemptions not meant for them specifically, according to auditors in Kazakhstan. While not actually breaking any laws, these companies were an example used by the Accounts Committee to claim the Digital Kazakhstan program was not working as intended.

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The President and prime minister of Sri Lanka lost all 26 ministers in the government in protest over the nation’s woes- national debt, rising cost of living, shortages of food, medicine and fuel.

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Filed under Amazon, Climate Change, International Conflict, News, Russia, South Asia, Water

Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of March 27, 2022)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of March 27, 2022.

Global News

Two state-backed North Korean hacker groups exploited a vulnerability in Chrome to launch a zero-day attack. The vulnerability, CVE-2022-0609, has been patched but the primarily means to actually target people was a complex social engineering operation that involved either compromising legitimate sites or creating fake profiles and sites to lure potential targets in various industries.

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The deep ocean current is impacted by global temperature and carbon, and it’s getting faster with more carbon. This could have a major impact on future sequestration of carbon and on ocean life.

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A new lithium battery that can stretch and flex. This could one day lead to clothing that can recharge and power electronics.

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Americas

Canadian Indigenous delegations will be meeting with Pope Francis this week to ask for a formal apology from the Catholic Church for abuses and crimes against Indigenous communities due to the residential schools that operated between the early 19th Century and 20th Century.

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El Salvador is moving forward with trying to popularize bitcoin as a legal tender, including the release of bitcoin-backed bond for the treasury. While the president and crypto enthusiasts love the idea, many Salvadorans are not using the currency and critics, such as the International Monetary Fund, point to the risks and volatility of the digital currency as threat to the economy.

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Nicaragua’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, Arturo McFields, resigned on Wednesday after accusing president Daniel Ortega and his government of suppressing freedoms and attacking opposition parties.  

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Africa

A court in Uganda issued an arrest warrant for Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, an author and critic of the government who fled the country for Germany after he was allegedly tortured by government agents. He is the second critic to flee the country.

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A ceasefire and truce were have taken hold yesterday in Ethiopia between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. First initiated unilaterally by the government, the TPLF has agreed to the truce, which could help deliver humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands living in the Tigray region and possibly lead to an end of the conflict.

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The NGO Big Ship is mobilizing communities in Mombasa, Kenya, use plastic waste to fight both marine plastic pollution and deforestation. They accomplish this by using yoghut cups to replant mangrove seedlings. With a survival rate of 95% for the mangrove seedlings, these communities reforest critical swampland in Tudor Creek while taking hundreds of thousands of plastic cups out of the marine and mangrove environment.

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Europe

According to General Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ministry of Defence’s Intelligence Directorate in Ukraine, Putin is attempting to cut the country into two and install a pro-Kremlin government in Russian-occupied territory.

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Explainer- What is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, why does it exist, and what it’s doing to help Ukraine?

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Russia’s anti-war protestors and activists are still operating despite massive repression by Putin’s government and over 15,000 arrests and sentences of more than 15 years in prison for individuals protesting the Ukrainian war. While opposition to the war keeps some in Russia, others fear being unable to come back should they leave.

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Middle East

The Houthi movement and the Yemeni government agreed to a prisoner swap on Sunday. The swap will be 1,400 Houthi prisoners in return for 823 prisoners, including the brother of the Yemeni president, according to the Houthis’ national committee for prisoner affairs, however the Yemeni government has not reached a final agreement with the Houthis yet.

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Qatar’s state fund for development will be going into a 50-50 partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help farmers adapt to climate change. The total promised investment is 200 million dollars, and will focus on projects to help low-income farmers in Africa adapt agricultural practices and technologies to better prepare for the changes brought on by climate change.

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The LGBTQ+ community in Iraq faces persecution from state-backed authorities such as the police, and disorganized private groups according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

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Asia

North Korea tested new intercontinental ballistic missiles last week. While promising future tests and greater military capabilities, some analysts see this as both part of the typical activity marking the anniversary of the founder of North Korea’s birthday, Kim Il-Sung, on April 15.

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The United States, U.K. and Canada are launching targeted sanctions on the Myanmar military and government and arms dealers.

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Thousands are heading to Islamabad to rally as embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan potentially faces a no-confidence vote.

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Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of March 14, 2022)

After two week hiatus, we’re back with more news from the world.

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of March 14, 2022.

Global News

The global reset following the COVID pandemic could provide an opportunity to combat gender inequality.

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According to Ukraine’s top climate scientist, Svitlana Krakovska, the underlying root of the war’s devastation and climate change are fossil fuels. Russian oil and gas exports contribute to climate change and are sold for weapons and cash to fund the war.

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Investors are calling on a 14-point plan for companies lobbying on climate. The coalition of companies and investors supporting The Global Standard on Responsible Climate Lobbying represent more than $130 trillion dollars.

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Americas

To combat anti-Asian violence, Asian American and Pacific Islander American teachers are sharing their history and culture in class.

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Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro confirmed a U.S. delegation met with government officials to discuss several issues, including energy.

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Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is pushing for a mining law that targets indigenous lands in the Amazon. Despite having only 11% of potash reserves being on tribal lands, the law is being touted as needed.

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Africa

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Pfizer to supply COVID antiviral pills.

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Burkina Faso has more militant attacks and violence than Mali.

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The war in Ethiopia killed 750 civilians in the Amhara and Afar regions in the second half of 2021.

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Europe

Greece and Turkey are working to improve bilateral relations.

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In Moldova, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has a mixed response. Officially neutral in the conflict, Moldova holds historic ties to Russia and a minority are traditionally supportive of Russian policies, but some are now blaming the Kremlin for the invasion.

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Internet service providers balance efforts to provide access to service to Russian customers in face of the Kremlin’s censorship and control tools. While cutting down on Internet access would limit the reach of cyber-attacks, it also curtails access to outside information and news.

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Middle East

Iranian oil may provide an advantage in the nuclear negotiations, but it will not be enough to replace Russian oil and natural gas.

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The Saudi-led coalition has killed tens of thousands since 2015 according to UNICEF.

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Saudi redevelopment projects in Jeddah are stirring protests.

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Asia

U.S. officials reported that Moscow might be trying to buy military equipment and possibly weapons from Beijing. Representatives from Beijing have denied this claim.

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The proposed summit between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and U.S. President Joe Biden will be postponed due to scheduling conflicts according to Indonesian and Cambodian officials.

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Relations between Japan and South Korea may improve soon as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol talked over the phone Friday. Both sides agreed on mending relations between the two nations.

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Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of February 27, 2022)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of Feb. 27, 2022.

Also, while the Russian invasion of Ukraine dominates the news, we should keep in mind that governments are not the people in any country. The actions of Russian president Vladimir Putin are not representative of all Russian people.

Global News

The Russian government has said it will limit access to Facebook after the company refused to stop independently fact checking and labeling content and claims from four state-owned media sites. This comes as the Russian invasion and war in Ukraine sparks anti-war protests and views in country. Facebook has been criticized in the past for allowing Far Right and conspiratorial claims to go without fact checking, an image both the company and parent company Meta are trying to shake.

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The carbon footprint of Bitcoin has increased after restrictions in China over energy use forced Bitcoin mining to other countries such as Kazakhstan and the United States. In these countries, fossil fuels like coal or more likely to be used to fuel mining operations for the crypto currency.

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China is willing to work with the G7 Build Back Better World initiative and open to Washington joining the Belt and Road Initiative and the Global Development Initiative.  

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Americas

Nicaraguan courts have sentenced seven to prison for likely eight to 15 years each. The convicted are mostly presidential candidates and political opponents or critics of the Ortega government, as the president has weaponized the courts and legal system to go after political opposition in the country.

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Argentina, the third largest economy in Latin America, has reached a deal with the International Monetary Fund for 40 billion USD.

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Several Latin American countries have called on Russia to leave Ukraine, while others have criticized Moscow’s invasion of the country.

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Africa

Russian engagement and resumption of ties on the continent has produced a muted response from several nations in Africa to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The history of Russia’s more recent involvement in Africa is a mix of formal and informal with trade and security ties.

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Burkina Faso may take 30 months to transition back to democracy. A panel ordered by the military coup leaders has recommended the time table but has not released many other details other than a proposed transitional government made up of 20 ministers and 51 parliament members.

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The Gambia is asking the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ top court, to throw out Myanmar’s legal bid to end the case of genocide against the Rohingya. Citing both the legal conventions such as the 1948 Genocide Convention and evidence gathered by international NGOs and fact-finding missions to the country, the Gambia is pushing with the case against Myanmar for the country’s actions targeting the Rohingya minority.

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Europe

Ukraine and Russia to hold talks Monday. In the meantime, Belarus might be sending troops to support Russian forces invading the country, despite many in Belarus and Russia being opposed to the war in Ukraine.

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Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has created a solidarity in much of Europe against him, and may enhance NATO in the future as his actions create a precedent.

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Anti-war protestors in Russia face restrictions and suppression by the government.

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Middle East

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara will be implementing the 1936 Montreux Convention, which would limit the use of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits during a war. He also referred to the Russian attacks in Ukraine as a war. The Montreux Convention does not prevent Russian warships from going to registered bases to refuel, however, Turkish authorities will be wary of attempts to abuse this caveat.

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Saudi-owned Aramco has sold a stake of it’s natural gas pipelines worth 15.5 billion USD to an investor group led by BlackRock Inc. The move is part of the kingdom’s plans to diversify into artificial intelligence and electric vehicles and other emerging industries.

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Iran limiting criticism of Russian aggression in Ukraine is part of a pattern echoed in previous military actions by Russia against other nations such as Georgia.

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Asia

The Taliban is instituting new restrictions on traveling abroad for Afghans after claims of mistreatment and poor living conditions for Afghan refugees in Qatar and Turkey. Since the Taliban took over the country, thousands have fled to other nations as the economy collapsed. Despite promises to change from their prior 1990s style of rule, the Taliban has been reintroducing old laws and ways of governance, causing many to seek asylum abroad, including those associated with the US occupation and anti-Taliban government forces.

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North Korea launched its eighth missile this year as the leadership in Pyongyang is restarting ballistic missile testing.

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China may help Russia economically, but has a complex political and business environment to navigate.

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India also released statements for Russia and NATO to return to dialogue and diplomacy, but stopped short of joining the US and other nations from launching sanctions. Like China, India has a complex relationship with Russia, only the two nations have had strong ties for decades.

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Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of January 30, 2022)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of Jan. 30, 2022.

Global News

Where we are with the hyped Metaverse, and what challenges companies and governments will need to surmount to actually make the Metaverse work.

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A subvariant of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has been detected. While better at evading the body’s defenses, its unknown how severe or infectious the new subvariant actually is. The subvariant was found mostly in cases Denmark and has spread to the UK and parts of Asia.

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The Asteroid-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), funded by NASA, can now scan the entire night sky every 24 hours. This system can now give up to a full days’ warning for a 20-meter-wide asteroid and up to three weeks’ warning with 100-meter-wide asteroids.

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Americas

The International Monetary Fund is requesting the government of El Salvador remove Bitcoin as legal tender for the country’s bonds and currency due to the high risks and volatility of the currency.

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Taiwan’s vice president, William Lai, is traveling to Honduras to shore up ties with the government following the election of Xiomara Castro. Castro had floated the idea of reestablishing ties with China but recently walked those ideas back.

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 Anti-vaccine protestors marched in Ottawa on Saturday, desecrating the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the process. The Canadian Trucking Alliance believes many of the protestors have no connection to trucking as the majority of the Alliance’s members are already vaccinated.

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Africa

South Africa is building out an indigenous vaccine production site that will produce both foreign and domestically created vaccines for COVID and other pathogens and distribute them throughout the continent within the next few years. Other countries on the continent are in various stages of developing sites for local vaccine production.

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Almost 40% of the population of Tigray is suffering extreme hunger according to the World Food Programme. The Amhara and Afar regions are also suffering from severe hunger.

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Burkina Faso has been suspended from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after a recent coup in the country removed democratically elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, citing his failure to stem ongoing violence in the country. Delegations will meet with the military coup leaders later next week.

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Europe

Explainer: Ukraine Crisis and NATO.

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U.S. president Joe Biden is sending some troops to Eastern Europe to bolster NATO forces in the region in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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The EU is bringing a case against China to the World Trade Organization. Beijing retaliated economically against Lithuania for the country allowing Taiwan to open a diplomatic outpost in Vilnius.

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Middle East

Thailand and Saudi Arabia reestablished diplomatic ties.

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Iraq could lose 1/3 or arable land and 20% of the nation’s water resources by 2050 due to climate change.

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Lebanon will not disarm Hezbollah but has pledged not to allow the country to be used as a safe haven for groups to launch attacks or activities that harm other Arab states in the region. Neighbors have called on Lebanon to help fight the regional drug trade.

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Asia

Indian company BrahMos Aerospace inks deal with the Philippines government for the sale of BrahMos shore-based anti-ship supersonic missiles. Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand are also in various stages of engagement with the company regarding missile deals.

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Almost a year since the military of Myanmar overthrew the democratically elected government.

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According to an investigation by the New York Times, the Modi Administration purchased Pegasus spyware from the Israeli NSO group in 2017 to spy on civilians.

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Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of January 23, 2022)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of Jan. 23, 2022.

Global News

A tax on pollution aimed at companies might incentivize companies to actually invest in cleaner energy and green production methods according to new research.

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The Catholic Church will now formally recognize women for lay roles of catechist and lector. These roles had long been performed by women informally despite being officially reserved for men, but Pope Francis recently announced they would be formally recognized by the Church.

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How much electricity is produced by renewable energy sources will vary, but this infographic gives some of the latest estimates and helps clarify the challenges the world faces in transitioning to clean electricity.

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Americas

Fish exports from Brazil is making major gains in China, but a lack of regulation in Brazil threatens local communities and risks overfishing. The parts of the fish being exported are normally thrown away, but in China they’re valued for medical uses.

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The Canadian Trucking Alliance, an organization representing truckers across Canada, spoke out against planned protests scheduled for Jan. 29 at the nation’s capital. The protests target the cross-border vaccine travel mandate by Canada and the United States, which requires truckers to be fully vaccinated.

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The Biden Administration introduced new rules to help attract talent from foreign students by introducing rules to help international students spend up to 36 months in academic training. The Department of Homeland Security also introduced 22 new fields to a program that provides three years of training with employers and another initiative aimed at connecting domestic employers with trained international students.

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Africa

An explainer on why the military is in mutiny in Burkina Faso.

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Enset, a traditional staple in the diets of communities in South and Southwest Ethiopia, could provide millions with food security as climate change changes rain patterns and threatens crops.

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COVID vaccines will need a shelf-life of three to six months to be effectively distributed by recipient countries, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the received vaccines have expired due to logistical challenges and storage requirements.

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Europe

Protestors in Istanbul protest against the hosting of the Olympics in China, citing human rights abuses and allegations of genocide against the Uighur population.

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Ukrainian government officials are treating the claims about Moscow attempting a coup to install a sympathetic government in Kyiv as credible. The claims were made by the U.K. foreign office, allegedly based on US intelligence but have not provided evidence yet.

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A Taliban delegation headed to Norway on Sunday probably to convince The US and Western nations to unfreeze financial assets to the tune of $10 billion. The delegation will meet for three days with delegations from the US, Western government officials, human rights and women’s rights advocates, and members of the Afghan community in Norway.

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Middle East

An Israeli company developed a drone capable of firing sniper rifles or standard rifles while flying. The drone is in advanced stages of development and not yet ready for deployment, but the system is based on existing technology used against Hamas.

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Iran may be voting in the United Nations General Assembly soon after South Korea paid off the country’s outstanding dues. The funds were obtained from frozen Iranian assets in South Korea, and in active coordination with the United Nations Secretariat, US Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control and other agencies.

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Due to COVID-19, the League of Arab States will be rescheduling their annual meeting. While no agenda has been set, there are many issues for the group to focus on.

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Asia

Chinese investment causes trouble in Serbia.

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Afghan women graduates of Code to Inspire are turning to crypto currencies to receive aid and money from abroad as Taliban rule has left the economy in ruins. The organization, based in Herat, taught women how to code before the Taliban took over, and these women had taught others how to set up wallets to receive and transact in crypto currencies as a way to get around the frozen financial system and limits on cash withdrawals at local banks.

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Eighty-four percent of the population of Tonga has been affected by ashfall and a tsunami as a result of the recent volcanic eruption. Limited communications and Internet have been restored and aid is coming from New Zealand and Australia, while aid has been promised from Japan, China, The Asian Development Bank and World Bank.

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Global Affairs Weekly Stories (Week of December 19, 2021)

Here’s what’s going on in the world for the week of Dec. 19, 2021.

Global News

The “hacker-for-hire” industry is taking on new and threatening potential with competing spyware companies targeting political dissidents for authoritarian countries.

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The United Nations has failed to open new negotiations governing the use of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) after push back by weapon system creators such as Russia and the United States.

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United Nations special rapporteur for the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, called upon the international community to work with Bangladesh to help with Rohingya refugees in the country while cutting off resources and support to the Myanmar military.

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Americas

Anvisa, the national health regulator of Brazil, has requested additional law enforcement support after growing threats from anti-vaccine proponents stemming from the organization’s approval of COVID-19 vaccines for young children. Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil and major source of anti-vaccine sentiments, has threatened to release identities of those working at Anvisa and has spread misinformation throughout the country.

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Chile elected the youngest president in the country’s history, Gabriel Boric, with 56% of the vote. Boric plans on introducing European style social democracy to the country to tackle economic and social inequalities, but faces a divided congress and a rewriting of the nation’s constitution. However, this may also be a bell weather for the rest of Latin America.

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Africa

Morocco is starting to implement recycling via composting waste with the help of Swiss company Elephant Vert (translated as Green Elephant). However, the kingdom still lacks a comprehensive sorting and collection.

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The United Nations voted to set up a three-person team to investigate human rights abuses in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, much to the objections of the government. While a report on abuses in the region already exists, it may be under reporting abuses.

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A national public consultation is scheduled to be held between January and March 2022, according to Tunisian president Kais Saied, as part of plans to create a national referendum on political reforms scheduled for July 25, 2022. The Parliament is still frozen and will be until December 17, 2022, though they will be impacted by the referendum.

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Europe

Thousands are protesting proposed legislation that would force the sale of TVN, a US-owned channel that has been critical of the government. This follows other attempts by the Polish government to target critics in the media, according to opposition parties and protestors.

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Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated Moscow is ready to increase provocative actions along the border with Ukraine and other former Soviet countries if their demands are not taken seriously by NATO and the West. Among those demands are keeping Ukraine and other former Soviet countries from joining NATO and rolling back military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. These demands may be viewed as provocative to the West, but they might be considered defensive by Moscow, which views their regional security as under threat by an expanding NATO encircling Russia’s Western border.

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German environment minister, Steffi Lemke, warns of the next crisis is a biodiversity crisis. While fighting against climate change is needed, lawmakers and society also need to combat the loss of species, and there can be overlap of efforts such as restoration of natural habitats to fight both.

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Middle East

Artifacts ravaged by Daesh (Islamic State) are being restored in the Museum of Mosul in Iraq, with the help of French and American and local experts. In addition, the Iraqi government is making repatriation of stolen artifacts a priority and plans restoring the museum to its pre Daesh state.

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The first confirmed case of Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been announced in Iran by the health ministry. There are two more potential cases under review, and the alleged source was a middle-aged man coming back from travel in the United Arab Emirates.

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Idlib, Syria still needs aid and humanitarian assistance, but the deliveries into rebel-held territory by the United Nations requires authorization that is set to expire Jan. 10, 2022.

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Asia

Laos and China opened a scenic railway connecting the capital of Laos, Vientiane, with Kunming in Southern China. Laos is heavily indebted to China already and faces potential risks from the rail project such as being unable to pay off the investment and being on the hook for some or all of the debt if the project fails to generate a profit.

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The Organization for Islamic Cooperation concluded a summit in Islamabad, Pakistan to create ways to provide financing and support to the people of Afghanistan without directly dealing with the Taliban. The country is on the brink of economic collapse as the Taliban have taken little effort to actually fulfil the promises they made on women’s rights and protecting minorities, forcing nations with assets from Afghanistan to find ways to help the people without rewarding the Taliban for ignoring their own promises.

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21,000 people have been displaced by major flooding in Malaysia after the equivalent of one month’s rainfall fell within 48 hours between Friday and Saturday.

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Collision Course: China and the Taliban

The Problem in a paragraph- China has economic and domestic security risks with an unstable Afghanistan, from BRI projects in the region and the shared border in Northern Afghanistan/Western China. The Taliban are a major risk factor because they cannot be trusted to keep their commitments to domestic stability and security, and follow an ideology of governance that promotes instability and terrorism. The CCP cannot call upon reliable allies to do the fighting if conflict arises, as the regional security framework is lackluster and Afghanistan’s neighbors have either vested interest in the Taliban and militant groups operating openly, or do not trust Chinese ambitions for the larger region. China and the Taliban have mutually conflicting goals and visions for Afghanistan. 

Taliban Risks

The Afghan Taliban (referred hereafter as the Taliban) have a history of bad faith dealings following a pattern of using force to change conditions on the ground that undermine peace plans, betraying agreements once they acquire what they want, and actively breaking promises they make while professing to honor them.

One example is the promise the Taliban has made to Beijing about the Uighur militants and keeping Afghanistan free of them. According to one report, Akhtar Mohammad Khairzada, deputy governor of Badakhshan, has claimed foreign fighters have come to the region and served with the Taliban. Other officials and analysts have claimed the Taliban is bolstering their ranks with Uighur, Turkic, and Uzbek, and other foreign groups due to the strategic location of Badakhshan between Pakistan, China, and Tajikistan. The additional manpower from these groups helped the Taliban to wrestle for control in Maimi district, and generally become a major force in the region.

While promising to prevent Uighur crossings into Afghanistan, the Taliban still hosts training camps to train fighters for ongoing conflicts and “war”.  As of 2020, the Taliban is still operating a training camp for war on the Chinese border region of Badakhshan- the Abu Ubaidah Ibn Jarrah Training Center.  The Taliban has an active militant training camp on the border with China, one that is in the same territory as Taliban affiliated Uighur militants.  They are actively recruiting and trying to attract fighters with a focus on fighting a “war” despite the USA withdrawing.  While the Afghan Taliban has claimed they would prevent Uighur insurgents, Uighur militants have been crossing into Afghanistan, particularly in Badakhshan, despite Taliban claims to barring Uighurs from entering the country.  Currently, these militants are going to fight for a local branch of Islamic State or as part of the Taliban. 

The Taliban cannot speak with a unified voice as they are made up of different groups that were loosely unified in their fight against the Soviet Union and the United States. The early Taliban derived their power from the support of militias raised in the Madrasas in rural areas, and could barely control them during the early 1990s. Today, the Taliban still has the problem with internal unity and has been vague to avoid angering rank and file members. In one example, several members of the Taliban joined ISIL-K after internal disagreements over the direction of the movement. The nature of alliances and commitments is such that different factions making up the Taliban can break off and join other groups, with a risk to the overall strength and cohesion of the Taliban as a political entity.

There is no reason to believe the Taliban has changed for the better. The areas under Taliban rule are reporting violence and repression by the group similar to what was reported in the 1990s.  The Taliban may be more sophisticated for an international audience and promote a moderate image abroad, but they are just as violent and repressive as they were in the 1990s. In most of the territories the Taliban have taken over, women’s education has either ceased altogether or is severely limited.  Part of this reflects local commanders having leeway to enforce Taliban decrees as they see fit, but mostly this is part of the way the Taliban traditionally treated women’s education. Musicians in areas the Taliban is actively threatening are worried that the Taliban will return to banning music and killing musicians. The educated youth of Afghanistan are also fleeing the country, despite Taliban assurances their freedoms and successes will be protected. Based on their present actions, the youth have no reason to believe the Taliban leadership, as the actions on the ground indicate the Taliban is acting the same way it did when it took over the country back in the 1990s.

Chinese action in Afghanistan as a risk

Beijing has taken steps to increase Chinese influence in Afghanistan, and some of it undermines long-term stability goals in the country.

On the economic side, Beijing is using BRI projects to hold off other nations from investing in Afghanistan. One example was in December 2011, when the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) won a $400 million bid to drill in three oilfields in the Afghan provinces of Faryab and Sar-i-Pul, a contract lasting for 25 years. The fields hold only 87 million barrels, a fraction of Iran’s oilfield capacity, but China has not drilled the wells. Another example is the Mes Aynak mine, which Beijing secured, but has done little to develop since winning the bid. The cost to Kabul for the lack of activity in the Mes Aynak mine is estimated at 2 billion USD, almost the total amount the mine contract was worth in 2007. Meanwhile the Taliban has been illegally mining the region for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth in precious metals. For Kabul, the mine is a major economic asset to the country, which in 2018 relied on foreign aid for 40% of GDP. While Beijing is holding back on the mine, they are reportedly in negotiations with the Taliban for infrastructure contracts. 

 In terms of security, China has stationed PLA troops in Badakhshan, but the Afghan government balked at Beijing’s attempts to create a Chinese military base in the region. Beijing also attempted to force the Afghan government to take Chinese navigation and internet systems and Chinese military hardware, which Kabul believes would have rendered them dependent on China for security goods. When rebuffed by Afghan government officials, Beijing started doling out equipment to rival political powers and the Taliban in Badakhshan. Beijing also sought to cultivate local power brokers and undercut the national Afghan government. Such behaviors have increased local resentment towards the Chinese presence in communities that had been promised gains from the BRI. It also poses a security risk to Kabul as Beijing is effectively cultivating potential rivals to regional authority from Kabul. 

Lastly, Beijing is undermining trust with Kabul. On December 10, 2020, Kabul authorities broke up an alleged Chinese spy ring in the capital, one that had been operating for seven years before it’s discovery.  Indian intelligence helped Afghan authorities in uncovering the spy ring, which was working with the Haqqani Network to track down Uighurs in country. The alleged spy ring was made up of Chinese nationals who were attempting to set up a fake cell of the East Turkistan Independence Movement (ETIM) to ensnare Uighur separatists in Afghanistan. The alleged spy ring was discovered by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, after receiving intelligence on the ring from the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s foreign spy agency. The arrests of Chinese nationals were coupled with authorities seizing arms and drugs found with the suspects. The Haqqani Network, which the alleged spy ring was attempting to infiltrate, has been driving insurgent conflict in Afghanistan for 40 years.  

As China moves into Afghanistan for economic, security, and geopolitical reasons, Beijing has made a bet on the Taliban becoming the political power in Afghanistan. They also have investment and security concerns in the country that force China to be present. Yet the Taliban cannot be trusted to be a responsible actor on the international stage and follow a domestic policy that will force them into conflict with China and other border nations, possibly internationally.

Jihadist groups are starting to orientate their focus on China in response to China’s rise in geopolitical power and military expansion and modernization efforts. One example of a new wave of Jihadist attention towards China is the Jihadist cleric, Abu Zar al-Burmi, is active in recruitment and driving the focus against China for actions against the Uighurs and Rohingya and more generally against Islamic populations. He’s active in Pakistan and Afghanistan and his rhetoric has strongly focused on China’s activities in Central and South Asia. While the United States, Russia, and the West in general, are still considered enemies, China is joining that list of target nations. 

For the Taliban, this means more Jihadists groups will come to Afghanistan to fight against China and possibly launch attacks in the region, which the Taliban may not actually care much about. October 2020, the Afghan Taliban claimed it was under no obligation to sever ties with al Qaeda. The Taliban has strong links to al Qaeda even in 2021, despite pledges to distance themselves from the international terrorist group.  Historically, al Qaeda helped strengthen the Taliban in Afghanistan and spend decades developing overlapping allegiances between the two organizations.  The Taliban is attempting to maintain their relationship with al Qaeda while convincing the larger international community that they can be trusted to keep Afghanistan free of terrorist organizations.  One example is when Taliban officials floated the idea of treating al Qaeda fighters as “refugees” in Taliban controlled territories.  As of February 25, 2021, the Taliban has made little effort to actually rein in al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the terrorist group is currently gaining strength in country under the protection of the Afghan Taliban.   

The proposed solutions Beijing has for Afghanistan also seem undermined from the start. Relying on other nations to curtail the risks in Afghanistan is fraught with other goals Beijing is pursuing at the potential determent of their would-be allies. Islamabad uses the Taliban to check Indian geopolitical influence and has a history of supporting militants, but their connections are not as easily disentangled due to domestic connections between these groups and the Pakistani military and parts of government.  One example is the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and their relationship with the Afghan Taliban. While Islamabad doesn’t want a total Taliban victory due to fears that it could galvanize their own domestic insurgents, they may not have much of an option to confront them in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan has their own issues with China. In 2010, China gained part of the Pamir region as part of a concession by Tajikistan in return for assistance with security.  The Pamirs are resource rich and located primarily in Tajikistan, but strategic in location for potential military operations in Afghanistan and Central Asia.  In 2020, a Chinese historian published an article on official outlets of the PRC claiming the entire Pamirs belong to China historically and should be returned.  Citing only Chinese sources and arguing for taking back the entire region, the article stirred anger both in Tajikistan and Russia.  This also stoked fears and suspicions that Beijing is going to try to annex the territory after building up the military infrastructure and power, and that the BRI and other promises by Beijing are just temporary measures to stall response. Beijing may offer to work with Dushanbe to fight militants on the border, Dushanbe and other Central Asian nations are likely looking at how such asks might position them into subservience or weakness to Beijing.  With 52% of the country’s debt owed to China and increased Chinese military presence close to the Wakhan Corridor, Tajik government officials may worry about being used as a staging point for military operations in Central Asia and being pulled into Beijing’s larger plans for power projection in Central Asia.

Russia is a complicated factor as well. Beijing is using the Shanghai Cooperative Organization to project influence and write economic and technological standards in Central Asia, putting Moscow’s traditional influence and geo-strategic goals at risk. Chinese hackers targeted Russia recently with a specialized malware that allows remote access and self-destructs after its’ mission is finished. Despite claims of greater partnership between Moscow and Beijing, both are far from an effective military and political alliance, with underlying tensions over whether Beijing will pursue their own goals at Moscow’s expense and who would be in the junior position in any such alliance. The BRI and SCO are being used by Beijing to increase clout in Central Asia, and Moscow is attempting to thread a path that keeps Russian influence without being encircled and vassalized by Beijing.  

While Beijing might propose a multi-national coalition or utilization of the SCO, Beijing’s own actions telegraph a willingness to use said institutions to further geo-political ends at the expense of allies. If Beijing tries to rally neighbors to take on militants in Afghanistan, those neighbors each have a reason to not commit to fighting militants. Beijing will either have to commit to forces on the ground in Afghanistan or somehow convince those neighbors to send troops and take on active military roles in country.  The former poses a risk to prestige and drawing Beijing into the same trap other major powers faced, the latter requires fundamental changes to Beijing’s foreign policy and getting involved in the domestic affairs of other nations overtly. 

Conclusion

Beijing is making the same mistakes prior nations have made in Afghanistan. First, Beijing is undermining Kabul’s ability to fight the Taliban while making deals with the Taliban. Second, Beijing is trying to promote China as a peacemaker in Afghanistan’s conflict. Third, Beijing seems to be trusting the Taliban. Fourth, Beijing’s policies domestically against Muslim Uighurs is making them a target internationally for Jihadists, including those active in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Now conflict will likely happen with either a total Taliban victory or Afghan civil war. In an Afghan civil war, the Taliban and remnants of the government will be unable to stop foreign insurgents from coming to the country and setting up for attacks on neighbors. Yet in the case of Taliban victory, the Taliban takes control of the country entirely and goes back to their old ways. There is no indication that the Taliban has improved socially, and their goal is at odds with Beijing’s- the establishment of an Emirate following the model the Taliban attempted in the 1990s. The rank and file will likely promote closer ties to Al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups who would seek haven in Afghanistan. Once ready, they launch attacks in Xinjiang, requiring Beijing to respond.

In either case, if Beijing does not respond, domestic security and legitimacy of the CCP are at risk. Yet if Beijing gets involved, they risk being trapped in Afghanistan fighting an insurgency. Unlike a war with Taiwan, or in the South China Seas, or India, this would be a war of necessity as Afghanistan is both the gateway to Central and South Asia, and shares a land border with China. If the Taliban take control or if there is a civil war, China becomes vulnerable to terrorist attacks that would threaten the CCP’s legitimacy at home and economic and political interests in Central Asia. Unlike the USA, China will always have the risks associated with an unstable Afghanistan. Yet Beijing’s actions are ensuring their ambitions will be on a collision course with the Taliban.   

If the Taliban were to moderate, it would pose a risk for the Taliban as an organization- either rank and file break off and form their own groups or defect to rivals. That in turn poses a threat to the Taliban’s hold on power and could escalate into civil war if enough defect to rivals. These are the same fighters that the Taliban traditionally used to enforce decrees in cities and to fight rival warlords. This organizational threat will play into the hands of insurgents coming into Afghanistan and incentivize Taliban leadership to maintain ambiguity on their policy stances even as their militias impose policies that violate Taliban promises to the international community.

Lastly, there is probably not much appetite for the larger international community to engage militarily against the Taliban in retaliation for violated promises. Most nations will probably leave Afghanistan to the Taliban and raise only threats of sanctions or other non-military means of punishment. Yet this won’t mean much to the Taliban, as it allowed both domestic atrocities against the Afghan people and provided haven to Al Qaeda and Jihadist insurgents back in the 1990s.

For China and the CCP, this poses a serious problem. The Taliban may take them up on offers of infrastructure development and raw resource extraction, but the Taliban’s ultimate goal is the establishment of their Emirate, one based on their ideological and religious views. The CCP’s Belt and Road Initiative may offer the Taliban money, but they will choose their Emirate over foreign economic integration and this means that the CCP has to deal with an ideology that is at odds with the vision of the CCP for the region.

Their would-be allies in the region also have cause to distrust coalitions to fight the Taliban. The CCP tends to pursue goals through dual purpose initiatives and activities. Nations that border Afghanistan will see the insurgents as a threat, but they also see risks in following Beijing’s lead, such as territorial losses in Tajikistan or facing domestic chaos in Pakistan. While all can agree on the threat posed by insurgents, there is little trust that Beijing won’t use chaos in Afghanistan to advance their own agenda in Central and South Asia at the expense of Afghanistan and their neighbors.

Beijing cannot expect the USA or the international community to get involved militarily, and due to the shared border and ambitions of the CCP, Beijing will have no choice but to take the lead in any future military conflict in Afghanistan. Its not a conflict they want, but it is one they would have no choice but to engage with.     

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