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December 2017 International Affairs

  • World's largest amphibious aircraft AG600 makes maiden flight in China
    China's domestically developed AG600, the world's largest amphibious aircraft, performed its maiden flight on 24th December. It took off from the Jinwan Civil Aviation Airport at Zhuhai in Guangdong Province. State-owned Aviation Industry Corporation said, the plane has a 39.6-meter-long fuselage and 38.8-meter wing span. 

  • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny barred from running for president
    Russia's Central Election Commission on 25th December unanimously rejected top opposition figure Alexei Navalny's bid to run against President Vladimir Putin next year. The commission voted 12 to zero in barring Navalny from the presidential election, citing a controversial embezzlement conviction for which he received a five year suspended sentence. 

    The decision prompted the 41-year-old protest leader -- who maintains that the court case against him was fabricated for political reasons to call for a boycott of the election. 

  • Syria rebel groups reject Sochi peace initiative
    More than three dozen Syrian rebel groups, including influential Islamists, have rejected a Russian-led initiative for talks next month in Sochi on ending Syria's war. Russia and Iran, both key allies of Syria's regime, agreed with opposition backer Turkey to hold a Congress of National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 29 and 30. 

    Syria's government swiftly said it would attend but rebels have pushed back, calling it a Russian bid to eclipse a United Nations-led process in Geneva. Syria's conflict erupted in 2011 with anti-government demonstrations, but it has since morphed into a complex war drawing in world powers, including Russia. 

  • Afghanistan to be included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor 
    China on 26th December flagged the possible inclusion of Afghanistan in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — a move that is likely to irk India. 

    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi mooted a possible opening of the doors for Kabul’s entry in the backdrop of the first Foreign Ministers’ trilateral dialogue between China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India has opposed CPEC, which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), on the grounds that it infringes on its sovereignty. 

    China has called CPEC a “flagship project” of its Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at building connectivity along the Eurasian corridor. A joint statement released at the end of the one-day conference said that the three countries reaffirmed their commitment to “advancing connectivity under the Belt and Road initiative”. 

  • Nepal bans solo climbing on Mount Everest and other peaks to reduce accidents
    Nepal has banned solo climbers from scaling its mountains, including Mount Everest, in a bid to reduce accidents. The cabinet has endorsed a revision to the Himalayan nation's mountaineering regulations, banning solo climbing on its mountains. This is one of a string of measures being flagged ahead of the 2018 spring climbing season. 

    Maheshwor Neupane, Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation said, the changes have barred solo expeditions, which were allowed before. Neupane said that the law was revised to make mountaineering safer and decrease deaths. 

    The cabinet also endorsed a ban on double amputee and blind climbers, although Everest has drawn multitudes of mountaineers wanting to overcome their disabilities and achieve the formidable feat. 

  • Sebastian Pinera wins Chile's presidential election
    Billionaire conservative Sebastian Pinera won Chile's presidency against Alejandro Guillier. With 98.44 percent of the ballots counted, Pinera, 68, had won 54.57 percent in the run-off vote, to 45.43 percent for senator Guillier, a wider than expected margin in a race that pollsters had predicted would be tight. 

  • US vetoes UN resolution rejecting Trump’s Jerusalem decision
    The United States on 19th December vetoed a draft UN resolution rejecting President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, after all 14 other Security Council members backed the measure. The veto cast by US Ambassador Nikki Haley highlighted Washington's isolation over Trump's announcement that the US embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively ignoring Palestinian claims on the city. 

    Key US allies Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Ukraine were among the 14 countries in the 15-member council that backed the measure asserting that any decisions on the status of Jerusalem "have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded." 

    Egypt put forward the draft resolution which had included a call on all countries to refrain from opening embassies in Jerusalem, reflecting concerns that other governments could follow the US lead. It demanded that all member-states not recognize any actions that are contrary to UN resolutions on the status of the city. 

  • Tax bill passes Senate in 51-48 vote in US
    United States Senate Republicans on 20th December passed a sweeping overhaul of the tax code in more than 30 years, bringing President Donald Trump closer to scoring his first major legislative victory 

    The Senate approved the $1.5 trillion tax bill, which includes permanent tax breaks for corporations and temporary tax cuts for individuals, by a final vote of 51-48. The House of Representatives earlier approved the bill comfortably. It was passed by 227 to 203 votes. Republicans have majorities in both Houses of Congress. 

    For final approval, legislation must go back to the House for a procedural issue before it can be sent to the White House for the President to sign it into law. Once enacted, the legislation will represent the most drastic changes to the country's tax code since 1986. 

  • UN General Assembly rejects US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital
    The United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, on 21st December voted, 128-9, in favour of the UN resolution to declare the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital "null and void". India voted in favour of UNGA resolution rejecting US President Donald Trump's proposal to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 

    A total of 128 countries voted in favor of the UN resolution, nine voted against it and 35 countries abstained. The United States and Israel were joined by Guatemala, Honduras and Togo in opposing the resolution. 

  • UN Security Council slaps new sanctions on North Korea
    The UN Security Council on 21st December slapped new sanctions on North Korea that will restrict oil supplies vital for Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programmes. 

    The council unanimously adopted a US-drafted resolution that also orders the repatriation of North Korean workers abroad and earning revenue for Kim Jong-Un's regime. 

    It is the third raft of sanctions imposed on North Korea this year and comes as the United States and North Korea are showing no signs they are willing to engage in talks to end the crisis on the Korean peninsula. 

    The measures are in response to North Korea's test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on November 28 that marked an advance in Pyongyang's drive to threaten the US mainland with a nuclear strike. 

  • UN tells North Korea to keep communication channels open to avoid risk of war
    The United Nations has told North Korea that there is an urgent need to keep channels open to avoid the risk of war. The UN said this in a statement after the visit of its under-secretary-general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman's to Pyongyang, the first highest-level trip by a UN official to the isolated nation in six years. The statement said, during the visit, Mr Feltman had a series of meetings with North Korean Foreign Minister Yong Ho and his deputy PAK Myong Guk. 

    They exchanged views on the Korean Peninsula and agreed that the current situation was the most tense and dangerous peace and a security issue in the world. 

    The UN envoy emphasised the need for the implementation of all relevant Security Council resolutions. He said, there can only be a diplomatic solution to the situation, achieved through a process of sincere dialogue. North Korea said, it has agreed to regular communication with the UN. Mr Feltman's visit came after the US and South Korea launched their biggest-ever annual joint air exercises. 

    The exercises were held a week after North Korea test-fired a powerful new intercontinental ballistic missile that experts say is capable of reaching the US. 

  • India, China, Russia vow to boost maritime trade, fight terrorism
    Notwithstanding the South China Sea dispute, India, China and Russia on 11th December agreed to support freedom of navigation and overflight rights based on the principles of international law in an effort to boost maritime trade. 

    This was reiterated during the 15th meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China, also known as the RIC. Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi and his Russia counterpart Sergei Lavrov held the meeting with Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj. 

    The statement assumes importance considering that freedom of navigation has come under threat with China ignoring The Hague Tribunal’s verdict on South China Sea. Ever since South China Sea dispute escalated, India has always asserted adherence to international maritime law. 

    On the issue of tackling terrorism, the joint communiqué called for “swift and effective” implementation of existing international commitments on countering terrorism, including the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and targeted sanctions relating to terrorism and the FATF International Standards worldwide. 

    In another significant decision, the RIC Foreign Ministers also welcomed the beginning of the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed upon between E3/EU+3 and Iran in Vienna on July 14, 2015 regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. 

  • US reject solution to food security issue at WTO meeting
    Talks at the 11th Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at Buenos Aires appear to be heading towards a collapse, as the US has refused to engage in the effort to find a permanent solution to the public stock holding issue. On the third-day of the conference, Assistant US Trade Representative Sharon Lauritsen said, the permanent solution was not acceptable to America. 

    India has all through been maintaining that a permanent solution was a must have and failure to do so would impact the credibility of the strong multilateral trade institution. 

    The Indian delegation, led by Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu, in cooperation with the G33 grouping, is pitching hard for a permanent solution as it is crucial for the livelihood of 800 million people across the globe. 

    The conference, which began on 10th December ended on 12th December, with very little time for any substantial retrieval of positions by the WTO members. 

    Under the global trade norms, a WTO member country's food subsidy bill should not breach the limit of 10 per cent of the value of production based on the reference price of 1986-88. 

    Apprehending that full implementation of food security programme may result in breach of the WTO cap; India has been seeking amendments in the formula to calculate the food subsidy cap. 

  • More than 6700 Rohingya killed in Myanmar
    At least 6,700 Rohingyas were killed in the month after violence broke out in Myanmar in August. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says, based on surveys of refugees in Bangladesh, the number is much higher than Myanmar's official figure of 400. MSF said it is the clearest indication yet of the widespread violence by Myanmar authorities. 

    The Myanmar military blames the violence on terrorists and has denied any wrongdoing. More than 647,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since August. 

  • EU leaders approved the starting of the next stage of Brexit talks 
    EU on15th December approved the opening of the next stage of Brexit talks after reaching a deal on divorce terms with Britain. European Council President Donald Tusk said, this mean talks can move on to the long-term relationship between the UK and EU, including trade and security. 

    The first issue to be discussed, as early as next week, will be the terms of a transition period after the UK leaves in March 2019. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has warned this process would be "significantly harder".

  • World Health Organisation declared Gabon as polio free 
    The World Health Organisation has declared Gabon a "polio-free country", given the lack of new reported or suspected cases in the central African country. According to a WHO statement obtained on 16th December, the UN health agency nonetheless recommended taking the necessary steps to continue monitoring for possible signs of the disease. 

    Cases of polio have decreased by 99 per cent since 1988, when polio was endemic in 125 countries and 350,000 cases were recorded worldwide. Now the disease is endemic only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the WHO recorded four cases this year -- two in each country. Last year, there were 37 cases globally. 

  • South Korea and USA launch largest air exercise
    South Korea and the United States launched their largest-ever joint aerial drills. 
    The annual US-South Korean drill, called Vigilant Ace, will run for 5-days, with six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to be deployed among the more than 230 aircraft taking part. Around 12,000 US service members, including from the Marines and Navy, have joined South Korean troops. 

  • US pulls out of UN migrant and refugee pact
    The United States has withdrawn from a United Nations pact to improve the handling of migrant and refugee situations. In a statement, the US Mission to the United Nations said, it has informed UN Secretary-General that US is ending its participation in the Global Compact on Migration. 

    The statement said the United Nation's New York declaration contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with the Trump Administration's immigration principles. 

    Last year, the UN General assembly unanimously adopted the New York declaration for refugees and migrants. US Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the United States would continue its generosity in supporting migrants and refugees around the world. 

    However, she said its decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone. 

    Under Trump and his America First policies, the United States has withdrawn from several global commitments made under the administration of President Barack Obama, including the Paris climate deal. More recently, the United States pulled out of the Paris-based culture and education body. 

  • US Supreme Court allows full enforcement of Trump’s travel ban
    The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to fully enforce its revised ban on people from eight nations from travelling to the country. 

    The Supreme Court order has not explained the reasons for its decision but nudged the lower courts that are hearing the arguments on the merit of the case to move faster. 

    Two appeals courts are expected to hear arguments in separate cases, challenging the ban this week. President Donald Trump’s decision has been challenged on questions such as his legal authority to issue such an order and whether it constitutes a religious test and a Muslim ban, as promised by Mr. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

    The Trump administration has argued before the courts that the travel ban is for national security. Six of the eight countries barred by the order are majority-Muslim — Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad and Somalia. North Korea and Venezuela are the other two. 

    The Supreme Court order, supported by seven of the nine judges, increases the chances of the administration winning the case on merit as and when it reaches the highest court. 

    Restrictions on travel by people from these eight countries vary in their details. Federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii had partially blocked the restrictions, allowing people from these countries who can establish a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the U.S. to travel. 

    The courts included grandparents, grandchildren, brothers and sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of people already in the U.S. in this category and students who have secured admissions. Such people will also be barred, with the latest Supreme Court order. 

  • Donald Trump recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital
    US President Donald Trump on 6th December recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He also ordered to start the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city. The move reversed decades of US and international policy on the holy city, which many Arab leaders warned could trigger an upheaval in the already volatile Middle East. 

    At the same time, Trump reiterated his commitment to the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He said, United States remains deeply committed to helping facilitate a peace agreement that is acceptable to both sides. 

    President Trump recognised that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties and reaffirmed the United States' support for the status quo at the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al Sharif. 

  • Venezuela's Avior Airlines banned from European Union skies
    Venezuela's Avior Airlines has been banned from European Union skies after a commission determined it no longer meets international safety standards. 

    The European Commission announced that Avior had been added to a list of international airlines prohibited from flying within the union because the European Aviation Safety Agency detected unaddressed safety deficiencies. 

    The Venezuelan airline is one of a handful still offering international flight destinations as major carriers like United and Delta halt operations in the crisis-ridden nation. 

  • UN Security Council condemns Libya slave auctions
    UN Security Council on 7th December said reports that migrants detained in Libyan camps were being sold into slavery could amount to "crimes against humanity" in a joint statement of condemnation. 

    It follows global shock over the atrocities suffered in Libya by African migrants, many of whom are trying to reach Europe, being sold as slaves. The council said it condemns such actions as heinous abuses of human rights which may also amount to crimes against humanity. 

    Since the 2011 collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi regime, Libya has been riven by fighting between militias which hold captives. Libyan authorities exercise little control over them. 

  • Britain and EU reach historic deal on terms of Brexit 
    Britain and the European Union reached a historic deal on 8th December on the terms of the Brexit divorce. European Commission, President Jean-Claude Juncker said sufficient progress had been made by Britain on separation issues including the Irish border, Britain's divorce bill, and citizen’s rights. 

    British Prime Minister Theresa may said EU citizens in the UK will be able to go on living as before and there would be no hard border. She said getting to this point had required give and take from both side. 

    May said she expected a formal agreement to be approved at the summit. The agreement paves the way for EU leaders at a summit on 14th and 15th of December to open the second phase of Brexit negotiations, covering trade talks and a transition period. 

    Britain voted in June 2016 to become the first state to leave the EU, after more than four decades of membership, but the talks have been slow moving and often acrimonious so far. 

  • UN rejects US recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital
    UN has rejected US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. The decision was taken at a special United Nations Security Council meeting on 8th December. The UN move is expected to set off alarms about the risk of escalating conflict in the West Asia. 

    Eight of the 15 members of the UN Security Council had called for an urgent meeting to analyze the decision taken by Washington. 

    The UN in a statement, at the end of the meeting, said the status of Jerusalem must be determined through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to reach at a final status agreement. 

  • Bangladesh High Court upholds death penalty of 139 convicts in 'BDR carnage' case
    Bangladesh's High Court has upheld the death penalty for 139 out of 152 convicts who were given the capital punishment by lower court in 'Bangladesh Rifles carnage' case. The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) is the former name of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB). 

    A three-member special bench of Bangladesh High Court led by Justice Md. Shawkat Hossain announced the verdict on 27th November. 

    Other than the convicts given the capital punishment, 185 had been given life imprisonment, While 200 accused were awarded jail sentences of varying terms. 

    On 25th and 26th of February 2009 a mutiny broke out at the BDR headquarters in Peelkhana in Dhaka. 74 individuals including 57 army officials lost their lives in the ensuing violence. After the incident, two cases were filed in the Dhaka's Lalbagh Police Station. 846 BDR Jawans were put on trial. 

    A lower court awarded death penalty to 152 accused on November 5th 2013. 161 were sentenced to life in prison while 256 accused were awarded a 10 year jail term. 278 accused were acquitted for lack of evidence. In all, 568 accused were convicted. When the accused appealed in the high court, it upheld the death penalty for 139 convicts. 

    The High Court of Bangladesh has observed that there was a motive behind the carnage to destabilise Sheikh Hasina-led government. The High Court also observed that the people behind the conspiracy had designs to create a political crisis in the country. 

  • Freedom of Oxford award taken back from Aung San Suu Kyi
    Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been stripped of the Freedom of Oxford award over her "inaction" in handling the raging Rohingya refugee crisis and turning a "blind eye to violence" in the country that forced over 600,000 people to flee to Bangladesh. 

    Oxford City Council in London voted unanimously to permanently remove the honour given to 72-year-old Suu Kyi in 1997. 

    The Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring country following a military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state, creating one of the world's most dire refugee crisis. 

    While the United Nations has described the violence and mass exodus as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing", Suu Kyi has dismissed all allegations. Last week, Myanmar signed a deal with Bangladesh to allow the refugees to return home. 

  • North Korea tests its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile
    North Korea said it successfully tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile yet on 29th November, putting the US mainland within range and increasing pressure on US President Donald Trump to deal with the nuclear-armed nation. North Korea said the new missile reached an altitude of about 4,475 km (2,780 miles) - more than 10 times the height of the International Space Station - and flew 950 km (590 miles) during its 53-minute flight. 

    North Korea, which conducted its largest nuclear bomb test in September, has tested dozens of ballistic missiles under its leader, Kim Jong Un, in defiance of international sanctions. 

  • Russia clashes with UN and US over aid to Syrian rebels
    Russia's UN envoy has clashed with the world body's humanitarian chief as well as the US and other Western diplomats over extending the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders and conflict lines in Syria. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the UN Security Council on 30th November that the current mandate expiring in December, cannot remain as it undermines Syria's sovereignty. 

    The Security Council has authorised cross-border aid deliveries since 2014. UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told council members that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for the mandate's renewal, saying it is essential to save lives. 

  • US, China hold low-key military talks amid North Korea tensions
    U.S. and Chinese generals engaged in an unusual set of security talks on 29th November, just hours after North Korea’s most powerful missile test yet, focused on how the mighty American and Chinese militaries might communicate in a crisis. 

    As President Donald Trump greeted the North’s launching of another intercontinental ballistic missile with familiar demands for China to get tougher with its ally, the low-profile and unpublicized meeting at the National Defense University in Washington was taking place amid signs China is more willing at this time to discuss how the two world powers would manage an even worse emergency on the divided Korean Peninsula. 

    The Pentagon stressed the talks were scheduled long before North Korea’s surprise missile launch in the on 29th November in Asia. Officials insisted the dialogue wasn’t centered on North Korea or anything else in particular. 

    Mr. Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from having the capability to strike the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped missile using military force if necessary. He is running out of time- Some experts said the missile fired on a high trajectory that splashed down in the Sea of Japan showed North Korea’s ability to strike Washington and the entire U.S. Eastern Seaboard. 

    The threat of a military confrontation is making China rethink its resistance to discussing contingencies involving North Korea, according to experts. Such discussions have long been off-limits for Beijing, which fought on North Korea’s side against the United States in the 1950-53 Korean War and remains its treaty ally. 

  • UN appeals for a record 22.5 billion dollar to provide aid in 2018
    The United Nations appealed on 1st December for a record 22.5 billion dollar to provide aid in 2018 to soaring numbers of people slammed by conflicts and disasters around the world. 

    The global appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations aims to raise funds to help the some 91 million most vulnerable of the nearly 136 million people expected to need aid across 26 countries next year. The number of people in need of international assistance worldwide has thus risen more than five percent from last year's estimate. 

    UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock said in a statement launching the appeal, more people than ever before will need the assistance. Drought, floods and other weather-related catastrophes are expected to continue racking up humanitarian needs. 

    But Lowcock stressed that conflict, in particular protracted crises, will continue to be the main driver of need in 2018. One conflict clearly tops the charts in terms of humanitarian needs.


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