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International Stories – Flashback 2017

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Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump

Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on January 20, 2017, outlining his forceful vision of a new national populism and echoing the same “America first” mantra that swept him to victory last November.

He has been good to his word since getting to the White House. He has cancelled U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, refused to certify that Iran is in compliance with its nuclear obligations, recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and relegated democracy and human rights to the sidelines of U.S. foreign policy. To be sure, Trump hasn’t enacted all of his campaign promises. He beefed up rather than withdrew U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and he hasn’t declared China a currency manipulator or kicked NAFTA to the curb. Trump’s dismissal of traditional foreign policy practices even has some fellow Republicans questioning whether America First means embracing a “doctrine of retreat.” Many of America’s closest allies are worried. They fear the era of U.S. global leadership is ending. If so, the consequences are epic.

Xi Jinping’s “Extraordinary Elevation”

Not even Adele with her five Grammy awards had as good a year as Xi Jinping. Although China blatantly exploits international trade rules, Xi won applause for his January speech at Davos championing globalisation and likening protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room.” In April, President Donald Trump feted him at a two-day summit meeting at Mar-a-Lago and quite noticeably avoided his typical China-bashing rhetoric. In June, Xi won more global accolades for doubling down on his commitment to the Paris climate agreement. But his biggest success came in October at the nineteenth Chinese Communist Party Congress. It was a coronation. Xi was named to his second five-year term as party general secretary. He wa also named a “core leader,” a title denied to his immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao.

North Korea Defies the World

Kim Jung-Un

Successive U.S. presidents have insisted that they would prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. They backed that up by offering carrots, imposing sanctions, and threatening military action. North Korea hasn’t listened. In early September, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test. Three months later it tested a ballistic missile that looks capable of hitting any U.S. city. President Trump says he will stop North Korea in its tracks, vowing that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” tweeting that “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded,” and calling North Korean leader Kim Jung-un “Little Rocket Man.” Trump has also pushed China to solve the problem.

The Globe Continues to Warm

The news is not good. The earth is getting warmer, whether people believe it or not. In September, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 2017 was shaping up as the second warmest year on record. What is the warmest year? 2016. The other eight warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998. The dramatic melting of the Arctic and Antarctic and of glaciers around the world is something that climate scientists have been predicting for decades. And it’s basic physics that warmer oceans temperatures mean bigger storms. President Trump announced in June that the United States would leave the Paris Climate Agreement, and words have been more common than deeds in other foreign capitals. The trend is not our friend.

Global Growth Picks Up

Ten years after the Great Recession started, global economic growth is accelerating and stock markets around the world are hitting record highs. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in October that “The outlook is strengthening, with a notable pickup in investment, trade, and industrial production, together with rising confidence.” The IMF added the caveat that “recovery is not yet complete.” However, even cautious optimism has been in short supply for nearly a decade.

Mohammad bin Salman Remakes Saudi Arabia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) is a young man in a hurry. Back in June, his father, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, made the 32 year-old his heir, after deposing the previous crown prince, the king’s nephew and MBS’s cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef. MBS immediately got to work. His vehicle for remaking the country is Vision 2030, a two-year-old initiative that seeks to modernise Saudi Arabia’s economy and society. The idea is to prepare the country for a post-oil future and to loosen its conservative social strictures.

The Rohingya Crisis

The Rohingya may be the most persecuted minority group in the world. They have lived in Myanmar for centuries. Most of them are Muslims, though some are Hindus, in a country in which nearly nine out of ten people are Buddhists. The Rohingya have long been discriminated against, often violently so, and the Myanmar government refuses to acknowledge them as citizens. The latest and ugliest surge of violence began in August when Rohingya began fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh telling stories of mass killings, systematic rape, and torture. At last count, more than 400,000 have fled Myanmar and thousands more have been displaced internally. Aung San Suu Kyi, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and Myanmar’s most prominent official, has done little publicly to end the violence. That’s probably because the military still runs the country despite the political opening of the past few years.

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