The Pardee Perspective: March 15th, 2018

Asia

North Korea: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to sit for a negotiation with President Trump, potentially to discuss denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. President Trump would be the first sitting US president to meet with a North Korean leader. The response from other Asian countries has been mixed, with South Korea projecting optimism and Japan voicing concerns of being shut out of the talks. Many worry that North Korea is using the prospect to distract from the further development of its nuclear weapons program.

Myanmar: Concerns over a crackdown on the press have been growing in Myanmar, as an estimated 29 journalists have been arrested for breaking obscure laws following their reports on the army’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims. The ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people has been condemned by several officials at the UN, but no official action has been taken.

China: The Chinese Parliament has approved an amendment to its Constitution, removing the two-term, ten-year limit on the Chinese Presidency and allowing President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely. The move comes as little surprise to the international community following President Xi’s announcement of the amendment two weeks ago.

Europe

England: Last week, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a banned Soviet-era nerve agent in Salisbury, England. On March 14th, Prime Minister Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats after the Kremlin failed to cooperate with Britain’s investigation of the incident. Both cCritics and allies believe that the embattled Prime Minister should take a stronger stance against Russian aggression. They are calling on her to fulfill promises to stifle suspicious Russian investments in the U.K. and possibly revoke the license of RT, a Russian state-controlled news network. Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that the accusations are premature and intended to create drama ahead of Russia’s presidential election next week.

Spain: On March 13th, the European Commission on Human Rights declared that two Catalan separatists were wrongly convicted for publicly burning a photo of the Spanish king and queen in 2007. The men were originally sentenced to 15 years in prison for insulting the Crown, which is illegal in Spain, but were later handed fines. After their appeals were denied, they took the case to the European Commission on Human Rights, which deemed their actions to fall within the bounds of freedom of expression.

The Commission ordered Spain to repay their fines and any incurred legal fees. This marks a victory for Catalan activists at a time when the Spanish government is challenging free speech. In 2015, conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration passed a public security law meant to curb mass protests relating to Spain’s financial crisis. The law has now been transposed onto protesters that are fighting for Catalonian independence. Rajoy’s government has prosecuted artists, musicians, Twitter users, and even puppeteers, claiming they had spread messages glorifying terrorism and violence against authorities.

Middle East

Palestine: Oil giant Shell has decided to give up its stake in a natural gas field off the coast of the Gaza Strip. Gaza Marine, an undeveloped field about 20 miles off the coast, holds over 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. However, the 55 percent stake was first negotiated in 1999 by BG Group, a company Shell only recently acquired in 2016. Exploration has been delayed several times by internal Palestinian divisions and the contentious nature of the region’s political economy, leading Shell to relinquish its asset. The Palestinian Authority wants to use the natural gas reserves as a much-needed source of funding, especially after the Israeli government seized oil fields in the West Bank in 2013. Despite Shell’s decision, Palestinian leaders hope a recent reconciliation deal between rivals Fatah and Hamas will provide the political stability necessary to attract foreign investment.