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US President Biden Calls Russian President Putin “a butcher”

Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters

On March 26 Friday 2022, United States President Joe Biden flew to Poland in his effort to see firsthand the humanitarian crisis of refugees. In Rzeszów, a Polish city nearby the Ukrainian border, President Biden spent his time meeting the 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Poland. On March 27 Saturday, President Biden observed the humanitarian efforts in Warsaw and met the Polish President Andrzej Duda. President Biden took his time to talk to humanitarian aides while comforting Ukrainian refugees. Afterward, when asked about what he thought as he deals with President Putin moving forward seeing the humanitarian crises, President Biden called President Putin “a butcher.” In the afternoon, President Biden at the Royal Castle gave a speech on the Russian invasion and the greatness of Polish and Ukrainian resilience. He began his speech by referring to the first Polish Catholic Pope, John Paul II. Then, President Biden delivered a message of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, “My message to the people of Ukraine is a message I delivered today to Ukraine’s foreign minister and defense minister, who I believe are here tonight. We stand with you. Period!” President Biden’s remarks were met with applause from the crowd, and the speech went on to criticize Putin and his lies. In addition to the current sanctions placed by the United States and the military aides provided to Ukraine, President Biden announced a further $300 million of humanitarian assistance and has allowed 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to enter the United States. Before concluding his speech, President Biden criticized that President Putin should no longer stay in power, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

President Biden State of the Union

Saul Loeb/AP

In his first State of the Union joint address to Congress on March 1, President Joe Biden focused his speech on the ongoing war in Ukraine and his plans for the domestic future. President Biden first brought attention to the tragedy of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the courage the Ukrainian people are demonstrating during such an unprecedented time. He then gave way for the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States to stand and receive a standing ovation from the whole chamber, with President Biden remarking, “Yes. We, the United States of America, stand with the Ukrainian people.” Furthermore, President Biden reflected on the unity of the international community against Russian aggression. As the remarks on Russia and Putin increased in intensity, President Biden announced further US sanctions of Russian oligarchs and their wealth, “We’re joining with European Allies to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets. We’re coming for your ill-begotten gains.” While the additional sanctions of closing off all American airspace to Russian oligarchs were introduced, President Biden strongly stated that even though the United States will defend every inch of NATO territories, the United States will not engage in direct combat against the Russian forces in Ukraine. He ended his remarks on Ukraine by expressing the resolve of the free world. As he closed off his Ukraine speech and began his speech on the successes he brought to the United States during his first year in office. President Biden expressed the success of the American Rescue Plan and the strong growth of the economy. He then expressed his support in passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will allow the United States to compete against China and create additional jobs. The president announced his plans for fighting inflation by cutting costs, supporting the creation of supply chains in the United States to create made in America all the way through. President Biden announced to cap the cost of insulin to $35 a month, with further cost reductions in medications and increased medicare qualities. In the turn of the event, President Biden announced his strategy to protect communities and to prevent crimes through funding the police, contrary to the “defund the police” efforts made by many of his Democratic supporters and colleagues, “It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with the resources and training — resources and training they need to protect our communities.” On the topic of the Southern border, President Biden remarked the need for immigration, “Folks, if we are to advance liberty and justice, we need to secure our border and fix the immigration system.” Moreover, he closed his domestic speech with the efforts required and the vast possibilities of turning cancer from “death sentences into treatable diseases.” President Biden ended his first State of the Union address by expressing his optimism of America’s future, defining the United States with a single word: possibilities. Finally, to summarize the state of the union, President Joe Biden announced, “So, on this night, on our 245th year as a nation, I’ve come to report on the state of the nation — the state of the union. And my report is this: The State of the Union is strong because you, the American people, are strong.”

Mounting Ukraine-Russia Tension

ALJAZEERA

Following weeks of increasing Russian troop deployment near the Ukraine border, over 130,000 Russian troops are now deployed according to the Ukraine military intelligence. The origin of this tension goes back to the Russian demand over Ukraine’s NATO membership. During a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Vladimir Putin told his desire to stop Ukraine from joining NATO, “US and Nato responses did not take account of such key Russian concerns as preventing Nato expansion, non-deployment of strike weapons systems near Russian borders, or returning the alliance’s military potential and infrastructure in Europe to positions existing in 1997.” The Russian stance is their security concern over their borders, as the US and the Western counterparts have been deploying weapons near Russian borders, including in Ukraine. Amidst the rising tensions, France hosted the Normandy Format which last took place in 2019, and this format involves 4 countries: Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine. During the Normandy Format on 26 January 2022, the representatives from each nation came together in Paris to discuss the potential de-escalation of tension on the Ukrainian-Russian border. However, the meeting concluded without success. In response to the Russian demands over Ukraine and their NATO membership, Washington delivered an official response to Moscow, as US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated, “The document we’ve delivered includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russia’s actions that undermine security, a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised, and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground.” In response to President Putin’s deployment of his troops near the Ukrainian border, US President Joe Biden announced his decision to deploy US troops to Eastern Europe, along with the economic sanctions on Russia. With the mounting troops and economic sanctions by the West against Russia, as Russia mounts their troops and weapons on the Ukraine border, military conflict is a real probability from this rising Ukraine-Russia tension.

North Korea Conducts Three Missile Tests in Two Weeks

Photo by AFP

Following January 5, 2022, ballistic missile launch, North Korea has conducted two additional missile launches on January 10 and January 14. North Korean authorities claimed that they have launched Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (HGV) on January 5 and 10, ballistic missiles which have an unorthodox maneuver and trajectory when launched. HGV not only possesses unique maneuvering, but for a missile to be identified as HGV, it requires it to have a speed of over Mach 5, 5 times the speed of sound. In response to North Korean missile launches, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on MSNBC on January 13 accused North Korea of breaking the UN resolutions and whole host of international laws, “Unfortunately, not only has there been no response to those overtures, but the response we’ve seen … has been renewed missile tests, something that is profoundly destabilizing. It’s dangerous and it contravenes a whole host of U.N. Security Council resolutions.” The latest missile launch on January 14 has been launched from a rail-based launch platform, ie train, with the two short-range ballistic missiles traveling 430 kilometers according to the South Korean authorities. Hours before the missile launch, the North Korean authorities released a statement condemning the sanctions imposed by the Biden administration, which placed 8 sanctions over North Korean and Russian individuals and entities who have aided in North Korean ballistic missile programs. According to the Japanese authorities, the two missiles have hit North Korea’s intended target in the Sea of Japan, with the Japanese Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi reporting that the missiles have landed outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi further condemned the North Korean missile launches as imposing a serious problem to the international community and Japan, “We strongly condemn this as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Economic Revamp for North Korea: Kim Jong-un End of Year Speech

REUTERS

In his 4th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) speech marking 10 years as the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un announced economy as his 2022 national focus. The North Korean supreme leader has been quoted to have said, “The main task facing our Party and people next year is to provide a sure guarantee for the implementation of the five-year plan and bring about a remarkable change in the state development and the people’s standard of living.” In the report released by the Korean Central News Agency, Kim Jong-un spoke about the country’s harsh 2021, and the need to progress on the food, clothing, and housing shortages. With the looming winter which could further damage the food supply and cause greater starvation in his country, Kim Jong-un has shifted his focus on jump-starting the North Korean economy, which is being negatively impacted as a result of his decision to close all borders since 2020 as a protection against Covid-19. Unlike his previous end-of-year speeches, this speech mainly focused on internal affairs, with no mention of South Korea or the United States directly, with only a passing reference as “external affairs.” Kim Jong-un’s mention of rural development can be interpreted as a tactic to garner support and maintain the order of people outside of Pyongyang who are suffering from food shortages. In his speech, the mention of tractor factories may have been used to represent his domestic economic enterprise to his subjects, however, foreign analysts have suggested that those factories are in actuality being used to build launch vehicles for missiles.

Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing Olympics

Andre M Chang/Zuma Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

In response to the Chinese human rights violations in Xinjiang, the United States White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki released a statement on December 6, 2021, that the United States will move forward on their diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Following the lead of the United States, other countries including Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Lithuania, and Belgium, released their diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons stated that the government will join in the diplomatic boycott even though the government has reservations against sporting boycotts, “We do not support sporting boycotts, but there are no plans for ministers to attend the Winter Olympics… there will effectively be a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.” In response to the diplomatic boycotts, Chinese spokesperson Wang Wenbin gave a statement, “The US, Australia, Britain, and Canada’s use of the Olympic platform for political manipulation is unpopular and self-isolating, and they will inevitably pay the price for their wrongdoings.”On the other hand, major countries including Germany, France, Italy, South Korea, and to a certain degree Japan, have decided against joining in the diplomatic boycott led by the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said during his budget meeting, “At the moment, I have no plans to attend,” when asked about his considerations to attend the 2022 Beijing Winter. However, the Japanese government is considering sending officials outside of the government to the Winter Olympics. As a result of countries deciding against joining the diplomatic boycott, there is a division in the international communities, failing to present a united front against the genocide and human rights violations committed by the Chinese Government in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet.

EU’s New Effort to Rival Chinese Influence

The European Union on December 1, 2021, unveiled EUR 300 billion investment towards infrastructure projects to developing countries between 2021 and 2027. This EU’s “Global Gateway” project focuses on sustainability, with emphasis on digital, climate and energy, transport, health, and education and research. According to the EU, they will provide investments for their partners to ensure benefits for local communities. While the EU did not name the Chinese “Belt and Road program” as their target, the statements released from the EU reveal their plan to compete with the 1 trillion dollars modern-day Silk Road by promoting “democratic values” through fair investments. EU’s Global Gateway comes just as the Chinese Belt and Road program rallies on in developing nations in Southeast Asia. In recent times, Laos opened its new $6 billion high-speed rail link on December 3, 2021, using loans from the Chinese Belt and Road program. In short, Beijing is increasing its influence on developing nations in Southeast Asia. Even though China’s project is a decade ahead of the EU’s project, Brussels aims to rival Beijing by offering public and private investments in contrast to Beijing’s loans. The Chinese Belt and Road program has been a concern to the Western communities, with Chinese soft power bringing disruptions to many economies. Many are concerned with the Chinese “debt trap” through their projects, with Sri Lanka’s sale of 70% stake and a 99-year lease of Hambantota port (Sri Lanka’s port) to a Chinese state firm cited as an example. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen offered her support to the EU’s Global Gateway as a part of global recovery, “The Global Gateway Strategy is a template for how Europe can build more resilient connections with the world.” Even though the EU is playing catch up, it comes at a time when G7 is also unveiling their infrastructure finance and investment project in developing countries.

10 Chinese and Russian Naval Vessels Circumnavigate Japan

5 Chinese Naval Vessels (Left) 5 Russian Naval Vessels (Right)

Just 8 days before the Japanese national election took place, on October 23, 2021, the Chinese and Russian naval vessels crossed the Osumi Strait. In effect, the 5 Chinese and 5 Russian naval vessels circumnavigated the island of Japan, starting from the Tsugaru Strait and ending in Osumi Strait. The annual provocation from the Chinese and Russian naval vessels against Japan has surpassed previous levels of provocation, reaching new heights this year. According to the Joint Staff of the Japan Self Defense Force, 5 Chinese ships and 5 Russian ships were identified. They have identified the Chinese ships as Type 055 destroyer Nanchang (101), Type 052D destroyer Kunming (172), Type 054a frigates Binzou (515) and Liuzhou (573), and an unnamed replenishment ship (902), while they have identified the Russian ships as the destroyers Admiral Tributs(564) and Admiral Panteleyev (548), corvettes Gromkiy (335) and Hero of the Russian Federation Aldar Tsydenzhapov (339) and the missile range instrumentation ship Marshal Krylov (331). According to the internationally recognized policy for identifying territorial waters, territorial waters are said to be 12 nautical miles from each shore. However, the Japanese government had identified these straits as territorial waters only up to 3 nautical miles from each shore, in order to accommodate their “Three Non-Nuclear Principles.” The result of identifying only 3 nautical miles is the identification of the central area of these Japanese straits as international waters, which allows for foreign vessels to sail through the straits with no authorization from the Japanese government. In addition to sailing through two Japanese straits, a Chinese helicopter was captured lifting off, which caused the Japanese Air Force to scramble a jet fighter to counteract the aerial threat. The Japanese Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi made a remark on October 26, 2021, that there must be greater vigilance going forward to maintain the security of Japan. 

Japanese LDP Victorious in the General Election

The general election of the lower house of the Japanese parliament convened on October 31, 2021. Even though the result of the election portrayed another strong performance by the governing Liberal Democratic Party, the majority of the media have been depicting a grim election result for the LDP running up to the election. Major Japanese media Yomiuri Shimbun, Nikkei, Sankei, Bunshu reported LDP’s tough battle ahead in order to hold onto the majority. However, after the election night, LDP once again held onto the majority with 261 seats, only with a 15 seat loss. Along with LDP, the 32 seats won by the coalition party Komeito brings up the total tally of the governing parties to 293, only a loss of 12 seats from the previous general election. Even after the victory, controversy arose within the LDP after the Secretary-General Akira Amari lost his seat in the single-seat constituency, and had to be re-elected through the proportion system. On the contrary to the expected result, the main opposition party the Constitutional Democratic Party lost 13 seats, after having partnered with other opposition parties including the Communist Party and Social Democratic Party to unify their candidate in over 200 single-seat constituencies out of the total 289. After a major loss of election for the Constitutional Democratic Party, the party leader Yukio Edano resigned his post, with the party moving to hold their party leader election. Even though the major political parties saw a decline in their seats, the Japan Innovation Party saw an increase in their seats from 11 to 41. Japanese political parties saw no major shift since the previous election, as the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition Komeito will continue to govern under the premiership of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

German General Election

Olaf Scholz (left), Annalena Baerbock (center), Armin Laschet (right)

On the 26th of September 2021, German citizens went to the polls to elect the members of the 20th Bundestag (German Parliament). The center of attention for this election was to elect the future governing political party and the next German Chancellor. After Chancellor Angela Merkel revealed that she would step down from politics altogether, and not seek the fifth term as the chancellor, a new German chancellor had to be chosen after 16 years of Angel Merkel’s chancellorship. As a result, Angela Merkel’s political party the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) chose their new leader in the name of Armin Laschet. However, scandals involving Armin Laschet where he laughed during the flooding disaster back in July, have caused a further decline in the support of CDU/CSU. Following the scandals, the governing political party CSU/CDU alliance experienced a decline from 36% support back in February, to 24% in September. On the other hand, during the relatively same period, the Greens Party experienced 25% support back in May, but the support has declined to 15% following scandals including the mismanagements of bonuses of Greens leader Annalena Baerbock. Following the scandals of Armin Laschet and Annalena Baerbock, the chancellor candidate for the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) Olaf Scholz rose to fame following the party’s strong surge in support. From relatively consistent support of around 15% to 17% during 2021, SPU saw a surge in support since August, to 26% in September, giving them the largest seat count in the 20th Bundestag. The election results are as follows: 25.7% for SPU 206 seats, 24.1% for CDU/CSU 197 seats, 14.8% for Greens 118 seats, 11.5% for Free Democratic Party (FDP) 92 seats, 10.3% for Alternative for Germany (AfD) 83 seats, 4.9% for Left Party 39 seats, and 1 seat for South Schleswig Voters’ Association. As things stand, the SPU chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz is to be the next German chancellor, however, he first must agree to a coalition with other political parties to form a government.