The World Today for August 17, 2020

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An Arranged Marriage

China and Iran are moving closer to one another diplomatically as their relations with the US deteriorate.

The two powers recently signed a 25-year cultural, economic and security pact that Foreign Policy magazine described as bad news for the West. The agreement shows how two of Asia’s largest powers are seeking to counterbalance American influence in their region and beyond.

In the pact, Iran receives economic and political support as the struggling country buckles under American sanctions. “In light of the extensive impact of US secondary sanctions on European trade with Iran, Iranian leaders now view China as the only major world power that can challenge US economic dominance,” wrote the European Council on Foreign Relations.

In return, China receives “energy security,” a euphemism for a steady supply of oil at a heavily discounted rate, according to the New York Times. It also gains a military partnership with a large country in a part of the world where Chinese influence has usually been trade-related.

China and Iran are working with the third antagonist of the US – Russia – too. The three powers held joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean late last year, raising eyebrows at the Pentagon, Reuters reported.

At present, they are allegedly cooperating in meddling in the 2020 presidential election, the Guardian added, including spreading lies about the Democratic nominee for president, Joe Biden.

Even so, a top intelligence official told CNN that China, Iran and Russia don’t want President Donald Trump to win because he has been tougher with sanctions, tariffs and other measures that have harmed the countries’ economies.

One could argue that the China-Iran deal was proof that President Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign had worked to weaken Iran significantly, making the mullahs in Tehran desperate, wrote the Christian Science Monitor.

The problem is, the policy appears to have not yielded a new deal on nuclear weapons, as American leaders wanted, but pushed Iran into the arms of China, the Washington Post argued.

Still, some are exaggerating the impact of the new so-called China-Iran axis, Amos Yadlin and Ari Heistein of Israel’s Institute of National Security Studies explained in War on the Rocks, a blog devoted to geopolitics affiliated with the University of Texas. The countries’ central rivalries and tensions with the US remain the same whether or not they band together. The writers, for example, were doubtful that China would spend $400 billion in infrastructure projects under the agreement due to Iran’s poor investment climate.

Still, an alliance between two of the biggest countries on Earth is nothing to sneer at.



The Old Standby

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is being offered Russian assistance to ensure Belarus’ security, as the embattled leader faces mass protests following the controversial presidential elections earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Mass rallies have swept the country since the Aug. 9 vote that went in favor of the incumbent, with protesters demanding Lukashenko’s resignation, saying it was rigged. Nearly 7,000 people have been detained following a brutal crackdown by the government against demonstrators.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders fear that Lukashenko’s move to appeal to Russia might threaten Belarus’ sovereignty and independence. Belarus and Russia have had close ties since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 but Belarus has been turning increasingly westward over the past few years to shake off dependence on Russia.

Still, the European Union is now considering imposing sanctions on officials responsible for the presidential elections and the government’s heavy-handed response to the demonstrations.

Across the border, Putin himself is facing protests in Russia’s far east in recent weeks following the arrest of a popular governor. The Russian demonstrators have been voicing support for their Belarusian counterparts, according to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty.


Corona, Oil and Ferraris

Guinean Prime Minister Francisco Asue resigned over the weekend as the Central African nation suffers a double economic shock and slides into crisis, Reuters reported.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo said that Asue’s administration had failed to help the country amid the coronavirus pandemic and falling crude oil prices, which provides three-quarters of state revenue.

Analyst Tutu Alicante the head of EG Justice, a US-based organization, working to promote human rights and rule of law in Equatorial Guinea, said that speculation over Obiang’s ailing health could mean that the new government will include members supportive of the president’s son, Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.

The senior Obiang has ruled the former Spanish colony since overthrowing his uncle in a 1979 coup. His rule has been marked by repression of political opponents and corruption in the country’s energy sector.

The younger Obiang, meanwhile, was convicted of embezzlement in France in 2017 during a trial in absentia. More than $110 million worth of his assets were confiscated by a French court.

The vice president’s supercar collection has also been confiscated by Swiss prosecutors under a deal ending a money-laundering probe.


New Pastures

Poland and the United States signed a defense cooperation agreement over the weekend that will deploy more US troops in the European Union nation, Politico reported.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement will allow the redeployment of American troops from Germany to Poland, as well as allow US forces to access additional Polish military installations. The deal will also strengthen other aspects of cooperation between the two NATO allies, primarily trade and investment, the Associated Press reported.

Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said the deal was of “historic importance” and that it would guarantee Poland’s security.

The deal comes a month after US President Donald Trump demanded a reduction in the number of troops in Germany. Trump has long complained that the NATO ally does not spend enough on defense – all NATO members have pledged to dedicate two percent of their gross domestic product to defense and most have fallen short.

The pact also comes a day after the US suffered a diplomatic loss at the United Nations after members of the Security Council voted down Washington’s proposal to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran.


Big Consequences

Australian farmers have been trying to control the population of dingoes since the 1940s but their culling efforts have resulted in – literally – large consequences.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have found that today’s dingoes have grown nearly 10 percent larger as a result of a decades-long poison baiting program, the Telegraph reported.

For their study, lead author Michael Letnic and his team compared the skull size of dingoes in culled regions to those in areas where the baits weren’t enforced. They reported that dingo skulls from baited areas were four millimeters larger, suggesting that their body mass grew roughly by more than two pounds.

The team believes that the canine species has beefed up over the years due to the size of their packs diminishing, resulting in less competition for food.

Farmers and officials have relied on sodium fluoroacetate as the poison of choice against the animal but now they might have to up the dosage to kill the bigger creatures. Meanwhile, the authors said that this is one of the first studies to show that pesticides enact changes in vertebrates – a phenomenon only previously seen in invertebrates, such as insects.

“Our interventions have consequences – and they’re actually quite predictable consequences,” said Letnic. “Whatever pressures we put on animal populations – be it pesticides or not – there will be side effects.”

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 5,403,361 (+1.29%)
  2. Brazil: 3,340,197 (+0.70%)
  3. India: 2,647,663 (+2.24%)
  4. Russia: 920,719 (0.00%)**
  5. South Africa: 587,345 (+0.63%)
  6. Peru: 535,946 (+3.81%)
  7. Mexico: 522,162 (+0.86%)
  8. Colombia: 468,332 (+2.55%)
  9. Chile: 385,946 (+0.53%)
  10. Spain: 343,203 (+0.11%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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