The World Today for January 25, 2024

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All That Glitters …

BRUNEI

Prince Abdul Mateen of the small Southeast Asian nation of Brunei was described in Time magazine as “swoon-worthy,” “hot,” and “sexy.”

Long considered one of the most eligible bachelors in the world, the 32-year-old helicopter pilot in his country’s air force is the 10th child of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the oil-rich country’s absolute monarch whose estimated net worth is around $28 billion, making the sultan one of the richest royals on the planet.

Imagine the conversations in the palace – among the largest in the world, incidentally – and across the kingdom when the prince, who has an impressive Instagram following of more than 2.5 million, announced that he would marry a commoner, 29-year-old Anisha Rosnah Isa-Kalebic, the daughter of one of the sultan’s advisers.

Pictures of the 10-day wedding that culminated on Jan. 16 showed an opulent Islamic affair. The prince looked trim and handsome in his military uniform. The bride wore a diamond tiara that the National noted was a royal family heirloom with 838 diamonds totaling 132 carats. Five thousand people attended, including Saudi and Jordanian royalty, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, and Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos, added the BBC.

The wedding has captivated Asia and those at home, the local Borneo Bulletin reported.

Still, Mateen is not immediately slated to assume the title of sultan when his father passes. But the news coverage of the lavish event demonstrated Brunei’s place – or at least its dynastic family’s place – in the region where the tiny kingdom punches above its weight.

For example, the sultan recently has been balancing relations with the US and China, explained the United States Institute of Peace, to hedge the power and influence of both countries on his realm. Since the Cold War, Brunei has maintained relations with the US to gain security guarantees. But China’s rising stature has been impossible to ignore in the Pacific region.

China’s interest in Brunei has increased, too, in recent years, added the East Asia Forum. The country is, after all, the third-largest oil producer in the region and fourth-largest natural gas producer in the world. Engagement with China has helped Brunei, which offers its people a generous social welfare safety net, to diversify its economy, too. It also softens the desire for more freedoms, which the repressive kingdom is unwilling to offer, even as it tightened up Sharia law provisions that its royal family members routinely violate.

Still, this diversification has become a priority among Brunei’s leaders since problems with aging oil wells helped trigger a recession in 2021 and 2022, reported Agence France-Presse. The country has faced similar turbulence during price slumps and other instability.

Time is likely to run out, say analysts. “In the short to medium term, rising oil prices are likely to support the Brunei economy,” Nawazish Mirza, a finance professor at Excelia Business School in France, told China Daily. Relying on oil and gas “may not be sustainable in the long term due to climate concerns and the global demand is likely to shift to alternative renewable energy sources.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Law of Action

ARGENTINA

Thousands of Argentinian workers took part in a nationwide strike against President Javier Milei’s divisive economic reforms Wednesday, in what is being called the first test for the new leader and his “shock therapy” plan to lift Argentina out of a deep economic crisis, CNBC reported.

The country’s largest labor union, the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT), called a general strike in opposition to Milei’s far-reaching measures aimed at deregulating Latin America’s third-largest economy.

The demonstrations come just over a month after Milei – a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” – took office after winning a presidential run-off following a campaign promising to change decades of economic malaise.

Argentina is facing a profound economic crisis with an annual inflation rate exceeding 211 percent – the highest in 32 years – with two in five citizens living in poverty due to state financial mismanagement.

Milei’s proposals include plans to dollarize the economy, abolish the central bank and privatize the pension system.

Soon after taking office, he issued a decree that included defunding Argentina’s film institute, privatizing state enterprises, and prohibiting state intervention in controlling the prices of essential goods.

But that move sparked widespread opposition, with Wednesday’s strike following two mass protests since Milei assumed power in December, according to El País.

While analysts believe the strike may not immediately impact Milei’s policies, there’s concern about the labor union’s potential to grow in size and potency, posing a future challenge to economic stability.

Meanwhile, Milei’s administration responded unfavorably to the strikes, threatening to dock a day’s pay from each striking public servant and establishing a toll-free line to report “threats and pressure” on workers to stay away from their jobs.

Despite the strike being seen as a political test for Milei, economists and analysts noted that the demonstrations could tarnish the credibility of the labor unions – referring to their unwillingness to strike during the previous administration.

Come Closer

SWEDEN

The Turkish parliament ratified Sweden’s bid to join NATO this week, a vote that brings Stockholm closer to the 31-member alliance which expanded following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, Politico reported.

Turkey’s ratification comes after 20 months of diplomatic negotiations with Stockholm and Washington. Sweden applied to join NATO in May 2022, abandoning its traditional neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been a holdout against Sweden’s bid, citing Stockholm’s lenient treatment of Kurdish militant groups and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016, World Politics Review noted.

Erdogan’s resistance prompted Western diplomats and officials to focus diplomatic efforts around Turkey. The Turkish leader has also linked the ratification to the US Congressional approval of a Turkish request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet.

Even so, Hungary remains the only NATO member yet to approve Sweden’s accession to the alliance.

Analysts told Politico that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had initially assured Sweden that Budapest would support Stockholm’s bid to join NATO. But Hungary’s approval has been delayed, with observers describing it as “mere grandstanding” by Orban.

Following the Turkish parliament’s vote, Orban said he would “continue to urge” Hungarian legislators to approve Sweden’s bid, according to the New York Times.

The Hungarian leader’s comments, say analysts, were odd, given Orban holds a tight grip on his ruling Fidesz party which enjoys a large majority in parliament.

The ‘Overstatement’

CANADA

A Canadian judge ruled this week that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s use of extraordinary powers to quell the 2022 Freedom Convoy protest against Covid-19 vaccine mandates was unconstitutional, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The case centers on the weeks-long demonstrations in the capital and at US-Canada border crossings at the beginning of 2022. Many truckers and tens of thousands of others set up blockades to protest against the social restrictions and vaccine mandates meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In response, the government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time, which gave authorities extraordinary powers to remove and arrest demonstrators, as well as freeze the finances of those connected to the protests, Canada’s CBC added.

Officials said the emergency powers were needed due to a national security threat, but the Federal Court of Canada dismissed that justification this week.

In his ruling, Justice Richard Mosley countered that the government’s application of the Emergencies Act “does not bear the hallmarks of reasonableness – justification, transparency and intelligibility – and was not justified in relation to the relevant factual and legal constraints that were required to be taken into consideration.”

He noted that the act’s use “infringed” provisions in the constitution. He also criticized the characterization of the security threat as an “overstatement,” noting that local and provincial authorities were effectively managing other protests.

The government said it would appeal the verdict, with legal analysts noting that the case will likely end up in Canada’s supreme court.

The decision marks another setback for Trudeau and his ruling Liberal Party as they struggle in public opinion polls with an election over a year away.

It also contrasts a 2023 judicial inquiry, which justified Trudeau’s emergency powers due to information about threats of serious violence.

However, the act’s critics noted that the government overstepped by freezing protesters’ assets for what they deemed a localized policing issue.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association welcomed the court decision, adding that it sets a precedent for future governments employing the Emergencies Act.

DISCOVERIES

Going Rafting

Since they arrived in Australia two decades ago, fire ants have been considered super pests, feeding on crops and killing livestock, pets, and even people.

Now, the nightmare could get even worse.

While residents in Queensland have been dealing with the aftermath of the wild weather that hit the region earlier this month, fire ants were seen forming rafts to travel on flood waters, the BBC reported.

Rafting behavior is a means of survival for ants, Graeme Dudgeon, in charge of the species eradication program, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “So they will take the queen, create a raft by linking their legs together and … just get moved with whatever the current is,” he added.

Other than rafting, the deadly red insects’ favorite transportation methods include organic material, such as sugar cane mulch, traveling by road and sea. It is believed that fire ants, native to South America, entered Australia via shipping containers from the US.

There, they found a hospitable environment without predators. Though they are currently infesting an area near Queensland’s capital, Brisbane, they could find suitable homes in 99 percent of the continent, the Sydney Morning Herald explained.

The Invasive Species Council (ISC) said that if fire ants could raft, it meant that they were in sufficient numbers to do so.

With heavy rainfalls continuing in Queensland, the ISC has warned that further floods could help spread fire ant colonies to other parts of the country. The statement came after new nests were found for the first time in the southern neighboring state of New South Wales last December.

Eradicating fire ants might become a near-impossible task: a queen alone can lay 5,000 eggs per day and start a colony on its own.

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