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Mexico’s First Female President & the World’s 29th Female Head of Government

From Reuters, “‘for the first time in the 200 years of the republic I will become the first woman president of Mexico,’ Sheinbaum told supporters to loud cheers of ‘president, president.’”

Since 1960, 77 women have held the most powerful positions of executive power in 59 countries; 28 of those women served as the official Head of State or Head of Government for their country (UN Women). On June 3, Mexico made history by becoming the 60th UN Member State to elect a female as the head of government, making President Claudia Sheinbaum the first female president of Mexico and 29th woman to hold the head of government seat in world history. Not only did Sheinbaum win the presidency in a landslide with about 60% of the vote, but Reuters stated that this is “set to be the highest vote percentage in Mexico’s democratic history.”

Who is Claudia Sheinbaum?

Claudia Sheinbaum was born in Mexico City on June 24, 1962. She is the daughter of biologist and professor, Annie Pardo Cemo, and chemical engineer, Carlos Sheinbaum. She earned her Ph.D. in energy engineering from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico).

As a climate scientist and physicist, Sheinbaum worked in environmental policy serving as the Minister of the Environment for Mexico City. She also contributed to assessment reports for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, one of which helped the IPCC win the Nobel Peace Prize. 

During her time as mayor of Mexico City, her administration focused on waste management reform and began a reforestation program. She also took it upon herself to change the city’s subway system in order to invest in the modernization of currently-dilapidated infrastructure.

Now as president, Sheinbaum has called for the transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. Although President Sheinbaum is known for having similar ideological views as her predecessor, Former President López Obrador, she holds different views in regards to climate change and job creation. She remains true to many leftist ideals, believing that citizens have basic rights to healthcare, education, shelter, and jobs (Britannica).

Public Reactions

When being interviewed by a reporter from Reuters, Edelmira Montiel, a Sheinbaum supporter from Tlaxcala said, “I never imagined that one day I would vote for a woman. […] Before we couldn’t even vote, and when you could, it was to vote for the person your husband told you to vote for. Thank God that has changed and I get to live it.”

From Reuters, U.S. President Joe Biden responded to President Sheinbaum’s win stating, “I congratulate Claudia Sheinbaum on her historic election as the first woman President of Mexico. I look forward to working closely with President-elect Sheinbaum in the spirit of partnership and friendship that reflects the enduring bonds between our two countries.”

With recognition and praise from South America, “I am very happy with Sheinbaum’s victory—a progressive woman presiding over Mexico, a victory for democracy—and also for my great friend Lopez Obrador, who led an extraordinary government,” Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva said. “I plan to travel to Mexico this year to strengthen our trade relationships. We are the two largest economies in Latin America and could have a greater business flow.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted on X, “Congratulations to @Claudiashein on her convincing victory in Mexico’s presidential elections. I look forward to fruitful cooperation and the further strengthening of Ukrainian-Mexican relations. We are also confident that Mexico can play a significant role in global efforts to bring about just and lasting peace in Ukraine, as well as to restore the full force of the UN Charter globally.”

For the Future

According to Courthouse News, some of President Sheinbaum’s promises during her presidency include scholarships for basic education, better salaries for teachers, increases in minimum wage, harder crack-downs on crime including a five-pronged security plan, and a transition to renewable energy for the country.

President Claudia Sheinbaum’s symbolic rise to the highest position of power in Mexico demonstrates the progress of some countries towards gender equality in government, directly making strides to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5.5 Target that aims to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs). 

Although Mexico’s most recent election demonstrated a great feat towards global gender equality, many countries have yet to follow, including the United States, Spain, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands who have never had a female leader in the history of their existence. UN Women states, “women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.” But with the historical trends of women coming into power, the UN reports that gender equality in the highest positions of power may not be reached for another 130 years.

Now that Mexico has shown a country’s capacity to embrace female leadership, how can other nations do the same?

Written by Special Projects Intern, Amanda Nguyen

Citations

Clancy, Laura. “Fewer than a Third of UN Member States Have Ever Had a Woman Leader.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 28 Mar. 2023, www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/03/28/women-leaders-around-the-world/#:~:text=Women%20currently%20serve%20as%20the,a%20Pew%20Research%20Center%20analysis.

“Facts and Figures: Women’s Leadership and Political Participation.” UN Women – Headquarters, 7 Mar. 2023, www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures

“Goal 5 | Department of Economic and Social Affairs.” United Nations, United Nations, sdgs.un.org/goals/goal5#targets_and_indicators. Accessed 12 June 2024.

Madry, Kylie, and Valentine Hilaire. “Mexico’s Sheinbaum Wins Landslide to Become Country’s First Woman President | Reuters.” Reuters, 3 June 2024, www.reuters.com/world/americas/mexicans-vote-election-seen-crowning-first-female-president-2024-06-02/

Martin, Roland. “Claudia Sheinbaum.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 9 June 2024, www.britannica.com/biography/Claudia-Sheinbaum

Savinar, William. “What Can Mexico Expect from a Sheinbaum Presidency?” Courthouse News Service, 7 June 2024, www.courthousenews.com/what-can-mexico-expect-from-a-sheinbaum-presidency/#:~:text=Sheinbaum%20was%20responsible%20for%20updating,north%20and%20southeast%20of%20the

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What is “All Eyes on Rafah”?: A Social Media Slogan Turned Social Advocacy Movement

Following an Israeli ground offensive operation in the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, an AI-generated image containing the slogan “All Eyes on Rafah” gained attention after over 40 million shares of the image on Instagram and over 195,000 posts with the hashtag #AllEyesOnRafah on TikTok, according to Forbes. Included in this discussion have been several popular public figures such as “Bridgerton” star Nicola Coughlan, model Bella Hadid, singer-songwriter Kehlani, and one of India’s top actors, Varun Dhawan.

Origin

The phrase comes from a comment made by the Director of the World Health Organization’s Office of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Rick Peeperkorn, who stated “All eyes are on Rafah” in February after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered an evacuation of the city in order to enact a planned attack to eliminate the “last remaining strongholds of the militant group Hamas”.

Background

On May 24, 2024, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to halt its military operations in Rafah. On May 26, 2024, the Israeli military sent missiles into what they believed was a Hamas installation in Rafah that ended up killing 45 Palestinians and 2 senior Hamas militants. The strike sparked a fire that spread into a nearby neighborhood called Tal al-Sultan where many Palestinians were seeking shelter, burning down several houses and those residing within. A comment by Prime Minister Netanyahu states that the attack was “a tragic mistake” (Al Jazeera Staff). Just two days after this attack, the New York Times reported that an air strike conducted by the Israeli military killed 21 people in the city’s “safe zone” called al-Mawasi.

Purpose

The slogan calls attention to the situation in Rafah, a city in the Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt, where Israeli military operations have resulted in the deaths of several Palestinians seeking shelter and safety in the city. The slogan has been spread widely through social media and can now be seen on protest posters and social media graphics.

Future

In the coming days, action on the part of the Israeli military is unpredictable with the United States President stating “if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, to deal with that problem”. US-Israel relations are now up in the air with many White House officials claiming that Israel did not cross President Biden’s outlined red line. Spokesperson John Kirby supports this claim by telling BBC that there were “no policy changes to speak to” when answering a question about whether the strike on Rafah crossed President Biden’s limits to supporting Israel. However, Mr. Kirby went on to say, “We don’t support, we won’t support a major ground operation in Rafah”. The question is whether the recent attacks in the city constitute “a major ground operation”.

Written by Special Projects Intern, Amanda Nguyen

Citations

Al-Shalchi, Hadeel, and Anas Baba. “An Israeli Airstrike Killed 45 Palestinians in an Encampment for Displaced People.” NPR, NPR, 27 May 2024, www.npr.org/2024/05/27/nx-s1-4982690/rafah-encampment-israeli-airstrike-hamas

Cooney, Christy. “Israel Gaza: Operation in Rafah Doesn’t Cross US Red Lines – White House.” BBC News, BBC, 28 May 2024, www.bbc.com/news/articles/cv22pl9p212o

Roeloffs, Mary Whitfill. “All Eyes on Rafah” Slogan Spreads on Social Media: What to Know about Its Origins.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 29 May 2024, www.forbes.com/sites/maryroeloffs/2024/05/28/all-eyes-on-rafah-slogan-spreads-on-social-media-what-to-know-about-its-origins/?sh=627a54582217

Shamim, Sarah. “What Is ‘All Eyes on Rafah’? Decoding a Viral Social Trend on Israel’s War.” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 29 May 2024, www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/5/29/what-is-all-eyes-on-rafah-decoding-the-latest-viral-social-trend#:~:text=“All%20eyes%20on%20Rafah”%20is%20an%20artificial%20intelligence%20

Staff, Al Jazeera. “What Happened When Israel Attacked Rafah?” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 28 May 2024, www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/5/28/what-happened-when-israel-attacked-rafah

Yazbek, Hiba, and Abu Bakr Bashir. “Gazan Officials Say a Strike Killed 21 in Al-Mawasi.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 May 2024, www.nytimes.com/2024/05/28/world/middleeast/gaza-al-mawasi-strike.html

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Interruption of Ramadan Might Bring Chaos into the World Order

Ramadan has come to an end. However, peace in the Middle East is yet to be established. During this year’s Ramadan, which started from March 10 to April 9, the holy month in Syria was violently interrupted by an airstrike operation. The embassy of Iran in Syria was destroyed to the ground with the efforts of anonymous international powers. At least, any possibly involved parties never officially confirmed the attack. On April 1st, it was still unknown; however, now that more information is available from diverse sources, it is more likely that the suspicions are confirmed.

In a recent New York Times article on the Iranian embassy bombing and tension in the Middle East rising, four Israeli military officials, who chose to stay anonymous, identified Israeli’s direct involvement in the seven deaths of Iranian military advisors during the strike, including senior officers. This appearance has led to an increase in tensions in the region. The Iranian media, after the New York Times release, stated that the most possible goal of the attack was the death of Zahedi, who is a senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He is known for being the one building and strengthening the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political party and militant group based in Lebanon.

A comprehensive background of the region is necessary to understand the full picture. This was not the first time Syria’s sovereignty was violated. After the October 7 attack last year, Syria was struck by Israel in response, often interpreted by Israeli leaders as a “punishment” for their cooperation with Israel’s “enemies”, which includes Iran and Hezbollah. These attacks included two airport strikes, particularly on Damascus and Aleppo, and an assassination of a general, Razi Mousavi, in the Syrian capital. These events led to many casualties and the deaths of innocent civilians.

This combination of incidents led to Iranian officials issuing a statement that this violence and violation of the security of Iran and all their allies “needs to be punished.” 

After the attack, Iranian commander Yahya Rahim Safavi said that Israeli embassies were no longer safe, which is a direct threat to Israel by Iran. This leads to a direct rise in tension between the two countries and a high risk of conflict escalation in the Middle East region.

As their response to the embassy being burned down by the enemies, Iran did not stop there. Iran’s foreign minister on April 8th accused the United States of giving Israel the “green light” for a strike on their embassy in Syria, as neither of the states tried to stop the attack. This open statement, which was not too unknown to Iranian officials, increased the tension in the region and worldwide. However, denying US influence in this military operation is also impossible. 

Hezbollah, who is seen as the most powerful ally of Iran, also chose not to stay aside and openly stated in the media that “this crime will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge.”

At the same time, Israel does not seem to question the methods being used in the process of deterrence applied to their immediate neighbors, “the Israelis are convinced that if they seek to hang back, the threat will grow and not diminish,” referred Jon Alterman to the methods.

The Iranian embassy bombing in Syria did not symbolize a new beginning, nor was it out of the blue. The constantly rising tension was once again fueled in the Middle East. 

Now, the world is once again left to wonder what will happen next.

Written by: Sofiia Lobas, Event Intern

Notes:

Image taken by Marek Studzinski

Iran aims to contain fallout in Israel response, will not be hasty, sources say | Reuters. (n.d.-a). https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-aims-contain-fallout-israel-response-wont-be-hasty-sources-say-2024-04-11/

Iran says Israel bombs its embassy in Syria, kills commanders | Reuters. (n.d.-b). https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-bombs-iran-embassy-syria-iranian-commanders-among-dead-2024-04-01/

Maloney, S. (2024, April 18). Iran’s Order of Chaos. Foreign Affairs. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/iran/irans-order-chaos-suzanne-maloney

Wikimedia Foundation. (2024, April). Israeli bombing of the Iranian embassy in Damascus. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2024_Israeli_bombing_of_the_Iranian_embassy_in_Damascus#:~:text=The%20New%20York%20Times%20reported,discussing%20the%20war%20in%20Gaza.

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What Is The Significance of Navalny’s Death?

February 16th, 2024 signified the loss of another hope for the reconstruction of law and order in modern Russian society. Alexei Navalny was an active opposition to Putin. Navalny started his career back in 2007 and forcefully ended his anti-Putin movement in 2024 due to his unexpected death at the Arctic Circle prison. This event carries greater significance to world affairs and identifies Russian power.

Alexei Navalny was known for his actions, specifically anti-corruption campaigns in Russia, appeals to the nation to rise for revolution, presidential election boycott, and other anti-current government movements that are not welcomed in the non-democratic state. Predictably, his actions were strictly controlled by elites in Russia and were not warmly met by the government.

Specifically, in August 2020, Alexei Navalny was poisoned by the famously known nerve agent, Novichok. This chemical is the deadliest chemical currently known to humanity. Novichok was invented by Russian scientists during the Cold War. Luckily, after the poisoning, Alexei Navalny was able to get to Germany in time to receive medical support and have a successful recovery. The most observable Putin’s opponent stayed in the German hospital and acquired all needed help until January 2021. Navalny then decided it was time for him to fly back to his homeland and facilitate anti-Putin views to the nation. He initiated his campaign by urging people to stand up against current elites and topple Russian governance. While landing Navalny’s airplane at the wrong airport within Moscow, the demonstrations was not deterred; however, not exactly in the way that Alexei was anticipating. Soon enough, he was arrested for the violation of parole and sentenced to prison for 19 years. While the protests continued in Russia, soon after Navalny’s disappearance from the public eye, the Russian government successfully stopped the rebellions. Thereafter, in 2023, Navalny was moved to the Arctic Circle, where he spent his last days and ultimately encountered his death.

The statements relevant to the recent death of the opposition are continuously altering their interpretation by pro-Putin executives. The original justification for death being “blood clot” was later changed to “sudden death syndrome,” as well as the date of his death shifting from February 15th to February 16th.

Navalny was the hope of the Western World to change the authoritarian regime within Russia. Now that Putin is not facing Navalny’s opposition, is there anything else providing hope for a potential freedom of Russia from Putin’s authority? However, with the rise of anti-Putin desires of the Russian nations, new opposition will be found in the country. As of right now, it is possible to predict that the widow of Alexei will be the one shouldering this role. Altogether, it will be ultimately up to the Russian nation to identify the future of their country. If the population is willing and ready for the regime change, the leader will be able to start the process. If the nation has still not gained enough basis to promote an anti-Putin perspective, then there are almost no outside factors that can shake and decrown Russian elites.

At the same time, Putin’s time might end without Navalny’s counterplay. The current president is 71 years old, and his era might be ending in the short future. It is important to note that in Russia, the system is mainly based on Putin’s authority; it is yet stable enough to survive the shift of power without significant institutional changes within the country.

Overall, the death of Navalny again highlighted to the rest of the world the absence of law and order in the Russian Federation, as well as the emphasis on the presence of a stable authoritarian regime within the state.

Written by Events Intern, Sofiia Lobas.

References:

https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/alexei-navalnys-death-what-do-we-know-2024-02-18/

https://carnegieendowment.org/politika/91665

Photo credit: Rom T

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LTG H.R. McMaster (Ret.): Qualified for Duty

Who is LTG H.R. McMaster (Ret.)?

Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (R.) (Herbert Raymond) was born in Philadelphia on July 24, 1962. Upon graduation from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1984, McMaster served as a commissioned officer in the US Army for thirty-four years. McMaster obtained a Ph.D. in military history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later became an assistant professor of history at the US Military Academy. He is known for his roles in the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

What is LTG H.R. McMaster (Ret.) qualified for and why? 

On February 20, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump nominated McMaster for National Security Advisor following the resignation of Michael T. Flynn on February 13. When he was nominated, McMaster was to remain in active duty while serving as the National Security Advisor. Some people might have had their doubts about H.R. McMaster becoming National Security Advisor but his experience has shown that he is more than qualified. McMaster has served overseas as an advisor to the most senior commanders in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world released in April 2014, McMasters was described to be “the architect of the future of the U.S. Army.” 

Throughout his years in the army, General McMaster maintained that despite his forward-thinking approach, his understanding of military history remained a huge influence on how he made future decisions. During the Gulf War in 1991, McMaster was a captain commanding Eagle Troop of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of 73 Easting. Although his troop was significantly outnumbered, they encountered the enemy by surprise as McMaster’s lead tank crested a dip in the terrain, the nine tanks of his troop destroyed 28 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks without loss in 23 minutes. He has brought his knowledge to battle and has emerged victorious in countless situations. H.R. McMaster has also had a series of staff positions at U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), including planning and operations roles in Iraq. 

In July 2014, McMaster became Lieutenant General and pinned on his third star when he began his duties as Deputy Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and Director of TRADOC’s Army Capabilities Integration Center. A few years later, H.R. McMaster retired as Lieutenant General in June 2018 following his resignation as National Security Advisor. Today, McMaster is the host of Battlegrounds: International Perspectives on

Crucial Challenges and Opportunities and is a regular on a video series called Goodfellows. He is also a Distinguished University Fellow at Arizona State University.

Written by: Events Intern, Anahi Aguirre

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Fentanyl: The New Chapter of Addiction

Fentanyl is causing massive destruction to communities all across the United States. 

107,000 Americans overdosed last year and two-thirds of that figure are overdoses estimated to be caused by fentanyl. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is unique in its ability to cause overdoses, as just 2 mg of fentanyl is enough to cause an overdose, roughly the same as a shake of salt. 


Fentanyl, which was originally developed in Belgium in the 1960’s as an opioid to relieve chronic pain has now become a nationwide crisis. Many experts in the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) are arguing that while fentanyl has rapidly become one of the most lethal illicit drugs to enter the US market, it shows a greater pattern of substance addiction and abuse. It is estimated that 140,000 Americans lose their lives every year to alcohol every year. These experts argue that the fentanyl crisis is just the most recent drug of choice in America’s battle against addiction. 

In the 1990’s, the dangerous drug OxyContin, an opioid like fentanyl, rose to national attention for its addictive traits. With users of OxyContin and other opioids using it to treat chronic pain, along with other individuals predisposed to addiction being prescribed these opioids, it quickly became a nationwide crisis. In the late 90’s, the US government made a conscious effort to prescribe less opioids to its citizens in an attempt to lessen OxyContin’s impact, however without treating the millions of Americans with substance abuse disorders or addiction these individuals found other sources to ease their pain.
 

With the decline of prescription opioids we begin to see the rise of fentanyl as well as heroin use increase in the United States. Fentanyl, due to its incredibly high potency as well as its chemical makeup, is incredibly affordable and, unfortunately for US border security, easy to traffic.

The recent fentanyl crisis is creating lasting impacts on both the United States’ relations with Mexico, the US’ largest trading partner, as well as China, which many view as the US’ largest rival. Historically, China banned the production of fentanyl along with the United States around 2017, however it is unclear if the exporting of precursor chemicals,  the chemical materials required for the production of fentanyl, stopped as well. While Mexican and Chinese officials have both denied the production of fentanyl or the shipping of precursor chemicals, many US politicians believe to stop the flow of fentanyl into the US, we need stronger border security, others advocate for more aggressive domestic policies. One Mexican cartel in particular, invested in the production and shipment of fentanyl into the United States. The Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s most organized cartels, has been caught several times at US border crossings bringing fentanyl tablets. It is also important to note that not just Americans are losing their lives to fentanyl, overdose deaths in Mexico have increased due to the popularity of the drug in the United States as well. 

It is clear that there is not one simple solution to the current fentanyl crisis, as it has connections to a wider addiction and substance abuse issue within the United States. Domestically, politicians need to support resources for those who struggle with addiction, in all of its forms. Internationally the United States needs to continue to bolster strong relations with Mexico in order to protect lives on both sides of the border. 

If you or someone you know is struggling from addiction,, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Written by: Administrative Intern Charles Larkin

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BRICS: Building the Future or Doomed to Crumble?

The BRICS nations, comprising of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, are attempting to challenge the global hegemony of both the United States and Western World. The annual summit for BRICS will be taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa in late August with the notable exception of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has created a significant rift in the organization. 

But what is BRICS and what does this organization aim to do? 

BRICS is a political and economic alliance between 5 member states to rival the dominance of the United States in the political and economic realms. Together the BRICS nations represent 32.7 trillion USD in GDP or roughly 31% of all global GDP, compared to the United States at 24% of global GDP. While these 5 nations do outweigh the US economically, the current SWIFT system of international monetary exchange places the US dollar as the chief international metric, something they are eager to change. 

On the docket for the summit in South Africa is the discussion around creating a common currency to effectively challenge the US domination of the world economy as well as expanding the organization. South African officials are eager to use the BRICS alliance to be a champion of the developing world with the potential for nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Argentina, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo expressing interest in joining. By creating alliances with developing economies in Latin America and Africa as well as positioning themselves against the current US leadership they are hoping to gain favor with nations that are either unfriendly with the United States or those who are interested in joining other developing nations. An economic union of rising discontent would not just outweigh the economic power of the United States, but the entire G-7 economic powers put together. If BRICS was able to take the reins it could signify a radical change in political and economic direction from the US led western world to the developing economies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. New York, London, and Tokyo could find themselves no longer the world financial centers being replaced with Rio, Moscow, and Beijing. 

However, NATO and the European Union are not the only international organizations with internal issues. Tensions surrounding the current war in Ukraine has caused a rift between BRICS members. South Africa, like many African nations, has expressed a position of neutrality in the conflict, actively calling for the war’s end. Tensions also rise as the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, which places South Africa in a difficult spot. If President Putin were to arrive in South Africa, they would be bound by international law to arrest him. The rising African nation being caught between its international obligations and its economic partnership with Russia had led to the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, to head the Russian delegation to the BRICS summit instead of Putin.

Written by: Administrative Intern, Charles Larkin

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The Great Pharaoh of China and the Struggle to Let the Uyghur People Go

Picture this: it’s 2:30 a.m.  You, your spouse, children, and newly adopted dog are sound asleep.  Out of nowhere, you’re awoken by the sound and the fury of banging at your door.  Doorbells don’t exist yet because it’s 1939.  You only speak Polish, and four men dressed in military fatigues brandishing SS insignia who only speak German scream at you, barge into your home and forcefully relocate you to what appears to be a prison.  You’re forced into a shower room with 100 other men, the tinge of a noxious smell hits your olfactory perception, and that is the last thing you ever feel.  What did you do wrong, you wonder in your last moments.  It turns out it was nothing more than the mezuzah on your door frame that gave you away.  Sound familiar?  This is what happened to over 6 million Jews during the Holocaust between 1939-45.

Close to a century later, a similar scenario is playing out in a largely unknown part of the world to a largely unknown group of people.  Who are the Uyghurs, you may wonder.  They are a minority Sunni Muslim group of Turkic origin totaling a global population of 11-12 million, primarily living in Xinjiang, China.  Xinjiang is the most Northwestern province of China known for its austere environment and, contemporarily, the location of modern-day debatable genocide.  But to understand what’s happening in Xinjiang, we must go back about 70 years.

After the defeat of the Kuomintang by Mao Zedong and the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established.  However, the “People” in the title can be a little misleading.  According to recent data, Statista shows that 89.43% of China is Han Chinese, with the remaining number being minority groups.  Moreover, World Population Review estimates the current Chinese population is 1.425 billion people.  This amounts to the Uyghur people accounting for only .772% of the Chinese population.  

This means that the “People” in the People’s Republic of China belong to the Han Chinese people, with all outsiders being seen as a nuisance, burden, and unnecessary, much like the Jews in Nazi Germany.  In the early 90s, with more and more Han Chinese settling in Xinjiang, a historically inhabited land by the Uyghurs, this naturally led to civil strife.  Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at Stanford, details how the situation reached a boiling point in the 21st century.  Beginning in the late 2000s, numerous terrorist attacks, mass killings, riots, and protests erupted in Xinjiang, resulting in the deaths of large numbers of Han Chinese.  In 2014, China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the supreme despot of China, launched his “Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism,” essentially turning Xinjiang into a police state ruled by a Gestapo-like group of what Mao would have labeled the Red Guards.  Under this anti-terrorism campaign, many traditional Muslim traditions, including praying, were outlawed.  Contemporaneously, the Xi regime began building large numbers of concentration camp-like facilities in Xinjiang and started imprisoning large numbers of minority Uyghurs.

China acknowledges the presence of these camps yet labels them “reeducation” camps aimed at reforming would-be terrorists into model Communists.  According to numerous sources ranging from scholars Lindsay Maizland, writer for the Council on Foreign Relations, IGOs and NGOs, to include major institutions such as the UN and Amnesty International, and prominent journalists, including Philip Wen and Olzhas Auyezov of Reuters, one thing is for sure: A genocide is brewing in Xinjiang, China.  According to all the previously mentioned sources, it is estimated that between 800,00 to 2,000,000 Uyghur people have been illegally imprisoned in the 385 detention facilities currently located in Xinjiang.  Within the confines of these detention facilities, it has been reported that brutalities such as torture, forced sterilization, forced labor, and forced indoctrination into Chinese Communist ideology are commonplace,.  The most challenging part, however, is proving it.  Like George Orwell’s 1984, Xinjiang is one of the most Big Brother-like, heavily policed regions in the world.  Xinjiang is also extremely austere, situated in a highly isolated and landlocked region of Asia largely inaccessible to the media.  Moreover, China has severe restrictions on freedom of the press and access to social media and the internet, making it nearly impossible for local people to report the truth.

What is occurring in Xinjiang today parallels almost perfectly with what occurred in 1932 in Germany, with the death of Von Hindenburg and the rise of The Third Reich and Adolf Hitler.  After the Great Depression, Adolf Hitler made great strides in recovering from the Depression through significant infrastructure projects (such as the Autobahn) and rebuilding the Wehrmacht (the German military).  This came at the cost of seeking a scapegoat onto which to project society’s woes, in the former case, the Jews.  Once Germany maintained its hegemonic status in continental Europe, it simply attempted to rid society of the scapegoat.  Today, with the rise of the People’s Republic of China like a Phoenix from the ashes and the supreme leadership of Xi Jinping as the ultimate leader of the Chinese Communist Party, China too has its scapegoat onto which to cast its Mein Kampf-like ideologies.  According to the Lowy Institute Asia Power Index, China ranks second in the world in comprehensive power and first globally in economic relationships and diplomatic influence.  In simpler terms, China, with its global political influence, economic strength, and military prowess, will sooner rather than later reach and even overtake the U.S.’s hegemony on the world stage.  Once this occurs, and China is given carte blanche to do anything that it feels.  Through simple historical precedent, the Uyghur people will become yet another statistic in the Guinness World Record Genocide Fact Book.

Resolving this conflict diplomatically is the equivalent of asking Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, or Jefferson Davis to stop being mean to your minority populations.  A hyper-extreme conservative state like China does not tolerate activists like Martin Luther King Jr or Gandhi.  Individuals like them have no voice or ability to petition a draconian communist government with a redress of grievances.  Additionally, nation-states with a dominant ethnic population and no significant obstacles preventing them from acting in an anti-social fashion toward minorities tend to engage in the universal art of ethnic cleansing.  Saddam did it with the Kurds, the Ottomans with the Armenians, and even the pioneers with Native Americans.

The most realistic option to stymie an impending genocide could be to use whatever IGO, NGO, and Western political influence are left to attempt to relocate the Uyghur people to an ethnically similar, sovereign territory to China’s Northwest.  Xinjiang lies on the border with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan (all three being former parts of the Soviet Union, Sunni Muslim, and of Turkic and Persian ethnic origin).  According to the CIA World Fact Book, 69.6% of Kazakhstan is ethnically Kazakhy (a Turkic ethnic group) and 70.2% Sunni Muslim.  Kyrgyzstan is 73.8% Kyrg (a Turkic ethnic group) and 90% Sunni Muslim.  And Tajikistan is 84.3% Tajik (a Persian ethnic group) and 95% Sunni Muslim.  The assisted relocation of the Uyghurs would produce what, in science, is called a symbiotic effect.  Symbiotic because it would mutually benefit both sides of the conflict.  China would benefit by ridding a clearly unwanted ethnic group from its territory and preventing the continuation of ethnic Han and Uyghur clashes in Xinjiang.  Conversely, the Uyghur people are saved from impending doom by relocating and inhabiting more friendly lands.  

If this (pragmatically realistic) plan were to come to fruition, it would be one of the largest assisted mass migrations in history.  Let us only hope that a 21st-century Muslim Moses exists that can help foster such an arduous undertaking and entreat China’s Pharaoh Ramses Jinping to let his people go.

Andrey Volfson is a MS candidate at Northeastern University in the Global Studies & International Relations program. 

References:

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2023, May 30). Uyghur. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Uyghur

 China: CCP members by ethnic group 2021. Statista. (2022, July 1). https://www.statista.com/statistics/249994/number-of-chinese-communist-party-ethnic-minority-group-members-in-china/ 

China Population 2023. China population 2023 (live). (2023). https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/china-population 

Economy, E. (2022). The world according to China. Polity. 

 Maizland, L. (2022, September 22). China’s repression of

Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-xinjiang-uyghurs-muslims-repression-genocide-human-rights#:~:text=Most%20of%20the%20people%20who,sterilizations%2C%20among%20other%20rights%20abuses

Map – Australian strategic policy institute. The Xinjiang Data Project. (2021). https://xjdp.aspi.org.au/map/ 

BBC. (2022, May 24). Who are the Uyghurs and why is China being accused of genocide?. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-22278037 

Maizland, L. (2022, September 22). China’s repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-xinjiang-uyghurs-muslims-repression-genocide-human-rights 

Wen, P., & Auyezov, O. (2018, November 27). Tracking China’s Muslim Gulag. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/muslims-camps-china/ 

Central Intelligence Agency. (2023, June 15). Kazakhstan. Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/kazakhstan/#people-and-society 

Central Intelligence Agency. (2023b, June 20). Kyrgyzstan. Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/kyrgyzstan/#people-and-society 

Central Intelligence Agency. (2023c, June 20). Tajikistan. Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/tajikistan/#people-and-society 

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The Paradox of Poverty and Wealth in Africa

The exploitation of the continent of Africa’s wealth and resources is not unprecedented. The modern exploitation of its resources is a cycle of history reflecting the “Scramble for Africa” in the 1880s. The scramble represents the helpless African countries from the division and exploitation of lead-in global powers such as Russia, China, and the United States.  In the 21st century, the race to occupy, gain, and maintain allies in Africa is a fight for commercial, diplomatic, and geopolitical power in the continent. 

The question becomes then, if Africa is filled with wealth why does widespread poverty persist? African states are assets due to abundant rich natural resources, yet the continent remains abject to widespread poverty. The ownership of deposits of oil and precious minerals such as diamonds, gold, and tantalum (like in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria) is under the control of private companies. International mining companies have licenses to cultivate their treasures, generating revenues for only private elitists. This continues to fuel a cycle of corruption and exclusion. 

The growing influence of Russia and China reflects the increasing value of Africa for its resources. The Belt and Road Initiative in 2019 is Beijing’s infrastructure and investment initiative that currently is increasing tension with the European Union, and its ally the United States. Italy is the only G7 country to join as a partner to revitalize its economy but now is preparing to withdraw. Italy’s position in the plan would prove itself as a trustworthy ally to the United States and European Union but on the other hand provoke and escalate problems with China. China’s plan to expand its global influence is causing more tensions in Africa and the potential for diplomatic fallouts. 

A proposed solution is the diversification of African economies rather than solely the exportation of raw materials. However, international trade networks rely heavily on the existing supply of raw materials. The strategic initiative aims at stimulating growth and interregional connectivity and is a mere reflection of African nations’ historical patterns of invasion and exploitation. The reality is Africa is only seen for its geopolitical gain and economic incentive rather than as a continent desperately in need of development. 

Written by Community Outreach Intern, Kiana Flak

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Clashes between Sudanese Military Factions

Beginning around Friday, April 14, fighting between two rival military factions erupted in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Humanitarian workers and diplomats have been caught in the crossfire as the Sudanese army battles against the paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, in the streets of the city. Previously, the two factions had cooperation “based on undermining civilian aspirations for democratic rule and rejecting accountability for past crimes, including genocide in Darfur” (Johnson, NPR). They were also responsible for the military coup in 2019. This ended as there were attempts to integrate the RSF into the formal military, and the death toll has climbed up to 180 people so far as airstrikes plague the region.

U.S. involvement may increase after a diplomatic envoy was fired on on Monday, April 17. Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, issued an official warning to both sides that threats to American citizens in the conflict would not be tolerated. The conflict continues to develop quickly and attempts at mediation by the international community and surrounding countries have been unfruitful thus far. 

Written by: Program Management Intern, Cindy Tse

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