In the midst of non-stop reports, statistics and exclamations about the Coronavirus pandemic, other events and news from around the world may have escaped your attention. But fear not – The Herring’s biweekly current affairs summary helps you stay up to speed. In today’s edition: among others, a political prisoner’s road to power in Kyrgyzstan and Cuba’s new currency.
Jack Ma vs Chinese Communist Party
The end of 2020 was far from ideal for China’s most famous businessman. In October last year, Ma criticized Chinese regulators and state-owned banks of having a “pawnshop mentality”. This drafted critique of the Chinese government is likely to be connected to
the annulment of Ant Group’s initial public offering (IPO), Ma’s financial-technology service company. Its planned $35 billion share sale last November would have been the largest IPO in history.
More importantly, Ma has not been seen in public since his critique on Chinese regulators. It is speculated that the government is involved in his disappearance, a common phenomenon when they are challenged or criticized in any way. If so, it goes to show the supreme power that the Chinese government possesses. It seems like respect for the state always comes first.
(Source: Financial Times, Al Jazeera)
Julien Assange’s Extradition to the US blocked
The extradition of the co-founder of Wikileaks was blocked by a UK judge earlier this month. He was to face espionage charges in the US but UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser denied the request based on Assange’s declining mental health that would put him at risk for suicide.. Assange has been imprisoned in London for the last 18 months after being evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy, where he sought asylum for several years. Later, he unsuccessfully requested for a bail..
Much of the attention to the extradition trial was due to the contention on freedom of speech. The US charged Assange with the Espionage act in 2019 for releasing a video of a US military helicopter killing Iraqis, among them two journalists. This caused substantial backlash from rights groups and media outlets who criticized the move as unconstitutional.
(Source: The Guardian, CNN)
From Prison to possibly President in 100 days, Kyrgyzstan Elections
Just 4 months ago, Sadyr Japarov was in prison serving his 10-year sentence for organizing a kidnapping. However, on October 5th, when protests against a tarnished parliamentary election took place, Japarov was freed. After the High Court acquitted him in a hasty trial, he assumed the role of prime minister. Then, with the resignation of President Sooronbay Jeenvekov, he also became the acting president.
The election is expected to be a landslide win for Japarov with a December poll showing 65% of the respondents’ plan to vote for Japarov. Though what is more crucial is the simultaneous referendum to decide between a parliamentary or a presidential system. If the switch to a presidential system is realized, Japarov will be able to consolidate his power.
(Source: Al Jazeera, Nikkei Asia)
Cuba’s New Single Currency
Cuba’s dual currency system ended on January 1st. Until then, they had a dual currency system: Cuban Peso CUP and convertible CUC. The latter of the two will disappear within 6 months from circulation and the CUP has been devalued against the dollar at a fixed exchange rate of $1 USD to 24 CUP.
The exchange rate was one CUC for 25 CUP for the population and private sector, but one CUC for one CUP for state enterprises. This monetary reorganization was followed by the decreases in utility subsidies and increases in state pensions and incomes. However, it is also expected to aggravate inflationary pressures. Although the government refers to this monetary reorganization as an “adjustment” to the Cuban soviet model, in practice, it is strengthening the power of the private sector.
(Sources: On Cuba News, The Economist)