Up To Speed, Issue 9: The Balkans Ramp Up on Vaccines and Easing Border Tensions in Asia

(Collage by Anna Sazonov)

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: The World Trade Organization’s first African and female leader and delayed elections in Somalia. 

China and India Ease Border Tensions 

After last year’s border dispute where Indian and Chinese soldiers fought fist to fist, the two economic powerhouses engaged themselves in a face-off that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and several Chinese casualties. However, both countries have begun to pull back frontline troops along disputed areas of the mountain border last week. Both countries have released statements about an organized and coordinated disengagement from the disputed frontline. 

Historically, the Ladakh region has seen a recurring cycle of conflict. There was a brief border war in 1962 and serious confrontations in 1987 and 2017. However, with this mutually arranged withdrawal from the standoff area, it seems that both President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are looking to cooperate on this issue. 

(Source: The Guardian, Hindustan Times, Al Jazeera)

The Balkans: Looking towards the East and North for Vaccines 

With the EU’s slow vaccination program, many countries in the Balkans are increasingly looking towards China and Russia for solutions. Montenegro is still experiencing the highest number of Covid-19 cases per capita in Europe (9,910 infected per 100,000 people), while Bosnia and Herzegovina has one of the highest Covid-related mortality rates in Europe. 

All Western Balkan states have signed up to the World Health Organization’s COVAX: a global program to ensure equal access to vaccines. However, with the unexplained delays from the EU, some are beginning to make bilateral deals with Russia and China. Serbia, for one, has already purchased 1.5 million Chinese vaccines. The country is planning to double this stock from the East while also planning to start domestically producing Sputnik V, Russia’s vaccine. With Serbia taking initiative, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina are following suit in procuring vaccines from these two countries. 

Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, criticized developed countries for “trying to secure rescue boats only for themselves”, referring to the more-than-necessary doses of vaccines purchased by the likes of the EU, Canada, UK, and the US. 

(Source: Al Jazeera, Anakdu Agency)

Delayed Elections in Somalia

The country in the Horn of Africa missed the February 8th deadline for electing a new president after days of negotiations between the central government and federal states failed to materialize. The election is critical as Somalia is facing a locust invasion, serious food shortage, and Covid-19 resurgence. 

The deadline was forgone after regional leaders rejected the proposal of an indirect election presented by President Muhamed. Many Somalis believe that the country is unlikely to experience a direct-vote election due to the strength and influence of the clan-system in the country. In fact, people see it more as a “selection rather than an election”. The political uncertainty is contributing to rising tensions between the president and the federal states that has just been riddled by the militant jihadist group al-Shabaab

(Source: DW, Al Jazeera)

The WTO’s First African and Female Leader

Dr. Ngoi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and former finance minister of Nigeria, is set to become the next director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This comes after current South Korean trade minister, Yoo Myung-hee, who was also a finalist for the post, withdrew from consideration. Much of this was due to the Trump administration’s nomination of Yoon Myung-hee, preventing an unanimous decision from promoting Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. 

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is known to be a strict and effective leader with a history of “shaking things up” for the elite. She has stated that she is eager to help turn trade to facilitate the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic recovery. However, given the WTO’s very powerless role in being able to shape global trade policies, time will show if she can turn things around. 

(Source: The New York Times, Associated Press News)

Author: Koh Okuno

Political Science and Economics Major

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