US-Saudi Arabia ties tested amid murder of prominent journalist

The murder of prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul put a spotlight on the kingdom’s close relationship with the United States as pressure mounts for the former over such daring conduct. Although the whole picture of the killing remained unclear, all eyes were on several key individuals in the kingdom’s royal family particularly the heir apparent, Muhammad bin Salman. Once touted as a reformer, the killing of Khashoggi sparked backlash from western governments and Turkey as it shed lights into Saudi Arabia’s brutal attempt to silent dissents. The killing also put the US in an awkward position, and President Donald Trump has insisted that he was not satisfied with Saudi’s explanations of the event that appeared to be contradictory with each other. The Trump administration has been accused of going soft with the Saudi at the beginning as the killing can be regarded as an affront to the American values of free press. On the other hand, the strategic importance of Arab Saudi as a key ally in the region in countering the influence of Iran also comes into play, putting Washington between a hard and a rock place. Regardless, a response would still be necessary in the public’s view if it was established that the government of Saudi Arabia was indeed responsible for ordering the mission, in order to send a clear signal that such acts are unacceptable in today’s world.

Influx of Honduran migrants sparks chaos at Mexico-Guatemala border

The border between Mexico and Guatemala saw thousands of migrants, mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, stranded as President Donald Trump issued a stern warning against heading into the US. The so-called migrant caravan aimed to travel through Mexico before reaching the US southern borders, though Trump has repeatedly pushed for a stronger response saying that the military will be deployed to prevent their entry. With the mid-term elections looming, it is hardly surprising that Trump will respond in such manner as curbing immigration has always been the cornerstone of his presidential campaign back in 2016. Despite this, critics have argued that some of his claims were dubious and the call for a national emergency over the presence of the migrants was disproportionate to the situation on the ground. Nevertheless, the latest influx of migrants still presents a challenge for the authorities in Mexico with some of them tearing through the barriers at the border before being pushed back by riot police with tear gas. The largest concentration of migrants has been reported near the town of Tapachula. It remains unknown how the current stand-off can be defused, but Trump has announced that Washington will begin to cut millions in aid to three countries where the migrants originated from, until the respective governments rein in the situation.

Far-right candidate claims victory in Brazilian presidential election

The far-right candidate in Brazil’s presidential race emerged victorious following a face-off with his leftist rival on 28 October. Jair Bolsonaro, the candidate from the Social Liberal Party (PSL) rode on the populist platform to claim the presidency and his victory marked a seismic shift in the country’s political scene that has largely been dominated by left-wing parties for the past decade. Although Bolsonaro managed to garner a large following, his campaign has not been without controversies as he had been criticized in the past for making provocative statements. His misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric had also caused some to regard him as the “Donald Trump of Brazil” with protests being reported in the run-up to the election. Despite the mixed responses to his campaign style, his ability to capitalize on rising anger at the left-leaning Workers’ Party over a prolonged recession and widespread corruption should not be downplayed, especially at a time where neighboring countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua are gripped by widespread unrest. His promise to restore law and order through a hard-line approach also earned him the backing from the military as well as the general public that has grown weary of the overall crime situation in the country. There is genuine concern however that his strong links with the military could cause Brazil to slip back to the days of dictatorship in which the army called the shots.

China opens longest sea-crossing bridge in the world despite concerns

The Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the longest sea-crossing bridge in the world on 23 October amid large fanfare as well as criticism. The 55-km bridge that connects Hong Kong, Macao and Zhuhai in the mainland cost a whopping US$20 billion and took almost ten years to be constructed. China said the opening bridge is expected to significantly increase economic activities in the region and it also put the country one step closer to developing its own Greater Bay Area, a high-tech megalopolis plan that is aimed at the Silicon Valley in the US. The better connectivity is also vital as the two so-called Special Administrative Regions (SARs) are located within the most economically vibrant region in China. With China now closer than ever, there have also been growing concerns particularly in Hong Kong that the Communist Party is seeking to tighten its clout over the former British colony that has seen freedoms dwindling in recent years. Many locals in Hong Kong also questioned the need for the bridge in which they are required to go through a fairly complicated process to access it despite having to pay almost half of the bill via taxpayers’ money. Some said a ferry journey to Macao, for instance, is less cumbersome. Additionally, the construction of the bridge also drew criticism due to its impacts on the environment and questionable labor standards. At the end of the day, the successful completion of the bridge is no doubt an engineering marvel, but more importantly, it is also a political symbol in the eyes of Beijing, that Hong Kong is firmly under its grip.

Curfew imposed in Kaduna as tension between Muslims and Christians flares

A curfew was imposed in the Nigerian state of Kaduna as communal violence between Muslim and Christian communities escalated. The latest bout of violence occurred in the Kasuwan Magani area where at least 55 people were killed following a dispute between wheelbarrow porters. The Nigerian government hoped that the curfew and increased deployment of security forces would be able to bring back peace and stability to the region, which has been dogged by violence in the past. While such measures might be effective in the short-term, the ongoing violence is a reminder that more needs to be done in addressing the religious tension between both of the communities in the state. Local politicians also have their part to play as they have often been blamed for stirring up ethnic and religious sentiments. In addition to that, economic dimensions need to be considered as the violence is also due to land conflict between the semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen, who are mainly Muslims, and farmers, who are made up of Christians. The farmers have complained that the cattle belonging to the herdsmen are destroying their crops while the herdsmen claimed that their grazing routes have been blocked by farmlands. With the availability of fertile lands decreasing, the race to control more land has also become more intense and bloody at times. Calls have been made that killings in the region should be investigated and that whoever is found guilty of instigating the violence needs to be punished according to rule of law.