January 3 – North America / Middle East:
UNITED STATES / IRAN / IRAQ
Foreign relations: tensions between the U.S. and Iran
The United States government assassinates Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force and the most powerful military figure in Iran, in a targeted drone strike in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. The Trump Administration says that Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped. However, President Donald Trump authorized the killing of Gen. Soleimani months earlier under a condition that Iran’s increased aggression resulted in the death of an American. On December 27, a U.S. contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Air Base in Iraq. The U.S. blamed the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia for the attack. The killing of Soleimani escalates even more tensions between the two countries, with Iran vowing to retaliate.
Who was Qassem Soleimani? (Video, 3:08 min)
(Jan 6): In response to the killing of General Soleimani in Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament votes to expel U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Some even call for other measures, such as closing the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. There are 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to help the Iraqis fight ISIS terrorists. But Iraq says that the U.S. had been breaching Iraqi sovereignty. The vote is not legally binding. President Trump threatens Iraq with sanctions.
(Jan 8): In retaliation for Soleimani’s killing, Iran launches more than a dozen ballistic missiles on Iraqi air bases that host US forces. As a result, 64 U.S. soldiers suffer traumatic brain injuries. Two of the missiles mistakenly shot down Ukraine International Airlines passenger plane travelling from Iran to Ukraine, killing all 176 people on board. Most passengers on the plane were from Iran and Canada.
January 11 – East Asia: TAIWAN
Taiwan’s incumbent president, Tsai Ing-wen, wins a landslide victory in the presidential elections with 57 percent of the votes, giving her the second term in office. She rejects closer ties with China, unlike her rival Han Kuo-yu who says closer ties with China would bring Taiwan economic benefits although she rejects a unification. The election result is seen as a rebuke to China’s claims by the Taiwanese people.
Background: China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, saying the island and China must eventually be reunited, even by force. China has put pressure on other countries to break their diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, which leaves Taiwan with only 15 countries that maintain their diplomatic ties with the island.
Xi Jinping Calls Taiwan’s Independence a ‘Dead End’ (video 0:34 min)
What’s behind the China-Taiwan divide?
January 12 – Europe: RUSSIA
Politics: constitutional changes
Russian President Vladimir Putin unveils the proposal of sweeping constitutional changes that will shift power from the presidency to parliament. Following his announcement, the entire Russian government resigns, including Putin’s close ally Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. However, President Putin appoints him to the position of Vice Chairman of the National Security Council chaired by Putin. As Putin has already served two consecutive terms as president (the current one ends in 2024), he would have to step aside according to the existing constitution. It is expected that the constitutional changes will allow Putin to stay in power or retain significant influence indefinitely. He says that people will have a chance to vote on the changes.
Vladimir Putin: 20 years in 20 photos
January 11 – Global / East Asia / North America / International Organizations:
CHINA / THAILAND / JAPAN / SSOUTH KOREA / UNITED STATES / WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
Global health – Coronavirus, or Covid19
China reports its first death caused by a new coronavirus after dozens of cases of pneumonia outbreak takes place in the country’s central province of Hubei.
(Jan 21): The United States announces its first coronavirus case in Washington State.
(Jan 23): China places the city of Wuhan under quarantine with all public transportation cancelled.
(Jan 30): The World Health Organization (WHO) declares the new coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency. While nearly 99 percent of the more than 9,000 confirmed cases are in China, 98 people have been diagnosed in 18 other countries, including the United States.
(Jan 31): The United States closes temporarily borders with China banning an entry for foreign nationals who travelled to China within the last 14 days.
January 14 – East Asia: AUSTRALIA
As of January 14, the Australian government reports that the total amount of land burnt in Australia current bushfire season amounts to unprecedented 17 million hectares (about 66,000 square miles) with 28 people and more than one billion animals killed. Bushfires are a regular occurrence in Australia, but this year’s fire season has been much worse than usually. These fires normally focus on bushland, while this year’s blazes are hitting forests, which burn higher and hotter hindering the fire fighting. Over the last three years, Australia was hit by unusually dry weather with last spring to be the driest and overall 2019 the hottest year on record. Also, being a coal-rich economy, Australia depends on fossil fuels. All this has sparked a debate about the underlying causes of these devastating fires, including climate change and fire management practices.
Is climate change to blame for Australia’s bushfires?
Australia fires: A very simple guide
About koalas (video: 2:05 min)
January 18 – Middle East: YEMEN
A missile attack on a military training camp in Marib in Yemen is one of the worst single attacks in the country’s five-year-long civil war, killing at least 116 soldiers. The government blames the attack on the Houthi rebels.
Yemen crisis: Why is there a war?
War in Yemen: The conflict has been raging for four years
Video 02:45 min
January 21 – Latin America / North America:
MEXICO / GUATEMALA / HONDURAS / UNITED STATES
After camping on the border between Mexico and Guatemala for days (across from Mexico’s Ciudad Hidalgo) and kept from crossing the bridge to Mexico, hundreds of migrants storm Mexico’s border through the Suchiate River. Most of these migrants are from Honduras fleeing violence, poverty, and high murder rates with the goal of reaching the United States. The border security troops fire gas to prevent the migrants from entering Mexico and roundup those who manage to cross the border. Some will be deported while some will be allowed to stay and work in Mexico; however, after a deal reached with the U.S. they will not be allowed to use migration routes to the United States.
Background: Under a deal between the United States and Mexico on migration reached in June 2019, Mexico agreed to deploy the National Guard throughout the country with additional troops along the southern border with Guatemala, and to clamp down on people smuggling rings. Both sides also agreed that the United States will be sending asylum seekers back to Mexico while they await reviews of their claims, but in return, the U.S. promised to speed up the decision process.
I sent my seven-year-old across the border alone’ – video (03:10 min)
US border in seven charts
January 22 – East Asia / International Organizations / Global:
CHINA / WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (WHO)
Global health: coronavirus
China confirms an outbreak of a new deadly virus called coronavirus that started in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province. So far there are 630 confirmed cases caused by the virus with17 deaths. The virus has now spread to China’s other provinces, as well as Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, South Korea, with one case also in the United States. It is determined that the virus originated in a seafood market from infected animals, spreading then person to person through coughing and sneezing. The virus, known also as 2019-nCoV, is understood to be a new strain of coronavirus that has not previously been identified in humans; it causes fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Severe cases lead to pneumonia, kidney failure and even death. The Sars virus that killed nearly 800 people globally in the early 2000s was also a coronavirus. To contain the virus, China resorts to variety of measures, such as travel restrictions, canceling all large-scale events, closing tourist attractions and schools, and ordering to wear masks.
(Jan 31): The number of coronavirus cases has surged to 10,000 surpassing that of the Sars epidemic in 2003. Most of them are in China, with about 100 worldwide. The virus has killed 213 – all in China. However, the University of Hong Kong puts the estimates at 75,000 cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) declares a global health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.
More about coronavirus from CDC
Coronavirus: What are viruses? And how do they spread?
January 24 – Africa / International Organizations:
SOMALIA / KENYA / ETHIOPIA / FOOD and AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATION (FAO)
East Africa is invaded by devastating and an unprecedented in size swarm of locust that is threatening food security, malnutrition and livelihoods of millions of people in the region. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) calls on the international community to help east African countries fight these food-devouring insects, which can travel up to 93 miles in a day with each adult insect eating its own weight in food daily. FAO says a swarm the size of Paris could eat the same amount of food as half the population of France in a single day. The swarms of locust came from Yemen across the Red Sea. To battle the insects, insecticide is being sprayed from aircrafts.
How East Africa is battling devastating locust swarms
January 31 – Europe: UNITED KINGDOM / EUROPEAN UNION
Politics: leaving the EU
After 47 years as a EU member, the United Kingdom officially is leaving the European Union. The year 2020 will be a transitional period for the UK and most things will stay the same while the country negotiates its new relation with the EU. Free movement of people between the UK and Europe will continue, trade will continue without checks and tariffs, and the UK will follow the EU’s rules and regulations and pay into its budget. What is changing is that the UK will no longer be part of the EU institutions and all UK members of the European Parliament lose their seats automatically. The UK can now start negotiating its own trade deals with other countries, including the EU.
After Brexit Day, Britain still has to work out its future relationship with the E.U. (video 5:29 min)