The Global Affairs team share some of the most important weekly headlines that you may otherwise have missed.
A note from the editor
This week, students in Oxford have started another hectic term, whilst the the world outside OX1 has experienced even more chaotic events.
Democracy continues to thrive in Taiwan, and the people have chosen a path which significantly differs from the desires of the People’s Republic of China. Another democracy is facing significant changes, as Trump won a landslide victory in the first major Caucuses.
In other parts of the world, tensions between Iran and Pakistan continues to rise, intensifying the threats for further destruction.
As always, a lot goes on outside OX1, and we hope this week’s Outside OX1 helps to explain some of the events!
Taiwan elects new president William Lai Ching-te as voters defy China
On January 13th, Taiwanese citizens elected William Lai Ching-te to become their new president. Taking 40% of the votes ahead of Hou Yu-ih of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Ko Wen-je from the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), Lai gives the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) an unprecedented third term in the presidential office.
Shortly after being announced as Taiwan’s next president, Lai told Taiwanese citizens that the result of the election symbolised Taiwan telling the world that they are choosing to stand on the side of democracy. He said in his speech that they “didn’t let external influence our elections. That’s because we decided that only we can choose our president.” This is post accusations of China attempting to interfere with the elections through calling Taiwanese people to make the “right choice.”
Not surprisingly, the outcome of the election has not received good reception from Chinese officials. Lai’s pro-independence ideology for his country has angered Beijing and heightened apprehension across the South China Sea which is bounded in the east by Taiwan. The China’s Taiwan affairs office response stated that the outcome of the election would not prevent “the general trend that the motherland will eventually and will inevitably be reunified.” Beijing has maintained its territorial claims over Taiwan and states that if Taiwan rejects unification, they will not give up using force to annex the island. Since the DPP came to power in 2016 under Tsai Ing-wen, Beijing has cut all communication with Taiwan’s government due to the DPP’s refusal to call the country party of China.
However, Lai’s triumph may not be fully justified. With the DDP now having lost its majority in the Legislative Yuan (parliament), which holds 113 seats, Lai will lead a minority government starting in February. There have been worries regarding how the country will be united now that the parliament will be split between three parties with not one party having enough seats to control parliament.
Regarding the trajectory of Taiwan with a new leader inbound, many people are worried about how this will affect relations with China. Lai made clear his plans to remain with the status quo, seemingly avoiding the formalisation of Taiwan’s de facto independence as he argues that Taiwan is already a sovereign nation. Although, the threat of China and the deterioration of cross-strait relations still looms.
Pakistan retaliates with missile strikes in Iran killing 9 people, following attacks earlier this week by Tehran
Pakistan has carried out airstrikes inside Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province following Iran’s Tuesday attack near the Pakistani city of Panjgur (1), targeting alleged terrorists. Iranian media has reported that several missiles struck a village near Saravan killing 11 people – all reported to be Pakistani citizens. This marks the first officially-acknowledged external land attack on Iran since the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, and comes amid escalating tensions in the Middle East with the intensification of the war in Gaza.
It has been stressed by Pakistan’s foreign ministry that the ‘precise’ hits had been directed to hit ‘terrorist hideouts’ of the Baloch Liberation Army and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), a group that advocates for an independent state that traverses Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. (2)
Pakistan and Iran face the potential for a breakdown in diplomatic ties, with Pakistan recalling its ambassador from Tehran on Wednesday, and barring Iran’s envoy to Islamabad from returning to Pakistan.
Previously on Tuesday, Iran claimed responsibility for the drone attacks that allegedly killed two children, with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stating it directly targeted ‘Iranian terrorist groups’(3). This comes as last month, 11 security personnel were killed in an Iranian Police Station by Jasish Al-Adel, the organisation which Iran claims to target within Pakistan. Pakistan was not the only nation subject to Iranian air-strikes, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps also claiming responsibility for a plethora of air-strikes in Iraq and Syria, additionally carried out on Tuesday. To deflect criticism, Iranian officials, including President Ebrahim Raisi, have emphasised the issue of protecting Iranian security, and compared the strikes to those carried out by the United States in Iraq and Syria.
Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s foreign minister, claimed these attacks were an ‘unprovoked violation of its airspace’, and asserted Pakistan’s right to self-defence. Following Pakistan’s retaliation to Iran on Wednesday, Mumtaz Zahra Balloch preempted criticism by stating that Pakistan ‘fully respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran’, and stated the attacks were for Pakistan’s own domestic security and national interests.
Iran and Pakistan have endured decades of minor hostilities with each other, with both nations blaming the other for turning a blind eye to Baloch militants either side of the border, and occasionally engaging in ideological opposition due to Pakistan’s Sunni majority and Iran’s Shia majority population. Despite this, relations in recent years between the two nations have been relatively cordial, mediated largely by China. Whilst Iran has conducted low-level anti-terrorism operations in the region in the past, none have materialised to such a scale as we have seen this week. This severity can largely be accredited to the down-turn in recent Iran-Pakistan relations, and renewed anxieties about terrorist groups within the region. Iran has seen some of the deadliest terrorist attacks in its recent history over the past month, with almost 100 dead in two blasts claimed by Isis at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the killing of Qassem Suleimani.
Trump storms to victory in snowy Iowa, while Haley stumbles along and DeSantis crumbled
Iowans went to ‘caucus’ on January the 15th 2024, in the midst of extreme weather (sub 20 degrees and heavy snowfall), which disrupted the final days of the campaign. The weather had introduced a final element of uncertainty: pundits wondered which groups of voters would be more motivated to face the dangerous weather and get out and vote? However, while plunging temperatures may have contributed to record low turnout (only 15% of Registered Republicans showed up to vote) the result was largely in line with expectation. Trump received a majority of the vote, and won 98 out of Iowa’s 99 counties. At 51%, Trump’s share of the vote is the highest ever result for a non-incumbent candidate in the Republican Iowa Caucus. Historically, Trump’s 2024 win is comparable with Al Gore and George W Bush’s performances in the Iowa Caucus in 2000, (who respectively won 63% and 41% of the vote) and both ended up comfortably becoming their party’s presidential nominee.
The rest of the non-Trump vote was split by three candidates : Ron DeSantis (Governor of Florida) came second and garnered 21% of the vote. He was closely followed by Nikki Haley (Former Governor of South Carolina and US ambassador to the UN) who got 19% of the vote and Vivek Ramaswamy (a Biotech entrepreneur) who got 8%. While DeSantis and Haley both remain in the race, Ramaswamy’s poor showing meant that he suspended his campaign. Asa Hutchinson (a moderate conservative former Arkansas Governor) also dropped out after receiving less than 200 votes out of 110,000 voters. Prompting the DNC to respond with a statement saying his withdrawal “was a shock to those of us who could’ve sworn he had already dropped out” which then led the White House chief of staff to call Asa Hutchinson and apologise.
By avoiding a humiliating third-place in the race DeSantis may have been able to claim a ‘win’ against Nikki Haley. However, DeSantis also announced he was dropping out of the race on Sunday. DeSantis probably recognised that his performance in Iowa was not good enough to help him fundamentally change the race in New Hampshire (where he had been polling in the low single digits).
Nikki Haley also did not perform well enough to displace Donald Trump from 1st place. By failing to reach second place and exceed expectations Haley enters New Hampshire without the momentum that she needs to beat Trump. Moreover, while she did win one fairly ‘liberal’ county in Iowa (Johnson County, home of the University of Iowa) this demonstrates the potential problem Haley will face in her campaign. While she is gaining relatively high support amongst Independent and moderate voters, these voters are not a significant chunk of the GOP primary electorate. Though, Haley now has the chance to beat Trump in New Hampshire – current polling suggests this is still a longshot. Nationally, Haley still lags significantly further behind Trump. Since New Hampshire is a relatively ‘pro-Haley’ state (because it contains more independent, less religious, less conservative voters), she would need to be winning handily in New Hampshire to have a real shot at the nomination. If Iowa, was the death knell for most Republican presidential campaigns next Tuesday New Hampshire may effectively prove a coronation for Trump – even if Haley could still technically fight on.
Sunak pushes through despite challenges to Rwanda Bill
The Government’s Rwanda asylum plan is likely to go ahead after MPs backed a bill 320-276 that would legislate the safety of the country for asylum seekers, despite initial opposition from Tory backbenchers. The bill comes in response to a Supreme Court ruling in November that the plan was unlawful due to a risk of human rights violations. The plan is set to remove asylum seekers whose claims are inadmissible in the UK to Rwanda, where they will have their claims assessed, and if successful be granted refugee status in the country.
The bill provides that ‘every decision-maker’ must treat Rwanda as a safe country and prohibits such bodies from considering any claims that Rwanda is sending asylum seekers to third countries, a process illegal under the Refugee Convention if there is a risk that the asylum seeker would face persecution in the third country.
Rwanda has agreed in the new treaty that asylum seekers will not be sent back to countries other than the UK, and that the judicial system in the country will be improved, a move designed to mitigate the issues the Supreme Court raised with the plan.
Backbench Tory MPs attempted to introduce an amendment that would force the Government to ignore injunctions issued by the European Court of Human Rights blocking flights to Rwanda. MPs rejected this amendment 536 to 65, a result that might provide some comfort to Sunak’s government in light of fears of yet another leadership challenge from the right of the party in the coming months. The vote comes after a major YouGov poll reported in the Telegraph, predicting a ‘1997-style general election wipeout’ for the Conservative party when the public go to the polls in late 2024.
The plan comes amid a wider movement in Europe against immigration, including the Danish Government’s ‘zero refugee’ policy, which also led to talks with the Rwandan Government now halted due to fear of conflict with its EU partners.
The UK has so far sent £240m to the country, with the scheme expected to cost more due to costs of supporting asylum seekers upon arrival in Rwanda. The Labour party, who are opposed to the plan, have warned that the scheme could end up costing £400m in total. The Rwandan Government has additionally promised that the money will be returned to the UK if no asylum seekers are able to be relocated to the country.
Only 11 Tory MPs opposed the bill, including former Home Secretary Suella Braveman. In any case, the headaches for Sunak’s government are liable to continue in the months before the general election expected in late 2024.
Write for us!
Interested in writing for the OX1 column, looking for somewhere to turn your article idea into a reality? Then look no further. Both the Global Affairs and Environment Section are looking for new writers and contributors. If you’re interested in student journalism and want to get involved make sure to join the Oxford Blue writers group on Facebook.
Oxford Blue Writers Group:
Global Affairs Writers Group: