CFR – Daily news brief Feb. 7, 2023

Daily News BriefFebruary 7, 2023
Top of the Agenda

WHO Predicts Death Toll in Syria, Turkey Quake Could Rise by ‘Thousands’

Syrian and Turkish officials said at least five thousand people were killed (NYT) by yesterday’s consecutive earthquakes at the Syria-Turkey border and their aftershocks, making the quakes one of the deadliest natural disasters to occur this century. As rescue efforts continue, an official from the Eastern Mediterranean office of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the death toll could rise by thousands and that there is a “substantial” risk of another aftershock.
Aid teams from more than sixty-five countries have arrived in southern Turkey to support relief efforts, Hürriyet reported, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared a three-month state of emergency in ten provinces. Meanwhile, the Syrian government is unable to receive direct aid from many countries because of sanctions on Bashar al-Assad’s government. Additionally, a border crossing used to deliver humanitarian aid to rebel-held northern Syria was damaged in the disaster. 

“Getting aid to affected Syrians is likely to be more difficult [than getting aid to Turkey], given that the country is not controlled by one authority. After nearly 12 years of war in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s government is in charge in most of the country, but the rest is divided into sometimes overlapping zones of control,” the New Humanitarian’s Annie Slemrod writes.
“Emergency powers, which were applied across Turkey following the country’s failed coup attempt in 2016, enable Erdoğan to rule by decree, bypassing parliament and regional authorities run by opposition parties. The measures can also curtail fundamental rights, a particularly sensitive issue in southeastern Turkey, which fell under emergency rule during the country’s decades-long conflict with outlawed Kurdish separatist groups,” the Financial Times’ Andrew England, Raya Jalabi, and Adam Samson write.
Pacific Rim

Korean Court: Government Must Compensate Survivor of Vietnam War Massacre

It is the first time a court has ruled that Seoul must financially compensate (Yonhap) a survivor of the 1968 mass killings committed by South Korean marines in Vietnam.
China/Tibet: The Chinese government has placed around one million Tibetan minority children into state-run boarding schools (UN News), forcing their assimilation into China’s majority Han culture, three independent UN rights experts said.
South and Central Asia

Pakistan’s Government Lifts Short-Lived Wikipedia Ban

In the span of days, the government blocked and then unblocked (Nikkei) the website Wikipedia for not removing content that telecommunications authorities had deemed sacrilegious. Digital rights activists had criticized the restriction as excessive control of online speech.

India: The prototype of a domestically made fighter jet successfully landed (Outlook India) on India’s INS Vikrant aircraft carrier for the first time, a feat that India celebrated as part of its military modernization goals. Indian-made aircraft carriers such as the Vikrant are set to play a critical role (AP) in the U.S. Indo-Pacific defense strategy. On The President’s Inbox podcast, Lynn Kuok discusses U.S. policy toward the Indo-Pacific.
Middle East and North Africa

FT: Iranian Tankers Are Shipping Sanctioned Russian Oil

At least sixteen tankers that previously shipped oil from other countries facing heavy sanctions, such as Venezuela, have switched to carrying Russian cargo over the past two months, the Financial Times reported.

Lebanon: Bank workers announced that they will launch an open-ended strike (Reuters), but keep ATMs in service, in an effort to press the government to pass a capital control law and other measures to ease the country’s financial crisis. 
Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigerian Human Rights Panel Begins Probe of Alleged Military Abuses

The probe by the country’s National Human Rights Commission is investigating Reuters reports that said the military ran a forced abortion program and that it intentionally killed children it deemed likely to become terrorists.

Sub-Saharan Africa: In 2021, 48 percent of all deaths from violent extremism occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, the UN Development Program revealed in a new report [PDF]. 

UK Designing Publicly Backed Digital Currency

The Bank of England and the treasury of the United Kingdom (UK) are designing a “digital pound” that would play a similar role as cash, the Financial Times reported. They are expected to decide whether to move ahead with implementation in 2025.

Ecuadorians Vote Against Constitution Changes in Referendum

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso had backed the changes (Reuters), which would have allowed Ecuadorians to be extradited for drug and criminal charges, among other reforms. In local elections held alongside Sunday’s referendum, opposition lawmakers won the mayorships of the country’s two largest cities. 

U.S./Central America: U.S. companies including Nestlé and Target will invest nearly $1 billion (NYT) in Central America, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said. The investment push is part of efforts to reduce the causes of northward migration to the United States.  This Backgrounder looks at migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle.
United States

Alleged Chinese Surveillance Balloons Flew Over U.S.

During Trump PresidencyThe chief of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), Glen D. VanHerck, said NORAD failed to detect the balloons during Donald Trump’s presidency but learned about them from the U.S. intelligence community. Former defense officials told Bloomberg that alleged Chinese surveillance balloons had traveled near sensitive U.S. facilities on three occasions.
For the Asia Unbound blog, CFR’s David Sacks discusses what the balloon crisis says about U.S.-China relations.
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