OurWeek in Politics (9/18-9/25/18)

Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. North and South Korea Hold Summit, Commit to “Era of No War”

The leaders of North and south Korea held a historic summit this week, pledging to speed up efforts for regional peace.

In their third summit meeting this year on September 19, North Korean President Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced that North Korea would close an essential missile test facility in the presence of “international experts” and potentially destroy its primary nuclear complex if the United States agrees to equal measures. Speaking to the media Wednesday after a brief signing ceremony, Kim and Moon also vowed to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula once and for all, something they first committed to at their April summit. “The world is going to see how this divided nation is going to bring about a new future on its own,” Kim said to applause from those gathered. Moon and Kim also teased a potential historic fourth meeting between the two leaders, this time in the South Korean capital. The signed agreement stated that Kim would travel to Seoul “as soon as possible,” something no North Korean leader has ever done.

In addition to the joint statements by the leaders of both countries, the North and South Korean defense ministers also signed a 17-page accord in which the two countries vowed to “cease all hostile acts against each other.” “The era of no war has started,” said Moon, the first South Korean president to visit Pyongyang since 2007. “Today the North and South decided to remove all threats that can cause war from the entire Korean peninsula.” The two countries also pledged to submit a joint bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics, create rail and road links, stop military drills aimed at each other, remove 11 guard posts in the demilitarized zone by the end of the year, and normalize the Kaesong Industrial complex and Kumgang tourism project as soon as the conditions allow. Shortly after the announcement, US President Donald Trump praised the summit meeting and called its developments “very exciting” in a Twitter post.

South Korean President Moon and his top advisers have consistently said they want to make inter-Korea meetings a regular part of North-South relations and see them as a helpful step in establishing a permanent peace. “Chairman Kim and I share the history of having held hands like lovers and crossed the Military Demarcation Line together twice,” Moon said during a toast at a banquet Tuesday evening. “The fact that the leaders of Koreas can meet without limit in time or place symbolically demonstrates that a new age of inter-Korean relations has arrived,” he added. Ahead of this week’s talks, it was expected that two leaders would continue to work to formally end to the Korean War, which ended in a truce 65 years ago. While a formal peace regime officially ending the Korean War would need to be supported by the US and China, the other participants in the war, experts agree that there is nothing to stop the two Koreas declaring an end to the war themselves, or signing a bilateral peace treaty. A big part of any negotiation to end the war would be the status of the thousands of US troops stationed in South Korea as part of the two countries’ alliance. The North has long seen the US military’s large footprint in South Korea as a direct threat.

2. Rwandan Government Approves Release of Nearly 2,000 Political Prisoners

The Rwandan government released nearly 2,000 political prisoners this week, including noted opposition activist Victoire Ingabire.

On September 18, Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, authorized the early release of more than 2,000 prisoners, including a leading opposition figure who was jailed in 2012 for conspiring to undermine the government. The administration gave no further explanation for its decision to release Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, whose detention had garnered international attention. Gospel singer Kizito Mihigo, jailed for ten years in 2015 after making a song that criticised the government, was also freed.  The release may give opposition members and regime critics some hope that President Kagame could be ready to ease his tight grip on Rwandan politics, but international observers remain skeptical of his true intentions.

Even though Paul Kagame is praised for transforming the central African nation from a failed state haunted by the memory of a brutal genocide in the early 1990s into a thriving economy, critics argue that he has done so at the expense of political competition. Several critics who have gone into exile have died in mysterious circumstances, and dozens of opposition figures have been imprisoned. In power since 2000, Kagame spearheaded a constitutional referendum in 2015 to allow him to remain president until 2034. He won re-election last year with 99 percent of the vote and has permitted his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front to dominate much of the economy.

The most high-profile released prisoner, Victoire Ingabire, returned from exile in the Netherlands in 2010 to take part in the Rwandan Presidential election but was blocked from competing. Two years later she was charged with inciting the population, forming an army to overthrow the government and downplaying the impact of the genocide, in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. Last year a pan-African court ruled that Ingabire’s rights had been violated during her trial, but Rwanda ignored the ruling. The court, based in Tanzania, did not order Ingabire’s release but gave the Rwandan government six months to “rectify the harm done.”  “It took me by surprise but I hope this is the start of the opening of the political space in Rwanda”, Ingabire told Radio France International after she was released. The opposition leader said she had no plans to cease her political activities. Despite the fact that Rwanda continues to have a poor human rights record, it can be argued that the release of political prisoners is a sign that the country is beginning to liberalize, albeit slowly.

3. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Wins Third Term

Japan’s nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected to a third term this week, becoming Japan’s longest-serving post-war Prime Minister.

On September 20, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected as head of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a landslide, paving the way for up to three more years as the nation’s leader and a push toward a constitutional revision. In Thursday’s leadership vote, Abe handily defeated his sole challenger, Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister. Abe won 553, or about 70 percent, of 807 votes. The decisive victory may embolden Abe to pursue his long-sought amendment to Japan’s US-drafted pacifist constitution, although the hurdles remain high and doing so would carry political risks. “It’s time to tackle a constitutional revision,” Abe said in a victory speech. Abe said he’s determined to use his last term to pursue his policy goals to “sum up” Japan’s postwar diplomacy to ensure peace in the country. “Let’s work together to make a new Japan,” he said.

Shinzo Abe, who has served as Japan’s Prime Minister since December 2012, has cemented control of his party and is poised to become Japan’s longest-serving leader in August 2021. In his coming term, Abe has several policy challenges, including dealing with Japan’s aging and declining population, a royal succession in the spring, and a consumption tax hike to 10 percent he has already delayed twice. Amid international effort to denuclearize North Korea, Abe seeks to meet with Kim Jong Un to resolve their disputes, including the decades-old problem of Japanese citizens abducted to the North. He faces China’s increasingly assertive activity in the region and intensifying trade friction with the US that could shake his friendly relations with President Donald Trump. Abe said he will meet with Trump next week in New York, where they attend the annual UN assembly, to discuss bilateral trade and “the roles Japan and America should play in establishing global trade rules.”

Overall, most observers view an extended term for Abe as a positive event that will improve the stability of Japan. “A stable government under a strong leader is good for the economy and diplomacy, and Prime Minister Abe has established a rather significant presence in diplomacy,” said Yu Uchiyama, a University of Tokyo politics professor. But his long and strong leadership has caused a lack of political competitiveness. “The biggest concern about Japanese politics is how to restore competition in politics and reactivate democracy,” Uchiyama said. Additionally, critics of Abe also point out to the fact that he has strengthened the Prime Ministers Office at the expense of the Japanese Parliament. Despite this criticism, Abe has remained a popular figure in Japan and has played a major role in reshaping the Japanese political system.

4. Terrorists attack Iran military parade, killing 25 people and Wounding at least 60

Western-supported militants attacked an Iranian military parade on Saturday, killing 25, injuring at least 60.

Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire on September 22 on an annual Iranian military parade in the country’s oil-rich southwest, killing at least 25 people and wounding over 60 in the deadliest terror attack to strike the country in nearly a decade. Women and children scattered along with Revolutionary Guard soldiers as heavy gunfire rang out at the parade in Ahvaz, the chaos captured live on state television. The attack came as rows of Revolutionary Guardsmen marched down Ahvaz’s Quds (Jerusalem) Boulevard in one of the many ceremonies commemorating the 30th Anniversary of Iran’s victory in the nine-year-long Iran-Iraq War. Both ISIS, as well as Wahhabi separatists (sponsored by Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israel), once only known for nighttime attacks on unguarded oil pipelines, claimed responsibility for the brazen assault.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed regional countries and their “US masters” for funding and arming the separatists, issuing a stark warning as regional tensions remain high in the wake of the US withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal.“Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives,” Zarif wrote on Twitter. Additionally, the Iranian government quickly summoned the Ambassadors from Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates for questioning. In response to the allegations, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley dismissed Iran’s assertion on Sunday that Washington and its Gulf allies were to blame for a deadly parade attack and used her speech as another opportunity to criticize Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “He’s (Rouhani) got the Iranian people protesting, every ounce of money that goes into Iran goes into his military, he has oppressed his people for a long time and he needs to look at his own base to figure out where that’s coming from,” Haley said in a CNN interview. “He can blame us all he wants. The thing he’s got to do is look at the mirror.”

the author

Matt is a student at Seton Hall Law School and graduated from Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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