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North Korea appears poised to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017, leaving Asia on edge as the reclusive regime continues a spate of missile launches. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Vivian Wang discuss when the nuclear test might come and why international pressure is unlikely to deter it.
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Week of Oct. 14-21
A Look Ahead
Oct. 13 – Jan. 6 committee hearing
The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol will hold its next, and possibly final, hearing Thursday, with the November midterms just weeks away.
What’s happened so far
Following a two-week postponement due to Hurricane Ian‘s impact on Florida, the panel’s 10th hearing will present “significant” new information, according to chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., but is not expected to include live witnesses. Among those to appear before the committee recently was Ginni Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas, who claimed her efforts to overturn the 2020 election results were separate from her husband’s role on the Supreme Court. Also under review are approximately 800,000 pages of communication material from the Secret Service.
The panel plans to present a final report by year’s end, while also considering legislative recommendations, including reforms to the Insurrection Act and the regulation of militia groups.
Oct. 14 – Burkina Faso national meeting
Burkina Faso will pick a transitional president during national meetings beginning Friday following the country’s second coup this year.
What’s happened so far
Burkina Faso was thrust again into political unrest on Sept. 30 after a group of officers removed interim President Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who took power during a coup in January this year. Army Captain Ibrahim Traore now holds the position until the new head of state is chosen in the meetings this weekend.
Traore had previously promised to organize elections to return to a civilian government by July 2024, but concerns remain over speculation that he will work closely with Russia, raising questions about its growing influence in the West African country amid weakening ties with France.
Oct. 16 – Chinese Communist Party National Congress
Beginning Sunday, nearly 2,300 elected delegates from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will convene for a week behind closed doors in Beijing to reshuffle the country’s leadership.
What’s happened so far
Local branches of the CCP spent the last year electing delegates for the National Congress, a summit held every five years. These delegates will choose the 200-person central committee, which in turn selects the Politburo and the Standing Committee, the most powerful decision makers. The last two congresses named Xi Jinping general secretary of the CCP. In addition to choosing personnel, the congress sets the next five years of policy agenda. This year, the committee will look to address China’s ongoing real estate crisis and its “zero-Covid” policy.
While Chinese politics are notoriously opaque, it is considered a near certainty that Xi will be chosen to lead China for a third term. It is not clear exactly what titles he will occupy, but he is near-guaranteed to continue as China’s most influential figure. Current Premier Li Keqiang, Xi’s second in command, is coming to the end of his term and it is unclear who will succeed him. Many China observers are also expecting strong gestures toward Taiwan in defiance of the Western powers.
Oct. 17 – Loyalty Day in Argentina
Argentina’s ruling Justicialist Party plans to hold multiple large-scale events Monday to commemorate the Peronism mass labor movement.
What’s happened so far
President Alberto Fernandez announced that the biggest event, hosted with trade unionists and regional governors, would be held in Tucuman. Marches and rallies by major unions will also take place in Buenos Aires at its Plaza de Mayo. The idea initially was to place Vice President Cristina Kirchner in the spotlight weeks after she survived a botched assassination attempt, but Fernandez changed his mind and opted for a rally up instead.
While there will be mass peaceful mobilization across the country commemorating Peronism, the day showcases the political struggle within Argentina’s main party on where and what to celebrate. Kirchner’s assassination attempt gave her political movement within Peronism a political impetus, while support for Fernandez’s presidency dwindles amid rising inflation and lack of investment to boost the economy. Violence or social unrest on the day is unlikely, but with the 2023 presidential elections ahead, the political Peronist elite will be looking to solidify the support of the general population.
Oct. 17 – NATO nuclear deterrence exercises
NATO will begin its annual routine nuclear deterrence exercises as early as Monday.
What’s happened so far
Alliance Chief Jens Stoltenberg confirmed the exercises would go ahead as planned despite heightened tensions with Russia as Moscow intensified by its war in Ukraine. The annual exercises typically involve integrating dual-capable aircraft with conventional jets and corresponding refueling and surveillance capabilities. The United States bases a small number of nuclear gravity bombs in Europe as part of a NATO nuclear sharing arrangement.
While the exercises come as Moscow escalates its war, mobilizes manpower and invokes nuclear threats, the drills are annual, routine and pre-planned. Stoltenberg made clear that the alliance has detected no discernible changes in Russia’s nuclear posture, echoing repeated statements made by the United States, which has also made clear that its nuclear posture remains unchanged.
Oct. 20 – EU leaders meeting
The European Council will meet next Thursday and Friday in Brussels to discuss the continent’s energy crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
What’s happened so far
Earlier this month, European leaders met in Prague for informal discussions on the ongoing energy crisis in a bid to come up with joint measures. While they failed to commit to a unified response due to divided opinion on an energy price cap, leaders did commit to provide more financial and military aid to Ukraine.
Though leaders from the E.U.’s 27 countries agree on the principle of an energy price cap, this meeting will aim confirm details. Officials hope to come up with a package of short-term measures to contain the rising costs of energy as well as longer-term measures to redesign the industry. Following the recent Russian offensive in western cities of Ukraine, leaders are expected to accelerate discussion on further support for Kyiv. While Commission President Ursula von der Leyen indicated the union must increase its financial support, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also continued to push for an increase in arms shipments.
Oct. 20 – Rules for entry of foreigners into the West Bank come into effect
New regulations for the entry and residence of foreigners in the occupied West Bank will officially come into effect Thursday.
What’s happened so far
Earlier in September, the Israeli government revised a set of rules following criticism from U.S. President Joe Biden and international NGOs over some of the stipulations, including the requirement for foreigners to notify Israeli authorities within 30 days of “starting a relationship with a Palestinian resident.” The original draft also ruled foreign spouses of Palestinians would be granted a maximum of three- or six-month permits, with a mandatory “cooling off” period, during which they would have to leave the West Bank for half a year following the marriage.
The new set of rules will not affect East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1980 and is governed under the state’s civil law. The 90-page document introducing travel restrictions for family members of Palestinians will also not be applicable for the more than 130 illegal settlements across the West Bank, whose entry is subject to Israeli state restrictions and bypasses several checkpoints in the occupied territories otherwise affecting Palestinians.
What Else Matters
Possible North Korea nuclear test
Amid heightened tensions in East Asia, South Korean intelligence suggests North Korea may be ready to conduct a nuclear test sometime between mid-October to early November. According to South Korea’s national spy agency, North Korea completed preparations at their Punggye-ri site for a possible underground nuclear test, the country’s first since 2017. These reports come amid a recent barrage of weapons tests from North Korea, including its longest-range ballistic missile ever launched, prompting evacuation warnings in Japan. The launch came as the United States, South Korea and Japan conducted large-scale naval drills near the Korean peninsula. Earlier this month, North Korea made its nuclear status “irreversible” and barred denuclearization talks by enshrining into law a right to use preemptive nuclear strikes for defense.
Watch for: North Korea is likely to continue with other weapons tests in the meantime, with the most recent launch involving long-range cruise missiles aimed at enhancing the country’s nuclear capabilities. North Korea may also be prepared to test new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, a South Korean defense official told lawmakers. The exact timing of the potential nuclear test may depend on developments in upcoming international events, such as the Communist Party of China Congress next weekend and midterm elections in the United States.
Hurricane Julia aftermath
Hurricane Julia made landfall in Nicaragua on Oct. 9 with Category 1 winds (members’ link). The system has since weakened into a tropical depression but caused widespread flooding, landslides and mudslides in several Latin American countries. At least 28 people have been reported dead so far due to impacts of the storm across Honduras, El Salvador, Panama and Guatemala, with at least 43 people killed in Venezuela alone due to spillover rains that caused the swelling of the Los Patos river in Las Tejerías. Dozens of people are missing and thousands remain in shelters as governments rush to deploy aid to recover infrastructure and living conditions mainly in rural areas.
Watch for: Recovery efforts face challenges due to limited resources, the lack of appropriate infrastructure and virtually non-existent welfare systems. Some countries like Guatemala have chosen to declare a “calamity” state in order to release funds to assist search-and-rescue operations, cleaning efforts and the reconstruction of key infrastructure like power grids and schools. Governments like Colombia’s have been heavily criticized by locals for an “insufficient” response. Significant casualties and damages have shone a light on the lack of preparedness with preventive measures in most of the affected countries, with rural and low-income communities bearing the worst effects of the disaster. Many people lost their homes and livelihoods due to the destruction of crops at an already challenging time amid consequences of a global pandemic and economic crisis.
What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…
- EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting
- Italy’s parliament meets
- Jan. 6 committee hearing
- Burkina Faso national meetings
- 20th Chinese Communist Party National Congress
- Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will visit Australia
- World Health Organization summit in Berlin
- Former South Africa president Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial
- OECD-Southeast Asia Ministerial Forum
- EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting
- Loyalty Day in Argentina
- NATO nuclear deterrence exercise
- Judgment on appeal filed by two people charged with committing terrorism for their role in Garissa University terrorist attack in Kenya
- Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation finance ministers meeting
- Renewed Israeli guidelines for West Bank entry come into effect
- Signing of Lebanon-Israel maritime border agreement
- EU leaders meet in Brussels
- Slovenia presidential elections
- Taiwan hosts the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy’s World Movement for Democracy summit
- French President Macron meets with Pope Francis in Rome
- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen host a conference on post-war reconstruction of Ukraine
- EU energy ministers meet in Luxembourg
- Bank of Canada rate decision
- European Central Bank meeting
- MLB World Series begins
- Court-issued deadline for Elon Musk to finish deal with Twitter
- Russia central bank meeting
Oct. 29-Nov. 4
- Brazil presidential election runoff
- EU Informal meeting of trade ministers
- Trial of 21 defendants of deadly 2018 fire in Mati, Greece
- General election in Israel
- Denmark general election
- Pope Francis visits Bahrain
- G7 foreign ministers to meet in Munster, Germany
- Russia’s Unity Day
- COP27 in Egypt
- UK to reverse payroll tax rise
- Eurogroup meeting
- U.S. midterm elections
- U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to visit India
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Top photo: U.S. Rep Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., (right) shakes hands with U.S. Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell at the Jan. 6 committee’s first hearing in July 2021. (Photo: January 6th Committee / Facebook)
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