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Weekend catch-up: Pyongyang at PyeongChang, Malaysian election, cobalt in the Congo, and more

The week that was on The Interpreter.

PyeongChang Medal Plaza, 16 February 2018 (Photo: Republic of Korea/Flickr)
PyeongChang Medal Plaza, 16 February 2018 (Photo: Republic of Korea/Flickr)
Published 17 Feb 2018 

The week that was on The Interpreter.

At the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, the sport has seemed a sideshow to attention on North Korea’s cheerleaders and a Kim Jong-un impersonator. Katherine Mansted sees a master manipulator at work:

This is precisely how a small dictatorship, with barely enough infrastructure to keep its own lights on, has managed to continue a nuclear weapons program in defiance of the world’s most powerful country.

Still on the Korean Peninsula, Justin Hastings on the increasing difficulties facing Kim Jong-un’s sanction-skirting efforts:  

Kim Jong-un needs hard currency to build his nuclear weapons and pay off his elite supporters, or at least to provide those supporters with business opportunities to make their own money. The illicit transactions that continue even under sanctions serve both functions for Kim Jong-un, and he has no choice but to continue to try and bust the sanctions.

“It’s a gamble, lah. Definitely a gamble. For both sides.” Malaysia’s general election is due by August. Amrita Malhi previewed the race:

If the election is viewed only through the prism of polling, where the numbers are with the government, there is no contest. Yet if conversations I’ve had are any guide, there is, under this surface boredom, a quiet current of contestation circulating via word of mouth and on the encrypted WhatsApp.

India struck a deal with Oman for access to naval facilities close to the Strait of Hormuz. David Brewster returned to the base race in the Indian Ocean:

The latest move, reported on Tuesday, involves an agreement to give India access to naval facilities in Oman, close to the Strait of Hormuz. This may be the first step towards a greater Indian naval presence in the Persian Gulf.

Last December, popular K-pop singer Jonghyun took his own life. Nicole de Souza on the cost of depression in Korean society:

Depression and suicide is a critical problem in South Korea, a country notorious for having the highest suicide rate in the OECD. South Korea has almost 30 suicides per 100,000 population, in comparison to an OECD average closer to 12.

Frederick Kuo examined the risky power play in Congo against Western and Chinese mining companies:  

Xi Jinping’s efforts to push China centre stage have already seen Beijing exert more active pressure on its African partners. If true, this signals a shift in China’s non-interference policy and may indicate a new willingness to assume the role of kingmaker if leaders overstay their welcome and become bad for business.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group met on Wednesday in Port Moresby. Tess Newton Cain:

We should expect the membership issue to take up most of the group’s political and diplomatic energy again this week when its leaders convene on Wednesday for a summit in Port Moresby. The discussion centres on how the group will deal with the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and whether it should be made a full member of the MSG.

A measles outbreak in the Papuan district of Asmat has killed at least 65 children since October and caused consternation for Indonesia. Kate Walton:

While there may be significant focus on Asmat at the moment, this is not a one-off occurrence but a long-term problem across eastern Indonesia.

Following the appointment of Jerome Powell to succeed Janet Yellen as chair of the US Federal Reserve, Stephen Grenville surveyed the history of central bank independence:

Central bank independence is a subtle issue in which personality is as important as technical expertise.

Adding to the raft of recent American foreign policy documents was the US intelligence community’s annual Worldwide Threat Assessment. Daniel Flitton:

One way to read this statement is as an acknowledgement the US has abrogated its past ambitions for leadership on global challenges, leaving the space to be contested by rivals.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson drew attention for his comments on China gaining a foothold in Latin America. Diego Leiva asked if Tillerson was reviving the Monroe Doctrine:

If the visit by Rex Tillerson to the region is any guide, a significant shift in US foreign policy towards Latin American might be underway. Tillerson seems willing to develop a newly assertive approach.

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