China seizes US drone operating in the South China Sea and Venezuela’s government announces the withdrawal of the country’s largest bill.
CHINA SEIZES US DRONE IN SOUTH CHINA SEA
China has seized an American underwater drone that was conducting oceanography surveys in the South China Sea. The Pentagon confirmed the incident, insisting the drone was operating in international waters northwest of the Philippines.
The move comes after a tense month in US-China relations. In early December, President-elect Donald Trump received a phone call from the leader of Taiwan – a taboo for US leaders – and later questioned the ‘one China’ policy, which stipulates there is only one China, of which Taiwan is an integral part. Meanwhile, a report released this week says Beijing has ‘effective control’ of the South China Sea and has constructed military defences on artificial islands, including anti-aircraft guns and anti-cruise missile systems. On Wednesday, the head of US Pacific Command said that if Beijing continues to act in an “aggressive” manner the US is “ready to confront it”.
These are worrying signs from the world’s most important great power relationship and come at a sensitive time as America undergoes a significant political transition. Donald Trump’s apparent willingness to ‘get tough’ with Beijing means this story is likely to capture many more headlines in the coming years.
VENEZUELA’S DEMONETISATION FIASCO
Crisis-ridden Venezuela is experiencing a fresh wave of protests and looting, this time over the government’s decision to withdraw the country’s largest banknote from circulation. Three people died as a result of violent demonstrations in Callao and hundreds of shops were looted. President Maduro announced the decision on Sunday, saying Venezuelans would have 72 hours to exchange the bills for new ones.
Maduro said the move was needed to combat “mafias” along the Colombian border who hoard cash. But rampant inflation has rendered Venezuela’s currency virtually worthless, leading to questions about the president’s decision. The now-defunct 100 bolivar note was worth just 2 cents.
The government’s opponents have seized on the fiasco to again call for Maduro’s resignation. Last week, Vatican-sponsored talks aimed at finding a solution to the ongoing political crisis faltered, with the opposition saying it would not attend until the government meets its demands – the release of political prisoners and a date for fresh presidential elections.