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Monday, September 25


Monday, September 25

Iraqi Kurds rally ahead of an independence referendum


Iraqi Kurdistan to decide on independence amid international pushback

Iraqi Kurds rally ahead of an independence referendum
Photo: Safin Hamed/AFP

Iraqi Kurds will vote today on becoming an independent state. While independence is expected to prevail at the ballot, the results will not be seen as legitimate by the government in Baghdad.

Already possessing significant regional autonomy, Kurdistan has long agitated for independence. President Masoud Barzani has said the current borders are the artificial “work of officials with a pencil and map” and that the time is ripe for independence following the large contribution of the peshmerga, the Iraqi Kurdish military forces, in fighting ISIS.

The Iraqi government opposes the plebiscite and will not accept its legitimacy. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has even threatened to use military force if violence follows the result. International opponents, led by the US, worry that the vote will destabilise Iraq just as ISIS is nearly vanquished, a concern the PM’s threat does nothing to assuage. Even if things do not go as far as military action, some unrest appears likely.

The larger the victory for independence advocates, the less Baghdad will be able to ignore them; however, a shock defeat would certainly postpone, if not kill, Mr Barzani’s dream.


Japan’s Shinzo Abe to announce early elections

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe is expected to call early elections
Photo: AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi

Reports suggest that, today, Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe will announce a snap election for October 22nd .

For months, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been dogged by scandals, which dragged his July approval ratings down to the 20% mark; however, the beleaguered PM was politically graced by an increasing threat from North Korea, bumping his approval rating up to 50%.

Abe would likely call an early election in an attempt to bolster public support for the LDP, allowing him to achieve his goal of revising Japan’s constitution, which prevents the military from maintaining the capability to wage war. Up until now, public opinion has opposed such a revision, but recent North Korean aggression may have changed that.

Regardless, while likely, the snap election has yet to be confirmed. In July, the LDP suffered a shocking regional assembly defeat in Tokyo to the Tokyo Citizens First party, a grassroots nationalist party. Abe is wary about risking his parliamentary supermajority, which eases amending the constitution, as it could be spoiled by up-and-coming nationalist parties in the lower house.


Australia to establish new national space agency

Image composition showing all the ESO observatories and the Headquarters.
Photo: ESO/Kornmesser

The 68th International Astronautical Congress will be held in Adelaide today. Leaders from across the space industry will gather amid rumours that Australia will announce its own space agency at the event.

Though hosting representatives from NASA and Space X, Australia’s $3 billion space industry only accounts for 0.8% of the global total. The Space Industry Association of Australia has forecast an increase of that figure to 4% if the government establishes a space agency.

The regional government in South Australia is getting a head start, forming the South Australian Space Industry Centre to distribute grants of $1 million a year to spur innovation in the field. Additionally, Premier Jay Weatherhill added a space industries portfolio to his cabinet. He has also urged Canberra to form the national agency, expressing hope that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will appear at the congress to announce it.

All signs point to a more space-focused Australia, but progress will be slow. A review of the proposal for the agency will take at least six months, and the projected increase in the share of the global industry will only come in 20 years.


Chinese cities to combat increasing housing prices

China’s housing market
Photo: Xinhua/Mou Yu

Starting today, the Chinese city of Xian will require property developers to report home prices to the government before sale. This is part of a series of measures to fight price manipulation and a growing housing market bubble, which poses a major financial risk to the world’s second largest economy.

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As China has become more urbanised, many of its metropolitan areas have started combatting mounting financial bubbles; some have banned transactions of new and second-hand homes for two years after purchase. Even still, buyer demand has curbed, but remained resilient.

The policies have been successful, as housing prices in many of China’s most populous cities have either fallen or remained equal. Ahead of the quinquennial Chinese Communist Party leadership reshuffle this October, such news is welcome.

If left unchecked, price stability could be fleeting. Expect Beijing to maintain strict controls over housing markets in cities where prices have surged; it will look to develop a long-term vehicle for maintaining the stability of China’s property markets.


German results, Mattis lands in India, Brexit negotiations

Angela Merkel on the campaign trail ahead of Germany’s election
Photo: Getty

The results of Germany’s election are expected to filter out. Angela Merkel’s CDU is widely expected to win the most votes, although will probably have to form a coalition to stay in power. Polling suggests the right-wing Alternative for Deutschland will clear the 5% support threshold needed to enter the national parliament, a first for the right-wing nationalist party.

US Defence Minister Jim Mattis will touch down in New Delhi for talks with his Indian counterpart. Mattis will be hoping to build on a much-talked about cooperation treaty on military logistics, which was signed last year. To fend off an increasingly assertive China, ties between the US and India are expected to strengthen in the coming years. While New Delhi remains muted on the topic, reports suggest the quad—four-way naval drills between India, Japan, Australia and the US—or some variation of it may be back on the cards. Many Indians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have welcomed the election of Donald Trump, who has prioritised relations with the subcontinent.

A fresh round of Brexit negotiations will begin after being delayed by one week to accommodate Theresa May’s speech on Friday. The so-called ‘divorce bill’ is likely to be discussed in the coming days; the EU wants Britain to pay some $60 billion, while London is believed to have offered less than half this amount. Regardless, Ms May’s address on Friday struck a positive note and outlined a more detailed roadmap for the country’s exit from the EU, which was met with cautious optimism in Brussels.

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