The Soapbox: Ethnic conflict, gold sanctions, China’s secret police

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN’s news desk analyzing major developments in world news and rounding up the stories we think are worth the read this week. Global consciousness for a global university.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Tori Morales, Deputy News Editor

In Myanmar, airstrikes kill at least 80 ethnic minority members

Myanmar’s military government killed at least 80 people in an airstrike on an outdoor concert celebrating a Kachin ethnic minority political party on Oct. 24. The government has denied targeting civilians, describing the strike as a “necessary operation” meant to eliminate Kachin Independence Army terrorists.

The military government, which came to power as result of a February 2021 coup, has continued Myanmar’s enduring legacy of ethnic oppression. Burmese people, who make up about two-thirds of the country’s population, are privileged by the government, causing resentment from ethnic minorities.

Even during civilian rule, which lasted from 2011 to 2021, the Rohingya people — a predominantly Muslim ethnic group — were denied citizenship, detained, tortured and killed by the National League for Democracy. Over 9,000 people died and 700,000 others were displaced, with many fleeing to nearby Bangladesh.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the League’s former leader who was put under arrest after the coup, was previously hailed as a hero of democracy. She defended her government’s treatment of the Rohingya people during an International Criminal Court investigation that accused the League of genocide.

On the day of the recent airstrike, countries with diplomatic presences in Myanmar — including the United States, Australia, Canada and nine European Union member states — issued a joint statement condemning the attack.

“Indiscriminate attacks which include civilian victims continue to cause extraordinary harm and suffering across the country,” the statement read. “This attack underscores the military regime’s responsibility for crisis and instability in Myanmar and the region and its disregard for its obligation to protect civilians and respect the principles and rules of international humanitarian law.”

In Nicaragua, U.S. sanctions threaten exports

President Joe Biden issued an executive order to expand sanctions on Nicaragua’s gold exports on Oct. 24, limiting a key source of income for Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega — who was accused of staging a sham election in 2021. Biden’s order effectively bans most Americans from doing business with the Nicaraguan gold industry.

Gold is Nicaragua’s most valuable export, totaling over $800 million in 2021. Seventy-nine percent of that went to the United States. Nicaragua’s gold exports were expected to grow to $1 billion this year, a figure that is now unlikely due to the sanctions.

Ortega, who has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, was elected for a fourth time in 2021. He imprisoned challengers and shut down polling locations, making his win all but certain. Ortega had previously banned protests after a series of public demonstrations in 2018.

Nicaraguan crackdowns have spread beyond political organizations. In August, officials arrested a Catholic bishop and multiple priests in a raid, accusing them, without evidence, of organizing violent anti-government groups.

Nicaraguans fled the country in record numbers last year, with neighboring Costa Rica receiving 53,000 refugee applications. While tensions continue to mount, U.S. sanctions serve as an attempt to force a reinstitution of democratic norms amid authoritarian trends in Nicaragua.

“These increased abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms continue to constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” read a statement from Biden released in tandem with the executive order.

Secret Chinese police stations in foreign countries face scrutiny

Multiple countries have begun investigations into illegal Chinese police stations that allegedly coerce nationals to return to China to face prosecution. These centers were opened without the knowledge of host countries, and China maintains that the stations exist to expedite administrative issues like driver’s license renewals for Chinese nationals unable to return to the country.

Safeguard Defenders, a human rights organization, released a report last month uncovering the existence and function of these stations, saying that Chinese agents threatened action against suspects’ family members, and executed sustained harassment campaigns to coerce them to return.

Ireland ordered one such center to close on Oct. 27, and the Netherlands and Canada have both launched investigations. According to Safeguard’s reports, stations also exist in the United States, France, Brazil, Nigeria, Spain, Portugal and Germany, among other countries, though the organization notes that they cannot be sure of the total number of locations involved in the operation.

China has denied all allegations, continuing to claim that the stations serve diplomatic services, though these are usually carried out by recognized embassies under the Vienna Convention, which China is party to. At an Oct. 26 press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin was asked about the secret police stations.

“Chinese public security authorities are fully committed to fighting transnational crimes in accordance with the law, while strictly observing international law and fully respecting the judicial sovereignty of other countries,” he said. “The purpose of the service centers is to help overseas Chinese nationals in need access the platform to have their driving licenses renewed and receive physical examinations.”

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected].