The trial of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who worked for Al Gore's Current TV, started today in North Korea.
The two were arrested in March along the North Korea-China border, apparently reporting on the refugee situation. Pyongyang has charged them with "hostile acts" and espionage. If convicted, they face five to ten years in one of the country's feared labor camps.
North Korea gains some leverage over the U.S. and its allies by holding the women. In the past weeks, the country has stoked tensions by engaging in some serious saber-rattling, testing a series of missiles and a nuclear bomb; it's provoked South Korea to begin fortifying the militarized border and moving warships into better strategic positions.
I'm more and more concerned by the situation, in which Lee and Ling are pawns in a reckless, needless game of military embrinkmanship. The easy answer here is, of course, that North Korea should simply stop testing missiles and join in six-party talks.
But since that situation is unlikely, it's China that needs to step up here. They have the best relationship with Pyongyang, much at stake, and the best opportunity to assuage the tensions.
Earlier this year, Ken E. Gause wrote about all that we didn't know regarding North Korea's succession head-scratcher. And while media speculation over the outcome has been spinning since 2003, it wasn't until yesterday that Kim Jong-Il declared his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, his future replacement.
North Koreans call him "Commander Kim," a small clue into the way Jong-Un, 26, might run the show. He enjoys a close relationship with the military, having attended Kim Il-Sung Military University before being appointed to the National Defense Commission. North Korea's recent missile and nuclear tests, experts say, is likely an attempt by the Dear Leader to consolidate the military's authority — and by extension, his son's.
But, says one report, while the succession issue seems to have been resolved, the announcement is a prime opportunity for Jang Song-Taek, the Dear Leader's brother-in-law:
Jang, who is married to Kim Jong Il's younger sister, was purged five years ago after being seen as a threat to Kim Jong Il's authority. But he was brought back ... to get a spot on the powerful National Defense Commission. Working in Kim Jong Woon's shadows, Jang could bide his time consolidating power and emerge as the country's next dictator, Choi and other analysts say: "This is political power," Choi says. "This is not something you share."
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
TOKYO - JUNE 03: A man watches a model train running along the bar at Bar Ginza Panorama Shibuya Branch on June 3, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. The bar caters to model train enthusists and customers are able to bring their own model trains to run on the tracks.
Photo: Junko Kimura/Getty Images
With the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on Thursday, China's ever-vigilant censors have stepped up the reach of the "Great Firewall," blocking Western sites like Twitter, Flickr, and (just one day after its launch) Microsoft's Bing.
The measures came as the authorities tried to close all avenues of dissent ahead of Thursday's anniversary, placing prominent critics under house arrest and banning newspaper from making any mention of the pro-democracy protests.
The co-ordinated internet "takedown" occurred at 5pm local time (10am GMT) on Tuesday as a broad range of websites suddenly became unavailable to Chinese internet users[...]
Foreign newspaper and television channels were also subject to censorship as the highly sensitive anniversary approached.
Viewers of the BBC's world channels in Beijing found their screens turning black whenever reports on the anniversary were being aired and four foreign television crews attempting to film in Tiananmen Square reported being stopped by police.
Print publications were also affected, with many subscribers to The Economist magazine receiving their weekly copies with the Tiananmen-related pages ripped out. Readers of the Financial Times and South China Morning post also reported missing pages.
As for those who saw the expanded censorship coming, the "Surprisingly Accurate Internet Claim" award goes to Chinese blogger Michael Anti, who just last Wednesday told Danwei.org:
"Twitter is a new thing in China. The censors need time to figure out what it is. So enjoy the last happy days of twittering before the fate of Youtube descends on it one day."
If there's one group who respond quickly to news, though, it's Twitter users, who have already made the topic one of the most talked about on the site. After all, as one user put it: "No Twitter in China now? How do they make it through the day?"
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Three years after the country's preeminent scientist was caught falsifying data about the cloning of human stem cells, South Korea has decided to once again allow stem cell research. Dr. Hwang Woo-suk's stem cell research license was revolked in 2006 after he published fake data on his cloning research. A new team has now successfully applied for a license to conduct research on cloning stem cells.
Since his fall from grace, Hwang has found a second career in cloning dogs for bereaved pet owners (his breakthroughs on dog cloning (such as the guy in the picture) were the real thing) as James Card reported for FP in February.
This brings us to today's other big South Korean cloning story. One of Hwangs former assistants announced today that he had successfully cloned dogs that glow in the dark. In addition to the novelty, this is apparently an important medical breakthrough:
The glowing dogs show that it is possible to successfully insert genes with a specific trait, which could lead to implanting other, non-fluorescent genes that could help treat specific diseases, Lee said.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Potential Twitter version: Bushies, asleep at switch, drunk on oil, missed boat."
Meanwhile, guess who's taken up the emerald green mantle?
It might be startling to realize that China is far outpacing the U.S. on green-energy investment."
He is picking up on a recent report by the Washington-based think tank, Center for American Progress: "We Must Seize the Energy Opportunity or Slip Further Behind."
Osnos is, I think, one of the finest correspondents writing from China today. But here I beg to differ. Or at least urge a bit of a reframing.
But let's put this in perspective: First, as a general point, China has had ambitious green goals for several years, especially on energy efficiency, but implementation still lags behind reality. Before we cheer, or worry, too much about Beijing's presumed green-technology progress, let's see what actually gets built. Large earmarks for infrastructure, green or otherwise, are particularly susceptible to local corruption. (The shiniest government office buildings in Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, were built out of something called the"poverty reduction fund.") Alas, lately we've seen a relaxing of green construction standards in China for the sake of putting economic stimulus money to work quickly. In sum: Setting budgets and targets is easy; follow-through is harder.
Second, on the particular matter of green-energy investment, pretty please stop putting so much faith in the framing of the Center for American Progress. I like CAP. They do good work. But they also have a long-standing habit of beating up on U.S. policy by pointing out that even China is doing more. I'm not against beating up on the U.S., or against giving kudos to China when due. But I am wary of how this formula can lead to exaggerated estimations of what China is in fact doing. (A few years back, CAP put out similar statements when Beijing announced lofty, and as yet unmet, energy efficiency targets.)
Lastly, and most importantly, I think that highlighting the competition angle could ultimately be counter-productive, as fun as it is to envision a U.S. vs China jolly green smackdown. Stressing a rivalry could ultimately lead -- not necessarily in Osnos’s hands, but in looser, more politically-minded interpretations -- to the impression that the race for green energy is somehow a zero-sum game. That any progress made by China (again, let’s be careful to avoid exaggeration here) is somehow threatening to the U.S. Like if the Soviets got to the moon first; oh no. It’s us or them; only one racer breaks the ribbon; get off our green lunar pathway!
Some might argue that Americans do best when their competitive instincts are aroused. But I tend to agree with Charles McElwee, an environmental lawyer in Shanghai whom Osnos cites and whose insights I've long found valuable: Fanning the flames of us-vrs-them-ism -- in the context of global issue that isn't so much a race to win as to survive -- could backfire. It could undercut political support on Capitol Hill for cooperative efforts, technology sharing, and perhaps even climate-treaty negotiations.
For too long, on climate matters, the U.S. and China have been stuck in a dusty stalemate, with both sides refusing to budge first -- especially with regards to seriously considering carbon caps -- while they eye each other as threats, and competitors. Somehow this Gunsmoke scenario needs to end.
Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images
The single largest supplier of maritime labor -- the Philippines -- announced yesterday that it will forbid its seafarers from passing through the Gulf of Aden, where pirates already hold over a hundred Filipinos hostage. The government's decision is the first such national ban on the waterway since the piracy epidemic broke out mid last year.
What it will mean for maritime labor and shipping routes is yet to be seen. Many companies may evade the rules, simply by offering enticing benefits and pay to seafarers who are willing to take the risky Somali-proximate path. It's not likely this will cause a large number of ships to divert around the Cape of Africa unless insurance premiums and ransoms go up hard and fast.
So is the Philippines over-reacting? In statistical terms -- yes. Given the number of ships passing through the region, the number of Filipino crew employed on vessels worldwide, and the timespan in which pirates have been active, the Filipino toll is not too high.
But in real public diplomacy terms, the decision is no surprise. The release of a five-months-held Filipino crew today illustrates the emotional toll that the piracy has had on the Phillipines' sea-faring psyche.
And it's just further evidence that this is actually one big, messy, hostage crisis.
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Here's what the action star said at a forum whose attendees included Wen Jiabao:
"I'm not sure if it is good to have freedom or not," he said. "I'm really confused now. If you are too free, you are like the way Hong Kong is now. It's very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic."
He added: "I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we'll just do what we want."
Via Evgeny, I see that the comments have provoked an angry online backlash in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as the blogosphere on the mainland. There are calls for a boycott of the "racist" Chan's films.
At Post Global, John Pomfret sees a class dynamic at play:
Chan is just saying what a lot of other rich Chinese feel. In the 20 years since Tiananmen, Chinese society has changed enormously. One of the most astounding ways has been in the return of a class society and in the disdain with which China's rich view China's poor. When Chan was saying Chinese need to be "controlled," to be sure, he was speaking about the poor. He didn't have to say it, But that's what the audience at Boao heard and that's why they cheered him on. Anyone who has conversations of depth with members of China's elite has heard this argument before.
Granted I don't know much about the context, but it seems to me like it's at least possible that Chan is being sarcastic. The comments were in response to a question about censorship. Chan's new film Shinjuku was recently banned in mainland China because of violence. It seems strange to me that Chan would so vociferously praise a set of policies that resulted in him losing quite a bit of revenue. Whatever his class prejudices or political beliefs, I'm sure that Chan believes that poor Chinese should at least be free to spend their hard-earned yuan on his products. He should also know better than to insult his many fans in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Chan's not in a position to criticize a decision by the Chinese government, but the over-the-top comments seem like they could be a subtle dig at the Chinese authorities for being so uptight about his movie. Then again, I could be giving the guy too much credit.
Victor Fraile/Getty Images
Last month China recorded its largest-ever surge in bank loans, the government reported over the weekend.
While the rest of the world begs for lines of credit and U.S. policymakers struggle to unclog the financial system, Beijing has announced that it will need to "strictly control lending," especially to certain areas of the economy such as "high-polluting, high-energy consuming industries and...those with overcapacity."
Part of the Chinese government's concern is that money from their stimulus package, announced last November, is getting stuffed into various industries that may eventually produce a spate of overly risky loans. They also worry about the onset of inflation in 2010, if too much money gets dumped into the economy now. Remember the good old days (as far back as summer 2008) when Beijing's biggest economic worries were high inflation and over-heating? Well, even if we don't, the Chinese certainly do. And they plan to avoid revisiting them.
In a related announcement on Saturday, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao explained that the Chinese economy was performing better than expected, building on recent positive projections from a variety of analysts, including some at the World Bank. A day earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a press conference at which he expressed "glimmers of hope" for the American economy, but comparatively, the evidence for his prognosis seemed much more meager.
And it's safe to say that the Chinese noticed that fact as well. In fact, while reading this China Daily (one of China's state-run newspapers) report, it's hard not to detect a sense of schadenfreude coming out of Beijing when it compares Chinese prospects:
'Despite the year-on-year slowdown, the Chinese economy has posted a strong recovery on a quarterly basis, making us more upbeat about the country's economic prospects,' said Frank Gong, senior economist, JP Morgan, who predicted China's quarter-on-quarter GDP growth has rebounded to about 5 percent in the first quarter from only 1.5 percent three months earlier."
to American prospects:
US President Barack Obama said last Friday that the US economy was beginning to show 'glimmers of hope,' as mortgage interest rates declined to historic lows, while refinancing has shown significant pick-up. But some analysts said the largest economy in the world and also China's major trade partner is far from bottoming out, given the severe stress of financial malaise and job losses."
One hopes that China will use this growth potential not just to expand its regional influence and national interests, but also to continue to take positive steps in global cooperation. After all, they certainly still have great interest in the health of the American economy.
Photo: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images
Speaking with the New York Times, a top Chinese economist explained why China is cutting its holdings of U.S. bonds by quoting John Maynard Keynes: “If you owe your bank manager a thousand pounds, you are at his mercy. If you owe him a million pounds, he is at your mercy.”
With that reasoning in mind, China sold U.S. Treasuries and other foreign bonds in the first two months of the year; it returned to buying them in March. Around two-thirds of China’s foreign reserves are held in dollars.
That bulk holding has complicated relations between the two economic super-powers during the Great Recession. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and the central bank governors have expressed concern about the U.S. economic situation and their exposure to it -- though the resumption of purchases in March suggests they may believe the outlook is better.
Still, numerous economists and policy experts have suggested careful, controlled, slow draw-down would be a good thing for both countries.
The New York Times reports that China is facing a gender imbalance of 32 million among under-20s, because Chinese women often abort female fetuses due to the country's strict one-child policy.
The researchers, who analyzed data from a 2005 census, said the disparity was widest among children ages 1 to 4, a sign that the greatest imbalances among the adult population lie ahead. They also found more distortion in provinces that allow rural couples a second child if the first is a girl, or in cases of hardship.
Those couples were determined to ensure they had at least one son, the researchers noted. Among children born second, there were 143 boys for 100 girls, the data showed.
Reuters reports on the details of Japan's largest-ever economic stimulus plan, revealed by Prime Minister Taro Aso. He intends to make cultural products 18 percent of Japan's exports, up from around 2 percent now.
Aso waved glossy magazines from China and Taiwan featuring Japanese pop stars on their covers.
"Japanese content, such as anime and video games, and fashion draw attention from consumers around the world," he said.
"Unfortunately, this 'soft power' is not being linked to business overseas ... By linking the popularity of Japan's 'soft power' to business, I want to create a 20-30 trillion yen ($200-300 billion) market by 2020 and create 500,000 new jobs."
The proposal seems a bit pie-in-the-sky -- Japan's exports have more than halved this year. But the country's certainly on a mission to expand its cultural importance (including in all things cute). Nota bene, Gwen Stefani.
Photo: Flickr user dogonthesidewalk
Kim Jong Il, the North Korean dictator, started another term in office today, after winning the country's election last month with 100 percent of votes.
It marked one of the few public appearances the Dear Leader's made since suffering a stroke. He appeared significantly thinner, his hair sparse on his head, moving arthritically. (Just months ago, the North Korean news agency released photos of him looking robust to counter rumors about his health.)
Reports note that Kim is likely preparing to pick which of his three sons will succeed him -- a transition which has the potential to end the communist state's isolationist foreign policy. The youngest son, Jong-un, around 25 years old, seems the likeliest candidate.
The middle son suffers from unnamed but allegedly debilitating diseases; the eldest became infamous when he attempted to sneak into Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland with a fake passport. The New York Times writes:
In recent months, [the oldest son] has been in the news after speaking to Japanese reporters who spotted him at the Beijing airport and in Macao. When Japanese reporters spotted him on Tuesday in Macao, he was quoted as saying that he was “much worried about” regional tensions after the rocket launching last weekend.
“If I was a designated successor, I wouldn’t be here in Macao talking to you now,” he was quoted as saying when asked about his chances of succeeding his father.
This morning, Politico reports on a Rasmussen poll taken two days before North Korea's botched rocket launch. The release leads with the alarming line: "Fifty-seven percent (57%) of U.S. voters nationwide favor a military response to eliminate North Korea’s missile launching capability."
The poll shows that both genders support military intervention equally, and that two-thirds of Republicans and just over half of Democrats do. Only 15 percent oppose it.
Still, it's not convincing evidence that most Americans are clamoring to send in the troops. The question read:
If North Korea launches a long-range missile, should the United States take military action to eliminate North Korea's ability to launch missiles?
Thus far, North Korea hasn't shown a lot of success with long-range missiles. The question also came immediately after one about concern over North Korea's nuclear capacity.
The most interesting finding of the poll, perhaps, shows a 14-point drop in people considering North Korea an enemy, and a massive skew along political lines over whether the Stalinist collectivist state is an enemy, ally, or something in between:
Sixty-four percent (64%) of Republicans consider North Korea an enemy of the United States. That view is shared by 50% of unaffiliateds and 28% of Democrats. Most Democrats (57%) place North Korea somewhere between ally and enemy.
Photo: Flickr user Borut Peterlin
By Gregory Shtraks and Andrew Polk
A day before the meeting of G20 leaders was set to begin in London, U.S.President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met to discuss the increasingly important relations between the two countries. One key result of the meeting was the announcement of a "‘new' U.S.- China Strategic and Economic Dialogue" which will begin in Washington in a few months.
As opposed to the Bush administration's "Strategic Economic Dialogue" started by former Treasury Secretary Paulson, these meetings will have two distinct facets and will be lead by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on the U.S. side. With two well-known American leaders heading up the effort, here's a look at their Chinese counterparts:
Dai Bingguo makes almost a perfect synthesis of the two: He is a high-profile heavy-hitter like Clinton and seasoned bureaucrat like Geithner. Dai's career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stretches back to 1974, with brief interruptions in posts as an ambassador and as Head of the International Department for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
Just as Hillary Clinton is the chief representative of the Obama administration's attempt to remake the U.S. reputation, Dai is often considered the international face of China's growing clout and increasingly pervasive charm offensive. In 2003, Evan Medeiros, writing in Foreign Affairs noted Dai as a leader in the country's growing sophistication in diplomatic affairs, as he deftly handled China's North Korea stance. He has also matched Clinton's hectic traveling schedule of late, making stops throughout Southeast Asia and Latin America. According to this Financial Times article from February, he seems to be a pretty smooth operator:
It takes quite a lot to throw Hillary Clinton off her stride, but Dai Bingguo, China's senior foreign policy official, just about managed. "You look younger and more beautiful than on TV," he told the US secretary of state, who seemed to momentarily blush.
Tim Geithner' understanding of Asia might pay prove useful in the discussion. Geithner completed high school in Bangkok (where his father Peter was director of Ford Foundation's Asia division) and then focused on Asian economics for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He is even said to speak decent Chinese and Japanese.
Geithner's counterpart in the Economic Dialogue, Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, also had some family help early in his career. During the Cultural Revolution Wang was sent to work as an "educated youth" in remote Shaanxi province and would have probably missed his chance at getting an education if not for the influence of his father-in-law, conservative Party leader Yao Yilin, who helped young Wang get accepted into a university. Wang is thus considered to be a "Princeling"- a cadre whose career had been accelerated by a family member who was a high-ranking member of the CCP.
However, unlike other Princelings, Wang is widely respected by both the Party and the general public. He is known as "Chief of the Fire Brigades" for his role in effectively managing the SARS crisis as Beijing's mayor in 2003. Meanwhile, his reputation for economic prowess and steadfastness was cemented by his role in managing Guangdong's financial scandals in the late 1990's. He also spent a number of years conducting agricultural reforms and over a decade heading China's Construction Bank. The 59-year-old was elevated to the Politburo of the Chinese People's Congress Central Committee (CPCCC) in 2008.
With the Chinese-US relationship widely being seen as crucial to global financial stability, the stakes for the success of the dialogue for all parties involved couldn't be any higher.
No one is betting on the health of Argentina's economy these days. Ever since the country defaulted on its international debt in 2001, confidence that its economic situation could turn around has been extremely low. Indeed, in February, when the Argentine government requested permission to once again enter its bonds into U.S. capital markets, the Wall Street Journal suggested this response:
The SEC should instead insist that Argentine securities bear a warning like cigarette packages: 'This issuer has a record of misrepresentation, debt defaults and debt repudiation, and therefore may be dangerous to your financial health. Do not consume this issuer's bonds unless you have a platoon of lawyers and a Navy to back them up, and you're prepared to use both.'"
Why, then, would China use this week's Inter-American Development Bank meeting in Medillín to agree to a $10.24 billion currency swap with a country whose bonds could be worth next to nothing by the end of 2010? Two reasons seem apparent -- one is straightforward, the other is disturbing.
First, as Xinhua reports, the Argentines can essentially use the RMB as extra cash to pay for imports. But one might note that, since the Yuan is not a convertible currency, the money can only be used to purchase goods from -- you guessed it -- China, potentially giving a boost the Dragon's ailing export sector.
The other reason for the swap seems more strategic, especially in conjunction with other currency trades that China has very quietly signed with Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Belarus, and Indonesia over the past three months. As the Financial Times puts it:
Economists...see Beijing's currency swap deals as pieces in a jigsaw designed to promote wider international use of the renminbi, starting with making it more acceptable for trade and aiming at establishing it as a reserve currency in Asia, something that would also enhance China's political clout."
Combine these actions with China's recent call to replace the U.S. dollar as the international reserve unit, and it starts to look like this currency swap has nothing at all to do with Argentina.
RAUL ARBOLEDA/Getty Images
In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again). In each of those cases, global investors, afraid that the country or its financial sector wouldn’t be able to pay off mountainous debt, suddenly stopped lending. And in each case, that fear became self-fulfilling, as banks that couldn’t roll over their debt did, in fact, become unable to pay. This is precisely what drove Lehman Brothers into bankruptcy on September 15, causing all sources of funding to the U.S. financial sector to dry up overnight. Just as in emerging-market crises, the weakness in the banking system has quickly rippled out into the rest of the economy, causing a severe economic contraction and hardship for millions of people.
But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.
Johnson shows how financial firms became more and more profitable, and a bigger and bigger part of the U.S. economy. More capital meant more political capital, he argues, which eventually meant nobody prevented the melt-down. The same political entrenchment makes fixing the banks difficult.
The obvious solution to the financial crisis, Johnson says -- informed by his time at the I.M.F. -- is simple. The United States should determine which banks can't survive and temporarily nationalize them, instead of simply recapitalizing them, he says. But the relationship between top financiers and the government means this won't happen -- at least not unless things get much worse.
Still, his article includes a list of the policies (or lack thereof) which most contributed to the bubble and burst. It's a great crib sheet of what Capitol Hill and the G-20 Summit will tackle, piece by piece, to reform the system.
• insistence on free movement of capital across borders;
• the repeal of Depression-era regulations separating commercial and investment banking;
• a congressional ban on the regulation of credit-default swaps;
• major increases in the amount of leverage allowed to investment banks;
• a light (dare I say invisible?) hand at the Securities and Exchange Commission in its regulatory enforcement;
• an international agreement to allow banks to measure their own riskiness;
• and an intentional failure to update regulations so as to keep up with the tremendous pace of financial innovation.
It's fascinating, scary reading.
Kim's interest in gourmet food and drink is long-standing -- he's Hennessy cognac's biggest individual customer, for instance. The restaurant is the culmination of his decade-long investment in producing the perfect pies. In the 1990s, he hired an Italian pizza-maker to teach his staff the vital art of olive placement. And, after "trial and error" failed to bring the pizza up to snuff, he sent them to Italy last year.
Apparently the trip was a success: the restaurant now serves pasta and pizza made with ingredients flown in from Europe to North Korea's elite. Though Kim allegedly "does not eat much, but enjoys picking at various kinds of food, as if just to taste" -- an irony that's got to be hard to stomach.
Photo: KNS/AFP/Getty Images
The Indonesian island of Bali has big dreams to become a world capital of spiritual tourism. But that required ignoring the religious edict issued by the country's top Islamic body last week. The Council of Ulemas issued a Fatwa against yoga. Awkward, since Bali had planned to host an international yoga conference.
What ever to do? Not much of a question there, it seems. Yoga! The conference went off as planned, finishing up today, with even the island's governor attending.
Praise be to tourism, the payoffs from Bali's yoga drive could be big. Wayan Wijayasa of the Denpasar Tourism Academy in Bali told local press that if just one percent of U.S. "yogis" visited Bali a year, it would mean 160,000 yoga tourists in the country. That's big dough if you consider that Americans spent $2.95 billion on yoga equipment presumably last year, according to Wijayasa.
Monetary gains aside, yoga is popular in Bali. So that must be what Hillary Clinton meant when she said, "If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia." That should ceratinly be worth a few sun salutations.
See also, FP's list of the all-time stupidest fatwas.
SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images
Creative financing schemes and frisky credit-risk assessments haven't only catapulted capitalist economies to the brink. For years China's state-run banks have relied upon a coterie of dubious experts and shady loan guarantee companies when extending credit. Now, as things fall apart,
Whether or not banks elsewhere are nationalized, the real issue remains whether financial planners know what they're doing. Tim Geithner, take note.
On the other hand, per Forbes, at least credit is still available in China:
"In America, basically, private capital has dried up, but in China you have these large pools of capital sitting around," says Anne Stevenson-Yang, principal of Wedge MKI, an investment research and advisory firm in Beijing. "The problem is that most of the short-term capital and capital for private companies is in these gray and sometimes semicriminal networks."
China Photos/Getty Images
The day's biggest news story is undoutedly the New York Times's bombshell about Barack Obama's planned grand bargain on missile defense and Iran with Russia. But the other Times reports an interesting development on missile defense in that other nuclear flashpoint, North Korea.
In a move that could have strategic implications for the whole northeast Asian region, the Japanese Government plans to dispatch naval destroyers equipped with anti-missile systems to the seas off North Korea, as the isolated dictatorship continues preparations for the launch of a rocket.
As long as the weapon passes through the atmosphere far above Japan, as seems to be the intention, the system will probably not be fired. But if the rocket malfunctions and threatens any of its islands, then Japan will become the first nation to use a long-range missile defence system in anger. [...]
If Japan tries and fails to take out a North Korean rocket, it will be an international humiliation and a crushing blow to the expensive missile defence programme, which is already expected to surpass its estimated cost of as much as $8.9 billion (£63 billion) by 2012. If it succeeds, it will rattle China, which already fears that the combined US-Japan missile defence effort will undermine its own limited nuclear deterrent.
It's likely that the system won't actually be deployed, but a real-world demonstration of a long-range anti-missile system would have implications for the missile defense debate in the United States as well.
It would be a lot harder for the Obama administration to continue to use the "effectiveness dodge" -- the argument that missile-defense systems should not be deployed because they cannot be proven effective -- if the Japanese are able to successfully shoot down a North Korean missile. On the other had, if the interceptors were to miss and Japan was embarrassed, it would actually make Obama's grand bargain a lot easier to pull off.
Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency
World leaders are becoming ever more internet savvy these days. Obama's team used the web to create a grassroots presidential campaign and his administration continues to send emails and post youtube videos to disseminate information. Even in some of the most unlikely places, presidents and prime ministers are going to the internet to get in touch with the people -- or at least to give that impression -- as even Dmitry Medvedev and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have setup their own online fora.
The latest example is China, where Premier Wen Jiabao spent two hours online chatting with netizens on Saturday. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Wen started by saying he'd been looking forward to chatting online with the public. 'I am glad to have this online chat with all of you,' he said. 'I always believe that the public has the right to know what the government is thinking and doing, and criticize and suggestions on government policy.' He also said that he was a bit nervous in his first online chat, but said that he would follow his mother's advice to 'always talk honestly and with heart.'"
While the motives for leaders like "Grandpa Wen" surely involve a bit (if not more) of propaganda, it seems encouraging that participants were allowed to ask straightforward questions and air legitimate concerns:
-'Affected by the financial crisis, we farmers find it hard to find jobs. I want to start my own small business... I hope we farmers can also get small-scale loans that we can repay in three or five years.' Wen said the government should encourage them to start their own businesses by offering a tax stimulus and training opportunities.
-'As a consumer, I feel like I am treated like God in the shops. But when can I feel the same way while in hospitals?' Wen replied that the government will do more to make the country's health care system more accessible and affordable.
-'Premier Wen, what do you think about the power of government officials? And what do you think the power you hold?' Wen said the government is making active preparations for officials to declare their assets as part of the effort to combat corruption."
However, the premier did not have time to get to every question:
-Late Premier Zhou Enlai was known of being able to drink a lot, so how much can you drink?"
This chat was undoubtedly an effort to bolster the premier's already soaring reputation. Still, for the average Chinese person, this type of candid interaction with the a government leader would have been largely unimaginable even ten years ago.
Feng Li/Getty Images
I'm pretty skeptical about this one, but take it for what it's worth. The Times (London) reports:
Reports from North and South Korea yesterday appeared to confirm what until now has been only rumour – that Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, is being lined up to inherit his father’s title. [...]
The South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted sources in Beijing saying that Jong Un [The kid on the left in the above picture] has registered as a candidate in elections on March 8 for North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly – the precursor to his public emergence as his father’s successor.
“Kim Jong Un will be formally nominated as successor after the elections,” one source told the news agency. “He is expected to take on key party and military posts in April.”
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
Considering that their states are still technically at war, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso got along remarkably well during their summit meeting in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on Wednesday. While palling around on Sakhalin Island at the opening of a new $22 billion LNG plant (the first such plant in Russia), Aso and Medvedev praised the economic cooperation that has helped Russia and Japan strengthen their relationship over the past ten years.
Annual trade has now reached $30 billion, tripling in size since 2004. The first phase of the massively expensive ESPO pipeline, connecting oil reserves in Siberia with Russia's Pacific coast, has been completed and the construction of phase two has been announced. This is rare good news for two economies that have been hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis.
But it's still not all smiles between the two countries. The violent reaction of Vladivostok's workers to the imposition of a tariff on Japanese vehicles in late December displays the importance of Japanese commerce to Russia's remote Far East provinces. More seriously,a Japanese ship carrying ¥12.8 million worth of medical aid at the request of Russian residents on the disputed Kuril Islands was turned away in January because the Japanese delegation refused to show disembarkation cards, a move that the Japanese consider tantamount to recognizing Russian sovereignty over the Kurils. T
The Japanese claim that the Kuril islands -currently under Russian control - are historically Japanese and were seized illegally by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. The dispute over the islands has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty and officially ending the war.
Until the Kuril issue is resolved, Japan and Russia will continue to be in the contradictory position of building ever closer ties while still officially fighting World War II.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
After what happened to two Times reporters looking into Robert Mugabe's investments in East Asia, you might want to think twice about dropping in on his new place in Hong Kong (shown above) unannounced:
The throat of Colin Galloway, a 46-year-old reporter, was gripped and bruised by a man in his thirties who lifted him off his feet. Galloway was later examined under police supervision at hospital.
Tim O’Rourke, 45, was grabbed by the neck in his second bruising encounter involving the Mugabes in Hong Kong. Last month Grace Mugabe flew at him with her fists after repeatedly punching another Sunday Times photographer in the face in an incident that attracted worldwide publicity.
As odious as I find the idea of Mugabe living out his last days in luxury after what he's done and continues to do to his long-suffering country, some sort of Idi Amin-type arrangement in which he steps down in return for immunity in China might be the least worst scenario right now.
Photo: MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
When violence erupted in the island nation of Madagascar two weeks ago, few would have guessed that South Korean conglomerate Daewoo Logistics was partly to blame (or at least, there to take the blame). Daewoo won claim to plant corn on a Qatar-sized portion of Madagascar last November. And a leader of the protests says the deal is one reason for revolt.
The island leased its land to Daewoo for free for 99 years, claiming the benefit of jobs for Madagascar and a boost in investor confidence. Madagascar was cultivating its image as an island haven for peace, tourism, and investment. That is, until the seeds of civil war sprung up last month. Now, Daewoo says its plans are on hold.
About two weeks ago, a feisty opposition party mayor (and former DJ), Andry Rajoelina, proclaimed the government illegitimate and made his own move for power. In addition to organizing mass protests, Rajoelina even claimed to be the true president, that is until the current holder of that job fired him. So far, 100 people have died in violence between protesters and government forces.
So it wasn't that Daewoo didn't see this coming; it just inadvertently contributed to the mess. Years of poverty and a less-than-stellar government were enough for most Malagasies, so watching their land handed freely to South Korea was a bit over the top. "They sold the country's territory to foreign companies," Rajoelina complained to French Radio. "For these [and other] reasons, we demand a transitional government."
Now Daewoo's corn-to-feed-Korea project and Madagascar's government are both on the rocks. The opposition has named its own ministers and called for a general strike. But if Rajoelina gets his way (or even if he doesn't), I'm guessing Daewoo won't be the only company running for the coast.
Photo: WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images
The chairman of a Japanese bedding company has been arrested for running a massive investment scam that may have netted over $1 billion. Kazutsugi Nami is believed to have defrauded over 37,000 people, who he promised over 36 percent interest on their investment.
This being Japan, the case has a high-tech twist. In addition to crappy linens, Nami's company was well-known for establishing a virtual currency called Enten, or "divine yen," that customers could store on their mobile phones and use to buy their products. Enten proved to be Nami's undoing:
From about 2004, people who deposited 100,000 yen or more received the same amount in "Enten" through their mobile phones, and a system was introduced to enable the currency to be used to buy products on an Internet site, speeding up the company's collection of investments.
However, in February 2007, L&G informed all members that it was converting investment dividends from cash to Enten. The one-sided announcement resulted in a flood of requests from investors to cancel contracts, and sparked lawsuits demanding the return of principal investments. In October that year, police searched the Tokyo-based company's head office on suspicion of violating the law concerning regulation of investments.
Whether you're on Wall Steet or Tokyo, it's generally best to be wary of anyone promising "yen from heaven."
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Iceland economic and political collapse may have indirectly paved the way for a major gay rights victory, but it also seems to have resulted in a setback for environmentalists. On its way out the door, Iceland's previous government substantially increased whaling quotas for the next five years in what environmental groups see as a swipe at the left-leaning interim government, which largely opposes whaling:
"This is basically an act of sabotage, an act of bitterness, against the incoming government," said Arni Finnsson from the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA).
The new rules will allow the hunting of 100 minke whales and 150 fin whales over the next five years. The incoming government may still overturn the decision. Iceland is one of the three remaining countries -- along with Norway and Japan -- that stil permits commercial whaling.
Japan is also pushing to overturn international restrictions on whaling. Rumors recently trickled out in the Australian media that the International Whaling Comission that the countries of the International Whaling Comission, led by Australia, are considering expanding Japan's quota for whaling in the North Pacific. Australia's government, a member of the commission, has denied the reports but evidence seems to be mounting that some sort of offer was made to the Japanese.
Could the harpoon be making a comeback?
(Hat tip: TD)
Photo: DAVID BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images
Barack Obama's speeches are proving to be more than just moving. They're providing English lessons to many Japanese. The English-language textbook, The Speeches of Barack Obama, has become a bestseller in Japan, topping the list at Amazon's Japanese Web site. The 1,050 yen ($11.81), 95-page paperback book features Obama speeches with Japanese translations. Yuzo Yamamoto of Asahi Press, which published the book, told Reuters:
His speeches are so moving, and he also uses words such as 'yes, we can,' 'change' and 'hope' that even Japanese people can memorize.
The inauguration of Barack Obama wasn't just the event of the day in the United States. It received above-the-fold coverage in countries all over the globe, as Jan. 21's front page of the United Daily News in Taipei, Taiwan, above, shows. To see more Obama-blaring newspaper front pages from Namibia to Israel to Poland and more, check out this week's photo essay, "The Inauguration Heard 'Round the World," which features images obtained from the Newseum.
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