The World Today for April 22, 2016

April 22, 2016


China’s Port for Pakistan

Containing China may not be such a good idea everywhere.

Neither Washington nor any of its allies in Asia will cop to the containment strategy. But the puzzle pieces make clear that’s pretty much what’s going on. There’s the new military deal with the Philippines, a quick trip to the South China Sea by the US secretary of defense and broader naval cooperation with India – not to mention a raft of think tank white papers.

In broad strokes, containment, or “a hedge against China” makes sense, if Washington can pull it off without it backfiring. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who adopted the title of commander in chief of the military this week, is both consolidating his power and taking a more aggressive stance in foreign policy as China’s economic woes deepen. And regional democracies from the Philippines to Indonesia to India to Japan both deserve Washington’s support and promise to bulwark US interests across Asia.

But China’s biggest move to expand its influence in another key part of the region –  Pakistan – could be good for everybody.

Beijing has finally begun work on a plan to turn the remote town of Gwadar – 400 miles from Karachi on the southern coast of Pakistan – into the lynchpin of a $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Encompassing $34 billion in energy projects and $12 billion in infrastructure development, it’s equivalent to more than half the aid money Washington has given Pakistan since its creation.

The move is sometimes held up as a scary part of China’s supposed “string of pearls” encirclement strategy to set up permanent military installations along a line stretching from Southern China to East Africa through the Indian Ocean.

According to Islamabad, it’s purportedly nerve-wracking enough in India that New Delhi has dedicated a special unit of its top spy agency to undermine the plan by fomenting unrest in the already restive province of Balochistan – where separatist rebels are fighting Islamabad and Tehran.

And India’s own effort to develop a port in Chahbhar, 50-odd miles away on the coast of Iran, is seen in Islamabad as a move to “encircle” Pakistan. (There’s that word again).

It’s potentially irritating to Washington, too. The US has spent some $70 billion to try to make Pakistan a stable, democratic ally since the country was created in 1947. Now, not only is that ally believed to be playing on both sides of the war on terror, it’s also ever more clear that Islamabad sees China, not the US, as its most important backer.

But that may not the right way to look at the proposed economic corridor – even if it does result in an easily militarized Chinese port on one of the main shipping lanes of the Arabian Sea.

Predicted to create 700,000 jobs over the next ten years and add 2.5 percentage points to Pakistan’s economic growth by 2030, the economic corridor could help to eliminate (or alleviate) the economic stagnation at the root of Pakistan’s terrorism problems if it succeeds. Moreover, huge economic stakes for China would create an equally large incentive for Beijing to push counterterrorism initiatives in Islamabad – where its no-nonsense approach might prove more effective than America’s waffling.

That could make “losing Pakistan” a big win for Washington.


Why Refugees Keep Drowning

There’s a new reason to hate Europe’s deal to send refugees back to Turkey: People keep drowning.

Apart from alleviating a crisis in Greece due to a massive influx of migrants, the EU’s Faustian bargain with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was supposed to prevent tragedies like the sinking of a repurposed fishing boat in the Mediterranean last week – which resulted in the drowning deaths of as many as 500 people.

But even as human rights advocates are blasting the deal with Erdogan for creating prison-like conditions for refugees in Greece and sending them onward to a dubious fate in Turkey, last week’s mass drowning off the coast of Libya highlights a potentially deeper flaw. People are still tempting fate in the ocean.

The pact has made it harder for people to reach Greece. But there are other equally problematic routes to Europe. More than 170,000 people reached Europe from Libya in 2014, for instance. Another 150,000 tried the same route in 2015, and nearly 25,000 have made the attempt so far this year.

No Love for Obama’s Brexit Plea

Turns out you can fault a guy for trying.

US President Barack Obama urged Britain not to leave the European Union in an “impassioned appeal” on Friday. But his superpowers apparently don’t work on Brits. Some found his plea to be “typical of his arrogance.” Others, like former UK defense secretary Liam Fox, saw it as evidence of a dubious double standard.

“The US would never accept a court in Toronto overruling the Supreme Court, it would never accept an outside body telling them to open the border with Mexico and it would never accept Congress being overruled,” Fox told Time.

Some analyses indicate the so-called “Brexit” could shave as much as 2.2 percent off the UK’s gross domestic product by 2030, though in a rosier scenario it could gain 1.6 percent. But ordinary Brits are more concerned with immigration and issues related to sovereignty – which is often oversimplified into the notion that laws passed by the EU parliament can trump those passed in Britain itself.

Protests in Gambia

Some folks are calling Gambia “the worst dictatorship you’ve never heard of.” Can nascent protests prevent the dictator in question from cruising to a fifth five-year term in polls scheduled for December?

Not likely. Or not likely without serious violence.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s response to protests against his regime last week was relatively mild. Only 55 people were arrested, three opposition leaders were killed and just one guy disappeared —  United Democratic Party (UDP) head Ousainou Darboe, who is reportedly in prison. But under a so-called Indemnity Law passed in 2001, Jammeh can give a free pass to security forces who take more extreme measures to prevent unlawful assembly, like gunning down 14 people in broad daylight.

That means street protests must rise to Arab spring type levels – or somehow win the support of the military — to avoid being squashed.


A Mystery of Identical Cuteness

Conventional wisdom has it that genetic diversity is crucial to the survival of a species. Nobody told California’s island fox.

Isolated on the Channel Islands off the coast of California, the gray and red foxes are smaller than a house cat – weighing in at as little as two and a half pounds. They’re Buzzfeed cute. They have virtually no fear of humans. And they’re nearly genetically identical. Like clones or identical twins.

So why aren’t they already extinct? Scientists are still trying to figure that out.

One explanation could be that they simply haven’t faced an evolutionary threat that required them to adapt, at least since they became so similar. Another possibility is that they have genes for different traits that are dormant but ready to be activated if needed – through a phenomenon known as epigenetics in which experiences in early life cause genes to switch on and off.

If that’s the case, they better get cracking, because one subspecies is already endangered and golden eagles have recently migrated to the islands for cuddly fox dinner.

Fri, 04/22/2016 – 05:57

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