The World Today for May 02, 2016

May 2, 2016


A Rocky Sea of Separation

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was in China this weekend to meet his counterpart, Wang Yi, in the hopes of repairing a historically rocky relationship and smoothing out regional conflicts.

It was like the first counseling session between an estranged married couple.

“The China-Japan relationship has suffered various setbacks, falling to a low ebb,” said Wang, as he opened the meeting with a less-than-friendly tone Saturday. “The Japanese side knows clearly the reason behind that.”

After the meeting, Kishida issued a flat statement.

“We confirmed the importance of Japan-China relations and for a further improvement we agreed that both sides will make efforts,” Kishida, the Nikkei Asia Review reported.

Good talk, guys.

Still, a $344 billion trade relationship hangs in the balance between Asia’s two largest economies. And things aren’t going well. A survey in March said a record 83.2 percent of Japanese people did not feel close to China, compared to only 20.3 percent in 1979.

But Japanese lawmakers are not helping to build Chinese confidence, either. 

Last month, they made a controversial visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine dedicated to those who died protecting the Japanese empire. While many nationals see the shrine as a national monument, for the Chinese, it is a reminder of Japan’s brutality in World War II.

China and Japan disagree over a few uninhabited islands in the South China Sea, which is believed to have large deposits of oil and gas. In an aggressive move, the Chinese government has been building new islands on coral reefs to assert ownership over the area.

Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and everyone else in the region don’t approve. Neither does much of the rest of the world. Last month, feeling singled out, China fired back at the G-7 for urging “all states to refrain from such actions as land reclamations.”

Focusing on the positive and hoping to capitalize on a recent cooling in China’s relationship with North Korea, Kishida spoke to Yi about ways to curb the dictatorship’s militarism and growing nuclear program.

The meeting didn't produce any agreements. A spokeswoman for the Chinese government, Hua Chunying, on the other hand, said that the relationship had “shown signs of improvement,” and called the trip a “first step.” But it clearly wasn’t enough to make either side forget about their rocky history.

But, hey, they’re talking.


Iraq: Tired of Status Quo

Protesters stormed the Green Zone in Baghdad and entered the parliament Sunday to complain about their incompetent leaders.

The Green Zone, where the U.S. embassy is located, is supposed to be an impregnable area where US-supported Iraqi leaders can govern their country without fear of attack.


The protesters were largely the supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The US spent a lot of blood and treasure trying to tame Sadr’s forces in the years following the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country.

Today, Sadr’s followers are calling out Iraqi leaders who have failed to stop Islamic State, failed to improve the country’s economy, failed to rebuild its once admirable schools, hospitals and other infrastructure and, most importantly, failed to stamp out corruption.

It’s not clear how Sadr wants to fix those problems or how his fixes might also benefit his quest for power.

But, in the US and Europe, when the people become fed up and exercise their right to assembly and demand change, we call that democracy.

Burn It All

Kenyan officials burned 105 tons of elephant ivory and more than a ton of rhino horns worth more than $150 million this weekend.

The pyres were designed to demonstrate that the country was serious about stamping out poaching. They required 20,000 gallons of jet fuel.

Later this year, delegates to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species in South Africa will debate whether to ban the ivory trade entirely.

That trade is killing the majestic beasts. Around 1.3 million elephants roamed Africa in the 1970s. Today, only 500,000 remain.

Some argue that broadly legalizing the trade would prevent poaching and give officials more control over how many of the animals are killed.

Maybe. But Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who was at the burning, disagreed.

“To all the poachers, to all the buyers and foreign traders, your days are numbered,” said Ondimba. “We are going to put you out of business. The best thing to do is to retire now.”

A Rerun

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) convened its party convention on Sunday.

It was their typical affair of xenophobic hate but with a twist.

This time around, members of the anti-immigration party officially ruled that Islam was incompatible with the German constitution. They called for a ban on minarets (the towers on mosques) and on burqas (the black robe and veil worn by some Muslim women.)

“Islam is foreign to us and for that reason it cannot invoke the principle of religious freedom to the same degree as Christianity,” said Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, an AfD legislator in Saxony-Anhalt.

The crowd applauded.

Someone at the convention called for a “dialogue” with Muslims in Germany.

The crowed booed.

The AfD is around three years old. Its establishment coincides with the uptick in refugees coming to Germany since the outset of the Syrian Civil War. Around 1 million refugees have since come to the country. Germany already had an estimated 4 million Muslims.

So far, the AfD doesn’t have lawmakers in Germany’s federal parliament. But they hold seats in state legislatures.

Their power is growing and more state elections are on the way. Polls say they have the support of around 14 percent of the German public, a sizeable amount given that Germany’s parliament awards seats on proportional representation.


E.T. phoned home. Nobody answered.

Researchers recently concluded that the chance that intelligent life evolved on Earth and nowhere else was one in 10 billion trillion. In the Milky Way, the chance is one in 60 billion.

The researchers used discoveries of new potentially habitable planets in their equations.

So why haven’t we encountered any of these potentially intelligence forms of life?

They’re probably extinct, say researchers at the University or Rochester.

Here’s why: If intelligent life forms were out there, they would have contacted us or we would have discovered traces of them.

Our civilization is around 10,000 years old. The universe is 13 billion years old. Unless one believes that UFOs visited the planet millennia ago, it does seem odd that in all that time we haven’t run across another civilization able to travel long distances in space.

Since we haven’t discovered them, they probably already died off, the researchers conclude.

That’s a rather cynical conclusion. But it makes sense. Unfortunately.

Mon, 05/02/2016 – 06:05

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