The World Today for July 11, 2016

Need to Know

Asia’s Brexit moment

Japan is on track to deliver another momentous political change to today’s tumultuous geopolitics.

On Sunday, Japanese voters gave Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies a two-thirds vote in the country’s upper house. With his similar supermajority in the lower house, Abe now has enough lawmakers to initiate changes to the country’s constitution, which was written largely by American General Douglas MacArthur after the Second World War.

Specifically, Abe wants to alter the article in the document that forbids the Japanese to wage war.

Voters must approve the constitutional changes in a referendum. But Abe’s progress toward his goal of removing limits on the once-vaunted Japanese military suggests that the old order is deteriorating in Asia as it is in Europe and the United States.

Given the rise of China and India, Russia’s persistent bellicosity, North Korea’s continued saber rattling and a resurgence of isolationist tendencies in the US, it’s no wonder many Japanese believe MacArthur’s constitution wrongly constrains their powerful country.

But experts also noted that Abe’s feckless opponents also helped assure his victory.

“There is not an alternative,” Jeff Kingston, Asian studies director at Temple University in Tokyo, told the New York Times. “This is as lukewarm a sense of support as you get.”

Kingston’s comments suggested parallels with other recent events. Recall how British voters were similarly blasé about Brexit, the vote last month to leave the European Union. Or how Republican elites didn’t take Donald Trump seriously until recently. Both are now wondering how they allowed such dramatic changes. The Japanese are now poised to do the same.

But, just as it is for leaders in Britain and candidates running for the White House, the economy is Abe’s biggest and most immediate challenge. He needs to produce growth before he can ask disgruntled voters to embrace his notions of an assertive Japan reclaiming its sovereignty.

The prime minister is now expected to call for a $100 billion stimulus package on infrastructure, education and other programs to revive Japan’s flagging economy, according to the Guardian. That package is more vital than ever given how Brexit has upended the world economy and forced up the value of the Japanese yen, making the country’s exports more expensive, the Wall Street Journal noted – though strong US jobs data resulted in a 0.1 percent drop in the yen and a jump in Japanese equities early Monday.

So, like Trump and the drivers of Brexit, even as Abe reacts defensively to the changes roiling the world, he’s also pursuing goals that will almost certainly further roil the world if he succeeds in accomplishing them.

From London to Washington to Tokyo, the world is struggling to get a grip on this feedback loop.

Want to Know

New Olive Branches

It’s been a long time since an Egyptian foreign minister visited Israel. Nine years, to be exact. So a visit by Sameh Shoukry to Jerusalem for two meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised hopes of stronger ties between the two countries – which are both concerned about growing regional unrest.

On Sunday, Shoukry offered to help jump start stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, calling for confidence building measures and emphasizing that a two-state solution is “not far-fetched.” Meanwhile, the current stalemate “is neither stable nor sustainable,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

For his part, Netanyahu repeated his previous call for the Palestinians to return to direct negotiations, and said he was willing to discuss the so-called Arab peace initiative, but changes would be required before Israel could accept it. The peace plan, endorsed by the Arab League’s 22 Arabic-speaking nations, calls for a full withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories –

that includes the East Jerusalem area that houses some of the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, such as the Temple Mount, Western Wall, and Dome of the Rock.

That suggests Shoukry’s visit is more important for its symbolism than his suggestions.

A Lukewarm Win

After one of the closest (and longest) Australian national elections in 50 years, conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared victory on Sunday, after his coalition appeared set to secure around 76 out of 150 seats in the country’s House of Representatives.

The declaration – mostly – ended eight days of uncertainty over which of the country’s two dominant parties, Turnbull’s Liberal Party or the Labor Party, would lead the government. While the Liberal / National Party coalition is poised to win a narrow majority, Labor is expected to control 66-69 seats when the final results are released Friday, according to Agence France- Presse. But Turnbull is “already battling sniping” from his own ranks on Monday, and five lower house seats still hang in the balance.

The narrow margin will likely make governing difficult, especially because “a diverse group of left- and right-wing independents and minority parties” will control the Senate and may block legislation passed in the House, analysts said

That means early polls are likely before the end of the next three-year term, and it has prompted concern about the new government’s ability to rein in the budget deficit.

Unhappy Anniversary

South Sudan celebrated its fifth anniversary on Saturday. A day later, shots rang out.

Renewed, intense fighting in Juba, the fledgling country’s capital city, Sunday has raised fears of a return to full-blown civil war. On Monday, the US State Department announced that it was evacuating all non-emergency staff from its embassy in the wake of a “sudden and serious deterioration,” according to CNN.

Hundreds are reported killed since the initial clashes began Friday. The United Nations Security Council on Monday condemned the resumption of hostilities and called for additional peacekeepers to be sent in response. UN compounds in Juba had been hit by small arms and heavy weapons fire, and some fear the situation is spiraling out of control.

“We’re extremely worried about what appears to be the lack of command and control over the troops,” said the US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.

Meanwhile, even without bullets flying, the situation is grim, writes the Daily Beast. There’s an immediate risk of famine in the oilfield region, the country faces “total economic collapse” without drastic measures, and the rivalry between Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir could easily escalate to inter-ethnic war.

Discoveries

Neanderthal Dining Habits

Our ancient ancestors, the Neanderthals, ate each other.

Researchers came to that conclusion recently in a paper in Scientific Reports that is based on 45,000-year-old Neanderthal bones found in a cave in Belgium, the Washington Post reported.

The bones of four adults or teenagers and a child show signs of butchery, marrow-sucking and similar marks that evince cannibalism. Bones of reindeer and wild horses are scattered throughout the cave, too.

The discovery was among the most northerly and most recent in Neanderthal caves, suggesting the cannibals were active as their population was declining. Modern humans had not yet arrived on the scene but when they did, they mated with the few remaining Neanderthals so that some folks to this day contain Neanderthal DNA in their genes.

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