The World Today for December 27, 2016


An Incendiary Mix

Not a lot appears to have changed in Tibet since China cracked down on demonstrations and self-immolations in protest of Beijing’s rule eight years ago.

Tibetans continue to migrate to the Tibetan plateau every summer for livestock grazing as they have for thousands of years. The strong affinity between Tibetans and their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, remains intact.

But closer inspection shows that Tibetan culture is in a profound state of flux as China exercises its totalitarian grip on the ostensibly autonomous region – which claimed independence until China’s invasion in 1950.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Tibetans are in “anguish” over mining that’s polluting their environment. But the paper cited unnamed sources because Tibetans feared reprisals from their Chinese overseers if they expressed their dissatisfaction publicly.

Similarly, The Globe and Mail published a report on Sunday about a revival in traditional Tibetan painting that became a tale of political oppression when the Canadian newspaper’s writer spoke to a painter in private. The artist said he wasn’t free to work as he chose.

The climate of fear comes amid big changes.

The number of urban residents in the Tibet Autonomous Republic, or TAR, has doubled since 2000, with urban settlements taking up lands once used for grazing, according to Agence-France Presse.

The tongue of Tibet’s conquerors – Mandarin – is making inroads into all levels of schooling at the expense of the Tibetan language, wrote The Economist.

Tourism and the number of ethnic Han Chinese living in Tibet are increasing, too, reported Yahoo News. KFC opened its first outlet near Lhasa recently.

Critics said Beijing is imposing the resettlements and other changes.

Chinese political repression continues, for sure. Crackdowns on Tibetan monasteries continue, for example. Tibetan exiles cite this summer’s razing of the sprawling, mountainside Larung Gar monastery – the largest Tibetan Buddhist learning center – as China’s most recent offense.

Some Tibetans believe urbanization will deliver higher living standards, AFP reported. Many Tibetan parents choose to school their children in Mandarin, too, thinking it will improve their job prospects, The Economist noted.

The recent appointment of Wu Yingjie as Tibet’s Communist Party secretary suggests current trends will continue. He recently said that countering the Dalai Lama’s influence and separatism in Tibet was China’s “highest priority.”

Some observers question what will happen when the current Dalai Lama, 81, passes away.

Some speculate that the Chinese government will try to rig the appointment of the Dalai Lama’s successor. Others warn that their leader’s passing could be the key ingredient in “an incendiary cocktail” for a culture already undergoing dislocation.

A dharma revolution, in other words, might be in the offing.



Not Talking

Amid a disastrous economic crisis that has seen food and medicine shortages and triple-digit inflation, Venezuela is lurching closer to chaos.

The country’s opposition leader on Monday ruled out returning to Vatican-led negotiations with President Nicolas Maduro’s government unless it makes major concessions – making good on past pledges to allow humanitarian aid, reform the national election board, free jailed activists and restore the National Assembly’s powers, Reuters reported.

On December 11, Maduro moved to pull the country’s 100-bolivar notes from circulation, declaring that the bills would cease to be legal tender in just 72 hours. Making India’s much-criticized surprise demonetization exercise look generous, the move resulted in looting and riots in at least eight cities, a Washington Post editorial noted. Maduro had to walk back the deadline to January 2 to quell the violence. But the “senseless decree” pushed the country a step closer to “pure anarchy,” the paper’s editorial board said.

With talks with the opposition disintegrating, more chaos is likely on the horizon.

More Settlements

Israel’s fight with the United Nations is far from over.

Following its failure to block a UN resolution condemning the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank on Friday, Israel has curbed ties with nations that voted in favor of the resolution, CNN reported. Meanwhile, the country said Monday that it would move ahead with thousands of new homes in the disputed territory, the New York Times said.

Jerusalem intends to approve 600 housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern part of the city on Wednesday as part of some 5,600 new homes planned for the area in the future.

Meanwhile, with the UN resolution behind them, Palestinian leaders said they would press for an international boycott of products made in the settlements and might push the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israeli leaders or file lawsuits on behalf of specific Palestinians displaced by the Jewish settlers.

Divided South Korea

Nearly 30 legislators have abandoned South Korea’s ruling party in the wake of the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

The 29 anti-Park lawmakers who left Park’s Saenuri Party aim to create a new conservative party that could influence the outcome of the next presidential election – which could take place as soon as a few months from now, the Associated Press reported.

The defectors will likely try to tempt outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon into running as their presidential candidate, and the coming weeks could well see more Saenuri members abandoning the party, the agency said.

Park is accused of colluding with longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to extort money and favors from the country’s biggest companies. The government’s special investigators are slated to call Choi for a second round of questioning Tuesday afternoon, following her first interrogation on Saturday.

Ban, who may be the conservatives’ best hope of winning the presidency, recently told Korean reporters in New York that he was ready to burn his body for South Korea – a possible signal he’s preparing to run.


Legacy Fish

A newly discovered fish covered in brilliant neon streaks of yellow, pink and blue has been named after Barack Obama.

Researchers found the coral reef fish during an expedition in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii and named it Tosanoides Obama to honor the president’s conservation efforts, according to a study published in the journal ZooKeys.

Obama quadrupled the size of the Papahānaumokuākea reserve, now the second-largest ecological sanctuary in the world.

“This expansion adds a layer of protection to one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth,” said Richard Pyle, the study’s lead author and a scientist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, in a statement.

Scientists said T. Obama is thought to be the only known species of coral-reef fish that lives in Papahānaumokuākea at depths of about 300 feet.

It’s not the first species to bear the president’s name. Earlier this year, a retired biologist named a new species of parasitic flatworm Baracktrema obamai, claiming it was a compliment given the creature’s resilience.

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