The World Today for January 31, 2017



With the flick of a pen, US President Donald Trump last week made good on his campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

A landmark free-trade proposal between 12 countries across three continents, the TPP was poised to cast a net of virtually tariff-free trade covering 40 percent of the global economy.

TPP always had its skeptics in the US, and the National Review on Monday laid out yet another reason not to shed a tear at its demise – even though it was the lynchpin of the Obama administration’s “Asia pivot.”

But, globally, the agreement wasn’t so politically loaded. Many poorer countries, like Vietnam, stood to benefit from the deal.

That’s why Australian trade minister Steve Ciobo set out to revive it – without the US – at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the BBC reported.

“There’s quite a number of countries that have an interest in looking to see if we can make a TPP 12-minus-one work,” he said.

While such an agreement would still need to be tweaked and subsequently ratified by the six largest economies in the revived pack, a new deal presents an opportunity for other countries both near and far to get in on the action.

Post-Brexit, Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer told the Australian Broadcasting Company that it’s “conceivable” that even his country might eventually take part in the TPP, the Australian reports.

Regardless, economists – and heavyweights like Japan – are considering TPP dead in the water without US involvement.

They believe there’s no incentive to adhere to the TPP’s high admission standards without access to the American market, the New Yorker explained.

Instead, trade in the region may come to be defined by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP.

The RCEP represents less than a third of the global economy. But it’s spearheaded by India and China. Both populous countries were excluded from the TPP. It also includes South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and other countries while boasting a low bar for membership.

Pros and cons of the two agreements aside, what’s happened to TPP “sets the tone and precedent that the United States is not going to be the center of trade or economics,” economist Samuel Rines wrote in the National Interest.

That may leave export powerhouse China to fill the void, as President Xi Jinping indicated in Davos recently.

Protectionism is like “locking oneself in a dark room,” he said, adding that China remains “ready to work with all sides to provide impetus for the Asia Pacific and the global economy.”

A dark room might be going too far. But it’s clear China means business.


Just Semantics

An Iranian missile launch on Monday provides more than one kind of test.

The missile itself traveled about 600 miles, but its re-entry vehicle exploded before the flight was complete, the New York Times reported. The real purpose, however, may be to gauge whether US President Donald Trump will “tear up” the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran in response.

During the campaign, Trump promised to hold Iran rigidly to the terms of the deal and sometimes conflated its nuclear and missile programs. However, the nuclear deal doesn’t technically preclude missile tests, as long as they’re not ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. For its part, Iran has said it doesn’t have any nuclear weapons, so thus by definition its missiles aren’t designed to carry them.

While Trump’s administration has so far seemed loath to scrap the deal, the launch opens up a new opportunity to join Israel in pushing for new sanctions that are geared specifically toward missiles.

Staying Home

Pakistan once again placed the alleged mastermind of the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai under house arrest, but don’t expect grand celebrations in India.

Subject to a $10-million American bounty for evidence leading to his conviction, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has lived openly in Pakistan for years, though he’s repeatedly been told to stay home when Islamabad needed to score points with Washington or New Delhi, the New York Times reported.

Pakistan insists they’ve tried and failed to prove his guilt, while India says it has what amounts to smoking gun evidence that Saeed remains the head of the banned terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba – which carried out the Mumbai attacks.

His latest house arrest comes amid his efforts to get the Islamabad High Court to remove his name from a terrorism watch list, the paper noted. Saeed maintains that he had no links to Lashkar-e-Taiba. He insists that his present outfit – Jamaat-ud-Dawa – is a harmless charity. And the group’s actual charity work means he enjoys widespread support in Pakistan – even if the US says it’s just a front for militant activities.

An Unsurprising Manifesto

The French Canadian student accused of shooting six Muslim men during evening prayers at a Quebec mosque was known for his far-right politics and support for populist  leaders.

Alexandre Bissonnette was charged Monday with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder associated with the shooting, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an act of terrorism against Muslims, the CBC reported.

The 27-year-old suspect had expressed support for Le Pen and US President Donald Trump on his Facebook page, the agency quoted an advocate for refugees as saying.

The anthropology and political science major at Laval University in Quebec City had also expressed support for “Génération Nationale,” a group whose manifesto includes the rejection of “multiculturalism.”


New Year’s Frenzy

Millions across China are home this week to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

But before they took off to see mom and dad, many turned on their smartphones in a last-minute bid to find a suitable date to present to their parents.

Because young, single Chinese often face tough lectures from relatives on the importance of marriage and family during the holidays, many are turning to mobile apps to hire an instant girlfriend or boyfriend to appease their families, wrote Reuters.

One app called Hire Me Plz saw an explosion of interest in date rentals in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year – enabling entrepreneurial users to charge up to 10,000 yuan (approx. $1,450) for spending a day pretending to be someone’s significant other.

One young woman from the southwestern province of Sichuan told Reuters she had only two half-day slots free in the upcoming week.

“I’m still seeking people to fill my time slots,” she said. “But only those who stay in the same province as me. I don’t have time to waste on travel.”

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