The World Today for May 04, 2017


Turbulence and Resilience

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s India has proven to be remarkably resilient, even in turbulent times.

The country’s GDP growth rate of 7 percent for the final months of 2016, for example, defied economists’ predictions, allowing India to retain its title as the world’s fastest growing major economy.

India posted those gains despite the chaos Modi injected into Indian society late last year by embarking on a policy of radical demonetization – eliminating popular 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from circulation.

Modesty might still be more becoming for Modi, however. He and his vision for India are not in the clear yet.

At home, his Hindu nationalist politics continue to threaten to undermine the rule of law and increase Hindu-Muslim animosity, as Hindu vigilante groups target Muslims for violence for eating or transporting beef or for courting Hindu women.

He also faces challenges abroad. On Wednesday, Modi expressed his disfavor with new Australian restrictions on visas for highly skilled workers, a move that could impact Indians who have made going abroad to work in foreign tech sectors a mainstay of professional Indian life.

Indian officials were already in a state of alarm over the US government’s decision to suspend the expedited processing of H1-B visas, the means by which many Indian engineers and tech workers find jobs in the US.

Indian IT firms are now lobbying US lawmakers to try to mitigate some of the damage these changes could unleash.

Youth unemployment continues to bedevil Modi’s India: more than 30 percent of Indians under 30 are out of formal work or education, according to a recent OECD report on India’s economy.

But the New York Times reported recently that many Indians are already souring on the idea of moving to America to make it big in Silicon Valley, in part due to perceived discrimination amid the H1-B visa controversy.

Meanwhile, Indian tech-outsourcing giant Infosys on Tuesday pledged to create 10,000 jobs in the US in part to counterbalance perceptions that the visas displace American workers.

The irony, as some have noted, is that both countries are competing for manufacturing deals and jobs under Trump’s policy “America First” and Modi’s similarly conceived “Make in India.”

Modi’s other “India First” moves have also led to quibbling between Washington and New Delhi.

US officials are concerned over the “significant challenges” foreign NGOs face in India, wrote India’s Economic Times, for example. The high-profile closure of the Christian charity Compassion International in March is a case in point. (Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, frequently accuse Christian groups of attempting to convert Hindus and indigenous tribal groups to Christianity through trickery and inducements).

At the same time, India’s relations with China are already strained, and those could deteriorate further. India’s decision to host the Dalai Lama in disputed territory did not go over well with Beijing.

As Modi celebrates three years in office this month, analysts say that in spite of the hiccups, the Indian leader has good reason to rejoice: He has plowed forward with his economic program and has been rewarded by both high support from voters and strong numbers from the economy.


No Peace Here

Russia and Turkey on Wednesday publicly reaffirmed their alliance in the war in Syria, where Moscow continues to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite strong evidence that his forces used banned chemical weapons in a recent attack.

After the April 4 attack on the Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had fixed blame on Assad, while Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the attack had been faked to discredit the Syrian leader, Reuters noted.

Following their meeting at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin and Erdogan said they would continue to support the ongoing peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan – where Iran is also a key sponsor. They also voiced support for so-called safe zones in Syria to protect civilians from the fighting, a proposal that also has the backing of US President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an armed opposition group fighting Assad’s troops, said it had suspended its participation in the Astana talks, pending an end to government bombing of areas under its control.

Rare Rebuke

Known for undiplomatic statements aimed at the West, North Korea on Wednesday issued a rare rebuke to China – virtually its only ally and trading partner.

China’s “reckless remarks” on the North’s nuclear program are testing its patience and could result in “grave” consequences, Bloomberg cited an editorial issued by the state-run Korean Central News Agency as saying.

The official mouthpiece of the Chinese communist party, the People’s Daily, said Sunday and repeated on Tuesday that the North’s nuclear ambitions “put itself and the whole region into dire peril.” Other editorials in the state-run Global Times – which does not always represent China’s official position – have been more strident, the agency said.

Meanwhile, the North Korean article – which broke precedent by singling out China by name for criticism instead of referring to it as “a neighboring country” — was not attributed to any government agency or official.

The spat comes as China urges all the parties involved to “stop irritating each other,” and in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s efforts to convince Chinese President Xi Jinping to do more to rein in Pyongyang.

Jewelry, Pianos and Mining

A US jury convicted a US citizen who was formerly Guinea’s minister of mining of laundering $8.5 million in bribes that prosecutors allege he took in exchange for helping a Chinese conglomerate secure mining rights.

Jurors in federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday convicted Mahmoud Thiam of money laundering and engaging in transactions in property with a criminal source, Reuters reported.

Thiam said that the money was a loan he accepted from Hong Kong executive Sam Pa to address a “desperate situation” in his personal and business affairs, Bloomberg reported.

However, the prosecution argued that the money helped Pa’s company, China International Fund Ltd., win a $7 billion development deal with Guinea – and Thiam spent it on luxury hotels, jewelry, ski lessons, private school for his kids, a Steinway grand piano and a 30-acre estate in New York’s Dutchess County.

Thiam’s lawyer said he will move to overturn the conviction.


Building Blocks

The prospect of human civilization taking root on Mars may still be the stuff of science fiction.

But new research published recently in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that at least the building blocks of a Martian civilization may already exist.

That’s because the construction materials humanity may someday need build houses, or even entire colonies, may already exist within Martian soil, the New York Times reported.

Using a soil compound that’s similar to that found on the red planet, Yu Qiao, a materials scientists and engineer at the University of California San Diego, and colleagues found that applying enough pressure to Martian soil could create bricks without the need of a binding agent, like glue, water or heat.

The iron oxide in the soil, which also gives Mars its rusty red hue, acts as a glue all by itself when subjected to enough pressure.

While no building is made from only one material, the find could mean locally sourced construction on Mars isn’t as far off as we once thought – at least if the binding technique can be replicated on a large scale.

“If this can indeed be scaled up for mass production, then I would say we are lucky,” said Qiao.

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