The World Today for August 03, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

CHINA

Flexing Muscle

With a population of only a few thousand, Sansha city on Woody Island – China’s administrative center for the South China Sea – is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai or Beijing.

But residents of the disputed island can now add a movie theater to their list of entertainment choices after the Chinese government recently opened its southernmost cinema there.

It’s part of an effort to build up the region’s civilian infrastructure – and assert Beijing’s sovereignty over the island in the Parcels, in spite of Vietnamese and Taiwanese claims, wrote Reuters.

It also fits into a wider pattern of China flexing its muscle around the globe.

For one, China’s sharp rise in military spending is starting to bear fruit. Earlier this summer, China launched its latest warship – a guided-missile destroyer – and it recently declared its first aircraft carrier to be operational, wrote Deutsche Welle.

At the same time, China is plowing ahead on its $1 trillion “One Belt, One Road” investment initiative across Europe, Asia and Africa – and taking a keen interest in strategically placed countries like Iran in the process, wrote the New York Times.

And closer to home, mainland authorities are slowly but surely tightening their grip on Hong Kong through a deal in which the Hong Kong government plans to lease part of a new high-speed train station to China.

That would allow mainland police to patrol Hong Kong for the first time since the former British colony reverted to Chinese control in 1997, to the dismay of activists fearing a loss of the city’s autonomy.

They have a point – the Chinese military is already taking a more active role in Hong Kong by conducting drills and war games in the territory, wrote CNN.

Indeed, Chinese leaders and citizens are feeling confident about their country’s course.

“Chinese exceptionalism is on the rise,” wrote the Wall Street Journal, with many Chinese feeling that the country has managed to reach its full potential even without embracing democracy.

President Xi Jinping’s efforts to root out corruption within the Chinese communist party meanwhile could be positioning the country on the verge of a political renaissance.

Xi’s anti-corruption campaign – first launched back in 2012 – could usher in a new generation of leaders who are less timid than their scandal-tinged predecessors and more prepared to reform China’s state-owned enterprises, said CNBC.

China is slated to hold its 19th Party Congress later this year, where it will unveil the officials tipped to succeed the current leadership, wrote BBC.

Still, Xi’s surprise decision to purge Sun Zhengcai – a man widely thought to be a future front-runner for the Chinese presidency – from the party last month, has left some questioning the future political direction of the world’s most populous country.

Rather than entering a new golden age, Sun’s expulsion – over a “serious violation of discipline” – has left some insiders predicting that China instead might be heading into a new period of political turbulence, wrote the Guardian.

“A smooth leadership transition is really crucial to the survival of Chinese Communist party rule in China and this really throws a monkey wrench into the machine,” said Susan Shirk, a deputy assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton and China expert. “If [Xi] upturns the smooth succession now, I think he’s setting himself up for trouble, for some pushback from the rest of the party elite.”

And that distraction could cramp China’s expansion muscle.

[siteshare]Flexing Muscle[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

Foul Play

Two of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders were taken into custody after protesting the vote for a constituent assembly loyal to President Nicolas Maduro – a vote that was subsequently called “manipulated” by the company that provided the election system, Reuters reported.

Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica said that “without a doubt” the system was tampered with and added at least a million votes to the turnout, bolstering opposition charges that the results were inflated, NPR said.

Internal election data seen by Reuters put the turnout at around 3.7 million, casting doubt on the more than eight million claimed by authorities.

Meanwhile, the two politicians arrested – Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma – have become part of a pattern of detentions, AP reported.

Still, the proof of voter manipulation appears to have emboldened the opposition, which has called for massive protests on Thursday to prevent the assembly from occupying the opposition-led congress.

More than 120 have been killed in protests over the past four months so far.

[siteshare]Foul Play[/siteshare]

MONTENEGRO

A Timely Pat

The Western Balkans got a reassuring pat on the back Tuesday from US Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to Montenegro to promise continued US support amid Russian efforts to “destabilize” the region.

The diplomatic courtesy call, highlighted by praise for Montenegro’s decision to join NATO last June in defiance of Russia, came on the same day that President Trump begrudgingly signed off on sanctions against that country.

The sanctions, targeting Russia’s mining and oil industry, come as a response to its interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and to its military aggression in Ukraine, NPR wrote.

Perhaps intentionally, Pence’s visit to the region comes one month ahead of planned Russian military exercises on its Western borders, Reuters reported, with more than 100,000 troops taking part.

President Trump had previously triggered worries about US commitment to the Balkans when he called NATO “obsolete” and pushed for better relations with Russia.

[siteshare]A Timely Pat[/siteshare]

AFGHANISTAN

Passing the Torch

The defeat of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq may be a factor behind recently stepped-up militant activity in Afghanistan, including Monday’s attack against the Iraqi embassy in Kabul and another Tuesday hitting a Shi’ite mosque in Herat, according to Reuters.

A spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry told the wire agency that an increasing amount of weapons and foreign fighters with the Islamic State have been arriving in the country from Syria and Iraq through Iran.

The news agency quoted a security official who said the issue is not the presence of foreign fighters, which is nothing new, but the arrival of “battle-hardened, educated and professional fighters in the thousands.”

US military officials said they were not convinced that the Islamic State was gaining strength in the country.

[siteshare]Passing the Torch[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Cat and Mouse

When the British bureaucracy has a pest problem, they call in the cavalry: a troupe of feisty feline mouse hunters.

One such exterminator, a short-haired black cat named Gladstone – named after the 19th-century prime minister and chancellor William Gladstone – joined Britain’s finance ministry just over a year ago and has been hard at work ever since, Reuters reports.

“I’m a grafter! This year I’ve caught 22 mice and I believe in going the extra mile, so I’ve also caught 2 flies – it’s harder than it looks!” Gladstone posted on his private Instagram recently.

Gladstone’s Instagram account has over 10,000 followers and mostly boasts photos of the black cat donning peppy bowties that correspond with current events.

Gladstone isn’t alone in his mission to rid Westminster and Downing Street of pesky mice.

According to the Telegraph, five felines roam the halls of the prime minister’s residence and other federal ministries searching for intruders.

Click here to watch a video profiling Britain’s famous felines.

[siteshare]Cat and Mouse[/siteshare]

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