The World Today for October 27, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

CHINA

The Chairman of Everything

In addition to serving as president of China, Xi Jinping holds at least 12 other titles at the top of the country’s power structure, including general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission and head of Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs.

They call him “The Chairman of Everything.”

On Wednesday, at their 19th annual Congress, party elites elevated Xi still further, enshrining his name and political vision in the country’s constitution, an honor reserved for only two other Chinese leaders: Mao Zedong, who founded the modern communist Chinese state, and Deng Xiaoping, who embraced capitalist reforms that triggered an economic boom.

“Welcome to the era of Xi,” an NBC analysis said.

At the Congress, Xi promised to build on Mao’s legacy of stability and Deng’s foundation of prosperity. His plan: to make China stronger.

“Living in such a great era, we are all the more confident and proud, and also feel the heavy weight of responsibility upon us,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

The US Constitution constrains American presidents. The European Union corrals British, French and German leaders. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin must consider his popularity among the masses.

Xi’s authority is near-absolute. “Some people might call him the King of China,” President Donald Trump told Fox Business.

Trump needs to keep Xi’s power in mind when he meets the Chinese leader during a visit to Asia next month.

Xi has expanded China’s military power by building artificial islands in the South China Sea, begun work on a massive land route along the ancient Silk Road to penetrate Central Asia’s economy. He has played coy when engaging with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. And he’s assumed the mantle of the world’s leader in combating climate change in the wake of Trump pulling the US out of the Paris climate change accord.

“(Xi) has exploited a strategic opportunity in Asia opened by the Obama administration’s caution and now the instability and disorder of the Trump administration,” read a recent report by the Lowy Institute in Australia.

The only question about Xi’s dominance is who might replace him. The 64-year-old is starting his second five-year term. No clear successors exist, the BBC reported, a potential problem given how China’s ruling class desires stability above all else.

But Xi has time. Since by now he has also appointed nearly everyone in the top echelons of China’s power structure, he might not need to anoint anyone else as the country’s next leader. Whoever follows him will almost certainly be his friend.

WANT TO KNOW

SYRIA

After the Deluge

US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson doubled down on Washington’s opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, solidifying America’s conflict with Russia over the future of the war-torn country.

“The United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar al-Assad in the government,” the New York Times quoted Tillerson as saying Thursday, after a meeting in Geneva with the United Nations special envoy on the Syrian crisis.

It’s not clear yet what further actions will result from that position.

Also on Thursday, a United Nations investigative panel for the first time blamed the Syrian Air Force for a sarin gas attack on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.

Earlier this week, Moscow had vetoed a plan to renew the investigative body’s mandate for another year, saying that Russia would oppose any statement on the Syrian government’s responsibility until after the Khan Sheikhoun report was finished.

It’s not clear if Moscow will continue to block an extension of the mandate, which is due to expire Nov. 16.

SPAIN

Hot Potato

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont refused to lay down a course of action for the region as lawmakers in Madrid ready to curtail the region’s autonomous powers on Friday.

Many people gathered in Barcelona on Thursday hoping Puigdemont would (again) declare independence, while others speculated that he might call regional elections in an effort to avoid rule from Madrid, the BBC reported.

Instead, Puigdemont tossed the ball to the regional parliament.

During Thursday’s regional parliamentary session in Barcelona, a Catalan government spokesman said a proposal to implement the results of a referendum on independence would be submitted to lawmakers on Friday. But parliamentarians remain divided on a course of action, with hardliners calling for a unilateral declaration of independence as a counter to the Senate’s plans to approve emergency powers for the central government.

A Catalan parliamentary vote Friday could result in that declaration, even as a Senate vote in Madrid could result in the removal of Puigdemont, new regional elections held and the seizure of control of Catalonia’s finances, police and public media by the central government.

BRAZIL

Black Gold

Brazil is rolling out the red carpet for global oil companies as they gather in Rio de Janeiro to bid on deep sea drilling rights, the goal being to stave off competition from Mexico as oil majors retreat from large-scale offshore projects.

Brazil offers high-cost, but prolific deep-water reserves, while Mexico’s lower-cost oilfields come with greater political risk, Reuters reported.

In a dramatic change from the days of high prices and resource nationalism, countries across Latin America are relaxing terms and accelerating auctions to lure back oil investment.

Brazil, for example, has scrapped a rule requiring state-owned Petrobras to operate deep-sea projects in the country’s pre-salt province, and loosened local content requirements on equipment and supplies. Mexico, too, has made the qualification process to bid in auctions easier and local content requirements more flexible.

However, Mexico’s looming presidential election in 2018 and deteriorating US-Mexico relation under President Donald Trump present some risks for investors – especially as Trump’s rhetoric has boosted leftist opposition firebrand Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in opinion polls.

DISCOVERIES

Who You Gonna Call?

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University in northwest Nigeria is facing a snake infestation that would scare the bejesus out of any student that walks through its doors.

The slippery infestation turned fatal when Zainab Umar, a student of economics, was bitten on campus.

As a result, the university brought out its secret weapon against the reptilian invaders: snake charmers.

“We have employed the services of snake charmers to assist us in ridding the campus of snakes,” Suleiman Kankara, the university’s dean of student affairs, told Nigeria’s Daily Post.

“Although the snake charmers just began to work, plans had been in the pipeline to hire them,” he said, adding that they regularly employ the charmers for smaller infestations.

In Nigeria, snake charmers mostly operate as street entertainers, pacifying the venomous reptiles enough to be held with the bare hand.

But these daredevils also claim to possess “special powers, charms or medicines,” the BBC reported.

In a country with nearly 10,000 snake bites per year, one can imagine it’s a lucrative job.

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