The World Today for November 10, 2017



The Forest and Trees

As President Donald Trump embarked on his first tour of Asia since taking office, some wondered how the trip would play out.

The president’s harsh critiques of long-time regional allies, his “America first” reversal of his predecessor’s pivot to Asia, his embrace of notorious human rights abusers and his provocative rhetoric toward North Korea had many on edge as he began his 12-day tour on Sunday in Japan.

But aside from a few (literal) missteps by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the golf course, the first leg of the president’s trip went off without a hitch. Both leaders harmonized about the need to pressure North Korea until Pyongyang “comes to us and begs us to have a dialogue,” Abe said.

After a landslide election win earlier this month affirmed his plan to ramp up Japan’s defenses, Abe has found a friend in the American president. Both employ nationalist rhetoric for their own means, the New Yorker reported.

Even so, Abe was still working to salvage the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a mammoth trade pact that Trump abandoned shortly after taking office, while Trump focused on reducing America’s enormous trade deficit with Japan, wrote China’s Global Times.

In South Korea on Wednesday, Trump eased fears of an impending conflict with reassurances of America’s commitment to peace, a far cry from his bellicose tweets. Trump’s calls for a “fair and reciprocal” solution to the nation’s trade surplus with the US also drew praise, the Japan Times reported.

Trump then went to Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping and witnessed more than a dozen deals worth $9 billion inked between American and Chinese firms, USA Today reported.

Trump turned up the heat on Beijing to isolate the North Korean regime as expected, even as Xi welcomed American companies to participate in China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative, an almost one-trillion-dollar infrastructure project that places Beijing at the center of a trade network encompassing Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, Reuters reported.

So far, Trump may have reassured America’s Asian allies of the US’s commitment to long-time economic and security relationships in the region. But his lack of strategic policy threatens to undermine the progress he’s made, the Economist wrote.

Bilateral trade deals and milder rhetoric mask the fact that Trump’s isolationist stance has left a vacuum that is quickly being filled by Chinese President Xi. Beijing’s progressive investment strategies, push for green tech and 21st-century business models are embraced the world over – and now enshrined in the country’s constitution, the New York Times opined.

As Trump now travels to the Philippines to to meet President Rodrigo Duterte, there’s no doubt that he has friends in the region, writes the Economist.

But none of them entered into serious negotiations or made significant concessions during his trip, the Los Angeles Times noted.

Taking his pledge of “America First” to heart, Asian nations are now looking to each other and Europe for opportunities, according to Deborah Elms, executive director of Singapore-based Asian Trade Center, a research and consulting firm.

“When you sit out the game, the rest of the world moves on,” Elms said.



Charm Offensive

French President Emmanuel Macron made a surprise visit to Riyadh to attempt to soothe growing tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Macron’s talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman focused on ensuring stability in the region amid a crisis in Lebanon and war between Saudi and Iranian proxies in Yemen, Reuters reported.

Lebanese officials said that Riyadh had forced former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign over the weekend and he is now a captive of the Saudi government – a charge Saudi Arabia has denied.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait told their citizens to leave Lebanon as soon as possible Thursday, following an earlier Saudi statement saying Beirut’s inclusion of Hezbollah in Lebanon’s government amounts to an “act of war.”

France has close ties with Lebanon, which was once a French colony, and Hariri owns a home in France. But Macron said earlier there had been no discussion of transferring him there from Saudi Arabia.


Triple Threat

Venezuela’s government and opposition will resume talks for the third time this year, but there’s little hope for a break in the stalemate over the future of controversial President Nicolas Maduro.

Opposition leaders remained skeptical that Maduro would again use the talks to stall for time instead of implementing serious reforms, but said talks were imperative just to lay the groundwork for free and fair presidential elections, which are currently scheduled for 2018, Reuters reported.

On Thursday, the US imposed sanctions on 10 more Venezuelan officials for corruption and undermining democracy – bringing the total to 40, the BBC reported.

In more positive news, Venezuela’s state oil company made an overdue $1.1 billion principal payment, signaling that the country will keep honoring its obligations as it tries to negotiate a restructuring deal with its creditors, Bloomberg reported. However, several more deadlines are coming this weekend.


Anniversary Present

Some 41 years after Pablo Escobar began building his Medellin Cartel, Colombia made its largest-ever seizure of cocaine – recovering 13.4 tons of the narcotic worth some $360 million from farms northwest of the city Escobar made infamous.

Colombia has now seized some 362 tons of cocaine so far this year, already topping the total amount seized in 2016, NPR reported.

Following a spike in production that has accompanied an end to the long-running war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the government has this year forcibly eradicated more than 108,000 acres of illicit crops and used cash incentives to get farmers out of coca cultivation. But the area used for growing coca increased by 52 percent in 2016.

Meanwhile, its search for Dario Antonio Úsuga David, aka “Otoniel,” who heads a cartel called Clan Úsuga, has yet to yield any success despite a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his capture.


Just Like Us

Extraterrestrials are typically portrayed as big-headed, bug-eyed creatures. But scientists are now speculating that aliens could look just like us.

According to researchers from the UK’s University of Oxford, Darwin’s theory of evolution is the basis of the argument, Newsweek reported.

Natural selection and extreme conditions would allow aliens to evolve from single-celled organisms to multicellular ones, becoming more complex, stronger and more adaptable, just like us humans.

“We still can’t say whether aliens will walk on two legs or have big green eyes,” Sam Levin, a researcher in Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said in a statement on how theories of evolution could be used to speculate about the physical and societal characteristics of other worldly life.

“Like humans, we predict that they are made up of a hierarchy of entities, which all cooperate to produce an alien,” he said. “At each level of the organism there will be mechanisms in place to eliminate conflict, maintain cooperation and keep the organism functioning.”

Whatever their appearance, let’s hope for one thing – they’re not hostile.

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