The World Today for November 30, 2017



More Than Silk and Spices

Leaders from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan last month opened the long-awaited, 525-mile-long Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway, a crucial link in China’s revival of the ancient Silk Road.

With this new link through the Caucasus, tens of millions of tons of cargo can now be transported between Asia and Europe in as little as two-weeks. It’s just one of many projects China has undertaken in Central Asia and Africa as part of Belt and Road, an almost trillion-dollar investment strategy now enshrined in the Chinese government’s constitution, CNBC reported.

The plan re-conceptualizes the ancient Silk Road trading route between Europe and Asia as a modern transportation network made up of Chinese-funded roads, seaports, railway tracks and airports – even high-speed fiber-optic lines. About 65 countries are already taking part, comprising one-third of global GDP and 60 percent of the world’s population, Oxford Economics reported earlier this year.

But Belt and Road is much more than an infrastructure project, writes international affairs consultant Alex Chance for the Diplomat. It places China at the heart of a rapidly modernizing global ecosystem and envisions a pluralistic approach to globalization.

“Exchange will replace estrangement, mutual learning will replace clashes, and coexistence will replace a sense of superiority,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told reporters at the opening of the Belt and Road forum earlier this year.

While idyllic in nature, the plan has its critics.

The route zig-zags through turbulent, at times violent nations whose governments are prone to misappropriating funds, Bloomberg reported. China is also one of the world’s most notorious violators of human rights.

Even so, Belt and Road could unite one-time foes in a mutually beneficial economic arrangement that could reshape some of the world’s most contentious regions, Forbes reported.

Such hopes for the project are shifting the balance of global influence toward the East. As China grabs at the reins of global leadership with Belt and Road, the United States is losing its grip, Time says.

Washington’s high-profile withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords and other global agreements is leaving a vacuum of influence that China is quickly filling with soft power and billions in investments. The Trump administration has largely dismissed Belt and Road’s foreign policy consequences and staying power, Time writes.

But most believe the impact will be huge. They say the new Silk Road is about much more than making sure spices aren’t in short supply.



On Their Terms

Australia’s Victoria state passed the country’s first law legalizing euthanasia, which will allow people with incurable diseases and a life expectancy of less than six months to obtain a lethal drug within 10 days.

Victoria joins the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Colombia and Luxembourg in legalizing euthanasia, the New York Times reported. In California, Washington, D.C., and Oregon (as well as in several countries), doctors may prescribe or suggest a means in which patients may end their own lives, without directly assisting in the act.

Passed after two and a half years of debate and amendments, Victoria’s law is more conservative than most others – a fact noted via Twitter by Premier Daniel Andrews, who had lobbied heavily for the law. Among the restrictions, a drug can only be administered for the patient if the patient is unable to do so, and it only covers people who have resided in Victoria for at least a year.


Behind Bars

Argentina sentenced 29 people to life in prison for the kidnapping, torture and murder committed during the country’s 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Involving some 800 criminal cases, the trial featured many defendants, such as former Navy Captain Alfredo Astiz and Captain Jorge Acosta, both of whom are already serving life sentences for crimes committed during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War, Reuters reported.

However, the ruling marked the first convictions for “death flights” in which people were drugged and their bodies dumped in the River Plate.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the federal courthouse in Buenos Aires to listen to the convictions – which took more than three hours to read out. Apart from those sentenced to life, 19 people received jail terms of eight to 25 years. Six others were declared not guilty, including former Finance Minister Juan Alemann.

Human rights groups estimate that around 30,000 people were killed during the dictatorship, when the US provided technical support and military aid to Operation Condor – a regional campaign of political repression and state terror justified as a fight to prevent the rise of communism.


The Trouble with Graft

In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari became the first opposition candidate to defeat an incumbent at the ballot box in Nigeria, thanks to a pledge to root out corruption. But two years on, internecine battles are hampering the big fight.

Earlier this month, armed secret policemen stopped the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from arresting former National Intelligence Agency chief Ayodele Oke – whom Buhari sacked for stashing $43 million in cash in his wife’s apartment, Bloomberg reported.

But that’s just the latest in a string of incidents that have raised questions about Buhari’s war on corruption – which has again and again been plagued by inter-agency rivalry. Ibrahim Magu, Buhari’s pick to head the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, has himself been rejected twice by the legislature based on state security police reports of alleged prior wrongdoing.

Critics say the anti-graft campaign has focused on Buhari’s opponents and ignored his supporters. A former defense minister under Buhari’s predecessor, for instance, saw a case accusing him of receiving $13 million in slush funds quashed just before his defection to Buhari’s party.


Whales and Spa Days

While studying the feeding patterns of bowhead whales, marine biologist Sarah Fortune noticed her subjects were engaging in some odd behavior: They were rubbing their bodies against giant boulders.

Using drones, Fortune and her team discovered that they were gently exfoliating their skin.

“We could clearly see these whales clustered around these boulders taking turns sloughing off skins,” she told the New York Times.

In a comprehensive study published in the journal PLOS One, Fortune and her team shed light on the mysterious rubbing, which had led whalers to dub the bowheads “rock-nosed whales.”

During the warmer summer months, the whales migrate to more tepid waters to molt. Scientists believe the move itself boosts the whales’ metabolism and speeds up the molting process, heightening the need for a good rub down on the rocks.

It’s not only humans who need a spa day, it seems.

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