The World Today for December 14, 2017



From There to Here

China has become the full-throated defender of globalization in recent years.

At the recent Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, for example, Vice Premier Wang Yang reiterated China’s support for open markets and opposition to protectionism, Bloomberg reported.

Free marketeers like the editors at the Economist have responded by praising Chinese President Xi Jinping and his administration. “Fears that Xi Jinping is bad for private enterprise are overblown,” read an October headline in the British magazine.

But people worldwide still need to be watchful when their fates in the global economy are hitched to a country of more than 1.3 billion people.

The International Monetary Fund recently released a report that said Chinese local governments, businesses and individuals were accumulating alarming levels of debt that could set the stage for a crisis resembling the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.

Some of the IMF’s findings should make anyone who remembers 2008 leery. For instance, staff at the People’s Bank of China has remained the same for 10 years while the country’s financial sector has doubled in size.

Worryingly, the bank didn’t see a problem. “Our financial system has a relatively strong capability to fend off risks,” bank officials told Caixin, an English-language Chinese business news website.

Basing its findings on stress tests of Chinese banks, the IMF suggested China focus less on growth, which leads folks to borrow, and instead enact financial reforms to prevent risky lending and force banks to hold more money in case of a crisis.

But, as CNBC explained, China needs the debt to keep flowing in order to maintain its current annual growth rates of more than 6 percent. Otherwise, the prosperity that has been revolutionizing the world’s most populous country in recent decades could stall, triggering instability. Growth might fall by as much as half if Beijing orders creditors to turn off the tap, the news service said.

Xi might have a plan. At the Communist Party’s national congress in October – when members elevated him to a status previously enjoyed only by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping – Xi stopped short of dictating a growth target, unlike his illustrious predecessors. That gives him wiggle room to cool the economy down if necessary.

A South China Morning Post columnist argued that naysayers are often wrong about the Chinese economy. The country is ably navigating the challenges of shifting from an export-driven economy to a consumerist model, he argued. For instance, China is investing heavily in clean tech to offset cuts in polluting industries.

Nobody should be staying awake at night worrying about a Chinese recession. But political debates in Washington might be the least of the world’s problems right now.



Competing Capitals

Following President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the world’s largest bloc of Muslim countries declared East Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state at a meeting convened by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a move that entrenches the opposition to Trump’s maneuver, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation said in a joint statement on Wednesday that it was “null and void legally” and an attack on the rights of Palestinians, Bloomberg reported.

Notably, Erdogan has taken the lead in criticizing Trump’s decision – trading insults with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu. Erdogan says US plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem violate a decades-old United Nations Security Council resolution that called for the withdrawal of established diplomatic missions from the city and thereby disqualify Washington as a mediator in the peace process.

Relations were already touchy between Israel and Turkey and between Turkey and the US – which has backed Kurdish fighters that Erdogan considers terrorists during the war in Syria.


Justice Served

Human rights campaigners applauded a court ruling that sentenced 11 members of a Congolese militia to life in prison for raping dozens of young girls as a landmark for justice in a country where such crimes often go unpunished.

The fighters from Djeshi ya Yesu – the Army of Jesus – militia were accused of raping at least 37 girls near the village of Kavumu in Democratic Republic of Congo’s South Kivu province between 2013 and 2016, Reuters reported.

The prosecution alleged that a spiritual adviser to the group – which is helmed by provincial lawmaker Frederic Batumike – told the fighters that raping very young children would give them mystical protection against their enemies.

Batumike and other militia members were also convicted of murder, membership in a rebel movement and illegal weapons possession, and the court ruled that the rapes and murders amounted to crimes against humanity. The crimes had caused an international outcry and rights workers had criticized the government for its slow response.


An Oval Cell?

Ecuador’s suspended Vice President Jorge Glas was sentenced to six years in jail for taking kickbacks from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht on Wednesday.

Glas is a close ally of the leftist former President Rafael Correa, under whom he also served as vice president before returning to the post under current President Lenin Moreno, Reuters reported. But Moreno has largely split from Correa and suspended Glas back in August, paving the way for a judge to order him placed in pre-trial detention in association with the Odebrecht case.

The public prosecutor’s office accused him of taking some $13.5-million in kickbacks in exchange for awarding government contracts to the Brazilian firm.

His lawyer said the court’s decision was “unjust” and vowed to appeal.

The so-called Odebrecht scandal also played a role in the ouster of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and threatens to take down her successor, Michel Temer. It has also resulted in a judge calling for the arrest of former President Alejandro Toledo in Peru, an investigation into President Juan Manuel Santos’ 2014 campaign in Colombia and the arrest of nearly a dozen officials in the Dominican Republic.


A Seat with a View

The plane that really stood out during the 2017 Dubai Airshow last month? A high-flying, mobile ocular surgery wing.

The fully operational hospital flies to developing countries and helps train eye doctors and students while performing ocular surgeries on location, CNBC reported.

The plane is divided into different compartments, equipped with a surgery and recovery room for the patients, as well as an audio-visual room for broadcasting operations to students. It’s also self-sustainable, powering equipment with its own jet fuel and producing its own hospital grade oxygen.

The charity that operates the plane, Orbis International, only flies to countries on an invitation basis, providing free surgery and training to eye doctors all over the world.

Over the past five years, it’s trained over 10,000 doctors, conducted nearly 13 million eye exams and performed around 350,000 eye surgeries.

And no, it doesn’t conduct the precise surgeries while in the air, said Bruce Johnson, the Director of Aircraft Operations.

“It’s not just us going into their country and we’re teaching them. They are teaching us.”

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