The World Today for March 13, 2018



For Better or For Worse

After seven decades of strained relations, the Vatican and China are nearing a rapprochement deal to allow Beijing’s communist leadership to appoint bishops for official recognition by the Holy See.

It’s a move critics say sells out China’s estimated 12 million Catholics to a notoriously repressive regime in attempt to revamp the church’s waning influence.

As evidenced in Chile, Peru and other Catholic strongholds around the globe, sexual-abuse scandals in recent years have burned the church’s devotees.

But in China, Christianity is on the rise. Doctrines suppressing religion during the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, and today as many as 100 million Chinese identify as Christians – their numbers increase by an estimated 10 percent per year, Time magazine reported.

Beijing may allow the pious to practice, but they must do so under the watchful eye of the Catholic Patriotic Association, a government-sanctioned apparatus segregated from Rome.

The patriotic church preaches pro-communist ideals and skips over politically problematic Bible passages in an attempt to pacify Christian masses that now dwarf the size of the Communist Party itself, commentator Yi-Zheng Lian wrote for the New York Times.

That structure has forced many Chinese Catholics underground to worship anywhere they can, albeit in homes, shops or basements, Voice of America reported.

They see themselves as true followers of the faith and express dismay at the Vatican’s cozying up to Beijing. Instead, they’ve looked to oxygenating forces in Hong Kong and Taiwan for support.

“We don’t trust the PRC because they are dishonest,” said one flock member in Hong Kong. “They lie, they do bad things and never keep their promises. China is not worth our trust.”

One only has to look to recent legislation that took effect last month: As of Feb. 1, religious institutions must register with the government, and local governments must grant permission for congregations to meet, US News & World Report wrote.

Christians aren’t the only ones being targeted. Last month, Human Rights Watch reported that authorities in the Xinjiang region have used big data to track Muslim minorities, including their travel history, prayer habits, banking and health records.

Young Muslims in neighboring Gansu province were banned from participating in religious education during Chinese New Year last month. Xinjiang’s Uighur Muslims have long been subjected to near-martial law, with police checkpoints, re-education and mass collection of their DNA, Reuters reported.

The Catholic church is in a vice in China. Acquiescing to Beijing threatens not only those underground on the mainland, but also those in Hong Kong, where Beijing’s influence is growing, and in Taiwan, which is only recognized by the Vatican and a handful of other countries, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian opined in the Washington Post.

For the Vatican, the reward of tapping into China’s burgeoning Christian community appears to outweigh the many risks that come with it, Yi-Zheng Lian wrote for the Times.

“No one, it seems, can resist the lure of the great market of China, for deodorants, cars – or congregants. Not even the Vatican.”



Bombs for Bombs

The US is prepared to take military action to stop the bombing of civilians in Syria, America’s ambassador to the United Nations warned Monday.

Ambassador Nikki Haley issued the warning as she circulated a new draft resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire, the Washington Post reported. She also alluded to last year’s US strike on a Syrian military base following a chemical weapons attack the US attributed to Syrian government forces.

While the Islamic State has been all-but defeated, the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies have stepped up an assault on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel stronghold, despite a Security Council call for a cease-fire last month, the paper cited UN Secretary-General António Guterres as saying.

That cease-fire allows for strikes on terrorist groups. But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has included other rebels in that rubric, not only those linked to Al Qaeda or Islamic State. The new draft Haley is pushing would eliminate that loophole, which she claimed has allowed Assad to bomb hospitals and schools in the name of fighting terror.


The Next Conflict

Europe’s greatest fear remains that European militants who joined the fighting in Iraq and Syria will return to wreak havoc at home with the defeat of the Islamic State. But a call for violent protests from a leftist Kurdish group based in Germany suggests that the new phase of fighting could spur trouble, as well.

Roja Ciwan, a German-Kurdish youth group, posted videos of attacks on a mosque and businesses associated with Turkish immigrants and warned “it is time to carry the war back to Europe” in response to Turkey’s military offensive against the Kurdish-held Afrin region in northern Syria, Deutsche Welle reported.

Over the weekend, Kurdish protesters clashed with police and two mosques, a Turkish grocery and a Turkish immigrants’ association faced arson attacks, the agency said.

Roja Ciwan said it could target Turkish embassies and Turkish groups with links to the government in Ankara as well as stores and cafes, and also threatened the offices of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the Social Democrats, courts and police. A similar call was issued by the Apoist Youth Initiative, another leftist Kurdish youth group.


Bad Loans, Good Loans

As Indian banks wrestle with what they euphemistically call “non-performing assets,” the country’s farmers are demanding some write-offs of their own.

Thousands of farmers from Maharashtra marched into the state capital of Mumbai Monday to demand loan waivers and other measures to relieve agricultural distress that shows signs of eroding the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Reuters reported.

Not long ago, Modi promised to double farmers’ incomes in five years. But in addition to loan write-offs, the marching farmers demanded a hike in government-mandated minimum support prices, rather than new-fangled ideas about a shift to cash crops or a boost to the food-processing industry.

Maharashtra ended the protest on Monday by agreeing to extend and expand a 340 billion rupee ($5.2 billion) loan waiver announced in June 2017 and to officially transfer forest land to tribal people who have been cultivating it for decades. But a similar demonstration immediately mushroomed in the state of Odisha, the Times of India reported.


Big Cheddar

Due to doping scandals, the Russians fell flat at the Winter Olympics. But the country’s booming cheese industry is providing the nation with all the homegrown gold it needs.

Responding to European sanctions against Russia after its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, President Vladimir Putin blocked the import of European dairy products – much to the benefit of the nation’s burgeoning cheese industry, NBC News reported.

With cheese now a scarce commodity, some farmers can sell a single wheel of Russian cheese for up to $100.

Seeing a lucrative opportunity, Russian cheesemaker Oleg Sirota quit his day job as a programmer and invested $300,000 into his cheesemaking operation shortly after the countersanctions were put in place.

The gamble is paying off. Sirota now turns thousands of dollars in profit a month and employs 11 people at his Russian dairy.

But the nation’s newest industry is producing more than just big cheddar. It’s created a wave of nationalism that’s bound to help Putin at the ballot box March 18, analysts say.

“Is it now clear why I love Putin so much?” said Sirota, brandishing a wheel of Russian-made cheese etched with the president’s name.

“I had a dream of Russian cheese, of Russian Parmesan,” he added. “And we are actually making it now.”

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