The World Today for March 27, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

GERMANY

Follow the Leader

It took six months and two rounds of brutal negotiations with almost every political party the nation has, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally formed a government earlier this month with allies she’d partnered with twice before, the center-left Social Democrats.

The development came as no surprise. Never one to be underestimated, Europe’s longest-serving leader has weathered many political crises – from the Eurozone financial crisis to opening her nation’s borders to over one million refugees in 2015.

But as she begins what’s likely her last term in office, Merkel faces an uncomfortable new political challenge that will underscore her legacy: the question of who will lead Germany next.

It’s a strange development, seeing as how Merkel’s savvy in neutralizing her opponents gave way to her rise in the first place.

After being groomed by Germany’s longest-serving chancellor, Helmut Kohl, Merkel tanked his political clout in 1999 by publicly chastising his sketchy campaign contributions. The move allowed her to take control of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union and become the nation’s first female chancellor in 2005, wrote Deutsche Welle.

Undermining opponents has allowed her more flexibility for political maneuvering – often to the frustration of her conservative party. But it’s also raised her profile on the global stage as a calculating leader and powerful defender of Western liberal values, writes the Atlantic Council.

But as with all things, Merkel’s reign must come to an end – and grooming an appropriate successor is paramount to preserving her party’s dominance in a shaky political arena.

There are already a few candidates in the ether. In February, Merkel elevated Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the former governor of Germany’s smallest state, Saarland, to the position of her party’s secretary general – a post previously held by Merkel herself.

Well-liked by Merkel, Kramp-Karrenbauer seems a natural choice: Their political leanings are virtually indistinguishable, both are pragmatic politicians, and Kramp-Karrenbauer possesses the gift of the gab that Merkel often lacks, Bloomberg opined.

But some of the chancellor’s more controversial policy moves – like opening up the nation’s borders – have dragged her party more to the left than what’s comfortable for conservatives. That’s given rise to the right-wing Alternative for Germany – now the nation’s third-largest party – and weakened her influence, writes Politico.

That’s why many would like to see a more conservative candidate like firebrand Jens Spahn, currently Merkel’s health minister, take her place. The 37-year-old politician has been a conservative darling for the past 15 years for his tough stances on immigration and social programs, writes CNN.

While Merkel plays a complex game of follow the leader, other pressing matters will also determine how she’s remembered, writes the Economist. Germany needs to promote digitization to stay competitive and work with partners in France to advance the so-called European project while the political moment is ripe. How her government continues to integrate newcomers is also of utmost importance.

But if what’s past is prologue, Merkel’s departure – and the challenges that come with it – won’t be left for the last minute.

WANT TO KNOW

CHINA

Surprise, Surprise

A senior North Korean official is visiting Beijing – and it just might be Kim Jong-un.

Bloomberg cited three unnamed sources close to the situation as saying Kim made a surprise trip to Beijing, marking his first foreign trip since 2011, but couldn’t provide further details about how long he would be in China or who he might meet there.

Earlier, Japan’s Kyodo News had ignited speculation by reporting that a special train may have carried Kim through the northeastern border city of Dandong. If confirmed, the visit comes amid US wrangling to compel Kim to abandon his pursuit of nuclear weapons. Beijing has so far backed progressive rounds of United Nations sanctions against the Kim regime. But a budding trade war between the US and China could make it more difficult to keep Beijing onside.

On the other hand, Bloomberg cited experts as saying the visit could well result in Beijing putting more pressure on Kim ahead of a proposed meeting with Trump – as well as seeking to influence what happens at those negotiations.

RUSSIA

Exit This Way

Under investigation for alleged inappropriate ties to Russia during his campaign, US President Donald Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats considered spies from the US, adding to a series of such expulsions around the world.

Though Reuters noted that the Trump administration had been laying the groundwork for the expulsions for months “in plain sight,” the move stunned Moscow, which had inferred from a recent phone call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that bilateral relations were on the mend, Bloomberg reported.

The largest US expulsion of Russian diplomats since 1986, the move could well be calculated to counter suspicions about Trump’s reluctance to take seriously the allegations of Russian meddling in his 2016 election victory, the agency noted.

The US, Canada, Australia, and more than a dozen European countries have joined Britain in expelling Russian diplomats over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. But with Russia already set to retaliate, it’s not clear whether the measure will make Putin more circumspect, more defensive, or more aggressive.

BRAZIL

Will He, Won’t He

A Brazilian appeals court rejected former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s final procedural objections to his conviction on corruption charges, increasing the likelihood he’ll be heading to jail rather than the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said he’ll decide next week whether to resign his post to run against incumbent President Michel Temer for the nomination of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) party, Reuters reported.

Lula won’t go to jail until at least April 4, when the Supreme Court is set to rule on his request that he be allowed to exhaust his appeals process before being imprisoned, a move that would reverse a 2016 decision that convicts should begin serving their sentences after the failure of their first appeal, the agency reported separately. In any case, the conviction makes him ineligible for the election this October – where he’s still polling ahead of the legit candidates.

With an approval rating in the single-digits, Temer, on the other hand, may not even have the backing of his own party.

DISCOVERIES

Noble Giant

Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhinoceros, died last week in Kenya after battling with complications of old age and a series of infections.

With only two females of the subspecies remaining, scientists are resorting to innovative techniques to save the northern white rhino from extinction.

Conservationists recently relocated Sudan, 45, to Kenya in hopes that reuniting him with the last remaining female northern white rhinos – his daughter and granddaughter – would result in a mating process that could save the subspecies from extinction. Poaching and habitat destruction in sub-Saharan Africa had reduced its numbers to a lonely three, CNN reported.

But due to the rhinos’ ailments, the mating setup didn’t take – Sudan had a low sperm count, and neither female is able to carry a calf to term.

In a last-ditch attempt to save these noble giants, conservationists will try in vitro fertilization, a process that has not yet succeeded in rhinos, the New York Times reported.

Eggs from the females will be fertilized with banked sperm from northern white males and implanted in their southern counterparts, a separate subspecies.

Though the procedure has risks, geneticists say the long process is worth it due to the backdrop of the probable extinction of this particular rhino, the Times reported.

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