The World Today for April 02, 2018



Lips and Teeth

Mao Zedong once said that even in the worst of times, China and North Korea were as close as “lips to teeth.”

After a trying few years, that credo is showing itself to be true once again, as evidenced by North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s surprise visit to Beijing last week and the warm welcome provided him by President Xi Jinping.

But as North Korea prepares for rounds of rapprochement and denuclearization talks with both South Korea and the United States in the coming months, there’s more at play behind the façade of warming relations between Pyongyang and Beijing.

Following dialogue between North and South Korea after the Olympic Games in PyeongChang and the meeting of envoys in Pyongyang that ensued, Kim extended an offer to US President Donald Trump to discuss a possible denuclearization deal on the Korean Peninsula, which Trump quickly accepted.

Going to Beijing in light of such developments is Kim’s way of guarding his flank ahead of those talks and bolstering his stature on the world stage, writes Al Jazeera. For one, China is North Korea’s greatest benefactor. Ninety percent of North Korea’s trade is with China, and shoring up relations preserves this lifeline.

Moreover, the two nations have similar interests in decreasing US presence in the region. Now that a meeting between Trump and Kim is in the works, better relations with China allows North Korea a bit of insurance ahead of the meeting, reportedly slated for May, the Guardian wrote.

For China, Kim’s visit solidifies China’s role as a major player in any discussions going forward. China has a lot riding on North Korea’s acceptance in the global community – it doesn’t want to be dragged into a war on the peninsula. At the same time, it wants to preserve North Korea as a buffer between it and the roughly 30,000 American troops stationed in the south, the Atlantic reported.

The rejuvenated marriage between China and North Korea helped both leaders bolster their stature at home, the New York Times reported. But it also puts pressure on the White House to get its act together ahead of the talks.

The Trump administration has credited Kim’s visit to China as a “positive sign” that its hardline stance against North Korea over the past months is bearing fruit, wrote the Independent.

But others say the meeting solidifies North Korea’s side ahead of the talks. Conversely, Trump’s ouster in quick succession of key advisors in favor of those who advocate for preemptive strikes against North Korea heightens the risk of spoiling the moment, New York Magazine wrote.

One thing’s for sure about lips and teeth – they may be close, but they can also bite.



Securing Power

The Syrian government declared victory over Islamist rebels in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, marking another step toward securing power for President Bashar al-Assad.

The victory follows weeks of airstrikes in which at least 1,644 civilians, including 344 children, have been killed, Bloomberg cited the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying.

The government now controls all of Syria’s major urban centers and about 60 percent of its territory, while some 200,000 people have been evacuated to government-controlled areas or to Idlib, home to mostly Islamist fighters in the northwest, Bloomberg said.

The victory will restore security in Damascus and to roads connecting it to central, northern and eastern Syria.

Ghouta has been an important flashpoint in the war since 2013, when a chemical attack there killed around 1400 people. The US blamed the Syrian government for the attack, but it stopped short of entering the conflict. Instead, Russia intervened directly on behalf of Assad, effectively propping up his regime.


Role Reversal

Carlos Alvarado Quesada staved off an upstart conservative who’d focused on opposing same-sex marriage to win Costa Rica’s presidential race for the governing Citizen Action Party in a run-off vote Sunday.

With ballots from about 91 percent of polling stations counted, Alvarado Quesada had won nearly 61 percent of the votes, compared with 39 percent for Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz of the conservative National Restoration Party, the New York Times cited federal election authorities as saying.

That’s a reversal of the first round, when Alvarado Muñoz was the top vote-getter, with 25 percent.

Alvarado Quesada was a labor minister under outgoing President Luis Guillermo Solís, who was not eligible to run for re-election due to term limits.

Alvarado Muñoz, who was a television journalist before winning a spot in the Legislative Assembly in 2014, had made his small party a major player in the race by opposing a January ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that mandated that its signatory nations, including Costa Rica, must legalize same-sex marriage.

Alvarado Quesada vowed to back the court ruling.


A New Battle

Afghan election authorities confirmed that the country will hold parliamentary and district council elections Oct. 20, allowing President Ashraf Ghani to make good on his promise to hold the polls this year.

But it remains possible that the elections could again be postponed, as has happened repeatedly over the past three years, Reuters reported.

The vote will provide a dry-run for presidential polls slated for next year, but it has been slowed by concerns over potential fraud and voter registration. While a biometric registration was originally planned to eliminate voter fraud, the scheme was abandoned last year, and now an aggressive push to register voters is underway to give the polls the stamp of legitimacy.

The trouble is, many Afghans don’t have national identity papers, so before they can be registered to vote, the authorities must first issue those documents. Making matters worse, if they miss the October date, the harsh winter will likely mean the vote won’t be held before the presidential elections.


Divine Intervention

Strict practitioners of the Jewish faith may have options in the future to enjoy pork products, according to one religious scholar.

Israeli Rabbi Yuval Cherlow is seeking rabbinic approval for the consumption of pork from cloned pigs, arguing that the animals’ meat wouldn’t be subject to the same dietary laws outlined in Jewish doctrine because the pig loses its “identity” in the cloning process, Newsweek reported.

“When a pig’s cell is used and food is produced from the genetic material, the cell actually loses its original identity, and therefore it cannot be defined as a prohibited food, nor can it be eaten as milk,” Rabbi Cherlow told Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, as reported by Newsweek.

According to Jewish dietary laws that determine which products are kosher, or fit for consumption by Jews, only animals that chew their cud and have split hooves are fair game. Though pigs have split hooves, they don’t chew their cud, which is why many faithful abstain from pork.

Cloned meat would provide a workaround to the doctrines and also provide consumers a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to enjoy meat, all the while creating less pollution and reducing starvation, Cherlow argued.

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