The World Today for April 27, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

JAPAN

On the Sidelines

At their meeting in President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the US president played golf and ate cheeseburgers, wrote Bloomberg.

But Abe left the resort with little to show for his time. He and Trump failed to reach a deal to exempt Japanese steel and aluminum from American tariffs. That leaves Japan the only major US ally not exempted like Canada, Germany and others, the Independent reported – though Germany thinks such exemptions won’t last long.

CNN noted that Japan is an important military ally in Asia and America’s fourth-biggest trading partner. The country runs a nearly $70 billion trade surplus with the US, however, a balance that Trump has called unfair. Still, Abe speaks to Trump more than most other foreign leaders.

Abe’s flop in Florida piled on the hurt for a politician who has been Japan’s chief executive since 2012.

His poll ratings have plunged, according to Politico, amid scandals over allegations of high-level sexual harassment, influence peddling and corruption. There’s word he may step down. The Japan Times dug up the sordid details of unsettling encounters between former Finance Vice Minister Junichi Fukuda and female journalists. Fukuda resigned last week but denies the allegations.

Worse for Abe, the meeting with Trump might have been doomed from the start.

News that Trump had dispatched CIA Director Mike Pompeo to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un quickly overshadowed Abe’s appearance in the US and potentially undermined the prime minister’s image.

At Mar-a-Lago, Trump said talks at “extremely high levels” were occurring between the US and North Korea. He didn’t mention Japan.

The US was acting independently of Japanese leaders and could theoretically reach a deal with North Korea that didn’t include Japan, explained the Guardian. The US might strike a deal to eliminate long-range missiles but not cover short and medium-range missiles that might strike Tokyo, for example.

Abe had little choice but to hope the best for the president’s efforts. “I’d like to commend Donald’s courage in his decision to have the upcoming summit meeting with the North Korean leader,” Abe told the Associated Press.

Critics in Tokyo pounced. “The possibility of the US thinking about Japan is zero,” said Nippon Television commentator Terry Ito in the New York Times.

Many Japanese lament that few if any politicians are ready to replace Abe, however, Reuters reported. The news agency noted that nobody has an alternative to Abe’s “strong defense, strong economy” platform.

A few years ago, that platform was controversial, because it aimed to reinvigorate the Japanese military and reform the economy to incentivize growth. Today, with Abe apparently poised to fall, it seems like he took a far-sighted stance that anticipated the increasingly unpredictable world.

WANT TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

Come Together

During a historic summit, the leaders of North and South Korea agreed Friday to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and officially end the Korean War after over 60 years of diplomatic stalemate.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un met face to face with South Korean President Moon Jae-in Friday in Panmunjom after a symbolic crossing of the country’s borders, the most heavily armed in the world.

With a handshake in front of the cameras, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un became the first member of his family’s dynasty to set foot on southern soil since the end of the Korean War in 1953, CBS News reported.

The leaders vowed to negotiate a lasting peace treaty to replace the nations’ 1953 armistice and “confirmed their joint goal of realizing a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons through complete denuclearization,” President Moon announced directly following the summit, the New York Times reported.

The tenor of the meeting of the two leaders was positive from the start, with both leaders making welcoming overtures and joking with one another.

“I came here to put an end to the history of confrontation,” Kim said at the summit’s onset.

Though the agreement was short on specifics, the Trump administration is expected to seek a quick turnaround on the loftier promises made at the summit, the Times reported.

SPAIN

Pack of Wolves

As America digests the conviction of comedian Bill Cosby on multiple counts of aggravated indecent assault, Spain has erupted with protests after five men accused of gang-raping a teenager were instead convicted of sexual abuse – a lesser charge for which they were sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment.

José Ángel Prenda, Alfonso Cabezuelo, Antonio Manuel Guerrero, Jesús Escudero and Ángel Boza – who called themselves la manada or “the wolf pack” in their WhatsApp group – were also sentenced to five years’ probation following their prison terms and ordered to pay €10,000 each to the woman, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

Under Spanish law, sexual abuse differs from rape in that it does not involve violence or intimidation.

The incident, which took place during the running of the bulls in Pamplona in July 2016, also prompted a national outcry at the time. The trial proceedings have also been criticized for efforts to discredit the victim – especially after the judges allowed into evidence surveillance photos of the woman compiled by a private detective hired by some of the defendants.

PERU

Preventive Prison

Peru’s top court ordered the release from jail of former President Ollanta Humala and his wife, warning against the excessive use of so-called “preventive prison,” or lengthy periods of pretrial detention.

Humala and his wife, who both say they’re innocent, have been behind bars for nine months awaiting trial on money laundering charges, Reuters reported.

“Preventive prison is not the general rule but an exception,” said judge Ernesto Blume. The court “must guarantee the right to personal liberty as well as the presumption of innocence.”

Humala and former first lady Nadine Heredia are among various other politicians, former government officials and business leaders who have been jailed pending trial in connection with the Odebrecht corruption case. The Brazilian construction firm has admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes across Latin America.

Former Presidents Alejandro Toledo and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and opposition leader Keiko Fujimori face similar allegations.

DISCOVERIES

Digestive Strategy

Upon the recent revelation that krill can digest plastic particles, scientists were justifiably concerned. Those particles could end up in the systems of marine life that humans eat as seafood.

But American and British researchers may have found another digestive solution to ocean pollution by engineering an enzyme that can feed on the most common types of plastic used around the world, Newsweek reported.

As reported in a study published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), scientists were initially trying to understand the processes of an enzyme produced by a plastic-eating bacterium found in a Japanese recycling plant.

With a bit of molecular tweaking, they were able to increase its digestive efficiency so it could consume plastics made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly found in plastic bottles and clothing fibers.

The team hopes that the enzyme will allow for better recycling of bottles and other plastics, which rarely get broken down into their primary components for reuse.

“This would avoid the need to drill for more oil and it would decouple the whole oil to plastic scenario that we have,” researcher John McGeehan told Newsweek.

 

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