The World Today for June 01, 2018



A Test of Faith

Residents of Youtong, a village in northern China, face a perilous choice when opting for a Catholic church.

Half of Youtong’s 5,000 residents are Roman Catholics, a faith that has an estimated 12 million members in China.

Villagers can worship at the government-sanctioned Catholic church, two underground churches endorsed by the Vatican, or numerous churches where congregants hold masses in homes, Reuters reported.

China is a communist country where religion is frowned upon. But leaders in Beijing have been discussing a deal with Pope Francis that had raised hopes of more religious freedom for China’s Catholics.

That deal, over how the state would regulate Catholic churches, was said to require that the pope recognize seven bishops installed by the Chinese government. The pope had excommunicated those hierarchs.

The pope reportedly planned to accept that demand – a decision that many saw as giving in to an atheist state, wrote US News & World Report. Taiwanese clergy, too, were concerned that Francis might reach a deal with Chinese officials without their interests in mind. China considers Taiwan a rogue province that must someday be put back under control.

But Chinese leaders have repeatedly said they can’t hand control of a church over to a foreign entity.

“There is no religion in human society that is above the state,” said senior Chinese official Chen Zongrong in the New York Times.

More recently, the Wall Street Journal wrote that a Chinese crackdown on Christians had stalled negotiations between the Holy See and Chinese leaders on a deal.

“Even right now if the Vatican signs the agreement, what is the purpose to the Vatican?” said Sister Beatrice Leung, a professor at Taiwan’s Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages and a specialist on China and Catholicism. “The whole political atmosphere [in China], the ideological control, is very much tightening up.”

The crackdown includes the arrest of Protestants like the American pastor described in this HuffPost article. UCA News, an Asian Catholic news service, reported that Christians are likely to resist the government’s moves, setting the stage for clashes of interests.

In Mindong, a village in the southeastern province of Fujian, worshipers who attend services in underground Catholic churches and homes told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that they wanted to remain loyal to the Vatican but hoped the reverse would also be true.

“We follow the pope and the Vatican, so the government doesn’t recognize us and regards us as illegal,” said Father Zhu Ruci. “But now we’re concerned about compromises the Vatican may make. We hope they don’t sacrifice us and betray us for this deal.”

The priest’s faith might be tested soon.



The Final Countdown

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was turfed out in a no-confidence vote Friday morning, the New York Times reported.

Ahead of the vote Friday morning, Rajoy had already admitted defeat to lawmakers, the Associated Press reported. “It has been a honor to leave Spain better than I found it,” he told the Spanish parliament. “Thank you to all Spaniards and good luck.”

Plagued with corruption allegations for years, Rajoy’s Popular Party last week saw one of its former treasurers sentenced to a 33-year jail term for receiving bribes, money laundering and tax crimes, Spanish daily El Pais reported.

While Rajoy himself did not face any charges, he testified on behalf of party members last year and several of his aides were convicted of running slush funds to help finance Popular Party election campaigns, CNN reported.

The maneuver will likely propel Socialist Party leader Pedro Sanchez into office as early as this weekend, the BBC reported. Sanchez filed for the no-confidence motion, and the Basque Nationalist Party, as well as the separatist Catalan European Democratic Party and Republican Left of Catalonia,  quickly supported him.

The BBC noted that the Spanish constitution provides for the installation of the party that leads the no-confidence motion in government. But senior Socialist Party official Jose Luis Abalos told lawmakers, “We do this first, then we call for elections.”



The European Union isn’t going to take US tariffs on steel and aluminum lying down, raising tensions in what’s shaping up to become a full-fledged trade war.

“We will immediately introduce a settlement dispute with the WTO and will announce counterbalancing measures,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Thursday following US President Donald Trump’s decision to eliminate an earlier tariff exemption granted to the bloc, Reuters reported. Mexico and Canada, nations also caught in the crosshairs of the tariffs, made similar vows.

Separately, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that Tokyo “cannot accept” potential auto import tariffs being considered by the Trump administration ahead of a planned meeting with the US president on June 7, NPR reported.

Beijing on Wednesday also promised to retaliate in kind if Trump presses ahead with plans for new tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports, Fortune noted, citing a Wall Street Journal report that claimed that the fresh spat could result in the cancellation of trade talks between the two countries scheduled for June 2 in Beijing.


Without a Trace

The United Nations has “strong indications” that Mexican federal security forces are responsible for a series of forced disappearances around the city of Nuevo Laredo on the US-Mexico border.

The UN Human Rights Office in Mexico documented the disappearance of 21 men and two women in Nuevo Laredo from February until May 16. Local human rights organizations, however, estimate that there have been at least twice as many disappearances in this same period, NBC News reported.

A statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights cited witnesses as saying that the missing were seized by uniformed personnel as they walked or drove along public roads, and several burnt out and bullet-ridden vehicles were found by the roadside.

“It is particularly horrific that at least five of the victims are minors, with three of them as young as 14,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission issued its own statement Wednesday saying it had initiated an investigation looking into the disappearances, even as the UN agency criticized the Mexican authorities for failing to make progress.


Defying Gravity

The late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, is remembered for his unforgettable dance moves, emulated by both amateur and trained dancers alike over the years.

But one move, in particular, has been especially elusive: The gravity-defying, 45-degree angle lean from the music video Smooth Criminal.

According to neurosurgeons, it’s a move virtually impossible to replicate – even by professional dancers, the BBC reported.

“Most trained dancers with strong core strength will reach a maximum of 25 to 30 degrees of forward bending,” Manjul Tripathi and colleagues from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, stated in their study, published recently in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. “MJ pulled off a gravity-defying, 45-degree move that seems unearthly to any witness.”

The move was flawlessly executed using specially designed shoes – patented under his name – that can hitch onto a spike in the ground, an idea borrowed from boots worn by American astronauts.

But shoes alone do not make an iconic dancer: Dancers need unsurpassed core strength and ankle supports to complete the lean without injury.

“Several MJ fans, including the authors, have tried to copy this move and failed, often injuring themselves in their endeavors,” the study’s authors said. “It’s not a simple trick.”

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