The World Today for June 22, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

INDIA

A Buoy, A Flashpoint

It’s been a long time coming, but India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi arguably cemented India as a regional power earlier this month at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Much of the move came down to semantics.

The United States has been pushing to rename the “Asia-Pacific” region the “Indo-Pacific,” an overture to pull the center of regional power toward India, the world’s largest democracy, and away from China, a problematic partner seen as an aggressor with which nations are forced to deal because of its dominating economy, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote.

Modi embraced the name change in his keynote speech in Singapore, but his words didn’t exactly eat up all its symbolism.

Central to Modi’s remarks was a go-it-alone strategy in which India would rise above roiling East-West geopolitical camps revolving around the United States, China and Russia, Zorawar Daulet Singh opined in the Hindu, an Indian daily.

Harking back to the Cold War, non-alignment symbolizes that India – a stable democracy with an economy and a military that both rank among the world’s largest – trusts itself enough not to be swayed by political designs with which it might not wholeheartedly agree, Singh added.

Still, Modi emphasized the importance of building “a common rules-based order for the region,” providing a much-desired counterweight in the region against China.

Beijing’s persistent island-grabbing and militarization in the South China Sea have worried neighbors like Japan, Australia and Vietnam – especially considering the recent isolationist tendencies of the United States, Xuan Loc Doan wrote for the Hong Kong digital outlet the Asia Times.

But India’s talk needs teeth, Atman Trivedi and Amy Searight wrote for Foreign Policy.

Modi has an opportunity to provide leadership in the region in lieu of the United States, they said, but only if India takes steps toward protecting its own interests in the Indian Ocean, protecting others’ interests in the South China Sea, and bolstering bilateral relationships with friendly nations around the globe.

Questions remain as to whether such an assertive India will come to fruition, wrote Sourabh Gupta for the South China Morning Post. After all, for all the talk about being a stabilizing force in the region, Modi still underscored his nation’s close relationship with China.

But in the days following his speech, Modi took important steps to realize his promises, Reuters reported. He met with the newly elected Malaysian prime minister, signed an infrastructure pact with Indonesia, and agreed to provide military logistical support to Singapore.

The prospect of India growing in regional prominence drew a cool response from China, Reuters reported. The news agency quoted an editorial in the Chinese state-owned Global Times that warned that India’s military ambitions “might wrongfully entrap itself into a strategic competition with China and eventually burn its own fingers.”

Depending on how it plays out, India’s rising influence could buoy the entire region – or become a flashpoint in relations with China.

WANT TO KNOW

GREECE

The End is Nigh

Eurozone finance ministers finalized a deal under which Greece will emerge from an eight-year bailout program and return to financial markets on Aug. 20.

In what the Associated Press called a surprisingly hard-fought compromise, the finance ministers of 19 Eurozone countries hashed out a deal under which Greece could delay repayment on billions in loans for 10 years, giving it a financial breather. It also got another injection of 15 billion euros.

Over the past eight years, Greece has received some 275 billion euros in financial support from international creditors and was twice nearly kicked out of the Eurozone, noted EU Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, who lauded the country for enduring stringent austerity measures.

“There have been enormous sacrifices,” Moscovici said. “At last after eight years of difficult reforms, of tough adjustments in our programs, Greece will be capable of moving on its own two feet.”

Once the bailout is over, Greece will have to finance itself by borrowing on international bond markets, and it will still need to maintain high budget surpluses for decades to come.

SYRIA

The Fog of War

Syria accused the US of hitting one of its military bases near its border with Iraq in a strike that killed a Syrian officer, while the Pentagon said a US-backed Syrian rebel group had engaged with an “unidentified hostile force” and denied there were any casualties at all.

The contrasting reports come after Syria claimed that the US-led coalition bombed a Syrian army position near the Iraqi border, killing dozens of Shi’ite fighters, Reuters noted. The US military also denied responsibility for that attack.

Meanwhile, hundreds of families have fled rebel-held areas of southwestern Syria near its borders with Jordan as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have stepped up artillery strikes in a likely prelude to an offensive, the BBC reported.

Fighting has been muted in the area since a US-brokered “de-escalation” deal last year. Further violence there could again broaden the conflict, Washington fears. Still talking with the US, Russia and Israel over a political solution, Assad said last week if that fails, he’ll “have no other option” but to take the southwestern area by force.

RUSSIA

Still Hacking

Germany’s spy chief said Russia was probably behind a widespread cyber attack on German energy providers disclosed last week, while top US officials told the Senate intelligence committee that Washington’s weak response emboldened Moscow to step up meddling in the 2016 US presidential campaign.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency, said in an interview that the method used in the cyber attack “is in fact one of multiple indications that point to Russian control,” Reuters reported. Germany said earlier that hackers tried to penetrate the computer networks of many German energy and electricity providers June 13.

Asked to comment on the allegations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “We don’t know what he was talking about.”

Meanwhile, Victoria Nuland, a top State Department official during the Obama administration, told the Senate intelligence committee that meddling in the campaign likely accelerated in October because “the Russians expected deterrent measures and didn’t see them,” the agency reported separately.

DISCOVERIES

Catching Fog

The Earth may be 70 percent water but only 2.5 percent of it is fresh water, and only 1 percent is easily accessible to humans.

With worldwide droughts likely preceding a global water crisis, people in coastal areas have started using so-called fog harvesters – mesh nets that collect water particles from fog – to shore up water supplies.

Mesh nets aren’t very efficient but scientists have upgraded the simple technology with interesting results, the Verge reported.

A team at Virginia Tech developed a “fog harp,” which, unlike mesh, has vertical wires only, allowing water particles to easily drop into collection receptacles. Trial results revealed that output was three-times more than the average fog harvester.

Engineers at MIT tried another approach. Because fog can be elusive, they created a high-tech version of the device that uses electricity to zap fog droplets and attract them to the mesh.

Still in the trial phase, these projects have attracted investors in countries suffering from water shortages, such as South Africa, where the government recently lifted a state of emergency after fast-depleting water supplies were replenished by heavy winter rains.

Such innovative methods of collection are drastically needed: According to the World Health Organization, half the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2025.

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