The World Today for December 06, 2018

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Pacts and Proxies

One might compare the recent détente in the trade war between the United States and China to the nuclear arms control pacts between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War: unadulterated good news, a sign of diplomatic progress between major powers, but not necessarily reason to write off a good chance of Armageddon in the future.

Meeting at the G20 summit in Argentina last week, US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping suspended new tariffs on goods from each other’s countries for 90 days while negotiators work on an agreement to resolve Trump’s concerns about China’s economic policy, the BBC reported.

The US had been due to impose tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods on Jan. 1 but agreed to hold off. China agreed to buy more US goods to reduce its trade deficit with the US. Here’s the White House statement on the deal.

China also agreed to classify the synthetic opioid fentanyl as a controlled substance, thus stiffening penalties on Chinese citizens who sell the drug to US customers – a move that could reduce supplies of a narcotic that is ravaging American communities, CNN added.

But Vox noted that the trade standoff is “far from over.”

Trump has indicated that China could satisfy his concerns by further opening up the country’s economy to foreign investors, a move that Xi and his Communist Party allies are resisting because they fear losing control of their state-run economy. It’s also unclear if China can effectively address intellectual property theft and other issues that American leaders have long groused about within 90 days.

“The fundamental disagreements between the US and China remain unresolved,” wrote the Australian Financial Review.

On Wednesday, China issued a vague statement that called the G20 talks a success but didn’t offer any specifics on how it hoped to satisfy Trump’s demands before the 90-day deadline, NBC News reported. One analyst called it an attempt to “keep the fish on the hook” by convincing Washington there’s still hope.

Perhaps China might learn from this trade war and enact reforms to improve how its economy operates, particularly regarding the outsized role of party apparatchiks in markets, a South China Morning Post analysis said. But the newspaper also worried that Chinese leaders might ultimately opt for a more confrontational approach to trade if Trump didn’t soften his demands.

Trump is also under pressure. The world economy is cooling down even though many people, including many Americans, have still not recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession, according to the New York Times. The American president’s trade war isn’t helping things.

China is also making other moves. Xi announced a currency swap with Argentina at the G20 meeting. It was an example of China expanding its influence in a region where the US has long held sway, wrote the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

A Cold War analogy might work here again. A proxy trade conflict in Argentina is arguably better than a direct one between the world’s largest and second-largest economies.



The Toe of the Boot

Police in Europe and South America arrested 84 suspected criminals in a massive, multi-country crackdown on the ‘Ndrangheta clan, one of Italy’s three main organized crime groups.

Hundreds of officers took part in the coordinated operation on Wednesday in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Suriname to nab suspected members of the mafia group, which is based in the rural, mountainous “toe” of Italy’s boot, Al Jazeera reported.

“Today we have issued a clear message to criminal alliances across Europe, and they are not the only ones who can work across borders,” said Filippo Spiezia, the deputy head of Eurojust, the EU policing agency tasked with fighting cross-border and organized crime.

Along with the arrests, officers seized four metric tons of cocaine, 120 kilograms of ecstasy and around $2.3 million in cash from locations including Italian restaurants and ice cream parlors.

Italian authorities arrested 41 suspects, Germany nabbed 21, and the Netherlands netted five, Al Jazeera said.

Wednesday’s raids followed another large operation targeting the Sicilian mafia, or Cosa Nostra, on Tuesday, in which Italian police arrested new Cosa Nostra boss Settimino Mineo and dozens of other suspects in Sicily.


Making Lemonade

Under pressure to keep Central American migrants from passing through Mexico to the US, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is seeking to make lemonade out of lemons, turning the dilemma into a pitch for US investment.

On Wednesday, Lopez Obrador proposed Mexico could offer more work visas for migrants and suggested that investment in “productive projects and job creation” could help manage the large caravans of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala trekking through Mexico in a bid to cross into the US, Reuters reported.

Following up on a letter suggesting similar measures that he sent to President Donald Trump soon after his election in July, Lopez Obrador said his plans for major infrastructure projects in the impoverished south of Mexico, which include a refinery and two railways, will provide jobs to Mexicans and Central Americans.

The Mexican president declined to say whether he was considering a US proposal to return Central American asylum seekers to Mexico while US courts deliberate on their cases, the agency said.


Troubled Waters

The US is preparing to send a warship to the Black Sea as Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian ships has escalated the threat Moscow poses to Ukraine to the highest it’s been since its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The US military has requested that the State Department notify Turkey of its possible plans to sail a warship into the Black Sea, three US officials told CNN on Wednesday.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said that the Ukrainian government was making “active preparations” for a military offensive in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces told Reuters on Tuesday Russian troop levels amassed near its borders were at “the highest” since 2014, possibly signaling a takeover of Ukrainian ports. (Russia dismissed that idea as absurd).

Notifying Turkey doesn’t necessarily mean the Navy will follow through on sending the warship into the area, officials told CNN. But it leaves the option open, since it’s required to notify Ankara of the passage of military ships through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, which connect the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.


Lego Folly

Children sometimes swallow small objects, and parents tend to freak out about it.

So, what happens if a kid ingests, say, a Lego head?

Six UK pediatricians swallowed Lego heads as an experiment to see how long it takes for a piece to pass through the body.

The result: It will eventually leave the human body.

“If you manage to swallow that and you don’t cough, and you don’t choke, and you don’t have any ongoing symptomology, it’s very unlikely to do any harm at all and the body is very good at passing that,” pediatrician Damian Roland told the BBC.

His team explained that the plastic head would exit the human body within an “average of 1.7 days.”

Roland cautioned, however, that some small objects, such as “button batteries” that look like coins, are hazardous if swallowed.

“They can burn through the lining of the stomach or the tube from the mouth into the stomach,” he said. If parents suspect a child has swallowed a battery, they should seek medical attention, he said.

As for the doctors who swallowed Lego heads, most found the toys in a day or so. Roland alone wasn’t able to find his, but he’s confident it exited his body.

“Sadly, I think I probably did miss it rather than it still being inside my body.”

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