The World Today for December 11, 2018

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In the Strait, All Politics is Local

Who won elections in Taiwan last month?

China, said business news channel CNBC.

In local elections on Nov. 24, the opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT) swept the important offices, delivering a humiliating defeat to President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Tsai promptly quit as party leader, reported Al Jazeera.

Leaders in Beijing surely danced with glee when the returns came in.

Tsai has pushed for Taiwan to be considered a sovereign nation on the international stage rather than a renegade Chinese province. Recall her 2016 call with then-President-elect Donald Trump, which sparked a furor because technically the US and Taiwan severed diplomatic ties in the 1970s, for example.

Chinese nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to the communists. Leaders in Beijing still consider the island to be their territory.

The KMT, however, is friendlier with China. Its leaders are more inclined to push for economic closeness and support the notion of “one China,” or an eventual reunion between the two sides.

For that reason, Chinese operatives likely meddled in the election, claimed former Dutch diplomat Gerrit van der Wees in the National Interest. Journalist Richard McGregor concurred in Bloomberg Opinion, noting that Chinese communists had “accumulated, quietly, over a number of years, great details on Taiwanese voters at a county-by-county level.”

But domestic issues played a big part in the election, too.

DPP candidates were pushing for reforms in the pension system, labor code and a host of other aspects of society. Those efforts came as the economy has been flagging, not a good combination for incumbents.

The KMT might have garnered more votes from conservatives who came out to oppose some of the referendum questions on the ballot, including one to permit same-sex marriage, which voters rejected.

“The Kuomintang and certain conservative forces very smartly recognized that if they put resolutions together that have strong appeal to certain special interest groups, they might be able to mobilize all those people,” Taipei-based legal consultant Michael Fahey told the New York Times.

If domestic issues were the deciding factor in voter’s minds, however, wrote Brookings Institution fellow Richard Bush, then it’s not clear whether China won much. Bush didn’t necessarily think Taiwanese leaders would radically rethink their general posture toward China and their closeness to the United States based on the election results.

Perhaps the communists don’t understand a concept that everyone in democracies knows well: all politics is local.



Going Green

Fifteen years after it was sealed off to protect US personnel in Iraq, the heavily fortified “Green Zone” in the heart of Baghdad was opened to the public on Monday.

The fortifications came to symbolize first the American occupation and then the resentment many Iraqis felt toward their own government, which was housed behind the blast walls and barbed wire, the New York Times reported. So its reopening on the anniversary of the recapture of Mosul from the Islamic State could theoretically have a similar symbolic importance – if it lasts.

Having been promising to reopen the zone since the American military withdrew in 2011, Iraq already opened it once in 2015, only to close it again after a few days under pressure from American officials due to the presence of the US embassy and military headquarters within the area. This time, Baghdad says it will remain open permanently.

The American embassy remains heavily fortified, but a spokesman for the US military denied reports that the US had opposed reopening the zone and said there was no immediate risk to American personnel there.


Baby, Please Don’t Go

British Prime Minister Theresa May postponed a parliamentary vote on her hard-fought Brexit deal, as the European Court of Justice ruled that the UK can unilaterally decide to halt the process.

On Monday, May told lawmakers that she plans to seek “additional assurances” from the EU over the deal and declined to set a new date for the vote, USA Today reported. Earlier, the ECJ had confirmed that the UK could revoke its Article 50 notification at any time before the Brexit deal actually goes into force, CNN said.

For May, the idea is to improve the deal or convince increasingly wary lawmakers that it’s the best option available. But Donald Tusk, the Polish politician who serves as the head of the European Council, said immediately following the cancellation of the vote that renegotiation would not be forthcoming.

That leaves Britain in an uncertain position, USA Today said. A vote could see parliament finally approve the deal. Or they might reject it. May might be forced to resign or compelled to face snap polls or even pushed to accept a fresh referendum.


Billions Versus Thousands

As another 5,000 Central American migrants gathered in Tijuana in hopes of crossing into the United States, Mexico announced it would spend $30 billion over the next five years on development projects designed to keep such desperate people from fleeing their homes.

Mexico has yet to offer specifics on how that money might be spent, USA Today reported. But the move runs directly counter to US President Donald Trump’s move to stop aid to Central America in response to the crisis.

Earlier, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Mexico would “invest in productive projects and job creation” and use work visas to incorporate migrants into the economy.

Last month, the Washington Post reported that López Obrador and Trump had reached a “remain in Mexico” deal under which asylum seekers would stay south of the border while their claims wound their way through the US courts. But Mexican Interior Minister Olga Sánchez Cordero denied any such deal existed.


The Last Puppeteer

In cafes in the Syrian capital of Damascus, shadow theater was a form of entertainment where storytellers used dyed animal-skin puppets to amuse their audience with tales and songs.

The practice slowly died out, but Shadi al-Hallaq, the city’s last puppeteer, is working hard to preserve the old art form, Reuters reported.

To his delight, the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO added Syrian shadow theater to its list of intangible cultural heritage in urgent need of saving. The traditional art form declined as a result of modern entertainment and the Syrian Civil War.

“Until three or five days ago, it was an art that didn’t provide bread. Now we are thinking of buying bread and eating bread. … I hope for the better,” Shadi told the news agency.

He began his craft in 1993, making his own puppets and using old stories and history books for his plots.

He lost his mobile theater during the war and fled to neighboring Lebanon, where he sometimes gave shows to Syrian schoolchildren with his remaining puppets.

Now back in Damascus, Shadi is training new puppeteers to keep the art alive.

Click here for a sneak peek at one of his shows.

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