The World Today for January 18, 2019

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Population Bust

Remarkably, the world’s most populous nation might suffer from a personnel shortage in the coming years.

As China struggles with an economic downturn and trade war with the United States, the East Asian superpower’s population shrank last year for the first time since the 1940s.

Experts said the decline signaled a “demographic crisis” that stemmed from the one-child policy that Chinese leaders implemented in 1979 in a bid to tame runaway population growth, reported Agence France-Presse.

Enforced with fines, loss of employment and sometimes brutal oppression, the policy was a classic case of communist social engineering.

“It’s been 26 years since Hong Guilian watched as a doctor drowned her newborn child. She begged him to stop, but her protests were futile,” wrote the Los Angeles Times. “Three years later it happened again. This time she was six months pregnant when they took her to the family planning clinic for a forced abortion.”

Chinese leaders ended the one-child policy in 2016. But the effects linger.

Today, the policy is to blame for an “aging population with 30 million fewer women than men,” wrote Bloomberg.

Unlucky Chinese bachelors in the so-called “lonely generation” of one-child families are called “leftover men,” hardly a term that instills self-confidence in guys looking for love.

“The women’s expectations are high. … They’re spoilt for choice,” lamented factory worker Wang Haibo in an interview with Channel News Asia. “Sometimes you take the initiative to contact them, but they’d tell you they’re not willing to go out with you (on a date).”

Now government campaigns are calling on couples to “have children for the country,” the BBC reported.

Their efforts might be too late. China faces a potentially unstoppable population decline, CNN wrote, saying the population will likely peak at 1.44 billion in 2029.

It’s a familiar pattern. As China grows more prosperous, its career-minded young people will put off starting families, like their counterparts in Japan and the West, NBC News explained. That, in turn, will slow economic growth as the population shrinks, but folks still need to pay for the care of their aging parents. A slower economy makes it harder to raise a family. And so the cycle goes.

As Time magazine reported, the US is hardly immune to the phenomenon. Its population is still growing, but at the slowest rate since the Great Depression, according to recent census figures.

Moreover, both countries’ populations are aging. In the US, people 65 and older are expected to account for nearly a quarter of the population by 2060.

But China is aging even faster. Its 65-and-older population will reach that mark by 2040, Bloomberg noted.

That’s an enormous burden on the young in a country where people are taught to revere their elders above all else.



Hits and Missiles

A top North Korean leader arrived in Washington Thursday to lay the groundwork for a second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

The visit comes in the wake of Trump’s unveiling of a sweeping new missile defense plan for the US that’s aimed at neutralizing threats from Iran, China, North Korea, Russia and others, NPR reported.

Incredibly costly and likely able to successfully knock down incoming missiles about half the time, it could add to the pressure on Kim Jong-un to negotiate a deal, though critics argue it’s liable to result in an arms race. In a nod to the lack of progress that Pyongyang has made toward denuclearization, Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, noted that North Korean missiles remained a “significant concern” in introducing the new US Missile Defense Review, Al Jazeera reported.

North Korea’s top envoy, Kim Yong-chol, is expected to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Friday. After that Kim will visit the White House and possibly meet with Trump.


A Near-impossible Job

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras survived a no-confidence vote by the thinnest possible margin on Wednesday, suggesting that completing his full term will be a “near-impossible” job.

Tsipras’ government won the support of 151 out of 300 legislators Wednesday night, after the defection of its coalition partner over the renaming deal Athens had negotiated with Macedonia threw its survival into question, CNBC reported. But the razor-thin margin means early elections are nearly certain, as Tsipras’ Syriza party controls only 145 legislative seats. “This will make completing the current parliamentary term in office a near-impossible job,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence. “However, Tsipras will have the advantage of determining the timing of the next vote and approve legislation he deems to be ‘vital’.”

Those vital moves are likely to include the relaxation of some of the austerity measures Greece had implemented to shore up its debt-burdened economy. One possibility: a hike in the minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the leftist Syriza currently trails 10 points behind the conservative opposition New Democracy party in current polls, CNBC noted.


The Bad Old Days

A car bomb killed at least 20 people and injured 68 others in Bogota Thursday, conjuring up visions of the bad old days in a Colombia hopeful that it had left violence behind it.

President Ivan Duque described the bombing as a “crazy terrorist act” as Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez identified the suspect as a 57-year-old man named José Aldemar Rojas Rodríguez, the BBC reported.

The authorities are now attempting to determine the “intellectual authors” of the blast, Martinez said. Rodríguez, who died in the explosion, had no previous criminal record or established links to terrorist groups.

Detonated inside the compound of a Bogota school for police cadets around 9:30 a.m. during a promotion ceremony, the bomb shattered windows of nearby apartments and houses. It was made with nearly 180 pounds of pentolite, a powerful explosive that has in the past been used by Colombia’s rebel guerrilla groups, Martinez said.

Once routine, such bomb attacks have declined markedly in recent years, as Colombia successfully negotiated a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). FARC’s leader suggested the latest blast’s purpose might be to scuttle a similar deal with the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN).


Overlooked Medicine

Modern medicine might have pushed traditional cures into the shadows, but scientists are now reconsidering ancient practices for clues on how to fight superbugs.

Scientists recently discovered a new bacterial strain with antibiotic properties in “healing soil” from a site in Northern Ireland once inhabited by druids, Science Alert reported. In ancient Celtic cultures, druids were religious leaders and healers akin to the shamans that survive in some other regions today.

In their study, the scientists said the new strain – dubbed Streptomyces sp. myrophorea, isolate McG1 – appeared to hinder the growth of several tough pathogens and provide good defenses against them.

“This new strain of bacteria is effective against four of the top six pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus],” according to molecular biologist Paul Dyson.

The strain comes from an alkaline patch of land where ancient druids used the soil to treat ailments like infections and toothaches.

Researchers have to conduct further tests to determine the total effectiveness of the soil’s contents, but Dyson believes that traditional medicine can help in fighting antibiotic-resistant bugs.

“Our results show that folklore and traditional medicines are worth investigating in the search for new antibiotics,” said Dyson. “Scientists, historians and archaeologists can all have something to contribute to this task.”

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