The World Today for February 26, 2019

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You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

Vietnam is setting the stage for President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s meeting this week.

And more than one observer is noting the irony that the Southeastern Asian host country, once a war-torn economic basket case, is now being looked at as a potential model for North Korea’s economic future.

Oh, you’ve come a long way, baby.

In the mid-1980s, as the united northern and southern halves of the country recovered from the Vietnam War – or, as it was locally known, the Resistance War Against America – Vietnam’s Communist leaders took a page from their Chinese counterparts and embraced global trade, attracting employers like South Korea’s Samsung, the Associated Press explained.

Today, Vietnam’s economy is one of the most vibrant in the world, growing by nearly 7 percent annually. Ho Chi Minh City’s luxury property market is among the most exciting in the world, Bloomberg reported.

Vietnam might be a good example for North Korea, where Kim maintains godlike control over his people’s lives. But Americans and others might be less than enthusiastic about embracing the Vietnamese system.

Communist leaders are still in charge in Vietnam. Reuters noted that they have relaxed their grip on the country somewhat. Skateboarders have taken over Lenin Park in Hanoi, where a statue of the Russian revolutionary and a rusted Soviet fighter jet still stand. Hollywood movies, Facebook, iPhones and Ariana Grande are popular.

But, as the BBC explained, the Communist Party permits no opposition. Human rights activists say the government cracks down on dissent and harasses journalists, too.

Libby Liu, president of the US government-funded Radio Free Asia, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed exhorting Trump to seek the release of jailed reporters and 200 other political prisoners when he meets with Vietnamese leaders. Authorities regularly seize writers and others who go missing for weeks, wrote Liu.

Much of Vietnam’s prosperity comes from foreign investors looking to leverage Vietnam’s greatest asset: millions of people seeking to work their way out of poverty. That goal fosters opportunities but also arguably makes workers ripe for exploitation.

When foreign-backed enterprises come to Vietnam, “they get addicted to the drug and the drug’s called cheap labor,” Andy Ho, chief investment officer at VinaCapital, told financial researcher Morningstar.

Kim has signaled that he might be open to liberalizing North Korea’s economy, especially if he can still exert control while at the same time his people grow richer, CNBC reported. Vietnamese and North Korean diplomats are sharing development ideas, too.

At the very least, such a development might prevent famine and other tragedies in the Hermit Kingdom in the future.



The Reckoning

Shortly after Pope Francis declared war on sexual abuse by the clergy, news broke confirming that an Australian court had found Cardinal George Pell guilty on five charges of molesting 13-year-old boys more than two decades ago.

A jury in the County Court of Victoria in Melbourne found Pell guilty on Dec. 11 last year following a four-week trial, Reuters reported. But the verdict was not officially made public until the prosecution dropped a second abuse case against Pell.

The ruling makes Pell – who pled not guilty — the most senior Catholic official ever to be convicted for child sexual offenses. His lawyers have filed an appeal that could lead to a retrial if it is successful. In the meantime, he returns to court Wednesday for the start of his sentencing hearing.

Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.

In his speech ending a conference on sexual abuse Sunday, Pope Francis issued a “heartfelt appeal for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors,” according to a transcript published by CNN. But critics pointed out he offered little in the way of new, concrete steps to address the problem.


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The Japanese government said Monday it will press ahead with plans to move a US military base to another part of Okinawa, despite a referendum in which just over 70 percent of local voters called for the base to be removed from the island altogether.

Under the proposed scheme, the US Marines’ Futenma air base is to be relocated to a less-populated area of the island called Henoko from its present location near schools, hospitals and shops, Reuters reported.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters Monday that the government would work to convince residents of the wisdom of the plan, but said the decision could not be deferred.

The referendum was always unlikely to stop the scheme, as the issue was a matter for the central government, not the local one. But it could aid the struggling opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) in the upper house elections this year, said former Chuo University professor Steven Reed.


Old Faces

Senegal’s prime minister said Monday that incumbent President Macky Sall won enough votes in Sunday’s election to avoid a runoff, though the election commission has yet to release the official tally.

“Our gathered results show that our candidate has largely won the election in the 13 out of 14 regions in the country. We can expect a minimum of 57 percent,” said Prime Minister Mahammed Dionne, according to Al Jazeera.

Shortly thereafter, however, the election commission called on the participants to “abstain from prematurely declaring the results, and maintain the calm atmosphere since the election was conducted.” Several opposition candidates insisted that nobody won enough votes to prevent a runoff.

“There is no question, a second round is unavoidable even if some media try to announce a victory in the first round,” said Idrissa Seck, one of the main candidates.

Similarly, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has claimed an early lead his country’s election, but is facing allegations of manipulation, the BBC reported.

The final results of both elections are expected later this week.


Too Big to Fail

Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster “Jaws” gave the great white a bad reputation.

The apex predator, the villain in the move, is known to grow as large as 20 feet long and weigh about 7,000 pounds. But it has other more interesting qualities, too, intriguing scientists.

The giant fish has intricate genes that make it a fast healer with relatively low chances of developing cancer, Business Insider reported.

In a new study, scientists sequenced the entire genome of the great white, noting that the information could reveal secrets about the marine animal’s regenerative abilities.

Great whites have 4.63 billion “rungs” on their DNA ladder and 41 pairs of chromosomes. Humans have only 23 pairs of chromosomes with about 3 billion DNA rungs.

It’s generally believed that more complex genomes create “jumping genes,” which can break DNA strands and cause higher risks of mutations that lead to illnesses like cancer.

Researchers noted that sharks, however, also have stabilizing genes that counteract the jumping ones, preserving the genome’s stability and providing specific traits like quicker regeneration of wounds.

Scientists think that understanding the shark’s traits could lead to better treatment for humans suffering from cancer or age-related diseases.

That doesn’t mean that consuming shark meat will give people superhuman healing, co-author Mahmood Shivji added.

“That’s as silly as saying, ‘If you eat sharks, you’ll be able to hold your breath better,'” he said.

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