February 13, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

VIETNAM

Uncharted Waters

Vietnam has been a success story for globalization.

The communist Southeast Asian country has become a magnet for foreign investment and a hub for manufacturing in recent years. Economic growth has been around 6.6 percent since 2000.

But Vietnam has also become remarkably vulnerable to global crises, noted a Bloomberg video that explained how Vietnamese exports are worth more than the country’s gross domestic product, making it one of the most trade-dependent economies in the world.

Consider the impact on Vietnam of the US-China trade war and the new coronavirus that is still spreading in China and beyond.

Vietnam benefitted from the trade war, wrote online news magazine Slate. American imports from China dropped $87 billion, or 16 percent, last year due to the tensions. American imports from Vietnam, meanwhile, grew by $17.5 billion, a 36 percent increase.

As they benefit from their Chinese competitors’ setbacks and their American customers, however, Vietnamese leaders need to strike a balance between the world’s two largest economies. Their country shares a northern border with China. They need Chinese parts for their exports. They must negotiate with Chinese leaders over the Chinese-constructed islands in the South China Sea that Vietnam opposes.

Analysts at the think tank Stratfor also suggested that the US might seek to reduce its trade deficit with Vietnam in the future. The White House has already slapped tariffs on Vietnamese steel, for example. Vietnam will need Chinese investment to make up for the potential shortfall in trade.

Vietnam has pursued ambitious plans for solar power, outpacing rivals Malaysia and Thailand to have the most solar capacity in the region, Voice of America reported. Vietnam also recently reached a free trade accord with the European Union that the Diplomat said would boost growth to 7 percent.

Meanwhile, the new coronavirus has thrown a wrench into the Vietnamese-Chinese relationship.

Recently, Vietnam put around 900 people arriving from China in quarantine on military bases and the government announced it would not encourage cross-border trade in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters wrote. Agence France-Presse reported that Vietnam is setting up field hospitals to handle thousands of cases of the sickness. Officials have estimated they might lose $7.7 billion in tourism because of the crisis.

Next year, the country will have a chance to start charting a new course through the difficult waters it faces. In January 2021, the Communist Party will elect new leaders who are expected to replace President Nguyen Phu Trong, a 75-year-old whose health is deteriorating, the Asia Times explained.

The new leader will face a new world.

WANT TO KNOW

ITALY

Bring It!

Italy’s Senate on Wednesday voted to allow prosecutors to put far-right leader Matteo Salvini on trial over charges of holding migrants at sea when he served as the country’s interior minister, the BBC reported.

Under Italian law, ministers have parliamentary immunity for actions taken while in office, but a committee voted last month to strip the former interior minister of his immunity.

Salvini stands accused of illegally keeping 116 migrants from Libya on a ship off Sicily for days in July 2019. His decision caused an immediate backlash, and prosecutors conducted an investigation after reports of poor conditions aboard the ship.

Salvini has welcomed the trial and plans “to tell the world” that his migration policies “saved tens of thousands of lives.”

He argued that his decision had the support of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, but prosecutors believe that he acted alone and ignored Conte’s requests to allow the migrants to disembark.

If convicted, Salvini could face up to 15 years, but analysts added that he has the right to two appeals and his case could drag on for years.

PAKISTAN

Regular Visitor

A Pakistani court on Wednesday convicted Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks, to nearly six years in prison on terror financing charges, Agence France-Presse reported.

The verdict found him guilty of separate terror charges related to “being part of a banned terrorist outfit” and “having illegal property,” according to his lawyer.

The firebrand cleric is the founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and has been declared a global terrorist by the United States and the United Nations.

India believes that his organization is responsible for the Mumbai attacks in 2008 that killed more than 160 people and injured hundreds more.

Saeed has denied involvement but has spent years in and out of varying forms of detention in Pakistan on other charges.

He has been free to move at will around the country, enraging Indian authorities who have demanded his prosecution for the attacks.

His recent conviction comes as Pakistan faces potential blacklisting by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – an anti-money-laundering monitor based in Paris – for failing to combat terror financing.

VATICAN

Taking Sides

Pope Francis refused a request to ordain married men as priests and women as deacons to tackle the shortage of priests in South America’s Amazon region, NPR reported.

In a widely anticipated document titled “Dear Amazon,” the pope said that the Roman Catholic Church should find other ways to address the shortage of clergy.

His decision is aimed at pleasing the conservative wing of the Church, many of whom have already accused Francis of heresy because of his stances on issues such as homosexuality and divorce.

They fear that allowing the requested exceptions could potentially bring the complete abolition of clerical celibacy.

Bishops in the Amazon proposed the request last October, arguing that the shortage was hindering Catholics’ ability to celebrate sacraments in the isolated areas of South America.

The pope mainly focused his document on climate change and the struggle to protect the Amazon’s culture and environment.

DISCOVERIES

Signs

Similar to the infamous crop circles, Siberia’s Lake Baikal displays mysterious large “ice rings” during March and April.

For years, this phenomenon has puzzled scientists, with speculations ranging from natural causes to extraterrestrial activities.

A team of researchers, however, confirmed that the rings are actually caused by nature itself, USA Today reported.

Hydrologist Alexei Kouraev and his team wrote in their study that eddies of warmer water swirling under the ice are responsible for the odd circles.

His team drilled holes near the ice rings to measure the temperature and salinity of the water below. They noted that the water in the eddies was two to four degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the surrounding water.

The currents rotate in a clockwise direction and are strongest at their outer edges, thinning the ice above in a distinctive shape, Kouraev explained. He added that the reason why the circles’ centers remained frozen was because the current was weak or absent there.

Ice rings have diameters of about three to four miles and can last for days or even months.

Aside from aliens, scientists had speculated that methane gas emissions from the lake’s bottom were the reason behind the odd circles.

Lake Baikal is the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake with a unique variety of fish and freshwater seals.