Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s faintly sinister foreign minister, is not a man who panics easily. So it is worth paying attention, to what Lavrov has just said about North Korea. “The situation could simply get out of control, it is slipping toward the spiral of a vicious cycle,” was his comment yesterday. You could dismiss this as the usual Russian criticism of US foreign policy, since Lavrov was implicitly knocking the US military exercises that seem to have provoked North Korea’s most recent, blood-curdling threats. Or you could take what Lavrov has to say seriously. I’m inclined to do the latter. There are still far too many people in the West, who treat North Korea as a joke. That could be a big mistake. Read more

- ‘The troika decision-making [is] baffling and the vision of the founding fathers of the single currency [is] a mockery,” argues Christopher Pissarides, an adviser to the president of Cyprus, as other small eurozone nations are feeling increasingly defensive about their economies.

- Stefan Wagstyl suggests that the latest Brics summit has exposed the limits of the five nations’ possible co-operation. (Imagine a group of five friends who get together to build a holiday house but can’t agree on what it should cost, where to put it or who should pay for it.?) Meanwhile Gideon Rachman reckons that Brazil is the only Brics country that still qualifies to be a member of the club. Read more

What next for the Brics?

The Brics started life as a marketing gimmick dreamt up by Goldman Sachs to promote emerging markets, but the notion has taken on a life of its own and this group of nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – are now a formal organisation who have just met for their fifth summit. In this week’s podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Stefan Wagstyl, editor of beyondbrics, and Andrew England, South Africa correspondent, reporting from Durban, where the group has agreed to set up a Brics-led development bank. But do the Brics matter, what unites and divides these nations, and are we likely to still be discussing this group in ten years’ time?

Join the club: leaders of the Brics (Getty)

As the Brics conclude their fifth summit, Jim O’Neill must be wondering whether it has all got a bit out of hand. Back in 2001, O’Neill – a Goldman Sachs strategist – coined the catchy acronym Bric to cover the four largest emerging markets: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Now O’Neill has lived to see his clever idea become a geopolitical fact. The question – does the Bric concept make sense? – no longer really matters. It makes enough sense for them to meet on a regular basis. Read more

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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 22: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen on a television monitor during a news conference on February 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. Abe is in Washington to meet with President Obama and discuss economic and security ties. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Shinzo Abe in Washington on February 22 (Getty)

It’s rare that the sequel is better than the original movie, but so far Shinzo Abe II is doing much better at the box office than its ill-fated prequel. As we approach the first 100 days in office mark, here are five differences (and a few similarities) between Shinzo Abe I and Shinzo Abe II.

1. Shinzo Abe I had a dull subtitle. Constitutional Amendment failed to excite the public and never got anywhere. Deflation Slayer, on the other hand, the subtitle for Shinzo Abe II, has got everyone talking, from bond traders and currency speculators to ordinary Japanese fed up with economic drift.

2. It is often forgotten that Shinzo Abe I, released in October 2006, had a strong opening. Abe travelled to Beijing and mended relations with China. But the movie quickly trailed off as the plot foundered on a boring and jerky narrative involving disappearing pension records and a series of ministerial scandals. Shinzo Abe II was strong even before the opening credits rolled. Many audience members were so excited that shares soared and the yen weakened even before Abe appeared in the opening scene.

3. The plot of Shinzo Abe II is intriguing. It starts off as a story about a bold economic experiment, but no one knows how it will end. Will the Japanese economy at last gain some traction after 20 years in the doldrums? Or will the gamble end in catastrophe with hyperinflation and capital flight? Read more

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By Gideon Rachman

In the end, the Cypriots swallowed the bitter medicine. Facing national humiliation and a bleak future many complain their small nation has been forced to succumb to the will of a larger, merciless power – Germany.

Boris Berezovsky in August 2012 (Getty)

Boris Berezovsky in August 2012 (Getty)

Police have found “no evidence” so far that anyone else was involved in the death of exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, but are retaining “an open mind”, according to one of the detectives working on the case. It’s hardly surprising that questions remain. While one friend told the FT: “In the last few months, he was very depressed, very low. He felt beset by all the issues that surrounded him”, another – Nikolai Glushkov, a fellow Russian exile – told the Guardian’s Luke Harding: “I will never believe in the natural death of Boris Berezovsky.” It may be a while before any certainty is reached [update: police said late on Monday that a postmortem found the cause of death was “consistent with hanging”] – but in the meantime, it’s worth reading up on the life of a man whose influence over his homeland will be felt for a long time to come.

  • Owen Matthews recalls his first meeting with Berezovsky in 1998, at the “luxurious Logovaz Club, a restored prerevolutionary mansion in central Moscow”. In a piece full of pithy assessments (“Yeltsin may have made Russia free, but it was Berezovsky who made it for sale”; “Berezovsky was Dr. Frankenstein, whose monster was a poker-faced little KGB officer”), Matthews paints a vivid picture of the mathmetician-turned-kingmaker whose love of power contributed to his undoing.
  • Writing for the FT, Ben Judah contrasts the Berezovsky of old – “they called him ‘the comet’, because he burnt so bright and talked so fast” – with the “insecure, self-doubting and anguished man” of recent months.

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As the BRICs assemble for their summit in South Africa, what better way to celebrate the occasion than to buy the splendid “Lunch with the FT, 52 Classic Interviews” book. The connection may not seem immediately obvious. But think about it. The BRICS have flourished through a relentless focus on commerce, and this is what the FT is trying to do, through repackaging some of our best interviews and selling them in a beautiful commemorative edition, that will take pride of place in your lovely home. When your friends see this stunning volume, with its glorious full-page colour cartoons, they will admire you for your good taste! You might even enjoy reading some of the interviews. Read more

In 2005, Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina’s seminal, satirical essay, How to Write About Africa, urged outsiders to conjure descriptions that are “romantic and evocative and unparticular”, talk of safari animals, the African light, big skies and always “treat Africa as if it were one country”.

On those criteria, new China president Xi Jinping’s cliché-heavy first speech on African turf as head of state has measured up all too well. Addressing Tanzanian dignitaries in a Chinese-built conference hall on his first trip to Africa as head of state, Xi spoke of his welcome being “as warm and as unforgettable as the sunshine in Africa” and characterised the economy as “forging ahead like a galloping African lion”.

He also spoke of the warm reception received by a Chinese television series in Tanzania and told a story about a young Chinese couple who honeymooned in the Serengeti and wrote a blogpost on their return that was a bit of a hit in China, which said: “We have completely fallen in love with Africa and our hearts will always be in this land.”

In a blow to Xi’s stated aim of treating Africans as “equals”, Wainaina said the tone of the imagery offered “cheap sentiment” that “smacks of paternalism”.

“China’s charm offensive seems to want to assume there are no serious cultural and intellectual exchanges and conversations to be had,” said Wainaina after reading excerpts of the speech. “I do not get a sense of what Africans are thinking and planning… what African thinkers mean to a growing China. If a Chinese leader cannot begin to articulate what Africa is to them with more substance, Africans should be worried.”

Such sentiments should also worry China, which seems to be failing in its efforts to sidestep allegations of neo-colonial attitudes that mar Africa’s relations the west and to deliver the “bosom” friendship Xi said he espouses. Read more

Cyprus: they have a deal!


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By Clive Cookson

The release on Thursday of a stunning map of the oldest light in the universe will almost certainly be the event of the year for cosmologists.

The European Space Agency’s “cosmic microwave background” image, compiled from Planck satellite observations, will remind people that there are two complementary ways of gathering evidence to help scientists understand the universe at the most fundamental level.

One is to create extreme conditions – ultra-small versions of the Big Bang that created the universe 13.8bn years ago – on Earth, by smashing together subatomic particles at almost the speed of light. That’s how physicists used the Large Hadron Collider at Cern last year to discover the Higgs bosonRead more

The Chinese currency, Renminbi, being counted out by an employee at a branch of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited (ICBC). (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)


Today brought yet another headline about the apparently relentless rise of the Chinese economy. The OECD predicts that China will be the world’s largest economy (in PPP terms) by 2016. Not long, now.

Yet there are still many China bears – both inside the country and outside it. Those who suggest that there is something rotten in the state of China point to many things, from the environment to corruption. One of the most popular bearish arguments is the extent of capital flight from the country. If everything is so good in China – say the bears – how come so many rich Chinese are eager to get their money out of the country? Perhaps they know something we don’t? Read more

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What lies ahead for Cyprus and the eurozone?
After a failed bailout plan that involved taxing the deposits of small savers, Cyprus is now the epicentre of the eurozone crisis. Lawmakers are now seeking an alternative before Monday, when the European Central Bank will cut emergency liquidity to Cyprus’s foundering banks. Kerin Hope, Greece and Cyprus correspondent; Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief; and Patrick Jenkins, banking editor, join Ben Hall to discuss what’s happened and what lies ahead.

Reaching out? The Bibi and Barack show, complete with gags about each other's pulchritude (Getty)

As they were trying out their new bromance on Wednesday, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu opened a press conference with some blokey teasing about their families. Mr Obama joked that Mr Netanyahu’s two sons “clearly got their good looks from their mother”. Mr Netanyahu shot back: “Well, I could say the same of your daughters.”

Speaking in Ramallah on Thursday, Mr Obama made a reference to his daughters that probably did not bring quite the same smile to Mr Netanyahu’s face. Discussing the struggles to get ahead that young Palestinians face, the US president drew a parallel with the civil rights movement in America and its impact on his family.

“Those of us in the United States understand that change takes time, but change is possible,” he said in Ramallah, three weeks after he unveiled a new statue in Washington to civil rights hero Rosa Parkes. “There was a time when my daughters did not have the same opportunities as somebody else’s daughters.”

For many Israelis, there is no analogy more insulting than having the country compared to the Jim Crow American South or, worse still, to apartheid South Africa – as it sometimes is by human rights groups. Read more

Bosco Ntaganda smiles after receiving a Congolese army uniform during an integration ceremony held by the Democratic Republic of Congo on January 29, 2009 (WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images)

Bosco Ntaganda in January 2009 (AFP/Getty)

This week Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese warlord indicted for war crimes, gave himself up after evading an international arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for more than six years. I’m pretty sure I was the last international journalist to meet and interview him.

It wasn’t exactly the uniform I’d imagined him in, but when I came across the Congolese warlord in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, he was wearing a t-shirt with the words “peace and reconciliation” across his front.

General Ntaganda is an indicted war criminal accused of recruiting child soldiers for a 2002 conflict and who, at the time I met him in 2010, had managed to duck an international arrest warrant for more than four years. All the while, he continued to draw allegations of further atrocities – massacres, political assassinations and rape among them.

When a journalist colleague pointed him out to me, he was huddled with the chief of the Congolese armed forces beside a grass football pitch that doubled as a UN helicopter base surrounded by the forests of Walikale.

That in itself was significant – the UN had repeatedly issued contorted and ambiguous statements in an effort to deny Gen Ntaganda was part of a UN-backed Congolese army effort deployed to beat back several rebel groups in the area. But it was an open secret that the former rebel commander whose loyalists had like him been integrated – poorly – into the army, was now second-in-command of the UN-backed mission. The UN later warned me to drop the story when I sought a response from a senior representative.

As Gen Ntaganda began to walk away I found myself walking up to him and greeted him in Swahili. “I am military co-ordinator for the operations…I am the number two,” he soon told me as he reached a vehicle packed with armed troops who looked so young I wondered about their age. “I am going to see my forces,” he said as he prepared to drive off.

The next day he directed me to a secret location in Goma, the volcanic city at the heart of eastern Congo. An armed guard kept look-out from a raised sentry box at the gate while others patrolled the site. One of them eventually summoned me with his muzzle to meet him. Read more

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Dmitry Medvedev and foreign journalists on Wednesday 20 March 2013
For a man who suffered the indignity of having to stand down after one term as president of Russia to make way for the return of Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev appears comfortable in his own skin.

Meeting the Financial Times and representatives of six other European newspapers this week, Russia’s prime minister seemed relaxed, sometimes jocular – in spite of the pressures many political observers believe he is under. Compared with the somewhat tense and nervous figure the FT first interviewed just after his election as president in 2008, he seems comfortable with the trappings of power – even if they are now diminished from what they were.

Today, a conservative or hardline faction in the Kremlin, emboldened by Putin’s return to the presidency, is seen as jostling to replace the more liberal Medvedev with its own premier. Putin, too, is thought ready to jettison Medvedev as a scapegoat in the event of a crisis such as an economic slowdown – and Russia’s economy has got off to a weak start this year.

For now, the premier remains in the same Gorky-9 compound he occupied as president, in which Boris Yeltsin spent his second presidential term, just off the chic Rublyovskoye Shosse 15km beyond Moscow’s outer ring road. Read more