Monthly Archives: May 2013

Gideon Rachman

South Korea is, in many ways, an incredibly impressive place. It was as poor as India in the 1950s, but now has wealth levels comparable to Spain or New Zealand. It is also now the 12th largest economy in the world, measured according to purchasing power. It has produced world-beating companies like Samsung and Hyundai – as well as a vibrant pop-culture.

Yet, talking to South Koreans, it is pretty apparent that there is also a darker side to the country’s economic miracle. There are two particularly shocking statistics. South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the developed world. And it also has the lowest birth-rate in the developed world: 1.2 children are born for every woman. As a result, the society is ageing very rapidly. One prominent economist in Seoul told me that if the country cannot turn around its demographics, “South Korea will implode in two generations time.” Read more

James Blitz

Qusair, in Homs Province (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

This has been a week of intense diplomatic and military activity over Syria. At the end of it, anyone analysing the situation has much new detail to reflect on. The Assad regime is making considerable advances on the ground. The EU arms embargo on Syria has been amended, allowing Britain and France to supply weapons to parts of the Syrian opposition at some future date if they wish. Russia seems to be pressing ahead with the provision of the S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to the Syrian regime, alarming the Israelis. Meanwhile diplomacy over a planned peace conference to try and bring an end to the civil war presses ahead – albeit with deep scepticism from many diplomats about the chance of success.

What should we make of all these events? After conversations with several western diplomats analysing the situation, one can pick out various strands that help organise one’s assessment of where things stand. Read more

♦ All change in Europe? French labour market reforms start to bear fruit, with signs of movement in industrial relations and eurozone austerity might be on its way out.
♦ India’s economy grew at the slowest rate in a decadehampered by electricity shortages and poor infrastructure.
♦ Mexico’s highest-grossing film is still filling multiplexes 10 weeks after its release. The NYT looks at whether audiences just want to see rich people humiliated, or whether they are actually looking for a form of middle class catharsis.
♦ Neal Ascherson reports on the state of German politics: “They are pissed off with Angela Merkel’s governing coalition, but reluctant to let go of Mutti’s hand. In short, the public are in one of those sullen, unreasonable moods which make politicians despair.
♦ Ethnic strife in Xinjiang, northeast China, is worsening with the growth of immigrant-dominated settlements – Uighurs are resentful of such powerful entities dominating the region and employing so few of their own ethnic group.
♦ And here’s something to chew on this weekend. When you’re having your morning pastry spare a thought for New Yorkers who have been lining up at 6am, or paying as much as $40, for a delectable new pastry – the cronut, a croissant-donut hybrid. It seems the bakery has a scaling problem, which is driving cronut-craving customers to the black market. Read more

What next for Syria?
With the Syrian conflict now over two years old and political positions hardening, Roula Khalaf, Middle East editor, James Blitz, diplomatic editor and Beirut correspondent Abigail Fielding-Smith join world news editor Shawn Donnan to discuss the disarray among the Syrian opposition, the relaxation of the EU arms embargo and the impact of Hizbollah fighters.

The reason behind the largest Chinese takeover of a US company to date? Dumplings.

Chinese meat processing firm Shuanghui is aiming to buy Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer. The deal is being driven by Chinese consumers’ soaring demand for wonton dumplings, char sui noodles and other delicious pork-based dishes. Read more

♦ The FT shows in words and picture how austerity affects the UK and Europe.

♦ After the bumpy start of the BoJ’s stimulus package last month, stock prices fell as bond yields rose. Martin Wolf, FT commentator, says this does not mean Abenomics has failed. Read more

Gideon Rachman

France’s cultural commissars should hop on a plane and visit South Korea. Any fatalism about the relentless march of English-speaking entertainment would be banished if they did what I did earlier today in Seoul – and visited the purveyors of K-Pop. Korean pop music not only dominates its local market. It has also gone global.

Of course, the most famous single K-Pop hit was Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, which topped the charts in 30 countries last year. But K-Pop has been a phenomenon for almost 20 years now – and it is just getting bigger. Read more

Roula Khalaf

“Aren’t you ashamed?” charged a visibly angry Eric Chevalier, the French ambassador to Syria, as he chastised opposition members for failing to expand the Syrian National Coalition after a week of negotiations.

In the Youtube video clip that was making the rounds of social media sites on Tuesday, the French diplomat goes on to ask how Coalition leaders elected only eight members, when they agreed to add 22. “There is a problem,” he said. Read more

♦ The UK and France have won the freedom to supply weapons to Syrian rebel groups after they succeeded in dismantling an EU arms embargo in spite of determined opposition from fellow EU member states.

♦ In the face of opposition from home and abroad, Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague says the potential to supply weapons to Syrian rebels has sent a “clear message” to the Assad regime.

♦ The west must take a united stand on Syria, but Russia, Iran and foreign jihadists complicate the issue, says FT Columnist Gideon Rachman.

♦ By aiding the Syrian army, Hizbollah has taken a gamble that could threaten its influence in the Middle East, the New York Times reports. Read more

Ferdinando Giugliano

Fabrizio Saccomanni

It takes a little more than 15 minutes to cover the mile-long distance that separates the Bank of Italy from the ministry of the economy and finance in central Rome. But the upper echelons of the two institutions dominating the commanding heights of Italy’s economy have traditionally been closely linked by a revolving door. Read more