Monthly Archives: April 2014

The differing responses to the Ukraine crisis
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, and Ukraine will top the agenda. Washington has led the way on sanctions, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of senior Russians and scores of companies, in an attempt to show Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that his interference in Ukraine will bring rising economic costs. The EU on the other hand, seems deeply resistant to tougher economic sanctions, given the much more important ties between Europe and Russia. In this week’s podcast, Ben Hall, world news editor, is joined by Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent, and Stefan Wagstyl, Berlin bureau chief, to discuss how the two leaders should handle the escalating situation

  • Gideon Rachman thinks Narendra Modi is the jolt that India needs, but in his risposte Edward Luce argues that the risk is not worth taking.
  • China is poised to pass the US as the world’s leading economic power this year. This moment has come sooner than expected: FT economics editor Chris Giles explains the working out.
  • David Gardner thinks Bashar al-Assad is more vulnerable than he looks.
  • The recent freeze in east-west relations has revived interest in Moscow’s Cold War museum.

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Vladimir Putin still has some friends in the West. This week, he was seen sharing a comradely hug with Gerhard Schroeder, the former German chancellor, who was celebrating his 70th birthday, at a party in St. Petersburg. The image of Schroeder whooping it up with the Russian leader is a reminder of how lucky Germany and the West is that Schroeder is not handling the Ukraine crisis – since he lost office to Angela Merkel in 2005. As a former East German, Merkel has few illusions about the nature of a Russian government, run by ex-officials of the Soviet Union. As the saying goes, she has “eaten in this kitchen before.” Read more

If you want the best case for Narendra Modi, you can do no better than read my colleague Gideon Rachman’s latest column – India needs a jolt. After a decade of prevarication under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (to put it politely), India’s economy is languishing and investors have lost confidence in its reform story. Delhi is almost permanently mired in corruption scandal and politics has turned into a national joke. India desperately needs a change. Who better than Gujarat’s chief minister to give the subcontinent the decisive governance it craves? Read more

Containers sit stacked on a cargo ship berthed at Qingdao Port in Lianyungang, China

According to the latest estimates from the International Comparison Program, hosted by the World Bank, China is poised to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy later this year, toppling it from a perch it has held since 1872.

That is several years ahead of all previous estimates and reflects just how much more important the Chinese economy is now to the rest of the world. Read more

  • Gideon Rachman argues that India needs a jolt and Narendra Modi is the man to provide it.
  • When the political class tries its hand at populism it radiates inauthenticity, says Janan Ganesh.
  • The FT explores the looming crisis in the US infrastructure network.
  • A new and bloody front has been opened in eastern Syria as the country’s two most powerful jihadist groups battle for control of the region’s oilfields.
  • Judge Saed Youssef, nicknamed “the Butcher”, has gained notoriety in Egypt: he has sentenced 1,212 people to their deaths in the past five weeks.
  • The latest US sanctions don’t affect Putin’s personal fortune, they threaten Putin’s actual pressure point: the oil that is Russia’s lifeblood.

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By Gideon Rachman
There is something thrilling about the rise of Narendra Modi. Indian politics has been dominated by the Gandhi dynasty since independence. In India’s current elections, the standard-bearer of the Congress party is Rahul Gandhi – whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers. Mr Gandhi, an insipid figure, was truly born to rule. By contrast, Mr Modi, prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata party, comes from humble origins in small-town India. As a teenager he ran a tea stall at the local bus terminal.

  • Seoul’s response to the ferry catastrophe has added to growing accusations of authoritarianism.
  • As the European elections approach, Alex Barker looks at the European Parliament’s growing power.
  • Edward Luce argues that, with the US always struggling between a push for freedom and a Calvinistic urge to meddle, the pendulum is now swinging back towards intrusion.
  • A defence pact between Washington and Manila will help the US put more muscle behind its pivot to Asia.
  • Simon Kuper argues that inequality is the new apartheid: your life path is largely determined before birth.
  • As the tourism industry in the Sinai has slumped, bedouins are turning to illegal opium production.
  • The US has dispatched its first advanced weapons to Syria since the conflict began, raising hopes among rebels that the Obama administration will lessen its resistance to military aid.
  • Russia could create a weak, neutral Ukraine almost instantly. But will it?
  • Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been discussing the blunders that have fed Putin’s myth that “fascists” have taken power in Ukraine.

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  • Martin Wolf thinks private banks should be stripped of their power to create money.
  • Voting in Mumbai has been a tale of two cities as the most downtrodden residents of India’s financial capital have turned out to vote in large numbers.
  • The Naples tailoring industry has adapted to the 21st Century better than the city in which it resides.
  • Despite concerns over its reliance on the GCC, Egypt is now well placed to engage and negotiate some favourable terms from the IMF.
  • Emerging economies such as Mexico are the fastest-growing source of demand for many of the big food and drinks companies, but intensifying pressure from health authorities in developed markets could deprive them of growth opportunities.

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Obama’s state visit to Japan
This week, we look at Japan, where President Barack Obama is concluding a state visit. The US leader and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have vital business to discuss, from Japan’s delicate and rather dangerous relationship with China, to the state of the Japanese economy and hopes for a major new trade deal. David Pilling, Asia editor, and Lindsay Whipp, former Tokyo correspondent, join Gideon Rachman to discuss

  • Playing the bad boy in Latin America is no longer the easy game it was: the FT welcomes the return of economic rationality.
  • Overfishing and pollution may be behind a rise in violent piracy and kidnapping for ransom in southeast Asia.
  • Sleeping arrangements in first- and business-class cabins are the competitive weapon of choice as airlines vie to woo the global one per cent.
  • On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza catastrophe, a Guardian interactive traces the journey (and human cost) of the shirt on your back.
  • Moscow is playing a new ‘great game’ Ukraine in which the primary tools are local assets, in the shape of Ukraine’s political and security elites.
  • The WSJ is tracking the fallout of the latest wave of sanctions in real time.
  • Nato’s eastern European members are nervous about the alliance’s ability, or even willingness, to counter Russia.

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If there was a prize for which US president had had the more exclusive and expensive Japanese dining experience, Barack Obama would beat George W Bush hands down.

The incumbent US leader and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe dined in one of Japan’s – and thus the world’s – most exclusive sushi restaurants on Wednesday night – Sukiyabashi Jiro, where only 10 people can squeeze along the counter and there is one choice on the menu – a $300 course of exquisite sushi. Read more

 

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks on on the Middle East in London on April 23, 2014. (Getty)

There are plenty of people who will simply refuse to listen to anything that Tony Blair has to say about the Middle East – on the grounds that he is an idiot or a war criminal, or some combination of the two. I am not one of them. On the contrary, I think that the speech that Blair has just given on the Middle East is worth reading. He is intelligent, passionate and well-informed. But I still think he is wrong or, at the least, unconvincing, on a number of crucial points. Read more

• The peace deal struck in Geneva means little in Ukraine’s easternmost province where hard core activists are refusing to end their occupation of government buildings.

Russia seeks economic self-reliance. Faced with the threat of more sanctions over Ukraine, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says the country must reduce its dependency on imports and strenghthen from within.

• Thousands of government opponents in Egypt have disappeared into secret jails, which critics warn are radicalising a new generation of jihadis.

• David Moyes’s sacking, after just 10 months as Manchester United’s manager, is above all a story of image.

• The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction. New York Times analysis shows that across lower-and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have won considerably larger salary increases over the last three decades. Read more

President Barack Obama will conduct a four-country Asia trip from April 23 to 29. He will visit Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, before finishing the trip in the Philippines. These are 10 discussions that will be on the various tables:

1) Don’t Forget the Pivot Read more

  • The pragmatists have won out over the radical idealogues in Venezuela’s administration and Nicolás Maduro is starting to take orthodox steps to repair the economy.
  • Israel is staying out of the fracas in Ukraine: it cannot jeopardise ties with Russia, even if that puts it at odds with the US.
  • The US-Japan relationship has been the bedrock of Asian security and economic growth, but recent frictions have raised questions about how committeed they are to the partnership.
  • The decline in crime in Western nations could have been a result of the removal of lead from petrol.
  • It may have been disparaged for its decline since the fall of the Soviet Union, but the Russian army has upgraded to 21st-century tactics in order to seize the initiative from the west.
  • Residents of Crimea are living in a state of perpetual confusion, but Crimean authorities are pushing for the peninsula to become the world’s next Las Vegas.

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By Gideon Rachman
Ukraine is a distraction. Syria is a distraction. For believers in America’s “pivot to Asia”, the centre of Barack Obama’s foreign policy must remain the region of the future – Asia. The pivoters will be delighted that this week – despite a raging crisis with Russia – the president is embarking on a four-nation tour of Asia, beginning in Japan.

With pro-Russian separatists refusing to leave captured buildings in eastern Ukraine on Friday, it is already clear that Thursday’s Geneva agreement has done little to reduce tensions on the ground – or the threat of a Russian invasion.

That the US, EU, Russia and Ukraine managed to agree on any document and concrete steps at all in Geneva was positive and unexpected. But some of those steps are already proving difficult to implement and provide no guarantee the situation in eastern Ukraine could not escalate further.

Most importantly, there was no commitment by Russia to pull back the tens of thousands of troops it has massed on Ukraine’s border, which Washington and Brussels have both been pressing for.

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By Jurek Martin

The formal obituaries of Shijuro Ogata, the former deputy governor of the Bank of Japan who has died at the age of 86, will take due note of his policy making roles over a long career, invariably executed with acumen. They will also record that, as he frequently said with affection, he was hardly the most famous Ogata in his own household – his wife, Sadako, was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for a decade and holder of more than one Japanese government humanitarian portfolio.

What is less well known is the extent to which he was single-handedly responsible for opening up the previously closed Japanese bureaucracy to the western media – and all through the device of a tea party of his own mischievous creation. Read more

Judging from Moscow’s dark warnings over the threat of civil war in Ukraine, and its war of words with the west over the crisis engulfing its neighbour, one would assume that president Vladimir Putin would be under considerable stress.

But on Thursday, the Russian leader was on top form. In the marathon televised question-and-answer session in which he holds court once a year, Mr Putin appeared at ease, well prepared, and, most importantly, very satisfied with what he has recently achieved. Read more