China

By Gideon Rachman
Rome fell. Babylon fell. Hindhead’s turn will come.” George Bernard Shaw’s bon mot in Misalliance was a reminder to British theatre audiences in 1910 that all empires eventually decline and fall. The fact that Hindhead is an English village was a light-hearted cloak for a serious point.

Rush to join China-led bank embarrasses Washington
It seems odd that an international bank for building roads and airports in Asia should become a yardstick for the rise of China as a global power and of the relative decline of the US. But that is what Beijing appears to achieved with its Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. Some of Washington’s closest allies have signed up even though it had lobbied furiously to dissuade them from doing so. Ben Hall discusses the development with Alan Beattie and Ed Luce.

  • As the US moves closer to a nuclear deal with Tehran that could end decades of estrangement, it simultaneously finds itself scrambling to curb Iran’s influence in the Middle East
  • The contours of Russia’s new national ideology have become clear in the Ukraine crisis; its foundations are nostalgia for a glorious past, resentment of oligarchs, materialism and xenophobia
  • Despite being engulfed in news about corruption, Latin America is showing advances in strengthening institutions and holding the powerful to account
  • Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov has upgraded his country from pawn to rook as central Asia’s chess master uses the rivalry between China, Russia and the US to its advantage (Foreign Policy)
  • The provision of an hallucinogenic drug to inmates in the middle of the rain forest reflects a continuing quest for ways to ease pressure on Brazil’s prison system (New York Times)

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The scramble by European countries to join China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a powerful symbol of the eastward shift of global power

Soldiers of fortune from apartheid-era South Africa that inspired the Hollywood thriller ‘Blood Diamond’ are starring in Nigeria’s attempt to flush out Boko Haram terrorists

Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen’s civil conflict has turned up the heat on a simmering cold war between regional Sunni Arab states and their Shia rival, Iran

If the cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ were sincere, the western world would be convulsed with worry and anger about the Wallström affair, argues Nick Cohen (The Spectator)

Chad’s strongman president, Idriss Déby, says Nigeria is absent in the fight against Boko Haram as Chadian troops defend Nigerian territory from the extremists (New York Times)  Read more

  • An economic crisis in the Russian hinterland of Karelia, which exposes over-reliance on resource extraction and state jobs, is emerging as a microcosm of Russia’s woes
  • The rare spectacle of a banking chief behind bars is part of an unfolding crisis in the minuscule state of Andorra, wedged between France and Spain
  • Britain’s decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, seen as China’s answer to the World Bank, is a sensible decision – though not without risk, argues Martin Wolf
  • A former facial reconstructive surgeon turned bike gang leader has become a Russian patriotic leader, proponent of ultra-conservative views and vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin (Vice News)
  • How a slain Afghan woman became an unlikely champion for women’s rights (Washington Post)

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  • Lee Kuan Yew, the founder and patriarch of modern Singapore who has died at the age of 91, was one of postwar Asia’s most revered and controversial politicians
  • In a fight between whales, the shrimp’s back is broken, according to a South Korean expression that sums up the country’s struggle to balance its strategic relationships with China and the US
  • Can economic optimism return quickly enough in Europe to prevent the further rise of extremist political parties? asks Gideon Rachman
  • Despite brutal punishments under Saudi justice drawing comparisons to Isis, avenues for mercy are built into the system that allow reprieves (New York Times)
  • It is used by almost a tenth of the world’s population, gives a buzz equivalent to six cups of coffee and is a symbol of love. But the humble betel nut is also sending tens of thousands to an early grave (BBC)

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By Gideon Rachman
The story of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is turning into a diplomatic debacle for the US. By setting up and then losing a power struggle with China, Washington has sent an unintended signal about the drift of power and influence in the 21st century.

By Gideon Rachman
Just before Alexis Tsipras was elected Greek prime minister in January, he made a vow to the voters: “On Monday national humiliation will be over. We will finish with orders from abroad.”

China’s leaders are looking to the internet to offset sagging economic growth.

At the annual meeting on Thursday of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, internet and ecommerce merited a dozen mentions, culminating in Prime Minister Li Keqiang announcing an “internet-plus action plan”.

That, he promised, would “integrate the mobile internet, cloud computing, big data and the internet of things with modern manufacturing, to encourage the healthy development of ecommerce, industrial networks, and internet banking, and to guide internet based companies to increase their presence in the international market”.

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Vladimir Putin with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban

In the West, Vladimir Putin is often viewed as something of an international pariah. Shift your perspective, however, and it is quite striking how many international friends, the Russian president has cultivated.

Mr Putin, who enjoys posing bare-chested, is particularly good at making friends with other “strongmen”. His roster of special friends include Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa. This week, Mr Putin has also been demonstrating that he is capable of finding pals even inside the “enemy camp” – the European Union. The EU may have imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, but that has not stopped Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary – and another self-styled strongman – from rolling out the red carpet for Mr Putin. Read more

During Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests last year, chief executive CY Leung found himself the subject of many unflattering comparisons – from a vampire to Pinocchio to Adolf Hitler.

But his best-known alter ego is as “the wolf”. And now he’s seeking a more sheep-like population to govern. Read more

The scenes of chaos during President Jacob Zuma’s speech at the opening of South Africa’s parliament last week will be remembered as one of the darkest days of the post-apartheid era

Visitors from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong are known as “locusts” and now a long-simmering resentment at their presence in the territory is boiling over into angry protests

Greece must impose capital controls or repeat the costly mistake of Cyprus, where emergency funding from the ECB was spirited out of the country, argues Hans-Werner Sinn

What Isis Really Wants: The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. Here’s what its beliefs means for its strategy – and how to stop it (The Atlantic)

Washington’s uneasy partnership with Tehran now extends to Yemen (Foreign Policy)  Read more

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  • A drought in Brazil, which depends on hydropower for 70 per cent of its electricity, is sparking fears of water rationing and energy shortages that could hit economic growth
  • As public deficits rise, pressure to cut costly subsidies on fuel and other products is growing in developing economies. Morocco has shown other countries how the reform can work
  • He is close to Vladimir Putin and has described the European Union as the modern heir to the Third Reich – so why is Viktor Medvedchuk negotiating on behalf of Ukraine in peace talks? (NYT)
  • As China moves into the third year of its anti-corruption campaign, experts are worried that without the grease of bribes, projects are stagnating and the economy is taking a hit (Washington Post)
  • Grow vegetables extensively! North Korea has unveiled a list of 310 new political slogans covering every conceivable topic (Agence France-Presse)

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By Gideon Rachman

China’s education minister has just issued an edict to the country’s universities that sounds like something from the heyday of Maoism. “Never let textbooks promoting western values enter our classes,” thundered Yuan Guiren. “Any views that attack or defame the leadership of the party or socialism must never be allowed.”

I’ll say one thing about Chinese chief executives: they have a more colourful back-story than most of the developed world executives at Davos.

Ren Zhengfei, elusive founder of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications group, made a rare public appearance at the World Economic Form on Thursday, in a one-on-one interview. Read more

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