China

Geoff Dyer

It’s back to the pivot. With the Iran deal half-done, the Obama
administration is now starting to shift its attention to Asia. After national
security adviser Susan Rice gave her first speech on the subject last week,
vice president Joe Biden will visit north Asia from Sunday, preparing the
ground for a presidential swing through the region in the spring.

Biden will fly straight into the centre of a new political storm – literally,
in this case – after China declared on Saturday that a large part of the
East China Sea was its own air defence zone
. The new Chinese rules
oblige aircraft of other countries to inform Beijing of their flight plans
through the area, or potentially face “defensive emergency measures”. Read more

By Luisa Frey

Back-channel conversations between the US and Iran paved way for the historic nuclear agreement and broke 34 years of hostility, writes the FT’s Geoff Dyer. Read more

By Luisa Frey

♦ Twenty-three years after German reunification, a report shows that east-west migration is fizzling out. As the socio-economic differences become smaller, investors are pumping capital into the ex-communist east, writes the FT’s Stefan Wagstyl.

♦ Slovenia – which cruised to the EU as the wealthiest of the 10 ex-communist members – is now struggling to avoid a eurozone bailout.

♦ In the US, inequality is moving to the front line of politics. The rich-poor gap has long been an issue, but in post-crisis times it seems more difficult to raise hopes of upward mobility.

♦ “Keeping China moving will keep its leaders busy,” comments the FT’s David Pilling. Xi Jinping – “the world’s most powerful leader” – has nine years left at the helm of an economy that could be the world’s biggest by 2020.

♦ In post-revolutionary times, Arab countries are dealing with the task of rewriting history and figuring out how to teach it. Egypt, Lybia and Tunisia are removing from school textbooks the praise they once heaped on former dictators, writes The Economist.

♦ A video report from the Wall Street Journal follows citizens whose lives were upended by the conflict across Syria’s northern border. “I always try to make my students forget what they saw in Syria”, says a teacher in a refugee camp in Turkey. Read more

By Luisa Frey

♦ The financial crisis has hit a whole generation of English graduates, “for whom a degree has all but ceased to be a golden ticket to a decent job“, writes the FT’s economics correspondent, Sarah O’Connor. Graduates now earn less and owe more in student debt.

♦ “China and Japan are heading for a collision“, says Gideon Rachman, the FT’s chief foreign affairs columnist. The fact that both countries are setting up National Security Councils may be dangerous in times of military jostling related to territorial claims.

♦ In Japan, communities devastated by the 2011 tsunami are receiving support from architects. A project called Home for All seeks to build communal structures incorporating local history and customs, reports Edwin Heathcote.

♦ A middle class is rising in Mexico as the country finally attracts higher-end industries. “Many people are beginning to believe they can get ahead through study and hard work” says the New York Times.

♦ In Syria, veteran commanders say a second civil war has started - in which the goals of freedom, Islam and social equality were replaced by betrayal, defeat and anger towards rival militias, jihadis and foreign powers, reports The Guardian.

♦ “Dispute over gay marriage erupts in Cheney family,” according to the New York Times blog: The Caucus. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Amid all the noise about the economic reforms launched last week by China, it was easy to overlook another important change. The Chinese government is setting up a National Security Council, co-ordinating its military, intelligence and domestic security structures. The model is said to be America’s NSC. But China’s move also parallels developments in Japan, where Shinzo Abe’s government is also setting up a National Security Council.

By Luisa Frey

♦ The Indonesian province of Aceh, devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, has become a model for reconstruction operations and might offer useful lessons for rebuilding the Philippines.

♦ Hairy crabs – delicacies which used to be one of China’s many currencies of corruption – are feeling the impact of new abstemiousness, reports FT’s Patti Waldmeir. After launching an austerity drive last year, Xi Jinping has announced further measures.

♦ China’s President, Xi Jinping, has admitted watching “The Godfather” and seems to have learned a lesson from it: “the art of amassing and applying power in a small, secretive circle of men”, according to The New York Times’ blog, Sinosphere.

♦ The New York Times also reports on the refugees who try to travel from Indonesia to Australia’s Christmas Island, hoping for better living conditions. More than a thousand have already died on the journey.

♦ After attacking immigrants, Dutch politician Geert Wilders and France’s Marine Le Pen have shifted their focus to the European Union. Both want to form a new Eurosceptic bloc and “fight this monster called Europe”, writes The Economist. Read more

STR/AFP/Getty Images

By Norma Cohen, Demography Correspondent

News that China is planning to ease its decades-old “one child” family planning policy should come as no surprise to anyone who has looked at demographic change in that region.

The working age population – defined as those aged 15 to 64, had been predicted by the United Nations Population Division to peak at 1.01bn by 2015 and fall gradually thereafter. In fact, it had already peaked in 2012 and is now headed the other way.

But the reality is that China’s “one-child” policy did not apply all over. Couples are allowed to have more than one child when both parents are only children. Rural parents were allowed to have more children which is why the current fertility rate for the 2010/15 period is 1.66 per woman. Although that is below the 2.1 children per woman that demographers say is required to keep population steady – not growing – it is clear that at least some women are already having more than one. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Most of the interest in the outcome of the Communist Party plenum in Beijing has focused on the economic decisions. But the Chinese government also announced that it plans to set up a National Security Council – which has obvious echoes of the White House decision-making apparatus.

The Chinese are not alone in making this move. Japan is also in the process of setting up a new National Security Council, which is meant to be operational by the end of the year. Some might find it a little ominous that at a time when Sino-Japanese tensions are so high, both countries are revamping their national security structures. But it could also be that the Chinese and Japanese are simply following foreign-policy fashion in the West. National Security Councils are all the rage. Britain set up an NSC in 2010, allowing the prime minister to chair regular meetings of all the senior ministers and officials dealing with security issues: foreign affairs, defence, intelligence and so on. Read more

China’s third plenum could lead to far-reaching reforms
Xi Jinping was appointed Chinese president just over a year ago and promised to shake up China’s economy. Now Mr Xi’s agenda for the next decade has become a little clearer with the conclusion of a party plenum in Beijing on Tuesday. In a statement the ruling Communist party pledged to implement wide-ranging economic reforms, with a greater role for market forces. In this week’s podcast Gideon Rachman is joined by Tom Mitchell, Beijing correspondent and James Kynge, editor of China Confidential to discuss whether this is a pivotal moment for the world’s second largest economy.

Gideon Rachman

A "Chinese Dream" promotion billboard (Getty)

I spent last weekend in Beijing, as part of a group of foreigners, at a small conference dedicated to “Understanding China”. We met a large cross-section of the country’s senior leadership from President Xi Jinping on down. We heard many reiterations of the idea that China is about to pursue “comprehensive reform”. So I would love to be able to say that I have a crystal clear idea of what is likely to emerge from the much-hyped Communist Party plenum that begins in Beijing this weekend. But that would be an overstatement. Most of the Chinese leaders were understandably cagey about exactly what reforms would be necessary to achieve the “Chinese dream” of national greatness and prosperity. A certain pre-plenum caginess had set in. And indeed many of the important arguments have not been settled. That, after all, is the business of the party plenum.

However, most of the key subjects that need to be tackled are already clear and the outlines of decisions are emerging: Read more