Foreign affairs

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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Just as talks between Iran and world powers to nail down a deal restricting Tehran’s nuclear programme enter a decisive phase, the Islamic Republic last week put on a show. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) placed a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, and then blew it out of the water. For the IRGC, praetorian guard of the Shia theocracy, it would not do to show flabby muscle tone at this juncture, to the US or its Gulf Arab neighbours.

In Washington, meanwhile, another form of triumphalism is on display. Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, is tomorrow due to address the US Congress – at the invitation of its Republican leadership – and is expected to say that the nuclear deal under discussion amounts to capitulation to Iran and will allow it to build an atomic bomb. As well as a brazen electoral stunt before Israel goes to the polls on March 17, this is a calculated snub to President Barack Obama. Mr Netanyahu is flaunting his ability to go around the White House to Congress, where ordinarily he enjoys the near unanimous support he could only dream of in the Knesset at home. Read more

The stable of fictitious beasts from Greek mythology acquired a new inmate this week, unveiled in the letter from the Syriza government proposing economic reforms to keep the country’s bailout going. Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister, has bravely set off in search of that wondrous creature: “EU best practice across the range of labour market legislation”.

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Opposition candidate Mohammadu Buhari at a campaign rally in the northern city of Maiduguri Getty.

The postponement of Nigeria’s presidential elections on security grounds has flushed into the open scenarios reminiscent of the dark days when the country’s democratic aspirations were stifled by a military cabal. The polls will take place against a backdrop of regional and ethnic tensions, with the ruling Peoples Democratic party up against a well organised opposition. A free and fair vote could lead to the country’s first constitutional transfer of power, an event that, if handled peacefully, would not only further Nigeria’s political evolution, but provide a fillip to democracy across the continent. Read more

A useful report on EU-Russian relations was published last week by the EU committee of Britain’s House of Lords, the upper house of parliament.

The report shows how London and other EU capitals badly misjudged Russian intentions last year, before the February revolution in Kiev, President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the Kremlin’s armed intervention in eastern Ukraine. In particular, the way that the British government allowed expert knowledge and experience of Russia to waste away in the UK foreign office after the Soviet Union’s demise is indefensible. Read more

The election by parliament of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a centre-right former cabinet minister, as Greece’s new president on Wednesday night has sparked criticism from members of the governing Syriza party’s far-left faction who wanted to see an “anti-austerity” politician in the largely ceremonial post of head of state.

Puzzled Syriza voters wondered how Mr Pavlopoulos could have been adopted as the candidate of a government that wants to get rid of outdated political practices, given his track record while in office. Read more

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

Should you find yourself in Baku, skip the Versace store and Emporio Armani. Go instead to the grand edifice with the Grecian columns that stands between them, overlooking the Caspian Sea with its fabulous oil and gas riches.

This building was constructed in 1960, when Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, to mark Vladimir Lenin’s 90th birthday. It is a vastly different place these days, hosting the Museum of Azerbaijani Independence. If you’re in luck, as I was this morning, you will be the only visitor. Read more

On Friday we will find out how the eurozone’s economy performed in the final quarter of last year. Analysts think the figures, out at 10am GMT from Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics bureau, will show output grew by 0.2 per cent between the third and the fourth quarters.

That figure is far from spectacular in a region where the economy remains smaller than before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Yet a positive number will feed hopes that the conditions are in place for 2015 to be a better year for the region’s economy. Read more

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping to further strenghten his AK party's representation in parliamentary elections

It sounds like the guest list for a high-profile dinner party but it could be the future of Turkish democracy.

In the last few days a host of prominent Turks, including the country’s spy chief, the head of its stock exchange, several university heads, top civil servants and the chief of the country’s wrestling federation have all resigned their posts, paving their way to stand in June 7 parliamentary elections.

It is striking that so many people from so many walks of life – many at the pinnacle of their careers – should ditch their jobs to have a bash at electoral politics. The vast majority are thought to be aiming to run for the ruling AK party. Read more

The eurozone is mired in a stand-off over Greece’s government debt which, at roughly 175 per cent of gross domestic product, is the highest in the currency union. But new data released on Tuesday make one wonder whether member states should stop worrying about Athens’ fiscal woes and start being concerned about… Berlin’s. Read more

If there was any doubt that the forthcoming negotiations between Greece’s new Syriza government and its eurozone creditors would be fiery, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras dispelled them in his barnstorming speech to his parliament on Sunday night.

His defiant rhetoric will have gone down well not just in Greece but also with some of the political left in Europe and beyond. Some politicians and commentators have elevated the dispute between Athens and the rest of the eurozone – usually shortened to Greece vs Germany – as a battle between the progressive and reactionary forces for the soul of Europe, a fiscal Spanish Civil War for the 21st century. Read more

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.”

  • Venezuelan émigrés in Florida with fierce anti-Chavez views are aiming to steer US foreign policy on their homeland, just as exiled Cubans did
  • The postponement of Nigeria’s elections offers President Goodluck Jonathan a chance to regain the initiative in the Boko Haram insurgency, but the delay also risks fraying nerves further
  • India hopes deworming 140m schoolchildren in the world’s biggest campaign against the parasites will boost economic productivity
  • Germany and Greece are engaged in a fight to the death, with neither backing down in a cultural and economic clash of wills
  • Welcome to Crimea in winter - a lonely island, with no tourists, frightened Tatars and where Russians have taken all the jobs.

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  • Greece’s privatisation programme, ordered under the terms of its international bailout, was falling far short of targets even before the country’s new left-wing government vowed to scrap further sales of state assets
  • Following Isis’ brutal execution by immolation of captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, many in the country have called for a deeper military commitment against the jihadist group
  • Foreigners are leaving Russia in unprecedented numbers, reflecting a worsening economic outlook as western sanctions bite
  • The west’s inability to comprehend how Vladimir Putin sees the world means it has trouble thinking constructively about how to deal with him (The American Interest)
  • A convicted al-Qaeda operative has claimed that more than a dozen prominent Saudi figures were donors to the terror group and that a Saudi diplomat discussed with him a plot to shoot down Air Force One (NYT)

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Less than a week into his new job, Greece’s finance minister is already performing the kolotoumbes, or policy somersaults, anticipated by several Athens commentators.

Yanis Varoufakis, an eloquent economics professor, has removed a key plank of the leftwing Syriza party’s pre-election platform: its longstanding demand that creditors should write off at least one-third of Greece’s huge public debt, which last year amounted to 175 per cent of national output.

Visiting London on Monday, the second stop of a tour of European capitals, Mr Varoufakis told the Financial Times that Athens would restructure its entire public debt by swapping bailout loans for new growth-linked bonds and issuing what he called “perpetual” bonds to replace Greek bonds owned by the European central bank.

The U-turn on the debt issue was so abrupt that some observers wondered whether Mr Varoufakis went off-message as he tried to reassure Greece’s eurozone partners and City investors that the Syriza-led government was serious about meeting its obligations to the EU and International Monetary Fund. Read more

 

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha Copyright: Getty

Thailand’s military junta is delivering an Asian masterclass in the kind of tin-eared elitism that is galvanising support for new anti-establishment parties across Europe, writes Michael Peel in Bangkok. While tensions linked to the country’s class system, political representation and the division of economic spoils are simmering in the pot, the ruling generals seem to have chosen to screw the lid still more firmly on. Read more

How stable is Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia’s new monarch King Salman takes over at a time of unprecedented challenges in the shape of regional chaos as well as a sharply falling oil price. Gideon Rachman is joined by Roula Khalaf and Simeon Kerr to discuss how stable the kingdom is.