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The recent Sri Lankan presidential election was remarkable for several reasons.
First, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the over-confident incumbent, lost the vote, despite a booming economy. Second, Mr Rajapaksa – who was often accused of authoritarian and dynastic tendencies – seems to have accepted the voters’ verdict without a fight. His best riposte to those who accused him of not being a democrat may turn out to be the way in which he accepted unfavourable election results, and allowed his rival, Maithripala Sinisena, to assume power. The change of government in Sri Lanka also has a wider geopolitical significance. Read more
Most people have something they do to mark the end of the year: make a resolution, go to a party, tidy the attic. My annual ritual is to make a list of the five most significant events of the past year in global politics. This year is an odd one, in that it seems to me that there are only two events that stand head-and-shoulders above the others. The first is the breakdown in relations between Russia and the west, caused by the Ukraine crisis. The second is America’s return to war in the Middle East. So let’s deal with those two first and then move on to the other contenders.
• An oil smuggling network created to evade UN sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is being exploited by the Islamist group Isis.
• In Libya hardline Islamists are pushing their agenda amid the chaos they created.
• Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs lifts the veil on its relationship with the Gaddafi-era Libyan sovereign wealth fund.
• The New York Review of Books rounds up the latest books on Iraq: The outlaw state.
• China is risking a ‘balance sheet recession’ as the impact of its stimulus measures wane.
- Edward Luce examines EU-US drift: “Without US leadership, the transatlantic alliance will not spring back to life.”
- Philip Stephens argues that London’s Heathrow airport has turned its “manifest failings into a potentially golden asset” by convincing travellers that “the only way to improve the dismal lot of passengers is guarantee Heathrow still higher profits”.
- David Pilling asks: what is the real point of GDP and can it ever be accurately measured?
- Smart view: the French government hopes that its package of business reforms will encourage investment – the FT’s Michael Stothard sees whether France’s business community is convinced.
- The conflict between China and Vietnam in 1979 lasted less than a month, but the legacy of ferocious fighting permeates the sour relations between the two countries even now.
- Isis’s PR department is pushing its vision of an Islamic state.
- Industrialisation has left China with soil pollution that is damaging health and livelihoods across the country. The government had declared soil pollution data a “state secret”, but officials have slowly started acknowledging the issue.
- The US Navy’s most sophisticated warship is designed to be operated by video gamers – the young sailors who crew their ships have, after all, been raised on video games.
- Neil McArthur, a philosopher, asks if humans will ever be liberated from basic biological needs when it comes to sex.
- Steve Negus in The Arabist details how Iraq has been mismanaged by the Maliki goverment.
By Gideon Rachman
The headlines are dominated by regional crises – in Ukraine, in Iraq and in the South China Sea. But is there a common thread that ties together these apparently unconnected events?
- Fuel shortages and power outages are putting pressure on the Islamist insurgents who seized control of Mosul last week.
- Their military offensive has been matched by a digital offensive of equal prowess.
- Moderate Islamists are being eclipsed by their extremist counterparts, while jihadists are on the march, roving unchecked across broad sections of North Africa and the Middle East.
- Hong Kong is undergoing deepening tensions over its political future as a self-governed territory under Chinese sovereignty.
- Argentina is playing a game of chicken with NML, saying: we are prepared to go as far as the possibility of default not to pay you. Given that, how are we going to settle this case?
- Oil majors including ExxonMobil and BP started evacuating staff from Iraq as Sunni militants battled for control of the north’s main oil facility.
- China has been moving sand onto reefs and shoals to add several new islands to the Spratly archipelago, in what foreign officials say is a new effort to expand the Chinese footprint in the South China Sea.
- Anti-Brussels sentiment in Hungary is manifesting itself in a fight over home-brewed palinka.
- China’s increased border security and pressure on Nepal to turn away Tibetans has reduced the flow of Tibetan refugees to a trickle.
- Germany, the previous Darth Vaders of football, are keen to put an end to being beautiful losers and become beautiful winners.
- Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia editor for the Times, writes about class war in Thailand and the story of Thaksin Shinawatra.
- Nouri al-Maliki has made mistakes, but the real culprits in the present upheaval are the faultlines running through Iraq, contradictory Western policies and the predatory approach of Iraq’s neighbors
- The seizure of 160 computer flash sticks has revealed how Isis came from nowhere and having nothing to possessing Syrian oil fields and control of Iraq’s second city.
By Ben Bland
Prompted by anger over Beijing’s assertive stance in the South China Sea, the deadly anti-Chinese riots sweeping through Vietnam’s industrial parks have highlighted just how important the country has become to global supply chains.
This has been good for Vietnam too.
With the crucial banking and state-owned enterprise sectors hamstrung by huge debts and a lack of reform since Vietnam started overheating in 2008, it is the thriving manufacturing sector that has kept the economy ticking along, accounting for 17 percent of GDP and generating much-needed foreign exchange.
What’s behind this manufacturing boom? Read more
- In the US the Libyan city of Benghazi has gone from being shorthand for the furore over the 2012 attack on the US embassy to a political weapon for the Republican party, says the FT’s Geoff Dyer.
- Jeffrey Frankel, professor of economics at the Harvard Kennedy School, argues that the US is still the worlds largest economy by some distance: “the fact that rice and clothes are cheap in rural China does not make the Chinese economy larger. What matters for size in the world economy is how much a yuan can buy on world markets.”
- Egypt is begging tourists to visit despite politicial turmoil as livelihoods dwindle and nest eggs disappear.
- Boko haram doesn’t literally mean “Western education is a sin”. A more subtle translation of the name reveals that the group actually has a rather domestic focus.
- As monarchic dynamics shift in the Arab Gulf, the disputes of the Kuwaiti royal family are shifting into public view.
- With India in the middle of elections, David Pilling argues that the Congress party – which looks set for a drubbing – has done itself out of a job by actually making progress in its mission to eradicate poverty: Indians “have graduated from what Rajiv Kumar of the Centre for Policy Research calls the ‘petitioning’ class to the ‘aspirational’ one.”
- A Chinese regulatory loophole means that the internet sector enjoys the most foreign equity investment of any part of the Chinese economy, though foreigners do not own a single share. Regulators have turned a blind eye but there is a risk it could all go wrong, writes the FT’s Charles Clover (riffing off the proposed IPO for Alibaba).
- Want to know who to watch for in the European elections? Explore our interactive feature on the European Parliament – we profile 25 people to watch, from old guard to budding stars, power brokers and iconoclasts, federalist core and political fringe.
- Sweden’s central bank sounded the alarm on the household debt burden: the average indebted Swede owes 296 per cent of their annual income, while the average mortgage holder owes 370 per cent.
- The Tea Party is facing a struggle in Georgia, the state which has anchored its movement in the past five years. The Washington Post reports on how some of the Tea Partiers risk being squeezed out in a crowded field by some of the movement’s most reviled Republicans.
- Whoever wins the Indian election will be courting Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress has dominated politics in West Bengal and could be the third largest party in parliament.
- Videos and messages on recovered phones bear witness to the sinking of the Sewol ferry off the coast of South Korea.
- Charles Pierce at Esquire rages at the act of barbarism committed in Oklahoma when Clayton Lockett was executed.
- China’s skewed demographics has contributed to social instability and could pose security risks.
- Does high inequality foster culture or should a broader group of people be given freedom from the immediate demands of the marketplace?
- 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.
• War has created civilisation over the past 10,000 years – and threatens to destroy it in the next 40.
• Turkey‘s social media curbs are darkening prospects for its technology sector.
• Despite the undue frostiness that has greeted Iran’s nuclear spring, politicians and diplomats are convinced Tehran wants a deal.
• It took just four years for Kim Yong-chul to go from chief lawyer at Samsung to working in a bakery. Now the most high-profile whistleblower in South Korean history is back in the spotlight.
• Twenty years ago Rwanda descended into the madness of genocide. UN peacekeepers were stretched to breaking point, but one man stood out, taking huge risks to save hundreds of lives.
- “When a man becomes a high official, even his chickens and dogs go to heaven”, but a Chinese corruption investigation means the route for Zhou Yongkang, his chickens and his dogs might well lead somewhere else.
- Hollande’s drubbing is not a blank cheque for France’s mainstream right
- Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former premier and now a presidential candidate, urges the west to bolster the country’s military defences and impose “immensely strong” economic sanctions on Moscow.
- Meanwhile a visit to Donetsk shows how private donations are helping Ukraine’s underfunded army with everything from food to funds to create a ‘Maginot line’ to halt Russia.
- The Middle East Institute tracks the history of terrorism in Egypt’s Sinai with an interactive graphic.