Foreign affairs

By Simon Mundy in Seoul

North Korea’s recent slurs against the presidents of the US and South Korea exemplify a high-pitched, extravagant and often venomous propaganda style unmatched by any other nation – as well as the inherent contradictions and hypocrisy within much Pyongyang propaganda.

Despite the country’s well-documented human rights abuses, North Korea‘s state media has sought to promote a message of opposition to discrimination. Two weeks ago it published a report attacking racism and other problems in the US, which it described as “the world’s worst human rights abuser”. In March it gave extensive coverage to International Women’s Day, trumpeting the rights accorded North Korean women and highlighting complaints about sexism in South Korea.

All this sits awkwardly with recent, repeated descriptions of US President Barack Obama as a “monkey” and of South Korean President Park Geun-hye as a “prostitute” – among other racist and sexist insults.

 

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe did not shy away from discussing the tensions with China in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Lifen Zhang, editor-in-chief of FTChinese.com, examines the reaction of Chinese delegates and journalists.

  

FTChinese.com editor-in-chief Lifen Zhang says the focus is not just on China’s economic power but its foreign relations. He also says Chinese business remains cautious about spending its cash piles.

Gideon Rachman

Julia Gillard addresses parliament (Getty)

Just a couple of days ago, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former communications chief, tweeted that he had met Julia Gillard and that the then Australian prime minister was an impressive woman. But, Campbell added, the Labor party needed to unite if it was to have a chance of victory in the upcoming Australian election.

The Australian Labor party, however, appears to have its own ideas on the matter. It responded to Gillard’s dramatic “back me or sack me” snap leadership election by ditching her and replacing her with her long time deadly rival, Kevin Rudd. The decision to switch leaders at this late stage testifies to the party’s desperation as it heads to what pundits expect will be a landslide defeat by the conservative opposition led by Tony Abbott.

 

IMF chief Christine Lagarde at Davos (AFP)

As our colleagues in the mountains don boots, bobble hats and gloves for day two of Davos, here’s some reading material from the comfort of the FT’s London office to help you limber up for Thursday’s talk-fest.

David Cameron’s speech yesterday on Britain’s future in Europe provided much fodder for journalists – with reaction from leaders across the continent and further. Le Monde’s Marc Roche takes the theme of tact to interpret his speech, while in Der Spiegel Christoph Scheuermann argues that Cameron “missed an opportunity on Wednesday to haul Britain back to the centre of Europe“. The New York Times’ Andrew Higgins writes that “while the acute phase of the financial crisis has passed, the challenge to Europe’s mission and even its membership has not”. Cameron will be taking to a podium again this morning, this time in Davos. 

Chris Cook

Chris Cook, the FT’s education correspondent, on how the WISE conference in Qatar showcased alternative attitudes towards learning and knowledge.