2014: year in review (by countries, part 3)

2014

 

This is the last article from the series reviewing events that have taken place across different countries this year. Now the last day in 2014, my only expectation towards 2015 is a better year ahead, albeit some difficulties, and some challenges, accumulated from past mistakes, will continue to befall us.

As I forgot to include Hong Kong and Mexico in the first two parts, I’ll just put them here.

 

Hong Kong – if this semi-autonomous region of 7.2 million people used to be known rather for dim sum, skyscrapers, action films, and Jackie Chan, now Hong Kong filled international headlines in 2014 with ‘protests’ being the most popular keyword. Triggered largely in part due to the latest decision by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee in having to screen out candidates in the upcoming 2017 Chief Executive election, which would be the first direct election in Hong Kong, this marked what had been more than two decades of impatience Hong Kong public has been faced in gaining universal suffrage. While the city has achieved monumental economic success since 1970s, the most crucial issues that have never been addressed are the worsening social inequality (Hong Kong is ranked the worst among developed regions’ Gini index, now reaching a staggering level of almost 0.56), astronomical home prices which most people can hardly afford, increasing living costs with low social safety nets, as well as erosion of freedom of expression, by which Hong Kong’s rank, according to Freedom House, has fallen drastically from among the top 15 in 2004 to now 61 a decade after.

But Hong Kong also inspired the world what ‘civil disobedience’ truly meant. Despite several scuffles (mostly infiltrated by certain elements), no buildings were damaged (except the Legislative Councils headquarters’ front window), no cars were burned, and life goes on fairly normal on most parts of the city. People helped each other, students continued to do their homework and studied at night, some set up medical clinics, and others even assisted in trash collection and recycling activities. There is hardly any place doing a civilized protest as Hong Kong has shown.

Mexico – this country of 115 million has long been faced with a massive drug war, having seen more than 100,000 people killed by both security forces and similarly heavily-armed drug cartels, but the forced disappearances of 43 university students, and their subsequent killings, marks the climax of this war, with millions of civilians coming out to the streets to protest both the government and drug lords, who have remained somewhat hypocritical and vicious in this matter. The murder started with student protests in Iguala, by which local police responded with mass suppression, and the subsequent kidnapping of 43 students. Nonetheless, having handed them down to drug lords instead to prosecutor’s office, and having these people brutally murdered, mutilated, and their body remains completely burned, this became what triggered the people to really show their anger. Such tragedy deals another further blow to the country’s current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, who has long been criticized for being hypocritical and not doing enough to solve many of Mexico’s crucial issues.

Pakistan – three gargantuan events have shaken this country throughout the year. Firstly, there’s this mass protest known as Azadi March, by which millions of people again went to the streets to demand an end to the country’s first democratically-elected government, led by Nawaz Sharif. Nonetheless, there remained suspicions that these protests were actually organized by certain elements with close ties to intelligence and military forces, notoriously known to have been partially infiltrated by several Taliban movements. The military itself had previously been in charge of the country’s leadership for decades, the climax of which was the ascendancy of Pervez Musharraf into the power, ending in 2008 after mass protests led by civilians. This march, for the first time, becomes a major test to Sharif’s government to which extent he could balance fragile relations between the authority, critically needing the support of security forces, and the military themselves.

Another one was Nobel Peace Prize jointly awarded to both Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, both hailing from cognate countries long involved in decades-old conflicts over numerous issues: Pakistan and India. Both of them were actively involved in advocacy towards children’s rights and education, and had faced formidable obstacles in their respective home countries. No matter how often the two nations clash, it was hoped the shared visions of Malala and Kailash could inspire both people to appreciate each other much better.

But the last one remains what becomes the most tragic closing event for the country’s 2014. Taliban, known for always targeting military forces and intelligence services, this time targeted a school attended by innocent kids. More than 150 people, mostly students, were brutally murdered by the ambush led by Taliban forces in Peshawar, leading to huge civilian protests, and a harsh crackdown by Pakistani government into the militants. While it is deplorable to see how US drones continuously invade civilian places – further encouraging Taliban to conduct more attacks, robbing the lives of innocent kids, dreaming hard of a better future, is another useless eye for an eye.

Qatar – other than Al Jazeera as its global media outlet, the country has faced another international scrutiny in regard to alleged abuse of migrant workers in this oil-and-gas-rich tiny Gulf state. With population of migrant workers 1.7 million strong, or 75% of its whole population, how the country handles these people remains a question, especially as Qatar has been selected for 2022 World Cup, with a fantastically planned expenditure of 220 billion US$. It is estimated that among 1.7 million foreign workers residing in this country, majority of them do not have enough social protection from the respective government. What those people will experience in the years to come until 2022 remains a huge stake for Qatar’s credibility, nonetheless.

Russia – first, the world was surprised by how ‘unusual’ Winter Olympics had been, as shown by how the 50-billion-dollar project in Sochi turned into a completely gargantuan white elephant. Many stadiums ended up in decrepitude, hotels were largely unfurnished, and the city turned up pretty merely throughout the Olympics’ season, only to subsequently end up neglected much of the time afterwards.

After Sochi, Kremlin once again shook the world with its subsequent annexation of Crimea Peninsula in Ukraine, a Russian-dominant territory Soviet Union once awarded to the latter back in 1950s. As though not done with Crimea, Moscow continued to silently support pro-Russian separatists in East Ukraine, particularly in Donetsk, once one of the country’s most important industrial cities, now turning into a war zone. More than 4,000 people had been killed in the conflict lasting more than 9 months, and it is not expected the conflict will end anytime soon.

Sanctions and a drastic drop in oil prices themselves, again, give this country a hard slap. Ruble values have sharply declined by more than 70%, the worst performing this year, excluding the estimated capital flight at more than 130 billion US$ this year. Foreign exchange reserves, meanwhile, have evaporated almost 50%, leaving the country with less than 200 billion US$ to anticipate the crisis. Worst, Russia’s oil revenues will drop between 90 and 140 billion US$ this year, making 2014 the worst year for this country of 142 million after 1998.

Next year, former Soviet states like Estonia and Kazakhstan will have to be very careful of their giant neighbor.

South Korea – the sinking of MV Sewol became an international spotlight. Over 300 high school students out of 460 people on board a passenger ship heading to Jeju Island were killed as the ship perished at sea, and the reason was what gave the public enough outrage to be expressed at the national government, currently led by President Park Geun-hye: the ship itself has exceeded its sailing age, and there is certain extent of negligence by ship crew when the accident happened. This accident prompted a suicide case by the students’ vice principal, resignation by prime minister, and the subsequent disbandment of the country’s transport safety commission. Also, what was highlighted here is the continued issue of corruption, as well as collusion of power between government and major corporations controlling a large share of the country’s economy.

Another controversial issue is the widespread violence experienced by many servicemen during military service, as recently illustrated by the mass shooting in a military base by one of them.

Sudan / South Sudan – the world’s newest sovereign state faces a devastating civil conflict that had killed thousands of people since last year, driven largely in part by former vice president Riek Machar’s rebellion attempt against the government currently led by Salva Kiir. Millions of people were internally displaced, and governmental functions were mostly paralyzed. Nonetheless, despite infrequent coverage of these two countries, they remain widely discussed within international relations discourse given the influence of the soon-to-be superpower: China. Having staked out many oil and gas possessions in both countries, it is highly important for Beijing to create an uneasy counterpoise and political compromise between them, while also ensuring internal security in South Sudan to not interfere with their extraction activities. This country, in many geopolitical estimates, will become a ‘knot’ in determining of how Chinese foreign policy will transform in the years to come.

Syria – the country’s civil war, which has killed over 200,000 people within 3 years, doesn’t show any signs of abating. The nation remains largely divided, with Bashar al-Assad’s government still having a stronghold in the largely Southern part, while much of the North has fallen to both various rebel groups (often clashing against each other and against the government) and ISIS. Thousands of civilians, former government troops, and various tribal fighters have fallen victim to the savagery displayed by the Islamic State, and with the reluctance of both Assad’s government and rebelling coalitions to dialogue, despite an attempted peace talk brokered by Russia, it is expected that the country’s civil war will not subside anytime soon, even in two or three years to come.

Taiwan – 2014 was particularly not a really good year for this island country. In March, most of the central government was paralyzed by the largest mass protest ever organized since the 1990 democratization, with hundred thousands of students occupying Legislative Yuan’s headquarters in Taipei for nearly one month. This protest was largely triggered by China-Taiwan trade agreements, which many feared would give Beijing a stronger economic leverage towards the country’s survival. With bilateral trade between both countries surpassing 170 billion US$, or 30% of Taiwan’s overall annual volume, and Taiwan’s largest corporations benefiting the most, much of the public is concerned how this free trade policy will determine the country’s long-term existence.

Two more disasters befell Taiwan, with a plane crash in Penghu Islands, and a massive gas pipe explosion in Kaohsiung, devastating several parts and many buildings across the city. Ma Ying-jeou’s administration faced another major blow with the ruling party Kuomintang’s massive defeat in this year’s municipal elections, driven largely in part by public’s increasing dissatisfaction towards the government.

By 2016, with a presidential election already scheduled, this is going to determine the future direction Taiwan will go towards.

Thailand – for the umpteenth time (after nearly 20 times of coup d’etat since early 1930s), Thailand effectively becomes a military junta again, a consequence of lengthy political fights between kingdom-supported military, urban middle-class, and farmers plus rural villagers, who mostly support Thaksin Shinawatra and his associates. To make a long story short, the military junta will not end anytime soon, unless steps have been taken to reconcile both the royalists and the villagers (which so far hasn’t seen any concrete results).

Turkey – When Russia has Putin, Turkey has Erdogan. The mass protests originating from Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which later spread into the entire country last year, failed to overthrow Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government; instead, it gave him further legitimacy to alter the current state of Turkey. Beforehand a three-term prime minister, previously hailed for his successful economic transformation of this country of 70 million, Erdogan has been increasingly faced with scandals involving his inner circles, and his increasingly conservative, and oftentimes iconoclastic, views about Islam and the world. This year, Erdogan is sworn in as the country’s president, eliminating the position of ‘prime minister’. Now being head of state and head of government, with numerous cash-draining, oftentimes ‘white elephant’ projects across the country (including a brand-new one-billion-dollar presidential palace in Ankara), the leader is getting more unpopular across much of the country’s youth.

Ukraine – situated in between European Union and Russia, Ukraine remains in difficult position. Much of the nation was fractured with mass protests taking place from November 2013, which ended with a street battle in February this year. While much of the country demand a complete integration with EU, many important elements within the country also want closer ties with Russia, enticed by Soviet-era stability. The protests, later known as Euromaidan, ended up with a bloodshed killing more than 100 people, and the subsequent escape of Viktor Yanukovich, the country’s deposed pro-Russia president.

Nonetheless, the protests ended up exacerbating the current situation in Ukraine, with many of the pro-Russian civilians taking up weapons and declaring their own republics across much of the Eastern part. The country itself was also faced with another threat on its Western part: Moldova, its neighboring state, served as a Moscow-supported bulwark against Kiev. Crimea and Donetsk has been taken, much of the country remains under war, and worse still, an airliner was bombed.

The current government led by Petro Poroshenko (known as the Ukraine’s Chocolate King) has also been faced with internal infighting within the parliament, giving this conflict an uncertainty when it will end.

United Kingdom –  It’s good that Scotland didn’t split up from the country; otherwise UK would have to rename itself, change its flag, and worse, other constituent countries like Wales and Northern Ireland will possibly follow the same way had Scotland chosen to declare independence.

United States – the world’s largest superpower faces its own largest racial tensions since 1960s, with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, prompting large-scale protests nationwide, and subsequent acts of rioting and looting in several towns across the States. A few other African-Americans were also shot down by police, but this also fuels debates whether the police are getting increasingly militarized, or the Blacks are really trying to attack them.

The Republicans’ success in taking control of US Senate gives another blow for Obama’s administration, especially after the last year’s government shutdown in regard to endless debates about Obamacare and other proposed policies that didn’t get passed. With two years left for President Obama, there won’t be much left for him to accomplish given the latter’s strong control of the Senate.

Nonetheless, there’s good news aside: economic recovery has shown its outcome, now at a level of 4%, the highest since Clinton’s era. With Europe still at its teeters, China facing a gradual slowdown, and Japan entering recession, US is now driving the world’s economic growth again for the first time (albeit not so in long term, as long as economic reforms are not activated).

Venezuela – with Hugo Chavez passing away, people once put another populist hope on his former vice president, Nicolas Maduro. It turned out to be wrong: economy remains at a dismal level, and with oil prices further dropping, revenues are increasingly small. Despite Venezuela’s status as currently the world’s largest holder of oil reserves, much of the population remains chronically poor, crime rate remains among the world’s highest (nearly similar to that of war-ravaged nations), and state-organized violence remains dominant in suppressing freedom of expression. Worse, with Maduro’s limited capability in handling the country’s issues, all these invoked massive anger from much of the populace. The country experienced mass protests when hundred thousands of people went to the streets, demanding his resignation.

More than 40 people were shot to death, including former pageants (pageants are the most popular figures in Venezuela, sometimes comparable to government leaders), and Maduro remains in power.

 

 

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Starting from next year, 2015, I will not frequently update this blog anymore, given that there are several things I have had commitment to do so, but this doesn’t spell an end to it (even though there were quite some moments I was considering to simply terminate this blog). It’s just that there are some adjustments I have to do with my schedule, so I hope you, readers, can understand that. I wish you all the best luck ahead, and I’ll see you in 2015.

How Do You Say ‘Kimchi’ in Kinyarwanda?

korea in rwanda

 

Inspired by South Korea’s economic success, Rwanda, now under the leadership of strongman Paul Kagame (a.k.a. Africa’s Lee Kuan Yew), wants to emulate its experience. And here comes a Korean engagement in one of Africa’s fastest growing markets, not simply in terms of financial aids and project assistance, but also in foreign direct investment, and later on, a gradual emigration of Koreans to the country to set up new businesses and empower local population.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.

 

Excerpt:

 

To whatever degree that South Korea’s expanding Africa footprint has been informed by its own successes, the process also exposes some of the Korean growth model’s limitations. Aside from several oil and mining deals, much of Korea’s activity in Africa, including a major push by Samsung into the mobile phone market, can be linked to increasingly saturated consumer markets, and therefore limited growth potential, at home. From a workforce perspective, too, Korea’s hierarchical office culture and lengthy working hours have raised the attractiveness of overseas business and aid assignments. Jeong Jun-ho, chief strategy officer of Olleh Rwanda Networks, the KT-Rwandan joint venture, says he volunteered for his placement largely because it meant he’d have more time with his family. (He relocated with his wife and children.)

Then there are entrepreneurs like Shin Ji-yoon, who was driven to Africa in part by the influence of Korea’s chaebol, which, despite playing an essential role in driving the country’s growth, are increasingly blamed for inhibiting small and medium enterprises, discouraging entrepreneurship, and stifling innovation. “In the United States, everybody can be an entrepreneur and if they fail, oh OK, they can do another business,” Shin, 26, says over coffee at Rz Manna, a Korean-style cafe and pastry shop that he and five university colleagues opened in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, last year. “In Korea, if I fail the first time, everybody will say, ‘You’re a loser.’ And if I succeed, and I invent a really good thing, a big company will just come and take it over.”

Flash point: who’s unsafe without US?

“Four more years…”

We, in the long run, have realized that even the so-called ‘police of the world’, the epitome of democracy, the embodiment of capitalism, and the epicenter of geopolitical chess games itself is now at its own vulnerability. Having been severely laden by its soaring debts, which amount to 15 trillion US$ (nearly the size of its own GDP), socially burdened by its skyrocketing number of unemployment rates showing no signs of abating, and, politically coining, ‘menaced’ by the unexpected rise of new global powers, particularly China, United States must realize that its days at the paramount seat of global superpower are being counted. The harbinger, however, in case United States did really collapse – given its seemingly incurable debt level – would not only inflict suffering to its own people, but also disproportionately threaten the existence of other nations whose companionship has so long been bonded that even a slight loose may translate as ‘imminent danger’. As in my own analysis, here are the countries whose dependence on ‘Big Brother’ has reached symbiotic level, without which, may be at stake.

South Korea

We can’t deny all the wonders the country has had – advanced economy, well-educated human resources, excellent innovation in science. South Korea also intensively allocates nearly 31 billion US$ this year (compared to its 1-trillion-dollar GDP, the spending is merely a minutiae) in military expenditure, but even such investment may do seem insignificant; its nuclear-armed hermit-minded long-separated brother, North Korea, has never shown any signs of abating in disarmaming all the missiles they have aimed to South Korea’s, Japan’s, and America’s major cities altogether. That, pretty much, could also explain why United States maintains its commitment in dispatching nearly 30,000 troops across the demilitarized zones (DMZ). Just wondering if the all-beloved Kim Jong Un may anytime prepare for nuclear apocalypse.

Japan

Two factors explain why Japan is on the list: its major cities are primary targets of North Korea’s nuclear-powered vengeance (one had even flown above the air of Tokyo, but then fell into the Pacific ocean), and, last but not least, its own most brutally treated victim of its own aggression, China. Japanese government has repeatedly voiced out their concern regarding China’s burgeoning military capability. And they are particularly worried by territorial disputes on a group of uninhabited islands known in Japan as Senkaku (and in Chinese as Diaoyutai) which have nearly escalated into open warfare when both patrol ships confronted each other vis-à-vis. The main reason behind the dispute: it’s not really the islands they are fighting claims for, but it’s the need-blind substance lying kilometers down the seas within: a huge omnipotentiality of oil and gas. Until recently, United States has preferred ‘neutrality’ upon the issue, but the military has also frequently conducted joint drilling in anticipating possible ‘invasions’, referring to Chinese military.

Taiwan

What makes Taiwan easily exterminable? Topography accounts. Occupying an island approximately ‘merely’ 36,000 sq km big, Taiwan is even only 1/44 big compared to the vastness of Xinjiang, China’s largest province. Its 25-million population is absolutely incomparable to China’s 1.35-billion strong as well. The danger is further extended as Chinese military still places nearly 1000 missiles in Fujian province, all of which are aimed to Taiwan’s major cities. The worries, however, are eased as Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s current president of Chinese-friendly Kuomintang party, advocates for a more ‘peaceful approach’ on the Communist leaders. Thanks to his leadership, both bilateral relationships, particularly in trading and investment, have strengthened. The current fear for Taiwanese, on the other hand, remains on how Taiwan, now in global-stage status quo, will stand a choice when Ma’s no longer permitted to participate in 2016 election. (now he’s serving his second period, the maximum extent granted by the Constitution)

Philippines

The issue regarding Scarborough Shoals (known to be oil-rich) in South China Seas has further deteriorated the country’s volatile relationship with China. It escalated as several Philippines’ patrol ships confronted vis-à-vis with Chinese marine vessels. In addition, the joint China-ASEAN diplomacy efforts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, resulted in ultimate deadlock, particularly endorsed by the fact that Cambodia, the country in charge of managing ASEAN this year, got too ‘intimate’ with Chinese sides. Albeit having signed mutual defense agreements with the United States, Philippines might also be on the harbinger, in case America’s global position wanes.

India

The country encounters perils, unfortunately, from two nuclear-armed neighbors at the same time: China and Pakistan. Regarding China (and it’s pretty much a minor issue), India has had problems yet to be solved: the ownership of several  territorial remains in northern India remain disputed, ever since the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and Dalai Lama (he and his followers gain exile in Dharamsala, a small border-town). Those of Pakistan, however, are of more sensitive ones, and any temerarious diplomatic clashes could spark a deadly war within both nations. Kashmir, ideological differences, terrorism, and water resources are four pivotal ‘thorns’ that continue to ravage both to date.

Pakistan

Pakistan, now a nation of 180 million, suffers from internal strife, tribal rivalries and Islamic extremism, particularly from Afghanistan. US military, despite frequent drone attacks on Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlines which often erroneously target civilians, most of whom women and children, has had little success in combating terrorism in a nation so badly damaged by the threats of Al-Qaeda and Taliban posed in to the daily life. This further worsens as US-Pakistan relationship is at its lowest within decades, ever since Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted fugitive, was killed in Abbottabad, unknowingly, by Navy SEAL troops. Last but not least, the doctrines of Islamic extremism have gradually got their entries into Pakistani military, as well.

Afghanistan

The future of this country remains bleak, even as US-led NATO troops are scheduled for complete withdrawal as of 2014. After a little more than a decade of military operations, US military has not consequently succeeded in eliminating, or, if anything, minimized, terrorism in the country. Instead, numerous civilians fall prey to the US military’s much-denounced ‘search-and-destroy’ war strategy. No matter how disliked the army is, they are fully responsible for maintaining the uneasy equilibrium in the country as they are the ones firstly involved in the ‘game’.

Israel and Palestine

Israel, America’s closest ally, faces dangers not because of the external threats they possess, but rather its own mischiefs. Israel becomes increasingly internationally isolated, thanks to its ruthless occupation of both West Bank and Gaza Strip (nearly half of the children in Palestine even suffer from malnutrition, resulting from a very strict food-and-water-rationing policy imposed by Israeli government). Israel even pulls the gauntlet against a much larger Iran, a nation whom the government ‘rationally’ believes is building atomic bombs, and can be exterminated within no time. Israel is also becoming increasingly unsafe, as US-Israel relationship has reached its lowest point in history regarding Jerusalem’s division and Israel’s plan to invade Iran (and Obama has even never visited Israel once in his presidential period). The test does not cease here; Benjamin Netanyahu, a hard-line Zionist, is ordering approximately 75 thousand troops to ‘surround’ the entire Gaza Strip (also a political stratagem to regain confidence among Israeli public before the upcoming election), adjacent to a repetition of 2006 and 2008 large-scale offensives which killed approximately 1000 lives.

But putting the blame entirely on Israel may be a biased option. Palestine, on the other hand, is ruled by two factions frequently involved in clashes within: the hard-line, jihadist Hamas, and the slightly-moderate-yet-corrupt Fatah. Hamas occupies Gaza Strip, and often provokes military attacks by continuously launching rockets at Israeli main cities. Fatah, meanwhile, only holds account for West Bank, an area increasingly occupied by Israeli authorities aspiring for more housing construction for the Jews. Hamas, notoriously reported, has had intense cooperation with Lebanon’s Hizbullah, and Iran altogether. No doubt, brainwashed by ultra-radical doctrines and rhetoric, many of the Hamas fighters frequently conduct what they call ‘an eye for an eye’ for Israelis having taken away their millennium-old homeland.

In the short term, and even in the long term, the two-state solution proposed by United Nations would seem beyond rocket science. Unless moderate governments (one that neutralizes its pro-Zionist agenda, and one that reduces its hardcore-Islamist aims) are installed in both countries, peace won’t prevail, even for the upcoming decades.

Poland

Poland is a staunch ally of United States (it is even now a NATO member) having bittersweet relationship (most of which is bitter) with Russia, spurning deep into historical contexts. Poland was the first casualty of Second World War, having witnessed savage battles between NAZI and Soviet troops, killing more than 3 million Poles. Poland was also forcefully ‘integrated’ into Soviet Union, and faced severe restriction on freedom until 1991. Until now, such sentiment is still instilled by majority of the citizens in sense of anger, wrath, mismashed with a slight mixture of bigot. They widely believed that the 2010 airplane, which killed all the cabinet members of the government (including President and Prime Minister), had been perfectly ‘orchestrated’ by Kremlin. Excluding NATO’s failed plan to install a missile shield, which highlighted Poland’s full suspicion on its own ‘ex-stepmother’.

Liberia

The ongoing relationship it has with United States surpasses political context; it has been more of a historical one, given that the dominant minority ruling the state is African-Americans (whose ancestors were the liberated slaves who returned to the country by 1830). Ever since the end of Liberian Civil War, which severely ravaged the country in all aspects (the GDP-to-debt ratio had soared to 800%) and also by the time Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf swept in the presidency by 2003, both countries’ relation had been more imminently close than ever. Since 2006, foreign direct investment has peaked to a staggering rate of 16 billion US$, most of which is conducted by American businesses involved in iron ore, palm oil, and oil & gas sectors. The threat of US’ collapse, though sounds more phantasmagorical than it does to reality, may menace the existence of Liberia as a nation, given its already dependence on American support to help sustain the country.

Most likely and most unlikely: China.

Neither friends nor foes, neither close partners nor bitter rivals, both countries have struggled to maintain a fragile relationship they have had spanning four decades. China slams the United States for issues concerning Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, and South China Seas, while the latter lambasts the former for its poor human-rights track record, unfair and illicit economic and trading practices, copyright, currency manipulation, and virtually nonexistent protection of labors. But as the brawl goes by, so does the interdependence: until now, China entrusts over 1 trillion US$ (almost 30% of its foreign exchange reserves) on US Treasury Bond, while United States outsources most of its workforces there under the grounds of ‘cheap wages’.

Only in the context of ‘foreign policies’, this may have been largely a headache for Obama, four more years.

Beauty craze in South Korea

 

It may be some sort of rarity in South Korea for either any actors or actresses to have had admitted attaining what the youth dashingly dub as ‘ul-jjang’, or ‘best face’  in Korean, through plastic surgery, which are sometimes life-threatening. But, to say the least, some have confessed having so, one example revealed by a South Korean actress, Nam Gyu-ri (pictured above).

Plastic surgery has increasingly become a must-have trend among the youth in a country, driven by its spectacular economic growth the world hailed as ‘being miraculous’, which has enabled millions of citizens there to have their faces beautified, commonly under the knife. According to surveys by various media sites, in particular BBC and CNN, it is estimated that more than 50% of the population aged 20s have had in minimum one form of plastic surgery, excluding other treatments. Within the celebrities, the actual figure may be even higher, as some put in more than 90%. What’s worse, for the first time in Korean history, statisticians have recorded more plastic surgery than healthcare clinics in terms of quantity, while the populace, currently numbered at 50 million, is gradually aging, obviously shown by its near-zero population growth.

What’s your opinion?

 

Read more at BBC NEWS (2005 version) and The New York Times.

Moving beyond BRICS

THE CENTURY OF THE EMERGERS

GOING BEYOND BRICS

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If combined, their dynamic, vibrant economic growth will prevail the main powerhouse that drives that of the whole world for in minimum one or two decades to come. The roles United States and European Union used to dominate in the past have been increasingly shifted instead to developing countries, largely thanks to the current financial malaise and the booming workpower outsourcing trends, in which major corporations in most of the advanced countries have commenced to reconsider the gigantic manpower all these countries have while their bases do not. Thousands of American companies have been vying for brummagem, cheap-jack manufacturing cornerstones either in China or any developing countries elsewhere in the world. Russian economy will still fluorish on the ground of its tremendous natural resources yet to be mined; there are dozens of mining giants currently on the list to extract away all these priceless metals and minerals required to ensure the global economic powerhouse will keep on functioning.

But here comes the challenge: how long will BRICS dominate the lexicon of 21st-century international relations? Or more importantly, how long will this decade-old, newly-coined neologism survive?

BRICS is not without its own heels of Achilles. Among the countries, there tends to be an overarching, outlying inequality in terms of GDP comparison. It takes the entire GDP of Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa (which if summed up would have been approximately 7 trillion US$) to counterpoise that of China. The inequality extends to the geopolitical roles China plays in global stage. Unlike the four countries, the ‘Big Brother’ has much more capability, given its cash-rich foreign exchange reserves and gigantic population, to bind contracts with myriad regimes of resource-rich countries, no matter whether they have good records in human rights or not. It does also host a titanic diaspora numbered at more than 100 million, scattered throughout the entire globe, who are economically influential in dozens of countries. It is still in a period of ‘harmonious relationship’ with the rest of BRICS members, especially in terms of economic and trading agreements, but all of these will be further tested by an increasing ambition among all the countries to hamshackle superpower status, which in the future may sparkle possible conflicts among each other.

 

Officially, Twitter ‘reborn’ in China.

 

The existence of BRICS is further examined by the unavailability of democracy in Russia and China. Russia may have had a multiparty democracy, but the country remains occupied with terrors and despondency. There is little, or to a worse extent, no, protection for critics and dissidents, whose ideas are needed to improve the quality of the nation. China presents an even more formidable scenario. With economy pacing up rapidly, hundred million civilians are right now attaining the ‘middle-class’ status. And that also means more Chinese are becoming increasingly well-educated, and are able to relish access to sophisticated technology, particularly Internet. As we know, Internet has played a major role to trigger masses to overthrow iron-handed regimes, as have been shown recently in Middle East and North Africa. This is what Beijing becomes very worried about. The Chinese people in 21st century are in general no longer the Chinese people in 20th century we used to perceive. More youth are turning up increasingly aware that ‘there is something wrong taking place with our government, and we’ve gotta change it’. It is even strengthened by the mass availability of instant social networks which enable information to  be disseminated in no time, such as Twitter and Weibo. (as of today, Chinese government does not allow Facebook to lure Chinese users) The culmination point was reached when the Chinese bullet-train incident took place in July 2011, instigating a tsunami of anger and wrath in many of China’s social networks, which in the long run were blockaded and covered up by government’s agencies (there were even reports where police confidentially arrested and jailed Weibo users who were caught up to have tonguelashed the regime by tracking down their IP addresses. Moreover, the regime has currently passed a bill to obligate every social-network user to enlist their actual names, in accordance with those on their identity cards.) A handful of labor protests, despite the infinitesimal amounts, began to unravel in many factories throughout the country, demanding better equality and better pay, albeit they often ended up in brutal crackdowns by police authorities. The dreams of ‘real democracy’ in China, as a few envision, will still remain a castle in the air for this moment, but sluggishly, the supporters are popping out throughout the whole entity, even though the time taken to embody these ideals might be excessively long, and even would not be achieved within a generation.

 

Mexico City’s GDP is approximately one-third of the country’s total, with figures amounting to almost 400 billion US$. As an additional fact, it is inhabited by as many as 20 million people, or one-sixth of the nation’s population.

 

Given all these propositions, experts are currently proposing that a few countries be added in to the list, which will automatically convert the acronym’s name. The first option is Mexico. In the recent years, it has showed off strong economic performances with a high turnover for its GDP. The economy fluorishes very well because of its strong consumption sector, its reduced dependency on extraction-related sectors, such as oil & gas and mining, and its successful efforts in diversification, as shown by the examples: its automobile production currently surpasses that of Canada and United States, the television’s surpassing South Korea’s, and the smartphone’s surpassing those of China, South Korea, and Taiwan, thanks to its abundant number of young-aged workforces. In addition, Mexico has a strong economic cornerstone, sustained by its low debt-to-GDP ratio, which approaches no more than 20%. Beyond economy, it also adopts a very free democracy, which allows ideas to be easily circulated among people. Nevertheless, it also faces a serious thorn in its own flesh: the ongoing drug war by security forces which has claimed more than 40,000 lives, since its glissade by President Felipe Calderon in 2006. Corruption rates remain high, especially in the police forces. Many states in the country are ravaged by so-called ‘jungle law’, as they are dominated by competing drug cartels, whose members consist of ex-troops and policemen who had been laid off.

 

Seoul, South Korea.

 

Besides Mexico, analysts also put South Korea in the consideration list. It tops among all the other emerging markets in terms of GDP per capita, which has surpassed 23,000 US$ as of 2011, making it almost eligible to be included among the G7 list. Moreover, of all the 64 identified emerging markets in the planet, it is the South Koreans who perfectly excel in terms of educational quality, environmental conservation, science, technology and infrastructure. It has also witnessed high economic growth in recent years, despite the fact that it was once hit quite hard by 2008/2009 global recession. Still, two main challenges are facing the country right now: the belligerence status with North Korea, which indicates any possible open warfare might occur sometime in the future between the divided states, and the near-zero and possible negative population growth rate, which menaces a possible decrease as far as 10% in 2050.

 

As many as 15% of Jakartans (the demonym for people living in the megapolis) – numbered at 1.5 million – do earn more than 10,000 US$ per capita per annum, the highest percentage compared to the other major cities in Indonesia.

 

Lastly, there is a country considered to be one of the world’s most strategic emerging markets after evaluation by substantial number of economists: Indonesia. Together with Turkey and Egypt, they are the only triumvirate which always appear in all emerging-market indices released by behemoth, rock-star investment banks and financial institutions, as listed consecutively: Next-11/BRIC, CIVETS, FTSE, MSCI, The Economist, Standard&Poor, Dow Jones, and EAGLEs/NEST. In terms of geopolitical vocabulary, they share the similar advantage, serving as the main gate for intercontinental trade. Turkey is the main ‘bridge’ connecting Europe and Asia, Egypt linking Africa, Europe and Asia simultaneously, and Indonesia correlating Asia and Oceania. Yet, unlike the former duo, Indonesia is endowed with a plethora of diverse natural resources, either extractive (with the sole exception of oil and gas) or edible. Besides, its economic performance has improved dramatically ever since the 1997/1998 maelstrom, as seen from its resilience and resistance against the 2008 recession which sent a hard blow into the global economy, thanks to the strong consumption sector. It has also succeeded in lowering its debt-to-GDP percentage, from a record-high 150% during the peak crisis in 1997 to approximately 25% by the commencement of 2012.  Furthermore, its abound young generation (those aged between 15 and 40), the most pivotal factor in determining the long-term success of a country’s economic growth,  constitutes more than two-thirds of the total population, enabling Indonesia to go on sustaining vibrant economic development in the long term.

However, albeit democracy has been fully restored for more than 12 years, Indonesia still has piles of homework it needs to accomplish in order to maintain the success. Its Corruption Perception Index (CPI), released annually by Transparency International, has recorded only a slight improvement, from 140 in the beginning of the first decade to 120 in the second. Bureaucracy remains complicating particularly for investors, as often there are many provincial-level and regency-level regulations which in fact contradict with the statutes already passed by the legislature. Security remains quite vulnerable as there may emerge sectarian conflicts, labor protests ending up in anarchy, political dissensions among parties involved, armed robberies, societal brawls, etc. Infrastructure remains lagging behind many other emerging countries (as a comparison, China has 40,000 km of highway, Malaysia 3000, while Indonesia? A bit more than 700.) This is why there is no doubt that its infrastructural quality was ranked 90 worldwide in 2010, and remains unchanged since then. State administration remains rattletrap, as obviously seen from the wanton acts by land authorities in giving certificates of land ownership to certain parties who don’t realize that the land they purchase have been actually possessed by someone else. That is why land disputes often spark deadly conflicts between farmers and corporations involved. For the government, it will be an arduous task, especially for a country whose credit rating has elevated to the status of ‘investment grade’, the bestowal granted only for newly industrialized countries or those with low bureaucracy, corruption rates, and high legal certainty.

By the outset of May 2011, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has recently launched a 15-year economic-development scheme entitled ‘Masterplan Percepatan dan Perluasan Pembangunan Ekonomi Indonesia’ (MP3EI), translated in English as ‘Masterplan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Economic Development of Indonesia’, scheduled to take into account from 2011 to 2025, with the aims of multiplying its GDP to 4.5 trillion US$ by the time the program has ended. Through investments by government, state-owned enterprises, national and foreign private corporations, the program is expected to have invested more than 4000 trillion rupiah (equivalent to 450 billion US$) in national infrastructure within the given period. In the first year of its implementation, as many as 100 projects worth 350 trillion rupiah (more or less 38.5 billion US$) have gained approval by authorities in Jakarta, but still, many businesspeople consider it a ‘major failure’. What makes them  to say so?

Many of them are yet to await agreement by authorities of the provinces involved, excluding the regencies and the districts. Some simply garner consent, but without much financial assistance. It all happens at the same time more economists aspire that Indonesia be admitted to BRICS (the new acronym will be BRIICS, or BRICIS) than they do to Mexico, or South Korea. What an irony.

 

 

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