Friday, 7 March 2014
Thursday, 6 March 2014
CAN you be both the world’s most brutal wielder of state terror and a fan of economic opening? Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s ruler, appears to be having a go. Three months ago Mr Kim suddenly purged his immensely powerful uncle by marriage, Jang Sung Taek, and had him executed, supposedly for treason. Now the young dictator may have purged the other regent who oversaw the leadership succession after Mr Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011. Choe Ryong Hae, who had the rank of marshal (though a civilian), was reckoned to be the second-most powerful man in the country. He has not been seen in public since February 16th, and rumours are swirling about his fate.
With such ruthlessness, Mr Kim may have found his inner Stalin. Yet tantalising hints are also multiplying that the government is getting serious about economic reforms of the kind that were anathema to Kim Jong Il. Last year it was announced that over a dozen economic-development zones around the country would be established—the kind of zones, inviting foreign investment, which set China’s economy alight in the late 1970s. Astonishingly, the government has also praised an experiment in family-based farming, seeming to hint at a loosening of the strictures of collectivised agriculture. A building boom is changing the skyline of Pyongyang, the capital. And a once-closed country is welcoming foreign visitors. In January a ski resort, Masikryong, opened its doors. It was built in record time, and supposedly to international standards. The country’s army, government institutions and decrepit enterprises are being urged to dive into their work with “Masikryong speed”.
Much remains unclear, including the motivation for such changes (in North Korea at least, never use the R-word—reform). Could it even be that the regime wants to improve the lot of ordinary folk? North Korea’s economic backwardness is surely a growing embarrassment to its administrators, increasingly aware of the outside world, through the North’s trade with China and from growing knowledge about vibrant South Korea. Some are being versed, thanks to foreign assistance programmes, in modern administration and basic financial theory. Pressure for change within the system is growing, and competition for scarce foreign investment is intense.
Improving the common lot does not have to be entirely at odds with the regime’s narrower and overriding motivation: to secure enough resources to keep the Pyongyang elites, who form a tiny fraction of the population, sweet with financial perks and luxury goods. Elite cohesion is central to the survival of a regime that has outlasted by decades predictions of its demise. In the past, such resources were secured through criminal rackets selling weapons, drugs and counterfeit money, as well as by shaking down the outside world using nuclear blackmail. Yet in recent years, the world has wised up, and foreign currency has slowed to a trickle. What little was available may have been exhausted on Mr Kim’s childlike peccadillos, including a dolphinarium, water theme-park and equestrian club as well as the loss-making ski resort. It would be a brave person who challenged Mr Kim’s pet projects. But the regime has fewer resources to spray about.
Mr Jang’s execution may well be connected. Enterprises under Mr Jang were central to the state’s moneymaking, and he may have been keeping back huge amounts for himself and cronies. Almost certainly that rankled with the Korean People’s Army. In December Radio Free Asia claimed that an armed clash took place between soldiers and Mr Jang’s agents over control of a profitable fishing spot off the west coast. That month soldiers involved in the fisheries were treated to an outing at Mr Kim’s new water park. The dictator reassured the army that it must “continue to take the lead in fishing”. In 2012 the North’s fish and seafood exports to China totalled $67m, ranking as its sixth-most valuable export item, according to KOTRA, South Korea’s investment-promotion agency.
Trading rights are another coveted resource. Licences for excavating coal, gold, silver and iron ore are divvied up and doled out to the regime’s most powerful organisations. Mr Jang’s department managed a host of firms that held licences to trade with China. His biggest deals by far were in coal: Sungri Trading, run by two of Mr Jang’s closest aides, handled 70% of all North Korea’s lucrative anthracite exports to China, according to Cho Bong-hyun at the IBK Economic Research Institute, in Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Both men were executed in November.
The military court that sentenced Mr Jang charged him with building a “little kingdom”. Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute near Seoul says Mr Jang’s business came to be seen as a “fourth economy” outside those run by the Korean Workers’ Party, the army and the government. For Mr Kim to allow such wide-ranging privileges suggests how keen he was to use the currency Mr Jang raked in—until it was clear how much was being kept back.
The potential sums involved are large. In 2012 trade between China and North Korea topped $6 billion, twice the level of three years earlier, according to KOTRA figures. Nine-tenths of exports of iron ore and coal go to China. The mines operate at under a third of their capacity, suffering from rundown machinery and patchy supplies of electricity. But delays and poor quality allow China to exact huge discounts, knowing how few countries the North can sell to, because of international sanctions.
Mr Kim is presumably desperate to be less dependent on China, a country many North Koreans resent (the new economic zones have next to no Chinese involvement). It may help explain a mildly friendlier approach to the South, after ructions last year. Last month the regime allowed brief reunions to go ahead for families separated for decades. Senior officials from both sides met at the border for the first time in years. And South Korean business investment is encouraged in a railway and port at Rajin-Sonbong, close to Russia.
Ripping off foreigners remains a patriotic duty, and the changes do not yet amount to a real opening. Even if they did, it would be wrong to expect any diminution of repression in the world’s cruellest state. North Korea, says Aidan Foster-Carter, an expert at Leeds University, reserves the right to pursue economic restructuring without political openness—perestroika without the glasnost.
Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh
JUST three years on from the catastrophic meltdown in March 2011 of three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, Japan is taking steps to revive its nuclear dream. A rush to restart some of the country’s 48 mothballed commercial nuclear reactors is well under way. Hundreds of technicians from utility firms are camped out in downmarket Tokyo hotels, working at the beck and call of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), the country’s new nuclear watchdog, in hopes of meeting new safety requirements. On February 25th the government published a draft energy plan which put nuclear power at the core. It is a sharp reversal of the previous energy strategy, devised by a former government in 2012, eventually to eliminate nuclear power altogether.
The sense of urgency is driven, first, by the mounting costs of doing without the nuclear plants. One by one, nearly all reactors were shut down in 2011-12. Utilities fired up conventional power stations to make up for lost electricity generation. But the cost of importing extra oil, coal and gas has been all the steeper with a weak yen. The trade deficit has climbed, along with electricity charges, particularly for businesses. Should nuclear plants be left idle, the programme of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, to revive the economy could be in doubt.
Second, the establishment fears that time is running out. A fourth summer without nuclear power—but also without any sudden blackout to alarm the public—might permanently shift opinion against switching the plants back on. Shigeru Ishiba, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), says that people have noticed the lights are still blazing and the trains running. So some 15 months after returning to power, the government is ready to take the political risk of restarts. But it is wary of being thought ahead of the agency charged with nuclear safety.
This month the NRA is due to choose which few reactors it wants to fire up first. The most modern reactors and those farthest from the Pacific coast and the threat of tsunamis are at the head of the queue, and may be restarted as early as the summer. A favoured candidate is the plant at Oi, on the west coast of the country’s main island. Two of its four reactors were the first to restart once before, in the summer of 2012, only to close again in September 2013. Public demonstrations in Tokyo accompanied their return to the grid. At the time Japan had not reformed its lax regime for regulating nuclear power.
Now the government hopes that the NRA, more independent than its ridiculed predecessor, will allay the public’s fears. The agency is replacing Japan’s shattered myth of absolute nuclear safety with the concept of “defence in depth”, that is, multiple back-up plans against a series of worst cases. Several reactors, such as those at Hamaoka, located near Tokyo above the Nankai trough, where two tectonic plates collide, may never restart. But the regulator, understaffed and still susceptible to political pressure, faces a daunting task.
As for the cosy “nuclear village” of utilities, heavy industry, bureaucrats and pronuclear media and politicians, it remains largely intact. TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, still bestrides the electricity industry, though its credibility with the public is gone. Mr Abe can take comfort from the fact that the anti-nuclear movement appears spent as a political force, despite the backing of a hugely popular former prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi. In the Tokyo governor’s election last month, economic concerns trumped nuclear ones.
The very first reactor will be the hardest to switch back on. After that, once the NRA gives the all-clear, local governments hosting nuclear plants will waste no time. During the shutdown their economies have been deprived of generous subsidies from nuclear utilities. The governor of Niigata, which hosts TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, the world’s largest, is a loud critic of nuclear power. But last September even he gave permission for the utility to press ahead with its plan to restart reactors.
The long-run future of nuclear power is more uncertain. The age of today’s reactors means that new ones must soon be built—a detail the government’s new energy plan skated over. Along with the Tokyo election, a governor’s race last month in Yamaguchi, the southern prefecture from which Mr Abe hails, was closely watched for signs of the mood about new plants. A battle has raged for decades over one to be built in Kaminoseki, a small fishing town in the prefecture. The result, again, was defeat for anti-nuclear candidates. The government has said it may allow three other reactors already under construction before March 2011 to be completed. Just a short time ago, that would have been unthinkable.
Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh
EVIDENCE of past atrocities keeps turning up in Sri Lanka. Last year 154 bodies were unearthed from a mass grave behind a hospital in Matale, in the centre of the island—victims, in all likelihood, of an uprising by Marxist rebels in the 1980s. In February an excavation in Mannar, in the north-west, produced 81 bodies, casualties of a bigger and more recent conflict, the long civil war between Tamil secessionists and the state. The police blame the rebels, a cruel and bloodthirsty movement defeated in 2009, for the deaths. But the army is not above suspicion either.
Now comes a small but gruesome find near Mullaitivu in the north-east, the site of awful fighting and massacres in the final months of the civil war. Then, perhaps 40,000 people, many of them civilians, were killed as the army trapped the rebels and fleeing Tamils. Late last month nine skeletons were lifted from a shallow grave in the garden of a family home. The government pins the blame on the Tamil rebels. Tamil activists say that the grave lends credence to claims that the Sri Lankan army has systematically hidden evidence of wartime massacres which it committed in the north and east.
The fate of many Sri Lankans remains unknown. The Red Cross counts 16,000 missing people since 1990, with a surge as the civil war came to an end. Yet the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is unwilling to look deeply into the disappearances. The army launched an inquiry which cleared it of wrongdoing. Recommendations from a government-appointed body, the “lessons learnt” commission, achieved little. Last August the president ordered a new inquiry into the missing, which is due to report in August. Critics call it a sham, set up to discourage foreigners from launching more serious investigations. Similarly, official suggestions that Sri Lanka could adopt a South African-style truth-and-reconciliation process appear to be attempts to stall.
Mr Rajapaksa’s administration is only occasionally ruffled. This month, as in each of the past two years, the UN’s human-rights council in Geneva is assessing Sri Lanka’s post-war progress. It will probably conclude that Sri Lanka must do more to account for disappearances, but allow it more time to do so. Last year Navi Pillay, the UN’s commissioner on human rights, toured Sri Lanka and heard of wartime atrocities carried out by both sides, and of government intimidation since. On February 24th she released her draft report to the council, calling for an independent international inquiry, following an effort by experts sent in 2011 by the UN secretary-general. She says she is concerned at the government’s refusal to allow “a credible national process with tangible results”.
This week a British-based group, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, issued a report with details of rape, torture and murder carried out, it says, by government forces in the north over the past five years. It suggests that such crimes “are still taking place” and warrant foreign scrutiny. Sri Lanka’s rulers see all this as meddling. In recent speeches Mr Rajapaksa has accused his Western critics of duplicity, talking of law and rights when they really want to do down his country, proud conquerors of terrorists. He expects such talk to go down well with nationalist-minded voters. Sri Lankan diplomats flit to Geneva to deflect criticism. They even suggest that Indian peacekeepers, present in the late 1980s, may have carried out massacres. Ms Pillay is unlikely to get agreement on an international inquiry just yet, but one is inching closer. And it is putting pressure on Mr Rajapaksa to make his own investigative efforts more convincing.
Meanwhile, northern Sri Lanka continues to feel like a land under occupation, with an all-pervasive military intelligence snooping on Tamils deemed to be suspicious. The government says it is cutting by nearly a third the large numbers of soldiers stationed in the north since the war. A successful provincial election in September produced a local government led by a Tamil opposition party. Though it enjoys only grudging co-operation from Mr Rajapaksa, progress towards reconciliation is still possible. But the country’s bloody past has still to be accounted for.
Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com ON A bluff above the river Vakhsh, Rogun’s ramshackle square boasts at least four billboards featuring Tajikis...
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com Gyeltshen, an old democracy hand by now ARROWS thud into a wooden target, and the men with bows sing in cele...
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com "It is better wither to be silent, or to say things of more value than silence. Sooner throw a pearl at ha...
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com "Rest satisfied with doing well, and leave others to talk of you as they please." Đăng ký: Hoc tieng...
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com Wirathu, Buddhism’s new face THE total segregation of Buddhist Arakanese from Muslim Rohingyas is now a fact...
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com SINCE the mid-1980s, when Indonesia first began to clear its bountiful forests on an industrial scale in fav...
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com "You can't help someone get up a hill without getting closer to the top yourself." Đăng ký: Hoc ...
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com Hãy dùng các từ và cụm từ dưới đây ở dạng thích hợp để hoàn thành những câu sau: contraption / defied gravit...
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com If you don't trust someone further than you could throw them, it means you don't trust them at all. Đ...
Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com "Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture ...