Friday, November 28, 2014

China's bid for Internet influence

Nov 28, 2014

The country known for its great firewall champions respect for each country's sovereign control of online space.

By Rachel Chang, In Beijing

THE irony was lost on no one.

China's inaugural World Internet Conference (WIC) last week in Zhejiang province had, as its slogan, "an inter-connected world shared and governed by all".

This, from a country whose landmark cyberspace achievement has been to construct the world's most elaborate and formidable firewall to block its citizens from the world.

Worse, a joint declaration, drawn up by organisers to mark the end of the two-day conference - attended by industry players from over a hundred countries - was dropped after overseas attendees revolted.

Slipped under hotel room doors at 11pm at the end of the second day, the document prominently mentioned mutual respect for each country's sovereign control and regulation of the Internet - a controversial Chinese doctrine that many see as a fig leaf for repression and censorship.

Revisions would need to be submitted by early next morning, attendees were told. Needless to say, few were willing to be bulldozed into signing the document overnight.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Singapore ranked world's No. 2 for health-care outcomes: EIU

Nov 27, 2014


SINGAPORE - Singapore has been ranked No. 2 in the world for health-care outcomes, according to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The Republic followed closely after Japan. South Korea was placed third.

Stop Trying to Save the World (or How to Pave the Road to Hell with Good Intentions)

Big ideas are destroying international development

By Michael Hobbes

It seemed like such a good idea at the time: A merry-go-round hooked up to a water pump. In rural sub-Saharan Africa, where children are plentiful but clean water is scarce, the PlayPump harnessed one to provide the other. Every time the kids spun around on the big colorful wheel, water filled an elevated tank a few yards away, providing fresh, clean water anyone in the village could use all day.

PlayPump International, the NGO that came up with the idea and developed the technology, seemed to have thought of everything. To pay for maintenance, the elevated water tanks sold advertising, becoming billboards for companies seeking access to rural markets. If the ads didn’t sell, they would feature HIV/AIDS-prevention campaigns. The whole package cost just $7,000 to install in each village and could provide water for up to 2,500 people.

The donations gushed in. In 2006, the U.S. government and two major foundations pledged $16.4 million in a public ceremony emceed by Bill Clinton and Laura Bush. The technology was touted by the World Bank and made a cameo in America’s 2007 Water for the Poor Act. Jay-Z personally pledged $400,000. PlayPump set the goal of installing 4,000 pumps in Africa by 2010. “That would mean clean drinking water for some ten million people,” a “Frontline” reporter announced.

By 2007, less than two years after the grants came in, it was already clear these aspirations weren’t going to be met. A UNICEF report found pumps abandoned, broken, unmaintained. Of the more than 1,500 pumps that had been installed with the initial burst of grant money in Zambia, one-quarter already needed repair. The Guardian said the pumps were “reliant on child labour.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

China surges ahead while India and Pakistan bicker


NEW DELHI — For a senior Afghan diplomat sitting in India’s capital, it is easy to explain how a region with a quarter of the world’s people can account for only 5 per cent of global trade.

“India and Pakistan need to overcome their problems,” Mr M Ashraf Haidari, deputy chief of mission at Afghanistan’s embassy in New Delhi, said in an interview ahead of this week’s meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC.

“Summits happen, leaders come, there’s all this consensus and declarations announced. But unfortunately, it doesn’t happen in reality.”

As leaders of eight SAARC countries meet in Nepal this week for the first time since 2011, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has more reasons than ever to turn the bloc into a regional force to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia. Doing so will require him to overcome differences with Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif.

So far, things are not looking good. Mr Modi’s government scrapped talks with Pakistan in August, which was followed by the worst border fighting between the countries in a decade. At the same time, China has promised SAARC nations part of a US$40 billion (S$52 billion) Silk Road fund to finance infrastructure investments.

“SAARC won’t be able to counter China’s influence,” said Dr Nishan de Mel, executive director and head of research at Colombo-based Verite Research, a policy research group.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tussle over falling oil prices

Nov 10, 2014


Lower oil prices are reshaping the energy market, as Middle East countries try to fend off competition from US shale gas.

By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent, In London

SOONER rather than later, what went down must come up. That's at least the hope of the world's oil exporters, who are getting desperate as their products are now fetching the lowest prices in years.

Oil prices are famous for their unpredictable fluctuations and their sensitivity to political crises so, no doubt, the prediction will be proven right.

Still, the current sharp drop in energy prices is more than just a matter of market flutters. It is an indication of a bigger shift in the balance of power between producers and consumers, and the changing financial importance of different continental markets. This is no ordinary energy price war of the kind witnessed in the past, but a broader tussle which will result in more profound strategic realignments.

Right now, the world is awash with oil, and markets have responded in the only logical way, by marking the price of this crucial commodity down, from a peak of US$115 (S$148) per barrel in June to little more than US$80 today. The reasons for this price decline - the steepest in a decade - are obvious: better-than-expected production in war-torn Libya and Iraq, Iran's return to the oil export markets, and a global economic slowdown.

How Dubai caused the Arab awakening

Thomas Friedman

November 21, 2014

Ever since the Arab awakening in late 2010, America has lurched from one policy response to another. We tried decapitation without invasion in Libya; it failed. We tried abdication in Syria; it failed. We tried democratisation in Egypt, endorsing the election of the Muslim Brotherhood; it failed. We tried invasion, occupation, abdication and, now, reintervention in Iraq and, although the jury is still out, only a fool would be optimistic.

Maybe, the beginning of wisdom is admitting that we do not know what we are doing out here and, more importantly, that we do not have the will to invest in overwhelming force for the time it would take to reshape any of these places — and, even if we did, it is not clear that it would work.

So if the Middle East is a region we can neither fix nor ignore, what is left? I’m for “containment” and “amplification”. How so? Where there is disorder — Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya — collaborate with regional forces to contain it, which is basically what we are doing today. I just hope we do not get in more deeply.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Where Is the Inequality Problem?

MAY 8, 2014 35

Kenneth Rogoff

CAMBRIDGE – Reading Thomas Piketty’s influential new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, one might conclude that the world has not been this unequal since the days of robber barons and kings. That is odd, because one might conclude from reading another excellent new book, Angus Deaton’s The Great Escape (which I recently reviewed), that the world is more equal than ever.

Which view is right? The answer depends on whether one looks only at countries individually or at the world as a whole.