At one time, the annual Group of Eight (or G-8) meetings of the world’s major economies were like giant, protocol-laden conclaves of national leaders and aides who were really into discussions about exchange rate fluctuations, export promotion regimens and non-tariff barrier rules. This year’s version almost certainly promises to be a bit more controversial. J. BROOKS SPECTOR takes a look at the G-8 now taking place in Northern Ireland.
For most Westerners, Japan is synonymous with modern cities, high-speed trains and marvelous new-age technology. MICHAEL RANDS lived in Japan for three years and can attest to the fact that it is in many ways a wondrously modern society, full of innovation and creativity. But, he writes, there is another Japan that lurks below the surface, mostly unseen by outside eyes – and it runs the risk of imploding.
On Friday and Saturday, American President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president who took office in March, spent hours in intensive discussions on pretty much everything that divides them in relaxed, informal meetings at the Sunnylands estate, near Rancho Mirage, California. By the end of these meetings, US officials could call these talks “unique, positive and constructive” and even “terrific”, while the Chinese said they had “blazed a new trail”. While this US-China conversation was not quite the “warm and friendly” give-and-take that would have been the kind of diplomat-speak used for one of those love-fests that used to happen between Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, nevertheless this moment may well represent a profound sea change for meetings between American and Chinese leaders. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
Thousands of Africa’s best and best-connected students have been lured to Chinese universities with free degrees, luxurious accommodation and generous monthly allowances. Thousands more will follow in what is an immense and sustained attempt to repair China’s reputation and expand its sphere of influence. In a Daily Maverick special feature, SIMON ALLISON goes to Beijing to examine the scholarship programme first-hand – and figure out if it’s going to work.
Recent news reports say the British and French governments have concluded that chemical analysis of samples obtained from Syrian sources confirm the use of sarin gas (a powerful nerve toxin agent) in the fighting in Syria. CBS News (as well as other media) reported, “France said Tuesday it has confirmed that the nerve gas sarin was used ‘multiple times and in a localized way’ in Syria, including at least once by the regime. It was the most specific claim by any Western power about chemical weapons attacks in the 27-month-old conflict. Britain later said that tests it conducted on samples taken from Syria also were positive for sarin.” This may – but only may – be the thing that changes the fundamental dimensions of the Syrian conflict. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa is now less than a month away. Virtually no public details have yet been announced for this trip, not even the final order of the countries to be visited on as part of this itinerary. Nevertheless, American government officials continue to stress that as far as the US is concerned, there are three key themes the president and his party will be focusing on during this upcoming visit: economic growth and trade promotion with Africa; support for open, democratic governance; and a focus on connecting with the successor generation of young Africans. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
China’s a lot richer now than it was a few decades ago, and more and more of its newly-prosperous citizens are engaging in the ultimate leisure activity of the disposable-income class: international travel. But with 83 million Chinese hitting up the world’s tourist traps, a few are bound to embarrass themselves – and their nervous government. By SIMON ALLISON.
In late May, a seemingly benign television commercial over breakfast cereal, in this case the ubiquitous Cheerios, has generated something of a media tornado in America. No, it’s not about General Mills’ use of GM grains to make its products, or the addition of so much sugar in so many versions of the product that Michael Bloomberg is about to declare war on Cheerios. Rather, the uproar is over the composition of the impossibly warm and cuddly family that is portrayed in the newest commercial for this General Mills breakfast cereal. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
Yemen has been embroiled in a morass of political instability, humanitarian crises and lawlessness since protests against former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh began in early 2011. And while Saleh was successfully relegated to a bit role in Yemeni politics, Yemen’s woes seem to grow worse. This week, the abduction of a South African couple from the town of Taiz has again forced scrutiny on the impoverished country. And negotiating the tangles of Yemeni politics may prove crucial to securing their release. By KHADIJA PATEL.
Being a modern saint is a tough business, as Aung San Suu Kyi is finding out. With the weight of expectation so high, she can’t help but leave some people disappointed as she makes the compromises and trade-offs necessary to succeed as an active politician. This may or may not be a good thing for her country, but either way – her halo is slipping. By SIMON ALLISON.
US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama are planning a three-nation tour to Africa, 26 June to 3 July. The visit is one that has long been anticipated by Africans, but has it come too late to generate the kind of enormous buzz that might have happened had this trip happened several years earlier? J BROOKS SPECTOR looks at the possibilities.
The glory days of the protest song are long behind us. The angry voices of Dylan, Marley and Lennon have been replaced with Bieber’s unbroken falsetto and a never-ending parade of bubblegum hits about getting drunk and getting laid. But if the musicians don’t want to protest, then the protestors are going to have to make some music. The times, they are a-changing. By SIMON ALLISON.
Few pundits had high hopes for Shinzo Abe’s re-entry onto the main stage of Japanese politics in December of last year. But here he is, and it looks like his economic “shock therapy” is jolting the country out of its two- decade long slumber. But is it a question of too little, too late? And what about China? RICHARD POPLAK.
It’s been some years since we hosted then-senator Barack Obama on South African shores. Since then it’s been a matter of speculation: when the Obamas would pay an official visit. A matter of time, surely? As it turns out, it’s a matter of very little time indeed. One month, to be exact. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
The highly irregular arrival of a commercial jet carrying high-powered delegation of Kenyan business figures, including several relatives of the US president and a cousin of Uhuru Kenyatta, at Joint Base Andrews has drawn ridicule and howls of protest from every possible quarter. The Tea Party is spluttering with indignation. Calls for scandal-beleaguered President Obama’s resignation, if not his head, have been peppered with words such as “corrupt”, “ridiculous”, “embarrassing”, “cringe-worthy”, “crass” and “laughable”. Eventually they succeeded. J BROOKS SPECTOR.
After an astounding run of some really bad news, the White House seems to be pulling up its socks – picking up some presidential cudgels and beginning its “push-back” against its current political tormenters. In the process, after taking three shots to the solar political plexus right in a row, the Obama administration is now trying to project the image of an activist president rightly angry about what has happened while he was busy on other important things, but who is, nevertheless, moving resolutely to staunch the flow of blood and sort things out properly. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
The Millenium Development Goals are the 21st century benchmark for almost all poverty and development policy. However, with only 32 months until the MDG targets are meant to be achieved, we’ve still got no idea how much money is being spent towards achieving them and where it’s all going. A new database on government plugs this gap, revealing a few disturbing truths along the way. By SIMON ALLISON.
Nobody, except the accountants, themselves a frequently reviled class, ever has much love for the Internal Revenue Service in the US. The IRS is America’s tax collection agency – the sworn enemy of all true-blue, pure-white, red-blooded Americans. As a result, Washington’s newest scandal involving the IRS comes as a veritable gift on that proverbial silver platter for the Republican Party. And this is on top of the GOP’s ongoing hunt for the scalp of a certain culpable secretary of state over Benghazi. In this latest imbroglio, the IRS has been outed for carrying out a very fine-toothed, politically-tinged effort to cull right-wing policy advocacy groups in the vetting of their claims for tax exempt status. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
Japanese magazines are up in arms about the weird and wonderful perversions practised by Chinese men on innocent Japanese prostitutes. Yes, the Sushi King would be proud. But the news is less about China’s sexual preferences and more about stirring the xenophobic pot and keeping tensions between the two countries at a mutually-beneficial high. By SIMON ALLISON.
On Thursday the Indian High Commission hosted a press briefing on the upcoming India Africa Festival. Few journalists who made it to the event were, however, actually interested in the festival itself. It was the role of the Indian High Commission in securing landing rights for the aircraft chartered by the Gupta family that had drawn most to the briefing. By KHADIJA PATEL.
Day one of the World Economic Forum on Africa was a day for “C” words – from cross-border trade to call centres, competitiveness, commodities, commuters, common markets, consumer loans, capitalisation, Cape Town-to-Cairo, current demographics, conurbations, community commissions and communism – all of which combined appeared to cast conferees onto a wave of currently uncommon confidence in the continent. China and corruption were the conspicuous elephants in the room. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.
For those of you already struggling to make sense of the Syrian situation, it just got a whole lot more complicated thanks to revelations that the rebels – the ones fighting for freedom and democracy and all that good stuff – may have broken out the poison gas in their struggle against the Syrian government. Chemical warfare is meant to be the ‘red line’ in Syria, but it wasn’t the rebels who were supposed to cross it. By SIMON ALLISON.
Unlike heterosexual Americans, gays in the USA have no right to bring a partner to live with them in the country. For gay Americans in relationships with foreigners, this can force an often agonising choice between one’s country and one’s partner. As a result, little colonies of ‘love exiles’ have set up all over the world in gay-friendly countries, and South Africa is no exception. REBECCA DAVIS spoke to some of the couples living in Cape Town and beyond who are affected by the USA’s marriage and immigration laws.