Also today: Fantasy takes back seat to reality at Oscars; Iraqis vote amid barrage of rockets; Palestinians agree to indirect talks with Israel: US withdrawing troops from Haiti’s ravaged landscape; Scientists find HIV hides in new places; Annual military drills ratchet up tension on Korean peninsula; Survey finds most people think internet access is a basic human right.
Pressure mounts on China’s yuan
China’s trading partners want it to loosen currency controls and strengthen the yuan, as part of long-standing complaints that a weak yuan makes China’s exports cheap and overly competitive. The yuan doesn’t float freely on world currency markets, causing frictions over the balance of trade among its US and EU trading partners. A stronger yuan could actually help China make the economy more self-sustaining, by reducing dependence on exports and foreign investment, which drives up growth to extremely high levels and fuels inflation. Some US lawmakers are calling for punitive tariffs on Chinese goods in the face of unsustainable trade deficits that hamper the creation of jobs in the West. But any yuan appreciation will be slow and gradual, so there’s lots of bickering to come. It’s a tricky situation, as Beijing relies on exports to keep millions of Chinese in factory jobs. But unless the Chinese boost domestic consumption for foreign and locally-made goods, the trade imbalance affects world exporters, including nascent economic giants such as Brazil.
Photo: An employee packs yuan banknotes at a branch of Bank of China in Changzhi, Shanxi province February 24, 2010. China should adjust the yuan’s exchange rate gradually and avoid major fluctuations, a senior political figure said on Wednesday. Reuters.
Read more: AP, Business Week
Fantasy takes back seat to reality at Oscars
Fantasy took a back seat to reality as the British-made Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker took best picture at Hollywood’s Academy Awards, beating James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster Avatar to the gong. The movie won numerous other awards, including best director for Kathryn Bigelow. She’s the first woman in 82 years of the Oscars to earn the grand prize for filmmakers. Cameron, Bigelow’s former husband, joined a standing ovation for her. Sandra Bullock, who’s never before been nominated, won best actress for The Blind Side, with four-time Oscar-nominated actor Jeff Bridges at last getting the nod for Crazy Heart.
Iraqis vote amid barrage of rockets
Iraqis voted in force to choose a new parliament, despite a barrage of insurgent mortars and rockets that killed dozens of people in Baghdad and other cities. The turnout was higher than in the last parliamentary election in 2005. It’ll take a few days before the results are known but Sunnis, who largely snubbed their noses at previous elections, voted strongly and Shiite candidates competed for positions in Baghdad and the south of the country. The US is expected to start withdrawing troops as it prepares to leave Iraq, so the election will test whether Iraqis can live together, or will fracture along ethnic and sectarian lines. But the people showed their resilience, and their desire for a voice overcame fear of bloodshed.
Palestinians agree to indirect talks with Israel
In a move already backed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Arab League, Israel and the US, Palestinian leaders in the West Bank gave their support to a new round of indirect Middle East peace talks, after negotiations broke down last year with the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. Many doubt the talks will go anywhere, so they’ve been limited to four months, with the focus on where to draw the borders of a Palestinian state. There are many issues to be hammered out, but the talks will basically succeed or fail on continued Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as a future capital. It’s unlikely that Hamas, a much more radical Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, and opposes Abbas’s mainstream Palestine Liberation Organisation, will take part. The PLO is considered the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people at the UN, including by Israel.
US withdrawing troops from Haiti’s ravaged landscape
The Americans are withdrawing troops from Haiti’s earthquake-shattered capital Port-au-Prince, despite the widespread devastation and continuing unrest, according to AP. UN peacekeepers and local police are now left to maintain order, while more than half-a-million people remain in temporary shelters during the onset of the rainy season. The UN says the draw-down of troops isn’t a sign of diminishing commitment to Haiti, as the 10,000-strong UN peacekeeping force and the Haitian police seek to reassert government control. But the withdrawal of US troops, who helped provide security and emergency water and food, and assisted in re-opening the main airport and seaport, will leave a vacuum as Haitians struggle to get their lives back together. It’s ironic, but little more than a month ago, the French accused the US of taking over aid efforts.
Scientists find HIV hides in new places
New research shows that HIV, which causes Aids, hides in bone marrow, and can cause later illness by evading drugs and lying dormant. Drugs have reduced Aids deaths sharply, but they only control the virus, not kill it. Patients need to take medicine for life, or the infection comes back. Antiretrovirals are expensive and difficult to deliver in many parts of the world where infection is highest, so scientists are working on ways of killing HIV completely. But this will still take many years of research.
Annual military drills ratchet up tension on Korean peninsula
North Korea has reacted angrily to annual military exercises by the US and its allies with a barrage of propaganda, saying it is ready to blow up South Korea and the US. While this rhetoric from the North is common during the yearly bout of war games, the North Koreans claim the exercises are preparation for an attack on their country, and back up their threats with an unknown degree of nuclear capability. Some 18,000 US troops are taking part in the drills, together with forces from the South Korean military. The exercises include aerial attacks and live-fire training, so things get very tense in the phoney-war department. The worry is that something might trigger a real conflict involving nukes, but that hasn’t happened since the Korean War ended with an armistice – but not a peace treaty – in 1953. Keep hoping.
Survey finds most people think internet access is a basic human right
Some 80% of people around the world say access to the internet is a fundamental human right. A BBC survey in 26 countries found most people agree with the UN call for universal internet access. Other global bodies such as the International Telecommunication Union say governments must regard the internet as basic infrastructure, such as roads, waste and water. It’s interesting that Web users in places such as South Korea and Nigeria say governments shouldn’t ever be involved in regulation of the internet, while a majority of those in China and many European countries disagree. In Britain, 55% of those surveyed said there was a case for some government regulation of the internet.