North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Saturday, December 28, 2013

China ends one child policy, amid other changes ...

As 2013 ends, China announced some loosening of its one-child policy after 43 years. Under the new policy, couples will be allowed to have two children if one of the parents is an only child. Previously, a couple could generally only have a second child if both parents were only children.

Not sure this is that groundbreaking, but the Chinese government apparently thinks it is worth it.

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A most likely outcome of a family in the past 43 years. Lots of little princes being raised ... photo from

Slightly less common, raising a single daughter, as males have been preferred. Much less common, and more so in rural areas, are families with two children ... photo from


In 1980, China announced the family planning policy intended to control its population growth, and curb other social and environmental impacts within the most populous nation on earth. The Chinese government maintains the policy has averted 400 million births through 2009, though other demographers bracket the slowdown to about 200 million. According to a 2011 article in a Boston newspaper, "Cai and Wang Feng, director of Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, ... argue that between 1979 and 2009, China averted 200 million births, half the government estimate. They arrived at the number by calculating what the population would have been if China had maintained its 1979 fertility rate of 2.75 and comparing it to the 2009 fertility rate of 1.7 and population."

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Chinese girls had an elevated risk in their early years, due to a deeply patriarchal view of the sexes. Photo from the UK Daily Telegraph

While the policy was officially called the family planning policy, it quickly became known as the "one-child policy" though there were many exceptions. For example, rural families were allowed to have a second child if the first child was a girl or was disabled, and ethnic minorities were exempt. Families in which neither parent has siblings were also allowed to have two children."

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China's population density across the landscape - graphic from

The policy was typically criticized for the methods used to make sure the policy was followed. The policy has been implicated in an increase in forced abortions, female infanticide, and under-reporting of female births, not to mention the concept of giving the state control over family reproduction. The government officially reserved and used the right to financially fine families for not complying. From the start, the policy roused the scorn from human rights advocates, and over time it has become increasingly unpopular in China's modernizing population.

What is next in store for China's demographics? Photo from the UK Daily Telegraph

Economically, some experts note the policy has created a notable imbalance in the sex ratio, which floats nearly equal everywhere, but in China is 117 males for every 100 females. The policy has also raised concerns over the larger demographic of older folks, supported by a smaller number of younger workers.

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Nice chart showing populations of the nations and regions on our globe. Graphic from

No more official labor camps

From the UK Daily Telegraph we read, "Also on Saturday, the National People’s Congress adopted a resolution to abolish the re-education labour system, according to the official Xinhua News Agency and the state-run China Central Television.

State media said all those serving time in the labour camps would be set free starting on Saturday, but that the penalties handed out before the abolition would still be considered legitimate, a provision aimed at preventing the victims from suing the state and seeking redress.

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One such camp is actually a carbonized thermal parts factory - Photo from the New York Times

Established to punish early critics of the Communist Party, the penal system was retooled to focus on petty criminals. In recent years, however, it had been used by local officials to deal with people challenging their authority on issues including land rights and corruption."

So, China is on the move, dropping some more onerous social policies, but leaving its approach to Tibet (a rebellious province) in place, as well as more assertive announcements regarding the South and East China seas.

China maintains a firm hand in Tibet, photo from

Beijing's air pollution remains startling ...

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masks and dimness are the rule of the day for many northern Chinese cities, photo from

but as most Americans know first-hand, the Chinese factories that produce the smog are providing nearly everything we use or want.

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Containers on one ship heading from China to US. And yes, it is just a coincidence that Cosco Holdings (one of the larger shipping companies) has the same name as the US chain of Cosco stores ... photo from China Daily.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Central African Republic and South Sudan torn

Tribal and religious divides have torn up fragile lives in two African countries the past weeks.

The CAR, a former french colony, with a population of nearly 5 million. Graphic from New York Times

The Central African Republic - one of the most poverty stricken countries of the world - is in trouble from an increasingly religion-tainted conflict between Islamists and non ... From a Deutsch Welle article, "Some 10 to 15 percent of the Central African Republic's population are Muslims. Most of them live in the far north, on the other side of swampland that is impassable for six months of the year. The region is regarded as an underdeveloped enclave in an already poor nation: No schools, no hospitals, no roads." The article goes on to explain that much of this region looks north to Sudan and Chad, "They seek medical treatment in a hospital in Nyala, Sudan. They send their children to Quran schools in Khartoum."

The [latest round of] conflict began in March this year, when previous president, Francois Bozize, was ousted in a coup when the Seleka alliance took over. The Seleka opposition was led by Michel Djotodia, who declared himself the new President. However, in the months that have followed, a stricter brand of Islam began to emerge at least as the excuse of what were increasingly lawless actions by Seleka soldiers and allies. In November, when Christian groups were being brutally attacked, Christian militias formed and fought back. France intervened, sending in a peacekeeping force trying to separate the two sides. There it stands, as the German article says, "Once again, a country the size of Texas rich in natural resources faces a dismaying choice. Should the brutal Muslim rebels be ousted, the likely winner will be the country's unpopular kleptocratic former Christian president. Regardless of religion, it is the population that is suffering in this civil war."

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In these brutal, ethnic and religious conflicts, the middle ground erodes, people are forced to take sides, and are at risk either way for their choice. Photo from

South Sudan, the world's newest independent state, suddenly sees tribal hostilities boiling over.

South Sudan, often portrayed in terms of its break from The Republic of Sudan to the north, and adjacent to the heartbreak in Darfur. Graphic from

South Sudan erupted in hostilities between the two largest ethnic groups in the country, the Dinka and the Nuer. While there are some subtle religious overtones to this conflict, the identity of both groups is much more aligned to their tribal heritage, which has much in common.

Last week, soldiers from the Nuer tribe revolted in their barracks and over the past several days, declared they had seized control of Bor, Jonglei State's capital city, located in central South Sudan. The Nuer revolt is headed (kind of) by Riek Machar, the South Sudanese Vice President who was sacked in July this year by President Salva Kiir. But as with all these conflicts, clarity is precious. As a BBC article describes it, "While acknowledging that forces loyal to Riek Machar had taken control of Bor, the army also said Maj-Gen Peter Gadet Yak had mutinied, taking with him some troops. What is not clear is if troops loyal to Mr Machar are working together with those of Maj-Gen Gadet, or if in fact they are the same soldiers. But it is likely, because of the history of relations between the two, and because of their background. They are both Nuers, while President Salva Kiir is Dinka.

If the two are indeed in control of Jonglei, it is possible that they might try to overrun the neighbouring oil-producing states of Unity and Upper Nile. This will mean the oil-reliant economy could come under their control."

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The conflict threatens the cohesiveness of South Sudan, along with oil fields the backbone of this newest country. Graphic from Voice of America

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An anxious father holds his daughter .. photo from the NY Times

Two conflicts - both could legitimately be called civil wars, joining similar conflict in Libya and Syria as 2013 winds down.

Teatree has emphasized this Christmas song in the past years - "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" written by the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as our country's civil war raged in 1863. His wife had died two years earlier and one of their sons was gravely wounded in one of the Civil War battles ...

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th'unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
'There is no peace on earth, ' I said
'For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

verse - see link below,
verse - see link below,

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.'

This year, if one can get to this youtube presentation, there are other darker and less sanitized verses to the poem which seem apropos this conflict ridden season ...

May our prayers and actions be to this end.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

As Christmas nears, oddities all around

One always hopes that a spirit of compassion and tolerance rises a bit, as a major event in Christianity nears around the world. And while there are numerous instances of that occurring that don't make the news, the opposite seems to ring true for what does end up "in print."

So, two oddities of the season

In South Africa, as Nelson Mandela is laid to rest in his ancestral homeland, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu is not invited. Between the two men, South Africa's transition to representative democracy was made without a spasm of violence as so many feared. These two leaders had a long history; an AFP article quoted Tutu, ""Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral," Tutu said in a statement. "Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome, there is no way on earth that I would have missed it."

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South Africa's Desmond Tutu delivers a speech during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg on December 10, 2013 (AFP, Pedro Ugarte)

The article continues, "Earlier, the Nobel laureate's daughter, Mpho Tutu, who heads his foundation, told AFP that he would not attend because he "is not an accredited clergyperson for the event".

Tutu's account of the events was at odds with that given by the government of President Jacob Zuma, which the clergyman has publicly criticised. Amid public outcry, the presidency insisted that Tutu was on the list of invited dignitaries to the burial. "I have been checking and he is definitely on the list," presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told AFP, saying he was "taken aback" by the news that the man known fondly as the "Arch" was not invited. "The Arch is not an ordinary church person, he is a special person in our country and he is definitely on the list," said Maharaj, promising to sort out any misunderstanding that may have arisen."

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Mandela's wish was to be buried in his home in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape region of the country. It is a dry, sparse land, neglected economically, but hauntingly beautiful ... AFP/Getty Photo from a UK Daily Mail article

The retired archbishop has been critical of President Jacob Zuma's "graft-tainted" administration. And so the world will now watch how the SA government conducts itself and the country's future now that a great moral anchor has passed. The Mandela family itself is embroiled in a feud over burial plots, and one of Mandela's grandsons, Mandla Mandela, plans to create a Mandela shrine, hotel and football stadium in nearby Mvezo.

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Mandela's small home village of Qunu lies near the ocean, halfway between Port Elizabeth and Durban, near the little mountain symbols (Drakensberg) on this map from

North Korea summarily dispatches one of its own

Not much positive in this story. Just the latest savage purge by a communist leader, this time in the last remaining wreck of a country with that form of government. The boyish-looking, 30-yr-old third generation dynasty leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, turned on his uncle and had him executed for vague accusations of treason. The official Korean News Agency referring to who was just 10 days ago, the number two man, explained that Jang Song Taek was 'despicable human scum.'

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North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un. Apparently thinking himself worthy of his position, he has collected a number of titles, "Marshal of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea"; "First chairman of the National Defense Commission"; "First secretary of the Workers’ Party"; "Chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission"; "Member of the Presidium of the party’s Political Bureau"; "Supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army," Photo from

As an NBC news article describes the unfortunate deceased, "Kim's uncle by marriage, Jang Song Taek ..." was executed for treason, and also accused of "corruption, womanizing, gambling and taking drugs."

A tough crowd - Uncle included - who live in a world of paranoia and self-comfort while the hoi polloi eke out a subsistence living. Speculation has it that Kim is consolidating, that the execution was highly publicized to entrench his grip on power while sending a message to long-time regent types. Unfortunately it may also be signalling, perhaps, a tighter, more ruthless descent into despotism.

Here, the departed Uncle Taek (left) is hosting then Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2012. Photo from Ma Zhancheng / Xinhua via AP, file

China, North Korea's closest ally, has shrugged off the matter as a domestic affair... But then, former NBA star/narcissistic-whack job Dennis Rodman is also heading to North Korea next week to train its national basketball team, undeterred or concerned over the bigger picture.

As mentioned, oddities all around.

Dennis Rodman, alias "The Worm" and "Dennis the Menace" (Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The World Trade Organization announces progress ...

There are these global institutions out there that we tend to lose track of, yet provide frameworks within which the nations on our small globe interact. One we hear about a lot - the UN with its headquarters in New York - has many forums dealing with security, peacekeeping, development, women and children's rights, etc.

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In front of the UN headquarters in New York, a gift from Luxemborg. Photo from

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are more obscure in what they do. The World Bank, according to its website, "provide[s] low-interest loans, interest-free credits, and grants to developing countries. These support a wide array of investments in such areas as education, health, public administration, infrastructure, financial and private sector development, agriculture, and environmental and natural resource management. Some of our projects are co-financed with governments, other multilateral institutions, commercial banks, export credit agencies, and private sector investors."

The IMF is, according to its website, "an organization of 188 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world."

The WTO, according to its website, develops agreements between groups of nations, that "cover goods, services and intellectual property. They spell out the principles of liberalization, and the permitted exceptions. They include individual countries’ commitments to lower customs tariffs and other trade barriers, and to open and keep open services markets."

All three institutions have their critics, and examples abound where agreements or sets of principles have hurt or hindered development and prosperity as much as foster it. Developing nations often charge that these institutions are oriented to serve the developed nations interests as much if not more than those without political or economic clout. Prosperous Asian nations in the past decade have also been asking when they will have a turn at leadership positions, and capitalism is clearly the economic approach favored over other models (though one might ask what is the alternative... certainly communism was not a success story).

Indeed, it has been customary for the IMF to be led by a Western European (currently France's Christine Legard), while the World Bank has from its 1944 beginning been led by an American (currently Dr. Jim Yong Kim). Both headquarters are in Washington D.C.

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>Christine Legard, President of the IMF, photo by Adam Sage Paris, The Times

World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, photo from World Bank website

The World Trade Organization, however, is a slightly different animal. Though also headquartered in the developed nation and storied city of Geneva, Switzerland, the leadership has rotated much more globally, especially in the past decade. (From 1948, WTO - formerly GATT - leadership has come from the UK, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, Thailand, France, and now Brazil).

Brazilian Roberto Azevêdo, has taken on the WTO leadership position since September 2013, photo from

The buried lead

If the reader is still here (ha ha), this context brings us to the most recent announcement of a successful round of trade talks that took place this week in Bali, Indonesia. WTO member nations debated a variety of arcane issues around growing trade among themselves, but India made the headlines by championing the rights of developing nations to "protect" their food growing sectors, in the face of developed nations' push of additional opportunities for their own agricultural industries to export grain and other food commodities.

From the Washington Post before a final agreement was reached, "A possible World Trade Organization deal moved closer to approval Friday after a row over food subsidies was set aside following hours of global negotiations that went late into the night. Trade ministers had come to the four-day WTO meetings on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali with little hope that a slimmed-down agreement would be reached, with India refusing to budge on a provision that could endanger subsidies for grains under a policy to feed its poor. ... The meetings in Bali were seen as crucial after more than a decade of inertia, with failure possibly signaling an end to WTO’s relevance as a forum for multilateral trade negotiations among its 159 member economies."

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WTO chief Avezedo shakes hands with Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan (hosting the conference), AFP photo from Sonny Tumblekaka

The bottom line is that India's stance to protect national food growing sectors was accepted (for now), streamlined customs guidelines reached, and global trade could increase up to $1 trillion from its current level in the near future. And for the WTO, broad international agreements were highlighted compared to an increasing number of regional trade pacts that had been growing as alternatives to international understandings. In Teatree's opinion, it is refreshing to see an important developing nation, India, standing up to business as usual, as well as a Brazilian leader injecting a personal urgency into often comatose negotiations at these events. (Food security - always behind the scenes of world trade talks.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ukraine still pulled east and west

Ukraine is a country of nearly 45 million, located in Eastern Europe. As one of the larger countries in the old Soviet bloc, it has remained torn in terms of geopolitics after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Whereas the Baltic States, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and several others have all oriented themselves towards Western Europe, this country has never made the jump. It, along with Belarus, have maintained trading and political ties with Russia, though Ukraine's population has steadily indicated its preference to look to the West.

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Ukraine's ambivalence towards both Russia and Western Europe is greatly influenced by its location. It and Belarus have common borders with Russia and farthest from the historic Western European countries who were the original founders of the European Union. Graphic from

Ukraine made the news this week with another outburst of protests and political tension. What was supposed to be a signing of trade and financial agreements as a first move towards membership with the European Union, turned into a row, then street protests after Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich - swayed by threats or inducements from Russian President Putin - pulled back from the step.

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Ukraine President Yanukovich again facing massive unrest. He was driven from power the first time in December 2004 during the "Orange Revolution." During the run for the Presidency in 2004, he was accused being involved with poisoning a political rival, Viktor Yushchenko, as well as the more recent jailing of another rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, which has been deemed illegal by the EU. Photo from

The history of Ukraine since the Soviet breakup in 1991 has been mainly ugly, with tainted and divisive elections, along with poisonings and imprisonment for two high profile Presidential candidates that have the fingerprints of Yanakovich supporters if not personal. Still, Yanukovich has leveraged his core support that lies to the east of the nation into the seat of power over the past 11 years beginning with his first appointment to Prime Minister in 2002. (See the post Ukraine, Poland, football and boycotts on May 5, 2012)

This map, from, shows support for Russia, and thus for leaders supporting that tie, in shades of blue

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Street protests against Yanukovich's decision to "look east" to Russia, Photo from

While Yanukovich has little support in Western nations, and is viewed as corrupt and oppressive, the painful truth is that Russia's President Putin made it clear to Ukraine that signing agreements with the EU would mean immediate and severe reduction of trade and vital energy supplies with Russia. And because Russia structured the economies of most of its satellite nations during Communism to support the mother country's needs, the infrastructure in these newly liberated countries remain susceptible to Russian influence.

Expect continued turmoil in this large eastern European nation.