Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Around the World: China, Zimbabwe, Somalia, the Ukraine, and the Vatican

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The latest in our ongoing series... (for previous entries, see here or here).

1) China: "China's exports have dropped into their biggest decline in a decade. Exports in December were down 2.8% from the same time last year, a bigger decline than November's 2.2% drop, the China Daily said."

Even though "China's economy relies on domestic demand for its goods and services more than any other country in Asia," which is to say, even though the decline in exports is perhaps less of a concern to China than it would be for others, what the numbers show is that "China is no more immune to worldwide trade problems than any other large economy." And it is likely to get worse: "With Japan, the US and Europe now in recession, China's heavily trade-dependent economy is expected to harder hit through the coming year."

Still, a growth rate of 7.5% in 2009 wouldn't be so bad, would it?

2) Zimbabwe: "Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people and almost 40,000 have contracted the normally preventable disease, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday."

As if it weren't already bad enough in that wretched place, what with the tyrant Mugabe clinging to power and continuing to oppress the people, now there's this, which "has spread to all of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces because of the collapse of health and sanitation systems." And the situation will only get worse during the January-March rainy season.

3) Somalia: "Ethiopian troops pulled out from crucial bases in Mogadishu on Tuesday, leaving a power vacuum that was quickly filled by Islamist fighters who seized their positions."

And so, with the Ethiopians soon to be out, within a matter of days, Somalia is left to the Somalis... and to "Somalia’s Islamist movement," which "has made a steady comeback, with Islamist factions again controlling much of the country.

One war is over, but another is already underway: "Many Western diplomats and other Somalia analysts have warned that once all the Ethiopians are gone, the various Islamist factions will unleash their considerable firepower on each other in a scramble to take over the country. Some of that fighting has already kicked off, with dozens of people killed in the past week in combat between moderate and radical Islamist factions."

4) Ukraine: "Just hours after Russia resumed delivery of natural gas to the European Union through Ukrainian pipelines, Kiev has admitted to blocking the supplies. Ukraine is claiming that Gazprom has established 'unacceptable' conditions for the transit of the gas to Europe."

It's a complicated situation, obviously, with Gazprom blaming the U.S. for backing the Ukraine (and accusing the Ukraine of stealing gas), but it is essentially a regional dispute between Moscow and Kiev "over gas pricing and the lucrative transit fees paid to Kiev for gas transported across its pipelines." (Though Anne Applebaum notes that it was actually Putin, who still runs the show in Russia, who actually turned off the gas, not Gazprom. So it's political, not just commercial, and, this year, Russia is very much to blame.)

Russian gas is essential to much of Europe, but what is needed is for Europe to disentangle itself from the situation by reducing its dependency on Russian gas in the first place. And that requires, in Applebaum's view (one I share, though I defer to her expertise here), "a true, unified E.U. energy policy," even if, as Clay Risen points out, there are no "easy or obvious answers" and, to put it mildly, "difficulties inherent in any such effort."

5) Vatican: "Decrying the violence that Mexicans are enduring, the Vatican has suggested excommunication as a possible punishment for drug traffickers whose war with the government has led to the deaths of thousands of people in the last year. But the Roman Catholic Church's severest form of rebuke would probably have little effect on traffickers and killers who lack a religious conscience, the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, acknowledged."

You think?

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