World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
In March, I spent a few days in Koraput, a vast, hilly, sparsely populated district in the state of Odisha in the east of India. Few people not native to the region ever visit there: It is almost exclusively known for its poverty and backwardness and has become a kind of emblem of benightedness, the dismal antithesis of an emerging India.
The region, however, has some of the richest biodiversity and is also one of the most distinctive areas demographically (this has something to do with its poverty). More than 60 percent of the people of Koraput are "adivasis," or tribals, indigenous peoples who enjoy (in theory, at least) special privileges under the Indian Constitution, where they are referred to as "Scheduled Tribes." This demarcation itself conceals an enormous internal variety. Koraput is home to as many as 62 different tribes, each with its own myths and mores, but almost all living hand-to-mouth in small villages and hamlets where they try to raise rice on their tiny landholdings or labor for pitiful wages on the estates of non-adivasi farmers.READ MORE
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s changing attitude toward two giant government-led high-tech projects sends a troubling message about his third term in office: Maintaining power is more important than modernizing the economy.
The projects, known as Rusnano and Skolkovo, were meant to propel Russia’s raw-material economy into the technology age. They involved multibillion-dollar government investments, the first in nanotechnology and the second in a new city that would become Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley. They were supposed to provide the infrastructure and stability required to attract large amounts of foreign investment.READ MORE
Two wigs, one blond, one dark. Three pairs of glasses. Two knives. Two envelopes containing 500 euro notes. One flashlight. One can of mace. One compass. One paper map of Moscow. One ancient Nokia phone. One letter in Russian, addressed “Dear friend.”
These, according to the state-controlled news agency RIA Novosti, were the objects that were seized from Ryan Christopher Fogle, third secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, when he was arrested by Russian counterintelligence late May 14 for allegedly trying to recruit a Russian special services officer.READ MORE
If you hate the European Union, you will love the latest report by the Washington-based Pew Research Center, which labels the Nobel Prize-winning union itself as “The New Sick Man of Europe.” The survey is full of gloom-laden statistics garnered from talking to 7,646 people in eight countries in March.
Some of the survey's subheadings give an idea of what the authors make of the numbers: “European Unity on the Rocks,” “Excepting Merkel, Most Political Leaders in Disrepute,” “In Southern Europe Things Look Particularly Bleak,” “British Split on EU Membership,” “Economic Mood Remains in the Doldrums, Except in Germany.”READ MORE
On Sunday night, billionaire real-estate developer Pan Shiyi tweeted to his 15.3 million followers on Sina Weibo, China’s leading social-media platform: “Soon I might meet a top government Internet regulator,” he announced. “Anything you’d like me to pass along?” By 7:48 a.m. the next morning the tweet had been re-posted 3,455 times and generated 3,891 comments.READ MORE
How difficult can it be to entrench the institutions and procedures of democracy in a nation-state established with the specific intention of becoming one? Both democratic fundamentalists and political realists should look at the example of Pakistan, which goes to the polls this weekend.
Pakistan traces its birth as a nation-state to 1947, when it was formed out of the old landmass of colonial India and the desire of a sizeable section of the subcontinent's Muslims to have a state of their own. But, remarkably, the elections this weekend will mark the first occasion in the country's history that a democratically elected civilian government has seen out its entire five-year term and set up a transition to the next one.READ MORE
On Sunday afternoon, a microblogger in Beijing logged into Sina Weibo, China’s leading social media platform, to gossip about the “auntie” next door. It’s a broad term of respect for an older woman, and his followers understood precisely what he meant when he tweeted, “The auntie next door used all of her retirement savings to buy gold. When asked what she’d do if prices keep dropping, she replied that if everyone kept buying gold, the price wouldn’t drop...”
This might strike a conservative investor as reckless. But in China, where gold has long been a national obsession, a mid-April record crash in global gold prices has been seen as an unprecedented buying opportunity. According to reports in China, Chinese have purchased 300 tons of gold worth more than $16 billion since the crash.READ MORE
The headlines that greeted French President Francois Hollande as he celebrated his first year in office this week have painted a sober picture of a man -- and a country -- in deep trouble.
“The lonely man” was the kindest of the titles, in the left-of-center newspaper Liberation; “One year after, Hollande isolated in Europe,” said Le Figaro, the main daily for the right; and “How revolutions are born: Are we in 1789?” asked Le Point magazine.READ MORE
(Corrects description of Sun Wei’s grandfather in third paragraph.)
Why did China’s leading social-media platform recently ban users from performing searches for a woman poisoned in 1995? Attempts to answer that question -- and to censor the answers -- have sparked some of the most politically potent online commentary on Chinese leadership, privilege and corruption in recent memory.READ MORE
As the head of the conglomerate the Saradha Group, Sudipta Sen persuaded small investors in West Bengal to entrust more than $500 million to his business between 2008 and 2013. What wasn't to trust? After all, Sen ran a network of around 300,000 agents, owned a set of TV channels and newspapers and had influential patrons in politics, including a member of Parliament who agreed to run his media operations for him.
Last month, Sen (who so disliked being photographed that his "message" on his company's website has a picture of an empty chair accompanying it) went AWOL after the Ponzi scheme sustained by him for five years finally went bust. He was eventually tracked down in the north Indian state of Kashmir, but not before he had embarrassed the chief minister of West Bengal, the mercurial and autocratic politician Mamata Banerjee. Sen accused two members of Parliament belonging to her party, the Trinamool Congress, of having accepted millions of dollars to buy him protection from the law.READ MORE
Back in Soviet days, trading for a profit was considered a crime. If government prosecutors have their way in the case of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, Russia -- purportedly a market economy -- could be imprisoning someone for such “speculation” again.
The first of two criminal cases against Navalny, whose campaigning against official corruption has made him a nemesis of President Vladimir Putin, entered the trial stage in the city of Kirov last week.READ MORE
The government of Saudi Arabia's recent push to get businesses in the country to employ more Saudi citizens has sent tremors through the thriving "remittance economy" of the small south Indian state of Kerala. It also has caused a small wave of what might be called distress migration from Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi regime's recent enforcement of its Nitaqat program, a policy that promotes the employment of its own nationals in response to a rising domestic unemployment rate that now stands at 12 percent, seems likely to have a ripple effect on lives across Southeast Asia. It is being most closely watched in Kerala, a sylvan state low on India's west coast with a long history of links to migration, multiculturalism and maritime trade. (Vasco da Gama, seeking to discover the sea route to India from Europe, landed there in 1498.)READ MORE
Russians had a tragic opportunity this week to compare the bombing in Boston with a killing spree on their own soil. The juxtaposition was not flattering.
Exactly a week after the Boston marathon bombing, a man walked into a hunting gear store in the southern Russian town of Belgorod and gunned down the three men behind the counter. He killed three more people on the street, including two schoolgirls aged 14 and 16, before escaping in a BMW X5 that he later crashed into another car. Police arrested the suspect -- Sergei Pomazun, a 31-year-old ex-convict -- Tuesday evening after a two-day search.READ MORE
The Yasukuni Shrine sits in a quiet neighborhood in central Tokyo, but this week it became one of Asia’s most controversial sites. Among the 2.5 million names enshrined in the Shinto temple, of the Japanese who died in service to the emperor from 1867 through World War II, are 14 Class A war criminals as judged by post-World War II tribunals. These include the notorious Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan from 1941 to 1944, under whom Japan committed some of its worst wartime atrocities.
Nonetheless, almost every year Japanese politicians -- from members of parliament to prime ministers -- visit the shrine to pay respects during the temple’s Spring Festival. Such visits have long offended China and other Asian countries that suffered at the hands of the Japanese during the war. Until recently, no country had the stature or inclination to do much about it.READ MORE
Serbian economist Laza Kekic has long argued that it would be a mistake for his country to join the European Union. Recently, he gave up his personal campaign, concluding that the determination of regional governments to become part of the bloc was "indestructible."
Proof of Kekic's conclusion came in the diplomatic coup pulled off by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, last week. The settlement she secured between Serbia and its former province Kosovo was historic in the full sense. It was also testimony to the enduring pull factor of the EU.READ MORE
The device was supposed to democratize and accelerate India's march into the information-technology era. It was supposed to be India's answer to Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child project: an indigenous brand that brought computing power to children in village schools, and to students of all ages from poor families, at a third of the cost estimated by Negroponte. Even before it hit the market, it generated glowing coverage for its ambitious scale, reach and price. After its pilot version faltered and was sent back to the drawing board, its second incarnation was presented late last year by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as an example of "frugal innovation."
That was about as good as it got, though, for Aakash ("sky"), the $35 computing tablet promised in 2010 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Two and a half years later, the project is on life-support. Almost every promise made, or intimated, has failed to come true.READ MORE
As the U.S. tries to process the news that the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing had ties to the Russian republic of Chechnya, Russians and Chechens know what it means for them: trouble.
Little is known in Russia about the brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev. Apparently, the family moved to the U.S. more than a decade ago to seek refuge from Chechnya, which had a long and brutal secessionist conflict with Russia. Relations between ethnic Russians and Chechens remain fraught, and Chechen nationalists and religious fanatics have carried out numerous terrorist attacks on Russian soil.READ MORE
Shortly before the explosion yesterday at the Boston Marathon, Wang Shi, the billionaire chairman of China Vanke Co., China’s largest real-estate development company, took a photo near the finish line. The subject was one of his 15 employees who participated in the race, wrapped in a Chinese flag, greeting family.
He posted it to Sina Weibo, China’s most popular social-media platform, at 2:49 p.m. Boston time, one minute before the explosions. He wasn’t heard from again until 3:12 p.m., when he posted a photo of the scene. Smoke rises over the street as confused spectators appear to move in the opposite direction. Wang wrote: “Two loud bangs near the end of the course, race terminated, evacuating.”READ MORE
When I saw him last week, Slovenian Finance Minister Uros Cufer had just sat through a grueling public presentation by officials from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, in which they painted a grim picture of the state of affairs in his country. He was clearly in a foul mood.
I asked them the obvious question: In the wake of the Cyprus debacle, was Slovenia next for a bailout? OECD Deputy Secretary-General Yves Leterme said he thought that, at least for now, it did not need one. Cufer said nothing.READ MORE