World View Hot Topics in Pivotal Markets
On the evening of July 23, news broke on China’s microblogs that a collision and derailment occurred on high-speed rail tracks between the boomtowns of Taizhou and Wenzhou, killing at least 39 people.
Less than 48 hours later, Chinese internet users were horrified and infuriated by images of the damaged train cars being chopped up and buried. For a Chinese public that had, even before the accident, become fed up with the corruption related to the country’s outrageously expensive high-speed rail lines, the burial suggested a cover-up of defects in the rail system’s infrastructure.READ MORE
The awful fate of the cruise liner Bulgaria, which sank earlier this month during a storm on the Volga River, in the Republic of Tatarstan, still haunts Russia. On Friday, the Emergency Situations Ministry raised the wreck and released new information about the tragedy.
“The captain of the Bulgaria riverboat, whose sinking killed at least 120 people, tried desperately to steer toward shallow waters in a bid to save lives as the vessel went down, a senior emergency official said Sunday,” according to The Moscow Times’ Andrew McChesney. Nevertheless, “An initial inspection of the 79-meter boat provided no clue to why it sank.” McChesney explained that negligence may have contributed to the disaster: “The 56-year-old Bulgaria had suffered engine trouble when it embarked on its last voyage with more passengers than it was supposed to carry.” Criminal charges have been filed against the director of the tour company that chartered the Bulgaria and the federal inspector who certified the craft as fit to sail.READ MORE
(Corrects name of New Indian Express newspaper in seventh paragraph.)
Exactly 20 years ago this week, Manmohan Singh, now in his second term as prime minister of India, made, as the greenhorn finance minister of a newly elected Congress government, the most important and far-reaching budget speech in the modern history of his country. In response to an unprecedented balance of payments crisis -- which left India with about two weeks of foreign-exchange reserves -- Singh, with the support of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, announced a host of reforms in his inaugural budget speech on July 24, 1991. His two-hour oration left no one in doubt that he intended to turn a crisis into an opportunity.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
July 25 (Bloomberg) -- Throughout the recent Arab uprisings, one of the most widely expressed fears voiced by regional commentators has been that sectarian conflict might overwhelm the lofty ideals expressed by activists.
Those worries are more than hypothetical now. Media in the region are full of reports of fighting along factional lines as various strands of Islam battle for control alongside tribal and secular elements in Yemen, Sunnis and Christians attack each other in Egypt, and 30 die in a sectarian killing spree in the central city of Homs in Syria. Commentators are debating who is to blame and where it will lead.READ MORE
The list of trending topics on China’s leading, twitter-like microblog, Sina Weibo, is typically dominated by entertainment news, celebrity gossip and the daily grind. So it was unusual when, on July 7, 2011, news of China’s central bank's quarter-point interest hike went to the top of that list.
No, Chinese microbloggers weren’t rushing to discuss the macroeconomic consequences of the bank’s move. Rather, they were venting about how their mortgages, almost all of which are tied to that benchmark interest rate, had suddenly become less affordable. A Sina Weibo user, QingMu2010, shortly thereafter railed:READ MORE
As the days of July tick by, Russians prepare for August – a month they have learned to associate with disasters, both natural and man-made. The 1991 hard-line coup attempt, the 1998 default and devaluation, the 2000 sinking of the submarine Kursk, and last year's choking peat-bog fires all happened in August.
This year, though, "August began in June," wrote Victor Davidoff in an op-ed for The Moscow Times. "On June 20, a Tu-134 plane crashed in Karelia, killing 44 people. On July 13, an An-24 plane made an emergency landing on water in the Tomsk region, killing seven people. And on July 10, the tourist ship Bulgaria sunk not far from Kazan, killing 114 people (15 passengers are still missing and presumed dead).”READ MORE
Another day, another terror attack. As they were going home from work during rush hour on July 13, Mumbaikars heard chilling news of a familiar kind: Bombs were going off in different parts of the city.
When the dust had settled after three blasts in the busy commercial areas of Opera House and Zaveri Bazaar in south Mumbai and Dadar in the center, 20 people were dead and more than 80 injured. Sophisticated improvised explosive devices were used in the attacks, pointing to the hand of a professional terror group. There was chaos as mobile-phone networks were briefly jammed, people ran for cover, rumors made the rounds, and heavy rain disrupted rescue operations. It was the fourth attack in Mumbai involving serial terrorist strikes in the last eight years, making the vibrant, diverse, politically stable city one of the world's terror capitals.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
As the Iraqi government considered whether to request an extension of the U.S. military presence past December, regional commentators speculated on what the answer would be and who would benefit.
"Even after two electoral experiences, two parliamentary terms, three governments and a referendum over a permanent constitution," wrote columnist Ali Abdul al-Sada in the independently owned Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada, the Iraqi political system is still unable to address an array of important issues, including a possible extension of the U.S. military presence past the end-year deadline for withdrawal. The root cause, he argued, is that "no effort was made to secure a civil state as a consecrated value of our society."READ MORE
Yao Ming is China's favorite basketball-playing son, but it would be difficult to find him joining a lively pick-up game on the well-known basketball courts in Shanghai's Xujiahui Park. The Chinese national basketball team prefers its players to play inside its gyms. While Yao also played for the National Basketball Association's Houston Rockets, he abided by the protective traditions of China's vast national sports bureaucracy when he was in China.
On July 20, 2011, Yao will likely announce his retirement from basketball at a press conference in Shanghai, his home town. It’s a sports tragedy of sorts: His career in the NBA was cut short by nonstop, rigorous physical demands that left him with severe injuries, especially in his feet. After his intense NBA season, Yao couldn't rest but rather had to continue to fulfill his obligations to play for the Chinese national team.READ MORE
Is Russia a sinking ship? On Sunday afternoon, the aging, decrepit cruise liner Bulgaria went down in rough waters during a storm on the Volga River, some five hundred miles east of Moscow. The tragedy plunged Russia into grief and mourning. The Moscow Times provided grim updates, first reporting forty-one deaths then 129. Alex Bratersky of the same paper described heart-wrenching details of the catastrophe, in which at least 30 children perished:
“The ‘Volga Titanic’ sank in three minutes with the music still playing . . . . An investigation into Russia's worst maritime disaster in 25 years was in full swing Monday, but the actual cause appeared to have been a lack of air conditioning — which prompted the crew to open portholes that were then flooded by an incoming wave.”READ MORE
Three incidents involving trains that killed more than 100 people over the the last week naturally caused a public uproar in India, as citizens considered afresh the risks involved in using the services of Indian Railways, an organization that calls itself the "lifeline to the nation" on its Website.
In the early hours of July 7, 38 people were killed and at least as many injured when a train collided with a bus carrying members of a wedding party at an unmanned level crossing in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Then, on July 10, at least 68 people were killed and more than 250 injured when 15 bogies of the Howrah-Kalka Mail careered off the tracks, again in Uttar Pradesh, while the train was travelling at more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) per hour. The exact cause of the derailment couldn't be immediately ascertained, even from the drivers of the train, who regained consciousness in hospital the next day. That evening, six coaches of the Guwahati-Puri Express derailed in Assam after a bomb was set off on the tracks, injuring more than 100 people. It is likely that a local insurgent group in India's troubled north-east was responsible.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Commentators in the Mideast are clashing sharply over the meaning and possible consequences of the recently issued indictment by the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon established to try those responsible for the 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The indictment was sealed when sent to Lebanese officials, but according to leaks, arrest warrants were issued for four men said to be members of the powerful militant movement Hezbollah. The Shiite group successfully has raised doubts in the public's mind about the credibility of the tribunal and deflated the shock value of its alleged involvement by predicting it would be indicted. Still, the naming of Hezbollah members has sparked dire predictions that Lebanon is yet again on the brink of combustion. In an editorial, the London-based, Palestinian-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi, a daily generally sympathetic to Hezbollah, wrote:READ MORE
Is lightning striking twice in the same place? Kommersant has sounded the tocsin, warning that once again peat bogs around Moscow are burning: "According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations, on Sunday in the region around Moscow sixteen wildfires broke out simultaneously."
Authorities said that the fires have been extinguished, but Kommersant quoted Grigory Kuksin, of Greenpeace Russia, who refuted the good news. "In the Gus-Khrustalny district alone, five fires are burning," Kuksin said. "The situation in the region is bad. There aren't enough resources to put out fires or even contain them."READ MORE
On the night of July 4, social networks in China lit up with a rumor that the former Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, had died. I watched the speculation flicker across my computer screen before deciding that, since I live only a few blocks from Jiang’s sprawling Shanghai compound, I should venture outside to see if anything was afoot.
Despite the fervent online activity, the neighborhood was quiet. It is a pleasant, tree-lined area with a large number of mansions -- including Jiang's -- secured behind hulking gates. Foreign passport holders aren’t allowed to live in its immediate vicinity; allegedly, prospective Chinese homebuyers have to agree to a genealogy check to ensure that their families have been foreigner-free for three generations.READ MORE
The tiny east Indian state of Tripura, which shares a border with Bangladesh, is almost never in the headlines. At most, 1 in 10 adult Indians would be able to name its capital, Agartala, and 1 in 100 could identify its chief minister, Manik Sarkar. But last week Tripura was the cynosure of attention when the Socioeconomic and Caste Census, independent India’s first attempt to record details of a person’s caste, began its operations from the small village of Hezamara.
A reporter for the Indian Express produced a lovely dispatch:READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
This Friday, the Chinese Communist Party will celebrate its 90th anniversary. But, so far, it doesn’t seem to be enjoying itself.
Sure, the party has organized giant “red song” sing-a-longs and a feature-length, star-packed biopic about itself. However, anxiety and paranoia -- the hallmarks of the party's most recent anniversaries and meetings -- are threatening to smother the celebration.READ MORE
(Corrects title of Andrew Skehan in third paragraph.)
Would you buy a burger from a pigtailed pair of Russian Lolitas? That seems to be the question the fast-food franchise Wendy’s implicitly put to diners at the opening of its first standalone restaurant in Moscow.READ MORE
The Mumbai Police announced June 27 that they had finally cracked the case of the murder of the crime journalist Jyotirmoy Dey, who was gunned down in a Mumbai suburb in broad daylight on June 11. Dey (who wrote under the byline “J Dey”) was the intrepid, muckraking crime and investigations editor for the Mumbai tabloid Mid Day and widely admired and loved in journalistic circles. The police arrested seven men from across the country.
The chief suspect in the brazen assassination, which rattled the city’s press corps, was said to be a notorious gangster, Chhota Rajan (“Little Rajan”). Rajan is one of several figures who ran criminal rackets in the city before they were driven out of the country by police crackdowns. Many of them, including Rajan, now run their operations from bases abroad.READ MORE
Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
June 27 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must have hoped that his third speech to his nation in as many months would be well-received by commentators in the region. It was not to be.
Assad constructed his June 20 address to be conciliatory, offering an unprecedented "national dialogue" with the opposition and a committee to consider amendments to the constitution, which forbids competition with his ruling Baath Party. But regional commentators largely judged those gestures insincere, or too little, too late -- all the more so given that Assad deemed the recent political protests "vandalism," and those who carried them out "saboteurs" and even "germs."READ MORE