Weekly Global Newscast |December 17 - December 23, 2018, 2018
Marking 40 Years of Reform, Xi Says China Won’t be Dictated to
President Xi Jinping said in his speech that no one can “dictate” China’s economic development path. He was addressing the audience in view of the 40 years since the opening up of the Chinese economy to the rest of the world; a move that has transformed the world’s most populous country into a global economic powerhouse.
‘Addressing Communist Party members for nearly 90 minutes, Xi promised to press ahead with economic reforms but offered no new specific measures. “We must, unswervingly, reinforce the development of the state economy while, unswervingly, encouraging, supporting and guiding the development of the non-state economy,” Xi said, while making it clear that Beijing will not deviate from its one-party system or take orders from any other country. “The great banner of socialism has always been flying high over the Chinese land,” Xi said. “The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the most essential feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the greatest advantage of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics,” he added.’ Reuters reported for Al Jazeera.
‘During a speech to mark 40 years of market reforms, Xi repeated China’s commitment to a multilateral trading system and further opening of its economy. However, he did not announce any new initiatives and vowed that China would stick to its policy agenda, despite pressure from the US and others to allow more competition in its economic system. Xi told the audience of party officials, military leaders and entrepreneurs that “no one is in the position to dictate to the Chinese people what should and should not be done”. The 80-minute address in Beijing was held to mark the 40th anniversary of the Reform and Opening Up campaign that unleashed the country’s economic boom under then leader Deng Xiaoping. In remarks that ranged from the economy to the environment to Taiwan and the South China Sea, Xi presented his agenda as the logical outcome of the country’s post-1978 “reform era” and Chinese history more broadly. He reasserted his contention that the country had entered a “new era” under his leadership and was poised for a bigger role in world affairs.’ Peter Martina and Kevin Hamlin write for The Sydney Morning Herald.
‘While Xi promised more reforms, he did not offer any specifics. The US and Europe have long complained of lingering obstacles to fully entering China’s massive market while Chinese companies enjoy the benefits of open Western economies abroad. “We actively promote the construction of an open world economy, build a community of human destiny, promote the transformation of the global governance system, clearly oppose hegemonism and power politics,” Xi said, referencing Chinese geopolitical ambitions. “China is increasingly approaching the centre of the world stage and becoming a recognised builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, and a defender of the international order.” The commemoration of the reforms enacted under late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on December 18, 1978, came as China is locked in diplomatic spats and a bruising trade war with the United States. The rivals have agreed to a 90-day truce as they seek to negotiate a solution, with the US seeking a reduction in its massive trade deficit as well as deeper reforms in China to stop the alleged theft of intellectual property.’ The Associated Press reported for The New Indian Express.
‘Xi’s speech comes at a turning point for China, following decades of economic growth that have transformed it into the world’s second largest economy. On 18 December 1978, the then leader, Deng Xiaoping, opened a meeting that officially initiated China’s transition from a command economy, dominated by old-style Maoist communism, to a market economy, or “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. Now, the Chinese leadership is vying with slowing growth, a trade confrontation with the US, and international criticism over human rights violations. Observers hoped Xi would lay out new directions or reforms needed to help the Chinese economy, weighed down by debt and lagging consumption, and an overly dominant state sector. Instead, his remarks focused on the supremacy of the ruling Chinese Communist party. Hailing the party’s leadership and strategy up to now as “absolutely correct”, he listed the government’s accomplishments.’ Lily Kuo writes for The Guardian.
Sri Lankan President Appoints Cabinet After Political Crisis
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a 30-member cabinet, days after Ranil Wickremesinghe was reinstated as prime minister following a lengthy political crisis. Sirisena administered oaths in a private event.
‘Wickremesinghe’s reinstatement as prime minister earlier this week and the appointment of a new cabinet will result in Sri Lanka’s government resuming functions that have been obstructed since October. But continued acrimony between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe means the crisis is far from over. The crisis began when Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe and appointed former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. Wickremesinghe insisted he was sacked illegally, while Rajapaksa failed to secure majority support in parliament.’ Reported the Al Jazeera.
‘Three lawmakers from Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s party defected to the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday after a dispute between the two leaders. The island nation was plunged into crisis in October after Sirisena replaced Wickremesinghe with ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, without the backing of parliament, leading to protests and downgrades of Sri Lanka’s debt. Rajapaksa, best known for crushing a long-running insurgency in the north of the country and drawing Sri Lanka closer to China, failed to win a parliamentary majority and resigned on Saturday as a government shutdown loomed. Wickremesinghe was then sworn in as prime minister for the fifth time in a remarkable comeback. “We joined the government… as the party and the country has been dragged into a difficult position,” Vijith Wijayamuni Soysa, one of the three lawmakers told parliament. With the latest defections, Wickremesinghe has the backing of 120 legislators in the 225-member parliament. Sirisena told a party gathering later on Tuesday that he would not allow any defector to be sworn in as a minister in Wickremesinghe’s cabinet, which is yet to be appointed.’ Reuters reported for Dhaka Tribune.
‘President Maithripala Sirisena administered oaths in a private event. Wickremesinghe’s reinstatement as prime minister earlier this week and the appointment of a new Cabinet will result in Sri Lanka’s government resuming functions that have been obstructed since October, but continued acrimony between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe means the crisis is far from over. Notably, Sirisena has not appointed a law and order minister, a crucial post for investigating corruption and crime allegations against former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, his family and government members. Wickremesinghe promised such investigations before the 2015 elections. Sirisena sparked the crisis in October when he suddenly sacked Wickremesinghe and appointed former President Rajapaksa in his place. Wickremesinghe insisted he was sacked illegally and hunkered down in the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, while Rajapaksa failed to secure majority support in Parliament in two chaotic no-confidence votes. Sirisena dissolved Parliament and called for elections. The Supreme Court first suspended the move and later declared the dissolution unconstitutional. Separately, the Court of Appeal ordered Rajapaksa and his Cabinet to cease functioning. As a result, the newly-restored government in Sri Lanka has only 11 days left to pass a budget to provision state money in 2019.’ Krishan Francis writes for The Washington Post.
Middle East & North Africa
UN Approves Team to Monitor Ceasefire in Yemen’s Port City
The United Nations Security Council has unanimously approved the deployment of its observers to war-torn Yemen to monitor a fragile truce in the strategic Red Sea port of Hodeidah.
‘Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, said UN ceasefire monitors were needed in Hodeidah urgently and a core group of them would be dispatched to Yemen within days. In a second phase, Guterres would have one month to determine the full size and scope of the mission and how it will ensure troops vacate the city and port. Guterres “is going to deploy an advance team first and that team will go in the next few days”, said Pierce. “He needs to get people there quickly and therefore the Security Council has been willing to authorise for 30 days an advance team.” Later, the UN chief will “submit plans for a larger monitoring mission”, she added. French ambassador Francois Delattre said the unanimous vote sent a “strong signal of the council’s unity and engagement” on Yemen, and that it had put its weight behind the UN-brokered talks. Diplomats said the UN observer mission could consist of 30 to 40 people, tasked with ensuring the withdrawal of the warring parties from Hodeidah and the safe passage of humanitarian aid. The observers will head up monitoring teams made up of government and rebel representatives, under the auspices of a Redeployment Coordination Committee headed by Cammaert.’ Reuters reported for Al Jazeera.
‘This is in contrast to 30 ceasefire violations on December 18 alone by the rebels, said the source. “The number of violations on December 19 was 23. This was a slight reduction from 30 the previous day.” Houthi violations, however, were not as serious as before, said the source who cannot be named. “Though it is a positive sign, it is still too early to draw concrete conclusions,” he said. Checkpoints are still active and there is no real indication of moves towards withdrawal of forces by both sides, he said. UN monitor Major-General (Retd) Patrick Cammaert is expected to be in Hodeida today to monitor the UN ceasefire. “We will extend our full support to Major-General Cammaert and we hope to see some positive progress,” the source added. Withdrawal of all troops from the Yemen’s besieged Red Sea port city is part of the Stockholm deal agreed between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels. The UN official will chair the first meeting of a joint monitoring committee on Saturday, which will have three nominees each from the Houthi and Yemeni side. Cammaert will provide weekly reports to the UN on the status of the ceasefire, and if any party breaches it. The UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday said if the warring sides broke the ceasefire, they would face “the full wrath of the UN.”’ Anjana Sankar writes for Khaleej Times.
‘Last week, Yemen’s Houthi rebels and its internationally recognized government agreed to a deal in Sweden, known as the Stockholm agreement. It is made up of four key elements: a prisoner swap, the creation of a demilitarized zone around the country’s vital Red Sea trade corridor through a series of withdrawals by rival Yemeni forces, the formation of a committee to discuss the future of the contested city of Taiz, and a commitment for the Houthis and the government to reconvene at the end of December. The agreement is meant to prevent the situation in Yemen from getting any worse rather than making it better, and even this was a big ask. Under concerted international pressure, and with a massive famine looming, the Houthis and the government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi agreed to the bare minimum — and language in the agreement makes it clear that they did so begrudgingly.’ Peter Salisbury writes for The Washington Post.
Sub Saharan Africa
Blast Near Presidential Palace; Mogadishu
The death toll from a double car bomb attack near the presidential palace in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has risen to 20, police said. Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group, which often target Mogadishu have claimed the responsibility of the attack.
‘The number of victims who were killed in the blasts increased to 20 and more than 40 others have been wounded,” said a Somali police official, Ibrahim Mohamed. He said the toll had risen after some of those wounded on Saturday died in hospital. Both civilians and members from the security forces were among the casualties, the official said. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed condemned the “cowardly attacks”. “We will continue defeating terrorists in order to lead the Somali people to stability and prosperity,” he said in a statement. The first car bomb had detonated at a checkpoint near the national theatre, sending thick white smoke billowing into the sky.’ Reported the Al Jazeera.
‘At least 16 people were killed and 20 wounded in a car bomb attack claimed by Al Qaeda-linked group Al-Shabab close to the president’s residence in the Somali capital Mogadishu, police said. Those killed include three staffers from the London-based Universal TV station, including prominent journalist Awil Dahir Salad, said police Capt. Mohammad Hussein, who gave the latest toll of dead and wounded. A second explosion followed nearby. Al-Shabab, in comments broadcast on its Radio Andalus, claimed responsibility for both blasts and said the second was also a car bomb. Among those killed were two security personnel and a driver working for local station Universal TV, whose car was passing the checkpoint at which the first blast went off, another reporter working for the station said. Agencies reported for The Daily Star Lebanon.
Former UK Liberal Democratic Leader Paddy Ashdown Dies at 77
The former leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, has died at age 77 after a brief illness.
‘Ashdown, born in India and raised in Northern Ireland, was a member of the Royal Marines and Special Services before turning to politics. In addition to his domestic politics, Ashdown was also a force on the international scene, investigating war crimes in Bosnia and eventually giving evidence in the trial of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.’ Katia Lopez Hodoyan reports for Al Jazeera.
‘Despite commanding great respect for his many areas of expertise, particularly in foreign affairs, he never managed fully to shake off the “Paddy Pantsdown” moniker planted on him by a famous front page of the Sun newspaper. It followed the disclosure of a five-month-long affair with Patricia Howard, his former secretary. An ardent pro-European, Ashdown styled himself as the “Action Man of politics” at the head of a party whose energetic and highly focused campaigning in byelections and in local politics was the reason for much of its success. He disliked being confined to Westminster and preferred to project himself as a leader in the thick of things, jumping out of helicopters and making regular trips to the frontline of the Bosnia conflict, jacket slung over his shoulder.’ Toby Helm writes for The Guardian.
Trump Signs First Step Act into a Law
US President Donald Trump has signed rare bipartisan legislation addressing concerns with the criminal justice system. Trump called the bill “an incredible success for our country” and “beyond bipartisan” during an Oval Office signing ceremony.
‘The legislation will give judges more discretion when sentencing some drug offenders and will boost prisoner rehabilitation efforts. It received the rare support of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress, as well as conservative and liberal groups that rarely work together. Groups that supported the bill included the Fraternal Order of Police, the Centre for American Progress and the Koch brothers, among others. Playing a key role behind the scenes was Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose father spent time in federal prison when he was younger. At the signing ceremony, Trump personally thanked Kushner.’ Reported the Al Jazeera.
‘The act bans shackling jailed pregnant women and requires that prisoners be housed within 500 miles of their family. Some provisions allow earlier release, including an expansion of annual good time credit, from 47 days to 54 days a year off sentences, which applies retroactively. The new law also allows nonviolent offenders to earn up to 10 days of credit for each 30 days of participation in anti-recidivism programs, potentially letting inmates spend a quarter of sentences in halfway houses or under house arrest. Supporters say similar efforts save money and decrease recidivism in states. Skeptics argue that federal offenders are among the worst criminals and most likely to begin committed crimes again, and that the Federal Bureau of Prisons may not replicate state-level successes. Major sentencing reforms include an expanded “safety valve” to allow judges to deviate from harsh penalties, retroactive reductions for crack cocaine sentences, limits on a gun sentencing enhancement, and elimination of a three-strikes life sentence for drug crimes. Steven Nelson writes for Washington Examiner.
‘While the bill passed both chambers comfortably, it had seen some passionate resistance from conservatives, led by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who introduced amendments including one that would require victims be notified before a prisoner was released early. He had previously dubbed the bill a “jailbreak” over fears that it would release violent offenders onto the streets early. But an array of liberal and conservative advocacy groups also rallied in support of the bill. The Koch-backed group, Americans for Prosperity, applauded senators for putting “policy ahead of politics.” The American Civil Liberties Union said the bill was “by no means perfect. But we are in the midst of a mass incarceration crisis, and the time to act is now.”’ Adam Shaw and Judson Berger write for Fox News.