The Weight of Thought

The people of Hong Kong could face “disastrous” consequences if it adopts full democracy based on foreign models. Instead, Hong Kong must carry out democratic reform based on its own laws, warned Zhang Dejiang, chairman of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), amid intense political debate on elections for the chief executive of the former British colony in 2017

At present, Hong Kong’s government is governed by the Basic Law, which was adopted before the former’s British crown colony returned to mainland China in 1997, and which will remain in force until 2047.

Under the law, elections to the Legislative Council require a complicated series of steps that ensure a large number of seats for functional constituencies, which are close to the mainland.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s most influential aide on Saturday rejected criticism from China that Japan is lurching toward militarism and said Tokyo would keep seeking dialogue with both Beijing and Seoul, ties with which have been badly strained by rows over territory and wartime history.

Sino-Japanese ties, long plagued by China’s bitter memories of Tokyo’s wartime aggression, have worsened since a feud over disputed East China Sea islands flared in 2012. Relations with South Korea are also badly frayed by a separate territorial row and the legacy of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization.

"For the 69 years since the end of World War Two, we have built the present-day Japan based on the notions of freedom, democracy and peace," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who acts as Japan’s top government spokesman and is one of Abe’s most trusted aides, told Reuters in an interview.

For the seventh day this month, Shanghai officials have warned children and the elderly to stay inside in a city where 24 hours exposed to the off-the-charts pollution would have hazardous consequences to one’s health. Hundreds of flights and sporting events have been cancelled, while face masks and air purifiers sold out in stores. All week, the pollution level hovered at “heavily” and “severely” polluted, according to Shanghai’s Air Quality Index, at up to 31 times the recommended levels.
Eerie photographs of Shanghai show a city in a yellow haze:

Sunday morning, South Korea announced that it was extending its air defense zone to include a tiny reef off its coast. Now China, Japan, and South Korea’s flight zones overlap for the first time, upping military tensions in a region already rife with them.
Socotra Rock, known as Ieodo in Korea and Suyan Rock in China, is a submerged reef that houses a Korean research station. Both Korea and China claim it as part of their “exclusive economic zones,” (EEZ) a legal term for the maritime region in which the country has special development rights.
South Korea’s expansion of its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) to include Socotra is a direct response to China doing the same. An ADIZ denotes the area in which another country can’t fly its planes safely without identifying themselves, and, in late November, China expanded its zone to include Socotra. At the time, China’s play for Socotra was overshadowed by its move for the Senkaku-Diayou island chain, which Japan also claims. But South Korea’s counter has brought the simmering Socotra dispute to the fore.


In Focus: China’s Toxic Water

On World Water Day, I’d like to share with you a strong collection of images from southern China, showing local activists fighting against industrial pollution in their waterways, and cancer sufferers in so-called “cancer villages”, linked to pollution from hazardous chemicals. Earlier this year, China’s environment ministry released a report officially acknowledging the existence of these villages for the first time and signaling its willingness to address toxic water pollution. Greenpeace reached out to World Press Photo award-winner Lu Guang and other photographers to bear witness and has allowed me to share their images here on World Water Day, in an effort to bring this environmental and human tragedy to the world’s attention. Photos and captions were provided by the photographers and Greenpeace.

See more. [Images: Greenpeace]

The Dangerous Global Consequences of a Syria Intervention

Sami Ramadani Pt5: History has shown that deep global economic crisis can lead to war. An intervention into Syria will severely heighten tensions between Russia, China and the US.

(Reuters) - China can now bypass Wall Street when buying U.S. government debt and go straight to the U.S. Treasury, in what is the Treasury’s first-ever direct relationship with a foreign government, according to documents viewed by Reuters.

The relationship means the People’s Bank of China buys U.S. debt using a different method than any other central bank in the world.

The other central banks, including the Bank of Japan, which has a large appetite for Treasuries, place orders for U.S. debt with major Wall Street banks designated by the government as primary dealers. Those dealers then bid on their behalf at Treasury auctions.

China, which holds $1.17 trillion in U.S. Treasuries, still buys some Treasuries through primary dealers, but since June 2011, that route hasn’t been necessary.

The documents viewed by Reuters show the U.S. Treasury Department has given the People’s Bank of China a direct computer link to its auction system, which the Chinese first used to buy two-year notes in late June 2011.

China can now participate in auctions without placing bids through primary dealers. If it wants to sell, however, it still has to go through the market.

The change was not announced publicly or in any message to primary dealers.

Over-consumption in rich countries and rapid population growth in the poorest both need to be tackled to put society on a sustainable path, a report says.

An expert group convened by the Royal Society spent nearly two years reading evidence and writing their report.

Firm recommendations include giving all women access to family planning, moving beyond GDP as the yardstick of economic health and reducing food waste.

The report will feed into preparations for the Rio+20 summit in June.

"This is an absolutely critical period for people and the planet, with profound changes for human health and wellbeing and the natural environment," said Sir John Sulston, the report’s chairman.

"Where we go is down to human volition - it’s not pre-ordained, it’s not the act of anything outside humanity, it’s in our hands."

Sir John came to fame through heading the UK part of the Human Genome Project.

He shared the 2002 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, and now chairs the Institute for Science Ethics and Innovation at Manchester University.

Back on the table

Although the size of the Earth’s human population used to be a main ingredient of environmental debate, it has fallen off the table in recent years.

The world at seven billion


In part that was because the Earth appeared able to support more people than predictions had suggested, and partly because developing countries came to view the population issue as a smokescreen to hide Western over-consumption.

However it is now back on the table, largely because of research showing that women in the poorest nations generally want access to family planning and that people benefit from it.

The UN’s “medium” projection indicates the population peaking at just over 10 billion before the end of the century, and then starting to fall, from a current level of seven billion.

When the Internet was created, decades ago, one thing was inevitable: the war today over how (or whether) to control it, and who should have that power. Battle lines have been drawn between repressive regimes and Western democracies, corporations and customers, hackers and law enforcement. Looking toward a year-end negotiation in Dubai, where 193 nations will gather to revise a U.N. treaty concerning the Internet, Michael Joseph Gross lays out the stakes in a conflict that could split the virtual world as we know it.

TWO FUTURES? Privacy, piracy, security, sovereignty—the divisions on these issues reflect an even deeper split between those who want tight control and those who want unfettered freedom.

Linguist Noam Chomsky says the decline in American power has been “increasingly self-inflicted” in recent decades.

In the first part of a two-part column for TomDispatch, the political activist argues that America’s decline is very real.

To make the point that the damage has been self-inflicted, Chomsky cites a recent issue of Foreign Affairs that asks “Is America Over?”

“The title article calls for ‘retrenchment’ in the ‘humanitarian missions’ abroad that are consuming the country’s wealth, so as to arrest the American decline that is a major theme of international affairs discourse, usually accompanied by the corollary that power is shifting to the East, to China and (maybe) India,” he writes.