Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Portugal Seeks Relief for Its Troubled Banks. The caretaker government of Socialist Prime Minister José Socrates announced he was asking for financing from the European Union on Wednesday, saying the risks to the economy had now become too great to go it alone as borrowing rates soared in recent weeks. More from Reuters.

China Levels Charges Against Dissident. Ai Weiwei, best known for designing the 'Bird's Nest' stadium for the 2008 Olympics, has been charged with "economic crimes" by Chinese authorities. The 53 year old artist was seized by border police Sunday at the Beijing airport as he prepared to board a flight to Hong Kong. He is the latest dissident detained in a series of arrests that began in February. Other high-profile dissidents held by Chinese authorities include Noble Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo and blind activist Chen Guangcheng. More from the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has called upon Beijing to ease its crackdown against political dissidents. Speaking on Sino-US ties at a function held in Shanghai Wednesday, Huntsman said there was room for improvement in bilateral diplomatic ties. He said US envoys to Beijing would continue to speak out publicly in support of dissidents activists Ai Weiwei and others. More on this side of the story from RTT News.

French Forces in Côte d'Ivoire Fighting. French forces hit military vehicles belonging to troops loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo during a helicopter-borne mission that rescued Japan's ambassador to the West African country today after Gbagbo's soldiers broke into the residence of Ambassador Yoshifumi Okamura. The full story in The Independent.

India Opens Talks with Japan. India and Japan today started an economic-strategic talks that promises to have important strategic ramifications regarding balancing China. More from The Times of India.

China's Bubble Economy. The Asia Sentinel examines the Chinese economy warning that an inevitable slowdown will affect the entire world – from commodity producers to governments issuing debt. The ramifications of a meaningful slowdown in Chinese economic activity are profound, ranging from the risk of widespread social instability to a collapse of several commodity markets.

Bank of England Holds Rate Steady. The Bank of England kept its benchmark interest rate at 0.5 percent, a record low for the 26th consecutive month, as policy makers judged the need to aid the recovery took precedence over the fastest inflation in more than two years. More from Bloomberg News.

A Balance of Power Tilting towards Beijing

Yesterday, President Obama addressed the opening session of the first US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, noting that the relationship between the two countries will shape the 21st century. If there is such a thing as a G2, there is little doubt that grouping is the United States and China. Certainly as the President opined Sino-American relations are as "important as any bilateral relationship in the world."

With this in mind, US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED) going forward will be a bi-annual event rotating between Washington and Beijing. The SED is a successor to a wide-ranging consultation begun under the Bush administration by the former Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr, aimed at coordinating economic and trade issues. Secretary Clinton pushed successfully to have these bilateral engagements broadened to include strategic geo-political concerns.

If the world axis has centered on the Atlantic for the past few centuries, that axis has certainly shifted to some degree first with the rise of Japan as the world's second largest economy but in the coming century the transformation of China from an economic backwater to an economic powerhouse seems to augur for a paradigm shift in the world's economic order. Even if a billion Chinese remain in endemic poverty, 400 million have escaped that crushing load. This is the most significant development of the post Cold War period and it will have lasting repercussions. The world's center of gravity is increasingly in East Asia, not just China, though increasingly China is at the center of events in the region.

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Eritrea: The Emerging Rogue State

In mid-April Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a scathing report on the East African nation  of Eritrea accusing the government of President Issayas Afeworki of turning the strategically located country on the Red Sea into one giant prison complete with underground cells and metal shipping containers awaiting any dissenters. Indeed, Afeworki has been ranked as one of the world's top ten dictators, a dubious honour to say the least. That's disturbing enough but recently President Afewerki forced the United Nations Mission to Eritrea out of country by cutting off all supplies to the UN-mission. Fears among Horn of Africa watchers is that Eritrea might be preparing for another senseless war with Ethiopia with whom the country shares a long and ill-defined border.

Furthermore, Somalia's new government led by President Sharif Sheik Ahmed is accusing Eritrea of arming insurgent groups in Somalia. The allegation is a repeat of events two years ago, when the United Nations accused Eritrea of secretly sending weapons to Somalia's militant al-Shabaab group.

Now the BBC is reporting that US is concerned:

The US says it is seriously concerned by reports Eritrea is supplying arms to foreign fighters and Islamic hardliners fighting government forces in Somalia.

"This as a disturbing development," President Barack Obama's top official on Africa, Jonnie Carson, told the BBC.

Eritrea denies any involvement in arming or financing Islamist militants trying to overthrow the government.

Following a week of violence, 100 people are dead and 30,000 more have fled Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.

There have been a number of reports of foreign fighters, with possible links to al-Qaeda, fighting alongside hardline Islamists of al-Shabaab and Hisbul-Islam, said Mr Carson, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

"We're extremely worried about the reports."

"There seem to be fairly serious and creditable reports that al Shabaab does have, amongst its fighters, a number of individuals of South Asian and Chechen origin," said Mr Carson.

"This is a very disturbing situation and reflects the seriousness of the problem in Somalia."

Mr Carson also expressed concern about flights from Eritrea were carrying weapons and ammunition to Somalia to supply al-Shabaab.

"There have been numerous reports that the government of Eritrea has, in fact, been supplying weapons and munitions to al-Shabaab.

"These are reports that we do find credible," he said.

Like its neighbour Sudan, Eritrea has too found a sponsor in China and it is about time the United States bring these matters to the attention of the Chinese. The arming of the Al Qaeda linked al-Shabaab serves no one, least of all the Somalis.

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Jon Huntsman Appointed Ambassador to China

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that Utah Governor and GOP moderate Jon Hunstman will resign from office to accept a nomination to become the ambassador to the People's Republic of China. Governor Huntsman who is fluent in Mandarin previously served as the US Ambassador to Singapore.

Sources tell The Salt Lake Tribune that an announcement is scheduled for Saturday. Huntsman is in Washington, D.C., but calls to his spokeswoman and various staffers were not returned Friday night.

Huntsman, who had been mentioned as a potential Republican contender for the White House, was nominated by President George H.W. Bush as ambassador to Singapore -- he was the youngest ambassador in over a century --- and later was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as Deputy United States Trade Representative. He was unanimously confirmed to both positions.

He speaks Mandarin Chinese and he and his wife, Mary Kaye, have adopted a daughter from China.

Huntsman had been scheduled to travel to China next week as part of a delegation of Western governors visiting the nation to discuss climate change, alternative energy and clean air technologies.

That trip was canceled due to concerns by some of the governors over the swine flu outbreak.

Huntsman will be replaced by Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert who would serve through 2010, at which time a replacement would be elected until 2012.

While Huntsman's name has often been bantered about as a possible GOP contender for the Presidency in 2012, I suspect that his chances in 2016 are stronger and this appointment in the long run bolsters his national security and international affairs credentials. It's a good move for Huntsman politically.

More from the New York Times.

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When Wen Jiabao Speaks

In 2008, China's holdings of US debt grew 52.3%. All told, the Chinese bought $249.8 billion in US treasuries and now hold $727.4 billion surpassing Japan as the nation's largest lender. Today speaking at his annual press conference at the close of China's parliament, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said: "We have made a huge amount of loans to the United States. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I'm a little bit worried."

Concerned, worried and increasingly blunt for this isn't the first time that the Chinese Premier has lectured US policymakers. Back in late January at the Davos World Economic Forum, he delivered a stinging rebuke of American capitalism calling it an "unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption." Unfortunately, he does have a point.

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