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  • Society and Environment

    by Published on 11-02-2013 06:33 PM     Number of Views: 4910 
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    The economist
    October 26 - Nov 2

    The 38th parallel, separating north and south, is Korea’s most important dividing line. But it ...
    by Published on 09-24-2013 11:15 PM  Number of Views: 19664 
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    By Melissa Hogenboom, BBC News
    September 24, 2013

    Yang Guang was one of a pair of pandas loaned from China to Edinburgh in 2011

    For more than half a century, China has used its pandas to help foster relationships with other countries. These diplomatic loans are now entering a new phase, according to researchers.

    The cuddly creatures attract a lot of attention. They're conservation icons and boost a zoo's brand.

    In fact, Edinburgh's loaned giant panda Tian Tian has even become a bit of a celebrity as the world watches with interest to see if she might give birth soon.

    Ever since the founder of China's communist party, Mao Zedong, used pandas as a way of entering into political discussions with other countries, the animal has been a national treasure.

    Just this week, China showed off 14 giant panda cubs that had been artificially bred at a research centre in Sichuan province.

    Edinburgh's panda deal was criticised at the time by environmental groups, which said it was more about commerce than conservation.

    Now a team from oxford has quantified the new wave of panda diplomacy in a research article published in Environmental Practice. The team says panda diplomacy is only set to grow.

    The researchers looked at all the panda loans that had occurred in the last half century and at the trade taking place since 2008. This was when the Sichuan earthquake devastated the main panda conservation centre which meant many pandas needed re-homing.

    The team found that, after 2008, panda loans coincided with trade deals for valuable resources and technology.

    This new stage is based on "guanxi" loans, a Chinese term used to describe personalised networks of influence, trust, reciprocity and loyalty.

    Shared bond

    Lead author Kathleen Buckingham at Oxford University, UK, says that sharing the care of such a precious animal strengthens the bonds that China has with its "inner circle" of countries.

    "In many ways China is testing the global technological capacity through panda loans. The USA has proved its capability and technological prowess to China with the birth of its panda cub. Can Edinburgh do the same?"

    Edinburgh Zoo received its pandas in 2011. An agreed annual sum, paid to the Chinese government, is earmarked for giant panda conservation projects in the wild.

    But shortly after the panda exchange occurred, claim the researchers, trade deals were signed for salmon, renewable energy technology and Land Rover vehicles - contracts worth an estimated £2.6bn ($4bn).

    A Scottish government spokesman told BBC News: "Strengthening our relationship will bring substantial benefits to both countries. We are committed to working hard to deepen existing ties and establish new areas of cooperation - an approach that is clearly paying dividends."

    They add that Scottish exports to China have almost doubled in the past five years to £500m ($800m).

    Uranium deals

    At the same time that Scotland sealed its salmon agreement, Norway - which had, up to that point, provided most of China's salmon for two decades - lost its deal. The authors state this was was likely because Norway had awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Relations between the two countries subsequently became strained.

    The researchers also say that panda loans in Canada, France and Australia coincided with trade deals for uranium, which China needs to enable it to increase its nuclear capacity by 2050. Japan also received two pandas from China in 2011 and both countries stated that they hoped the loan would improve relations soured by a sovereignty dispute over islands.

    The pandas are not simply exchanged in a straightforward quid pro quo for the supply of natural resources to China - the reality is much more subtle, says Dr Buckingham.

    "The panda can be used to seal the deal and signify a bid for a long and prosperous relationship. If a panda is given to the country, it does not signify the closing of a deal - they have entrusted an endangered, precious animal to the country, it signifies in some ways a new start to the relationship."

    She argues that China is interested in having "soft power influence through a global visual seal of approval" gained from loaning pandas.

    "Since 2008, China has needed to re-house pandas. Whether the housing issue is still pertinent or not, this wave has made it evident that China has a lot to gain through panda loans," Dr Buckingham told BBC News.

    Tian Tian - who may or may not be pregnant - attracts many new visitors

    Roderic Wye of the Asia programme at Chatham house, an independent think tank focusing on international affairs, says China is now confident enough not to explicitly need panda loans to secure agreements on trade.

    "Of course there's an element of politicking associated with pandas but it's difficult to draw a direct correlation. The loans earn China soft-power brownie points at no real cost to themselves," he told BBC News.

    Dean Cheng from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank in Washington DC, comments: "It is not surprising that China would take advantage of this resource. If this leads to panda conservation that is a good thing. At the same time, the Chinese can assume the mantle of responsible environmentalism, which given other Chinese behaviour, is probably not a bad thing to lay claim to," he adds.

    Transparency call

    The loan to Edinburgh was the first of its kind in 17 years. The day of the pandas' arrival on a specially-chartered flight was even covered by rolling live news.

    This positive atmosphere creates the perfect setting for subsequent trade negotiations, says Henry Nicholls, author of The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal.

    But he says that the conservation value of such loans is "dubious" as there is a "total lack of transparency" over where the money goes.

    "We know roughly where the money goes, but does the zoo have any say in how it is broken down and whether the money is working the hardest it possibly can? We have absolutely no idea about that."

    He adds that China's influence on other countries will "continue to strengthen" as it brings panda diplomacy to a whole new level.

    "China's expansion across the globe - and its use of pandas - has become more obvious and the motivation for the loans has become muddied. They are no longer just about conservation, but become increasingly bound up with political and economic ambitions."

    by Published on 09-15-2013 09:37 PM  Number of Views: 24128 
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    By Mallika Kaur
    September 14, 2013

    PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

    Death penalty for sexual assault is reportedly a celebrated position in India right now. On Friday, in a case that has captured both national and international attention, a judge sentenced four men to execution for the December 2012 rape and murder of a student in Delhi. The announcement was met with cheers by hundreds of people gathered outside the court. ...
    by Published on 08-28-2013 01:14 AM  Number of Views: 2069 
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    By Dan Kedmey
    August 27, 2013

    Kumarasamy Thangaraj takes a blood sample from an Andaman islander, as part of his research into the genetics of India's castes. DR. KUMARASAMY THANGARAJ

    Kumarasamy Thangaraj traveled 840 miles (1,350 km) off of the eastern coast of India by plane, then ship, then six hours by car, then ship again to collect blood samples from an isolated tribe of hunter-gatherers on the Andaman Islands. Their blood, he explained through an interpreter, would help him understand a pivotal moment in India’s genetic history. ...
    by Published on 08-28-2013 12:42 AM  Number of Views: 1807 
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    By Ai Weiwei
    August 27, 2013

    Source: Alison Klayman/Sundance Selects via Bloomberg

    The just-concluded trial of Bo Xilai will be remembered as one of the most critical political milestones in contemporary Chinese Communist history. For many years after Chairman Mao’s death in 1976, show trials were straightforward affairs. For their role in the devastating Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four were simply charged with “anti-party activities” and convicted. Today, a political trial needs to take into consideration many more factors. ...
    by Published on 08-24-2013 11:55 AM  Number of Views: 681 
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    By Chosun Ilbo
    August 23, 2013

    Thirty-six South Korean fishermen abducted to North Korea pose together on Mt. Myohyang in North Korea in 1974. /Courtesy of the Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea

    The government divides citizens abducted by North Korea into two groups -- those kidnapped during the 1950-53 Korean War and those abducted after. ...
    by Published on 08-16-2013 10:50 PM  Number of Views: 936 
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    By Gerry Mullany
    August 16, 2013

    “They can’t do this in Malaysia. They’d be arrested immediately, and their livelihoods would be destroyed,” Clare Rewcastle Brown said. Andrew Testa for The New York Times

    HONG KONG — CLARE REWCASTLE BROWN is persona non grata in her native Malaysia, barred from entering the former British colony. ...
    by Published on 08-14-2013 12:34 AM  Number of Views: 812 
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    By Peter Keo
    August 14, 2013

    Photo Credit: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

    Some important themes have emerged from the recent Cambodian general elections – both good and bad. The bad news is that the post-election period was, on some level, more of the same. There were accusations of irregularities and voter fraud, not to mention reports of intimidation and threats to opposition activists in major provinces across the country. ...
    by Published on 08-14-2013 12:20 AM  Number of Views: 1905 
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    By William Pesek
    August 12, 2013

    This photo taken on August 6, 2013 shows local government officials and nuclear experts inspecting a construction site to prevent the seepage of contamination water into the sea, at Tokyo Electric Power's (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture (AFP Photo)

    Forget Abenomics. Ignore Shinzo Abe’s efforts to rejuvenate Japan’s diplomatic and military clout. Look past the quest to rewrite the constitution. History will judge this prime minister by one thing alone: what he did, or didn’t do, to end the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. ...
    by Published on 07-29-2013 11:41 PM  Number of Views: 1697 
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    By Steven Borowiec
    July 29, 2013

    Photo Credit: Tormod Sandtorv via Flickr

    One of the few foreign aid groups operating in North Korea and the only privately funded NGO treating tuberculosis (TB) has identified a growing challenge in reducing TB in the North: the increasing prevalence of multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) that is more difficult and more expensive to treat than regular TB. ...
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