Ironies abound. While America is engaged in a bitter partisan battle during this election season over who will control the "non-partisan" U.S. Supreme Court, China's Communist Party authorities are arresting lawyers in the name of establishing the "rule of law."
The politicization of America's highest court will play itself out over the coming months, potentially leading to a constitutional crisis if the Republican-dominated Senate resists timely confirmation of President Obama's nominee. The framers of the U.S. Constitution created a Supreme Court that was independent from the political branches of government and insulated from public opinion for the very reason that they feared the immediate passions of the public, expressed through an elected Congress, would run roughshod over the "rule of law" whenever decisions were unpopular.
China's play of contraries is already well underway. As Zheng Yongnian writes from Singapore, "There is a big gap between ideal and reality. Less than one year after the party invoked the building of the 'rule of law,' 317 human rights lawyers, activists and their family members in China were reportedly detained." He explains how the authorities act quickly to stem any "politicization" of cases that could be construed as a challenge to party dominance: "When legal practitioners leave the court and go onto the street, resorting to politically sensitive activities, they step on the bottom line of the party." Regardless of the contradiction that party guidance of the courts is not seen as "politicization" because it is enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, Zheng says progress in the long march toward the "rule of law" is being made, citing the establishment of circuit courts that take cases away from corrupt local bosses who often abuse their authority. "Beijing's current reform initiatives and conviction in building the 'rule of law' are not just a kind of window dressing," he concludes. Given President Xi's protracted anti-corruption campaign targeted at both "tigers and flies," perhaps the way to characterize what the party has in mind is no impunity -- for now -- but also no judicial independence.
Minxin Pei has a much harsher take on what he calls "the rule of fear" in China today. "Fear-based rule was not left behind with the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976," he writes. "Even as China's economy has boomed and modernized, its political system has retained its core totalitarian features: a state exempt from the 'rule of law,' a domestic security apparatus with agents and informants virtually everywhere, widespread censorship and weak protection of individual rights. Having never been repudiated, these institutional relics of Maoism remain available to be used and intensified whenever the top leadership sees fit, as it does today."
Whatever signs there might be that China is returning to Maoist times, in some respects, the hostile relations between Beijing and Moscow in that era are certainly not the case today. Pushed together by enmity with the U.S., they are jointly building a security and economic alternative to a Western-dominated order. "In the future, a duumvirate may emerge in Central Asia," top strategist Sergey Karaganov writes from Moscow, "in which China will provide investment and resources, and Russia will contribute security and geopolitical stability." Former NATO commander James Stavridis doubts there is an enduring reality to the new Russian and Chinese pivot away from the West toward a common Eurasian future. "The likelihood of a long-term, serious Russian alliance with the Chinese is remote -- the nations, cultures, languages and geopolitical positions are simply too far apart," he writes. Despite remarks last weekend by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that "we have slid back to a new Cold War," Stavridis believes Russia's future lies with the West, not the East.
Writing from Moscow, former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov worries that communication between his country and the West is worse now than when they were formal enemies. "During the Cold War ... we had various mechanisms for dialogue available. There was a common strategic culture of deterrence," he says. "We do not have any of that now, and that is why any incident in Europe or elsewhere could give rise to a major conflict."
In Syria, the hottest flashpoint now in Western-Russian conflict, Russia has the upper hand. Faysal Itani and Hossam Abouzahr believe Putin and Assad will ignore the pending cease-fire agreement in order not to give up recent military advances on the ground. In that event, Frederic Hof, the former U.S. advisor on the transition in Syria, sees little hope in peace talks. "Perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin will take pity on Syrians and the United States of America," he writes. "This is what it will take for Washington's Syria strategy to work. There is no leverage. There is no Plan B." Meanwhile, a new survey by Georgia State University documents the growing number of children recruited by and dying for the self-described Islamic State on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.
While most eyes are turned toward the Syrian crisis, World Reporter Charlotte Alfred traces the plight of Eritreans who are fleeing their fledgling country at the rate of 5,000 people a month. She also explains in a separate article how plummeting prices are inhibiting oil-rich Nigeria's capacity to fight Boko Haram. This unusual animated feature follows the dangerous trek of a young girl from Eritrea to England.
Former U.N. arms inspector Scott Ritter questions Hillary Clinton's foreign policy credentials since she was deeply involved in the ill-fated decision to bomb Libya to push Gaddafi out of power. Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, explains why President Obama will visit Cuba in March -- the first time in 88 years a U.S. president has done so. Alaa Murabit reflects five years after the overthrow of Gaddafi on her illusions that a country where the "social fabric has disintegrated" could be fixed by regime change. WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones reports from Kabul that after U.S. airstrikes destroyed Kunduz hospital, Afghans must travel for days to reach life-saving treatment in a safe space.
The dilemma between privacy and security on the Internet has come to a head with the FBI calling on Apple to decrypt the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Mark Cuban stands firmly with Apple's refusal to comply, which in his view would set a dangerous precedent for government access to private communication. Software developer Gernot Poetsch explains just why bowing to the FBI demands would realize Edward Snowden's biggest fears. Another Internet giant is mired in controversy in India where, as Azra Fathima argues, Facebook's "Free Basics" offer would violate net neutrality and privilege the American social media platform over local Indian ones. Abhimanyu Singh writes from India that "'an atmosphere of terror,'" as one Communist Party Of India leader put it, is settling over Jawaharlal Nehru University after the leader of the student union was arrested for "sedition" after making what the government considers "pro-Pakistani" remarks.
In a podcast, Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden look at the relationship between ivory demand in China and the poaching of elephants in Africa and discuss how to save the continent's rapidly shrinking elephant population. This week we post the second excerpt from a graphic novel on what it is like to be gay in Iran. Writing from Valencia, Venezuela, Rafael Osío Cabrices describes what it is like to be sick in his country when there is a dire shortage of medicine.
Economist Ed Dolan explains why Bernie Sanders would want America to be more like the Scandinavian nations, which score the highest in the world on the Social Progress Index of well-being. U.S. economic policy has returned as a key determinant of the fate of the emerging economies. As the Federal Reserve raises interest rates and China's slowdown dampens demand for raw materials, capital is rapidly flowing out of the developing world. Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz and Hamid Rashid recommend putting in place selective capital controls, as Malaysia did in the Asian financial crisis in 1997, before it is too late.
America's first lady, Michelle Obama, weighs in on destigmatizing mental health. "Whether an illness affects your heart, your arm or your brain," she writes, "it's still an illness, and there shouldn't be any distinction." In the third installment of our series on the world beyond 2050, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees examines the dark side of new technologies from gene editing to artificial intelligence.
Alexis Gaglias tells the personal stories of Greek pensioners who face cuts in their already bare-bones benefits in order to fulfill the country's austerity obligations to the European Union. In this week's "Forgotten Fact," we look at the migrants and refugees stuck in Greece and the uncertain future they face.
Here are some of the top images chosen this year as winners in the 2016 World Press Photo contest. Fusion this week reports on how 16,000 caucus-goers in Iowa were tracked through their cell phones. Sasha Issenberg takes us on a tour of the astonishing world of medical tourism in which people seek out doctors and treatment globally. Finally, our Singularity series this week looks ahead to a day when robots will do much of the work of doctors in hospitals.
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