Hui ethnic minority farmers harvest potatoes in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui autonomous region, Oct. 9, 2015 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chinese leaders have struggled with an age-old problem: how to feed a growing population with a small amount of arable land. Despite the country’s agrarian beginnings and the ideological importance of the farmer in Maoist thought, nagging concerns about efficiency, food security and sustainable agricultural development have never been fully resolved. Even as China has dazzled the world with its technological progress in cutting-edge fields like artificial intelligence, renewable energy and bioengineering, to the government’s dismay, China has been slow to make similar advances in farming despite boasting the […]

U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, Washington, April 24, 2018 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

In his staunch defense of multilateralism delivered to the U.S. Congress earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his hope that the United States would not in fact leave the landmark Paris agreement on fighting climate change, as President Donald Trump has declared. Macron’s appeal to the need for active American leadership underscores only one of the obstacles to an effective global response to this urgent environmental threat. Some of these challenges are inherent in the mechanics of a long and overdue transition to lower-carbon forms of energy. Others are due to political decisions made by global economic powers, […]

Paraguay’s president-elect, Mario Abdo Benitez, addresses supporters during victory celebrations at the headquarters of the Colorado Party, April 22, 2018 (AP photo by Jorge Saenz).

On Sunday, Paraguayans picked a new president and vice president, along with every member in their country’s Congress. There was a lot at stake, starting with the credibility of the voting itself. Paraguay was mired in political turmoil last year after Congress considered expanding presidential term limits—a move that worried many people who had lived through Alfredo Stroessner’s 35-year dictatorship, which came to an end in a military coup in 1989. So the smooth electoral process on April 22, overseen by the Organization of American States and the European Union, should serve as reassurance, both to Paraguayans and to a […]

Liberian President George Weah at the opening ceremony of a summit meeting at the African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 28, 2018 (AP photo by Mulugeta Ayene).

In February, Liberia’s former president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was awarded the prestigious $5 million Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, becoming the fifth winner since the prize was established in 2007. It was the latest in a long line of honors acknowledging her efforts to rehabilitate Liberia’s democracy after more than a decade of civil conflict. In the eyes of pro-democracy activists, however, Sirleaf’s record was far from perfect. One of the most commonly cited weak spots was her commitment to freedom of the press. Her time in office certainly represented an improvement over that of her predecessor, the […]

Commuters wait for a train in front of an advertisement discouraging the dissemination of fake news, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 2, 2018 (AP photo by Vincent Thian).

On April 3, Malaysia became the first country in the world to approve specific legislation criminalizing the dissemination of “fake news.” The new law includes penalties of up to six years in prison and fines of up to 500,000 Malaysian ringgit—approximately $128,000—for anyone who “maliciously creates, offers, publishes, prints, distributes, circulates or disseminates any fake news.” The move came just days before Prime Minister Najib Razak dissolved parliament, paving the way for general elections now scheduled for May 9. The election will mark a key test for Najib, who has been hounded by a massive corruption scandal involving a state […]

A poster of Fidel Castro and Raul Castro in Havana, Cuba, April 18, 2018 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

For a man stepping down after half a century at the apex of Cuba’s government—first as the island’s longtime defense minister and vice president, then as president—Raul Castro was in good humor last week, looking relaxed and happy as he handed the presidency to his designated successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel. Departing from the prepared text of his valedictory speech in Havana, Castro cracked jokes, reminisced about the revolution and quipped that he planned to travel more, “since I’m supposed to have less work to do.” There were no big surprises at the National Assembly meeting that installed Diaz-Canel as the first […]

Al-Shabab fighters march with their weapons during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 17, 2011 (AP photo by Mohamed Sheikh Nor).

On the campaign trail, candidate Donald Trump said that to defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the United States had to “take out their families.” As president, his attitude hasn’t changed. According to an account in The Washington Post, Trump was shown footage of a CIA drone strike in which the operators had refrained from firing “until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside.” Trump reportedly asked, “Why did you wait?” Collective punishment is not only morally depraved, it is also illegal and counterproductive. But while Trump’s drone comments rightfully deserve scrutiny, most reactions to them […]

People wear white masks in support of Catalonian politicians jailed on charges of sedition during a protest in Figures, Spain, April 5, 2018 (AP photo by Emilio Morenatti).

BARCELONA—Catalans now know what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object: A lot of noise, but little movement. For the past six months, Catalan separatists and the Spanish government have been deadlocked. The separatists insist on the legitimacy of the independence referendum last October and Catalonia’s right to secede from Spain. The Spanish government is adamant that the referendum was illegal and that the region cannot break away. Senior Catalan activists and politicians have been arrested, charged with inciting rebellion and sedition, while Catalan home rule has been suspended by Madrid. To restore the region’s autonomy, the pro-independence […]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands during a news conference at Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Fla., April 18, 2018 (AP photo by Lynn Sladky).

President Donald Trump surprised almost everyone, including his closest economic advisers and both free trade advocates and protectionists in Congress, when he announced last week that the United States would consider rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the huge Pacific Rim trade pact that he withdrew from days after taking office. Trump had heavily criticized the TPP, the signature economic deal of the Obama administration, even calling it the “rape of our country” during the 2016 presidential campaign. In light of such statements, most observers believed the Trump administration intended to pursue only bilateral free trade agreements, if any at all. As […]

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stands in front of a map of Syria and Iraq during a news conference at the Pentagon, May 19, 2017 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

Iraq has the potential to help bridge current regional divides in the Arab world and establish a functional model of equilibrium, which is why it should remain central to U.S. Middle East policy. As it approaches parliamentary elections next month, Iraq is not poised for either a major political transformation or massive security improvements. Instead, as a U.S. official who has worked on Iraq for many years has often noted to me, “Iraq is like a cancer patient, but a patient that we have some idea how to treat.” Despite that prognosis, the country should still be at the center […]

China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ma Zhaoxu, speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, New York, April 13, 2018 (AP photo by Julie Jacobson).

The 105 cruise missiles that the United States, France and the United Kingdom fired at Syria late last week, in response to another suspected chemical weapons attack by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, deepened the divide between Western powers and Russia over how to approach the next stage of Syria’s war. But amid divisions playing out both at the United Nations and on the ground in Syria, China sits in a precarious and uniquely advantageous position. As an actor that strictly denounces the use of chemical weapons and upholds the principle of nonintervention, Beijing condemned both the chemical attack outside Damascus […]

Opposition demonstrators block the entrance of an underground carriage during a protest against former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s potential move to the prime minister’s seat, Yerevan, April 16, 2018 (PAN Photo via AP).

Last month, Armenia’s National Assembly elected onetime Prime Minister Armen Sarkissian as the country’s next president, replacing the long-tenured Serzh Sargsyan as head of state. It was the first presidential election since a 2015 constitutional referendum that was designed to shift power in Armenia from the presidency to parliament and, mainly, the prime minister. For the first time, Armenia’s president was selected by the National Assembly, rather than by popular vote. While presidential votes have typically been contentious affairs in Armenia, Sarkissian’s election was initially met with comparative shrugs, and not just because the real power will now shift to […]

Supporters of Philippine Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno gather outside the House of Representatives in Manila, Philippines, March 6, 2018 (AP photo by Aaron Favila).

Over the past three decades, since the end of the era of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines has often combined corrupt and semi-authoritarian electoral politics with strong cultural and institutional checks on its elected leaders. Among the most powerful checks have been the Philippines’ vibrant media and highly active civil society, including NGOs, unions and other actors. The Catholic Church, at times, has pushed back against politicians’ graft and amassing of power. This active civil society, sometimes buttressed by a judiciary asserting its independence, has been essential to keeping the Philippines from deteriorating democratically, including in the 2000s when it […]

Julius Maada Bio heads to a polling station to cast his ballot during the runoff presidential vote, Freetown, Sierra Leone, March 31, 2018 (AP photo by Cooper Inveen).

Almost a month after voters went to the polls in the first round of elections, Sierra Leone has chosen a new president. Julius Maada Bio, the candidate for the Sierra Leone People’s Party, secured 51.8 percent of the vote in the March 31 runoff against Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress. Maada Bio, who lost in the first round of 2012’s presidential race, was sworn in as president on April 4. This is not the first time Maada Bio has led Sierra Leone, as he was the military head of a transitional government for three months in 1996. […]

Congolese opposition supporters argue after their leader, Moise Katumbi, addressed delegates at a three-day forum near Johannesburg, South Africa, March 12, 2018 (AP photo by Themba Hadebe).

An opinion poll conducted in January and February offered a window into the mindset of voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo as they headed into another year of political uncertainty. Perhaps surprisingly, the news wasn’t entirely grim. While 82 percent of respondents said they believed the country was heading in the wrong direction, and 80 percent reported having a negative opinion of President Joseph Kabila, a majority nevertheless expressed faith that things would improve. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Congolese felt “very optimistic” about the future of the country over the next five years—a figure that rose to 82 […]

An indigenous man stands in front of a banner depicting former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Warista, Bolivia, Sept. 20, 2006 (AP photo by Juan Karita).

After six days of deliberation, a jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last week declared Bolivia’s former president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and defense minister, Carlos Sanchez Berzain, guilty under U.S. law of extrajudicial killings committed in Bolivia 15 years ago. Damages of $10 million were awarded to the case’s eight plaintiffs, who all lost family members during the 2003 security crackdown on protests in Bolivia over a proposed natural gas pipeline running to Chile. Both Sanchez de Lozada and Sanchez Berzain have been living in exile in the United States since they fled Bolivia after the violence in what became […]

Men work on an oil pump during a sandstorm in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain, Jan. 8, 2015 (AP photo by Hasan Jamali).

On April 1, Bahrain announced that it had made a huge discovery of offshore oil and gas in the Persian Gulf that far exceeds its current reserves. Drilling by two U.S.-based firms confirmed that the Khaleej al-Bahrain basin may contain more than 80 billion barrels of shale oil and around 13.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. For the cash-strapped government in Manama, which has faced a mounting fiscal deficit and nagging social pressures, the news came as a major relief. While just a minor player in the oil market today, Bahrain actually gave birth to the industry on the […]

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