Russian Incursions Into Ukraine Will Loom Large at the G-20 Summit

Putin looks back at Obama as they arrive with Xi Jinping at APEC Summit plenary session in Beijing
Reuters Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, looks back at U.S. President Barack Obama, left, as they arrive with Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit plenary session in Beijing on Nov. 11, 2014

Talks about the global economy may well be overshadowed

Leaders from across the world are set to gather in Australia for the G-20 summit this weekend to discuss the health of the global economy; however, tensions between the White House and the Kremlin over Russian incursions into southeastern Ukraine are casting a long shadow over the forum.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told media that “the focus of this G-20 is growth and jobs,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported. However, White House officials say they’re ready to press the Ukraine issue with European leaders once President Barack Obama arrives in Brisbane.

“At the G-20, I imagine the President will have a chance to see his European counterparts — Chancellor [Angela] Merkel and others — and be able to have discussions on the margins there about the situation in Ukraine,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Burma on Thursday.

During the past week, the Obama Administration has been particularly strident in its criticism of Russia’s fresh forays into Ukraine. At a U.N. Security Council session earlier this week, U.S. envoy Samantha Power accused Moscow of systematically undermining a two-month-old peace accord between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels.

Power’s comments followed the publication of numerous reports from European monitors confirming the movement of unmarked, heavily armed columns in separatist-held territory this week, sparking fresh fears that Russia may be helping the rebels prepare for all out conflict with Kiev.

Experts say that Russian support for the separatists shows no sign of abating, even as falling oil prices and Western sanctions continue to pummel the country’s floundering economy.

“Putin’s aggression seems to just to keep on getting greater and greater,” says John Besemeres, a professor and adjunct fellow at the Australian National University’s Center for European Studies. “This is strange behavior from someone who wants to get sanctions lifted.”

But even as Washington and Moscow continue to trade barbs over Ukraine, Putin may be privy to a harsher welcome from the Australian public. The G-20 summit in Brisbane will mark the first time President Vladimir Putin has visited Australia since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed nearly 300 people including 38 Australians.

Anger continues to simmer throughout the country over Russia’s alleged role in providing rebel forces with the sophisticated weapons system that shot down the jet, even though Moscow has denied having a hand in the downing of the flight.

In September, Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten issued several calls to ban Putin from attending the summit. Online petitions have also echoed the demand. Last month, Prime Minister Abbott threatened to “shirt-front” Putin when he saw the Russian leader at the G-20, using a term from the Australian football code that refers to the illegal making of a head-on charge to bring an opponent to the ground.

“There is public anger about that issue. That public anger hasn’t entirely gone away,” Rory Medcalf, security-program director at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, tells TIME.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters in Canberra, Abbott called on Moscow “to come clean and to atone” for its alleged role in the downing of MH17. Keeping the agenda focused on jobs and not on Russia is going to be a tough call.

TIME China

China Unveils New ‘Stealth’ Fighter in Show of Strength

China J 31 Fighter
Liu Dawei—AP In this In this photo provided by Xinhua News Agency, a J-31 stealth fighter takes off for test flight ahead of the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, China's southern Guangdong province, on Nov. 10, 2014

The FC-31's unveiling coincided with Obama’s visit to Beijing for the APEC summit

On Tuesday, military-hardware enthusiasts in China got a first glimpse of the country’s new “stealth” fighter jet at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, in southern Guangdong province.

This was the first time China has unveiled such an aircraft while it was still in the development stage, CNN reports.

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China based the new twin-engined Shenyang FC-31 fighter on its ongoing J-31 Falcon Eagle program.

But just how “stealthy” the jet will be is impossible to tell without knowing how it was built, says Reuben F. Johnson, correspondent for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly.

He told CNN that the aerodynamics could have been better designed as the fighter “bleeds” energy when it goes into a turn and is quick to lose altitude.

Add a couple of weapons and prep it for a mission and the FC-31’s weight will make it perform even worse, Johnson says.

But the unveiling could have been a show of strength from China’s People’s Liberation Army, as the event coincided with U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Beijing for the APEC summit.

Read more at CNN

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Student Protesters Prepare to Visit Beijing

Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, attends a rally at the Chinese University in Hong Kong
Bobby Yip—Reuters Alex Chow, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, attends a rally at the Chinese University in Hong Kong on Sept. 22, 2014

But many doubt they will be allowed to board the plane

Three leading Hong Kong student protesters plan to visit Beijing on Saturday to press their demands for greater democracy.

Alex Chow, Eason Chung and Nathan Law from the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) want to ask China’s leaders to allow the Special Administrative Region to have unfettered elections for its top post of chief executive in 2017.

Beijing has allowed a popular vote but insists on first vetting all candidates through a 1,200-strong nominating committee perceived as loyal to the Chinese Communist Party. Pro-democracy activists see this as a betrayal and have paralyzed large swaths of Hong Kong for six weeks in protest.

The HKFS trio hope to discuss the Occupy movement with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, but many doubt they will be allowed to leave Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong government, taking its cue from Beijing, views the protests as illegal. Hong Kong has been governed by the “one country, two systems” principle since Great Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.

Businessmen are fearful of the economic impact of the protests on one of Asia’s main financial centers. Plans are already under way for police to clean diminishing protest sites on Monday or Tuesday, according to local media.

TIME Japan

It May Be Too Late for Japan’s PM to Fix the World’s Third Largest Economy

Shinzo Abe
Luis Hidalgo—AP Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits the Santa Lucia Hill Japanese Gardens in Santiago, Chile, on July 31, 2014

Shinzo Abe is desperate to rescue his failing economic program, but he still hasn't done what's necessary

Tokyo is abuzz with speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is about to dissolve the Diet, as the country’s legislature is known, and call a snap election.

He by no means has to take such action. It has only been two years since his Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, swept to power in a massive landslide, and the opposition is in such disarray that there is little doubt Abe would be returned to office in a new election. Nevertheless, Abe apparently feels the need for another vote of confidence from the public, likely in part to bolster support for his radical program to revive Japan’s economy, nicknamed Abenomics.

The problem is that it could already be too late. Abenomics is a failure, and Abe isn’t likely to fix it, no matter how many seats his party holds in parliament.

When Abe first introduced Abenomics, many economists — most notably, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman — believed the unconventional program would finally end the economy’s two-decade slump. The plan: the Bank of Japan (BOJ), the country’s central bank, would churn out yen on a biblical scale to smash through the economy’s endemic and destructive cycle of deflation, while Abe’s government would pump up fiscal spending and implement long-overdue reforms to the structure of the economy. Advocates argued that Abenomics was just the sort of bold action to jump-start growth and fix a broken Japan, and we all had reason to hope that it would work. Japan is still the world’s third largest economy, and a revival there would add another much-needed pillar to hold up sagging global economic growth.

However, I had my concerns from the very beginning. In my view, Japan’s economy doesn’t grow because there is a lack of demand. Pumping more cash into the economy, therefore, will not restart growth. Only deep reform to raise the potential of the economy can do that — by improving productivity and unleashing new economic energies. Unless Abe changed the way Japan’s economy works — and I doubted he would — all of the largesse from the BOJ would at best come to nothing. In a worst-case scenario, Abe’s program could turn Japan into an even bigger economic mess than it already is.

So far, Abenomics has disappointed. GDP shrank a hope-dashing annualized 7.1% in the quarter ending June. Inflation, meanwhile, is nowhere near the BOJ target of 2%, and is slowing. Nor has Abenomics brought significant benefits to the general populace. Job creation and wage increases are sluggish and, with prices increases, the welfare of the average salaried worker has suffered. Meanwhile, an increase in consumption tax earlier this year — made necessary by the need to shore up the government’s shaky finances — further burdened Japanese households and led to a drastic decline in consumer spending.

The response of policymakers has been to double down on Abenomics. On Oct. 31, the BOJ surprised markets by greatly expanding its unorthodox stimulus program, known as quantitative easing, or QE. As part of that, the BOJ will increase its annual purchases of Japanese government bonds by 60% to a staggering $700 billion. More of the same, however, will just have the same result: a short-term boost to sentiment with little lasting effect. In fact, the program is only perpetuating Japan’s bad habits. The extra BOJ cash is weakening the yen — the Japanese currency has tumbled by nearly 7% against the dollar just since the bank’s announcement — which hands Japan Inc. companies more competitiveness without forcing them to undertake any actual improvements.

The problem with Abenomics, therefore, remains the same. More yen printed by the BOJ can’t fix Japan on its own, and can’t replace the fundamental changes necessary to raise the economy’s potential growth. If anything, the BOJ’s latest action only buys Abe a bit more time to implement his pledged reform program, known at the “third arrow” of Abenomics.

So far, though, the third arrow has remained in his quiver. In June, Abe unveiled the latest elements of the plan, which included everything from lowering the corporate-tax rate to spur investment, to enlisting more women into the male-dominated workforce, and bringing further change to an unproductive and outdated agricultural sector. It would be unfair to say that Abe has made no progress on his promises. The number of working women, for instance, has been on the rise under his administration. But many important reforms remain stalled. Abe had announced the formation of “special economic zones,” which would be crucibles of experimentation with the deep deregulation necessary to spark entrepreneurship and investment, but their implementation has crept along at a glacial pace. Serious reform of the country’s distorted labor market seems to have slipped off the table. Abe is also foot-dragging on opening the economy to more competition by holding up the completion of the U.S.-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact over an unwillingness to expose Japan’s overly protected farmers to imports.

The big question is whether another election will somehow lead to faster reform. In theory, a fresh mandate could give Abe the added political clout he needs to press ahead more boldly. However, Abe already controls both houses of the Diet, so if he wanted to move more quickly on reform, he could. That has left some analysts wondering what difference an election may make. “A snap election could have the virtue of giving the government a stronger mandate as it struggles to push ahead with structural reform,” commented Mark Williams and Marcel Thieliant of research outfit Capital Economics. But since Abe’s party has already been in a strong position, “an election would not make much practical difference to his ability to get things done.”

Abe continues to insist he is a reformer and will follow through on his grand pronouncements. “Make no mistake, Japan will emerge from economic contraction and advance into new fields and engage in fresh challenges,” Abe recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “There is no reason for alarm.”

Alarm bells should be ringing in Tokyo, however. Even if Abe gets the “third arrow” in the air, it could still miss its target. Many of the reforms Japan needs will take years to implement. Meanwhile, the other two arrows of Abenomics may already be running their course. There was opposition within the BOJ to its latest decision to boost QE — an indication that the bank can’t be counted upon to keep the printing presses rolling forever. Nor can Abe dodge the need to stabilize the government’s debt and deficits indefinitely. The government’s debt is 240% of the country’s GDP — the largest among major advanced economies. He’s right now weighing whether or not to hike the consumption tax yet again. Imposing it could deal another blow to growth; postponing it would undermine what little credibility Abe had as a fixer of the nation’s finances.

In the end, repairing Japan requires more political will than Abe has shown. Maybe a new election will help him find it. But don’t hold your breath.

TIME The Vatican

The Vatican Is Building Showers for the Homeless in Rome

CEZARY ZAREBSKI PHOTOGRPAHY—Getty Images/Flickr RF St. Peter's Basilica

Three showers are going up near St. Peter's

The Pope traditionally washes the feet of the poor on the day before Good Friday. But now the Vatican has unveiled plans to offers bathrooms to the poor all year round.

Rome’s homeless will soon be able to shower in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Vatican plans to build the showers for Rome’s homeless to wash and change, the Vatican Insider, run by the Italy’s La Stampa, reports. It’s also helping ten parishes across Rome provide access to showers.

Pope Francis, TIME’s Person of the Year in 2013, has made poverty alleviation a priority, and this week he called on leaders converging in Australia for the G20 meeting to take responsibility for the “poor and marginalized.”

Read more at The Vatican Insider.

TIME #TheBrief

#TheBrief: The Most Important Thing About the U.S.-China Climate Deal

The ambitious plan will face opposition at home and abroad

The U.S. and China announced a landmark joint agreement Wednesday to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have a special responsibility to lead the global effort when it comes to climate change,” stated Obama at the APEC summit on Nov. 12.

Together, the U.S. and China emit almost a third of the world’s greenhouse gasses. Under the terms of the proposal, the U.S. will emit at least 26% less carbon dioxide in 2025 than it did in 2005. China said it would boost use of renewable and nuclear energy to begin reducing emission levels.

This plan, however, is not popular with everyone. Watch #TheBrief to find out the most important thing about the deal.

TIME Demographics

The U.S. Is No Longer the Most Popular Country in the World

Fernando Alonso Herrero—Getty Images/iStockphoto Thumbs up, Germany.

Everyone wants to be Germany's friend now

Germany knocked the U.S. out of the top spot in an international survey measuring the popularity of countries around the world.

Germany ranked first and the United States second out of 50 countries in the annual Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index, which polled more than 20,000 people across 20 countries. It’s the first time the U.S. hasn’t held first place since 2009.

The study measures global perceptions of countries based on a variety of attributes, including governance, culture and sports. According to a statement from GfK, the German-based market research that runs the study, Germany benefited from a boost in the “sports excellence” category after winning the 2014 World Cup.

The United States was brought down by poor perceptions in Egypt and Russia.

Russia, meanwhile, dropped more in its global perception ranking than any other of the 50 countries.

Read next: “A Little Piece of Freedom”: David Hasselhoff Remembers the Berlin Wall

TIME Terrorism

ISIS Leader’s New Orders: ‘Erupt Volcanoes of Jihad’

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
AP Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq on July 5, 2014,

"Light the Earth with fire"

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of extremist group ISIS, called on his supporters to “erupt volcanoes of jihad” in an apparent new audio message released Thursday. The recording, which appeared to be genuine according to Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm and NBC News counterterrorism consultancy, came days after speculation that Baghdadi had been wounded in an airstrike in Iraq.

“O soldiers of the Islamic State, continue to harvest the soldiers,” the recording said. “Erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere. Light the Earth with fire.”

The extremist leader claimed the bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq is failing, saying: “America and its allies are terrified, weak, and powerless…”

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME ebola

Liberia Lifts Ebola State of Emergency

Liberian President Sirleaf And USAID Administrator Shah Hold Press Conference
John Moore—Getty Images Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf speaks at a press conference on October 14, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. She met with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah at her office at the Liberian Foreign Ministry. Sirleaf, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, has called on the international community to do more to help combat the Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 4,400 people in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization, with roughly half of that total in Liberia. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

An estimated 2,800 people have died of the disease there

The President of Liberia said she would not extend a state of emergency on Thursday, amid encouraging signs that the spread of the deadly Ebola virus there has slowed.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s announcement effectively lifts the state of emergency, which had expired earlier this month, Reuters reports.

An estimated 2,800 people have died of the disease in Liberia, the hardest hit country in an outbreak that has claimed over 5,000 lives. But the rate of increase there appears to have slowed.

“Notwithstanding these gains, a number of our compatriots are still lying in ETUs (Ebola Treatment Units), hot-spots are springing up in rural areas, and a few more of our compatriots are still dying of Ebola,” Sirleaf said.


TIME Soccer

Soccer Governing Body Wins World Cup for Chutzpah

FIFA President Sepp Blatter holding up the name of Qatar during the official announcement of the 2022 World Cup host country at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Dec. 2, 2010.
Philippe Desmazes—AFP/Getty Images FIFA President Sepp Blatter holding up the name of Qatar during the official announcement of the 2022 World Cup host country at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Dec. 2, 2010.

FIFA's announcement clearing the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding processes scores a series of spectacular own goals to clinch the title

Fans know football as “the beautiful game,” not just a sport but a metaphor in which—given a level playing field, clear rules (well, and this one) and an impartial referee—the best team wins. Ugly scenes sometimes mar the romantic vision, but players who commit fouls are duly punished.

It can often be hard to square this ideal with the off-pitch maneuvers of the bodies responsible for the sport but a Nov.13 statement by the ethics committee of FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the Zurich-based governing body of world soccer, took the World Cup for chutzpah. The statement purported to summarize the investigation commissioned by FIFA into numerous allegations of irregularities behind bid processes that decided Russia would host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar—where daytime temperatures during the summer months of the competition routinely exceed 40°C (104°F)—would stage the tournament in 2022. The announcement trumpeted findings that put Russia, Qatar—and FIFA—in the clear. England’s Football Association (FA), by coincidence one of the organizations to raise concerns about the bid processes, came in for criticism. The FA had tried to “curry favor” with a key official as part of its doomed efforts to win the 2018 competition for London, said the ethics committee statement.

FIFA welcomed “a degree of closure.” The FA rejected FIFA’s criticism. Social media erupted with a mixture of bemusement and contempt. “Is there any grouping of 3 words more certain to induce tears of laughter than FIFA Ethics Committee?” tweeted British journalist @BryanAppleyard. Gary Lineker, a former top soccer player-turned-NBC pundit, also took to Twitter to launch a series of well placed kicks against FIFA and its autocratic President Sepp Blatter.

Lineker may have captained the England team in an earlier life, but some of the angriest responses to Fifa came from people without a dog—or country—in this particular fight. The most startling emanated from Michael Garcia, the former New York district attorney mentioned in one of Lineker’s tweets, who conducted the two-year investigation on FIFA’s behalf. FIFA’s interpretation of his report “contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions,” Garcia complained in a statement of his own. He plans to appeal—as Lineker wrote—to FIFA.

Meanwhile Russia greeted news that its bid had been cleared with equanimity. It had failed to provided much documentation to the investigation because, said FIFA, “computers used at the time by the Russia Bid Committee had been leased and then returned to their owner after the bidding process,” without preserving the email correspondence on them. “We were always sure that they would not find anything unlawful,” Alexei Sorokin, head of Russia’s World Cup bid, told R-SPort news agency.


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