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1 China trade surplus jumps to $32bn (BBC) China’s trade surplus jumped to $31.9bn in January, easing concerns the world’s second-largest economy may be stuck in a slowdown. The figure was up 14% from a year earlier and stronger than forecasts for a $23.7bn surplus. The positive trade figures also add to expectations China will overtake the US as the world’s largest trading nation this year. China is the world’s largest exporter..
Investors have been watching economic releases out of China closely as its growth affects the health of export-oriented countries such as Singapore and Australia. China is expected to post its slowest growth in over a decade this year, which is likely to have a knock-on effect across the region.
2 Internet governance ‘too US-centric’ (Ian Traynor in The Guardian) The mass surveillance carried out by the US National Security Agency means that governance of the internet has to be made more international and less dominated by America, the European Union’s executive has declared. Setting out proposals on how the world wide web should function and be regulated, the European Commission called for a shift away from the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which is subject to US law, is contracted by the US administration and is empowered to supervise how digital traffic operates.
Besides criticising US domination of how the internet and digital traffic are organised, it also warned against increasing governmental attempts to control the internet, as in China, Russia, Iran and increasingly Turkey, which passed a stringent law last week curbing online freedoms. The commission called for a clear timeline for diluting US authority over Icann and making it more “global”; for agreement on “a set of principles of internet governance to safeguard the open and unfragmented nature of the internet”; and a mediation body that would scrutinise conflicts arising from contradictory national jurisdictions over the internet.
3 Online infidelity soars (Sydey Morning Herald) For millions, adultery via the internet has become the new normal. Since the launch of the Canada-based Ashley Madison website in 2002, which created a sensation with its seductive slogan “Life is short, have an affair”, the numbers turning to online infidelity have soared. There are now dozens of similar websites offering the promise of extramarital relationships with domain names that are unabashedly direct, from datingforcheaters.com to heatedaffairs.com.
According to figures in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, some 22 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women will cheat on their spouses at least once during their marriage. “It’s hard to know if the new technologies increased infidelity because we have no bottom-line data,” said Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. “My guess, however, is that it has because there are many people who have a yen for sex outside their relationship but wouldn’t have the slightest idea about how to do it or do it safely,” Schwartz added.
Predictably, adultery sites have little time for the argument that they are a corrupting influence. Jay Thompson, a spokesman for datingforcheaters.com, says simply that the site’s customers — around three million people — “are adults”. The corollary to the surge in adultery sites, however, has been an increase in products that enable suspicious partners to monitor the activities of their other halves. Jeffrey Jurist, whose website SpyAssociates.com sells a vast range of surveillance equipment, said that individuals seeking to uncover adultery account for around one-third of the company’s turnover. “Greed, lust and fear are all high-growth industries,” he said.
4 India among the worst for Press freedom (Preetika Rana in The Wall Street Journal) The world’s largest democracy remains one of the most restrictive places for the press. In a new report, Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based nonprofit, ranked India 140th out of 180 countries surveyed for the free speech it affords the media. This was a one-point jump from the country’s 2013 ranking, when it recorded its steepest fall on the annual-list since 2002.
On Monday, acting on an agreement chalked out by a Delhi court, one of India’s largest publishing houses withdrew a 2009 book that reinterprets Hinduism, the latest instance of a book being removed from circulation in the country. The authors of the report singled out the insurgency in the disputed territory of Kashmir, where channels of communications, including telephone lines, satellite televisions and the Internet, are routinely suspended in response to unrest, as well as the killings of eight journalists in 2013, for India’s lowly press freedom ranking.
The Indian government has also been under fire in recent years for its clampdown on social media. India’s Supreme Court for instance is currently hearing a defamation suit against tech giants Google and Facebook, a case that’s been pending before courts since 2011. The 2014 list was topped by Finland for at least the third time in a row, followed by the Netherlands, Norway and Luxemburg. India fared better than neighbors Pakistan (158th), Sri Lanka (165th) and China (175th), but ranked lower than countries such as Afghanistan (128th) and Bangladesh (146th.) Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa, had the worst rating at 180th in this year’s list.