The $18bn arms race in the Middle East; China economy puts pressure on its lopsided jobs market; Libya chaos rocks Europe’s boat

1 The $18bn arms race in the Middle East (Peter Beaumont in The Guardian) The Middle East is plunging deeper into an arms race, with an estimated $18bn expected to be spent on weapons this year, a development that experts warn is fuelling serious tension and conflict in the region.

Given the unprecedented levels of weapons sales by the west (including the US, Canada and the UK) to the mainly Sunni Gulf states, Vladimir Putin’s decision last week to allow the controversial delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran – voluntarily blocked by Russia since 2010 – seems likely to further accelerate the proliferation.

That will see agreed arms sales to the top five purchasers in the region – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt and Iraq – surge this year to more than $18bn, up from $12bn last year. Among the systems being purchased are jet fighters, missiles, armoured vehicles, drones and helicopters. The Russian declaration came only two days before Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, disclosed he was seeking arms worth billions of dollars from Washington – with payment deferred – for the battle against Islamic State (Isis).

Ironically, among the key weapons suppliers in the arms race are permanent members of the UN security council who have been at the centre of two unconventional arms control initiatives – disarming the Syrian government’s stockpiles of chemical weapons and negotiating for a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme.

2 China economy puts pressure on its lopsided job market (Neil Gough in The New York Times) China has a job market mismatch. Agriculture jobs have been declining for years, the result of urbanization and the country’s continuing economic transformation. And China’s huge manufacturing sector is showing new signs of stress, as some companies struggle with rising debt and rampant overcapacity.

China’s services business, which includes industries like logistics, retail, information technology and sanitation, is booming, driving job creation across the entire economy. Around 300 million people now work in services in China, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the world’s largest work force.

But workers are not easily making the switch. Unskilled or semiskilled workers can be a bit choosier now as growth of the pool of migrant workers slows. At the same time, soaring university enrolment means new graduates often struggle to find the high-paying white-collar jobs they were expecting. The job market — and its lopsided pockets of supply and demand — presents a critical test for policy makers. For more than a decade, China’s urban work force swelled and incomes rose in the double digits, matching or exceeding the heady economic growth rates in those years.

Now, the nation’s economic outlook is slowing. Gross domestic product rose 7 percent in the first quarter, which represents the slowest quarterly growth since early 2009. “We’re in this weird position where the Communist Party leadership seems completely comfortable with the idea that every year GDP growth, wage growth — everything in the economy — is going to be growing a little bit more slowly,” said Andy Rothman, an investment strategist at Matthews Asia in San Francisco.

China’s premier, Li Keqiang, recently sought to play down the importance of the GDP growth target, saying instead that he preferred to focus on whether the economy was expanding in a way that created new jobs. And so far, it appears to be doing that. China added 13.2 million new urban jobs last year, surpassing Mr. Li’s official target of 10 million such jobs.

The realities of the market have set in. At nearly seven million a year, China today produces twice as many university graduates as it did 10 years ago. The supply appears to be outpacing the demand from prospective employers. China’s new graduates have traditionally shied away from working in factories, seeing this as a sign of lower status. But, perhaps because of the slowdown, there are signs this is changing.

3 Libya chaos rocks Europe’s boat (Dan Murphy in Khaleej Times/Christian Science Monitor) Libya’s chaos has once more made it a major way station for Africans seeking a better life, as the European Union grapples with the morality of cutting back on patrols to rescue migrants. The argument for doing less is that increasing the risk of crossing the Mediterranean would save lives. Word that there was no safety net would filter back to people, many of them fleeing persecution, and they’d stop coming.

Last year, a record 170,000 refugees flooded across the Mediterranean, traveling in large part out of Libya and arriving in Italy. In January, more than 3,500 refugees and migrants reached Italy from Libya, a 60 percent increase from January 2014. They come from all over Africa and the Middle East.

The Eritreans are fleeing a brutal regime which dragoons young men into military conscription and maintains a semi-permanent war footing with neighbouring Ethiopia. Syrians and Iraqis are fleeing the war and atrocities committed by the Daesh, Palestinians the open prison that is Gaza, and West Africans the crushing poverty that has framed many of their lives … The vast majority of refugees make for Libya, where a power vacuum since the 2011 fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi has enabled gangs of human traffickers to flourish …

The migration crisis in its current iteration stems, in part, from the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. In 2010, Europe was moving quickly to normalise relations with the former dictator. Oil interests played a role, but so did the desire of many European nations to outsource migrant control to the North African country.

Libya’s coast has a long history of sending people – willing and unwilling – to Europe and the Americas. Ports like Tripoli and Benghazi were the final stops for medieval slave-trading caravans from the African interior until the 19th century. In recent decades, migrants have shoved off for Italy and Spain in rickety fishing boats, with Libyan officials looking the other way.

When the uprising against Gaddafi began in early 2011, the situation only grew worse for the African migrants. Many rebel groups were convinced that any foreign African in the country were mercenaries for Gaddafi and hundreds were executed. In the years since, Libya’s lawlessness has made traveling through the country even more dangerous and unpredictable. The videotaped mass execution of Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants carried out by Daesh makes that clear enough. Yet still people go, and the UN refugee agency is now calling the recent shipwreck the deadliest it has ever recorded.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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