- China and America have a routine exchange, called the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), so their cabinet-level leaders and top bureaucrats know what each other is thinking—and can minimise dangerous surprises.The most recent S&ED, which took place in Beijing on June 6th and 7th, they differed about China’s claims in the South China Sea; about what to do next in North Korea (though they promised to impose sanctions agreed in March) and about the pace of Chinese economic reform.The worry is that they might become confrontations.An international panel is likely to rule soon on a case involving conflicting claims in the South China Sea brought by the Philippines, an American ally.China has become increasingly assertive about its maritime claims, and could react harshly if (as is thought likely) the court backs the Philippines.Next, America fears that Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea reveals more than a difference over a particular matter of interest: it may be part of a wholesale rejection of the rules-based global order that America sponsors.Third, the strong economic and business interests that used to underpin the bilateral relationship and helped smooth over political differences seem weaker now.
- ON APRIL 2nd Yuyun, a 14-year-old Indonesian girl, was walking home from her village school on the island of Sumatra when she was set upon by a group of men and boys. They forced her into a forest, raped her in turns and killed her. On May 25th Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, responded with a decree. It introduced stiffer sentences for those convicted of sexually abusing children—including execution, chemical castration and 20-year jail sentences. Previously courts could sentence child rapists to at most 15 years.. The Indonesian Doctors Association said that chemical castrations would violate their code of ethics and professional oaths. The National Commission on Violence Against Women (KP) supports longer jail sentences, but not castration or execution, which it considers torture. Commission members argue that castration reinforces the popular view that rape stems from excessive lust, rather than from a desire to subjugate the victim.
- WHEN Otto Pérez Molina resigned as Guatemala’s president last September and was promptly jailed on corruption charges, it was seen as the ultimate triumph for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-backed body of independent prosecutors and investigators, many of them foreign.On June 2nd CICIG and local officials arrested 25 people and issued warrants for 27 more as they unveiled an accusation of jaw-dropping scope: Mr Pérez’s entire political party had been a mere front for a plan to capture and run the Guatemalan state for personal enrichment.Political parties have long been weak in Guatemala. Every president since 1985, when regular elections resumed, has belonged to a different party, most of which are now defunct. So there was nothing unusual about Mr Pérez, a former general, founding the Patriotic Party (PP) in 2001 as a vehicle for his political ambitions.His government signed at least 450 contracts from which officials skimmed off more than $65m as part of the scheme.But CICIG, which was set up in 2007 to aid the country’s prosecutors, has a formidable record of obtaining hard evidence such as wiretaps and bank-transfer records.
- The South Korean government suspended sales of the disinfectants sold by Oxy and three other local companies in 2011, after an investigation into the deaths that year of four pregnant women suggested poisonous chemicals in their products were the cause. A government study recently revealed that exposure to the sterilisers had multiplied the risk of severe lung damage by 116 times. Prosecutors charged three executives at Oxy in May with shirking toxicity tests on the disinfectant.South Koreans are incensed that it has taken so long for the government to act, despite their protest campaigns.In quick succession in late April, two South Korean retailers who sold the disinfectants under their own brands—Lotte Mart and Homeplus—issued apologies and promised compensation, followed by Oxy itself, which, for the first time, accepted the “fullest responsibility”.Consumers are shunning laundry liquids, wet wipes and air fresheners. E-Mart, another retailer, says sales of bleach fell by 38% in the three weeks following Lotte’s apology.
- Women in South Korea find it hard to juggle family and a career. In a poll of 3,000 firms last year, over 80% of private ones said that only one-third of female employees returned to work after maternity leave. Public policy is not the problem. South Korean law requires that private companies offer one year of paid maternity leave.But many South Koreans are reluctant to accept that women have careers, and firms often fail to accommodate the needs of working mothers.The gap between the median earnings of men and women in full-time employment is the worst in the OECD, a group of mostly rich countries. It has shrunk by just three percentage points in ten years. Working women are paid only 63% of what working men get. One way to make it easier for working mothers would be for their husbands to do more at home. Currently South Korean women do 83% of unpaid work; American women do 62%. The law promotes a fairer division of labour: South Korean fathers are entitled to 53 weeks of paid paternity leave—more than any others in the OECD. Yet barely 2% used any of it in 2014.Many fathers—64% of male employees surveyed in 2014—said they would share the burden of child care if only it became socially acceptable and financially possible (by law they are paid 40% of their regular wage on leave but, as it is capped at 1m won—$860—a month, they rarely get that much