Stories from across the world as viewed by Foreign Editor David Pratt

CHINA: One hundred years of the CCP

I COULDN’T let it pass this weekend even though the big day was actually last Thursday.

I’m talking of course about the 100th birthday celebrations of China’s Communist Party (CCP).

In fact, a few days after all the fanfare, fireworks and speeches is ­perhaps a better moment to pause and take stock of what was said and its ­significance in terms of global diplomacy in the years ahead.

On the face of it, China’s president, and Communist Party general ­secretary Xi ­Jinping, appeared in an assertive mood. Standing beneath the giant portrait of Mao Zedong which dominates ­Tiananmen Square, Xi spoke from the podium where the famous chairman proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

The “era of China being bullied is gone forever”, insisted Xi, adding that “the Chinese people will never allow any foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us”, before receiving the thunderous applause that might be expected from the party faithful many of whom were doubtless handpicked for Thursday’s bash.

“Whoever wants to do so will face bloodshed in front of a Great Wall of steel built by more than 1.4 billion ­Chinese people,” Xi continued in a speech that ­effectively laid down the gauntlet at a time when the West’s relations with China are strained to say the least.

But how much of this was just bluster, nothing more than what you might expect on such an auspicious occasion where pomp and patriotism are the order of the day?

Certainly, one thing worth ­considering in answering such a question is that the CCP under Xi has shown itself ­increasingly unwilling to accept any ­principled criticism of its 21st-century ­autocratic rule.

To Xi and his cadres their regime is ­perceived as easily the moral equivalent of any Western democracy even if the truth is something else entirely.

This defiance toward overseas ­criticism has been a hallmark of Xi’s tenure ­during which he has revved up national ­sentiment when and where necessary. It doesn’t matter whether its warnings from the West over Beijing’s ­increasingly ­belligerent stance on Taiwan, criticism over the crushing of pro-democracy ­activism in Hong Kong or the treatment of China’s Uighur Muslim minority, Xi has thrown it all back in the West’s face.

It’s a similar story at home where he hasn’t hesitated to purge rivals and ­silence dissent. As simultaneously state president and head of the CCP as well as the ­People’s Liberation Army, Xi has managed to morph the combination into an uncompromising authoritarian ­regime.

Writing last week as preparations for the birthday celebration got ­under way, ­Melinda Liu, Beijing bureau chief of ­Newsweek magazine made the ­observation that this particular event was all about Xi.

“While some anniversaries appear ­fixated on the past, this one is intensely ­focused on the future, not just the future of China and the Chinese Communist Party but the future of the party leader and president, Xi Jinping,” said Liu.

“Indeed, it’s safe to say that the party’s birthday isn’t much of a group affair at all. For the first time in decades, ­ordinary Chinese are being shown that those ­futures all boil down to the same thing: Xi,” added Liu, writing in Foreign Policy magazine.

IF this indeed proves to be the case, then it would suggest that we can expect much more of the same defiance on all fronts from a man already widely regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades.

It means too that on the global front the so-called wolf warrior ­diplomacy that has seen Beijing’s exert its influence overseas might ramp up, dangerously ­ testing relations with ­Washington especially.

As if to remind us of that very point, coinciding with the CCP’s birthday party, a get together of a very different kind was also taking place these past few days as the US and Japan conducted war games and joint military exercises in the event of a conflict with China over the island of Taiwan.

At now 100 years old and counting the Chinese Communist Party ­remains one of the most powerful political parties in the world.

But it’s the power wielded by just one of its members, Xi Jinping on which all eyes will be focused in the years which lie ahead.

The National: Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg leaves a New York court after surrendering to authoritiesTrump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg leaves a New York court after surrendering to authorities

UNITED STATES: Trump and the law: NY prosecutors keep circling

THERE’S been some cause for concern among the Trump family of late.

No, I don’t mean the fact that some members have expressed their anger after Vogue magazine opted to feature First Lady Jill Biden on the August edition cover after a long break, instead of featuring the previous first lady Melania Trump. What I’m referring to is the fact that Trump’s family business and its long-time chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg have been charged with criminal fraud by New York prosecutors for allegedly failing to pay tax on a host of perks from school tuition to free rent. We’re not talking small change here, with Weisselberg accused of avoiding taxes on a $2.3 million income.

In what has been described as an “important marker” in a continuing criminal investigation of the Trump Organisation, the charges were laid out in a 15-count indictment unsealed in a Manhattan court. It came as part of an almost three-year investigation of Trump’s business by Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, in tandem with New York state attorney-general Letitia James.

“To put it bluntly, this was a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme,” was how one legal representative of the district attorney’s office summed it up. While so far Trump has distanced himself from the proceedings there is growing speculation that the court may learn a lot more about his finances from Weisselberg, who has been under intense pressure to cooperate with the investigation.

For its part, the Trump Organisation said Weisselberg was being used like a “pawn in a scorched-earth attempt to harm the former president”. Not that any of this appeared to bother Trump. Asked about the court’s decision in a brief interview with The New York Times, he answered true to form, calling the accusations a “continuation of the witch hunt that started when I came down the escalator”, referring to the 2015 event at Trump Tower when he announced his presidential campaign.

And speaking of campaigns, just as all these legal shenanigans were unfolding, Trump was busy launching his “revenge tour” against Republican politicians who have not sufficiently supported him, repeating his claims that he won the 2020 elections and attacking the media and Democrats. Among his first ports of call was Ohio and a rally the reporter Meridith McGraw of Politico magazine described as a “cross between a Nascar tailgate and a travelling circus”, where die-hard trump fans in Maga hats and T-shirts “camp out days before to get a prime position”.

Nothing new there you could be forgiven for thinking. But what’s different about these rallies say Trump watchers is the cast of supporting characters around the former president. Instead of other local elected Republicans, there now appears what ABC news described as a “who’s who of the conspiracy fringe of American conservatism”.

So, there you have it, Trump back on stage with one mission in mind, seeking revenge against Republican incumbents who turned on him by backing their challengers in 2022 primaries. If that worries some GOP leaders it doesn’t appear to trouble Trump, but then he might have other things on his mind not least a certain grand jury with some unfinished business of its own.

The National: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed AliEthiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali

ETHIOPIA: Aid agencies must be allowed to make use of pivotal moment

EVEN looking on from afar you can’t help but feel that we are perhaps at a turning point in the atrocity filled civil war that has unfolded between Ethiopia and its Tigray region. To begin with, rebel forces of the self-styled Tigray Defence Force (TDF) last week recaptured the Tigrayan capital Mekelle in a military operation that took the government of Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed by surprise.

It came exactly seven months after those same TDF fighters were driven out by the Ethiopian Army and is a victory that some Africa watchers believe has the capacity to reshape Ethiopia and the wider region. Perhaps unsurprisingly the TDF has touted events of recent days as evidence of its battlefield superiority. In response, Abiy and other top Ethiopian officials have tried to downplay the significance of the army’s pullback, insisting that Mekelle had “lost its centre of gravity” and was no longer worth holding. So, what then changed on the battlefield and why so quickly?

Much of the TDF’s success has been put down to its remarkable ability to regroup, drawing from deep support among the population to mount an effective insurgency, something even Abiy himself acknowledged in a speech a few days ago. But the explanation for the turnaround says some could be down to the commander of the TDF, General Tsadkan Gebretensae, who many international security analysts regard as one of the finest military strategists of his generation in Africa.

It’s the second time the 68-year-old who left his university course in 1976 to join Tigrayan rebel forces has found himself at the epicentre of this struggle. It was Tsadkan who back in 1991 along with Eritrean forces then allied with the Tigray rebels led the military campaign that overthrew the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam before leading the reconstruction of the Ethiopian army. Tsadkan has once again put Addis Ababa on the backfoot.

Welcome as the TDF victory in Mekelle might be for many Tigryans along with a ceasefire announcement by the Ethiopian government, it will do little to alleviate the looming catastrophe that could see hundreds of thousands face famine. Hunger used as a weapon has been commonplace in this war. Now, given some respite, everything possible needs to be done to make sure both sides give unfettered access to humanitarian agencies to ensure food gets to those so badly in need.

The National: A protester holds a placard with an image of Myanmar military Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and Justice For Myanmar as fellow protesters marched around MandalayA protester holds a placard with an image of Myanmar military Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and Justice For Myanmar as fellow protesters marched around Mandalay

MYANMAR: The military junta and the trade in ‘blood jade’

ON the face of it, there would appear to have been some good news from Myanmar these past few days after the military junta there freed more than 2000 detainees held on incitement charges for taking part in protests.

The release came too as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the regime to release Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint who were detained when the army took power on February 1 and ousted Suu Kyi’s elected government. But under the strict rule of the regime and the sinister, duplicitous tactics they employ, things are often not quite as they seem in Myanmar.

Already the release has been described by some activists as a ploy by the military to divert attention from an ongoing security crackdown. The junta has form when it comes to such diversionary tactics and keeping from sight what they don’t want the world to see. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the way they have covered up the corruption that allows them to keep a grip on Myanmar’s massively lucrative jade trade.

Until recently, the extent of the military’s involvement in the gemstone mining industry was shrouded in secrecy, but evidence of its scale and extent is being compiled.

According to Global Witness, the rights organisation that monitors resource exploitation, corruption within the country’s jade sector “reaches into the very top ranks of the military”.

Among those it names in a newly released report that directly profit from the trade is the son of army chief and junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

“Our revelations about the military’s increased control of the multibillion-dollar jade trade is emblematic of the Tatmadaw’s (armed forces) broader capture of valuable sectors of the country’s economy, which funds their abuses, fuels conflict and helped enable their recent illegal power grab,” said Keel Dietz, Myanmar policy adviser for Global Witness.

The group estimates that up to 90% of Myanmar’s jade is smuggled out of the country, almost all to China, “underscoring the highly illicit nature of the industry”. Four months after forcing their way into power the junta shows no real sign of relinquishing power or making concessions despite the prisoner release last week. It’s perhaps no surprise when “blood jade” drops anything up to $31 billion a year into the pockets of the generals.