Tipping the Driver
The headlines ought to have read “Delhi and Beijing Resume Joint Military Exercises,” for that was the rather significant outcome of a rare visit to India by Gen. Liang Guanglie, China’s defense minister. Instead, Indian newspapers were awash with stories of a seemingly lurid gaffe. “Chinese Minister’s Gift Baffles [Indian Air Force] Pilots,” said The Times of India, giving an account of how Liang handed red envelopes to each of the two Air Force officers who had flown him from Mumbai to Delhi. When the pilots opened their gifts after the Chinese dignitary had disembarked, they were flustered to discover wads of crisp new cash—50,000 rupees ($900) each—which they handed immediately to their commanding officer. After pondering the delicate option of returning the envelopes to the Chinese, the Indian government found a more elegant solution to this “breach of protocol”: it deposited the money in the treasury, making a symbolic dent in the massive trade imbalance between India and China.
‘A’ is for …
Azerbaijan, Armenia, and an ax-murderer, all of whom combined last week to incendiary effect in an episode that could reignite war between the two implacably hostile countries. The murderer in question is Ramil Safarov, a lieutenant in the Azeri army, who decapitated an Armenian officer at a military academy in Hungary, where the two were classmates at a NATO-sponsored English-language course in 2004. Imprisoned by the Hungarians for his crime, Safarov was repatriated last week, on the understanding that he’d serve out his sentence in Baku. To the consternation of all Armenia, however, Safarov was pardoned by his country’s president, promoted to the rank of major, and furnished with eight years’ worth of back pay. Armenia’s president had this to say, in response: “We don’t want a war, but if we have to, we will fight and win. We are not afraid of killers, even if they enjoy the protection of the head of state.”
Putin vs. Romney
Russia’s president sent a little valentine to his American counterpart, describing Barack Obama as “a very honest man,” even as he took potshots at Mitt Romney, with whom he might have to do business, come January. Romney, readers will recall, described Russia as “without question [America’s] number one geopolitical foe” earlier this year, prompting Vladimir Putin to engage in a little plain speaking of his own. In an interview on Russian state TV, he said that Romney was “obviously wrong, because such behavior on the international arena is the same as using nationalism and segregation as tools of U.S. domestic policy.” Speaking of America’s missile defense program, Putin continued: “Our American partners keep telling us, ‘This is not directed against you,’ but what happens if Mr. Romney, who believes us to be America’s number one foe, gets elected as president of the United States?” Romney’s response is awaited.
Estonia, a plucky little Baltic state, is set to introduce computer code classes for all its first graders, with the goal of making them IT “experts” by the startling age of 7. Although the idea seems quixotic, a strategic analyst held in esteem by this column described it as “an excellent idea,” given that Estonia has been the victim of repeated and rampant Russian cyberattacks: “It’s like training a citizens’ army in the digital age. Start them young to fight off cyberwar.” The Baltic countries, he continued, “spend their days and nights thinking of survival strategies against Moscow. I suspect this policy can be likened to early survival drill for the age of cyber-Armageddon, not unlike 1950s U.S. children being taught at school how to endure nuclear attack during the Cold War.”
Fatma Nabil made sartorial history—and astounded a nation—when she read the news aloud last week in a headscarf, the first time a female anchor had appeared on Egyptian public television with her hair under wraps. Anchors were banned from wearing headscarves on state TV under the adamantly secular regime of Hosni Mubarak, but with his fall, Nabil is free to be equally adamant: “The revolution erupted to set things right. Barring hijab wearers from appearing on state television was against ... democracy.”
With Luke Kerr-Dineen