Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Sitrep - 5 May, 2016

The Iraq capital of Baghdad flirted with a de-facto coup over the weekend as hundreds of protesters stormed its parliament buildings in the secure Green Zone. What was beginning to look like revolution, with politicians being slapped and kicked and blast walls torn down, dissipated after the protesters moved out of the buildings on their own.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr spurred the protesters to storm parliament before issuing calls on social media for them to depart. The protesters responded to both directions, indicating that al-Sadr can call on significant sections of Iraq’s Shia population for political effect. Iraq’s internal politics is clearly fragile and almost collapsed entirely due to al-Sadr’s political posturing. The situation remains tense.

However, not only politics compels the protesters. Many in Iraq are frustrated with the high levels of government corruption and the resultant lack of basic infrastructure. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recognises the problem and has attempted to root out corruption. In a way, the protesters, al-Sadr and al-Abadi want the same thing: self-autonomy and to replace corrupt politicians with technocrats. The question is who can achieve this goal and therefore ultimately siphon political power.

In China, the website of the Central Commission of Discipline Inspection (CCDI), one of the tools of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, announced that 313 National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) employees had been found guilty of providing data for financial gain.

The NBS bureaucrats allegedly took money for providing internal information in violation of agency rules. The watchdog has demanded the funds – totalling almost $US500,000 – be returned, and more arrests may still be forthcoming. In the recent past, a high-ranking official in the NBS was detained on similar charges, but this latest investigation suggests the data manipulation goes all the way to the bottom.

At a time when China’s economic growth appears to be slowing – and may well have stopped completely – there is obviously incentive for officials to deliver positive growth statistics. And while manipulated data may be useful for Beijing, buying it some breathing room, this particular game cannot go on forever given how connected the Chinese industrial machine is to the world economy. No amount of falsified figures can hide a slowing economy the size of China’s forever.

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