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Cultural Revolution, FARC Child Soldier Deal, Hottest April

SPOTLIGHT: CHINA’S SILENT ANNIVERSARY

It was 50 years ago today that the Chinese Communist Party and its leader Mao Zedong released a circular that was bound to unleash a decade of violence that would kill more than 1.5 million people. It would come to be known as the Cultural Revolution, and the history books consider it one of the most brutal chapters of the 20th century. But it wasn’t until 1981 that Chinese Communist officials recognized the crimes of the fanaticized Student Red Guards, who tortured and killed their own teachers, and of the mobs who would go as far as beating up parents in front of their children. This, it finally acknowledged, had been a “catastrophic decade.”


But on its 50th Anniversary, China’s lack of any official commemoration of the Cultural Revolution and the apparent shunning of all references to it in the media show that a relatively more open, and less bloody, leadership in Beijing still has serious problems with the darkest parts of its past.


Writing in the Singapore-based Straits Times, Goh Sui Noi delves into the “ghosts of the Cultural Revolution” still haunting its victims and China as a whole. “There has not been any meaningful catharsis,” she writes. “At the end of the Cultural Revolution, criticism was allowed for a short period of time because there was a need to repudiate it, observers say. But since then, the government has largely suppressed debate on the period for fear that this undermines its legitimacy.” Worse, Goh Sui Noi notes, because there’s never been a “full public accounting” of the crimes, “to this day, some of the perpetrators do not believe they did anything wrong.”


Given this conspiracy of silence, it should perhaps be no surprise that Maoists are once again on the rise in parts of China among the many who haven’t benefited from the country’s turn towards market capitalism. Reporting from the ancient city of Luoyang, AP journalist Gerry Shih writes that “nearly every day retired or unemployed workers sing odes to Mao under a billowing Communist Party flag at Zhouwangcheng Plaza. People swarm around a clothesline and squint at dozens of pinned essays condemning the past 30 years of liberalization or positively reappraising the Cultural Revolution.” As much as the world wonders about China’s future, today is a reminder that its history is never far behind.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY



FARC, COLOMBIA AGREE ON CHILDREN SOLDIERS’ RETURN

The Colombian government and leftist FARC rebels have agreed on a road map for the release of children aged under 15 living in guerilla camps, allowing for their return to civilian life, El Espectador reports. The agreement came less than 72 hours after both sides initiated a new round of peace negotiations in La Havana, Cuba, to bring the five-decade-old conflict to an end.


â€" ON THIS DAY

From Nicolas Sarkozy to Olga Korbut, here’s your daily 57-second shot of history.


VERBATIM

“If you resist, show violent resistance, my order to police (will be) to shoot to kill. Shoot to kill for organised crime. You heard that? Shoot to kill for every organised crime,” Philippines’ incoming president Rodrigo Duterte said in his first news conference since winning election on May 9. The tough-talking 71-year-old vowed to reintroduce the death penalty, which was banned in 2006, and to eradicate rampant criminality in his first six months in office. Duterte will be sworn in as president in late June.


ALLEGATIONS OF FRENCH DOCTORS EXTORTING MIGRANTS

A number of French doctors are accused of asking migrants to pay up “hundreds of euros” in cash in exchange for certificates that could help them obtain residence permits on health grounds, Le Parisien reports, citing workers from Cimade, a group that defends the rights of immigrants.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Weighing in on the latest sex scandal to shake up her Green Party and French politics, lawmaker Lucile Schmidt analyzes the lawlessness in France’s corridors of power in Le Monde, five years after former French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual assault on a hotel maid in New York. “It's stunning to see how women's bodies remain a strong object of desire for our male representatives. This is particularly striking in France, where gender equality is a principle enshrined in the Constitution, where equal pay is guaranteed by law, and where laws established gender parity in politics 15 years ago â€" legislation that has no real equivalent in Europe.

So, let's ask ourselves the hard question. Could such a thing have happened in a company, or inside the civil services? Probably, but it couldn't have gone on for that long, nor could it have reached the scale it did. This scandal perfectly sums up the insidious nature of a political world in which people rub shoulders with each other for years, and that fosters a sickening dependency.”


Read the full article: "Because Of Who I Am" â€" Sexual Harassment, A Plague In French Politics.


HOTTEST APRIL

Figures released by NASA show that this year had the hottest April on record globally, extending the number of consecutive months to have established record highs to seven, The Guardian reports. Scientists believe that 2016 might prove to be the hottest year on record, and probably by the largest margin ever. In an alarming report on the potential consequences of climate change, British charity Christian Aid says that one billion people, most of them in Asia, will live in cities “at risk of catastrophic flooding” by 2060.


BORIS JOHNSON SAYS EU AND HITLER SHARE SAME AMBITION

The outspoken Boris Johnson, a pro-Brexit Conservative and former Mayor of London, told The Daily Telegraph that, like the Nazis, the European Union was attempting to unify Europe under one “authority” despite using “different methods” than Adolf Hitler. “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” Johnson said, urging Britons to be “the heroes of Europe” and save it from itself by voting to leave the EU in a referendum on June 23.


â€" MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH

UKRAINE WON THE EUROVISION

Jamala, the Crimean jazz singer who sang about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by Soviet authorities in a ballad entitled 1944, won the Eurovision for Ukraine on Saturday. Needless to say, Russia, which came in at third place, didn’t like it.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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