THE INDEX – March 26, 2009

In what is becoming a kind of international trend, Thailand has become the latest country to implement a government stimulus plan and, at the same time, have its streets filled with anti-government protesters. The stimulus program (called “help-the-nation”) includes handing out checks worth $55 (2,000 baht) to “millions of low income earners.” And while Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s prime minister, considers this the “quickest way” to inject money into the system, thousands of Thai citizens view the stimulus as an effort to buy support for a government many think came to power through illegal means. The demonstrators–who are largely supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was removed in a 2007 coup–marched to the prime minister’s office in Bangkok on Thursday demanding the government’s resignation and new elections. Adding to the social strain, the handout stimulus is only targeting “about a third” of Thailand’s labor force. Workers in the “informal sector,” like farmers and the self-employed, are not eligible. But according to the Thai government, other programs will be launched to benefit these and other sectors of the Thai population.

In keeping with tradition, Beijing has harshly criticized this year’s Pentagon report on China’s military might and power. The annual report, presented to the United States Congress, reportedly details China’s development of “‘disruptive’ technologies for nuclear, space and cyber warfare.” China, on the other hand, sees the report as a “gross distortion of the facts” and has asked the United States to end its “Cold War thinking.” The U.S. report suggests that China’s lack of transparency in reporting military spending figures or outlining security policy measures is a major cause of concern, but the report does acknowledge that some of these developments would aid China in its “international peacekeeping, humanitarian and counter-piracy missions.” China maintains that its military spending is strictly in the name of defense and is still small compared with American spending. This report, it should be noted, comes a month after tensions rose when U.S and Chinese ships engaged in a confrontation in China’s economic zone south of Hainan.

Breaking with what has been Washington conventions, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that the U.S. demand for illegal drugs is fueling Mexico’s drug wars. U.S. administrations in the past have placed the blame largely at the feet of the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, claiming he had lost control of parts of the country. While visiting Mexico today, Clinton stressed the concept of “shared responsibility” and pushed for a joint effort to combat the violence and illegal activity that is affecting both countries. Reportedly last year Mexico had about 6,000 drug-related deaths and this year the toll is already over 1,000. After meeting with Calderón and Mexico’s foreign minister, Clinton had this to say: “The criminals and kingpins spreading violence are trying to corrode the foundations of law, order, friendship and trust between us. They will fail.” Reports have estimated that 90 percent of drugs used in the United States came by way of its southern neighbor. To close the circle, it is also believe that 90 percent of the weapons used by the cartels in Mexico come from of the United States. Part of Clinton’s joint effort, however, will be the new Bilateral Implementation Office in Mexico where officials from both governments will work together against the drug cartels.

According to U.S. officials, North Korea has mounted and positioned a rocket on its northeast coast. As per pervious claims, the North maintains that the rocket is carrying a satellite and that they are pursuing their own space exploration program. However, other countries such as South Korea and Japan regionally, and France and the United States internationally, suspect the rocket “will test delivery technology for a long-range missile.” A French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Frederic Desagneaux, in pointing out that the technology for launching a satellite and the missile is, apparently, the same, said today “a space launch by North Korea would contribute to the development of its ballistic capacities” and that France “calls again for North Korea to refrain from any gesture likely to increase tension.” According to other reports, the launch could happen as early as this weekend.

The outgoing Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek (also serving as the EU’s president in its rotating system) severely criticized the U.S. economic recovery plans yesterday, calling the multi-billion-dollar programs a “way to hell.” Topolanek is considered to be “deeply conservative” on economic issues and strongly opposes state intervention in the economy. At the same time, Topolanek is due to submit his resignation as prime minister to Czech president Vaclav Klaus later in the week after Topolanek’s government received a vote of no confidence on Tuesday. This comes almost a week before a summit in Prague between the leaders of the EU and President Obama, which was “supposed to be the crowning moment of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency” but has since been overshadowed by the government collapse (and “Klaus’s open hostility to the EU”). Regardless of the instability and the harsh commentary, President Obama and his European counterparts still plan to make the trip early next month. It will be the American president’s first meeting with the European Union.

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