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Why is China interested in helping war-torn Mali?

In a move that has raised as many questions about its wider intent, China has announced it will send between 500 and 600 troops to Mali under a post-French UN peacekeeping mission. While the move is being welcomed in Mali as an international contribution to helping control Islamist fighters holed up in the exposed mountains in the north of the country, some external observers are viewing the contribution with a more jaundiced eye.

Mali is due to hold elections in late July, following a coup against its elected government last year.

Despite opposing the use of peacekeepers as international interference when it joined the UN in 1971, since the early 1990s China has deployed troops to 13 internationally sanctioned theatres, including to East Timor and a non-combat mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It currently has more than 2000 troops deployed in UN peacekeeping operations.

China does not have any direct economic or diplomatic interests in Mali. But it has been increasingly making its presence felt in Africa as it continues to search for more resources to help fuel its growing economy. China currently has investments across Africa estimated at more than US$100 billion.

China’s main involvement in Africa is in Sudan, Algeria, Zambia and South Africa, with lesser investments in Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria and eight other countries. China’s trade with Africa began to take off around 2003, jumping ahead around 2007, corresponding to the establishment of the private equity China-Africa Development Fund. According to the China Development Bank:

"CADFund works differently from economic aid to Africa in that it is not allocated by nation but independently operated and based on market economy principles, the Fund invests in projects and requires investment benefits."

Last Saturday, the chairman of China’s Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Zhang Dejiang, said China was willing to work with African countries to "advance the China-Africa new-type strategic partnership to a higher level". Chinese President Xi Jinping's visited Africa in March to promote the "strategic partnership".

China’s troops in Mali are not expected to be on the front line fighting the Islamist insurgents who, until France’s intervention in January this year, had seized the north of the country and threatened to overthrow Mali’s government. However, the move is being seen as a further illustration of China’s increasingly proactive, indeed assertive, international policy.

As with its "assistance" elsewhere, after the troops’ deployment, China is expected to ask for a reciprocal favour. Mali is the world’s third largest producer of gold, and one of the poorest countries, with a per capita income of $1.25 a day.

Legitimising lethal male violence: why defensive homicide needs to be abolished

 This article was first published at The Conversation on the 29th May 2013

Research published last week revealed that from November 2005 to September 2012, 18 of the 22 cases of defensive homicide in Victoria resulted from homicides perpetrated by a male offender upon a male victim. 
 
Just one case during this period involved a male perpetrator and a female victim. In contrast to the dominant use of the offence by males, there have been just three female offenders convicted of defensive homicide in the first seven years of the offence’s operation.

For the full article, please see: https://theconversation.com/legitimising-lethal-male-violence-why-defens...

 

The AFL's Indigenous Round and the innocent face of racism

Friday night’s AFL match between Collingwood and Sydney marked the opening of the code’s Indigenous Round. Yet the chance for the contribution of Indigenous footballers to the game – both past and present – to be recognised and celebrated was marred by a racial taunt from a young supporter at Sydney’s Indigenous star Adam Goodes.

The round of games aimed to recognise the contribution of Indigenous people and culture to the broader Australian society. While showcasing the unique talent and pride in culture of the Indigenous community, it simultaneously noted the struggle against racism that has accompanied the achievements of many Indigenous people in this country.

Probiotics cut respiratory tract infections in athletes

Athletes undertaking endurance training over the winter months could benefit from a daily probiotic drink to cut their risk of colds and other similar infections according to the results of a recent cliinical trial.

The term probiotic refers to foods or dietary supplements that contain beneficial bacteria which are normally found in the body. Fermented milk products such as yoghurt, sour cream, buttermilk and Yakult are examples of foods that may act as probiotics. Although probiotics are not considered essential to health, the microorganisms they contain may assist with digestion or help protect against harmful bacteria by improving the workings of the immune system.

Hope for peace in Syria fades as Russia backs away

There was a moment of hope, a week ago, that there could yet be a negotiated resolution to the Syrian civil war. That hope now appears ended, with key Syrian government ally Russia backing away from what could have been international agreement on the need end the war.

Instead, the Syrian war is increasingly spilling across borders, with the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia openly siding with the Syrian government by joining in the attack on the town of Qusair, Syria shelling the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan in particular buckling under the weight of more than 400,000 refugees.

The Syrian government’s attack on Qusair, near the border with northern Lebanon, is reported to be the heaviest artillery assault of the war. Anti-Assad regime forces still hold the town but are struggling, and its loss will put further pressure on the nearby hold-out city of Homs, also the scene of heavy fighting between Syria’s opposing forces.

Should Qusair fall, it will open a route for the Syrian regime between Damascus in the south and the sea ports at Al Hamidiyah and the Russian-based Tartus. The heavy fighting follows President Bashar al-Assad taking a hard line on the possibility of ending the civil war in an interview last weekend.

The fighting also follows the reporting drying up of weapons supplies to the anti-Assad forces. The reduced flow of weapons is a result of increasing concerns that they could fall into the hands of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Brigade and aligned factions, as well as as result of reports of atrocities on the part of both pro and anti-Assad forces.

Assad has said he will not negotiate with "terrorists", meaning forces arrayed against his regime, and says he plans to stand for "re-election" in 2014. Assad’s statement came a day after the US criticised Russia for supplying rockets to Syrian government forces.

Russia’s supply of the rockets was in apparent contradiction of the agreement between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry early in May, to push for a Syria peace conference in June. One reading of Russia’s position is that it will support peace talks in June, but only if it can strengthen the hand of the Assad regime ahead of such negotiations.

At this stage, however, Assad is not indicating that he will participate. Anti-Assad forces, meanwhile, see his resignation as a key condition for the talks to succeed. France has also said it will boycott the talks if Assad ally Iran is invited to participate in the talks process, which Russia is insisting upon.

With the anti-Assad forces now clearly divided between the Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaeda affiliates and Western support wavering, Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers are feeling increasingly confident of turning the tide in the war. It may be, however, that this is but another twist in an increasingly complicated, bitter and prolonged war.

Can lack of sleep make you fat?

Yet another clinical study has confirmed the growing body of evidence linking inadequate sleep to obesity.

One of the more surprising factors linked to weight gain is lack of sleep. More and more research studies are finding that poor sleep patterns and insufficient sleep are closely linked to weight gain and obesity.

The mechanism linking poor sleep to weight gain is not entirely understood, but is likely related to how signals from the brain which control appetite are altered by sleep restriction. Inadequate sleep can alter the levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin while reducing production of the fullness-feeling hormone leptin. This can lead to increased food consumption without a similar increase in energy expenditure.

Foreign affairs: Defence spending down, more aid and spies

From the industry reaction to Australia's overseas aid budget, one might have thought Canberra's cruel bean-counters are intentionally starving Third World orphans. The budget announcement of keeping foreign aid at around 0.35% of gross national income, or almost $5.6 billion, reflects a stepping down from a forecast increase in aid to 0.38%, but still represents an overall 4% increase in available funds.

In an era of broad budgetary restraint, this not unreasonable outcome reflects commitments given by Australia in order to secure its seat on the UN Security Council last October. It also reflects a shift away from the "hard power" of Defence, with the Iraq war drifting into history, Timor-Leste no longer active, Solomons concluding and Afghanistan looking to an end. The security emphasis now is on "soft" and "secret" power, with diplomacy drifting.

In order not to further alienate Labor's Left, the government has capped aid funds allocated to housing asylum seekers at 7% of the aid budget, at $375 million. Australia's commitment to the UN's millennium development goal of 0.5% of gross national income by 2015 has now been "deferred" to 2016-17. This target will now require an extra -- and improbable -- $1 billion a year for the next four years.

Of the more aspirational commitment to the OECD's 2002 Monterey Agreement to allocate 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid by 2015, only Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have met that goal. Australia is outside the top 10 OECD aid providers by GDP. There is, however, some small comfort in still being well ahead of Japan and the United States.

Australia's aid recipients are unlikely to protest about the deferral of intended aid increases. Indonesia -- Australia's largest aid recipient -- does not care too much about Australian aid in any case. For some in Indonesia, Australian aid is viewed through a paranoid lens as a mechanism for some vague ulterior agenda. From Australia's perspective, aid simply helps secure a seat at Indonesia's diplomatic table.

Papua New Guinea is more concerned about Australian aid, mostly because it so poorly manages its domestic budget and needs all the help it can get. Some less critical Australian aid programs to Timor-Leste have been deferred, which otherwise remains high on Australia's aid priority list.

Tightening has hurt Australian diplomacy through funding of Australia's embassies. DFAT's departmental appropriations have survived this budget with a minor spending increase of $43 million to just under $1.5 billion. But this will come as cold comfort to many Australian diplomats, given the reduction in spending over recent years.

Australia's two new African embassies, in Dakar, Senegal, announced in the last budget, will be further funded by closing the embassy in Budapest. Given the critical role of exports, the Australian Trade Commission will have to do more with a little less, its budget down $13 million to $319 million.

Defence has, as was earlier known, taken a hit, losing just over $2 billion to $22 billion, reflecting Australia's shifting security focus. That less visible branch of Australian security, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, received another healthy budget increase, of more than 11.7%, from $211 million to almost $248 million. It is, it seems, a good time to be a spy.

Government take a punt on rubbery forward estimates while ignoring tax reform agenda

This year's budget represents an absolutely critical one for Australia as it makes especially visible the underlying structural deficit that has faced Australia now for many years.

When assessing some of the assumptions underpinning Wayne Swan’s 2013 federal budget, two things spring to mind: the Henry Tax review and the notorious inaccuracy of forward estimates.

History shows it might be foolhardy to rely on the accuracy of forward estimates. And meanwhile, the repercussions of failing to undertake structural economic reform by amending our taxation system will continue to weigh on our economic fortunes.

So what is the link between the Henry Review and the forward estimates? One was timely but ignored; the other has time against it.

 Read full article at The Conversation:

Creatine loading: not just for athletes

Use of the popular sports supplement creatine has shown promise in a small-scale clinical trial in helping people with diabetes get their blood sugar under control.
 
Creatine is a popular nutritional supplement widely used across many sports. Creatine occurs naturally in the body, and is found mostly in muscle tissue. Creatine is a normal part of the foods we eat, but meat, fish, and poultry are the only foods with any appreciable amounts.

Media and Political Transformations in the Arab Spring

On  Wednesday (15 May 2013) I had the honour of  introducing a documentary  film ‘Words of Witness’ as it premiered as part of the Human Right Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF).   The documentary was made  during the Egyptian uprising, by  filmmaker Mai Iskander and follows Heba Afify, an online journalist reporting from the frontline of the revolution. I was asked by the Festival organisers to introduce the film and provide the audience with some updated reflections on the current political situation in Egypt and across the Arab Spring countries.

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