China’s booming trade with Africa helps tone its diplomatic muscle

untitledWhen Malawi’s state television shuts down for the night, it does not switch to CNN or, as might once have been expected in the former British protectorate, the BBC. Instead insomniacs are treated to the minutiae of Chinese domestic affairs courtesy of that country’s CCTV News.

President Bingu wa Mutharika sensed what direction the wind was blowing when, five years ago, he dumped Malawi’s longtime partner Taiwan and adopted a “one China” policy, establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing.

The rewards are writ large on the skyline of the capital, Lilongwe. A new parliament building went up in 10 months and the national conference centre in 12. Both came from Chinese contractors, although they are said to have created jobs for 500 and 900 Malawian workers respectively.

China has also delivered the five-star Golden Peacock hotel (permanent jobs for 100 locals), presidential villas, school and university buildings, a 60-mile road and 600 boreholes for water. A national stadium and agricultural technology centre are among projects still to come.

China also claims to have assisted farmers, dispatched 16 doctors with drugs and medical equipment and created training opportunities. A hundred Malawians have taken up scholarships to study in China.


G20 summit: Leaders pledge to grow their economies by 2.1%

Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia, 15 November 2014Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has closed the G20 summit by detailing economic pledges agreed by world leaders. The leaders agreed to boost their economies by at least 2.1% by 2018, adding $2 trillion to global economies. Much of the summit focused on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position on the crisis in Ukraine. Mr Putin faced fierce criticism and left the meeting before it ended, but said the summit was “constructive”. Mr Putin said he was leaving before the release of the official communique, citing the long flight to home to Russia and the need for sleep.

Climate change ‘will make lightning strike more’

Lightning fork (c) BBCGlobal warming will significantly increase the frequency of lightning strikes, according to US research. The research, published in Science, was carried out with the help of data from a US network of lightning detectors. The teams says they have calculated how much each extra degree in temperature will raise the frequency of lightning. “For every two lightning strikes in 2000, there will be three lightning strikes in 2100,” said David Romps, at the University of California, Berkeley. As well as triggering more wild fires, he said, this would alter the chemistry of the atmosphere.

Will China’s great fracking leap help it wean off coal?

Hydraulic fracking for shale gas in Sichuan China

On a hazy morning last September, 144 American and Chinese government officials and high-ranking oil executives filed intulted meeting room in a cloistered campus in south Xi’an, a city famous for itsterra-cotta warriors and lethal smog. The Communist party built this compound, called the Shaanxi Guesthouse, in 1958. It was part of the lead-up to chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward, in which, to surpass the industrial achievements of the west, the government built steelworks, coal mines, power stations, and cement factories—displacing hundreds of thousands and clearcutting a tenth of China’s forests in the process. Despite its quaint name, the guesthouse is a cluster of immense concrete structures jutting out of expansive, manicured lawns and man-made lakes dotted with stone bridges and pagodas. It also features a karaoke lounge, spa, tennis stadium, shopping centre, and beauty salon.

Chinese state oil firm buys Canadian oil sands producer

Chinese state oil company CNOOC has agreed to buy Canadian oil sands producer OPTI for $2.1bn (£1.3bn). The deal – which must be approved by regulators – is the latest move by state-run Chinese firms to buy stakes in North American oil producers. Canada’s Alberta province is believed to have the third-largest reserves of oil in the world. However it is far more expensive to extract oil from Canada’s oil sands than from conventional fields. CNOOC says it will pay OPTI shareholders $34m, but will also take on the firm’s $2bn worth of debt.

Oil sands battle between Canada and EU

Canada is now one of the world’s energy superpowers. Over the past two decades, changes in technology and the rising cost of oil have left it with so much recoverable oil in the sands, rocks and clay of the province of Alberta that it is now believed to hold the third largest reserves on earth – after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. But most of that is so far un-tapped, with Canada accounting for little over 4% of global oil production in 2010 according to BP’s annual statistical review. To increase that share it must gain global acceptance of the heavy, sticky and, some say, more polluting oil it has found.

Scorching El Nino event could scupper England’s World Cup

England’s bid for World Cup glory in Brazil this summer could be undone by a much-feared weather phenomenon. Climate researchers at the University of Reading say there is a 60% chance of an El Nino event hitting the country. The scientists say the complicated meteorological system is likely to cause extremely dry and sunny weather in June and July. Teams from the British Isles have traditionally struggled to cope with these types of conditions. El Nino is part of a cycle that occurs every two to five years and is characterised by a rise in sea-surface temperatures in central and eastern parts of the Pacific ocean. However, it has implications for the whole world.