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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Friday 1 February 2019

International relations

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Packing up shop

Despite a long-standing relationship, Canada’s diplomats are leaving Cuba in droves.

Canada’s announcement that it is halving its diplomatic presence in Cuba due to the 14th case of “Havana syndrome”, a mysterious illness plaguing US and Canadian diplomats, is a profound setback in a long friendship. The bond between the countries has been so strong that when former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau died, Fidel Castro flew in to be a pallbearer. The US clearing its Cuban embassy is just the latest hiccup in a fraught relationship, but Canada’s response appears to be more perturbing for the island - Cuba’s ambassador to Canada called the move ‘incomprehensible’. Given the long friendship, it would be surprising if the attacks were down to Cuba itself. If it’s a foreign player looking to destabilise relations, it’s working.

Society

Image: Getty Images

Put down roots

China’s new-year exodus to the countryside may have reached its peak as more people settle down.

Chinese New Year is approaching and that means the largest annual human-migration event in the world is underway. Each year about 400 million citizens drain from major cities to visit family in smaller towns and villages across the country. Rather than a gentle amble back to the countryside, it’s a case of packed trains, delayed planes and 24-hour traffic jams. But there are signs that this yearly scuffle may improve with fewer people making the trip in future. More people are either moving back to the countryside or settling permanently in cities, according to Isabel Hilton, CEO of China Dialogue Trust. “Migrant workers are returning to villages and starting their own businesses. In some cases they settle permanently in the cities as their elderly parents die.”

Culture

Image: Getty Images

Frock of ages

Japan’s kimono industry is hoping that a proposed change to the age of adulthood won’t stitch it up.

Every January in Japan more than one million 20-year-olds dress up to celebrate their entry into adulthood. Most participants in these government-organised seijinshiki (coming-of-age ceremonies) will be wearing formal clothes for the first time: women in kimono, men in hakama. It’s a windfall for the kimono industry that amounts to ¥70bn (€560m) in sales per year, accounting for nearly a third of the sector’s annual total. The government is planning to lower the legal age of adulthood to 18 in 2022 but the Japan Kimono League, a business group, is urging municipal and regional officials to ensure that the ceremonies continue to be held for 20-year-olds. The sector’s biggest worry is that 18-year-olds will be too busy cramming for university-entrance exams or hunting for jobs to splurge on a new kimono – or even hire one. This week Kyoto city pledged to keep its seijinshiki for 20-year-olds and officials have urged the central government to persuade other municipalities to follow suit.

Geopolitics

Image: Getty Images

Worth a try

Australia is attempting to harness the popularity of rugby league to ward off Chinese advances in the South Pacific.

Rugby league, a rough game that was forged in northern England in the late 19th century, has become a surprise tool in Australia’s attempts to curb Chinese influence in the Pacific. The Australian government believes that investing in the game in countries such as Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Samoa, where it is hugely popular, will earn them political favour. Australians certainly share their love of the sport but can better coaches and facilities really help to woo the Pacific nations? Sportswriter and broadcaster Peter Jackson is sceptical. “Rugby league is hugely popular in that part of the world,” he says. “Any help and investment in the sport will be well received but I’m not sure that it will give the Aussies much political clout.” Rugby league, it seems, isn’t yet comparable to Beijing’s ping-pong diplomacy.

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