February 27, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Keep Your Friends Close

The recent “very painful” death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother has sent geopolitical ripples throughout Asia.

Estranged brother Kim Jong-nam died around 20 minutes after two women poisoned him at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia on Feb. 13.

The bizarre murder evoked James Bond-style antics: The two women claim they believed they were performing in a reality show, for example.

Nobody has proved that North Korea killed Kim Jong-nam, who had been living in exile. Malaysian police claim the murderers are now hiding out in North Korea’s embassy. Then local authorities revealed that Kim Jong-nam was killed by VX, a toxin that is banned under an international convention that North Korea has not signed.

“There are a host of potential reasons why Kim Jong-un wanted to eliminate his seemingly harmless brother – but the most probable was his paranoia and ruthless pursuit of political legitimacy at home,” wrote EastWest Institute fellow J. Berkshire Miller in Al Jazeera.

On Saturday, the White House cancelled back-channel discussions between North Korean representatives and former American officials after the nature of the toxin went public.

China and North Korea are now in a rare public spat, Bloomberg reported on Sunday.

Beijing recently stopped North Korean coal imports. Pyongyang fired a missile into the Sea of Japan to coincide with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the United States, a move Beijing criticized as needlessly antagonistic.

North Korea, meanwhile, is boasting of pushing forward with its nuclear weapons program despite international sanctions.

Malaysia is now weighing options on how to respond. The country is one of the few in the world with normal diplomatic relations with North Korea. Their citizens can travel between the two countries without visas.

“North Korea has precious few countries that it has diplomatic relations with,” said Oh Ei Sun, principal adviser of Malaysia think-tank Pacific Research Centre Malaysia in Yahoo! News. “They cannot afford to lose friends.”

But it appears that North Korea has been abusing that relationship. Citing United Nations documents, Reuters reported on Sunday that North Korean intelligence agents were running an illegal arms sales operation out of the Malaysian capital.

Kim’s death and other developments are putting China, Japan, Malaysia and others in a position where they must do something about the Hermit Kingdom, the New Yorker recently argued.

The Hermit Kingdom is famous for its isolation. But its leaders aren’t behaving like they want anyone to leave them alone.

WANT TO KNOW

Remembering the Slain

Thousands of Russians marched through Moscow on Sunday to protest the slaying of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov two years ago.

The protesters shouted slogans like “Russia will be free!” and “Putin is war!” the Washington Post reported.

A fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, Nemtsov was gunned down outside the Kremlin on Feb. 27, 2015, in what appeared to be a contract killing. The estimated 15,000 people who turned out for the memorial protest was the largest opposition gathering since a similar march for Nemtsov last year, but attendance was down significantly from 25,000 in 2016.

Five men have been charged with Nemtsov’s murder, including a former officer in an elite Chechen police unit, but their trial is still underway in a Moscow military court. Nemtsov’s family and friends, meanwhile, say his killing is linked to senior officials in Chechnya who have not been charged or even questioned.

Another Tarring?

South Korea’s prime minister and acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn said Monday that he won’t extend the current special prosecutor’s investigation into corruption allegations against suspended President Park Geun-hye.

Shortly thereafter, South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party said it and other parties would seek Hwang’s impeachment as well, Reuters reported.

Park was impeached by parliament in December and has been stripped of her powers while the Constitutional Court decides whether to uphold parliament’s impeachment vote. Samsung group, the country’s largest business conglomerate, has also been tarred by the influence-peddling scandal – resulting in the arrest of company head Jay Y. Lee on Feb. 17.

Hwang is seen as a potential candidate to replace Park in the next election, which would be held within 60 days of the court’s ruling, should it decide to uphold her impeachment. Charges against him could derail his campaign.

A spokesman for Hwang said the special prosecution probe had served its purpose and it was in the country’s best interests for the investigation to conclude as scheduled on Tuesday.

Mending Fences

The first senior diplomat from China to visit the US since the election of President Donald Trump will “exchange views on bilateral ties and issues of mutual concern” with high-ranking US officials starting Monday.

State Councilor Yang Jiechi, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s top foreign policy adviser, comes to Washington amid Chinese worries that Trump will raise import tariffs on Chinese goods and American concerns about Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea, the Associated Press reported.

The atmosphere is particularly fraught because Trump broke from established procedure to speak with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen by telephone soon after his election and has since suggested that he might use Taiwan as leverage in negotiations with China. However, Trump backed away from that stance in a call with Xi earlier this month.

The South China Sea remains tense. But analysts predict that Trump will further back down from previous threats to accuse China officially of manipulating its currency to gain an advantage in trade – even though some say trade negotiations may result in some targeted protectionist measures from both sides.

DISCOVERIES

Eating with the Eyes

Humans and our primate cousins see the world in more vibrant colors than other species. That’s because we developed trichromacy, or the presence of three different light-sensitive cone cells in the eye as opposed to two.

The prevailing theory is that jungle competition sparked the evolution of this trait: Those with three light receptors instead of two could differentiate between the lush green of the jungle and colorful fruit ripe for the picking.

But until recently, scientists had a bit of trouble nailing down their hypothesis. Enter the rhesus macaque.

Scientists have known that some female macaques have a genetic variation of eyes with three cones, like people. The researchers wanted to use these natural sample groups to test their hypothesis in the wild.

Macaques can be elusive, but one researcher managed to make over 20,000 observations of some 80 macaques feeding from various species of wild fruit trees in Puerto Rico.

In a recent report of her findings, the researcher concluded that trichromatic macaques really were able to pick fruit faster than their dichromatic counterparts, Science Magazine reported.

In other words, food directly influenced how we humans eventually came to see the world.

Talk about eating with your eyes.