The World Today for February 13, 2019

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Listen, Thucydides

Li Wenzu yelled to her husband, Wang Quanzhang, inside a prison in northern China.

“We’re going to spend New Year with you, Quanzhang,” she said, referring to the Year of the Pig that began earlier this month.

Li hasn’t seen her husband, a human rights lawyer, since Chinese police apprehended him in 2015, Radio Free Asia explained.

Wang has become a symbol of what’s wrong with the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy, some say.

The Chinese might be unfairly seizing territory off their coast. They might be absconding with other countries’ intellectual property. They might be investing in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world in a manner that exploits resources irresponsibly.

Many other governments, including democratic ones, behave similarly.

China, however, is a totalitarian state that operates on a gargantuan scale.

Chinese authorities recently sentenced Wang to more than four years in prison, National Public Radio reported. His crime: defending political activists, landowners whose property the government seized, and adherents of Falun Gong, a banned religious group.

Human rights groups are calling on the United Nations to investigate the mass detention of an estimated one million Muslims in the Xinjiang region in Western China. Many are now in re-education camps, wrote the New York Times

China exports its bad practices. Chinese companies violate human rights and pollute the environment in countries like Peru where their economic power makes them above the law, claimed Diálogo, a US-military sponsored news website.

American leaders need to stand up to their counterparts in Beijing, argued Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin. He quoted Vice President Michael Pence, who has warned that China is a threat to democracy, not just the American economy. “As history attests, a country that oppresses its own people rarely stops there,” said Pence in a speech last year.

Such sentiments led Peter Chang of the Institute of China Studies at the University of Malaya, in Malaysia, to ask whether the Christian West and Confucian China are squaring off in a new Cold War.

“Anxieties abound over whether these two giants share enough core values to manage a peaceful balancing of power, and can avert the dreaded Thucydides Trap,” wrote Chang in the South China Morning Post, referring to the historical theory that rising powers (here, China) inevitably butt heads with older hegemons (the US).

Trap or not, people shouldn’t go to jail because of what they say or how they worship.



Unhappy Christmas

Australia said it would reopen the shuttered Christmas Island immigration detention camp to accommodate an anticipated wave of new migrants, following the passage of a law providing asylum seekers better access to the country’s hospitals.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government has argued that the new law, which empowers doctors to decide if asylum seekers in camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru can be flown to Australia for medical treatment, will undermine policies designed to discourage migrants from trying to reach the country by boat, the Associated Press reported.

“My job now is to do everything in my power and the power of the government to ensure what the Parliament has done to weaken our border does not result in boats coming to Australia,” Morrison said Tuesday.

The fact that the law passed in the House of Representatives – where a majority is required to form the government – illustrates just how tenuous his hold is on power. But migration is likely to be a key issue in elections Morrison wants to take place in May.


No Quarter

Turkey issued arrest warrants for another 1,112 people it alleges are connected to US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt against him.

Though the details of the operation were not announced by the state-run news agency until Tuesday, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu warned over the weekend that a major action was planned targeting alleged Gülen supporters, saying, “We will finish them off,” the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

Since the coup attempt, at least 77,000 people have been arrested and around 130,000 others have been ousted from the police, judiciary, academia and other public sector jobs on suspicion of links to the outlawed Gülenist movement.

The latest round of arrests were related to an alleged plot to leak the questions of an exam for police officers seeking promotion to Gülen followers. The authorities detained more than 600 people in raids Tuesday, according to Deutsche Welle. Ankara’s public prosecutor’s office said 130 of the suspects were deputy police chiefs still on active duty.


Kindergarten Walls

The Russian parliament approved a bill designed to shield the country from cyber attacks that critics warn could cut its citizens off from the global Internet.

“This isn’t kindergarten!” Andrei Lugovoi, one of the bill’s co-authors, shouted during the debate, claiming that the US had already acted to shut down “all of the websites in Syria” in the past, according to Al Jazeera.

The bill – which envisions a center that would “ensure and control the routing of Internet traffic” – passed its first reading in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday by 334 votes to 47. It also would require regular drills in which the Russian Internet would be cut off from the world to ensure it can work in isolation.

However, when pressed for details the bill’s authors were not able to say how much it would cost or how it would work, fueling claims that their real purpose is simply to limit Internet freedoms.


A Warped Galaxy

Depictions of the Milky Way galaxy need to change in the future.

In a recent study, astronomers discovered that the galaxy is warped at its edges instead of being a flat spiral disk, NBC News reported.

“We usually think of spiral galaxies as being quite flat, like Andromeda, which you can easily see through a telescope,” co-author Richard de Grijs said in a statement.

His team created a three-dimensional map of our galaxy using data of Cepheids – huge pulsating stars that are up to 20 times bigger and 100,000 times brighter than the sun.

Researchers analyzed the brightness and pulsation periods of 1,339 Cepheids, using them as “cosmic yardsticks” to determine the distorted shape of the galaxy.

“What this paper does is to trace the warp of the stars in the disk better than has been done in the past,” astrophysicist Heidi Jo Newberg, who was not involved in the study, told NBC.

The team concluded that the warping is probably caused by “torques” from the rotation of the Milky Way’s inner disk. But Newberg has her doubts.

“More recent work has shown that warps can be caused by dwarf galaxies that are orbiting, or falling into the Milky Way,” she explained. “Or possibly both mechanisms are at work.”


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