The World Today for July 10, 2019

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Across the South China Sea

The Taiwanese are closely watching Hong Kong as pro-democracy activists and Chinese security forces clash. They are wondering if they are seeing their future.

Taiwan and Hong Kong share a common history of resisting and accommodating Chinese influence. Nationalists who lost their fight against the communists in China’s civil war fled to Taiwan in 1949. China still considers the island a rogue territory. Britain ceded Hong Kong to China in 1997. Much of the city still prefers a more Western-oriented style of local government.

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently suggested that Taiwan rejoin mainland China and operate according to the same “one nation, two systems” regime that holds sway in Hong Kong, wrote the National Post, a Canadian newspaper.

“All our compatriots in Taiwan are members of the Chinese nation and should be proud of their Chinese identity, fully consider the position and role of Taiwan in national rejuvenation, and pursue both the complete reunification and rejuvenation of China as an honorable cause,” Xi said earlier this year.

The proposal was a dead letter in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, where local democracy activists swap advice with their Hong Kong counterparts on how to resist China’s awesome gravitational pull in the region. “Ties between the two are being forged by pro-democracy activists right up to the government level,” wrote the Atlantic.

Taiwan’s stance toward China is more suspicious than ever in light of the Chinese crackdown against pro-democracy activists, wrote Joseph Bosco, a former China expert at the Pentagon, in an op-ed in the Hill. “Taiwanese public opinion had been gradually turning against China ever since the Tiananmen Square massacre exposed in the bloodiest way the despotic nature of that government,” Bosco wrote.

Taiwan, like Hong Kong, is staking out a different interpretation of politics in Chinese culture that China’s leaders might espouse. Same-sex marriage is legal, giving hope to the LGBTQ communities in mainland China, reported the Guardian. Still, Taiwanese culture remains remarkably traditional and sexist, Quartz noted, even if the island nation’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, is female.

The island is benefiting from recent trade tensions between China and the US, Deutsche Welle reported. The US might be smart to further strengthen ties with Taiwan in order to cement a strategic partner off China’s coast, too, argued the conservative National Interest. On Monday, the US State Department authorized a $2.2 billion weapons sale to the island that includes 108 Abrams tanks and around 250 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, Vox reported.

China, of course, is constantly seeking to infiltrate Taiwan’s government to gain influence in these issues, Reuters added.

On the fringe of China, it’s an exciting time in a perilous period when the future is in doubt.



Maps and Signposts

A two-day meeting in Qatar between Taliban leaders and prominent Afghans from the other side of the conflict has raised a glimmer of hope for an end to hostilities.

The Taliban has refused to include the Afghan government in peace talks with the US, but several government officials came to Qatar in a personal capacity for the intra-Afghan talks, CNN reported.

The two sides formed a non-binding agreement on a roadmap to reaching a potential peace deal and agreed to immediately stop targeting schools, women and children. Noting that this is the first such agreement to be forged between the warring Afghan factions, CNN said the fact that the meeting happened at all is significant. It’s a signpost that the US negotiators who have been talking with the Taliban for weeks to hash out plans for a US withdrawal thought they’d established enough common ground to make the conference worthwhile.

Roadmap aside, the talks between the US and the Taliban will continue, and it’s possible the Taliban and the Afghan government will meet for official talks in Norway later this month.


The Long Road

Nigeria’s National Assembly was placed on lockdown Tuesday after clashes between police and a group of Shia Muslim protesters who tried to force their way into the building to present their grievances to the legislators.

Police used teargas to try to disperse the protesters, then gunfire broke out, with each side blaming the other for the alleged exchange, Al Jazeera reported.

The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), a group that represents Nigeria’s minority Shia Muslims, regularly protests outside the legislature in the capital, Abuja, the news channel noted. Their leader, Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, has been in detention since 2015.

This time, however, participants claim the police began shooting, while the authorities say two officers were shot and wounded in the legs. Protesters denied that any of their number returned fire – which would be a first for the mostly peaceful demonstrations.

Nigerian security forces have killed some 400 members of the group in response to largely peaceful protests since 2015, according to human rights groups.


Shock Treatment

Mexico’s finance minister resigned abruptly on Tuesday, issuing a “furious letter” accusing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of damaging the country’s economy with arbitrary decisions and ill-considered appointments.

The resignation of Carlos Urzúa was one of the biggest blows yet to López Obrador’s seven-month-old government, which had worried business leaders right out of the gate with its decision to scrap a $13 billion airport project outside Mexico City even though it was half-finished, the Washington Post reported.

The left-wing president has been trying to right the ship by pledging a balanced budget and a stable peso. But the currency plunged more than 2 percent after Urzúa announced his resignation.

The method of his exit – announced via Twitter – raised as many red flags as the fact of it, according to Luis Rubio, chairman of the Center of Research for Development, a think tank based in Mexico City. Urzúa’s replacement will continue to push for fiscal discipline, he said, but Urzúa’s anger suggests that López Obrador isn’t prepared to listen.

“This is a really furious letter from somebody who has no history of being impulsive,” Rubio said of Urzúa’s resignation.


Getting a Buzz

The cicada-killing fungus Massospora cicadina is one of those things that make nature terrifying.

The spores of the deadly fungus infect unsuspecting cicadas as they emerge underground from their dormant state, then feed on their insides and force them to go on sex-crazed binges and infect more insects.

Now, scientists discovered that the disease also gets the bugs high in the process, according to Science Alert.

In a recent study, US researchers discovered traces of the stimulant cathinone and the hallucinogen psilocybin – think amphetamines and magic mushrooms – in fungus-infected cicadas.

They argued that the substances evolved in the fungus as a way of keeping its host alive while also enhancing spore dispersal. The drugs suppress the cicadas’ appetite but also force them to keep going, even when their bodies start becoming moldy and losing lower abdominal parts – genitals included.

But aside from this horror movie premise, researchers were surprised to find the narcotic and amphetamine substances in the fungus, since the species doesn’t even have the right genes to produce them.

The team will inquire further, but meanwhile they urge recreational drug users not to eat infected cicadas, since the drugs were only two of the hundreds of compounds found.

“Yes, they are notable, but there are other compounds that might be harmful to humans,” said co-author Matt Kasson. “I wouldn’t take that risk.”

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