The World Today for March 04, 2020

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Let There Be Light

The new coronavirus is testing the faith of the Chinese people in their government.

That spells trouble for President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party.

The virus that has killed almost 3,000 people in China – see this Johns Hopkins University website for the latest numbers – is also seriously testing the state’s propaganda machine, reported the New York Times. The newspaper related how state media outlets are broadcasting tales of sacrifice and dedication amid the public health crisis. But the public has been critical of the tales, noting that officials silenced Li Wenliang, the doctor who sounded alarm bells about the virus early on, before it took his life.

“I think there should be more than one voice in a healthy society,” Li said before he died, according to Caixin, a China-based, independent English-language news service.

Writing in the Atlantic magazine, University of North Carolina sociologist Zeynep Tufekci argued that Xi likely suffered from “authoritarian blindness” as the lethal virus spread through China. That’s a phenomenon that occurs when officials depend on surveillance and censorship to track events rather than public input or a free press.

In other words, the new coronavirus almost certainly first spread in China because the government didn’t want to admit the scale of the problem, social scientist Wenfang Tang of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology opined in the South China Morning Post.

Chinese leaders declared a “people war” against the virus and pushed 7,000 people to work around the clock to build a 1,000-bed hospital in 10 days, a feat that impressed people around the world, the conservative news website the Daily Signal reported. Such moves might have prevented the outbreak from becoming much worse.

But in another Atlantic article, the Penn Biden Center’s director of programs, Ariana Berengaut, wrote about how China’s authoritarian leaders, despite their free hand to suppress human rights to limit movement, can’t depend on “transparency, public trust, and collaboration” to fight the epidemic.

“China’s crackdown on freedom of expression has created an environment where doctors are stifled, the free flow of information is curtailed, health recommendations are ignored and the death toll rises,” wrote Adam Nelson, a senior adviser at the National Democratic Institute, in the Hill.

So what lessons might Xi be learning from the crisis? Unfortunately, very few, journalist Howard French concluded in World Politics Review. The Chinese president already is showing signs of doubling down on more, not less, social control, creating conditions for a worse crisis later.

Some say Xi might need to be reminded that sunlight is the best disinfectant.



Testing the Waters

The United Nations’ atomic watchdog warned Tuesday that Iran has nearly tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium over the past three months, a massive violation of the 2015 nuclear deal, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the stockpile of low-enriched uranium had reached 1,020.9 kilograms, far above the limit of 300 kilograms stipulated in the agreement with six world powers.

It added that the Iranian government appears to have three undeclared atomic sites. It refused to give access to IAEA investigators to two out of the three suspected sites in late January.

Analysts worry that Iran is getting closer to producing a nuclear weapon. Even so, they noted that a few more steps are needed to make material suitable for use in a bomb.

Since the United States withdrew from the nuclear agreement and revived economic sanctions in 2018, Iran has been slowly moving forward with its program, and violating some of the terms of the deal.

Iran said it would be willing to return to full compliance if the European signatories to the deal help mitigate the damage from the sanctions.


Yes Means Yes

Spain’s leftwing government approved a bill Tuesday that would provide tougher action against sex crimes, part of its pre-election promises to strengthen laws in defense of women’s rights, Reuters reported.

The draft law would qualify all non-consensual sex as rape and make catcalling a criminal offense.

The bill also envisions special courts for dealing with sex crimes and round-the-clock recovery centers for victims.

“Spain will be a safer country for women with the approval of this law,” said Equality Minister Irene Montero.

Violence against women has been a salient topic in Spanish politics since the 2016 “Wolf pack” trial, which saw five men convicted for the gang-rape of a young woman at the Pamplona bull-running festival.

The event sparked mass protests and prompted politicians to review the country’s sex crime laws.

Analysts say that the proposed law will make Spain the first country to fully implement all the recommendations of the 2014 Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women.


A Tale of Two Presidents

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called on Guinea-Bissau’s army to remain neutral following the recent escalation of the country’s political crisis resulting from disputed runoff elections in December, Agence France-Presse reported.

The 15-nation bloc “firmly condemned” the current developments in the country which has seen two presidents competing for power, and said it had “great concern (over) the interference of the defense and security forces in the political sphere.”

It did not mention if it would take action to resolve the crisis.

The runoff elections saw the opposition’s Umaro Sissoco Embalo defeat Domingos Simoes Pereira of the long-ruling PAIGC party. Even so, PAIGC officials cried foul and asked the Supreme Court to review the election results.

The court has not been able to solve the issue, prompting Embalo to conduct his own swearing-in ceremony and move to the presidential palace last week.

Meanwhile, PAIGC also appointed parliamentary leader Cipriano Cassama as interim president, but he resigned Sunday after only one day in office due to death threats.

The army has since moved to take over ministries, the legislature, and local radio and television stations even as it is unclear which candidate it backs.

One of the world’s poorest countries, Guinea-Bissau has suffered chronic instability since independence – four coups and 16 attempted coups since 1974 – with the army often playing a major role.


Rome Is Rome

According to legend, a she-wolf took care of the abandoned infant twins Romulus and Remus, who grew up to found Rome in 753 BC.

Unfortunately, the siblings had a falling out during the building of the city, leading Romulus – or his supporters – to murder Remus and become king.

That is the myth, but a recent discovery suggests that the legendary king might have been real, Live Science reported.

Archaeologists found an underground tomb dating back thousands of years beneath the Forum in Rome. The hidden burial site contains an altar and sarcophagus dedicated to Romulus, but no corpse was found inside.

Researchers explained that the tomb dated back to the sixth century BC and that the site was revered by ancient Romans.

But did Romulus and Remus actually exist?

Most historians think that they didn’t. And if they did, the brothers might not have been the actual founders of Rome, Laura Swift, a lecturer in classical studies at the Open University, wrote in the Conversation.

In 2014, researchers found evidence that Rome was founded 100 years earlier than the brothers’ arrival.

Still, origin myths make better stories.

“Whether Romulus existed or not is not important,” archaeologist Paolo Carafa told Agence France-Presse. “What matters is that this figure is considered by the ancients to mark the political birth of the city.”

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