May 05, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest number as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US 1,180,634 (+1.95%)
  2. Spain 248,301 (+0.48%)
  3. Italy 211,938 (+0.58%)
  4. UK 191,832 (+2.12%)
  5. France 169,583 (+0.39%)
  6. Germany 166,152 (+0.29%)
  7. Russia 145,268 (+7.86%)
  8. Turkey 127,659 (+1.28%)
  9. Brazil 108,620 (+6.67%)
  10. Iran 98,647 (+1.26%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

HONG KONG

One Country, One System

As the chances of contracting the novel coronavirus in Hong Kong go down, the odds of a new wave of pro-democracy protests and police crackdowns go up.

Case in point: Violating social distancing rules, protesters have been singing and chanting pro-democracy slogans in malls recently, the Associated Press reported. They have been wearing masks, claiming to know how to avoid infection.

The protests were a continuation of the unrest that began a year ago after Chinese officials proposed transferring political detainees from Hong Kong to mainland China. The crackdown that followed led demonstrators to demand more civil rights and an independent probe of police brutality. Activists are now planning for a major march on July 1, the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Even as they coordinated their response to the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, leaders in Beijing have been preparing to face-off against their critics in Hong Kong. As the virus crisis raged, they made a power-grab, appointing hardliner Communists with experience in rooting out corruption and religion to run the city, the Los Angeles Times explained.

More troubling, officials said Beijing’s representative offices in the territory can “supervise” Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Analysts say this statement – a first – is a violation of the constitutional firewall with the mainland. China, though, says it’s above that law.

Meanwhile, the government’s new representatives responded decisively to the upsurge in discontent, arresting 15 prominent activists in recent weeks, wrote Al Jazeera. A Hong Kong court also recently rejected an appeal from pro-democracy movement leader Edward Leung, who was sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly organizing a riot in 2016, reported Reuters. It was one of the harshest punishments ever meted out to a dissident on the island.

The moves showed how Chinese leaders are seeking to end the so-called “one country, two systems” framework that has governed Hong Kong since separation from Britain. Under that framework, Hong Kong, a global financial hub, is supposed to enjoy a high level of autonomy, said Martin Lee, 81, who helped formulate the system, in an interview with the Washington Post. Lee was one of the 15 activists recently arrested.

“What really concerns me is that the basic promise of Hong Kong has been completely changed,” said Lee.

The developments were in the same vein as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s other power consolidations in Tibet and Xinjiang, where officials have rounded up and imprisoned millions of members of ethnic and religious minorities who don’t want to submit to Chinese conceptions of their identities, the National Interest argued.

What’s next for Hong Kong?

Analysts say China will continue to increase pressure to bring Hong Kong to heel. Two specific measures are looming, one involving “patriotic” education in schools, designed to teach students to “love” the Chinese Communist Party and the teachings of Xi Jinping; the other, a long-delayed law against “sedition,” that activists fear would greatly curtail civil liberties, wrote the National Interest.

Meanwhile, elections are coming up in September. Some worry that China will either force the vote to be canceled or engineer it so that only loyalists to Beijing can win.

All this means more protests and more violence in the near future. In the longer term, it probably means one country, and one system.

WANT TO KNOW

INDIA

Open For Business

To increase new investment in the face of economic contraction, India is offering land to lure foreign businesses already eying an exit from China, Bloomberg reported Monday.

Officials have identified about 461,589 hectares – almost twice the size of Luxembourg – across the country to offer to new investors.

Land has been one of the main hurdles for foreign investment in India, with companies required to acquire land on their own and negotiate directly with owners of small holdings.

India, meanwhile, sees an opportunity in investors, who want to reduce their reliance on China as a manufacturing base: The outbreak of the novel coronavirus disrupted supply chains in many sectors due to the concentration of manufacturing in China.

The government has chosen 10 sectors to focus on including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, electronics, heavy engineering, solar equipment, food processing and chemicals.

Invest India, the government’s business promotion arm, said it has received inquiries mainly from Japan, the US and South Korea expressing interest in relocating to Asia’s third-largest economy.

WORLD

Come Together

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hosted an international online donor conference to raise $8 billion to fund a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 3.5 million people and killed more than 250,000 worldwide, according to the Associated Press.

“I believe the fourth of May will mark a turning point in our fight against coronavirus because today the world is coming together,” said von der Leyen.

The event was “attended” by many European countries, Australia, Canada, Israel and others, who pledged funds along with banks and NGOs.

The funds fell marginally short of the $8 billion being sought, but more money could arrive in the coming days.

Notably absent from the event were the United States and Russia.

KAZAKHSTAN

Silent Coup

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev put a top aide in charge of the country’s senate in a bid to tighten his grip on power in the energy-rich nation, the Associated Press reported.

Maulen Ashimbayev will replace Dariga Nazarbayeva, the daughter of Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned unexpectedly last year and supported Tokayev as his successor. Nazarbayev ruled the country with an iron fist for almost three decades.

Following her father’s resignation, Nazarbayeva became senate speaker – the second-highest position in the country. She was initially expected to succeed her father.

The 79-year-old former leader still holds influence as the head of the country’s Security Council and chairman of the ruling party, but Tokayev’s powerplay shows it is waning, analysts say.

DISCOVERIES

Birds of a Feather

It’s not only humans that have BFFs (best friends forever), a new study shows.

Pink flamingos develop close friendships – known as associations – with other birds in their flock regardless of age or gender, reported Forbes.

Lead author Paul Rose studied the behavior of captive flamingo flocks for five years and noted that within each flock there were groups of two to three birds that would usually huddle together.

He added that each individual bird would choose where to stand based on their associations.

Rose theorized that flamingos stay with the birds they like because they want to avoid conflict with other flock members.

“You might as well know who you get along with so you don’t waste energy squabbling,” he said.

Researcher Chris Tuite, who was not involved in the study, said that it’s plausible that the birds maintain their associations to gain information about migratory routes or suitable lakes.

Nevertheless, it’s uncertain if this behavior is also present in the wild since the data comes from captive birds.

Rose also admitted that he did not investigate the flamingo’s mating behavior or whether the BFFs were siblings or cousins but hopes future research will shed more light on the unique friendships.