May 12, 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 1,347,936 (+1.36%)
  2. Spain 268,143 (+1.31%)
  3. Russia 232,243 (+4.92%)
  4. UK 224,332 (+1.76%)
  5. Italy 219,814 (+0.34%)
  6. France 177,547 (+0.26%)
  7. Germany 172,576 (+0.41%)
  8. Brazil 169,594 (+4.24%)
  9. Turkey 139,771 (+0.80%)
  10. Iran 109,286 (+1.56%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

AFRICA

A Slap Too Far

Before the coronavirus pandemic upended global affairs, China’s economic relationship with and political influence in Africa was a major concern among some Europeans, Americans and Africans themselves.

Now things are changing.

As China shutdown to deal with the coronavirus, trade between the world’s most populous country and the African continent decreased 14 percent, reported the South China Morning Post.

Analysts predicted that commerce would resume once the pandemic has passed. But other developments suggest there is a chance they’re wrong. A collapse in oil prices, for example, will complicate China’s ties with energy exporters like Angola and South Sudan, Quartz wrote.

Perhaps more importantly, the coronavirus crisis has turned the spotlight on Chinese views of Africans.

Officials in cities like Guangzhou have told African expatriates, students and others that they must quarantine, but they’ve also allowed landlords to kick African tenants out of their homes while hotels often have similarly rejected them. Many wind up sleeping in the streets, where police harass them, reported CNN. The source of this animus is clear, Africans told the BBC. It’s racism. Foreign Policy magazine agreed.

That treatment might lead some Africans to reconsider conducting business with China.

“There is a lot of tension within the relationship. I think both of these issues are the newest manifestations of long-term problems,” Cobus van Staden, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs told Politico. “Africa’s official response (to its citizens in China) took into account popular sentiment a lot more than it usually would have.”

In recent years, some African politicians have boosted their electoral base by mobilizing anti-Chinese sentiment because many voters perceive China’s success in the region as a threat to their own well-being, the news outlet said.

Meanwhile, the pandemic should make China think twice about investing in Africa, argued Claremont McKenna College Professor Minxin Pei in Nikkei Asian Review. China granted billions of dollars in loans to African countries so they could improve their infrastructure to more efficiently transfer resources to China. Now commodity prices have plunged, and the debtors lack the resources to pay back their debt.

Some have called on China to forgive those loans as reparations for allowing the coronavirus to go on the rampage. “The continent must be accorded damages and liability compensation from China, the rich and powerful country that failed to transparently and effectively manage this global catastrophe,” wrote Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former World Bank official and Nigerian education minister, in a Washington Post op-ed.

Leaders in Beijing have been silent on the issue. Whether or not debt forgiveness occurs, the honeymoon between Africa and China is likely over, some believe.

Or Africa and China could hit the reset button, South Africa’s Daily Maverick noted.

Meanwhile, the National Interest called for the US to take a more vigorous approach to courting Africans, potentially through healthcare diplomacy, or aid and funding for humanitarian causes. The American government is taking action, especially in promoting American companies on the continent, the Africa Report wrote.

Will Africans, understandably wary of novel forms of colonialism, want to trade one patron for another? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want new respectful partners.

WANT TO KNOW

SAUDI ARABIA

Aftershocks

Saudi Arabia announced unprecedented austerity measures Monday to rein in its budget deficit amid the oil price crash and the novel coronavirus pandemic, CNBC reported.

The new measures will triple value-added tax (VAT) from five percent to 15 percent, suspend the cost of living allowance for public sector workers and slow down projects that are part of the multi-billion dollar Vision 2030 initiative aimed at reforming the kingdom’s economy.

The government said that increased VAT will help shore up government finances in the future, but analysts argue that there will be little non-oil revenue from the tax hike.

Moreover, analysts worry that the tax increase may slow the eventual bounce-back of the economy. They predict a contraction in domestic demand of more than four percent for this year.

The measures come as the entire Gulf region suffers the economic shocks from worldwide lockdowns and the lowest oil price in two decades.

LESOTHO

An Ignoble Finale

The coalition of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane collapsed in parliament Monday, putting an end to his tenure and resolving a political crisis that has gripped Lesotho since last year, Al Jazeera reported.

National Assembly Speaker Sephiri Motanyane said Thabane would have to step down by May 22.

Officials from Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) party said that all the parties had provisionally agreed to replace the embattled leader with Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro.

Thabane has been under pressure to resign over a case in which he and his current wife are suspected of conspiring to murder the prime minister’s ex-wife.

Only Thabane’s wife has been charged so far. Both deny involvement in the murder.

Last week, Lesotho’s King Letsie III approved legislation to prevent Thabane from dissolving parliament and calling snap elections in the event of a vote of no confidence against him.

The tiny African kingdom frequently experiences political instability and there have been several coups since independence from Britain in 1966.

TAIWAN

Friends and Frenemies

China criticized New Zealand Monday for supporting Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization (WHO), a move Beijing considers a violation of the “one China” principle, which holds that Taiwan is part of China, Reuters reported.

Taiwan has recently increased lobbying to be allowed to participate as an observer at next week’s World Health Assembly (WHA), the WHO’s decision-making body.

The United States and Canada have supported Taiwan’s participation, with New Zealand officials joining the fold last week.

China said New Zealand should not violate the “one China” principle “and immediately stop making wrong statements on Taiwan, to avoid damaging our bilateral relationship.”

Meanwhile, China denounced Taiwan’s attempts to participate in the WHO as a political stunt and said that it has the right to represent Taiwan on the international stage.

Taiwan has been one of the most vocal critics of China regarding the pandemic, saying it was clear China was pressuring the WHO to downplay the spread of the virus.

Taiwan was allowed to attend the WHA during the period from 2009 to 2016 when relations between Taiwan and Beijing were warmer.

China blocked its participation following the election of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, whom China views as a separatist, an accusation she denies.

DISCOVERIES

Biblical Twist

It’s long been suspected that the Nazareth Inscription was an official Roman warning to grave robbers following the disappearance of Jesus’ body from its tomb.

Think again, scientists say, according to Live Science

The carved marble slab containing Greek text was believed to have originated in Nazareth – the town where Jesus was raised – and was issued by an anonymous Roman emperor between the first century BC and first century AD.

German collector Wilhelm Froehner first acquired the Roman edict in 1878 and wrote in his notes that the artifact was “sent from Nazareth.”

“‘Sent from Nazareth in 1878’ is a clue that stirs the imagination but proves little,” said lead author Kyle Harper.

Harper’s team in a new study conducted a geochemical analysis on the artifact and found that the marble used to make the edict originated from the Greek island of Kos near Turkey – far from Nazareth, which is in Israel.

They argue the edict was actually meant for the citizens of Kos following an incident in the 30s BC.

Back then, the locals desecrated the grave of an unpopular official on the island, prompting the Romans to issue a warning against any future vandalism.

The findings disprove any connection with early Christianity and add a new twist to the archeological mystery.