May 29, 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 1,721,750 (+1.28%)
  2. Brazil 438,238 (+6.41%)
  3. Russia 379,051 (+2.26%)
  4. UK 270,508 (+0.70%)
  5. Spain 237,906 (+0.70%)
  6. Italy 231,732 (+0.26%)
  7. France 186,364 (+1.82%)
  8. Germany 182,450 (+0.51%)
  9. India 165,829 (+4.55%)
  10. Turkey 160,979 (+0.74%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

CHINA

The Virus and Goliath

Anti-China sentiment is reaching levels not seen since the crackdown on pro-democracy activists on Tiananmen Square in 1989, according to an internal Chinese report reviewed by Reuters. Chinese leaders are even afraid that the current climate is leading to a military confrontation with the US.

The cause of the plunge in support is obvious. Folks around the globe blame Chinese leaders for the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a development that could reorient international relations worldwide for a generation.

Countries that were formerly open to expanding their diplomatic and economic relationship with China are having second thoughts, while China is retaliating against those setbacks, the New York Times wrote.

Relations with the US are especially bad. President Donald Trump, who already believed China unfairly undermined American business, blames China for the lockdowns that have resulted in millions of unemployed Americans. Many are openly discussing the potential for a new Cold War, the South China Morning Post reported.

Some say it has already started.

On Wednesday, for example, the US House of Representatives almost unanimously passed legislation calling for sanctions against Chinese officials for the detention and torture of Uighur Muslims in the country’s western region of Xinjiang, CNBC reported.

The timing is interesting – China’s treatment of the Uighurs is not a new development.

Meanwhile, the vote came just hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo targeted Beijing over its efforts to clamp down on dissent in Hong Kong, announcing that the State Department no longer viewed the island as autonomous. This means that Hong Kong no longer merits being treated differently from the mainland under US law, and could change Hong Kong’s preferential trade hub status. He also expressed support for protesters there.

That follows moves this month to place sanctions on Chinese banks and a measure to force Chinese companies on the American stock exchanges to become more transparent, or de-list.

Meanwhile, others are jockeying to deal with the new environment.

Defenders of Taiwan, like Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, argued that the pandemic shows why the US should embrace the democratic island that leaders in Beijing view as a breakaway Chinese province.

British officials are moving to shorten their contract with Chinese tech giant Huawei to build a 5G telecommunications network in their country, the Financial Times reported Saturday. The idea seemed wise when Britain was looking for new trading opportunities amid the debate about how to leave the European Union. Now China is not such an attractive partner.

Countries around the world are rethinking their supply chains to move away from China. And there are many waiting in the wings ready to jump at the opportunity.

Indian Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari recently told the BBC that China’s fall from grace could be a “blessing in disguise” for his country’s efforts to attract manufacturing away from the world’s most populous country.

Earlier this month, India moved to offer land to lure foreign businesses already eying an exit from China, Bloomberg reported. 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 the owners of small holdings.

Chinese leaders are not taking such moves lying down, though, Voice of America said.

They pressured the EU to soften a report that was critical of the country, for example, while belittling and mocking European leaders for their handling of the pandemic – the latter was to appeal to a Chinese audience.

After Australia called for an inquiry into the origin and transmission of the virus, China slapped tariffs on Australian barley, according to the Associated Press. That came after China banned imports of Australian beef ostensibly over labeling issues.

And after African officials also called for an inquiry into the pandemic and African ambassadors to China demanded explanations as to why Africans expatriates in the country faced mistreatment, President Xi Jinping detailed a massive aid package for developing countries. The move was designed to cement China’s ties to African countries that provide crucial resources for the Chinese economy, CNN explained.

Even so, Chinese bullying and money might not be enough, say analysts, who note that anti-Chinese sentiment was rising in Europe, Asia and Africa even before the pandemic hit.

If China loses its diplomatic and economic might in the near future, say analysts, it will be shocking: Because no one ever thought a virus could bring down such a mighty giant.

WANT TO KNOW

LEBANON

Crooks Beware

Lebanese lawmakers passed a bill eliminating banking secrecy in order to root out corruption following months of mass protests against government mismanagement and graft, Agence France-Presse reported.

The measure applies to current and former public officials and targets “corruption, as well as the funding of terrorism, money laundering, and (campaign finance).”

It will allow the central bank’s Special Investigation Commission and the new National Anti-Corruption Commission to access the bank accounts of officials.

The law aims to recover public funds embezzled by officials, a key demand of demonstrators who have been protesting against the ruling elite since October 2019, the Associated Press reported.

The measure comes as Lebanon suffers through a severe economic crisis. It is currently negotiating with the International Monetary Fund to receive billions in international aid.

SPAIN

Adios

Japanese carmaker Nissan announced Thursday it would shut down its plant in Barcelona, dealing a blow to the Spanish government which tried for months to keep the company in Spain, Politico reported.

The decision is expected to result in the loss of 3,000 jobs in the Catalonia region, where car manufacturing has been an important sector for decades. Another 30,000 jobs serving the industry are expected to be affected.

Meanwhile, Nissan said it would start collaborating with French automaker Renault.

The government said closing the factory would cost the company more than $1.1 billion in compensation to workers and suppliers. The company would also be forced to repay $27 million in public funds given to Nissan over the past 12 years.

Following Nissan’s announcement, workers burned tires outside of the plant in protest and unions said they are planning demonstrations.

VENEZUELA

Playing With Fire

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is considering increasing the price of the world’s cheapest gasoline due to major fuel shortages in the oil-rich nation, the Associated Press reported.

Officials said the low price – one gallon costs less than a penny – has cost the cash-strapped government up to $18 billion a year.

Maduro’s announcement follows the arrival of Iranian tankers earlier this week to supply the country with much-needed oil.

Fuel shortages have plagued Venezuela for years, recently sparking mile-long lines at filling stations. It has also spawned a black market for the wealthy residents of the capital where a gallon, at $10, is the world’s most expensive gas.

The country sits on the world’s largest underground reserves of oil but is unable to pump crude and convert it into gasoline.

Maduro has blamed the shortages on sanctions imposed by the United States aimed at forcing him out of power. However, critics say that years of corruption and mismanagement have destroyed the oil industry.

Regardless, tinkering with the price of gas is controversial in Venezuela.

In 1989, riots erupted after then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez ordered an increase in fuel prices. About 300 people died.

DISCOVERIES

The Dream of Speed

The average internet user occasionally complains about the slow speed of their network but that whine has become more frequent as lockdowns forced people to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic – and use up bandwidth.

Australian scientists, however, recently recorded the world’s fastest internet data speed and might be getting closer to a solution for the bandwidth problem, the BBC reported.

In a new study, researchers registered a data speed of 44.2 terabits per second, equivalent to the download of more than 1,000 high-definition movies in less than a second.

In comparison, the average download speed in the United States is 135 megabits per second – a tiny fraction of that.

Lead author Bill Corcoran and his team achieved the record speed using a “micro-comb” that replaced around 80 lasers found in some existing telecoms hardware. The equipment was tested outside laboratory settings on existing infrastructure.

The results displayed the highest amount of data ever produced by a single optical chip, currently used in modern fiber-optic broadband systems around the globe.

Corcoran hopes that the study could offer better insight and potentially transform internet connections in the future.

“This data can be used for self-driving cars and future transportation, and it can help the medicine, education, finance, and e-commerce industries – as well as enable us to read with our grandchildren from kilometers away,” he said.