July 01, 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 numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 2,636,538 (+1.77%)
  2. Brazil: 1,402,041 (+2.47%)
  3. Russia: 653,479 (+2.07%)
  4. India: 585,481 (+3.29%)
  5. UK: 314,161 (+0.22%)
  6. Peru: 285,213 (+1.01%)
  7. Chile: 279,393 (+1.23%)
  8. Spain: 249,271 (+0.12%)
  9. Italy: 240,578 (+0.06%)
  10. Iran: 227,662 (+1.09%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

TAIWAN

Fire on the Neck

Taneti Maamau’s recent victory in Kiribati’s presidential race doesn’t seem especially important on first blush. Few people have ever heard of the strategically located South Pacific island or can find it on a map.

But President Maamau’s reelection underscores China’s increasingly aggressive efforts to diplomatically counter Taiwan, Reuters reported. Maamau ran on a pro-China platform. His rival was pro-Taiwan.

When contemplating their long-sought takeover of Taiwan, Chinese leaders have traditionally assumed that time was on their side. Sooner or later, they thought, the island that broke away from the communist mainland in 1949 would rejoin the rest of the country.

Now analysts at Stratfor believe that those leaders might be reconsidering their assumptions. Their response has been to spend more resources on isolating Taiwan, even from small partners like Kiribati.

That’s because Taiwan is important to China for symbolic and strategic reasons. Reunification is a key goal for Chinese patriots, observers say. But Taiwan has also been described as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” that could host American warplanes and troops in case of a conflict between the US and China. And tensions have been rising between China and Taiwan and China and the US over the past few years.

At the root of the heightened tensions with Taiwan was the election and reelection of President Tsai Ing-Wen, whose pro-independence platform has led many Chinese thinkers to question if the island will ever want reunification. American backing of Taiwan and changing demographics – the Washington Post wrote about how many more Taiwanese these days don’t view themselves as Chinese – aren’t countering their suspicions.

China has been flexing its muscles a lot lately. It has cracked down on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Chinese military brass ordered an attack on Indian troops over a border dispute recently, wrote US News and World Report, citing American intelligence sources. It’s been aggressive at bullying critics in Europe to back off their claims.

The question is whether China’s conflicts with Taiwan escalate into a military confrontation that might drag in the US, Japan and others. Taiwan recently deployed troops to the Pratas Islands, which Taiwan now administers but which China claims, after China announced plans to conduct drills in the area, according to Taiwanese state-owned Central News Agency.

And Chinese military aircraft including bombers have been regularly flying into Taiwanese air defense zones recently, most recently on June 22, Reuters reported.

Taiwan has tools to respond to Chinese pressure.

Writing in the Diplomat, Taiwan-based Institute of Sociology Research Fellow Wu Jieh-min said Taiwanese leaders can give moral support to Hong Kong activists as well as grant asylum to protesters who flee the city out of fear of being jailed, disappeared or worse. But Taiwan needs to provide this support in a manner that doesn’t provoke an unwanted reaction from China, Wu added.

That’s a hard line to walk when a dragon is breathing down your neck.

WANT TO KNOW

BELGIUM

Getting Clean

King Philippe of Belgium expressed “his deepest regrets” over the brutality his predecessors inflicted on its former colony, the Democratic Republic of Congo, underscoring how deeply the Black Lives Matter movement in the US has influenced other nations to deal with their own legacies of violence, racism and repression.

In a letter to Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi marking the country’s 60th anniversary of its independence from Belgium, the king wrote about the “painful episodes” that took place more than a century ago in the Congo Free State governed by his ancestor Leopold II, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

“During the time of the Congo Free State (1885-1908) acts of violence and brutality were committed, which weigh still on our collective memory,” he wrote. Historians say that Leopold’s exploitation of the resource-rich nation caused the deaths of 10 million people.

The letter stops short of an apology, but it marks the first time a Belgian king has expressed regret for the country’s colonial past.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota and the protests it has ignited has rekindled anti-racism demonstrations in Belgium and attempts to topple statues of Leopold II. The demonstrations have also prompted parliament to form a “truth and reconciliation” commission to “come clean” about the country’s dark past.

ETHIOPIA

A Tragic Song

Violent demonstrations erupted in Ethiopian cities Tuesday following the killing of a popular singer whose music helped spark the protest movement that forced regime change and helped bring in reformist leader Abiy Ahmed two years ago, Reuters reported.

At least 50 people died during protests over the shooting death of ethnic Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa Monday evening. Police said that killing was well-planned and have arrested a few suspects, but haven’t provided any further details.

Abiy – who is also Oromo – urged calm and said that the death would be investigated.

Hachalu rose to prominence during the 2018 anti-government protests that ended decades of political and economic dominance by ethnic Tigray leaders.

Analyst Awol Allo says that Abiy’s rise to power would not have been possible without the “immense contribution that Hachalu made to the Oromo protest movement.”

Abiy’s rule has brought political and economic freedoms to Ethiopia, and the prime minister won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for ending the conflict with neighboring Eritrea.

His reforms, however, have emboldened other ethnic groups in the East African country to win more power for their groups, with Abiy’s rule being frequently challenged by local leaders demanding more access to land and resources.

HONG KONG

The Guardian Angel

China’s National People’s Congress voted unanimously Tuesday to pass a controversial national security law in Hong Kong, despite condemnation from activists and Western nations who argue that the law will curb freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The law aims to prevent and punish subversive, secessionist and terrorist activities in Hong Kong, as well as collusion with foreign forces.

Among the provisions, the mainland government will supervise the policing of dissident activities and, in some cases, directly intervene.

Chinese officials have described the law as a “guardian angel” that protects the freedoms and lives of Hongkongers, and said it would only affect “a very small number” of people.

Critics argued that the law violates the “one country, two systems” framework, which was agreed to when the British handed over the territory to China in 1997.

Foreign business leaders fear that the law could harm the city’s role as a commercial and financial bridgehead for China.

The United States has threatened to impose visa restrictions on Chinese officials while the UK has offered a path to residency for Hongkongers.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament approved a resolution earlier this month urging the bloc to take China to the International Court of Justice for violating its legal commitments to Hong Kong.

DISCOVERIES

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The declining number of pollinators, such as honeybees, have long worried farmers, prompting them to take action: Some introduce other pollinators or even painstakingly pollinate flowers by hand.

And then there are those who blow bubbles.

In a new study, Japanese researchers have developed a special soap laced with pollen that can pollinate crops more effectively than doing it by hand, the New York Times reported.

Hand pollination is a very good artificial pollination method, but it’s “really hard work and annoying,” according to co-author Eijiro Miyako.

His new mixture is made up of 0.4 percent concentration of lauramidopropyl betaine – commonly found in baby shampoo – and each bubble contains about 2,000 pollen grains.

Other solutions have also been added to enhance pollen germination and strengthen the bubbles.

Miyako and his colleague tried it out, blowing the bubbles on 50 pear flowers and reported that 95 percent of the flowers bore fruits.

His study was praised by other scientists as having potential, but they cautioned that the approach probably won’t completely replace the handiwork of bees. And they worry the bubble solution could harm insects.

Miyako, however, has bigger plans: He is developing a more organic solution that has a lower environmental impact, as well as attaching a bubble gun to a drone to pollinate entire fields.