The World Today for July 16, 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: 3,499,398 (+1.98%)
  2. Brazil: 1,966,748 (+2.07%)
  3. India: 968,857 (+3.49%)
  4. Russia: 751,612 (+1.74%)
  5. Peru: 337,751 (+1.16%)
  6. Chile: 321,205 (+0.54%)
  7. Mexico: 317,635 (+1.97%)
  8. South Africa: 311,049 (+4.28%)
  9. UK: 293,469 (+0.18%)
  10. Iran: 264,561 (+0.91%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

HONG KONG

Tick Tock

TikTok is leaving Hong Kong.

The Chinese social media giant has joined other tech titans in reconsidering whether they can operate in the former British colony under a new national security law the central government in Beijing imposed late last month, CNN reported.

American officials were already considering banning TikTok and other Chinese apps to prevent the country from accessing the company’s data. As Reuters explained, the new national security law mandates life sentences for convictions on charges of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The law followed months of civil unrest the BBC chronicled in Hong Kong as Chinese leaders tried to exert more control over the city.

The new national security law guts the British-style of law that has until now held sway on the island, Foreign Policy magazine said. That system bequeathed a freer society allowing for pro-democracy protests as well as high finance and tech development. Recent events have already led some financiers to move their businesses to Singapore, wrote the American Lawyer.

Legal scholars have criticized the law as being overly broad but China and Hong Kong’s pro-China government say it’s necessary to restore order and prevent security lapses after last year’s protests.

The new law’s effect, meanwhile, has been downright chilling. Academics are concerned about their freedoms, wrote Science magazine. Folks don’t want to be taken as sympathizers with the pro-democracy or pro-independence movements.

“Seemingly overnight, Hong Kong was visibly and viscerally different, its more than seven million people left to navigate what the law would mean to their lives,” the New York Times wrote. “The territory’s distinct culture of political activism and free speech, at times brazenly directed at China’s ruling Communist Party, appeared to be in peril.”

Even so, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers voted in unofficial primaries held by the city’s pro-democracy parties over the weekend, a sharp display of opposition to China.

The primaries are not part of Hong Kong’s official political process but were held by the pro-democracy camp ahead of September’s legislative elections.

Analysts say that Beijing deliberately pushed the law forward ahead of the September elections, fearing that the government might lose the polls, which would then make it difficult to pass controversial bills.

Regardless, the international backlash has been swift.

Britain, Taiwan, Australia and the United States have all taken extra steps to help those trying to flee Hong Kong such as fast-tracking their refugee claims. Australia suspended its extradition agreement with China.

And the US on Tuesday announced it was revoking the special trading status that Hong Kong had enjoyed for more than two decades. In May, the US approved sanctions on officials or institutions, including banks, that were found to have undermined Hong Kong’s semiautonomous status, the so-called “one country, two systems” agreed to when Britain handed over the city to China in 1997.

Meanwhile, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and others have announced that they will not process data requests from Chinese officials in Hong Kong. If they refuse to comply, they might have little choice but to leave the city, wrote the South China Morning Post.

The Conversation argued that Hong Kong’s standing as a global center of finance would remain intact, for the time being. Even so, analysts expect the crackdown to continue. Already, hundreds have been arrested at protests.

Now, Hong Kong has hired a slick British public relations firm to help with the transition to a city governed under the new security law, the Guardian reported.

The world will see how effective China is at putting a good face on its crackdown.

WANT TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Big Tech: 1; Europe: 0

The European Union’s General Court ruled Wednesday that European competition authorities were wrong to force Apple to pay $14.8 billion in unpaid taxes plus interest to Ireland, a decision that strikes a huge blow to the bloc’s efforts to crack down on tax avoidance by big tech, Politico reported.

Judges overruled a 2016 decision by EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager: It argued that Ireland was essentially granting illegal subsidies to the tech giant if it did not tax the bulk of Apple’s global profits, which were funneled through the country.

The court said Vestager did not sufficiently prove that Apple had “a selective economic advantage” unavailable to other companies. The case was brought by Apple and Ireland, both of whom praised the decision and denied the charges.

Analysts say the ruling is a major slap in the face for Vestager and EU regulators, who have been trying to crack down on tax avoidance and stop EU members such as Ireland from offering sweetheart deals to multinationals, especially American tech companies.

Also, the French and Germans have long been pressuring Vestager to “push the competition rule book in a more geopolitical direction, hoping to forge EU (tech) champions in the face of US and Chinese rivals,” Politico wrote.

The EU’s antitrust efforts have triggered tensions between the bloc and the United States, eliciting criticism from US President Donald Trump and also former President Barack Obama.

The European Commission can still appeal the case but analysts believe the chances are “slim.”

ETHIOPIA

Water Wars

Ethiopia began filling its new dam Wednesday after failing to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan over the contentious structure, Al Jazeera reported.

The $4.6 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is under construction on the Blue Nile and is set to become Africa’s largest dam. Ethiopian officials said the megastructure will offer the opportunity to pull millions of citizens out of poverty and turn Ethiopia into Africa’s biggest energy exporter.

Egypt and Sudan, however, have voiced concerns that the dam might compromise their water supply – both nations are dependent on the Nile’s waters.

Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 90 percent of its water supply, fears the dam will have devastating effects on its population of 100 million. Cairo has warned that conflict might erupt if the United Nations does not intervene in the matter.

Sudan said a fair solution was necessary to limit the negative impact of the dam.

BULGARIA

An Old Game

Bulgaria’s main opposition party filed a no-confidence motion against the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov following mass protests against his administration for failing to fight corruption, Bloomberg reported.

The Socialist Party doesn’t have enough lawmakers to oust Borissov’s government. Even so, tensions are rising between Borissov and President Rumen Radev: The latter has accused the prime minister of having links to wealthy oligarchs, and has urged Borissov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev to resign.

Borissov has denied any wrongdoing and says his government is under attack by powerful businessmen who are trying to avoid criminal probes. His cabinet has been trying to raise living standards and adopt the Euro currency, but it has also been embroiled in corruption scandals involving former and current ministers.

Meanwhile, thousands of people have hit the streets since last week, calling for Borissov and Geshev to resign. Borissov has already resigned twice as prime minister, and could do so again ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.

The European Union nation has ranked last in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

DISCOVERIES

A Stallion’s World

Sexism didn’t just influence gender roles in the past but also the choice of horses, according to new research.

Scientists found that Bronze Age Eurasians preferred to ride stallions instead of choosing mares as their trusty steed, Science Magazine reported.

Researchers studied the DNA from the bones of 268 ancient horses dating from 40,000 BC to 700 AD found at different sites across Eurasia. They noted that there was a balance between male and female horses at the oldest sites, suggesting that early humans valued both genders equally.

This pattern, however, began changing about 3,900 years ago: The research team found three times more stallions than mares, either buried or discarded in trash heaps.

The team hypothesized that the disproportionate number may have come from a new “vision of gender,” which began during the Bronze Age. During that period, men were depicted differently than women as their societal status increased. This in turn influenced many ancient peoples to apply their male-biased beliefs to horses – believing stallions were stronger and more capable.

Even so, some researchers theorized that more mares were kept alive for breeding purposes, and that males were simply more disposable, which is why they turn up more often—especially in ancient trash heaps.

These days, scientists have found there’s no real difference in behavior between “predictable” geldings over “moody” mares.

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