January 11, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

MARSHALL ISLANDS

Isolated Yet Impacted

The Marshall Islands are an isolated outpost of American influence in the vast Pacific Ocean.

Ghost ships and the flotsam and jetsam of global trade ply sea lanes around the country, a group of 29 coral atolls spread across more than a million square miles in the Pacific Ocean to the northeast of Australia.

Science writer Jamie Zvirzdin described the remoteness of the island in a personal essay in the New Republic. An unmanned ship full of cocaine was recently found off the coast of the country, for example, as Al Jazeera reported.

The Marshall Islands are technically a republic that is associated with the US, as the Department of State explained, detailing how the US first gained control of the archipelago from Japan during World War II. In 1983, The US and the islands signed the Compact of Free Association, which gave the US exclusive military use rights on the territories. Three years later, the islands gained independence but the association stayed intact.

The US historically conducted nuclear tests on the island, yet American officials ignored the plight of islanders who struggled with radiation sickness and tainted land and water.

“The United States nuked their homeland. Ruined their food supply,” wrote Politico. “Then promised them free health care through Medicaid before Congress later yanked it away.”

Marshallese in the US until recently had been barred from enrolling in Medicaid, leading to higher infection and mortality rates for these US residents in the Covid-19 pandemic. Many Marshallese work in meat processing plants and other workplaces where the virus has spread extensively, NBC News reported.

In a recent victory, however, Congress extended Medicaid coverage to the islanders living in the US, providing a lifeline to families unable to face the public health crisis alone.

The islands face other new challenges, too, however. Climate change is threatening to wipe the low-lying republic off the world map, argued environmental scholars Autumn Bordner of the University of California, Berkeley, and Caroline Ferguson of Stanford University in the Conversation. The country lacks the funds to invest in infrastructure to stop rising waters, king tides and more extreme weather from destroying the atolls.

Bordner and Ferguson noted that the US had invested in strengthening American military facilities in the Marshall Islands, however.

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WANT TO KNOW

TAIWAN

‘Blank Slate’

Chinese state media blasted the United States for its decision to remove self-imposed restrictions on how its diplomats and other officials interact with Taiwan, a move that could make fraught US-China relations even tenser, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday that the decades-old rules had “created complex internal restrictions” limiting how US representatives engaged with their Taiwanese counterparts.

Taiwanese officials welcomed the removal of those limits, while analysts noted the announcement was the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration to reshape the US relationship with Taiwan, Bloomberg reported.

The Chinese government did not immediately comment on the matter, but it has voiced opposition to stronger ties between the US and Taiwan.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has criticized previous meetings between US and Taiwanese officials. Last year, senior US officials visited Taiwan, and the US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft is expected to visit the island nation this week.

Analysts said that the restrictions’ removal could create “a blank slate” for President-elect Joe Biden to foster better ties with Taiwan.

HONDURAS

Co-conspirator-in-chief

US federal prosecutors filed fresh motions over the weekend that accuse Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez of using his position to help drug traffickers send huge drug shipments to the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The documents allege that Hernandez used the nation’s armed forces to protect shipments of cocaine in exchange for bribes, as well as embezzling US aid money.

The court papers do not explicitly name the president, but they identify him as “co-conspirator 4” by references to his political position and his brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez, who was convicted of drug smuggling in 2019.

Hernandez has been implicated in three major drug cases but denies any wrongdoing. He says that cartel leaders have been falsely accusing him because of his successful crackdowns against trafficking.

US President Donald Trump has praised Hernandez in the past for being a willing partner in helping implement the Trump administration’s controversial immigration measures.

It’s unclear how the recent revelations will change the US-Honduras relationship under President-elect Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, Honduran activists worry that Hernandez will try to extend his time in office to avoid prosecution by the US Justice Department.

SOUTH KOREA

Unresolved Matters

A South Korean court ruled over the weekend that Japan should compensate a dozen Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II, a move that further raises tensions between the two US allies, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The verdict said that the Japanese government should pay each plaintiff around $90,000, but Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga rejected the decision as “completely unacceptable.”

Japanese officials countered that Japan has already compensated South Korea in the past.

In a 1965 treaty, Japan provided South Korea $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans to settle all “problems concerning property, rights and interests” between the two countries.

In another agreement in 2015, Japan agreed to create a $9 million fund to compensate the women, but South Korean President Moon Jae-in scrapped the deal, adding that it didn’t have the support of the victims.

The ruling marks another point of contention for the two nations: Since 2018, Korean courts have issued multiple rulings demanding financial compensation from Japan.

The strained relations have frustrated the United States, and analysts said that the verdict will put the incoming Biden administration into a difficult position as it tries to build broad alliances with allies.

DISCOVERIES

Extra-planetary Pollution

There are approximately 6,000 satellites circling the Earth, but only about 40 percent of them are still functioning.

The rest are mere space junk – debris from satellites and spacecraft – and they are becoming a problem to the planet’s environment when they fall to Earth, according to the BBC.

“We are very concerned with the fact that all the satellites which re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere burn and create tiny alumina particles which will float in the upper atmosphere for many years,” said Takao Doi, a Japanese astronaut and professor at Kyoto University in Japan.

To prevent the catastrophe, Doi’s university is now cooperating with a Japanese company to develop a satellite made out of wood by 2023.

Sumitomo Forestry said that it’s working on a satellite made out of wooden materials that would withstand temperature changes and sunlight in space.

The partnership hopes that the wooden satellites would be eco-friendlier: When the wooden space junk re-enters Earth’s atmosphere it would burn up without releasing harmful substances or raining debris on the ground.

Scientists say that the threat of space junk is increasing as more satellites and spacecraft are launched every year.

Research firm Euroconsult estimates that this decade more than 900 satellites will be launched every year, which means that by 2028, there could be 15,000 satellites in orbit.

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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: 22,409,131 (+1.22%)
  2. India: 10,466,595 (+0.16%)
  3. Brazil: 8,105,790 (+0.37%)
  4. Russia: 3,366,715 (+0.00%)**
  5. UK: 3,081,368 (+1.82%)
  6. France: 2,840,864 (+0.56%)
  7. Turkey: 2,326,256 (+0.39%)
  8. Italy: 2,276,491 (+0.82%)
  9. Spain: 2,050,360 (+0.00%)**
  10. Germany: 1,931,478 (+0.16%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country