The World Today for January 19, 2021

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Alliance Mending

For more than 50 years, the Transatlantic alliance has arguably been the most powerful force on Earth, preventing bloodshed in Europe during the Cold War and solidifying the world’s major democracies through military and economic ties.

President Donald Trump wasn’t a big fan of the alliance. The New York real estate mogul viewed Europe as exploiting America’s military might. His view was not entirely incorrect, given how much major countries like Germany spend on their armed forces. But he nevertheless exposed a rift in an alliance that was supposed to stand united and strong against tyranny.

“The weighty insurgency signaled by the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency in 2016 had reverberations around the world, perhaps nowhere more so than among America’s European allies,” wrote Pat Cox, former president of the European Parliament, in a Politico opinion piece.

Now President-elect Joseph Biden wants to take on the challenge of repairing ties between the US and Europe. The question, as the Paris-based Fondation Robert Schuman, a think tank, asked, is whether the special partnership has been damaged beyond repair. The answer is almost certainly no. But that doesn’t mean damage hasn’t been done or that the partnership will be the same going forward, World Politics Review argued.

After tangling with Trump for four years, European leaders are eager to hold discussions with Biden, a seasoned politician who is committed to Transatlantic comity, Voice of America reported. They even released a plan titled, “A new EU-US agenda for global change,” to jumpstart the new relationship, CNBC noted.

Some European officials, for example, hope to work closely with the incoming Biden administration on exchanging technology, especially since most European Union members have rejected Chinese corporation Huawei’s 5G telecommunications technology due to fears that it might be used for espionage, as Nikkei Asia reported.

At the same time, however, the EU and Beijing recently signed a trade agreement that lays the groundwork for much closer cooperation between the two sides despite the EU’s misgivings about China’s abysmal human rights record in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and elsewhere, wrote the New York Times. That agreement means Biden and Europe won’t be presenting a united front against China, which is slated to become the world’s biggest economy by 2028.

Writing in MarketWatch, economist Peter Morici argued the sun might have set on the alliance. The EU is much richer and more populous than Russia, but depends on the US for its defense. The US is facing an ascendant China but is spending vast resources on NATO when it needs to divert forces to Asia. Realpolitik demands that US-Europe ties change.

Ties can change. But they need not be severed.



The Outlier

China became the only major economy in the world to report growth in 2020, following an economically-devastating year caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The country’s statistics office said Monday that China’s economy expanded by 2.3 percent in 2020, adding that gross domestic product rose 6.5 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier.

The figures beat previous analysts’ expectations about China’s growth, while highlighting that the country’s expansion is an outlier among larger economies.

The World Bank predicted that the US and Eurozone economies will respectively shrink by 3.6 and 7.4 percent in 2020.

Officials noted that the new economic data reveal that China’s economy continues to be driven primarily by industrial production and investment rather than consumption.

Domestic consumption continues to lag behind, and a new wave of outbreaks across northern China threatens to derail consumer spending during next month’s long Lunar New Year holiday.

Despite those issues, analysts said that China’s economy is expected to grow by another eight percent or more in 2021, however.

Last year, the Chinese economy suffered a historic 6.8 percent contraction in the first quarter, after the country imposed strict lockdowns and shuttered factories nationwide to control the spread of the virus.


Welcoming Committee

A Russian judge ruled Monday that Alexei Navalny can be held in custody for 30 days, a verdict that came less than a day after the opposition leader returned to Russia following his months-long hospitalization abroad, CNN reported.

On Sunday, Navalny was promptly detained by masked police upon his arrival in Moscow from Germany. The Kremlin critic had undergone treatment in Germany after being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok during a trip to Siberia last August.

Russian authorities said that Navalny has violated terms of probation related to a 2014 conviction for fraud and have requested that a court replace his suspended sentence with a prison term. If granted, he could be jailed for 3.5 years.

Navalny and his supporters criticized the unexpected hearing as a “circus” and a “mockery of justice.” He urged his followers to “not be silent” and to take to the streets.

Navalny’s activism has proved problematic for Russian President Vladimir Putin, raising concerns over the opposition leader’s safety.

Last month, a joint investigation by CNN and the group Bellingcat implicated Russian intelligence agents in Navalny’s August poisoning.

Russia has denied any involvement and has refused to investigate the matter, despite international pressure.


The Same Old

Tunisian authorities arrested more than 600 people following three nights of consecutive riots in multiple cities as the country marks the 10-year anniversary of the revolution that ousted autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

Young protesters clashed with security forces in many Tunisian cities, including the capital, Tunis. Officials described the protests as riots, saying that no clear demands were made during the unrest.

The demonstrations are believed to have been sparked by anger over the country’s dire economic situation and poor public services.

Tunisia’s GDP shrank by 9 percent last year, one-third of young people remained unemployed and the country’s tourism sector has taken a huge hit from the pandemic.

Many Tunisians have blamed the country’s political class for being unable to govern coherently, though a decade has passed since the revolution that triggered other similar protests in the region, known as the Arab Spring.


Evolution’s Slowpokes

Crocodiles have been roaming the Earth for more than 200 million years, but they haven’t really changed in evolutionary terms.

Today’s big reptiles look nearly identical to their ancestors that lived together with the dinosaurs, and that’s because they didn’t need to change, according to a new study.

“Crocodiles are interesting because they have changed very little in the time that they have been on the earth, and they have only a few species,” lead author Max Stockdale told United Press International.

Stockdale and his colleague used a machine-learning algorithm to study crocodile fossil records, using body size to measure the rate of evolution.

The results showed that crocs were real slowpokes in their evolution, but the team isn’t clear why.

“Low evolutionary rate means that the amount of morphological change, in this case body size, is small per unit of time,” Stockdale explained. “This means the crocodiles had gone into a state of equilibrium, which they maintained until the environment changed and forced them to adapt.”

Researchers hope to learn whether attributes other than body size follow a similar evolutionary pattern, as well as understand which environmental factors triggered the evolutionary changes that have occurred.

Holiday Promo

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: 24,078,773 (+0.59%)
  2. India: 10,581,823 (+0.10%)
  3. Brazil: 8,511,770 (+0.28%)
  4. Russia: 3,574,330 (+0.60%)
  5. UK: 3,443,350 (+1.10%)
  6. France: 2,972,889 (+0.13%)
  7. Turkey: 2,392,963 (+0.25%)
  8. Italy: 2,390,102 (+0.37%)
  9. Spain: 2,336,451 (+3.74%)
  10. Germany: 2,059,382 (+0.45%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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