The World Today for May 10, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

HONG KONG

The Consequences of Contretemps

Chinese filmmaker Ying Liang, 34, became stranded in Hong Kong in 2011 when Beijing officials banned him from returning to the mainland for making a film about the Chinese criminal justice system.

Now he’s watching as the same officials undercut the “one country, two systems” framework they promised to uphold in 1997 when China took control of the former British colony. In the past year, Chinese leaders have suppressed protests, free expression and other democratic rights that had previously been protected in the city on the South China Sea.

“I think the crackdown will come down harder and stronger than what you’d typically see in the mainland, better to scare everyone,” Ying told Al Jazeera. “This wasn’t something I experienced growing up in Shanghai.”

A Hong Kong court recently sentenced protest organizer Joshua Wong and three other pro-democracy activists to four to 10 months in prison for an unauthorized memorial event to mark the 1989 massacre of human rights activists in Tiananmen Square, CNN reported. Wong’s sentence is in addition to a 17.5-month prison term for organizing unauthorized anti-government rallies two years ago.

The prosecution of Wong and the others is an example of Chinese leaders using a controversial national security law enacted last year as well as other new draconian rules to stifle dissent in Hong Kong, Bloomberg added. Human rights advocates noted that tens of thousands of people attended the rallies but authorities only targeted the most high-profile leaders of the city’s pro-democracy movement.

Last month, a court similarly convicted but suspended the sentence of 82-year-old Martin Lee, the so-called “father” of Hong Kong democracy, and a host of other figures who have inspired residents to confront the country’s communist honchos, the Washington Post wrote.

The activists aren’t giving up, though, as the South China Morning Post explained. The Civil Human Rights Front, which organizes protests, is refusing to cooperate with police who have demanded the group’s financial information. Chinese leaders have often accused dissident groups of receiving Western support as part of a campaign to undermine the government of the world’s most populous country.

The contretemps has consequences. Expats in Hong Kong, a global financial center, are leaving, New Zealand-based Stuff reported. Foreign Policy magazine argues that the crackdown, especially on freedom of the press, will also have an economic impact on the city.

Western countries like the US, Britain and others have criticized China’s human rights record in Hong Kong as well as Tibet and Xinjiang, and created sanctions and other measures to punish the country. China dismisses the criticism and continues on.

Soon, say some, there won’t be anything or anyone left to crack down on. And the cost of that success? A vibrant and thriving city on the South China Sea.

WANT TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

Of Worms and Cans

European leaders expressed concern over a Biden administration proposal to waive Covid-19 vaccine patents and instead urged the United States to export more of the vaccine if it wants to help poor countries in need, the Financial Times reported.

Last week, the Biden administration said it would support the waiver that would allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce “copycat” vaccines without fear of being sued for infringing intellectual property rights.

Following the US announcement, Germany and France said that suspending those rights was not a solution to supply shortages and called on increasing production.

European Council President Charles Michel said that the waiver was no “magic bullet” but added that the bloc was to discuss “concrete” US proposals on intellectual property rights for vaccines.

The move comes in light of the critical situation in India, where the number of new infection cases has topped 300,000, while a new variant has emerged.

India and South Africa have both voiced support for sweeping waivers for inoculations and other vaccine-related materials at the World Trade Organization.

However, European officials noted that the waivers could pose problems in vaccine production, including disrupting existing global supply chains. They added that access to patents doesn’t give the precise know-how and technology in producing an effective shot.

AFGHANISTAN

Beating the Drums

A deadly explosion targeting a girls’ school in Kabul over the weekend killed more than 50 including a number of students, an attack that comes just a week after the United States and NATO began withdrawing their forces from the country, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

No group has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack but the Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the explosion that wounded more than 100. Most of the victims were schoolgirls between 13 and 18 years old.

The Taliban denied involvement and condemned the bombing.

Violence has risen across Afghanistan with the Taliban launching attacks on vulnerable government-held towns and cities following the troop pullout on May 1: On the eve of the withdrawal, a truck bomb in Logar province killed at least 21 people and wounded at least 91.

Saturday’s blast occurred in Kabul’s western neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, which has been hit in the past by Islamic State militants.

The area is predominately home to Hazara and Shiite Afghans, whom Islamic State views as heretics.

At the same time, both the Taliban and Islamic State believe girls should remain at home and eschew education.

CHINA

What Goes Up…

Remnants of a Chinese rocket reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and crashed into the Indian Ocean over the weekend, ending days of concern and speculation over where the debris was going to hit, CBS News reported.

China’s space agency said that the remains of its Long March-5B rocket landed somewhere just north of the Maldives, adding that most of the rocket was destroyed during re-entry.

The 23-ton rocket recently launched the first module for China’s new Tianhe space station into orbit.

The rocket was orbiting the planet unpredictably every 90 minutes at about 17,000 miles per hour, which made it nearly impossible to predict its landing location.

The uncertainty sparked fear that the debris could damage property or injure people.

The United States space agency, NASA, slammed China for “failing to meet responsible standards” for the re-entry of space debris.

This is not the first time that China’s National Space Administration has had issues with re-entry.

In 2018, China’s defunct space station, Tiangog 1, made an uncontrolled re-entry and landed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

DISCOVERIES

Rituals in the Sand

Thousands of ancient rock structures or “mustatils” from the Arabic word for “rectangle” have been discovered in Saudi Arabia’s northwestern AlUla region, believed to be the oldest ritual landscape ever identified, NBC News reported.

In a new study, a research team discovered that the mustatils are about 7,000 years old, making them around 2,000 years older than either Stonehenge in Britain or the oldest Egyptian pyramid.

The team explained that the stone structures are similar in shape and scattered over 77,000-square miles.

They also suggested that the ancient people had “a great level of communication over a very big area” to be able to move more than 12,000 tons of basalt stone to construct the monumental structures.

But researchers aren’t exactly clear what purpose the ancient structures served or why they were built in the first place.

Multiple clues, including rock drawings of cattle and the discovery of animal remains in one mustatil, suggest that the inhabitants belonged to a “cattle cult” that celebrated animals and therefore the monuments were an early expression of that belief.

Archaeologist Huw Groucutt, who was not involved in the study, noted that the paper offers some new and important insights on the “mustatil phenomenon.”

“They show that this part of the world is far from the eternal empty desert that people often imagine but rather somewhere that remarkable human cultural developments have taken place,” he said.

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: 32,707,799 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 22,662,575 (+1.64%)
  3. Brazil: 15,184,790 (+0.26%)
  4. France: 5,838,294 (+0.16%)
  5. Turkey: 5,031,332 (+0.30%)
  6. Russia: 4,824,621 (+0.17%)
  7. UK: 4,450,578 (+0.04%)
  8. Italy: 4,111,210 (+0.20%)
  9. Spain: 3,567,408 (+0.00%)**
  10. Germany: 3,530,887 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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