January 14, 2022
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NEED TO KNOW
What’s In a Name
CHINA / INDIA
Indian leaders recently blasted Chinese officials for moves that appear to ramp up pressure in their disputes over territory along their border.
According to Indian critics, China has been renaming locations that India claims are part of the northern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, sending harassing letters to Indian parliamentarians who met Tibetan leaders in exile – China claims Tibet is part of its sovereign territory – and building a bridge over Pangong Lake on the Chinese-Indian border that is tantamount to an “illegal occupation,” wrote the Indian Express.
Officially, China now refers to Arunachal Pradesh as Zangnan, or South Tibet, noted the Diplomat. Chinese leaders have similarly renamed numerous islands and reefs in the South China Sea as the country has laid claim to them in a bid to expand its influence in Asia.
China’s jockeying for position on its border with India is an escalation of the tensions that started in 2020 when Chinese and Indian troops clashed along the 2,100-mile-long Line of Actual Control that divides the two massive countries, as the BBC explained. As National Public Radio wrote, 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese soldiers died in brutal hand-to-hand combat that broke out in a skirmish over land. The two countries have held talks that appear to have been fruitful, though it’s not clear if they have yielded substantial changes.
India recognizes the frontier that British and Tibetan officials agreed upon in 1914, or 35 years before China seized control of Tibet, Global Voices wrote. China, meanwhile, asserts that Tibet was never an independent country and so doesn’t recognize the negotiated border. China wants around 25,000 square miles of land that India claims.
Despite the tensions, Chinese and Indian forces recently exchanged sweets at 10 spots along the border, reported the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper run by the Communist Party.
But those exchanges occurred as both sides knew they were girding for war, or at least deploying forces with the hope of deterring the other from invading. Their fears are justified. The two countries fought a war over the border in 1962.
China is building “helicopter pads, runways and railroads,” according to the Washington Post. India is building massive tunnels to create supply lines that could serve tens of thousands of troops that have been diverted to the border. Military drills on both sides have become commonplace.
While Chinese infrastructure is superior and more extensive than India’s, at least for now, India’s troops are better trained and prepared for high-altitude combat, argued Foreign Policy. The People’s Liberation Army has hit snags in the region, requiring pullbacks and the deployment of oxygen tents in some instances.
That’s a lot of energy devoted to some harsh, cold and remote mountains.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
It’s A Start
A German court on Thursday convicted a former Syrian intelligence officer of crimes against humanity, in what activists called a landmark trial over the systematic torture committed by Syria’s government, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The court in Koblenz sentenced Anwar Raslan to life in prison. The former colonel worked in the infamous Branch 251 detention center between 2011 and 2012 and is charged with overseeing the murder of 58 people and the torture of at least 4,000 detainees.
Judges ruled that there was evidence to hold him responsible for 27 deaths, according to the Associated Press.
The defendant denied all charges, and his lawyers countered that Raslan had defected in 2012 and later fled Syria to Jordan. Raslan later came to Germany as a refugee in 2014 and sought police protection because he suspected that his former colleagues in Syria’s spy agency were following him. Police arrested him in 2019 after a background check.
The verdict marks the second conviction of a Syrian government official for crimes against humanity. Last year, the same court sentenced Eyad Gharib – a subordinate of Raslan – to four and half years in prison. He was also arrested in 2019.
Prosecutors tried Raslan under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which states that national courts can have jurisdiction over crimes against international law committed outside the country’s borders.
Plaintiffs, witnesses and rights groups welcomed the verdict as “a first step in addressing the crimes in Syria.” Others said that the ruling could pave the way for future convictions.
Even so, critics and advocates noted that Raslan’s conviction will do little to change the situation in Syria, where President Bashar Assad still holds a tight grip despite a decade-long civil war.
Nigeria lifted its ban on Twitter this week, seven months after authorities had blocked the social media platform over its decision to delete a post by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Guardian reported.
Officials said the decision followed months of negotiations between the company and the government over the conditions that Twitter would need to meet to operate in the West African country.
They announced that the social media giant agreed to set up offices in Nigeria and comply with the country’s tax obligations. They added that Nigeria would also become part of Twitter’s “partner support and law enforcement portals,” a channel for governments and organizations to deal more effectively with potentially unlawful or abusive posts.
Twitter welcomed the government’s move but did not comment on the concessions.
Relations between the tech firm and Nigeria deteriorated in recent years, with authorities accusing the company of failing to curb abusive posts and hate speech. Officials have also blamed Twitter for destabilizing the country during the anti-police-brutality protests that swept Nigeria in 2020 and 2021.
In June 2021, Twitter deleted a post by Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists following attacks on public property. The company said the president’s post had violated Twitter’s abusive behavior policy, but the government retaliated by banning the platform, according to Al Jazeera.
Many users criticized the ban, while analysts said it sent a wrong signal to foreign investors and hurt small businesses in Nigeria.
Others said the move underscored Buhari’s repression and curbs on free speech, citing crackdowns on journalists and protest groups in recent years.
The Right To Know
Ireland will enact a new law to allow adopted people automatic access to their birth records for the first time in what the government has called ending “a historic wrong,” Reuters reported.
The legislation comes a year after an inquiry found that thousands of infants died in Irish homes for unmarried mothers and their offspring that were mostly run by the Catholic Church for about 70 years. The findings also showed that the Catholic institutions secretly sent thousands of infants for adoption – including overseas.
The new law would provide adopted people over the age of 16 complete access to birth, early life and medical information, regardless of their biological parents’ wishes. International law stipulates that all children should be able to establish their identity, but Ireland has had an “outlier status” for decades, according to Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman.
Opposition parties welcomed the legislation but questioned why adopted people would still have to hold an “information session” with officials if a parent has expressed a no-contact preference.
Some campaigners also noted that the level of information in the proposed bill was not sufficient and said that access to data must be expanded to include all agencies.
The inquiry and the subsequent legislation highlighted another instance of the Catholic Church’s worst abuses.
Last year, Archbishop Eamon Martin, head of Ireland’s Catholic Church, apologized to the victims of the church-run homes following the inquiry’s findings. The report said that the homes run by the religious institution had an “appalling” mortality rate that reflected brutal living conditions, according to France24.
Weekly World Quiz
Quid Pro Quo
Azteca alfari ants of Latin America are very protective of their homes, trees of the Cecropia genus.
The laborious insects are known to defend the tree from herbivores and even “heal” it when it is damaged, according to Science Alert.
Panamian high schooler Alex Wcislo accidentally discovered this when he fired a 0.35-inch clay ball through a Cecropia tree and left a hole in it. Within 24 hours, he saw that the hole had been completely closed.
Together with his student friends and ethologist William Wcislo, the team drilled holes in other trees to see how they would be patched up.
In their findings, they reported that the A. alfari would rush to fix the openings, demonstrating a new behavior in the symbiotic relationship between the ants and their tree friends.
Even so, the researchers observed that the worker bugs did not repair all the damage. Out of the 22 drilled holes, the ants only fixed 14.
The team noted that these repairs mainly occurred in areas where ant broods – eggs, larvae and pupae – were located. The ants would first evacuate the broods and then begin the patch-up job.
They said that these repairs could carry a benefit for the trees – such as antimicrobial secretions around the injury – but added that more research is needed to understand the symbiotic relationship between the plant and its residents.
“Sometimes messing around with a slingshot has a good outcome,” Alex Wcislo told Smithsonian Magazine.
COVID-19 Global Update
Total Cases Worldwide: 320,185,308
Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,521,138
Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,565,105,334
Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*
- US: 64,082,824 (+1.39%)
- India: 36,317,927 (+0.00%)**
- Brazil: 22,822,177 (+0.43%)
- UK: 15,064,694 (+0.71%)
- France: 13,351,132 (+2.37%)
- Russia: 10,541,870 (+0.20%)
- Turkey: 10,273,170 (+0.74%)
- Italy: 8,155,645 (+2.32%)
- Spain: 7,930,528 (+2.05%)
- Germany: 7,866,786 (+1.16%)
*Numbers change over 24 hours
**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country