The World Today for January 19, 2022

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Standing Tall

BARBADOS

When the BBC asked Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley about climate change last year, the interviewer learned a lesson about international perspective. As the Scotland-based National newspaper explained, the BBC correspondent wondered why Barbados was receiving so much Chinese foreign investment when the country was in the Caribbean – traditionally the US’s sphere of influence.

“For you to focus on the Caribbean or Africa with China, without recognizing the role that China is playing in Europe or the north Atlantic countries, is a bit disingenuous,” said Mottley. “(It) really reflects more that we’re seen as pawns, regrettably, rather than countries with equal capacity to determine our destiny and to be part of that global conversation to fight the global issues of the day such as climate and the pandemic.” She added that the US accepts billions in Chinese investments annually when it sells Treasury bonds on the open market to fund its perennial budget deficits.

That vigorous sense of independence and deep historical awareness likely underpinned Barbados’ decision late last year to say goodbye to British Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state to become a republic, as NBC News reported. Those qualities also appear to be serving the country well as it moves forward in 2022 and prepares for its first parliamentary elections as a republic today, as Reuters noted.

After multinational tourism companies withheld payments during the coronavirus pandemic –hoarding cash – local entrepreneurs launched their own travel booking service, BookBarbados.com, for example. It was an unapologetic attempt to ensure more money from their country’s biggest industry goes into local hands, according to Skift.

Tourism funding could finance other efforts, too. Avinash Persaud, who advises Mottley on investment and financial services, has suggested a universal basic income to help citizens endure the tough times resulting from Covid-19 and save the economy from a cycle of poverty, Business Insider reported.

The country is also opening a virtual embassy in Decentraland, an online world where a plot of virtual property recently sold for more than $2.4 million, wrote Bloomberg. Barbadian officials said the online embassy would save money. The country didn’t have the capacity to open diplomatic missions in the 197 countries around the globe.

Such measures should inspire other countries to throw off the legacy of colonialism – a symbolic colonialism, to be sure, but one nonetheless, argued Al Jazeera columnist Andrew Mitrovica, noting that Australia and Canada are among the largest ex-colonies where the British monarch still theoretically holds sway.

Let nations decide for themselves. That is the point.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Long Game

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Yemeni Houthi rebels launched a deadly drone attack on the United Arab Emirates this week, an act that analysts said underscores the UAE’s vulnerability amid ongoing tensions with Iran, Al Jazeera reported.

The Iran-backed Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted an oil plant in Abu Dhabi, as well as the capital’s international airport. UAE authorities said that three people died and at least six others were wounded.

Houthi officials hailed the act – the rebels’ first effective long-distance strike – as “a successful military operation” and warned they could target more facilities in the UAE, which is part of a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition fighting rebels in Yemen.

The attack received international condemnation and prompted Saudi Arabia to launch airstrikes on Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, Tuesday. The airstrikes killed at least 20 people, the Guardian wrote.

The recent events come at a critical juncture for the region: Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in talks to repair bilateral ties. Meanwhile, Iran is negotiating with world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 to impose new sanctions.

Although the UAE withdrew its forces from Yemen in 2019, it continues to support armed groups fighting against the Houthis.

Political observers noted that the Abu Dhabi attack served as a warning by Iran to the UAE, which has been under pressure from the United States to better enforce sanctions against Tehran as nuclear negotiations resume.

Others also highlighted that the greatest damage of the incident is to the UAE’s reputation “because they have always portrayed themselves as a safe and secure country to do business.”

The conflict in Yemen has killed thousands of people and pushed the country toward a humanitarian catastrophe.

Another Shadow

CHINA

Chinese authorities stopped sales of tickets to next month’s Winter Olympics to ordinary citizens over concerns about the evolving threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times reported.

The organizer committee said it was ending ticket sales “to ensure the safety of all participants and spectators.” Instead, it had created an “adapted program” to allow some spectators to attend. The body did not specify who would be invited.

The announcement comes a few days after health officials discovered the first case of the Omicron variant in the capital, Beijing. Authorities then ordered an immediate lockdown and mass testing in one of Beijing’s neighborhoods.

The Chinese government and Olympic organizers have taken massive steps to isolate Beijing from the virus, including a travel ban preventing outsiders from entering the city. Foreign visitors have also been barred from attending the games.

Scheduled to begin on Feb. 4, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are starting to look a lot like last year’s Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan – which foreign visitors were also banned from attending.

In recent weeks, China has aggressively sought to halt a series of outbreaks in the country as part of the government’s policy of “zero tolerance” for the coronavirus.

The halting of ticket sales casts another shadow on Beijing’s Olympics: In recent months, the United States and multiple nations have launched diplomatic boycotts of the games over China’s alleged human rights abuses, the Hill reported.

A Step Closer

SERBIA

Serbian voters this week approved constitutional changes to the rules governing the judiciary in a referendum aimed at bringing the Balkan nation closer to joining the European Union, Radio Free Europe reported.

Results showed that nearly 60 percent of the voters supported the amendments, which were also backed by the government of President Aleksandar Vucic. Turnout was around 30 percent.

The changes would affect the election of judges and prosecutors and grant more independence to the judiciary. The government said that the changes would improve the rule of law and boost foreign investment.

Following the results, the United States and EU – which also supported the amendments – hailed the vote as moving Serbia a step closer to joining the 27-nation bloc.

Even so, many Serbian opposition leaders raised doubts that the amendments would bring any real change. The tweaks would be purely cosmetic, the critics claimed, and the ruling Serbian Progressive party would simply turn to alternative ways to influence the judiciary, according to Balkan Insight.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo also overshadowed Sunday’s referendum, as the Kosovo government banned ethnic Serbs in the country’s north from voting in it.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 following the 1998-99 conflict between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbian forces. Serbia still considers Kosovo to be part of its territory and has refused to recognize its independence.

The two neighbors would need to normalize their relations as one of the requirements to become members of the EU.

DISCOVERIES

‘Zero to 100’

Sometimes evolution just works faster in some animals, according to a new study on dinosaur fossils.

A research team recently analyzed the fossilized remains of a giant ichthyosaur, a large extinct marine reptile that dominated Earth’s oceans more than 200 million years ago, CNN reported.

Paleontologists originally found the fossils, which included a nearly 6.6-foot-long skull, shoulder and an arm similar to a flipper, in Nevada in 1998. They estimate that the creature was about 56 feet long and weighed 45 tons.

A thorough analysis of the fossils showed that the remains belonged to a new species of ichthyosaur known as Cymbospondylus youngorum. The team wrote that this group of reptiles returned to the ocean during the Triassic Period – before the Jurassic Period made famous by Hollywood – and quickly adapted to marine life.

Researchers noted that the extinct marine creature has a few similarities to modern-day whales, despite being separated by hundreds of millions of years. Both evolved giant bodies and descended from animals that returned to the sea, according to the New York Times.

However, study co-author Lars Schmitz explained that the ichthyosaurs became bigger “in a very short amount of time, evolutionarily speaking.” It took them about three million years, whereas whales needed 45 million years to gain their size.

He added that C. youngorum puzzled researchers because the creature evolved and thrived shortly after the most severe extinction event on Earth, which wiped out more than 80 percent of global marine life some 252 million years ago.

“This fossil is an example of how fast evolution can produce diversity,” Schmitz said. “You can go from zero to 100 in a few million years, which is very fast in evolutionary terms.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 334,286,357

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,556,167

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,699,784,523

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 67,597,794 (+1.77%)
  2. India: 37,901,241 (+0.75%)
  3. Brazil: 23,229,851 (+0.61%)
  4. UK: 15,501,852 (+0.62%)
  5. France: 14,284,905 (-0.03%)**
  6. Russia: 10,716,397 (+0.31%)
  7. Turkey: 10,593,687 (+0.66%)
  8. Italy: 9,018,425 (+2.60%)
  9. Spain: 8,518,975 (+1.12%)
  10. Germany: 8,222,264 (+1.46%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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