The World Today for February 08, 2022

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Chocolate, Beer and Sovereignty

TAIWAN

Lala Sin has shied away from speaking Mandarin Chinese around her three children. Instead, the resident of Taiwan has been speaking Taiwanese Hokkien, or Taigi, a division of a language that is common in southeastern China and among the Chinese diaspora throughout Asia. Her linguistic choice is unapologetically political.

“Speaking our mother language is the most effective vaccine” against Chinese claims on Taiwanese sovereignty, Sin told the Wall Street Journal.

Sin spoke as China’s ambassador to the US, for example, recently warned that military conflict between Chinese and American forces in the Pacific could occur if the US continued to grow diplomatically closer to Taiwan, National Public Radio reported. Fueling those concerns, undoubtedly, was talk of a potential trade pact between the US and Taiwan, as the Financial Times detailed.

As the Associated Press explained, when the Communists took over the Chinese government in the 1940s, the toppled Nationalist leaders fled to Taiwan and established a government in the capital of Taipei. Today, just over a dozen countries recognize Taiwanese independence. Taiwan, meeting with a high-level delegation from Somalia’s breakaway Somaliland region this week, is courting more.

The issue plays out worldwide. When China blocked trade with Lithuania after the latter country allowed Taiwan to open an embassy in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, Taiwanese consumers rushed to stores to purchase Lithuanian chocolate, beer and kvass, a fermented drink, to show support for their European friend, the Washington Post reported.

Still, Lithuania faced a backlash so strong – it says that China downgraded their diplomatic relationship and blocked its goods from entering China – that it forced the European Union last week to launch a complaint against China at the World Trade Organization over the trade disruption, CNN noted.

Meanwhile, many fear the possibility of a conflict that will involve more than sweets.

Taiwan recently held drills to demonstrate how its military could intercept Chinese warplanes that might support an invasion, Reuters wrote. The Taiwanese navy has similarly showcased its new vessels to deter Chinese aggression, added Radio Free Asia. “We want the People’s Liberation Army to think twice before it acts,” said Taiwanese Army Colonel Sun Li-fang. American military commanders have warned that China could invade Taiwan before 2025, noted Foreign Affairs.

China, meanwhile, has supported Russia in the current standoff with the US and Europe over Ukraine and against any expansion of NATO, wrote Nikkei Asia. The new besties met last week and reaffirmed their commitments to each other and against a world dominated by the United States, the New York Times wrote. Chinese leaders assert their right to Taiwan while Russia claims that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, could become a staging ground for Western aggression in the future.

Still, occasionally, the two sides make concessions. Taiwanese officials have allowed Taiwanese athletes to compete in the Olympics in Beijing under the banner of “Chinese Taipei,” reversing an earlier decision to sit out the games.

Maybe they wanted to make a peaceful gesture to the mainland. Or maybe they just wanted a chance to beat the pants off their rivals.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Under Siege

CANADA

Canada’s capital city declared a state of emergency Monday following a week-long protest by truck drivers over Covid-19 restrictions that has led to gridlock in the city center and raised suspicions of foreign meddling in domestic affairs, the Guardian reported.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson vowed to get “the city back” and said the move is aimed at bringing national attention to the situation in the capital, which officials have described as a “siege” and “occupation.”

Last week, a convoy of trucks and their supporters marched into the capital to protest the vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the border from the United States. The “freedom convoy,” however, soon turned into a larger movement against pandemic measures in Canada.

Over the weekend, the demonstrations spread in other Canadian cities and have even attracted various US groups and individuals opposing Covid-19 regulations, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump.

Police have threatened to arrest anyone attempting to bring additional support to the “freedom convoy,” while Canadian officials have raised concerns over US politicians interfering in the country’s domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, the fundraising site GoFundMe shut down a campaign supporting the convoy and said it would refund or redirect the money raised by protesters to charities.

Even so, demonstrators maintained that they will not leave until all coronavirus measures are removed, with some also calling for Trudeau’s government to resign.

Bulldozing the Guardrails

TUNISIA

Tunisian President Kais Saied dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council this week, a move that raised concerns over the independence of the country’s judiciary and the leader’s efforts to consolidate his power, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

The council was responsible for appointing and overseeing Tunisian judges. It is one of the few remaining state bodies that has remained independent of the president’s office.

However, Saied has accused the country’s judiciary of corruption, saying it has been infiltrated by his political opponents.

Tunisian judges and politicians rejected the decision as “dangerous and illegal,” warning that it was a political purge of the judiciary. They noted that there are no legal or constitutional mechanisms to permit the president to disband the council.

Saied’s decision comes less than a year after he suspended parliament and dismissed the country’s prime minister, a move his critics have branded as a coup. The president later took steps to rule by decree and vowed to rewrite the 2014 democratic constitution before putting it to a public vote.

Saied has rejected the coup moniker. Still, critics say he has eroded the country’s hard-earned democratic gains made in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Crushing Seeds

NICARAGUA

Nicaragua stripped the operating licenses of a number of universities this month, a move that many critics say is the latest attempt by the government of President Daniel Ortega to crush dissent in the Central American country, the Washington Post reported.

Officials said they canceled the operating permits of five private universities, including the prominent Polytechnic University of Nicaragua. They said that the government-run National Council of Universities will take over the management of the institutions.

The government also canceled the operating licenses for seven foreign academic programs, including those associated with Florida International University and Michigan State.

Authorities said the institutions had violated laws requiring non-profit groups to present detailed information on their finances and other information. The universities countered that they fulfilled the requirements and that the government’s move was mainly in retaliation for the 2018 mass protests that gripped the country.

In 2018, demonstrations erupted across cities and universities in Nicaragua over Ortega’s proposed social reforms. They soon evolved into anti-government rallies that resulted in violent clashes between protesters and security forces. Human rights groups said more than 350 people were killed during the protests.

The violent crackdown has raised concerns about Ortega’s rising authoritarianism: After crushing the 2018 demonstrations, the president began targeting critics, news organizations and human rights activists.

Last year, authorities detained all of Ortega’s serious challengers in the run-up to the November presidential elections that gave him a fourth term.

Analysts said that the recent seizures of private institutions were aimed at quelling any remaining opposition to the government. Some also feared that the authorities want to “impose an educational system aimed at indoctrinating young people.”

DISCOVERIES

A Lingering Fog

Those infected by Covid-19 sometimes experience symptoms weeks or even months after becoming infected.

Known as “long Covid,” some patients have reported fatigue, shortness of breath and even “brain fog,” according to the Center for Disease Control.

Recently, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco discovered that people suffering from post-Covid brain fog have abnormalities in their spinal fluid, New Atlas reported.

In their paper, researchers took cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples from 17 subjects, all of whom had experienced a mild case of Covid-19 around 10 months before. The authors noted that the 13 subjects still suffered persistent signs of brain fog, while the rest had no post-Covid symptoms.

Their findings showed that 10 out 13 post-Covid patients had markers of neuroinflammation and unusual volumes of immune antibodies.

Senior author Joanna Hellmuth suggested that Covid-19 may have triggered an abnormal immune system response among the people living with the conditions.

“It’s possible that the immune system, stimulated by the virus, may be functioning in an unintended pathological way,” she said. “This would be the case even though the individuals did not have the virus in their bodies.”

She added that long-term cognitive problems have also been found in other kinds of viral infections, including HIV and other coronaviruses.

Recent research has also highlighted immune system anomalies in post-Covid patients. Last year, Yale University researchers found that the coronavirus can directly infect brain cells.

“If people tell us they have new thinking and memory issues, I think we should believe them rather than require that they meet certain severity criteria,” said Hellmuth.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 397,433,070

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,751,259

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,075,430,376

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

  1. US: 76,852,768 (+0.45%)
  2. India: 42,339,611 (+0.16%)
  3. Brazil: 26,616,014 (+0.26%)
  4. France: 20,938,263 (+0.25%)
  5. UK: 17,988,447 (+0.36%)
  6. Russia: 12,782,791 (+1.35%)
  7. Turkey: 12,335,015 (+0.79%)
  8. Italy: 11,663,338 (+0.36%)
  9. Germany: 11,325,490 (+1.60%)
  10. Spain: 10,395,471 (+1.92%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

Clarification: In Monday’s THE WORLD, BRIEFLY section, we said our “A Broken Record” item that Brazil has experienced a rise in the number of Congolese and Cameroonian refugees attempting to cross the border into the United States. To clarify, these refugees from Congo and Cameroon have been making an overland trek from Brazil across South and Central America to the US border. We apologize for the confusion.

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