The World Today for March 11, 2022
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Chinese President Xi Jinping once described Russian President Vladimir Putin as “my closest foreign colleague and my best confidant.” Their affinity makes sense. The two men are the world’s most powerful autocrats, the New Yorker magazine noted.
Now, however, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is putting their relationship to the test.
The big question world leaders and other observers are wondering about lately is whether China will help Russia withstand the crippling sanctions the US, Europe and other powers have imposed on the country due to ongoing Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
China can help Russia by importing more oil or extending credit or granting aid that could make up for shortfalls occurring elsewhere in the Russian economy due to sanctions, Cornell University Trade Expert Eswar Prasad told CNBC. But China also needs access to Western financial institutions. Putting those ties in jeopardy by working with Russia would be a major move for officials in Beijing, Prasad added.
In theory, China should be reaching out to help. As Politico explained, Xi and Putin signed a “no limits” partnership agreement weeks before the Russian invasion. The agreement was designed to counter American influence in the world.
Now, however, it might become an albatross around China’s neck. That’s because it’s not clear to what extent Xi knew a Russian invasion of Ukraine was in the works when he signed the agreement. Chinese officials asked Putin to delay an invasion of Ukraine until after the Winter Olympics in Beijing, CNN reported. But it’s not clear whether Putin and Xi spoke about the issue directly or whether Putin shared the scope and scale of his intentions.
“(Chinese leaders) did not anticipate a full-scale invasion,” said China Program Director Yun Sun at the Stimson Center think tank in an interview with the New York Times. “You do not need to invade Ukraine to get what you want. So why bother?”
At present, Chinese leaders appear to be splitting the difference. They recently announced they would send humanitarian aid to Ukraine while also reaffirming their “rock solid” friendship with Russia, wrote Reuters. Declining to condemn Russia’s attacks, they said the situation in Ukraine was complex and rooted in a long history but also abstained in a UN vote to condemn the Russian invasion.
Perhaps the Chinese were eager to see Putin take Ukraine so they could apply the same strategy in Taiwan, a self-proclaimed independent island nation that China views as a renegade province. If anything, Russia’s military mistakes have held lessons about why an invasion of Taiwan would be more difficult than Chinese military planners expected, reported Bloomberg.
That is also true for fierce, unexpected and unprecedented global reaction. Already, the US has reassured Taiwan with statements of support, a delegation of former defense officials visiting the country in early March and an American naval vessel sailing through the Taiwan Strait, a move seen as a warning to China not to make any rash moves on Taiwan, VOA wrote.
Close friends can share lessons. And sometimes they can disagree.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party secured a significant victory in the country’s state elections, including India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, a major win that sets the stage for the upcoming general elections in two years, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Preliminary results showed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won nearly two-thirds of the parliamentary seats in Uttar Pradesh, one of the five states electing legislative assemblies. It marks the first time in decades that voters in Uttar Pradesh have returned an incumbent party to power.
The Hindu-nationalist party also appeared to be on track to win a majority in the states of Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
The resounding victory marks a turn of events for Modi, whose popularity took a hit last year over a series of farm laws that farmers said hurt their business. For months, farmers from Punjab and Uttar Pradesh surrounded the capital, New Delhi, to demand the repeal of those laws.
Modi’s government initially refused but later relented in November ahead of the upcoming elections.
Analysts suggested that Modi’s popularity plays an important role in the BJP’s electoral performance: The leader has managed to maintain a powerful connection with voters because of his charisma and his focus on promoting Hinduism in the Hindu-majority country.
His popularity among his base could also transcend financial concerns such as rising food and gasoline prices or significant unemployment, they added.
Meanwhile, the opposition Congress party lost the state of Punjab to the regional Aam Aadmi Party, which runs the government of New Delhi. The loss marks another sign of the party’s decline amid infighting and voter alienation.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s victory will now position it for a bigger presence in the 2024 general elections.
Walking The Walk
A Twitter bot caused a stir on social media this week after sending out hundreds of tweets revealing the gender pay gaps that exist in companies posting about International Women’s Day, the Washington Post reported.
The @PayGapApp was developed by social media manager Francesca Lawson and software developer Ali Fensome to pressure firms to become more transparent about inequality in their workplace.
The bot works by scanning Twitter accounts for keywords and hashtags linked to International Women’s Day. It then matches the accounts to information taken from the British government’s data on companies’ gender pay gaps.
Since 2017, the British government has required companies with more than 250 employees to submit annual reports on their gender pay. In 2020, Britain’s pay gap among all hourly employees was 15.5 percent, which means that women earned roughly 85 percent of what men did on average.
On International Woman’s Day, March 8, the bot retweeted company posts in support of International Women’s Day by showing hourly median gender pay gaps in these firms. The worst offender was the budget airline, Ryanair.
“In this organization, women’s median hourly pay is 68.6 percent lower than men’s,” the bot tweeted.
Some companies opted to delete the bot’s tweets or just block them, while others responded to them with more context. Even so, @PayGapApp also tweeted about employers where women’s median hourly pay is higher than men’s or equal.
Many users praised the bot, with one netizen saying that more public accountability is needed to create change.
Meanwhile, Lawson and Fensome hoped that the British government will gather additional data on the gender pay gap – including factors such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability – to gain more insight on how the pay discrepancies impact women differently depending on those criteria.
A South Korean conservative candidate won the country’s tight presidential elections this week, a victory that could alter South Korea’s foreign policy, particularly in relation to North Korea and China, NPR reported Thursday.
Yoon Suk Yeol of the People Power Party defeated his rival Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party by less than one percent of the vote.
His victory follows a tough presidential race marked by divergent views on relations with North Korea, Japan and the United States, as well as domestic issues concerning gender and inequality.
During his campaign, Yoon called for a tougher stance regarding neighboring North Korea, compared to the more open-door approach by outgoing President Moon Jae-in. Analysts said the new administration “will try to increase deterrence and close coordination” through the US-South Korea alliance.
Yoon also criticized his predecessor for taking a more conciliatory tone with China. He suggested that South Korea should become more involved with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as “the Quad,” a grouping that includes the US, Japan, India and Australia and one which China views as hostile to its interests.
Meanwhile, on the home front, he sparked controversy with his pledge to abolish the country’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which observers considered an attempt to court the support of young and disgruntled male voters who blame their economic instability on feminists and affirmative action for women.
Still, others noted that the former prosecutor will face challenges, including a deeply divided public and a Democratic-controlled parliament.
- Top Russian and Ukrainian diplomats failed to make headway at talks on Thursday, dashing hopes that Russia would withdraw from Ukraine as the conflict enters its third week, the New York Times reported. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia plans to continue talks with its neighbor. He also reiterated that Russia is not planning to attack other countries and that it “did not attack Ukraine either,” Euronews noted. Meanwhile, EU leaders met in Versailles on Thursday for a two-day summit to discuss how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amid requests from Kyiv for a streamlined road to EU membership, according to Agence France-Presse.
- More than 2.3 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded the country late last month, according to the United Nations, Radio Free Liberty wrote. At the same time, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that the humanitarian situation in the besieged city of Mariupol has become “increasingly dire and desperate,” CNN noted. The organizations said that “hundreds of thousands of people have no food, water, heat, electricity or medical care.”
- The International Monetary Fund authorized a $1.4 billion emergency loan for Ukraine, citing “great human suffering” and anticipating a devastating recession this year as a result of Russia’s invasion, Bloomberg reported. Still, Ukrainian officials estimated that the invasion has destroyed about $100 billion in infrastructure and businesses in Ukraine and dealt a huge hit to its economy, according to AFP. Earlier this week, the US also authorized almost $14 billion in aid to the country.
- Russia has responded to Western sanctions by placing export limits on a number of items until the end of 2022, according to BBC. Exports of telecommunications, medical, automobile, agricultural, and electrical equipment, as well as various forestry goods such as lumber, are prohibited.
Weekly World Quiz
The Lost Tales
Scholars recently discovered that a majority of medieval European tales have been lost to time – only about nine percent of these documents have survived – leading to questions about whether what exists is truly representative of the period, Science News reported.
For their study, a research team used a mathematical formula developed by environmental statistician and study co-author Anne Chao to assess how many of these adventure and romance stories dating from 600 to 1450 CE vanished over the years.
Chao’s method accounts for species that go undiscovered by researchers during biological diversity field surveys. In general terms, it can be used to estimate the number of unseen events of any type that are associated with relatively frequent observed events of the same type.
In the case of the lost tales, the stories and documents were treated as species and the surviving manuscripts as sightings of those species. Using Chao’s method, researchers estimated that out of more than 40,000 documents, only 3,648 of those written accounts have survived.
More than 75 percent of medieval literature in German and Icelandic have survived in at least one document but that number drops to half for Dutch and French tales and around 38 percent for English works.
The team said the novel technique can also be used to estimate the loss of a variety of historical and cultural objects, such as certain types of stone tools or ancient coins.
COVID-19 Global Update
Total Cases Worldwide: 453,472,848
Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,029,862
Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,651,972,387
Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*
- US: 79,455,163 (+0.06%)
- India: 42,984,261 (+0.01%)
- Brazil: 29,259,206 (+0.21%)
- France: 23,492,815 (+0.32%)
- UK: 19,513,721 (+0.43%)
- Russia: 16,943,915 (+0.30%)
- Germany: 16,814,429 (+1.36%)
- Turkey: 14,488,373 (+0.20%)
- Italy: 13,214,498 (+0.42%)
- Spain: 11,204,125 (+0.20%)
Source: Johns Hopkins University
*Numbers change over 24 hours