The World Today for October 05, 2022

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Little Islands, Big Games


Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands distributed almost $2.5 million to 39 out of 50 lawmakers last year. Sogavare arguably wasn’t spending taxpayers’ money, however. He was doling out cash that China gave him specifically to appropriate at his discretion.

Unsurprisingly, some observers in the Solomon Islands felt like the prime minister was using his Chinese cash to bolster his popularity among lawmakers after a few years of extremely controversial pro-China moves, Voice of America reported.

Sogavare has been moving the Solomon Islands, a former British colony, closer to China for years. In 2019, he switched his country’s diplomatic mission from Taiwan to Beijing. In November 2021 four people died in riots that erupted in the capital of Honiara over fears that the country was drawing too close to the authoritarian power, Reuters explained. Australian troops needed to be called in to restore order. In December, he survived a no-confidence vote stemming from the civil unrest.

In March, news broke of a secret security pact between the Solomon Islands and China.

China has been securing such deals to cement its so-called Belt and Road Initiative, a globe-spanning series of infrastructure projects to create supply lines that put China at the hub of a massive trade market, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote.

As the Brookings Institution wrote, it’s not clear exactly how the pact will work. Leaders in Beijing have not lent military support to foreign nations since the early days of the Cold War. But in August, Sogavare turned a US Coast Guard ship and a British Royal Navy vessel away, raising concerns that the country’s closer ties with China might mean it will sever its ties with the US and Britain, the New York Times reported.

Then, in early September, Solomon Islands lawmakers approved delaying national elections from May through August in 2023 to early 2024, according to the Washington Post. Opposition leaders called the delay a “power grab.” The United States Institute for Peace warned that it could undermine democracy.

Sogavare argued that the country couldn’t manage elections as well as the Pacific Games. China, incidentally, is building a massive stadium that will host the games in Honiara, added the Kyodo News. He rejected an Australian offer to help fund the election at its scheduled time as “interference.” The prime minister has similarly criticized other questions about Chinese influence in his country.

Still, the country on Tuesday did agree to sign an accord between the US and more than a dozen Pacific nations on climate change, natural disasters and economic growth – but only after indirect references to China were removed, ABC News reported.

At the same time, researchers at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank said this week that the Chinese Communist Party has attempted to undermine the Solomon Islands’ relationship with Australia and the US by spreading false narratives through local and social media networks, the broadcaster added.

Meanwhile, many Solomon Islanders are worried that Chinese security forces and surveillance technology will soon be deployed in their country if Sogavare’s position comes under threat, Foreign Policy magazine reported. The United States Institute of Peace warned that China’s search for an expanded military presence in the Pacific is akin to Japanese expansion prior to World War II, noting that Kiribati is likely the next hotspot.

Still, many Pacific Islanders are not happy with the trend, especially in the Solomon Islands. If a democratic movement does rise up against Sogavare, the prime minister might have little say on what happens next.


Untangling Cables


The European Parliament approved new rules Tuesday that will introduce a common charger for small electronic devices in the European Union, a move proponents say will reduce waste in the bloc, Politico reported.

Under the new bill, USB type-C charging ports will become standard for portable electronic devices – such as smartphones, e-readers, tablets and digital cameras – starting in the fall of 2024. The standardized charging port will become the norm for laptop chargers beginning in 2026.

The new legislation received overwhelming support from EU lawmakers, who said the rules will help decrease the amount of electronic waste, reduce costs for consumers and allow for the reuse of old electronics.

But many smartphone manufacturers, including Apple, had previously resisted the EU’s plans over concerns that the measure would hinder innovation and create more waste, according to Axios.

According to the European Commission, chargers generate more than 11,000 tons of electronic waste annually. While the new rules are expected to significantly reduce this figure, it only covers a minuscule amount of the bloc’s e-waste.

In 2019, the EU collected 4.5 million tons of electronic waste.

Across the Rio Grande


A US federal court rejected the Mexican government’s $10 billion lawsuit against US-based gun manufacturers, which accused the companies of facilitating the trafficking of weapons across the US-Mexico border to drug cartels, Reuters reported.

Last year, the Mexican government sued a number of gunmakers, including Smith & Wesson Brands Inc, saying the companies undermined Mexico’s strict gun laws by designing, marketing and selling military-style assault weapons that cartels could use.

Mexican officials admitted that only about two percent of the nearly 40 million guns made annually in the US are smuggled into Mexico, including up to 597,000 guns made by the defendants.

They said arms trafficking was a major reason the country came in third in the world for gun-related deaths.

The court acknowledged Mexico’s grievances, but dismissed the lawsuit saying that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act shielded weapons manufacturers from lawsuits over “the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products … by others when the product functioned as designed and intended.”

Many pro-gun organizations welcomed the verdict. Meanwhile, Mexico said it would appeal the case.

“This suit by the Mexican government has received worldwide recognition and has been considered a turning point in the discussion around the gun industry’s responsibility for the violence experienced in Mexico and the region,” Mexico’s foreign ministry said.

Of Justice and Public Stunts


Guinea recently began a historic trial of the country’s former president and 10 of his top officials for a 2009 stadium massacre in the capital Conakry, that saw government troops killing protesters and raping women, the Washington Post reported.

On Sept. 28, 2009, thousands gathered at Conakry’s soccer stadium to protest the junta government led by then-President Moussa Dadis Camara. The demonstrations became a bloodbath after security forces fired on protesters, killing more than 150 people, and raping more than 100 women. A United Nations commission also found that government forces attempted to cover up the massacre.

The trial began on the 13th anniversary of the massacre and comes a year after the West African nation experienced a military coup that ousted President Alpha Condé.

Condé had avoided holding a trial against Camara, despite pressure from domestic and international human rights groups. But the new junta pledged to hold a trial that would be transparent, impartial and safe.

Some human rights activists, however, cautioned that the proceedings might just be a publicity stunt for the junta, which has been facing international condemnation and sanctions for failing to establish a timeline for democratic elections.

Even so, many observers and victims welcomed the proceedings, saying that it was rare that a government would try its own leaders for such atrocities in domestic courts. Others said it will finally bring victims long-awaited justice.

The trial could last more than a year.


Favorite Weapon

Past studies have shown that the tentacles in octopuses have minds of their own, but that doesn’t mean catching prey is challenging for them – that’s because of leadership and delegation, scientists said in a new study.

Scientists tested how the California two-spot octopus species reacted – and which appendages they used – when crabs and shrimps were dropped in their tanks, Science Alert reported.

The eight-armed mollusks would hide inside a den and watch their prey with one eye peering out.

Video recordings showed that the octopuses would mainly rely on their second arm from the middle – to the side of their eye – to trap their prey. At times, the animals would also use their other tentacles.

The team noted that the creatures would use their arms in different ways depending on the prey: For example, a pouncing movement led by the second arm was used for crabs, which move slower. But for the elusive and quick shrimps, the octopuses used subtler arm movements to deceive and catch them.

The consistency of the second arm strike was somewhat surprising, given that octopuses are rarely seen as coordinated, but the researchers believe it has to do with their field of vision.

Researchers added that hunting tactics could change in the wild, saying more research is needed to understand the neuron activity linked to such precise motor movements.

Even so, they explained that the study could aid in the creation of soft robots, particularly those that work underwater.

“Octopuses are extremely strong,” said co-author Trevor Wardill. “For them, to grasp and open a door is trivial, given their dexterity.”

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