The World Today for October 27, 2022

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Heroes and Villains


Norwegian authorities recently detained a Russian carrying two drones, photos and videos as he tried to return home via the far northern border, CBS News reported. The arrest followed sightings of drones flying off the Norwegian coast near oil and gas drilling platforms that make Norway a major energy producer.

The incident came a few days after authorities in the Scandinavian country arrested at least seven other Russians – including the son of a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin – for illegally snapping photographs of banned subjects. The authorities didn’t identify the subjects, the Associated Press reported, but Norway has increased security around its oil and gas facilities after underwater blasts ruptured natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea that transport Russian gas to Germany. Observers assume the explosions were sabotage.

As Europe reduces its consumption of Russian energy in a bid to apply pressure on Putin to withdraw from Ukraine, Norway’s energy exports have filled the gap.

Experts at the Atlantic Council are already speculating that Russia might have already launched a hybrid war against Norway using drones, cyberattacks and other measures in order to further cut Europe’s energy supplies. Russia’s aim in this so-called “Winter War” would be to compel leaders in Berlin, Paris and Rome to come begging for more Russian hydrocarbons as the cold, dark months approach.

But Norway is getting squeezed from the West, too. While Norwegian energy heats German, French and Italian homes, folks in those countries are “fuming” that Norway has resisted deep discounts to help the continent in a show of solidarity against Russian aggression, Euractiv noted.

As the Washington Post noted, Norway has become both a “hero and a villain” of the moment. “With natural gas scarce and pipelines in peril, Europe has rarely needed Norway more. Or resented it as much,” wrote the newspaper.

Norwegians, however, are used to ambivalence when it comes to energy. Their carbon-emitting natural resources fund their generous social welfare state. At the same time, however, Norwegians are among the most climate change-conscious people in the world. They have long lived with this dichotomy.

The head of Norway’s oil-financed $1.2 trillion sovereign wealth fund recently told the Financial Times that investors should keep their eye on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns that had been an animating force in finance before Russia’s invasion reminded the world that most machines still depend on fossil fuels, for better or for worse.

The fund is helping Norway to build the first all-electric public transportation system in a capital city, Euronews reported. Similarly, confidence in sustainable technology has led to nearly 100 percent of car sales in the country involving electric vehicles, according to the Driven, an Australian news outlet.

Norway has achieved great success in using carbon to convert to a green economy. No wonder Russia isn’t pleased.


Exporting Repression


China has allegedly set up at least two “police stations” in the Netherlands, which the government uses to monitor and pressure Chinese dissidents abroad, Politico reported Wednesday.

According to Dutch media, the so-called “overseas service stations” have been operating in the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam since 2018. These offices offer diplomatic services for Chinese-Dutch citizens – such as renewing driving licenses – but they are also used to silence dissidents in the Netherlands, according to one victim, Wang Jingyu.

Wang told journalists that he fled to the Netherlands after Chinese authorities targeted him for criticizing the government on social media. He added that the Rotterdam “police station” had urged him to return to China, where there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest, the Washington Times noted.

He said that someone from the office told him to “think about my parents.”

Following the report, Dutch authorities said the offices were “illegal” and that the government will investigate the matter.

The Chinese embassy countered that it was not aware of the existence of such stations. But Dutch outlets cited Chinese media coverage of a high-level embassy official who was involved in discussions about the Amsterdam station’s opening.

The recent reports come a month after the Spain-based watchdog group, Safeguard Defenders, reported that China has established “a series of overseas police ‘service stations’ across five continents but mainly in Europe.”

The organization’s report said there is a station in New York City and three others in Canada.

Stepping Toward Peace


Representatives of the Ethiopian government and rebels from the northern Tigray region met in South Africa this week to negotiate a peace agreement to end nearly two years of civil war, Al Jazeera reported.

The talks in Pretoria mark the first time the two warring sides have met since the conflict started in November 2020. At the time, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray after accusing the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front of attacking federal army camps.

South African officials said the negotiations are being mediated by an African Union team led by Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The talks will end on Sunday.

The meetings come amid a surge of fighting following the collapse of a humanitarian truce in August. Last week, Ethiopian forces captured three towns in Tigray, sparking concerns that the advancing troops will commit abuses against civilians.

The conflict has killed thousands of people, displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands on the verge of famine.

Last year, a joint investigation by the United Nations and Ethiopia’s human rights commission found that all sides in the civil war had committed war crimes.

For Sale: Citizenship


Laos will offer honorary citizenships to foreign nationals who invest nearly $1.5 million in the Southeast Asian country, a move that many locals and critics fear will result in a massive land grab by Chinese investors, Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday.

Under the new decree, applicants can become honorary citizens provided they donate $500,000 to the country’s socio-economic development and invest $1 million before applying.

Honorary citizens may live in Laos permanently, as well as lease public and private land.

Officials said the initiative aims to bring more skilled foreigners to help the nation develop. They added that the program is “open to all foreigners who have the money to invest,” while also stressing that honorary citizens cannot own the land.

However, critics raised concerns that the program will attract multitudes of Chinese investors, who will snap up land and leave locals with fewer places to live and less access to natural resources.

China is Laos’ second-biggest trading partner after Thailand and is the country’s greatest donor of aid as well as investment.

In recent years, Laotian complaints about Chinese business practices in the country have grown, mainly focusing on Chinese casinos and special economic zones linked to human trafficking and crime, as well as the mistreatment of Laotian workers by their Chinese employers.


Edible Cities

Many residents in the western German city of Andernach pick up flour, eggs and other staples at local stores and markets, but pick their produce in the town center.

Since 2010, Andernach began planting special gardens in areas that were previously overgrown and unkempt. These days, these areas are now full of peach, almond and pear trees, as well as patches that grow tomatoes, onions or anything else the town decides.

Everyone is welcome to pick what they can carry, for free.

The town of 30,000 is part of a growing global network of “edible cities” which have developed gardens and orchards for the public, the Washington Post reported.

The Edible Cities Network comprises about 150 cities around the world that have implemented fruit trees and vegetable gardens in public places for anyone to access free of charge.

Funded by the EU’s executive body, the network has been supporting community gardens and urban food forests for cities in Cuba, China, Tunisia and Uruguay, among others.

Similar edible cities have also popped up across the United States: For example, Detroit has an urban farming movement and Philadelphia has food forests.

Ina Säumel, a principal investigator for the Edible Cities Network, said the organization wants to encourage people to get more involved in their urban parks and not see them as simply passive places.

“Public green natural spaces in cities are incredibly valuable, and even more so as temperatures rise and cities become more densely populated,” she said.

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