The World Today for May 23, 2023

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Full Court Press


American and Chinese officials held more than eight hours of “candid” and “constructive” talks in Vienna two weeks ago. Among the breakthroughs, the Associated Press reported, was when White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Wang Yi that the US wanted to “move beyond” the controversies stemming from the incident of the Chinese spy balloon over US territory in February.

Writing in the Korea Herald, an English-language newspaper based in Seoul, Wang Son-taek, director of the Global Policy Center at the Hanpyeong Peace Institute, argued the meeting was an important diplomatic event. The world’s two largest economies are less likely to go to war over Taiwan or other issues as long as they are engaged in a dialogue, Wang said.

Equally interesting, however, as Wang noted, was China’s other diplomatic efforts that were occurring around the world at around the same time as the Vienna talks.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang recently visited France, Germany, and Norway to discuss political and economic cooperation, for example. Chinese Vice President Han Zheng also recently went to the United Kingdom to attend the coronation of King Charles III, as well as Portugal and the Netherlands to discuss reorganizing supply chains between East and West.

The first China-Central Asia summit was also held this month, noted the South China Morning Post, a sign that China might be expanding its influence among the former Soviet republics that Russian leaders would like to dominate – if they weren’t so focused on the war in Ukraine. Still, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, the China Daily, disputed assertions that China was seeking to create a sphere of influence in the region.

Perhaps China’s biggest diplomatic prize would be brokering a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. As Bloomberg columnist Minxin Pei argued, the meeting between Sullivan and Wang in Vienna frightened Russian officials because the two sides undoubtedly discussed how to bring the war to an end. China arguably has the most leverage over Russian President Vladimir Putin to exploit in bringing about an end to the fighting.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has dispatched China’s former ambassador to Russia, Li Hui, to Europe to discuss peace options, the Japan Times reported. Li oversaw close relations between his country and Putin. He might be the man to compel Russia to compromise.

To be sure, other nations are repositioning as China strikes out to shape the world. Australia and other countries in the Pacific, for instance, have sought closer relationships with the US to counterbalance Chinese power, explained the Interpreter, a blog published by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.

That said, the world is at the beginning of a new era that doesn’t need to be fraught with peril.


A Meta Strike


European regulators fined Facebook’s owner, Meta, a record $1.3 billion on Monday for sending users’ information to the United States, the latest clash between the European Union and American tech giants amid negotiations for a new trans-Atlantic data deal, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission issued the fine on the tech giant, saying that the company had violated the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation for years by illegally storing the data of European Facebook users on its servers in the US.

The commission said that such data could be accessed by American spy agencies without any proper means for users to appeal. The decision also bars Meta from sending information about European users to the US and ordered it to delete data that has already been sent within six months.

The firm plans to appeal the decision, calling it “flawed, unjustified” and said it “sets a dangerous precedent for the countless other companies transferring data between the EU and the US.”

The move is considered the EU’s biggest step in enforcing a 2020 ruling by the bloc’s top court, which restricted how Big Tech companies can send personal data about Europeans to the US. The verdict mentioned that EU citizens have no effective legal way to challenge American government surveillance.

But that ruling also put a wrench into the existing trans-Atlantic data deal, prompting US and EU policymakers to negotiate a new agreement. The recent fine will force both sides to speed up these negotiations over the deal which would allow Meta and thousands of multinational companies to keep sending such information stateside.

The agreement – first agreed in principle in 2022 – would command the EU to lift many of its restrictions on companies sending information to the US, as long as American officials addressed concerns by the bloc’s top court – for example, giving Europeans new avenues to appeal surveillance.

But the new deal is still facing delays as EU officials lament that the US government hasn’t fully implemented its end of the deal. Meanwhile, European lawmakers said the deal should be renegotiated.

Musical Chairs


Papua New Guinea and the United States signed two new security deals Monday aimed at boosting ties and countering China’s growing influence in the Pacific region, Bloomberg reported.

The agreements came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Prime Minister James Marape in the island nation’s capital Port Moresby this week.

Originally, President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit the Pacific country – the first US leader to do so – following the Group of Seven summit in Japan. But Biden canceled the visit.

The two deals consisted of the Defense Cooperation Agreement which will “facilitate bilateral and multilateral exercises and engagements.” The agreement also allows the US to be “more responsive in emergency situations, such as those involving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

The second deal, meanwhile, will allow Papua New Guinea to participate in the US Coast Guard’s Shiprider program, an initiative that helps nations protect their sovereignty and natural resources, including fisheries.

Analysts said that both agreements seek to deepen engagement with Papua New Guinea, which is strategically located near trade routes involving US allies Australia and Japan.

The deals come during a period of heightened strategic competition between the US and China in the Pacific, as Beijing continues to ramp up its economic and political clout in the region.

Last year, China signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands, its first in the Pacific and a major diplomatic victory for Beijing.

The Teflon Man


A Slovak court acquitted a businessman accused of orchestrating the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova in 2018, his second acquittal in the case and one that the victims’ families and press groups described as “shocking,” the Associated Press reported.

The Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok ruled Marian Kocner not guilty of the murders, noting that “it was not proven” that the businessman was the mastermind behind them.

However, the court convicted Kocner’s associate Alena Zsuzsova, who acted as an intermediary, for her role in the killings and sentenced her to 25 years in prison.

This is the second time the same court acquitted Kocner due to a lack of evidence. Prosecutors appealed the first verdict and Slovakia’s Supreme Court ordered a retrial, saying the lower court did not properly assess available evidence. The prosecution can still appeal.

Prosecutors alleged that Kocner had threatened Kuciak after the latter published a story about the businessman’s dealings, one of nine he had written on the businessman. Before his murder, the journalist was investigating possible government corruption.

The deaths of Kuciak and Kusnirova sparked large protests and brought down the government of then-Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Three other defendants have been convicted in the killings.

But in a separate forgery case, Kocner was sentenced to 19 years in prison, while Zsuzsova received 21 years for her role in the killing of a mayor.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, authorities indicted former and current officials of the country’s indigenous affairs agency for the 2022 murders of a British journalist and a Brazilian Indigenous specialist in the Javari Valley of the Amazon rainforest, the Washington Post noted.

The disappearance of Bruno Pereira, a former official of Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency, and journalist Dom Phillips caused outrage in Brazil and internationally.

Police said that the former president and vice president of Brazil’s Indigenous affairs agency were suspected of negligence for failing to take action to protect agency employees – despite being aware of the risk to their lives.

Pereira had received threats for his work mapping criminal activity in the valley, while Phillips was a Brazil-based correspondent who wrote for the Guardian and the Washington Post.


Prepare for Takeoff

Scientists recently discovered when some species of migratory songbirds decide to take their long-haul flights, the Washington Post reported.

These types of birds typically fly during the night, probably in an effort to avoid predators and stay cool, while using daylight for foraging.

Still, the reason for their timing has eluded researchers for years.

In a new paper, a research team equipped 400 songbird species with radio-tracking devices. Their study focused on where migrations begin, instead of stopovers, in order to lower the effects of variables – such as food availability – that could affect birds’ flight decisions.

Data from the tracking devices showed that the birds had a much narrower migration takeoff window than expected: 90 percent of the birds would depart within 69 minutes of dusk.

“This is a really tight window, which suggests there is something important about this time of night,” said co-author Nathan Cooper. “And we argue, this consistent departure time early in the night is about maximizing night flight time.”

Cooper and his colleagues also conducted a separate study where they found that migratory songbirds are also good meteorologists. They noticed that four of the studied species picked their takeoff schedule based on changes in atmospheric pressure.

Their findings suggested the creatures would depart when atmospheric pressure had risen over the previous 24 hours – a sign that there would be fair weather in the days ahead.

Still, other factors could be at play in the birds’ timing, such as age, sex, and celestial cues, the authors noted.

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