The World Today for January 09, 2024

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My Rival, My Friend


The AUKUS deal signed in 2021 by Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States arguably marked a nadir in relations between Australia and China. The deal gave Australia new technology for nuclear-powered submarines, weapons that were obviously meant to counter China’s military power.

The deal followed China slapping tariffs on Australian coal, copper, sugar, and other goods in 2020 in retribution for Australian leaders criticizing China for permitting Covid-19 to develop in the country.

Today, however, relations between the two massive countries on the Pacific Ocean might be on the mend.

In November, for example, when Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, the two leaders said they enjoyed a stable and healthy relationship, reported Reuters.

That summit followed China’s release of Australian broadcast journalist Cheng Lei, who was detained for allegedly divulging state secrets to foreign actors, CNN noted.

China is also loosening the tariffs, added the East Asia Forum, as high-level contacts between the two countries resume. Australian politicians have stopped the anti-Chinese rhetoric over Covid-19, too. And despite deep concerns, few analysts believe Chinese officials, chastened by Russia’s poor performance in Ukraine, are now seriously considering invading Taiwan, either.

But some experts believe these positive developments in the relationship, while important rhetorically, will fail to deliver much tangible progress in permanently deflating the tensions between China and its Western-oriented rivals in the region.

Writing in his public policy journal Pearls and Irritations, former Australian diplomat John Menadue, for instance, admitted that Australia wants Chinese imports, including cars and other goods, while China needs Australian raw materials like iron, steel and lithium. But Australia remains dependent on the US strategically and militarily, meaning Chinese officials still must treat Australia as a potential threat.

“While currently on an upward trajectory, fundamental differences pose questions as to the level of intimacy the relationship can attain and the true nature of its resilience,” added the Diplomat.

Indeed, the two countries appear to be lining up allies in case they come to blows.

China has secured a string of ports from Indochina and Indonesia to Africa, Europe and the Americas that make it easier for the country to project power abroad, explained the Washington Post. China has also become close diplomatically to small Pacific nations such as Timor-Leste, a poor country on an island off Australia’s north coast, wrote the Guardian.

Meanwhile, in addition to AUKUS, Australia has sealed alliances with the Pacific island nations of Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea.

Albanese and Xi have far more ground to cover – and many more friendly gestures to make – if they expect the good feelings to last.


Free + Fair = Do-Overs


The Election Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) invalidated 82 candidates in December’s general election last week, amid claims of fraud and irregularities and calls to re-run all the elections, including the presidential race, Reuters reported.

The list of disqualified candidates included three ministers and four governors, but noticeably not President Tshisekedi. He secured a second term after a landslide victory on Dec. 20, the same day as other national and local votes.

However, turnout was low: fewer than one registered Congolese voter out of two was able to cast their ballot, the BBC reported. Election day was marred with irregularities at polling stations throughout the country. Two-thirds of them did not open, and violence and technical malfunctions led to a controversial extension of voting.

The election commission said it was investigating “acts of violence, vandalism and sabotage” committed by candidates, a statement seen by the opposition as evidence of widespread fraud.

“By what magic … (that) only the legislative elections were corrupted and not the presidential one?” asked Martin Fayulu, who came third in the presidential election and asked for a do-over of all the races.

The commission maintained that the elections were free and fair. Its statement did not calm the opposition, who called on the international community to probe the vote.

There is little trust in the DRC in the country’s institutions. While the commission was accused of siding with the government, only one candidate took the matter to court, as the others said they had little faith in the judicial system to correct injustices.

Meanwhile, the controversy over the elections threatens to further destabilize the country, which is already experiencing a deadly conflict in the east. Millions are thought to have died in a three-decade conflict tearing apart a region holding 70 percent of the world’s reserves of coltan, a mineral used in the manufacture of mobile phones, the BBC explained.

The Tiniest of Violins


The man who slaughtered 77 people on an island in Norway in 2011 went back to court on Monday to sue his country for disregarding his human rights in detention, the Associated Press reported.

Anders Behring Breivik has spent the past 12 years in isolation while serving his prison sentence. Now, he is claiming that this has violated the European Convention on Human Rights. His lawyer said that this situation, which he described as “unique” in recent European judicial history, has left the murderer “suicidal.”

Norway is known for its rehabilitative judicial system, and conditions in its prisons are less harsh than in most other countries. For example, Breivik, who now goes by the name Fjotolf Hansen, is staying in a two-story complex within a prison featuring a kitchen, a TV room, and a gym, Euronews reported.

The right-wing extremist received the most severe sentence in Norway’s history – 21 years in prison, with an indefinite extension should he remain dangerous to society – after shooting 69 people, mainly teenagers, attending a summer camp on the small island of Utøya on July 22, 2011. Earlier that day, he had triggered a bomb near a government complex in the capital of Oslo, killing eight people.

The government says Breivik’s isolation from the rest of society is because he has shown no sign of any interest in his own rehabilitation.

On earlier occasions, he made the Nazi salute in court and said his acts were in self-defense, to protect Norway from multi-culturalism.

This is the second time Breivik has initiated a fight over his alleged right to human interaction. The first appeal was rejected by the European Court of Justice in 2016.

Some critics say this move might be an attempt to get attention. Still, the court has forbidden livestreaming his comments from the proceedings, much to the satisfaction of survivors and victims’ families.

A Faltering Smile


Bhutanese voters go to the polls Tuesday, as economic challenges overshadow the country’s longstanding practice of favoring happiness over growth, which has seen spiking youth unemployment and a brain-drain, Agence France-Presse reported.

The philosophy of focusing on well-being is enshrined in the Buddhist kingdom’s constitution, and both parties competing in the election have pledged to uphold it.

Behind the “Gross National Happiness” index, however, Bhutan’s youth is facing soaring unemployment, amid slow economic growth. Nearly one in three young Bhutanese are unemployed, according to the World Bank.

The situation has led to increasing emigration and a brain-drain. In the past year alone, 15,000 Bhutanese were granted visas – a total exceeding that of the preceding six years combined, and amounting to 2 percent of the population.

Both parties running in the legislative election, following primaries held in November, have pledged to address the economic and demographic predicament faced by the country and find ways to boost Bhutan’s growth.

One idea favored by both parties is to invest more in hydropower. The mountainous region offers a great opportunity for the development of the energy industry, the World Bank estimated.

Because of this and other issues including border disputes, the election in Bhutan is being closely monitored by its neighbors, especially China and India, both of which have vied for influence in Bhutan. China signed a “cooperation agreement” with Bhutan last year to settle issues regarding the kingdom’s northern border, triggering concern from India.



Scientists recently discovered a yellow, spider-like creature with four black eyes and large bulbous claws that resemble “boxing gloves,” Live Science reported.

The newfound species, Austropallene halanychi, is a species of sea spider, a distant relative of the horseshoe crab and other arachnids crawling around the ocean floor.

The team said the creature was pulled from the floor of the Ross Sea, about 1,870 feet below the surface. The weird-looking, tiny spiders eat through a straw-like proboscis instead of a mouth, and breathe through their legs.

Their boxing glove-like claws serve to grab soft foods such as anemones and worms, the researchers wrote in their paper.

The researchers explained that A. halanychi is one of at least 1,000 species of sea spiders found all over the world.

Still, its discovery underscores the richness of life living in the waters off the frozen continent, which include brightly colored sea stars and alien-looking marine worms and sponges, and how little scientists actually know about the creatures living in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica.

The authors noted that finding such species is a painstakingly long process that involves throwing nets deep underwater and capturing whatever is below. Once the creatures are pulled up, they are sent to labs for further analysis.

In the case of A. halanchyi, it was only recovered in 2013 and just recently taken out of storage for analysis.

“The benthic environment in Antarctica is an area of science that we need to keep exploring,” said co-author Andrew Mahon. “There’s so much down there that every time we go, we find new things.”

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