The World Today for January 11, 2024

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The Loss of Patience


Taiwan’s general election on Jan. 13 will have major implications for the small country that China claims as its own. As the Guardian reported, voters will cast ballots for the presidency and lawmakers who oversee an island the size of Belgium. But leaders from Beijing, Europe, Tokyo, and Washington, DC will be watching the results closely, too.

Domestic issues dominating the election campaigns include the rising cost of living, labor market protections, energy costs, quality education, and senior care. Young voters especially are disillusioned with an economy that can offer them only information technology jobs, noted the Brookings Institution.

The government’s decision to partially restore conscription was unpopular, too. Internationally, the perennial challenge in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei is negotiating relations with China, where communist honchos insist that Taiwan is a breakaway province of their mainland country.

Writing in Reuters Breakingviews, Chan Ka Sing warned that China might feel threatened if the ruling, US-friendly Democratic Progressive Party wins a third term in power, as polls suggest will happen. DPP candidate William Lai Ching-te, who is now vice president, has pledged to maintain the status quo with China, but Chinese officials have labeled Lai as a “dangerous separatist.”

China in recent years has increased military drills around Taiwan and sought to pressure countries that recognize the island as an independent country to instead revise their stance and support China’s claim to suzerainty, Al Jazeera noted. Meanwhile, the US has supplied Taiwan with a formidable arsenal of tools to repel at least the initial waves of any Chinese invasion.

Lai’s main rival, Hou Yu-ih, is an ex-cop who is the candidate of the Kuomintang (KMT), which advocates for closer relations with China, explained the Economist. The former mayor of the suburbs surrounding Taipei has a reputation for efficiency. He advocates talks with the Communist Party to lower cross-strait tensions.

The third contender, Taiwan People’s Party candidate Ko Wen-je, has counseled for patience in diplomacy with China, reported the Associated Press. He has ought to balance the DPP’s instance on Taiwanese sovereignty with the KMT overtures to China. He has appealed to voters, especially the young, who are losing patience with the DPP and the KMT’s failure to address domestic needs and find a stance between war and close friendship with Taiwan’s massive neighbor across the strait, added the China Project.

Ko, meanwhile, is polling second behind the DPP.

China, obviously, would prefer the KMT out of the three parties, but has not been shy in articulating its stance in this election.

For example, in the run-up to the vote, Chinese propagandists have been bombarding Taiwanese and international airwaves with pro-unification rhetoric, Voice of America wrote. Other election interference included economic bans, military demonstrations, and other actions, according to Newsweek.

Taiwan represents how democracy is always an experiment, always fragile, and always courageous.


A Glitch, a Furor


Riots in Papua New Guinea’s two main cities sparked by the Pacific country’s worsening economic situation left over a dozen people dead by Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

A march at the parliament building in the capital Port Moresby Wednesday by police and other public officials protesting a decrease in their salaries spiraled into a riot that saw dozens of shops set aflame, looting, and damage to the building hosting the prime minister’s office, the New York Times reported.

Unrest spread to the archipelago’s second city, Lea, with at least 15 people reported dead and untold injuries Thursday morning.

The government employees, including police and defense personnel, were demonstrating against an apparent $100 cut in their paychecks. Prime Minister James Marape said it was due to a computer glitch and not a covert rise in taxes, assuring workers that the error would be corrected in the next paycheck.

During his statement, he acknowledged that the country was facing economic woes, including high youth unemployment and rising inflation. He also announced $22.2 million in new funding for educational programs.

The riots come at a delicate point for resource-rich Papua New Guinea: The country is caught in a tug-of-war between China and the United States vying for expanded influence in the Pacific region.

Marape recently signed a security agreement with Australia and the US but has also pursued economic deals with China – its largest trading partner.

The Standoff


Polish police this week arrested two opposition politicians convicted of abuse of power who had taken refuge in the presidential palace, prompting a major standoff between the previous conservative government and the newly-elected pro-European coalition of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Bloomberg reported.

The controversy centers on the convictions of former Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski and his deputy, Maciej Wasik, both lawmakers of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), which had governed Poland for eight years before being ousted in the October parliamentary elections.

Both lawmakers had been convicted of abuse of power for actions taken in 2007, but they were pardoned in 2015 by current President Andrzej Duda – an ally of the PiS.

But legal scholars questioned the legality of the pardon, and in June the country’s supreme court ordered a retrial, according to the Associated Press.

Although they were reelected as lawmakers in the October elections, the PiS politicians were sentenced to two years in prison last month. Kaminski and Wasik maintain that they are innocent, but Parliament’s Speaker Szymon Holownia has called for their ejection from parliament because of their convictions.

Meanwhile, the president and other PiS officials have denounced the detentions, with Duda describing the police operation as “unlawful entry.”

Prime Minister Tusk accused Duda of going along with PiS’s attempts to create chaos and instability after losing the elections.

Meanwhile, the detentions risk escalating tension between Tusk’s governing alliance and the PiS, as the newly elected prime minister seeks to undo the policies of the previous government. During its eight years in power, the PiS was accused of democratic backsliding and constantly clashed with the European Union over the rule of law, independent judiciary and reproductive rights.

Analysts said the recent incident could spark a constitutional crisis as Tusk will need Duda’s support to pass legislation. As president, Duda holds veto powers. His term will end in 2025.

Booking Canceled


A diplomatic row between India and the Maldives sparked by social media is causing significant economic repercussions for the island nation, as Indian travelers and travel agencies have begun canceling their reservations in the picturesque archipelago, CNBC reported.

Calls for a boycott of the Maldives by Indian travelers have led to a reported 40 percent drop in bookings this week, the news website wrote.

Many Indian travel agents have also canceled bookings to the Maldives, removed promotional content, and redirected travelers to alternative destinations.

The dispute originated from a series of social media posts by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, showcasing his activities in Lakshadweep, an archipelago off southwestern India’s coast.

The posts showed Modi snorkeling, sitting by the water and meeting people in the tourist spot, which observers say could be seen as an attempt to divert tourists from the Maldives.

In response, Maldives’ supporters – including some of the island’s government officials – wrote negative comments about India’s tourism industry and fired insults at Modi, calling him a “clown” and a “terrorist.”

Observers said the row follows the 2023 election of Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, who adopted an “India out” policy, causing a shift in diplomatic relations. Muizzu also broke with long-standing tradition by choosing China for his first official state visit – a move widely seen as a snub to India.

Analysts added that the diplomatic dispute could severely impact the Maldives’ tourism sector, its main source of revenue.

In 2023, India accounted for more than 10 percent of Maldives’ arrivals and contributed $380 million to the island nation’s tourism industry.

The #BoycottMaldives campaign could result in millions of dollars in losses for that sector.


Monkey Do 

Before the pandemic, tourists used to travel by boat to Ko Ped, an island near Pattaya in southern Thailand, also known as Monkey Island, for its beaches, clear water and wily macaques monkeys.

The tourists fed the inhabitants regularly.

But after the coronavirus hit in 2020 and the tourists disappeared, the monkeys had to find alternate sources of nourishment.

They began using stone tools to open oysters, as witnessed by researchers three years after the pandemic, Interesting Engineering reported.

That’s led researchers to wonder if the monkeys are now in their own Stone Age, a defining period in the evolution of humans that occurred two to three million years ago. They also now wonder if monkeys then might evolve as significantly as humans did.

The use of stone tools is not new in the animal kingdom – chimpanzees, capuchins and Burmese long-tailed macaques have also been seen using stones. Still, it’s the first time scientists have noticed a new behavioral pattern emerge in a specific population of primates.

And although the Burmese macaques are close cousins of the Ko Ped monkeys, the researchers do not believe the latter learned the behavior from their Burmese cousins. In an earlier study, they found that the macaques were unable to learn how to crack nuts using stones, neither individually nor in a social setting.

Scientists also believe the 17 monkeys they observed using stone tools acquired the skill individually, because the species forages alone.

However, whether monkeys will continue to use stones to eat when the tourists return is an open question.

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