Coronavirus

New Variant, Same Story? The Vicious Circle Of Our COVID World

As we learn yet another Greek letter through the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, around the world the new wave is starting to sound very familiar.

It’s been another 72-hour global moment.

It came in the days after the news first broke last Friday that B.1.1.529, named Omicron, had been identified by scientists in South Africa and assessed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “variant of concern.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has supplied a series of these collective worldwide “moments:” from the first wave of lockdowns to the discovery that the vaccines were effective to the Delta variant’s new wave of infections.

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Omicron Origins, Barbados Reborn, Messi’s 7th

👋 Tashi delek!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Barbados is finally fully independent, we learn more about the origins of the Omicron variant and Santa gets a boyfriend in Norway. Chilean-based business magazine America Economia also looks at how airlines are reconfiguring cabins and enlarging seats in hopes of boosting a recovery in air travel.

[*TIbetan]

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Peng Shuai, A Reckoning China's Communist Party Can't Afford To Face

The mysterious disappearance – and brief reappearance – of the Chinese tennis star after her #metoo accusation against a party leader shows Beijing is prepared to do whatever is necessary to quash any challenge from its absolute rule.

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai's apparent disappearance may have ended with a smattering of public events, which were carefully curated by state-run media and circulated in online clips. But many questions remain about the three weeks in which she was missing, and concerns linger over her well-being.

Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, had been out of the public eye since Nov. 2. 2021 when she penned a since-deleted social media post accusing former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct.

In the U.S. and Europe, such moments of courage from high-profile women have built momentum to out perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault and give a voice to those wronged. But in the political context of today's People's Republic of China (PRC) – a country that tightly controls political narratives within and outside its borders – something else happened. Peng was seemingly silenced; her #MeToo allegation was censored almost as soon as it was made.

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Urban Jungles? See Wildlife Moving Into 7 Cities Around The World

Wild boars in Rome, big cats in Colombia cities, polar bears in Russian towns: a series of factors, including climate change and urbanization, is creating unlikely encounters between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.

Wild boars jogging down the street, pumas sauntering through the neighborhood, coyotes patiently waiting for the traffic light to turn green… This isn't the stage set for a new Jumanji or Ace Ventura movie, but an increasingly common sight in residential areas around the world. In recent decades, deforestation, changing agriculture and livestock practices, global warming and the rapid expansion of urban areas into the natural habitats of animals have forced a growing number of species to adapt to life in the city.

And with no sign of urbanization slowing down, some experts suggest that we have entered into a new era where city dwellers must get used to sharing their space with four-legged neighbors.

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Geopolitics
Dominique Moisi

From Taliban To Taiwan, The Limits Of Military Power

China is beefing up its military arsenal, with Taiwan as its target. However, as with the continued difficulty to control the terrain in Afghanistan, we increasingly see that military power is far from ensuring the hegemony hoped for by stronger parties.

-Analysis-

PARIS — "How many divisions does the Pope have?" once famously asked Joseph Stalin, highlighting that despite religious or political authority, military force can always prevail in geopolitics. However, in the 21st century, one can legitimately ask what military force is for.

In Afghanistan, more than three months after the Taliban's lightning victory, terrorist violence continues. It seems that members of the defeated regular army have joined the ranks of the "fundamentalist international" to continue the fight against the Taliban. In short, military victory on the ground has not solved anything. The Taliban face the resilience of those nostalgic for freedom and progress on the one hand, and Islamic fanatics on the other.

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In The News
Jane Herbelin, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Modi Bows To Farmers, Belarus Camps Cleared, Extra-Long Eclipse

👋 Dia dhuit!*

Welcome to Friday, where Indian farmers win a major victory against the Modi government after a year of protests, Austria announces a full lockdown and mandatory vaccines and the world is treated to the longest lunar eclipse in nearly 600 years. We also have a feature story from Jeune Afrique magazine that traces the international origins of twerking.

[*Gaelic]

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China
Robert Kozinets and Chih-Ling Liu

"Sheng-nu" No More - Revenge Of China's Unmarried Career Woman

The frequent use of the Chinese term "Sheng-nu," translated as "leftover women," is a sign of the lingering stigma in China of women who don't get married. But financially successful women are turning the tables on the question of social status.

In China, if you are female, educated and unmarried by the age of 27, people might use a particular term – "Sheng-nu" – to describe your social status. It translates simply as "leftover women".

The label was deliberately invented to curb the rising number of single women in a traditional society which sometimes views not marrying as a moral transgression. Some even consider it a threat to national security.

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In The News
Jane Herbelin, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Russia Space Blast Endangers Astronauts, Belarus Border Clashes, Leo’s Beach

👋 ሰላም!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Russia is under fire for blowing up a satellite in space, clashes erupt at the Poland-Belarus border and Leo's Beach opens again. Courtesy of German daily Die Welt, we also look at the reasons behind the major discrepancies in COVID-19 vaccination rates across Europe.

[*Selam, Amharic - Ethiopia]

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Green
Lucie Robequain

COP26: Lessons From The Failure Of Glasgow

The final deal at COP26 falls well short of what's needed to confront global warming. Still, the Glasgow summit has provided a new blueprint for how we measure progress — and shown how pressure can be applied to world leaders.

-Analysis-

PARIS — Commit to making new promises… next year. This is pretty much what the world leaders agreed to do at the end of the COP26 conference on climate change. They are so terrified of the idea of enforcing any kind of restriction, even the smallest ones, or imposing any additional cost on their citizens — just look at soaring energy prices — that they are postponing the hard decisions.

Strong opposition came particularly from Beijing and New Delhi, which managed to remove the gradual ending of coal activities from the final agreement, and to replace it with a simple reduction.

World leaders were happy to commit to long-term carbon neutrality targets, which their successors will have to handle. Yet there are still too many heads of state who are refusing to initiate any painful action in the coming decade — the only one for which they will be truly accountable.

China, Russia, India and Australia have clearly failed.

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Green
Clemens Wergin

Why China Will Be The Winner In The Geopolitics Of Climate Change

Energy issues are power issues. That is why the fight against climate change will also lead to geopolitical upheavals — to Europe's detriment. China, one of the biggest climate sinners, is likely to benefit from this because the People's Republic has a strategic ace up its sleeve.

-Analysis-

BERLIN — In 1709, an English metalworker discovered that coal was suitable to replace wood and waste as a fuel for smelting furnaces. However, it took until the end of the century for this to develop into the revolutionary industrial revolution — and another two centuries for coal to overtake wood and waste as the world's leading fuel. And after the first oil discoveries in Pennsylvania in 1859, it took another century for oil to replace coal as the world's most important energy source. Measured against this history, the changes that climate change seeks to force will require dramatic speed.

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Society
Maximilian Kalkhof

Party Lines: Why China Prefers Virtual Stars For Show Business Fame

Hologram idols are the new stars of the entertainment industry in China, performing in live concerts and in front of audiences of millions. It's not just tech companies that are happy about the boom, the leadership in Beijing is too for more political reasons.

BEIJING — Luo Tianyi celebrated her breakthrough at the Spring Festival Gala. The show is broadcast every year on state television at the beginning of the Chinese New Year. With approximately 700 million viewers, it is not only the TV program with the largest audience worldwide, it is also one of the most influential shows in Chinese culture.

What's special about Luo Tianyi is that she's not human. The singer is a hologram, an avatar. And the first virtual idol to make it into the Spring Festival Gala.

Luo can look back on a glittering career. She was born out of a cooperation between a Chinese and a Japanese company, and in 2012 she was introduced to the public. In the years that followed, she rose to stardom.

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Future
Emmanuel Grasland

How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

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Economy
Gwendolyn Ledger

China, The Silent Conductor In Latin America's Big Rail Projects

China's global investment tentacles have reached South American railways, where Chinese firms are "silent" partners in expanding rail networks, through financing or sale of rolling stock.

SANTIAGO — From public mistrust of its goals to suspicions of its ties to corruption rackets, Chinese investment in Latin America's railway sector has gotten off to a shaky start. Over the past decade, the Asian superpower may have suffered from its unfamiliarity with regional and domestic policies, but it's going full steam ahead on investment in an industry where there is much to gain, but also much to risk.

Francisco Urdinez, a politics professor at the Catholic University of Chile, cites the aborted Mexico City to Querétaro railway project as a cautionary tale: The deal was canceled for corruption, and public opinion singled out the Chinese firm in the scandal, even though it was part of a multi-company consortium.

"I think the reputational harm ends up being greater than the project's potential benefits," says Urdinez. "Chinese firms have more to lose than win out of uncertainties around the risks of domestic corruption here in Latin America."

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Geopolitics
Wen-Ti Sung

Taiwan, Keeping Calm And Watching China

Despite a recent record number of Chinese military jets approaching Taiwanese air space, both citizens and leaders in the island nation have developed a method for living with the threat of an invasion from China.

China has been flying a record number of military aircrafts into Taiwan's “air defense identification zone" in recent days, heightening regional concerns about the risk of military escalation or even an outright war.

Taiwanese people are largely alert, but not alarmed. So, why are the Taiwanese not losing their minds over what seems to be intensifying “drums of war"?

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Society
Chen Zhe

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

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China
Shuaishuai Wang

'Sissy Men' Purge? Tech Is Other Target Of China's Effeminate Male Ban

Government regulators in Beijing have banned the TV and streaming appearance of what is referred to with the slur "niang pao" – literally, "girlie guns." It is clearly a homophobic and transphobic measure, but the real aim may be to keep the increasingly powerful tech platforms in line.

-Analysis-

The Chinese government has recently taken action against what it calls “sissy men" – males, often celebrities, deemed too effeminate.

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