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China On High COVID Alert, Tonga Eruption Aftermath, Anne Frank’s Traitor

China On High COVID Alert, Tonga Eruption Aftermath, Anne Frank’s Traitor
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Halo!*

Welcome to Monday, where China is on high COVID alert as Lunar New Year celebrations kick off, Tonga reels from a massive underwater eruption, and a veteran FBI agent may have found out who betrayed Anne Frank to the Nazis. Meanwhile, Russian daily Kommersant recounts how Kazakhstan has passed from one strongman to another.

[*Sundanese - Indonesia]


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COVID update: China is on high alert as travel begins for Lunar New Year celebrations; travels now have to report their planned trips before arrival. France’s parliament has voted to turn its health pass into a vaccination pass, meaning vaccination (and not a negative COVID test) are required to go to restaurants, cultural and sports venues as well as for long-distance travel. And the chairman of Credit Suisse, Antonio Horta-Osorio, has been forced to resign after it was revealed he twice broke COVID quarantine protocol.

Suspected Houthi drone attack in Abu Dhabi: A drone strike by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels is suspected to have killed three near the airport of the United Arab Emirates capital. The attack also included three tanker trucks carrying fuel.

Ukraine’s Poroshenko returns to face treason charges: Former president Petro Poroshenko was greeted by thousands of supporters after returning to Ukraine to face treason charges in a criminal case he blames on his successor, Volodymyr Zelensky. The clash comes as Ukraine faces the threat of a Russian invasion after a week of failed talks between Moscow and Washington.

Texas synagogue taker was British citizen, 2 arrested in UK: Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national, was identified as the hostage-taker in an 11-hour stand-off at a synagogue in Texas. Akram was killed, and the four hostages released unharmed.

Tonga damaged following underwater volcano eruption: The Pacific Island nation of Tonga was hit by massive eruptions that started last week from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano that triggered tsunami waves. The amount of damage is unclear, as Australia and New Zealand have sent planes to assess the situation.

Djokovic’s Australia visa ban: Unvaccinated Serbian tennis star Djokovic was deported from Australia on Sunday after a long battle over whether he could compete in the Australian Open. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that under the right circumstances, the three-year ban could be shortened. Meanwhile, he’ll have a hard time participating in the French Open this spring, as the country just announced that all athletes competing in the country have to be vaccinated.

UK island looks for a new “monarch”: It may be true that no man is an island, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be in charge of one. Piel Island, off the coast of Cumbria, is looking for a new “monarch” to manage its 300-year-old pub and the 50 acres of land, including a camping area and 14th-century castle for a 10-year lease. Of course, the position comes with a unique coronation ceremony: Alcohol is poured over the new royal’s head.


Dutch daily De Volkskrant reports on the findings of a team of investigators, led by a veteran FBI agent, about the 1944 arrest of Anne Frank and her family who had been hiding in Amsterdam for two years during World War II. Using new technologies and artificial intelligence, the team determined there was a high probability that a Jewish notary named Arnold van den Bergh was the one who gave away the Frank family’s hiding place to the Nazis. The Diary of Anne Frank remains one of the world’s most widely-read books.


10.62 million

China's birth rate dropped for a fifth consecutive year to hit a new record low in 2021 in spite of the government’s efforts to encourage couples to have more children in the face of a looming demographic crisis. The world’s most populous country reported 10.62 million births in 2021, in comparison to 12 million in 2020, with a birth rate of 7.52 births per 1,000 people according to the National Statistics Bureau — marking the lowest level since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.


Kazakhstan, when one strongman replaces another

Violent unrest in Kazakhstan has resulted in a new authoritarian leader finally assuming proper power in the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor, write Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov in Russian daily Kommersant.

🇰🇿 Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power in 2019. However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country. What will happen is still uncertain, but this much is clear: strongman rulers are able to keep power in Kazakhstan, but they can't ensure its peaceful transfer.

💰 On Jan. 11, Tokayev declared an almost revolutionary slogan: to build a "new Kazakhstan." The wording alone indicates an intention to do away with the former Kazakhstan built by Nazarbayev. The protests that have rocked the country were ostensibly about an increase in gas prices, but they illustrate Kazakhs' frustration at a rising cost of living and massive inequality. Under Nazarbayev, a small elite accumulated huge wealth while the economy stagnated. Tokayev announced a policy of economic reforms.

❌ Tokayev's speech draws a firm line under the Nazarbayev era. He said directly that the old social contract, including the intra-elite contract, is over and that the groups that enriched themselves under the first president should accept the new rules of the game. To begin, they have to pay their dues to the people's fund. Apparently, this should be seen as an offer to the old elite — pay or we will deal with you.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


“Confrontation does not solve problems, it only invites catastrophic consequences.”

— Chinese leader Xi Jinping said in a speech at an all-virtual Davos Forum, warning world leaders against the "fanning of ideological antagonism and the politicizing of economic, scientific, and technological issues."

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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Modi Is Wrong: Russia's War Also Creates Real Risks For India

By shrugging aside Russia’s aggression, India has shown indifference to fears that China could follow Russia’s example.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi Visits Russia

Anita Inder Singh*


NEW DELHI — India is wrong to dismiss Russia’s war in Ukraine as Europe’s problem. The illegality and destructiveness of the invasion, and consequential food and energy crises, have global ramifications.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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This explains why 143 out of the 193 member-states of the UN General Assembly voted against recognizing Russia’s illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions after holding sham referenda there. Ninety-three voted in favor of expelling Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.

India has abstained from every vote in the UN condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. The reason? Moscow is India’s top arms supplier and some 70% of India’s military platforms are of Russian origin.

This raises questions about India’s strategic autonomy – but such queries are like water off a duck’s back.

One world, one family?

Justifying India’s refusal to censure Russia’s unlawful assault on Ukraine at the GLOBSEC 2022 Bratislava Forum in Slovakia in June, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar contended that “Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems”.

Who would have thought that the person wanting to create "One World, One Family, One Future" as president of the G20 over the next two years could brush off or be slow to recognize the global food and energy crises inflicted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Russia, not Western sanctions, precipitated the crises by blockading the first of many Ukrainian ports on March 3. The head of the African Union, President Macky Sall of Senegal and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, then heading the G20, met President Vladimir Putin last June to discuss the food, fertilizer and fuel crises caused by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met him for the first time since Moscow launched its invasion only in September 2022 — at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting, sponsored by Russia’s iron strategic partner, China.

East Asia spillover

By shrugging aside Russia’s aggression as Europe’s problem, India has also shown indifference to the fears — in and outside the Indo-Pacific — that China, the dominant partner in the Sino-Russian relationship, could follow Russia’s example and try to restructure Asia’s security architecture through war. China menaces the territorial sovereignty of many of its Asian neighbours, including India.

India’s strategic partner in the Quad, Japan, faces Chinese threats to its sovereignty and fears that “Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow”. Unsurprisingly, Japan has ended its 77-year-old pacifism. On Dec. 16, Japan announced its greatest military build-up since the end of the Second World War in 1945.

At the economic level, India has purchased unprecedented amounts of Russian crude at discount prices on the grounds that Europe’s energy imports from Russia have dwarfed New Delhi’s buys. New Delhi avows that its “moral duty” is to ensure the best deal for a country “with a per capita income of $2,000″. However, the common man has not benefited from India’s rising oil imports from Russia. Instead, the private companies which have snapped up cheap Russian oil have made huge profits by selling it abroad — even to Europe.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister of a war-ravaged but unconquered Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, laments that it is “morally inappropriate” of India to argue that Europeans are also buying Russian energy. India is buying cheap Russian oil because of “our suffering”.

Photo of people at a rally against climate crisis in Warsaw

"Crisis Strike'' rally against climate crisis in Warsaw

Aleksander Kalka/ZUMA

Double standards

New Delhi keeps silent about authoritarian Russia’s silence on China’s expansionism in India and Southeast Asia. In contrast, it has sharply criticized democratic Europe for being silent on China’s activities in Asia: “When the rules-based order was under challenge in Asia, the advice we got from Europe was to do more trade.”

Admittedly, the EU was strengthening its trading ties with China as Beijing displayed its expansionist intentions in the South and East China Seas after 2010. But so was India, whose trade with China has burgeoned to record heights despite border clashes in June 2020 — and again in December 2022.

True, the EU has no defense policy and cannot save "Asia" from China’s belligerence just because France and Germany send a few warships to the Indo-Pacific. But India cannot "defend Asia" from Chinese imperialism any more than the EU. Its GDP per capita of 2,256.6 and military spending of $76 billion are no match for China’s 12,556.3 and $293 billion respectively. So India focuses on securing its borders with China and Pakistan, and on countering China’s fierce economic and military competition in its immediate South Asian neighborhood.

Responding to Russia’s threat to wage nuclear war, India has wrongly sermonized that “nuclear weapons should not be used by any side in the Ukraine war”. And yet, Ukraine is not a nuclear state. In 1994 it chose to denuclearize because the US, Britain and Russia, in the Budapest Memorandum, promised to guarantee its security. By invading Ukraine in 2014 and 2022, Russia violated that commitment, imperiling European and global security.

India could learn something from the EU’s experience. Russia does not menace the sovereignty of any EU country at the moment. But by relying on a territorial spoiler for energy, even after Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, democratic Europe has gone adrift in its strategic thinking.

As India confronts China’s land grabs, its dependence on Beijing for trade could be self-defeating, given China’s contempt for its slow progress.

Risks of Chinese imperialism

Meanwhile, what does New Delhi think of Putin’s assertion that it is “natural” that China’s “military might grows along with the rise in the economic potential”, and that China’s growing might “first of all… relates to its economic might… why should we follow third countries’ interests in building our policy?” Such is Russia’s applause for China’s imperialism.

At another level — amazingly — after supplying India with weapons for over five decades, Moscow has reportedly asked New Delhi for parts of cars, aircraft and trains. So where will that leave India’s dependence on Russian arms against China? At least EU countries are not in the incongruous and shaky position of being reliant on two enemies – Russia and the US – one of which could lose militarily in Ukraine.

The tangled legal, political and economic repercussions of Russia’s devastating war in Ukraine extend far beyond Europe. Unlike India, most members of the G20 — hailing from the Americas, across Europe to Asia — have voted against Russia’s transgressions of international law and human rights in Ukraine.

India will be able to provide constructive leadership to the G20 only if it recognizes their shock and despair at Russia’s blatant contraventions of international norms. Even as democratic Europe confronts the strategic fallout and human distress caused by Russia’s warmongering, it should step up its economic contribution to the well-being of Asia — and the rest of the developing world.

*Anita Inder Singh a Founding Professor of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi.

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We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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