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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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In Shanghai, A Brewing Expat Exodus As COVID Crackdown Shows "Real" China

Not only strict rules of freedom of movement as part of Zero-COVID policy but also an increase in censorship has raised many questions for the expat population in the megacity of 26 million that had long enjoyed a kind of special status in China as a place of freedom and openness. A recent survey of foreigners in the Chinese megacity found that 48% of respondents said they would leave Shanghai within the next year.

People walk in Tianzifang, located in Huangpu District, a well-known tourist attraction in Shanghai.

Lili Bai

SHANGHAI — On the seventh day of the lockdown, Félix, a French expat who has worked in Shanghai for four years, texted his boss: I want to "run,' mais je sais pas quand (but I don’t know when). A minute later, he received a reply: moi aussi (me too).

Félix had recently learned the new Mandarin word 润 (run) from social network postings of his local friends. Because its pinyin “rùn” is the same as the English word “run,” Chinese youth had begun to use it to express their wish to escape reality, either to “be freed from mundane life”, or to “run toward your future.”

For foreigners like Félix, by associating the expression “run” with the feeling of the current lockdown in Shanghai, “everything makes sense.” Félix recalled how at the end of March, the government denied rumors of an impending lockdown: “My Chinese colleagues all said, Shanghai is China’s top city, there would be no lockdown no matter what.”

Soon after, the megacity of 26 million, and China's most Western metropolis, was suddenly slammed shut: "It's not just a matter of going back on your word, it's a reflection of the government having no credibility."

The subsequent spate of medical crises, food shortages and hard lockdown policies made him want to flee, "run," from Shanghai like never before.

Open and tolerant reputation

According to China’s official statistics in 2021, there are more than 160,000 expats living in Shanghai, most of them working in finance, tech, internet and manufacturing. "(Shanghai is) the most open and tolerant city in China," says Wilson, a Scot who has lived in Shanghai for 17 years.

Having raised his children here, Wilson refers to Shanghai as "the Chinese city closest to the rest of the world."

"Everyone is extra concerned about the importance of regulations and people here take the law and the system much more seriously than anywhere else in China."

But now, the six-week-long lockdown has shifted the landscape of the city, and expats like Félix and Wilson are thinking of ways to flee this city they once loved so much.

Paris is also a cosmopolitan city, but Shanghai is more advanced.

Félix came to Shanghai in 2018, when he was 28. He works in a leading French tech company, with 40% of French employees in its Shanghai branch, and most of the Chinese employees with prestigious academic profiles and high levels of English and French. When human resources told him that he was going to work in Shanghai, "they said Shanghai is like the Paris of the East."

Félix set a goal to stay in Shanghai for at least 10 years. "Let's put it this way: if you stay in Shanghai for a long time and then go back to Paris, you'll feel like you've gone back to a primitive society," he said. "Paris is also a cosmopolitan city, but Shanghai is more advanced and can do everything much more quickly."

Félix referred to the word “new Shanghainese”, which originated from a governmental article in 2001, “New Shanghainese are global citizens, and Shanghai should be an international migrant city with a flexible flow of talents and cosmopolitanism.”

Lockdown and censorship

However, the lockdown and its harsh reality had made this city a strange place to both Félix and Wilson. Going through food shortages, they learned to tone down expectations of local authorities, and could only seek help from their Chinese friends and neighbors.

“The Zero-COVID policy is a serious affront to everyone’s normal life.” Félix claimed, “My foreign colleagues were hopeful that this kind of thing could never happen in Shanghai, but it did.” Felix decided to complain on WeChat, the most frequently used Chinese social networking app, posting pictures of neighborhoods and streets being guarded, with text mostly in French. But on April 8, he heard that an American in Shanghai had been “invited to tea” (a euphemism used when government authorities want to question you) for posting too much "negative information" on WeChat.

“I really want to gather all the people who think the lockdown is unreasonable and go to the authorities to ask them for an explanation." Félix thought, but not many like-minded could be found, even among the foreign expats. "My Chinese friends advised me to save it, saying 'you don't understand, it's not going to work'." Most of his foreign friends who had been in Shanghai for more than three years offered him more "practical" advice: "You're not allowed to go out on the streets here [in China]." One Belgian friend advised him to "put up with it" and "when the ban is lifted, we'll go back to Europe together."

Photo in the streets of Shanghai, under lockdown

Photo in the streets of Shanghai, under lockdown


A pointless operation

For Wilson and his family, they have experienced countless PCR and antigen tests. "It's a pointless operation," he says. "China's policy is to dynamically zero out infected cases, not save lives. It is more about restricting the freedom of residents, slaughtering pets, separating children from their parents, forcing residents into hospitals."

Wilson recalls being interviewed five years ago about being an expat who has settled into Shanghai, “I think China is a very interesting country and I really like the Chinese, they are reasonable and respectful. Above all, I have a lot of respect for the people of Shanghai and the way they fight to preserve their identity.“

But he's realized recently that the positive sentiments built up over 17 years could be undermined at any moment: a single concert could catch the attention of the police, a single retweet can get you noticed by public security, and a single policy can make homeless people freeze and ordinary people starve.

"It is self-evident to us foreigners that public opinion is constantly being tightened in China. I can't give specific examples, but everyone knows that the cost of communication and the risk, is much greater nowadays than when I first came to Shanghai," Wilson said.

Félix agrees: “Most of my Chinese friends are aware of the blind, ineffective and unscientific nature of the Zero-COVID policy, but choose to remain silent. This is closely related to the overall climate of public opinion in China.” The decay is also manifesting itself in the recent development in Chinese media, where criticism towards the Western system, culture and ideology had to be present, and the rhetoric has to be “the West will lose.”

Leaving Shanghai: there is no way back

In mid-April, "This is Shanghai," a platform owned by HK Focus Media, conducted a survey of 950 foreigners living in Shanghai and found that the number of foreigners in the city may be reduced by half in the coming year, with 48% of respondents said they would leave Shanghai within the next year, if not immediately, while 37% said they would stay until the pandemic was over and see if the situation in Shanghai would improve before deciding whether to stay or go.

According to "This is Shanghai", foreigners in China have a high level of education in general, with 55% of respondents having a postgraduate degree or higher.

You realize it is suspended drama.

Félix intended to “run” as well. Due to its growth in recent years, it is unlikely that his company will exit the Chinese market, but he himself "definitely wants to go." He said he would consider moving to Vietnam, where French is spoken and a society-wide reform is underway.

As the lockdown progressed, he began to reflect on his work and life in Shanghai. “Having a cup of coffee and a chat over literature and art under the sycamore trees in this international city was a common pleasure, but I realize now that it's actually a suspended drama — it looks beautiful, but at any moment it could all collapse and make you fall back into reality as you are met with an iron fist."

For Wilson, who has been here longer, there's no denying that the COVID policy has devastated the vitality of this international metropolis. "China’s governors always see Shanghai as a city in the first echelon of global cities," he said. "But if you have to comply with something like the Zero-COVID policy, you see that it comes with costs. And not only is it breaking down the trust of foreign talents, but is also undermining the goodwill of the world towards China."

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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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