In The News

North Korea Missile Tests, Taliban Rules For Women Students, King’s Hair

North Korea Missile Tests, Taliban Rules For Women Students, King’s Hair

Workers rappel down Paris' iconic Arc de Triomphe, wrapping it entirely in silver-blue fabric as part of an installation in tribute to late artist Christo.

Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Dobrý deň!*

Welcome to Monday, where North Korea tests a new long-range missile, the Taliban will not ban women from university this time (though under several conditions), and a jar of hair has the auction world all shook up. Meanwhile, French daily Les Echos looks at how cosmetic and apparel companies in China (a country usually associated with low quality and fast fashion) have moved upmarket in recent years.

[*Slovak]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• North Korea tests new long-range missile: North Korea claims it successfully tested new long-range cruise missiles over the weekend that analysts say could have nuclear capability. Washington responded that the tests pose a "threat" to the country's neighbors and beyond.

• Taliban's new rules for female students: Women in Afghanistan will be allowed to study in universities but in separated classes and with the mandatory Islamic dress code, the Taliban's new Higher Education Minister said. Female students will also be taught by women teachers wherever possible. Meanwhile, the first foreign commercial flight since the Taliban retook power has landed in Kabul.

• British American Tobacco suspected of bribing Mugabe: An investigation led by the BBC has revealed evidence suggesting that British American Tobacco, one of Britain's biggest companies, negotiated a bribe to former Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe in 2013. Documents also revealed that the company used illegal surveillance to damage rivals.

• Dutch court rules Uber drivers are employees: The Amsterdam District Court ruled that Uber drivers are not independent contractors but employees of a company and thus entitled to the same rights and benefits as other workers in the sector. Uber said it would appeal the decision and "has no plans to employ drivers in the Netherlands."

• Pope Francis urges Hungary to be more "open": In a four-day visit to Central Europe and his first international trip since having surgery in July, Pope Francis met with controversial Hungarian leader Viktor Orban. During mass, the Pope urged the country to "extend its arms toward everyone," which some see as a veiled critique of Orban's anti-migration policies.

• Medvedev ends Djokovic Grand Slam bid: Russian tennis player Daniil Medvedev won yesterday's U.S. Open men's singles, his first Grand Slam title, dominating world number one Novak Djokovic, ending the Serb's hopes of a calendar Grand Slam and a men's record 21st major singles title. In the women's final on Saturday, an 18-year-old unseeded British player Emma Raducanu defeated 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez. It was the first finals ever between two players who had to play in the qualifying round.

• Jailhouse Lock: A jar containing Elvis Presley's hair, collected by the singer's longtime barber, has sold for $72,500 at an auction.

A MESSAGE FROM INTERNATIONS

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Europe is preparing for a wave of migrants from the Taliban's Afghanistan," titles Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, reporting on the 27 kilometer-long fence built by Greece and the 1,200 extra guards hired by Turkey. The newspaper spoke with some of the Afghans who have started the journey towards Europe.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese fashion: The chic side of made in China

Chinese cosmetic and apparel companies that once operated in obscurity are now making a real name for themselves, at least among domestic consumers, who see brands like Li-Ning and Bosideng as providing both quality and style, reports Hong Kong-based correspondent Julie Zaugg in French daily Les Echos.

👗 Once synonymous with cheap, poor quality, Made in China has undergone a striking transformation in the past years, moving upmarket and gaining popularity among the 1.4 billion people inhabiting this huge country. ''This phenomenon began a dozen years ago, with the arrival of Chinese creators such as Masha ma, Huishan Zhang or Angel Chen, graduates of the top fashion schools in Paris, London and New York,'' explains Babette Radclyffe-Thomas, a Chinese fashion specialist. After working with Western designers, they went back home to build their own labels.

🇨🇳 🇺🇸 The improvement in quality of Chinese brands fits in with the government's goal of wanting to promote domestic consumption in parallel to exports. The strategy is called ''dual circulation,'' and it has become one of President Xi Jinping's favorite expressions. The tariff war between Beijing and Washington has accelerated the process, encouraging China to move away from its dependency on Western goods. Leading the charge are brands like Peacebird, Urban Revivo and Ochirly, which are frequently described as China's Zara or H&M.

💄 One of the strengths of these companies is that they know how to adapt to local tastes. As Babette Radclyffe-Thomas explains: "A Chinese cosmetics brand won't try to market a lipstick with purplish or blueish hues, because it wouldn't go well on an Asian skin." Perfect Diary is a case in point. Created in 2016 by former staff of Procter & Gamble, the cosmetics group based their esthetic on the androgynous codes taking place in the world of video games and mangas, which are extremely popular among Chinese youth.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

IN OTHER NEWS

🇳🇱🎓 Foreign students at Dutch universities are "homeless" — blame Brexit

With their sleeping bags in hand, dozens of students occupied the main administration building of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands last week to protest the lack of housing for international students. The situation is dire according to local organisation Shelter Our Students (SOS), as more than 600 international students at Groningen have started their studies this September homeless, Dutch daily NRC reports. (Read in English via Worldcrunch here)

The Netherlands was already an increasingly popular destination for international students as it offers a wide variety of English-taught degrees. But this year, Dutch campuses are particularly overflowing with foreign students for two other reasons: Brexit, which has made UK universities suddenly very expensive for European Union residents looking to study in English; and the end of COVID-19 restrictions is bringing students back to class.

As a result, there are now 344,000 university students nationwide (last year it was 327,000) of which 72,400 (21%) come from abroad, writes NRC. But some universities had a larger increase than others. The Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the north, for instance, saw a 25% increase in registrations.

And yes, all of these students need accommodation, especially now that universities are switching back to in-person lectures after a year of online classes. A Romanian student named Paul told the Dutch broadcaster NOS that he's been trying to find a place to stay since he first heard he was accepted back in the spring of 2021. "It's like finding a needle in a haystack," he said. "Of the dozens of website ads, only a few are open to international students. Most student houses don't want foreigners."

Paul has been able to find temporary accommodation with the help of Shelter Our Students, but he's one of the few. Most international students are sleeping on air mattresses in the already tiny dorm rooms of their friends, writes De Volkskrant. Others are staying in hostels or hotels: clean and safe, but not cheap.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

227

According to a report by Global Witness, 227 environmental activists were killed around the world last year — the highest number recorded for a second consecutive year. The London-based NGO adds that since the signing of the Paris Accords on climate change in 2015, on average four activists have been killed each week.

📣 VERBATIM

Thank God for the halo which saved me, and saved my neck
— Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton thanked the "halo" — a reinforced safety device in front of the driver's head — for saving his life during a severe car crash yesterday at the Italian Grand Prix.

✍️ Newsletter by Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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