Welcome to Thursday, where NATO allies accuse Russia of lying about withdrawing troops from Ukraine border, Airbus and Airbnb post record profits, and a soccer match sees a major national anthem woopsie. For French daily Les Echos, Johanne Courbatère de Gaudric looks at the surprising health benefits hiding in a bottle of perfume.
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• NATO says Russia lying about troop withdrawal: NATO allies called out Moscow for claiming it was moving troops back to their bases when instead it was actually augmenting its presence at the border with Ukraine. A senior White House official reported that some 7,000 extra Russian forces had arrived in recent days near the border. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned that Russia could drag out the Ukraine crisis for “months,” challenging the West's united security front. On the ground, meanwhile, Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels exchanged allegations that each had fired across the ceasefire line in eastern Ukraine.
• EU-AU summit 2022: The sixth European Union-African Union summit begins on Thursday in Brussels. Leaders from both continents will aim to recalibrate economic and strategic ties between European and African nations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent wave of coups d’état in Africa and the worsening effects of climate change.
• Israeli missiles strike Syria: Syrian state-controlled news agency SANA reported that Israel fired several missiles targeting the town of Zakieh, located on the outskirts of Damascus. This is the second Israeli aerial strike on Syria this month.
• Airbnb & Airbus lead travel sector rebound from pandemic: Short-term-stay booking platform Airbnb announced a $55 million profit for the fourth quarter, significantly outperforming pre-pandemic levels, and bouncing back from huge losses in 2021. Meanwhile European planemaker Airbus also reported record revenues for 2021 of $4.8 billion, its highest-ever profits, contrasting with its $1.3-billion loss in 2020.
• Australia's largest coal-run power plant to close in 2025: Australia's largest coal-fired power station has announced it will shut in 2025, seven years earlier than scheduled, as a developing renewable energy mix, particularly wind and solar power, has considerably reduced the profitability of the plant.
• Dozens killed in landslides near Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro: At least 94 people have died in mudslides and flash flooding in Petrópolis, in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro after hours of torrential rain.
• Anthem mixup at soccer tournament: The Tournoi de France, hosted by the French Football Federation, bringing together international female soccer teams, was off to an awkward start as the Finnish players were treated to the sound of the Albanian anthem by mistake.
Brazilian daily Extra devotes its front page to the “devastating” landslides and flash floods, which have killed at least 94 people in the city of Petrópolis, near Rio de Janeiro. The death toll could rise as rescue efforts are underway.
In a move to expand its influence in eastern Ukraine, Russia has issued passports and citizenship to 720,000 residents of rebel-held areas in the region thanks to a simplified procedure, as well as membership in the Kremlin’s ruling party and other perks. According to Donetsk’s migrant service, the number of residents applying for Russian passports has increased in the past few weeks, amid growing tensions with Ukraine.
What's that smell? The perfume industry's upcycling savoir faire
The circular economy is a hot trend, being embraced by everything from fashion to home decor. But one industry has been upcycling for decades. And the benefits and potentials go far beyond the environment. Soon, your perfume might help you fight stress and even wrinkles, writes Johanne Courbatère de Gaudric in French daily Les Echos.
♻️ Xavier Brochet, director of innovation for natural products at Firmenich, the world's largest fragrance business, explains that in perfumery, the implementation of upcycling dates back to the increasing industrialization of perfumery in the early 20th century, when the production of ingredients began to be rationalized to increase their yield and quality while optimizing costs. For instance, for essential oils from woods such as cedar, the distilleries moved directly to Texas or Virginia, to the same sites as the sawmills that process lumber for furniture or construction.
👃 The final key element in the success of upcycling is the potential that new raw materials bring to the ingredients palette available in perfumery. LMR laboratories based in Grasse, which specializes in natural ingredients and was founded by Monique Rémy, is exemplary in this respect. "One of the first products Monique launched in the late 1980s was a beeswax extract obtained by collecting beehive cells. It was followed by ingredients such as carrot essence, obtained thanks to the sorting differences of the seed companies," says Bertrand de Préville, general manager of LMR.
🧘 Composition laboratories, brands and all the major players in the industry agree that upcycling is at the heart of their current concerns. "Today's end customers expect more than just nice-smelling perfumes. They now want products that embrace the environmental cause and provide additional benefits related to well-being," says Bertrand de Préville. Each company has its own strategy for meeting these specifications. IFF is testing the cosmetic and aromachological benefits of its upcycled materials. For example, Oakwood (from oak) has relaxing properties and promotes memory.
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First, we had the Swedish activists’ campaign of “flygskam” or “flight shame” to discourage people from traveling in polluting airplanes in the face of the climate crisis. Now Austrian winter sport lovers must face: skischam or “skiing shame.” According to daily Die Presse, the campaign is spreading in Austria, where winter sports are extremely popular, highlighting the use of snow cannons and artificial snow to cover otherwise green-brown landscapes. Adding to the would-be shame is the fact that several coronavirus clusters originated in ski stations, including the popular Ischgl resort in 2020.
Colombia: “Feminist” candidate Ingrid Betancourt accused of blaming rape victims
When Ingrid Betancourt announced last month she was running for president of Colombia, the celebrated former hostage said a central focus of her candidacy would be women's issues. After a candidate debate on Tuesday night, those issues have arrived in the worst possible way.
Asked by university students what society could do to better protect women's safety, Betancourt said that women's issues "concern us all," but then added: "Many times we realize, especially in the poorest neighborhoods, that women let themselves get raped, let themselves get raped by people very close to the family or let themselves get followed by criminals, who follow their route, know where they are going to go and they are predators that are chasing them who are totally unprotected.”
After her statement, candidate Camilo Romero, part of the leftist coalition, Pacto Histórico drew attention to what Betancourt had said, saying women didn't "let themselves" be followed or raped.
Enrique Gómez Martínez, a right-wing candidate, brushed off the statement, arguing that it was a language mix-up: "Don't mistreat a woman who has spoken French for 20 years,” a reference to Betancourt's dual nationality with France and French education. In French "se faire violer" means "to be raped" and has no victim-blaming connotations, unlike the Spanish "se hace violar," that she used.
But perhaps the most damning part of Betancourt's comments is that she was referencing only poor women. The other top female presidential candidate Francia Márquez Mina tweeted that the comment "legitimizes class, sexist and patriarchal violence."
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Too much has been put in to the state-sponsored truth that minimal spread of the virus is the at-all-cost objective. But if the Chinese economy continues to suffer, Xi Jinping may have no choice but to second guess himself.
The tragic bus accident in Guiyang last month — in which 27 people being sent to quarantine were killed — was one of the worst examples of collateral damage since the COVID-19 pandemic began in China nearly three years ago. While the crash can ultimately be traced back to bad government policy, the local authorities did not register it as a Zero COVID related casualty. It was, for them, a simple traffic accident.
The officials in the southern Chinese province of Guizhou, of course, had no alternative. Drawing a link between the deadly crash and the strict policy of Zero COVID, touted by President Xi Jinping, would have revealed the absurdity of the government's choices.
Objectively speaking, Zero COVID may not necessarily be a bad policy in itself, as it is based on good intentions: to protect the health and lives of the public. During the first phase of the pandemic, and the onslaught of the Delta virus, Zero COVID did serve to protect the population, bringing the spread under control to the greatest extent possible, and allowing the economy to recover quickly.
The starting point
In mainland China, there have been just over 5,000 deaths from COVID-19, most of them were in Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic, a low proportion compared to the country's total population. This can be credited to the “Zero Covid” policy, even if it has also caused a number of humanitarian disasters, such as the lockdown of Wuhan. Ultimately, we can conclude that Zero COVID had remained successful until the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Zero COVID has had the inverse effect of the stated purpose.
Its destructive side has emerged the longer it's been held in place. Since Omicron, Zero COVID has kept China's infection rate low, but the collateral damage and social cost has long since surpassed its benefits.
The crude and brutal nature of the policy, and the harm to people's individual interests and even their own life can be seen in the strict lockdowns, large-scale COVID testing and social isolation. As witnessed in Shanghai, Xi’ An and other cities, Zero COVID has proven to ultimately have the inverse effect of the stated purpose of protecting people's lives and health.
What concerns the public most now is how Zero COVID will change in the future
The examples of the harm of Zero COVID are too many to list. So the question now is, with the population extremely resentful and local officials struggling to maintain this policy, why is Xi sticking with Zero COVID? Hasn't he always taught officials to measure their governance by whether or not the people are satisfied? It shouldn't be based on sticking to a promise. Why is this criterion invalid for Zero COVID?
The answer lies in two factors: first, Xi's one-man leadership system prevents his personal will from being effectively corrected; second, his knowledge of Zero COVID's direct effectiveness in preventing the spread has kept him fixated on that goal.
During his visit to Wuhan in June, Xi declared: "If you see the overall picture, our measures to prevent the pandemic are the most economical and the most effective ... With the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the important grassroots base of local communities, we have the ability and strength to implement the Zero COVID policy until we achieve final victory."
Economic growth goals
The official party line and propaganda states that "the practice of the pandemic control in the past three years has proven that Zero COVID is scientific and in line with China's national context. This path is right and effective, and is the best option for China."
This is likely the extent of Xi's understanding of Zero COVID, which is based on the fact that China was able to contain the spread and maintain economic growth during the first phase of the pandemic. For Xi, since the approach proved to be correct back then, it is all the more important to stick to Zero COVID in the face of the Omicron virus, rather than changing or abolishing it.
The government doesn't trust the Chinese vaccine.
In addition, vaccination rates have not yet formed a sufficient barrier against the pandemic in a vast country like China with differences in local healthcare conditions. It was thought that if China followed the West's example of "mass vaccination," it would cause a spike in infections, resulting in a run on medical resources and ultimately causing unbearable losses to people's lives and property, with unthinkable consequences."
What the official media say is what officials think. The Chinese government, and probably Xi himself, don't trust the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine. But for reasons of so-called "vaccine nationalism," he is unwilling to approve the purchase of American and Western mRNA vaccines. Thus the policy of harsh lockdowns and mass testing had to be continued.
There will be an end to the pandemic at some point, and with it a way out of Zero COVID. But when?
When will Zero COVID be over?
What concerns the public most now is how Zero COVID will change in the future, and whether China will remain closed after three years of control. Some worry that China's Zero COVID could become a permanent policy.
However, there will be an end to the pandemic at some point, and with it a way out of Zero COVID. But when?
The scenario most likely to end the harsh lockdowns are more signs that the economy simply can longer sustain it. Now considered a consensus, China's economy is living through its worst period in more than a decade. If we don't see significant signs of growth, despite various stimulus measures, then Zero COVID might be abandoned sooner rather than later, though nothing would happen before the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party on October 16.
There is also a scenario of the pandemic lingering, the economy adjusting and the controls of Zero COVID never quite going away.
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