👋 Kia ora!*
Happy New Year! Welcome to Monday, where Sudan’s embattled prime minister resigns, Australia sees record daily COVID cases and Venice says ciao to its Instagrammable footbridge for safety reasons. Meanwhile, we look at what could bring down the budding alliance between China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
2022: year of the wake-up call
The signs for 2022 may appear grim right now, but at least we know what we're facing. Will we make the right decisions? asks Jacques Attali in French daily Les Echos.
Since it's customary to do so at this time of year, let's try to make predictions for the next twelve months. On paper, 2022 should be a very difficult year. But by knowing that and anticipating it, we can prevent it from being so.
It is quite easy to forecast a worst-case scenario: a pandemic that evades vaccines, a collapse of financial markets, hotbeds of conflicts on the borders of Europe, large countries like Ethiopia falling apart.
There are also extremist movements, some claiming that all traces of the West’s past values should be erased from the memory of the world, while others say that all foreign influence should be rejected. All of this is possible. All of that will happen.
The main risk we face this coming year across the world is governments, businesses, each one of us individually and humanity more generally losing control over the course of events — with obviously terrifying consequences.
In France in the run-up to the presidential elections this year, we can have legitimate concerns about the election of a president who would prove to be powerless, without a parliamentary majority, unable to keep their countless and inevitable electoral promises. Our country would be lost when facing a Germany that is once again self-confident, an Italy in a phase of renewal, and a world that is undergoing a major reorganization.
It would then turn into another year of disillusionment and anger, during which the country would get increasingly embroiled in conflicts over its identity, which has always been, historically, the first sign of decline.
In Europe, there’s the fear of seeing the European Union get more and more dependent on the United States for its defense, on Russia for its imports and on China for its exports. It faces a potential Russian invasion in Ukraine, and Turkey in the Balkans, as well as a wave of migration from Africa, overwhelming technological, financial and legal domination from the U.S., and China forcing its way onto the geopolitical scene. And Europe must reckon with all of this without having the means to respond, embroiled as it is in contradictory national interests.
More generally, there’s the fear that the world might be powerless in the face of a pandemic we have failed to control and in the face of climate change. Add to that the high rise in inflation, terrorist violence, waves of migration, cybercrime, and many other forces that cross borders to attack our civilizations, the human species and life itself.
In other words, we run the risk that there is no longer, in France, in Europe and across the world, a pilot in the plane, or that we even have a cockpit. And even if the steering wheel is the only thing no longer responding, this is in itself a death sentence.
Conversely, 2022 could be a chance for a wake-up call, for taking control, for open sovereignty. In France, with a bit of lucidity and calm, the electoral campaign could offer an opportunity to really learn more about the country’s major issues and the solutions that should be provided: childcare, education, the protection of minorities, social justice, secularism, security, tranquility, defense, public debt, industrial renewal, health, food, the climate, the protection of nature. Not to mention the prospect of maintaining control over our cultural, economic, financial and geopolitical sovereignty. We also need to understand that France’s sovereignty is impossible without Europe’s open sovereignty.
For the European Union, partially under French Presidency in 2022, it could also be an opportunity to launch a real project of sovereignty in all sectors of life economics (health, education, food, renewable energies, mobility sustainability, agriculture, digital, defense and security).
Finally, on a global scale, we can perhaps hope that the most selfish governments will finally admit that everyone has an interest in being altruistic, and that, in particular, pandemics will only be eradicated if all human beings are as well protected as the richest among them. And we can also hope they realize that it is in everyone's interest to have access to the means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We can finally hope that an alliance of researchers, entrepreneurs, social mobilizers and artists — all potential beneficial players in the world — will be able to make people understand that there are solutions to everything, including to problems we didn’t know how to solve (or didn’t want to) for centuries.
We can be hopeful that technological progress at the service of altruism can still save the human species and our civilizations. We can also hope that honest and rigorous media will be their heralds.
It is therefore not too late to remember the obvious, which has been hammered out for millennia by thinkers of all cultures, from the Mazdeans to the Egyptians, from the Jews to the Greeks, from Christians to Muslims, from the Chinese to the Anglo-Saxons, from the African griots to Silicon Valley gurus: “every man for himself” is the recipe for powerlessness. The condition of sovereignty is the convergence of talents.
— Jacques Attali / Les Echos
• COVID update: Australia hits daily record of 37,000 new infections and has rising hospitalization rates, but is still moving forward with reopening in the hope of economic recovery. The Omicron variant has also disrupted travel with some 4,000 flights canceled, more than half in the United States. Israel, one of the earliest to mass vaccinate its population, announced fourth vaccine doses for those over 60 and healthcare workers.
• Sudan Prime Minister resigns: Amid political gridlock and mass protests, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has stepped down, a move that further derails the East African country’s path to democracy. The widespread demonstrations were protesting a deal Hamdok signed with the military that brought him back into office following a coup on Oct. 25.
• Man arrested in South Africa Parliament fire: A suspect has been arrested for setting South Africa’s Houses of Parliament ablaze. There were no casualties, but the building, located in Cape Town, was severely damaged. The suspect, who is not a parliamentary employee, is charged with arson, housebreaking and theft.
• Indian app that listed women for “auction” removed: The open source Bulli Bai app shared photos of over 100 Muslim women “for sale” before it was taken down. It’s the second such attempt to degrade Muslim women (no real auction was meant to happen) in this way, after an app and website called "Sulli Deals" listed profiles in July of more than 50 Muslim women.
• South Korean crossing to North Korea: In a rare defection northward, an individual in South Korea successfully crossed the heavily fortified border into North Korea. The person, who has not been publicly identified, was spotted after the event on surveillance equipment. South Korea has asked its northern neighbor to ensure their safe return, but the North has yet to respond.
• Famed Kenyan paleontologist dies: Celebrated for his work as a fossil hunter and conservationist, Richard Leakey has died at the age of 77. Cementing Africa’s history as the cradle of humanity, Leakey’s most important discoveries include the “Turkana Boy,” a 1.6-million-year-old skeleton discovered in 1984 of a young male Homo erectus.
• Venice footbridge replaced because of tourist injuries: It was designed to be a modern architectural monument, but too many visitors to Venice have slipped on the Ponte della Costituzione footbridge, maybe while trying to get the perfect selfie. The multimillion-dollar bridge has a glass floor, with only a narrow stone strip in the center. It will now be replaced with a far less aesthetically pleasing but far more practical trachyte stone.
South African daily The Citizen reports on the fire that severely damaged the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town. A suspect has been arrested and will appear in court Tuesday to face charges of arson, housebreaking and theft.
Turkey’s annual inflation has soared past 36% year-on-year in December, its highest point since 2022, as lira, the country’s currency, has been slumping to record lows.
Why the budding Xi-Putin alliance is bound to implode
Joined in their respective confrontations with the West, both the Chinese and Russian leaders are boasting about their burgeoning partnership. Yet there are fundamental reasons the love affair is unlikely to last.
🇷🇺🇨🇳 Vladimir Putin’s participation in the Beijing Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony was confirmed last week during a one-hour video meeting between the Russian leader and the head of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping. The digital conference is only the latest testament to a deepened cooperation between the two major autocracies of our time as their respective relationships with the West have further soured. Still, the public marriage between Russia and China is far shakier behind the scenes.
💥 As both countries aim to surpass the United States in military power, a naval drill in October saw 10 vessels from China and Russia sail through the Tsugaru Strait separating Japan's main island and its northern island of Hokkaido. The maneuver is the latest of a long list of joint military drills in the last few years, ranging from strategic command and staff exercises, war games and bomber patrols. But while the superior military might of the U.S. is holding the eastern alliance together, a common enemy doesn’t necessarily preclude internal conflicts.
🌐 As combined U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia and China have dealt a particular blow to the raw materials market, the two countries now intend to grow turnover and redirect trade flows. Already, China has become Russia’s main export destination, followed by the Netherlands, Germany, Turkey and Belarus. However, the need to expand trade destinations for the agriculture, metallurgy, coal and chemical industries might ultimately split the alliance as both Russia and China will be forced to turn to the European market.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"Is that how Ukrainians are seen abroad?"
— The Netflix show Emily in Paris has come under fire for its “offensive” portrayal of Ukrainians. Ukraine's Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said he had complained to Netflix about a character from Kyiv who shoplifted and was derided for her poor fashion sense, calling the show’s depiction of the Ukrainian character “unacceptable and insulting."
Hatsumōde (in Japanese 初詣) is one the most popular traditions in Japan and involves the practice of visiting a temple or shrine for the first time in the New Year, praying for good fortune. Japanese media reports that the number of visitors has increased significantly this year compared to the last, thanks to the impression that the country’s COVID measures are effective.
Health care workers administer the first dose of the SINOVAC COVID-19 vaccine in a vaccination center of Companiganj Upazila, in Bangladesh. — Photo: Md Rafayat Haque Khan/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin
Getting to Venice for a selfie, cringe-bingeing Emily in Paris … any other New Year’s resolutions? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!
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