ISNA
ISNA (Iranian Students' News Agency) is a Persian-language news organization run by Iranian university students. It was founded in 1999 and is funded by the Iranian government.
Geopolitics

China’s Bogus Death Counts And The Benefits Of Realpolitik

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet reminds us how small the world has become. Worldcrunch is delivering a daily update on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: CHINA'S BOGUS DEATH COUNTS AND THE BENEFITS OF REALPOLITIK

Can China be trusted? The question, posed by its neighbors for centuries, has moved to the center of the world's political and economic agenda with Beijing's emergence the past decade as a virtual superpower. With the global pandemic of COVID-19, the trust factor now has taken on another set of implications, and gravity: Friday, after weeks of doubts about the impact of the virus, officials dramatically revised the death toll by 50% in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the novel coronavirus is thought to have originated late last year.

The veracity of the death toll raises other questions about the management of the crisis, which has since spread to virtually every country in the world. Speaking to the Financial Times, French President Emmanuel Macron tersely said: "Given these differences, the choices made and what China is today, which I respect, let's not be so naive as to say it's been much better at handling this."

Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis marks an unforeseen turning point for China's place in the world, after 40 years of carefully weaving its soft power and imposing its manufacturing might. The country's initial response highlighted the one-party rule's capacities in enforcing a tough lockdown, which some saw as an opportunity for China to fill the void left by the U.S."s inaction and Europe's self-confessed woefully inadequate responses to the crisis.

But to be a true leader of the world pack, you also need trust. For large swathes of the population, coronavirus is — as U.S. President Trump put it several times before thinking better of it — a "Chinese virus," leading to reservations about how we can trust the country to successfully contain a pandemic it's seen as having unleashed. But as the South China Morning Post notes, more than the speculation surrounding the origin of the virus, it's Xi Jinping and his government "penchant for secrecy", silencing of whistleblowers and general tendency for covering up domestic problems that is losing China the world's trust and hampering any ambitions of bonafide Chinese leadership.

U.S. historian Hal Brands puts it bluntly in Bloomberg: No, in the long run, China cannot be trusted. Still, he says, that doesn't mean that the world shouldn't work hand-in-hand with Beijing. It has no choice, really, as scientific, medical, economic and social cooperation between nations is the only way out of the current situation. "A coronavirus detente," his piece concludes "could well be a good idea, so long as we keep its limitations in mind."

It is a keen reminder that the old precepts of realpolitik can, and sometimes must, be applied to unexpected events in the modern world. "Can we trust China?" may not be quite the right question to ask right now, but rather: "How can we still work with China, knowing fully well that we don't?"

— By Bertrand Hauger


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Revised tolls: Wuhan revises death toll by 1,290 to 3,869, an increase of 50% following updating reports and statistical reviews. China denies accusations it has covered up deaths. Meanwhile new figures in Ecuador suggest thousands could have died, far beyond 403 so far reported.

• Economic blows: For the first time in decades, China GDP shrinks by 6,8% in first three months of the year. In the U.S. 22 million jobless claims have been filed since the pandemic began. Stock markets nevertheless are heading toward second straight week of gains.

• Brazil health chief sacked: President Jair Bolsonaro fires Brazilian health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta who defended social distancing measures.

• Crackdown on shutdown: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte threatens to send military and police "like martial law" in Manila, following reports of an upsurge of cars on the capital's roads.

• "Lucky" break: Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen will be released early from prison due to the pandemic.

• Back to (different) Earth: Three members of the International Space Station crew return to Earth after spending almost a year in space.

• E-virus: Google reveals Gmail blocks an average 18 million malicious COVID-19 related emails a day.

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Geopolitics
Alidad Vassigh

Drug Use Doubles In Iran, But True Numbers May Be Even Higher

Iran's Islamic regime may have harsh penalties for drug trafficking, but officials are now estimating that the number of "regular drug users' has doubled in the past six years, from 1.3 million to about 2.8 million.

The head of the country's drug control organization, Parviz Afshar, told Iran's ISNA news agency that currently "about 2.8 million" Iranians (in a country of 80 million) were regular users, of which 67% were hooked on traditional opium and eight percent on newer synthetic drugs. Afshar said the figures were estimates based on recent studies on a sample population of 60,000.

The public is skeptical of official figures on social vices

Agence France-Presse reports that underlying Iran's rising drug use may be its geography. The country lies between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where drugs are cultivated and produced, and Western consumers, making it a key transit route as well as a first market for a range of drugs.

The Tehran-based daily Aftab-e Yazd, suggested this week that the public was skeptical of official figures on "social vices' like drug use or divorce, suspecting that the government often lowers the totals to avoid social alarm or contempt. The distrust, the newspaper writes, increased when the conservative government led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made drug use figures confidential in 2002.

The publication cited the Tehran-based sociologist Ardeshir Geravand who stated that it was difficult to calculate the precise number of addicts — or to define them clearly — but that there could be as many as five to seven million addicts in Iran.

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Iran’s Next Target: Justin Bieber

TEHRAN â€" Iran has had enough of Justin Bieber and the Great Satan corporate powers turning out such sinful teenage beats. The Islamic Republic has a plan to purge itself of the Western pop music scourge, by developing a national music awards program that will encourage local talent and hopefully restore home-grown Iranian song to its proper place.

The organizer of the first Grand Prize for Revolutionary Music, Mohsen Tehrani, told ISNA news agency this week that the program's goal is to foster collaboration between songwriters and musicians and promote musical excellence. It is also looks to "vaccinate" youngsters against the West's pop culture intrusions, which threaten "fundamentalist and family-oriented" societies like Iran's, he said.

Tehrani criticized large Western corporations for using children "aged 6 to 12" to determine the future of mass music, even in places like Iran. "The result of this process is people like Justin Bieber," he said, referring to the Canadian-born singer loved by so many yet sometimes ridiculed for his adolescent antics. The fact that some young Iranians like Bieber is a cultural "alarm bell," Tehrani said.

The organizer believes that Iranian music needs "analysis" and competition, and laments that state patronage of "worthy" songs has not produced music with a popular following. The music awards program, said Tehrani, would seek out young talent and celebrate music composed since the 1979 revolution, which put an immediate stop to Western and Western-style pop music in Iran.

Moreover, Tehrani said the competition will not be open to any music produced by expatriate Iranians, especially in California, which became a home of choice for singers who fled post-revolutionary Iran.