Welcome to Wednesday, where Assad is all set for reelection, WhatsApp takes on India's Modi, and a drug dealer's love of blue cheese leads to his demise. Meanwhile, we turn to German daily Die Welt for an in-depth analysis of Angela Merkel's relationship with China (Spoiler alert: It's complicated).
• Syrian presidential elections: Polling stations have opened on Wednesday across Syria in presidential elections in which Bachar al-Assad is assured to win a fourth seven-year term. Western foreign ministers have issued a statement warning about the fairness of the election.
• UN emergency meeting on Mali's coup: The UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting on Mali on Wednesday, as West African mediators are supposed to meet with Mali's detained president and prime minister. On Tuesday, Mali's interim vice president, Colonel Assimi Goita announced that he seized power after the interim president and prime minister failed to consult him about the nomination of a new government.
• COVID vaccines doses to Taiwan, anti-vax influencers in France: Millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses are on their way to Taiwan, where 300 new cases in capital city Taipei, after months without cases. In France, several YouTube personalities were asked to publicly denigrate the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in return for money.
• South African ex-leader Zuma pleads not guilty: South Africa's former President Jacob Zuma has pleaded not guilty to all 18 counts of racketeering, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering on Wednesday, at the start of his trial over a 1999 deal, when he was deputy president. The ex-president is also facing another inquiry into corruption with French arms company Thales during his time in office.
• WhatsApp sues Indian government over privacy rules: U.S.-based messaging platform WhatsApp has sued the Indian government over new internet laws that will give the government bigger power to monitor online activity.
• First woman to head the Louvre: Laurence des Cars has been chosen to head the Louvre, becoming the first female director of the world's largest and most celebrated museum. Since 2017, des Cars has run the Musée d'Orsay, just across the river in Paris.
• Cheese leads to drug dealer's arrest: A drug dealer in Liverpool, UK, was tracked down after sharing a picture of Stilton cheese on the encrypted messaging service EncroChat that was cracked by the police. The man has been jailed for 13 years and six months for helping to supply heroin, cocaine, ketamine and MDMA.
"Shell personnel are fed up with oil too," titles Amsterdam-based daily De Volkskrant as a Dutch court is due to give its verdict today on a landmark "People V. Shell" case. Environmental groups are aiming to force the oil giant to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets from the Paris climate accords.
In an editorial directed at Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, top Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun is calling for the cancellation (pronounced "no chūshi") of the Tokyo Summer Olympics slated to begin in July, citing COVID-19 risks to public safety.
Berlin to Beijing: the double meaning of Merkel's China policy
The German chancellor is the driving force behind a controversial investment agreement between China and the EU, which is recognizing Beijing's true intentions too late, writes Daniel-Dylan Böhmer in German daily Die Welt.
In 2012, Germany's dealings with China were going well. Since coming to power in 2005, Merkel had visited the country almost every year, watching its rise to superpower status. A year later, the EU entered into negotiations with China about a new trade deal, designed to open China up to European investment and ensure that European companies received fairer treatment in China. It was an attractive idea: Even now, despite interference from Beijing, despite widespread theft of intellectual property, China is a highly attractive market. How much more so if we could do fair, free trade with it in the future?
Slowly though it dawned on the Europeans that their strategy of "change through trade" was naive, and they began to take action. In the spring of 2019, the EU published a strategy paper in which China was referred to not only as a partner and competitor, but for the first time as a "systemic rival." Still, many Europeans clung to their illusions, and nothing really changed. Europe wanted to keep the investment deal alive at all costs, particularly Germany, as its car industry has especially strong links with China.
In 2021, for the first time in 30 years, the EU imposed sanctions against four Chinese officials due to human rights violations. In practice, however, these sanctions were toothless. The German Chancellor's office intervened in Brussels and argued for more lenient measures. But Beijing was enraged, and in retaliation, issued sanctions against 14 European individuals and institutions, including many EU officials. In the meantime, the European Parliament still needed to ratify the investment deal.
In early May, the foreign ministers of the G7 states demanded a UN inspection of the Uyghur camps and called for Beijing to "participate constructively in the rules-based international system." And the German chancellor? She is still fighting for the investment deal. As Michael Roth (SPD), minister of state for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office, explains: "Overall, the German government still supports the agreement." Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go to get it ratified, and it's clear that nerves are frayed.
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According to the International Organization for Migration's Missing Migrants Project, which tracks the deaths of refugees and asylum-seekers worldwide, 743 migrants have already died in the Mediterranean this year — compared with 289 for the whole of 2020. The United Nations on Wednesday said the EU was "partly to blame" for these deaths.
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— Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad has reacted to the release of a joint statement by the foreign ministers of the U.S., UK, France, Italy and Germany warning that Syria's May 26 presidential election will "neither be free nor fair".
✍️ Newsletter by Emma Flacard, Bertrand Hauger & Anne-Sophie Goninet