Geopolitics

The Latest: Spyware Revelation, Seoul v. Tokyo, Spike Lee Stumbles

A police officer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia stands guard at a drug burning ceremony
A police officer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia stands guard at a drug burning ceremony

Welcome to Monday, where an international probe reveals spyware has been used to target thousands of journalists and activists around the world, South Korea's president is protesting the Olympics after a diplomatic spat and a Slovenian cyclist wins the Tour de France for the second time in a row. The Initium also looks at how "fatalistic suicides' in Hong Kong are perceived as terrorist acts by the Chinese regime.

• Pegasus spyware used to target journalists, activists: Pegasus technology, a spyware used to "infect" mobile devices and gain access to users' private information, has been connected to more than 50,000 phone numbers, many belonging to prominent journalists, politicians, and activists, according to a new international investigative journalism project. The Israeli surveillance company behind Pegasus denies allegations that its technology has been used by authoritarian governments.

• South Korean president to skip Tokyo Olympics in protest: South Korean President Moon Jae-in's office announced that he has dropped plans to attend the upcoming Tokyo Olympics after evidence surfaced that a senior Japanese official used sexual innuendo to describe Moon's efforts to improve relations between the two nations. There had been hope that the international event might be an opportunity for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and President Moon to address the countries' complicated history.

• More than 30 killed after torrential rain in Mumbai: At least 31 people in India's financial capital, Mumbai, have died as a result of heavy rain, flooding and landslides over the weekend. Meanwhile, the death toll after last week's flooding in Western Europe has risen to at least 190 people, with dozens still missing.

• Tokyo court sentences two Americans in Ghosn trial: In Japan, U.S. Army Special Forces veteran Michael Taylor and his son Peter were sentenced to two years and 20 months, respectively, for helping Carlos Ghosn, former Nissan chief, flee the country. The pair posed as musicians, managing to smuggle Ghosn out of Japan in a luggage box on a private jet to avoid prosecution on financial impropriety charges.

• Australia deports UK columnist who breached quarantine: British right-wing commentator Katie Hopkins is set to be deported from Australia after boasting online about breaking the country's quarantine rules. Hopkins shared a video saying that she has been answering her hotel door naked and maskless, which goes against Australia's hotel quarantine regulations.

• Danish Mohammed cartoonist dies: Kurt Westergaard, the Danish artist known for having drawn controversial caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, has died at the age of 86. One of his illustrations was featured with the headline "The Face of Mohammed" in 2005, which sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world, as depictions of the prophet are strictly forbidden.

• Spike Lee slip-up: U.S. filmmaker Spike Lee shocked the Cannes audience by accidentally announcing the winner of the Palme d'Or at the beginning of the closing ceremony. French director Julia Ducournau took home the prize for her thriller film Titane, becoming only the second woman in history to win the top honor.


Slovenian daily Delo celebrates the victory of Slovenian cyclist Tadej Pogačar, who won the Tour de France for the second time in a row. The 22-year-old had become the youngest winner of the race in 116 years at the time


For Chinese regime, suicide in Hong Kong is an act of terrorism

Leung Kin-fai, 50, stabbed a police officer from behind with a knife and later killed himself in Hong Kong, leaving a suicide note in which he expressed his belief that "freedom has been lost" after the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law in 2020. According to the theory of French sociologist David Émile Durkheim, such acts are classified as fatalistic suicides. Has Hong Kong reached this point of desperation? asks Chinese-language digital media The Initium.

This April, pollster Gallup released its Global Happiness Index, which ranked Hong Kong 113th in terms of freedom of choice in life, lower than mainland China or Taiwan; it's worth mentioning that Hong Kong ranked 66th in this index in 2019. In other words, Hong Kongers are becoming more depressed and pessimistic. If someone is unhappy, they could try changing their environment or leaving the source of pain; but if a city is unhappy, is forbidden to speak out and cannot complain, its residents would only die or explode in silence.

This theory might also explain other suicidal attacks in China, with citizens retaliating against government officials for unfair treatment and injustices. The Chinese government is, of course, sensitive to those issues, but hardly counts those incidents as terrorism attacks. In the Chinese understanding of national security, attacks that target government agencies, police and military are defined as terrorist activities. On the other hand, Chinese state media often combines violent terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism (referred to as the Three Forces) in narratives, so the fight against terrorism is in fact the same as eliminating those three forces.

Back in Hong Kong, the authorities have already been treating attacks on the government as "local terrorism" and defined its meaning as secession. As a result, all those who support Leung Kin-fai are being recognized as supporters for secession and have become government targets. Officials are now on high-alert for similar attacks on police, with all mourning activities for Leung regarded as support for terrorist activities. Even wearing black clothes is considered a political statement.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


$1.28 million

The Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay, which will host the canoeing and rowing events at the Olympics, has been plagued by a massive number of oysters, costing $1.28 million in emergency repairs less than a week before the start of the Games. The oysters attached themselves to floats that were installed to stop the waves from disrupting athletes. In total, 14 tons of the unwanted shellfish were removed.


The German language has no words, I think, for the devastation.

— During a visit to some of the affected areas of last week's flooding, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her shock at the scale of the destruction. The floods, which have killed at least 188 people in Germany and Belgium, have been captured in photographs and videos, while newspapers have searched for the word or phrase to describe it, including todesflut, meaning "flood of death" or "deathtide."

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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