Welcome to Thursday, where China rejects WHO's plans to look into its "Wuhan lab leak" theory, U.S. & Germany reach a deal on Nord Stream 2 and two Swedish hostage takers have the weirdest ransom demand. Hong-Kong based media The Initium also explains why young people in China are still drawn to the prospect of joining the Communist Party.
• Vaccines v. Delta variant: A study has shown that full vaccination (two doses) from the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine is nearly as effective against the Delta variant as against the original Alpha variant. Meanwhile, China has rejected a WHO proposal to investigate the origins of the coronavirus because it also included plans to look into Wuhan lab leak theory, which the country views as "not scientific."
• U.S. & Germany reach Nord Stream 2 deal: The United States and Germany have come to an agreement in order to ensure that the controversial gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, will not be used by Russia to exert political pressure on Europe. The pipeline, which is close to becoming operational, will likely double Russian gas exports to Germany.
• Death toll in China floods rises to 33: The death count after torrential rains and flooding in China's Henan province has risen to 33 people, with an additional eight people missing. The public has questioned authorities' preparedness for disaster, as experts have linked the downpour to the worsening climate crisis.
• Madagascar arrests six in assassination plot: After months of investigation, Madagascan authorities have arrested six people, including a foreign national, suspected of planning to kill President Andry Rajoelina.
• Olympics opening ceremony director fired: Kentaro Kobayashi, director of the Olympics' opening ceremony scheduled for tomorrow, has been fired after a Holocaust joke surfaced from a 1998 comedy set. The organizing committee president issued a public apology.
• Argentina adds non-binary option to ID cards: Argentina has become the first Latin American country to add a non-binary option to identification cards. Citizens who do not identify as male or female will now have the option to mark the gender neutral ‘X" instead.
• Swedish hostage takers demand kebab pizzas: Two inmates in Sweden's Hallby high security prison took two guards hostage for nine hours on Wednesday, demanding a helicopter and 20 kebab pizzas as ransom. The pizzas were indeed delivered, and the guards were released unharmed.
"We must never forget," titles Norwegian daily Aftenposten, paying tribute to the 77 victims of the Utøya massacre, on the 10th anniversary of the worst terror attack in Norway's recent history.
Why Chinese youth are still so eager to join the Communist Party
For some young Chinese people, joining the Communist Party is something that just seems natural, with the purpose of serving the society and being useful for the country. For others, being a party member is also proof of excellence, a sign of elite status. But joining the CPC has also its downsides, write Jo Tei, Chan Yat Do and Jeung Yet Gwang in Chinese-language digital media The Initium.
With young people becoming more focused on finding employment in the public sector, and the national civil servants admission exam becoming more competitive, all are aware of a tacit soft rule that CPC members have more chances of being selected for such posts. In online forums, there are countless articles explaining the benefits of joining the party: a CPC membership would be an advantage when working in public administration and state enterprises.
The irony is that, in reality, becoming a CPC member does not change one's life much. Qiuyuan, a university student, recalled that the only highlight was the admission ceremony, where 30-40 new members solemnly made the vow: "We are ready to sacrifice everything for the party and the people." Qiuyuan was shocked by the pledge: "Were they actually serious about this?" For most people, party membership only leads to more meetings and orientation activities, such as visiting "patriotic travel sites," and group meetings.
Still, being a party member is indeed different. Qiuyuan is beginning to sense the benefits in her career, as her housing aids and social benefits have been augmented. Under certain circumstances, party membership seems to be a trouble, especially in today's geopolitical conflicts: the Trump administration had forbidden current and former Communist Party members to immigrate to the U.S., and even their families are restricted in getting travel visas. As there are currently about 91.9 million CPC members in China, about 200 million Chinese are affected by this policy.
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A 17-year-old in France was detained after allegedly cutting the circuit breakers and emergency generator for a COVID-19 vaccination center in the eastern town of Audincourt. Due to the power being cut, at least 5,383 vaccines have been endangered. Two other vaccination centers were vandalized over the weekend, as anti-vaccine sentiments surge amid the government's recent decision to force medical workers to get vaccinated and the public's proof of vaccination (or negative test results) to enter a range of public places.
All the finger-pointing should be at the customer.
— Company spokesman for NSO group, the makers of Pegasus spyware, told BBC reporters in response to international criticism. The company claims the technology is intended to be used against criminals and terrorists, but a major international investigation has shown it's being used to target heads of state, reporters and activists, among them the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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