The World This Week

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The World This Week
Baidu, Chang'e and Fujian: The Rise of China's S&T Capabilities in EV, Space and Maritime Sectors

  GP Team

The World This Week #263, Vol. 6, No.17
05 May 2024

Femy Francis, Akhil Ajith and Vetrislevi Baskaran


The Tesla Deal and the Rise of Baidu 
Femy Francis

What happened?
On 28 April, Tesla CEO Elon Musk landed in China meeting Chinese politburo where he met with the Chinese Premier Li Qiang discussing Tesla’s growth and future in China. Later, Tesla and Baidu signed a deal for “Full Self-Driving technology in China. Tesla partnered with a domestic company in China for a mapping license before using the FSD technology. Baidu is one of the top 20 entities in China that have been granted top-level qualification with an independent mapping and navigation system and therefore is ideal for Tesla.  Chinese Premier told Elon that “Tesla’s presence in China marked a successful case of US-China economic and trade cooperation.”

The deal would provide Tesla with access to Baidu’s mapping and navigation technology and give them Baidu’s license for Tesla’s autopilot Fully Self-Driving software. This is essential for the EV carmaker to launch the self-driving technology. In collaboration, Tesla will kickstart its autonomous driving services with the help of Baidu’s lane-level navigation and mapping services.

What is the background?
First, a brief background on Baidu. Baidu Inc. is an Internet multinational technological company founded in 2000, that has its specialty in providing Internet-related services. The company is said to be the major power behind the Chinese search engine market. The company provides online marketing and internet search solutions. Some of the products the company offers are Baidu Search, Baidu Feed, Baidu Post Bar, Baidu Knows and Baidu Encyclopedia amongst others.  In 2023, the company’s revenue was RMB 134.6 billion with a work force of 39.8 thousands.

Second, a brief background to the deal. Baidu offers to aid the Fully Self Driving software for Tesla in China by assisting the autopilot mode in Tesla.. There were reports relating to Tesla’s interest initially in India, and he even confirmed his visit to discuss Tesla’s future in India but cancelled it at the last minute over “heavy Tesla obligation.” The move is widely seen as Tesla trying to cut costs and invest in easier, productive options. Since the deal, the shares of Tesla have risen by 15 per cent an aggregate evaluation of USD 194 billion making it a USD 615 billion company.

What does it mean?
First, the global rise of China’s technology capabilities. Elon Musk’s interest in China also lies in China’s industrial capacity. The latter has been known for their mass manufacturing despite being accused of “overcapacity,” and ruining the market. Chinese manufacturers have established themselves as developed industries with highly skilled workers. China also has one of the world’s largest electronic vehicle markets that provides Musk additional incentive to invest in China. Companies like Baidu are China’s asset that attracts international investments. Their prowess in fields of sophisticated technology makes them sought after.

Second, economic gains trumping geopolitics. Tesla’s policy stands contrary to the US policy of systemically divesting, decoupling and de-risking from China. In recent years the US administration has focused on imposing stringent sanctions against Chinese companies, firms and even individuals. Musk’s tilt towards China stands in line with other European countries that are highly critical of Chinese political practices but willing to look at the vibrant Chinese market and the economic gains it can bring.

Third, the political impact of the rise of technology for China. China’s increasing investment in sophisticated technology and its access to these advanced technologies despite international restrictions is likely to yield international influence. Its advancement in fields of technology can redefine relationships, where one country might observe China as an adversary the companies and firms within the country may look at China as an opportunity for advancement. It has already enticed investors and buyers for its shipbuilding industry, AI technology, navigation and mapping technologies. Baidu’s share in 2024 shot up when there was news that Apple would be working with Baidu’s AI software for its iPhones in China.


Chang’e 6: China’s Far-side Lunar Ambitions
Akhil Ajith

What happened?
On 03 May, China launched its Chang’e-6 lunar probe aboard the Long March-5 Y8 carrier rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan Province. This is a part of China’s overall ambitious space program to send a crewed lunar mission by 2030. The space mission will bring back the material from the far side of the moon for scientists to research the moon’s origin. 

On 03 May 2024, the chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, Wu Weiren, stated: “Collecting and returning samples from the far side of the moon is an unprecedented feat.” 

What is the background?
First, China’s space program. In April 1970, China launched its first satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1, on a Long March 1 rocket. This launch made China the fifth country to place a satellite in orbit. Between 2010 and 2019, China conducted 207 launches, more than one-and-a-half times the number of launches conducted from 1970 to 2010. Today, China conducts the second-highest number of orbital launches each year. In 2023, China conducted 116 launches, which made it second to the US with 186 launches. It operates a satellite fleet consisting of many communications, navigation, remote sensing, and scientific research satellites. China is one of the three countries, alongside the US and Russia, with independent human spaceflight capability. 

Second, China’s Lunar Programme. Known as the Chang’e project, China’s Lunar exploration programme is an ongoing series of uncrewed moon missions by China’s National Space Administration (CNSA). The program encompasses lunar orbiters, landers, rovers, and sample return spacecraft launched using the Long March series of rockets. Later, CNSA announced that the crewed missions would be added to the project by 2030. On 01 October 2007, the first spacecraft of the program, the Chang’e-1 lunar orbiter, was launched. A series of missions were launched to orbit and land on the lunar surface, with the Chang’e-6 being the latest among all. 

Third, China's search for the moon's far side. The return of the Chang'e 5 with lunar samples of rocks and soil enabled China to achieve its technological feat on the moon. President Xi Jinping, in a white paper on China's Space Program 2021, said, "to explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is our eternal dream." According to the White Paper, the space industry is a critical element of the overall national strategy, and China wants to uphold the principle of exploration and utilization of outer space for peaceful purposes.
 
Fourth, China’s space capacity demonstrations.  When the Chang’e-5 mission displayed the Chinese flag, the Global Times mentioned that it represented China’s comprehensive strength and technological innovation. Its extended goals to explore Mars and to conduct other interplanetary missions enable China to display its technological prowess and innovation.

What does it mean?
First, space as a medium of China’s economic and scientific development. President Xi Jinping’s speech at the 20th Party Congress in October 2022 identified space infrastructure as a critical component of China’s scientific progress. For China, space has emerged as one of the leading sectors driving rapid and sustainable economic growth to focus on improving science and technology. China’s November 2000 white paper focused on a greater role of space in revitalizing the country with science, education, and social progress. The deployment of satellites resulted in the rapid development of telecommunications, radio broadcasting, and television in China.  

Second, China’s search for its space in the Space. China’s launch and deployment of its indigenous space station Tiangong in 2021 and the series of successful Chang-e and Shenzhou missions launches have strengthened China’s efforts to carve out a space for itself. The breakthrough in technologies such as Beidou has helped China become self-reliant regarding communication and navigation capabilities. Also, the development of long-range and powerful rockets has enabled China to deploy its space station and other heavy satellites, which can be used for its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. China’s ambitions to become a global space power by 2045 will be a reality with its huge spending on research and development activities, thus driving it to become a global space power.



The Fujian: China’s third aircraft carrier
Vetriselvi Baskaran
 
What happened?
On 01 May, according to Xinhua, China's third aircraft carrier, the Fujian embarked on its maiden sea trails from the Shanghai shipyard. It will undergo the primary tests of reliability and stability of its propulsion and electrical system. The Fujian has finished its outfitting, mooring testing, and equipment modifications since its June 2022 launch. The technical specifications for sea trials have been accomplished.
 
On 01 May, South China Morning reported Yue Gang, a retired People’s Liberation Army colonel saying  “power generation and distribution of the steam turbine propulsion system will be tested, along with the pressure endurance of pipelines and valves” in the sea trail. In addition, Military commentator Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor detailed that assessing accurate testing time period is dependent “including the adaptability of the [propulsion, electrical, navigation and communication] systems.”
 
On January, the US Congressional Research Service in its report stated: “In a combat situation involving opposing U.S. naval and air forces, Chinese aircraft carriers would be highly vulnerable.”
 
What is the background?
First, a brief note on Fujian. China's third aircraft carrier began at Shanghai’s Jiangnan Shipyard in 2017, and on 17 June 2022, the carrier was launched in June. It is constructed by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited and named after Fujian province. The Fujian is around 316 meters long and has a total displacement of 80,000 tons. The aircraft carrier is indigenously built and is expected to be stationed with the South China Sea Fleet. According to available literature in the public domain, Fujian is equipped with a sophisticated electromagnetic catapult-launch system and Catapult Assisted Take-Off, which differentiates it from its predecessors. It enhances its potentiality in launching more aircraft with heavier payloads and allowing it to launch more fighter-bombers at one time.
 
Second, a brief on China’s aircraft carrier programme. In 1985, China started purchasing four decommissioned aircraft carriers for exploratory research: the Australian-built British carrier HMAS Melbourne and the former Soviet ships Minsk, Kiev, and Varyag. According to available reports, the Varyag was then significantly repaired to become the Liaoning, which served as both China's first operational aircraft carrier and a prototype for China's subsequent design amendments. The second, the 70,000-ton "Shandong (Type 002)," is the first to be built domestically after various advancements have been made. It was introduced in 2017 and put into operation in 2019 after undergoing 18 months of sea trials. It operates from Yulin naval base.
 
Third, a background to China’s shipping industry. China started developing its shipping sector in the 1970s. The shipping industry is mainly controlled by the state-owned companies. The top three include China COSCO shipping corporation Limited, China Merchant Group and the China Shipping Group. According to Global Times reports, China is the largest shipping industry in the world. They produce 96 per cent shipping containers, at most 80 per cent of ship-shore cranes and own seven busiest ports in the world. According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, China pumped financial support in this sector by 10 per cent to 15 per cent from 2008 to 2018. China is now dominating the shipbuilding sector as it topped the global market in 2022. Support from the government and a commitment towards Innovation and Technology where the resources are allocated by the shipping companies and industries are projected as reasons for China’s success in the shipping industry.
 
What does it mean?
First, China’s aircraft carrier ambitions. From having no carrier capacity just over a decade ago to having the second-largest carrier fleet in the world, China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has made great progress in building its aircraft carrier fleet. Since the 1970s, the PLAN has expressed interest in operating an aircraft carrier as part of its blue water aspirations.  
 
Second, Chinese aircraft carriers are aimed at extending reach beyond regional borders. The shift to focus on modernizing PLAN into an active defence navy, focusing on the development of advanced aircraft carriers. It is a strategic move towards projecting power beyond Chinese territorial waters and asserting its global influence. Further, it gives a clear indication of China's intent to challenge the existing maritime balance of power in Asia and beyond.
 


TWTW Regional Round-ups
News from around the World

Akriti Sharma, Rohini Reenum, Padmashree Anandhan, Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham, Akhil Ajith, Vetriselvi Baskaran and Shilpa Joseph

CHINA THIS WEEK
China: Shenzhou-17 manned spaceship returns to Earth
On 30 April, the Shenzhou-17 manned spaceship returned to Earth at the Dongfeng landing site in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The taikonauts Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie, and Jiang Xinlin were aboard the Tiangong space station for six months. Xinhua reported that the mission was a complete success. The Shenzhou-17 mission was launched on 25 October 2023, taking over control of Tiangong from the outgoing Shenzhou-16 crew. CMSA spokesperson Lin Xiqiang said that these space missions will help China to implement better flight crew rotation and training.

China: CCP’s holistic revised State Secrets law now extends to private companies like Tencent and Weibo
On 01 May, the Chinese government implemented a revised State Secrets Law aiming to holistically cover National Security issues. The revision now requires companies like Tencent and Weibo to delete any state-sensitive leaked information and requires them to cooperate with the government when probed. These revisions aim to curb the spread of state secrets online in a digital society. The amendment added “internet information” to the list as the distribution channel needs to follow the secrecy provisions. The network operators will now be asked to closely monitor leaks of information and duly remove them from the site. The law also states that the scope of classification will be determined by the National Administration of State Secrets Protection. Additionally, the government employees who now leave their positions will be subjected to a period of “classification separation management period,” under which they will be restricted from finding new employment or leaving mainland China. The revision aims to safeguard state secrets by using science and technology.

EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC THIS WEEK
Taiwan: Faces challenges to attend 2024 WHO annual assembly despite Blinken’s support, says Taiwanese Foreign Minister
On 02 May, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said that Taiwan will face challenges in attending the 2024 World Health Organisation (WHO) annual assembly after the US’s invitation. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken offered US support and asked WHO to reinstate Taiwan’s invitation. Taiwan attended as an observer in the Who from 2009 to 2016 and was blocked by China after the elections in 2017.  The assembly starts after the new President, Lai Ching-te, takes office. Taiwan says that its exclusion from WHO has blocked efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Korea: President Yoon to meet Opposition party leader
On 29 April, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol will meet the leader of the opposition party Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party of Korea. This meeting comes after Yoon failed to secure a majority in the recent National Assembly elections where the Democratic Party came victorious. The loss has rendered the People’s Power Party and its leader handicapped and he would find it difficult to get his policies approved in an opposition majority assembly. The meeting is the first since Yoon took office. President Yoon was advised to re-engage with the party after he shrugged at the National Assembly election result, which further affected his approval rating. The discussion is vital as this would determine if Yoon could convince Lee to approve his policies of tax cuts, easing business regulations, and expanding family support.

Solomon Islands: Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele to be the new prime minister
On 02 May, the lawmakers selected Foreign Minister Jeremiah Manele as the new prime minister of Solomon Islands. Governor General David Vunagi announced that Manele had won 31 votes compared to opposition leader Matthew Wale’s 18 votes. The general saw the incumbent PM Manasseh Sogavare’s government losing the majority in the parliament, leading to intensive lobbies for independent candidates to select prime minister. Australian PM Anthony Albanese congratulated new PM Manale for his election victory. The election victory comes as former PM Sogovare did not seek re-election and supported Manale for the PM post. His party had built close ties with Beijing in the last five years, and PM Sogovare had signed a security agreement with China in 2022. On 29 April, Malanle said that he would ensure the “same foreign policy basis friends to all and enemies to none.”

SOUTH ASIA THIS WEEK
Nepal: China-India Competition in the Investment Summit
On 29 April, The Kathmandu Post reported that China and India are competing for influence in Nepal and offering different incentives to attract foreign investment and boost economic ties during the third edition of the Nepal Investment Summit. China has announced that Nepali travelers will not need to pay visa fees starting 01 May and that there will be commercial flights to Nepal's two new international airports. Meanwhile, India is focused on making Nepal prosperous through hydro-energy trade.  At the third Nepal Investment Summit, the chairman of the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) highlighted the progress made in air and road links, border checkpoints, and feasibility studies for railway and transmission lines. China is interested in building the Trans Himalaya All-dimensional Connectivity Network, which was agreed upon during Nepal's Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's visit to China last September. The government offered 148 potential projects worth nearly Rs 900 billion to foreign and domestic investors, with most related to hydropower. The summit highlighted Nepal's potential for development, including its skilled workforce and low labour costs.

Pakistan: IMF completes second review under 2023 SBA and approves disbursement of USD 1.1 billion
On 29 April, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave its approval for the “immediate disbursement of approximately USD 1.1 billion to Pakistan.” The approval came after the completion of the second review under the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) for Pakistan in a meeting of the board in Washington where all members gave a go-ahead except India which abstained. The approval has brought the total disbursement amount under the SBA to USD 3 billion. Deputy Managing Director Antoinette Sayeh in a statement highlighted the achievements of the 2023 SBA following the IMF decision: “Pakistan’s determined policy efforts under the 2023 Stand- By Arrangement (SBA) have brought progress in restoring economic stability. Moderate growth has returned; external pressures have eased; and while still elevated, inflation has begun to decline. Given the significant challenges ahead, Pakistan should capitalize on this hard-won stability, persevering beyond the current arrangement with sound macroeconomic policies and structural reforms to create stronger, inclusive, and sustainable growth. Continued external support will also be critical.” The IMF also urged Pakistan to protect the vulnerable from the possible impacts of the reforms.

Pakistan: Hundreds of students protest against Israeli aggression in Gaza and condemn the US
On 30 April, hundreds of students from various universities in Lahore held a protest demonstration against Israeli aggression in Gaza, carrying Palestine flags and gathering outside the US consulate. Both male and female students wore keffiyehs (a Palestinian national symbol) in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians and condemned the US for supporting Israel’s actions in Gaza. The Progressive Students Collective (PSC) led the protests, which were attended by students, social and political activists, academics, and artists. PSC spokesperson Ali Abdullah Khan highlighted how “Israel’s aggression has claimed the lives of over 34,000 innocent civilians, including more than 5,000 students and 300 educators, while leaving Gaza’s educational infrastructure decimated.” He condemned the US’ “unconscionable” decision to continue providing military support to Israel, thus “enabling these atrocities to persist unchecked.” Khan added that the protestors wanted to “express solidarity” with counterparts at Colombia University, and called on the “Pakistan government to unequivocally condemn this genocide.”

Pakistan: Regional and global environment discussed at the Pakistan-UK Regional Stabilization Conference
On 02 May, Dawn reported on the ongoing three-day Pakistan-UK Regional Stabilization Conference taking place at the National Defence University where both countries aim to exchange views on “the global and regional environment.” It is aimed at addressing the issues relating to national security, regional peace and stability. The conference was inaugurated by Army Chief General Asim Munir and the UK Chief of General Staff Gen Sir Patrick Sanders. In addition to this, the Inter Services Public Relations mentioned the participation of the UK General Sir Roland Walker and a 30 member UK-delegation headed by Major General Tom Bateman, Standing Joint Force Commander. The conference has widened its focus area from bilateral to regional issues this year. ISPR also revealed that “Both sides discussed matters of professional interest and measures to further elevate bilateral defense relations.

Pakistan: Launches first moon mission ICUBE-QAMAR
On 03 May, Pakistan launched its first-ever satellite moon mission, named ICUBE-QAMAR. It was launched on board China’s Chang’E6 from Hainan, China. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif congratulated the nation and the scientists on the successful launch stating that this was Pakistan’s “first step in space.” Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar also congratulated the team and stated: “Today’s launch from Hainan in China is a good example of countries and organizations coming together for space cooperation and shared benefits.” As per the details from Dr Khurram Khurshid, a member of the Core Committee at the Institute of Space Technology (IST), the satellite has been designed and developed by the IST, Suparco, and China’s Shanghai University. It is pitched to take several pictures of the moon to and will facilitate the country’s moon research programme.

Afghanistan: ISIL claims responsibility for attack on mosque in Heart province
On 29 April, an unknown gunman attacked people in a mosque in western Afghanistan killing six and injuring one. The attack took place in the Andisheh town of Guzara district in Herat province. Tolo News, a local media channel, reported that the mosque belonged to Afghanistan’s minority Shia community. The ISIL (ISIS) which is the “largest security threat in Afghanistan and has frequently targeted Shia communities” claimed responsibility for the attack on 30 April.

CENTRAL ASIA & THE CAUCASUS THIS WEEK
Armenia: IMF reaches staff-level agreement with the government
On 02 May, a staff-level agreement was reached between IMF staff and the Armenian government for the third review under the 2022 Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), which the Armenian authorities regard as a preventive measure. The SBA seeks to assist the government in implementing its reform and policy agenda in order to maintain financial and economic stability as well as robust and long-term growth. GDP growth in 2023 was 8.7 per cent, which was very robust by historical standards. This growth is likely to decline to more sustainable levels of about 6 per cent in 2024, thanks to high levels of domestic consumption and investment. Maintaining macroeconomic stability, increasing tax revenue mobilization to support priority spending, such as refugee integration, fortifying institutional frameworks, and carrying out structural changes to increase productivity and promote more inclusive growth are the top policy priorities.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA THIS WEEK
Israel: Turkey and Colombia cut trade and diplomatic ties
On 03 May, due to the "worsening humanitarian tragedy" in the Palestinian Territories, Turkey suspended all trade with Israel. Ministry of Tradecin a statement said: "Turkey will strictly and decisively implement these new measures until the Israeli government allows an uninterrupted and sufficient flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza." Following the initial reports of the limitations, Israel Katz, the foreign minister of Israel, charged Turkish President Erdoğan with operating in a dictatorial manner. On 2 May, President Gustavo Petro of Colombia declared his intention to sever diplomatic ties with Israel because of the latter's Gaza war, which has drawn the alarm of human rights organizations and other experts who believe it may be equivalent to genocide.

Syria: Eight injures in Israeli airstrike
On 02 May, according to the Ministry of Defense of Syria, eight Syrian military soldiers were injured by an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of Damascus. This incident is the most recent in the conflict in Gaza. Ministry, in a statement, said: "The Israeli strike, launched from the occupied Golan Heights towards one of the sites in the vicinity of Damascus."

Yemen: Houthi rebels target UK vessel in Red Sea
On 30 April, as part of their ongoing campaign to disrupt transportation along the vital maritime route, the Houthi rebels in Yemen damaged a ship on Monday with a missile attack. As per the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations Center, the strike occurred near Mokha, Yemen. The UKMTO reported that while the ship crew was unharmed and en route to their next port of call, the ship sustained damage in the attack. In the area, the agency asked vessels to proceed with caution. UKMTO stated: "There was "an explosion in close proximity to a merchant vessel."

Liberia: President commencing country’s first war crime court
On 03 May, President Joseph Boakai signed for a new establishment of the country’s first war crimes court. He stated: that the country has "endured downpours of agony" and it would "help ferret the causes and effects of the violence" and bring about "justice and healing." However, critics argue that it will remind the past traumas experienced before. The move was welcomed by the international actors also. The US Charged Affaires in Liberia Catherine Rodriguez expressed support for the court. Earlier, the country had taken such decisions as the setting up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which was bogged down with political dislikes.

Niger: Russian troops deployed along with the US troops
On 03 May, Russian troops have been deployed in Airbase 101 at Niger’s International Airport in Niamey where the US troops were located. This development has taken place amid Niger ordered the US troops to withdraw. Anyway, the US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Russians are not posing any risk. She detailed: “The Russians are in a separate compound and don't have access to US forces or access to our equipment.” Niger decided to turn to Russia for fighting Islamist Jihadists and informed the US, that 60 Russian troops would be deployed.

EUROPE THIS WEEK
Spain: Prime Minister withdraws his decision to resign
On 29 April, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez announced to continue his role despite the accusations against his wife. The move comes after Begona Gomez came under allegations of “peddling influence and corruption in business.” Following this, Sanchez warned about re-considering his decision to continue his position. Later, indicating the support from his party and the public he confirmed to stay. He particularly blamed the centre-right Popular Party (PP) and Vox party for leading the campaign against him. He also added: “For too long we've let this filth corrupt our political and public life with toxic methods that were unimaginable just a few years ago... Do we really want this for Spain?”

Scotland: First minister resigns over coalition difference on climate goals
On 29 April, Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf announced his resignation ahead of no-confidence votes which could lead to the collapse of the Scottish National Party (SNP) led government. This was triggered by when cooperation agreement between SNP and Green Party. According to Yousaf, the impact of ending the Bute House Agreement was unexpected and stated that his resignation would help in building back the equation. He said: “My hope was to continue working with the Greens in a less formal arrangement as the SNP moved into a new phase of minority government… I clearly underestimated the level of hurt and upset that caused Green colleagues.” The clash between the groups sparked over climate change and Yousaf was found to have neglected Scotland’s goal of carbon emissions by 75 per cent. No support from the opposition and no lead through the minority government, resulted in the resignation.
 
Europe: Meta under investigation by the EU over infringement of content modification
On 29 April, Politico on launching investigations on Facebook and Instagram over “potential infringement of content-moderation” regulations. The case is expected to focus on issues relating to Meta managing ads, and political ads and assess the suspected breach of the Digital Services Act (DSA). This comes after an earlier Politico report on a Russian campaign to influence the European Parliament by promoting pro-Kremlin narratives through ads from fake accounts. The European Commission has given time till October for Meta to respond to the material posted relating to a Hamas attack. The EU has also demanded information on its algorithms, deepfakes and Meta’s new ad-free subscription model.

Italy: Prime Minster Meloni to run for European Election in June
On 28 April, Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni announced her candidacy at a party event at Pescara, Italy, for the European Elections as the lead candidate of her ruling party Brothers of Italy. Her move of using her popularity to boost the chances of their party to win is for a greater goal of pushing the left to the opposition so that the centre-right will rule Europe. Meloni’s party already tops the latest polls in Italy and is predicted to get 27.2 percent of the vote. Both Elly Schlein, leader of the PD, and Antonio Tajani, the current foreign minister who is from the conservative Forza Italia party, have entered the race for the European Parliament.

THE AMERICAS THIS WEEK
Colombia: President announces plans to cut diplomatic ties with Israel
On 01 May, Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro announced plans to cut diplomatic ties with Israel in light of the war in Gaza, saying countries could not be passive in the face of the crisis which many human rights advocates have described to be a genocide. Petro announced: “Here in front of you, the government of change, of the president of the republic, announces that tomorrow we will break diplomatic relations with the state of Israel for having a government, for having a president who is genocidal.” He has been one of the harshest critics of Israel since the beginning of the war, having earlier compared Israel’s actions in Gaza to that of Nazi Germany against the Jews.

The US: Japan and India labelled as “xenophobic” by President Biden
On 02 May, US President Joe Biden labelled Japan and India alongside China and Russia as countries that are unable to reap the economic rewards of migration as they are “xenophobic” and hostile towards foreigners. He explained: “One of the reasons why our economy’s growing is because of you and many others. Why? Because we welcome immigrants.” He then stated that because they “don’t want immigrants,” the four countries are “having troubles” economically, and asserted that “immigrants are what makes us strong.” These comments came as a surprise due to the US’ strong relations with India and Japan. Three weeks ago, when Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was at the White House, Biden said both countries enjoyed the “same values, the same commitment to democracy and freedom to dignity.” Following this, on 3 May, the National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Biden was trying to say that the “US is a nation of immigrants, and it’s in our DNA.” He also affirmed that the US’ “allies know very well how much the president respects them, values their friendship, values their contributions.”


Newsmakers This Week
The arrest of Binance founder, Chinese scientist eviction for publishing Covid sequence and China's Shenzhou-17 returns
Sayeka Ghosh, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Diya Madhavan and Sim V

Changpeng Zhao: Founder of Binance arrested

On 30 April, in a courtroom in Seattle, Changpeng Zhao, the former CEO of the once-dominant cryptocurrency exchange Binance, was sentenced to four months in prison. Zhao, known as "CZ," pleaded guilty late last year to money-laundering violations and admitted breaking US anti-money laundering laws. The 47-year-old billionaire, once considered the most powerful figure in the crypto industry, stepped down as Binance's chief executive in November. In addition to the four-month prison term, Zhao was fined 50 million USD, while Binance was slapped with a massive 4.3 billion USD penalty.

Zhao becomes the second crypto executive, after FTX's Sam Bankman-Fried, to be sentenced to prison amid heightened legal scrutiny of the largely unregulated digital asset industry. Zhao's downfall is a cautionary tale about the consequences of prioritizing profits over compliance in an industry that has long operated in a regulatory grey area. Prosecutors stated that under Zhao's leadership, Binance operated on a "wild west" model, failing to report over 100,000 suspicious transactions due to poor internal controls, including transactions with designated terrorist groups like Hamas, al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Attorney General Merrick Garland said, "From the very beginning, Zhao and other Binance executives had engaged in a deliberate and calculated effort to profit from the US market without implementing the controls that are required by US law." While Zhao's four-month sentence pales compared to Bankman-Fried's 25-year term for fraud, it nonetheless represents a significant fall from grace for the crypto mogul, whose Binance empire once stood as the industry's most dominant force. 


Zhang Yongzhen: Chinese scientist evicted for publishing Covid Sequence 

On 30 April, virologist Zhang Yongzhen initiated a sit-in protest for being evicted from his laboratory because of publishing the coronavirus sequence without approval. Zhang, the first scientist to publish a COVID-19 sequence in China, wrote in an online post that he and his team had suddenly been given a notice that they had been evicted from the lab, the latest in the series of major setbacks since he published a sequence in January 2020 without the state approval. After gaining widespread traction via social media coverage, Zhang mentioned that he and his team were "tentatively" allowed to resume work in the lab, and he thanked all the netizens for their support.

The ordeal began when Zhang and his team sequenced the virus on 05 January 2020 and made an internal notice exhorting the Chinese authorities to be cautious of its potential to spread. At that time, Zhang had not promulgated the sequence. On 06 January, Zhang's lab was closed for a temporary period by China's top health official. Later, the foreign officials learned that Zhang still needed to make the sequence public, prompting public calls for publication. As a response, Zhang promulgated the coronavirus sequence on 11 January 2020, despite a lack of permission from the state authorities.

Zhang's move prompted health authorities worldwide to start testing on the virus, unravelling the reality that the virus was propagating outside the country's borders, which triggered the use of test kits, vaccinations, and disease control measures. Zhang was afterwards awarded several accolades for his findings. However, this also led to additional scrutiny of his lab, and later on, Zhang was removed from a post at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and detained from collaborating with his former partners, which affected his research to a vast extent. This move from the Chinese authorities denotes how the state continues to pressure and constrain the scientists in conducting their research on the coronavirus.


Shenzhou-17: China's Spaceship Returns 

On 30 April 2024, China's Shenzhou-17 crew returned to Earth after spending six months on the Tiangong space station. They landed at the Dongfeng landing site in North China's Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. The crew of Shenzhou-17 was the youngest ever to fly to the Chinese space station, with Commander Tang Hongbo being 48 and astronauts Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin being 34 and 35, respectively. According to China's Manned Space Agency, the three astronauts are healthy.

According to the China Manned Space release, Shenzhou 17 was set for the mission to carry out experiments and tests of space science and application payload, perform extravehicular activities and cargo-out tasks from the airlock module, and constantly evaluate the function and performance of the space station assembly. The three astronauts were succeeded by the Shenzhou-18 crew, who arrived a week before their return. With this operation, China completed the third crew rotation at its space station. China's National Space Administration also plans to launch the Chang'e 6 lunar probe to collect samples from the moon's dark side in early May.

 

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