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Europe targets Israel arms sales, India’s prime minister opens a Hindu temple in the UAE, and the 10͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
cloudy Abu Dhabi
thunderstorms Quito
snowstorm Brighton
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February 13, 2024


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The World Today

  1. Europe targets Israel arms
  2. Modi opens temple in UAE
  3. US inflation hopes
  4. Trump’s court travails
  5. Russia’s fruity diplomacy
  6. S. Africa troops to DRC
  7. Vatican’s AI whiz
  8. Body Shop nears insolvency
  9. Lunar New Year travel woes
  10. 100m swim record broken

China’s surplus of teachers, and a Taiwanese Oscars hopeful.


Pressure on Israel arms sales grows

REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

A Dutch court ordered the Netherlands to stop supplying Israel with fighter jet parts over human-rights concerns in the country’s offensive in Gaza, spotlighting growing European opposition to arms transfers to Israel. The ruling came on the same day the European Union’s foreign policy chief suggested Washington should use its leverage as Israel’s main weapons supplier to curtail its assault on the enclave, with an invasion of the border town of Rafah appearing imminent. Despite increasingly public criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war, as well as reported private tirades against Israel’s leader by the American president and Washington’s push to negotiate a truce, the U.S. has not yet made a significant policy shift over the conflict.


Modi to open Hindu temple in UAE

REUTERS/Oded Balilty

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the UAE for a global leaders’ summit, talks overshadowed by his scheduled inauguration of Abu Dhabi’s first Hindu temple. The trip comes ahead of India’s general elections, widely expected in April and May, and follows Modi’s inauguration of a temple in northern India on the site of a mosque that was destroyed by Hindu hardliners, a move that shored up his support but which critics argued undermined India’s secular history. The visit also represents India’s deepening links to the Gulf, one in which the two sides no longer see relations “through a religious lens,” and are instead prioritizing strategic economic and counter-terrorism ties, an Indian foreign-policy expert wrote in The Indian Express.


US inflation set to slow

U.S. data today is expected to show falling rates of inflation, bolstering the case for rate cuts. Federal Reserve policymakers have cautioned against reducing rates — which they increased sharply to combat persistent inflation — too early, with traders betting on cuts in the summer. The data also has political implications: Voters have blamed President Joe Biden for what they see as a moribund economy, even as the data has shown a strengthening one, but sentiment is improving, bolstering Biden’s case for reelection. “Voter perceptions about the economy are not just vibes — in fact, consumer sentiment has tracked the objective data well,” the data and elections expert Nate Silver wrote. “That leaves the door open for a potential second Biden term.”


Trump asks for immunity case pause


Donald Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court to suspend a lower-court ruling rejecting his claim to presidential immunity over charges he sought to overturn the 2020 election. The case is one of several, including multiple being considered by the U.S.’ highest court, crowding the calendar as Trump gears up for a likely rematch with Joe Biden in this year’s presidential election. This week alone, two cases in New York — one civil, one criminal — threaten massive financial penalties and the possibility of the former president being labeled a felon, “dual threats [that] represent a turning point in Mr. Trump’s legal odyssey,” The New York Times wrote.

For more on Trump’s legal woes, subscribe to Semafor’s daily U.S. politics newsletter, Principals. →


Russia bans Ecuador bananas


​​Russia banned the import of bananas from Ecuador in response to Quito transferring military equipment to Kyiv, highlighting the increasing internationalization of the war in Ukraine. Ahead of the ban, Moscow turned to India — as it has repeatedly since sanctions were imposed — to substitute the almost $700 million worth of bananas it bought from Ecuador last year. Elsewhere, Ukrainian intelligence officials claimed that Russian troops were being trained on the use of Iranian-made drones by Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, as well as by Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards. Kyiv had previously claimed that Moscow was also recruiting mercenaries in Syria to join the conflict in Ukraine.


S. Africa to send troops to DRC

South Africa said it will deploy almost 3,000 troops to tackle armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 100,000 people have been displaced in recent weeks after the M23 rebel group — which several Western countries and a United Nations expert panel say is backed by neighboring Rwanda, an accusation Kigali denies — moved in on the Congolese city of Goma. The troop deployment also underscores the DRC’s growing importance for the global economy: In 2022, the country produced almost three-quarters of the world’s cobalt and nearly 10% of total copper supplies, both of which are essential in the green-energy transition.


Meet the Vatican’s AI expert

Massimo Di Vita/Mondadori Portfolio/Sipa USA via Reuters

An ordained priest and ethics professor has become the Vatican’s in-house expert on artificial intelligence. Paolo Benanti — who teaches a course at Rome’s most prestigious religious university titled, “The Fall of Babel: The Challenges of Digital, Social Networks and Artificial Intelligence” — is skeptical of the tech industry’s ability to regulate itself, and worries about the threat to democracy from deepfakes, The New York Times reported. Benanti, who advises Pope Francis on AI issues, nevertheless sees the technology’s potential to help grow languid or aging economies such as Italy’s, and is grappling with what AI’s advances mean for the definition of being human: “This is a spiritual question.”

WES 2024

Semafor’s 2024 World Economy Summit, on April 17-18, will feature conversations with global policymakers and power brokers in Washington, against the backdrop of the IMF and World Bank meetings.

Chaired by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein, and in partnership with BCG, the summit will feature 150 speakers across two days and three different stages, including the Gallup Great Hall. Join Semafor for conversations with the people shaping the global economy.

Join the waitlist to get speaker updates. →


Body Shop nears insolvency


The parent company of The Body Shop — which pioneered ethical cosmetics retail — said the brand’s U.K. operations were nearly insolvent. Though the business itself is relatively small, the announcement is symbolic: The Body Shop opened its first store on the English coast in 1976 before growing into a global brand known for its commitment to high social and environmental standards, a precursor to many companies today. Yet its founder’s decision to sell the company to L’Oreal in 2006 represented a betrayal to many loyal customers, beginning a long decline. “They lost that feeling one got when buying a Body Shop product,” a supplier told The Sunday Times of the sale, “that you were helping to change the world.”


Lunar New Year stresses

Millions of Chinese people have returned home for Lunar New Year in the world’s largest annual human migration — and many young people are dreading it. Youth unemployment is high, and visiting family means being grilled about career prospects. One 33-year-old told the BBC that he had sent his CV out 1,000 times in the last six months, but received no job offers. Another, with relatively understanding parents, agreed with them to lie to his wider family. China’s youth are also reluctant to get married and have children, to many parents’ disappointment: “Whenever I go to a city, my mother will find a man out of the blue and tell me to go on a blind date,” said one woman. “It’s outrageous.”


Chinese teen breaks record

REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

A Chinese teenager set the men’s 100-meter freestyle world record at a tournament in Doha, establishing himself as a dominant force ahead of the Paris Olympics this summer. Pan Zhanle, 19, became the first Chinese male to hold the world record in that category, and said he believed he could yet go faster than his 46.80-second pace. China’s swimmers have fast improved and are regularly challenging — and defeating — historically dominant countries such as the U.S., France, and Australia at major competitions, thanks in part to significant investments from Beijing. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, for example, Chinese swimmers even trained in wind tunnels built by the country’s elite missile lab.

Friends of Flagship

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  • New York state holds a special election to fill the U.S. House of Representatives seat previously held by ousted Republican George Santos.
  • Catalan farmers are expected to stage a protest in Barcelona.
  • Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, is marked around the world.
Semafor Stat

The number of primary school teachers in China that could be deemed a surplus by 2035 as births in the country plummet to record lows. Once considered one of the safest jobs in China, teachers’ job security has been threatened in recent years by fast-dropping birth rates, with the number of newborn babies falling to fewer than 10 million last year for the first time since at least the 1950s. A slowing economy and a lack of state support for childcare services may in turn be contributing to “growing reluctance” to have children “despite the government’s push for more births,” the South China Morning Post reported.


A film about Taiwan’s uncertain future is among the contenders for this year’s best short documentary at the Oscars. Island in Between, directed by Taiwanese American filmmaker S. Leo Chiang, is set on the rural Taiwanese islands of Kinmen, a few miles off China, that were a major site of fighting during the Chinese Civil War, which ended in 1949. Hong Kong Free Press described it as a “poetically paced film where a prosaic compassion pervades, exposing the nuanced reality behind deeply rooted rhetoric.” In the 19-minute film, available to watch on YouTube, Chiang hopes to spur better understanding of the ongoing tensions between mainland China and Taiwan.

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