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Nvidia helped stock markets rise globally, Yale drops its test-optional admissions policy, and a tin͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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February 23, 2024
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Flagship

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The World Today

  1. Global stocks soar
  2. Chinese hacking revealed
  3. Mexico leader scrutinized
  4. Migrant flights halted
  5. Yale requires tests again
  6. Nigeria blocks crypto
  7. Wind turbines are dying
  8. Fish go vegetarian
  9. Kiribati’s viral marketing
  10. Monarch returns to money

This week’s WeChat Window, and Starbucks releases a pork-flavored latte.

1

Nvidia helps markets hit new highs

Stock exchanges around the world hit record highs Thursday, thanks to a potent mix of AI enthusiasm and an economic picture that’s overall better than expected. Nvidia’s 265% revenue growth turbocharged tech stocks and pulled up markets in the U.S. and Europe, while Japan’s Nikkei passed its 1989 peak, though its economy still faces major challenges. Nvidia, whose chips are used in artificial intelligence and gaming systems, ended the day with a nearly $2 trillion market capitalization, and the swells in Europe and Japan demonstrated its ability to lift entire markets, even in places where its stock isn’t traded. Stocks have rallied in recent weeks as investors become more convinced that the worst of inflation has passed and interest rate cuts are coming.

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2

Leak reveals Chinese surveillance

A trove of documents leaked from a private cybersecurity firm offered a rare glimpse into the shadowy world of China’s state-backed hacking industry. The files, which were posted to a public website last week and verified by several news outlets, showed that a local government in southwest China paid less than $15,000 to hack into a website used by traffic police in Vietnam, while software used for spreading disinformation on the social media site X cost $100,000, The New York Times reported. Like Iran and Russia, the Chinese government has increasingly turned to private contractors to carry out cyberespionage, and while they can be more effective, the approach also makes operations harder to control and conceal.

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3

US probed AMLO for cartel links

REUTERS/Henry Romero

U.S. officials probed whether Mexico’s president took millions of dollars from drug cartels after taking office, The New York Times reported. The years-long inquiry, which was shelved and never turned into a formal investigation, uncovered potential links between cartel operatives and officials close to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who called the allegations “completely false.” The U.S. reportedly wasn’t eager to investigate a top ally: Washington’s relationship with its southern neighbor is critical for trade, as well as efforts to curb fentanyl smuggling and address a surge in migration — a top issue in the upcoming presidential election. “Does this diminish the trust the Mexican government has in the United States?” López Obrador said at a press conference Thursday. “Time will tell.”

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4

Caracas blocks migrant flights

Venezuelan migrants deported from the U.S. VERONICA G. CARDENAS/AFP via Getty Images

Venezuela is refusing to accept flights of migrants deported from the U.S. and Mexico, underscoring the cost of rising tensions between Washington and Caracas. The Biden administration struck a deportation deal with Venezuela last year, a move that was intended — and largely failed — to deter migrants from illegally crossing the border. But the trips stopped last month after 15 flights took just 1,800 people back to Venezuela. The stoppage was likely linked to Venezuelan pushback over sanctions Washington imposed after an opposition leader was barred from running for president. U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal they have other deportation mechanisms, including commercial flights, but there are no direct routes between the U.S. and Venezuela, and Mexico reportedly won’t deport Venezuelans on commercial flights.

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5

Yale drops test-optional policy

REUTERS/Gabriella Borte

Yale University will require applicants to submit standardized test scores again, becoming the second Ivy League school after Dartmouth to reverse its test-optional policy. Several top U.S. colleges recently began allowing students to apply without submitting ACT or SAT scores, arguing that relying on them fueled educational inequality. But new research suggests that when the scores are used alongside other admissions factors, they can be a good predictor of success at elite universities, especially for students from marginalized backgrounds. Yale says it’s now “test-flexible,” and applicants can choose what scores to share, including from Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.

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6

Nigeria limits crypto as investors flee naira

Nigeria blocked access to several of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges in an attempt to halt the naira from collapsing. President Bola Tinubu had previously been supportive of crypto, seeing it as a way to attract outside investment, and Nigeria is second only to India in the share of citizens’ wealth held in virtual currencies. But since the naira was unpegged from the dollar, its value has been sliding, hitting a record low this week. Buying crypto allows traders to sell naira at unofficial prices; however, the assets they receive in exchange, like bitcoin, may also be highly volatile. Nigerians have had to “decide whether their money will be safer in crypto or with the naira,” one lawyer told the Financial Times.

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7

Europe’s wind turbines are aging

REUTERS/Borja Suarez/File Photo

Many of Europe’s 90,000 onshore wind turbines are reaching the end of their 20-year lifespan. Half of the turbines in Spain — an early pioneer of wind power — are 15 years old or more. Replacing them is expensive, and the wind industry is struggling with rising costs. But newer models can generate triple the output of their predecessors, and European governments are eager to see companies make upgrades rather than walk away, especially since many of the older farms are in prime wind-gathering positions, the Financial Times reported. Part of the problem may be that wind is being outcompeted by other forms of renewable energy: Europe is forecast to see a record boom in solar generation this year.

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8

Fish farmers turn to vegetarian feed

VIKEN KANTARCI/AFP via Getty Image

Norway’s salmon farms are increasingly turning vegetarian. Approximately 70% of salmon produced worldwide is farmed, and the fish are typically fed a carnivorous diet of anchovies and other smaller species caught in the wild. But there just isn’t “enough fish meal in the world” to supply the industry, one researcher told AFP, and farmers are increasingly looking for more sustainable sources of protein. In one part of Norway, fish are now given meals that are up to 80% plant-based, and other aquaculture companies are looking to breed flies to feed their salmon. Environmental activists warn, though, that feeding animals protein that could be consumed by humans will always be a less productive method of food production.

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9

Why social media loves Kiribati

Screenshot via X

A likely satirical social media account brought a wave of attention to the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati this week. The @KiribatiGov account on X, which has shared a mix of humorous and government-related content in the past, went viral after issuing a snarky response to a user who poked fun at some of the country’s town names, like London, Poland, Paris, and Banana. Its audacious promotion of Kiribati led to rumors that the president’s office was behind the account, though a government spokesperson debunked the theory. But it’s still helping boost the profile of Kiribati, which just launched a new plan to promote “sustainable tourism.” Google Trends data shows searches for the country — pronounced kiri-bass — spiked in the wake of the virality.

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10

Charles gets his own banknotes

Bank of England/Handout via REUTERS

Banknotes featuring the face of King Charles III will start being issued in June. It’s the first time British notes have been printed with a new monarch in more than 60 years; Queen Elizabeth reigned from 1952 until her death in 2022. The turnaround was faster this time around: Elizabeth didn’t see the first currency bearing her face for seven years after her coronation. Charles, crowned last May, will barely have to wait a year, and can already lick the back of his own head on a postage stamp with his face on it (should he so choose). But Britons will still be looking at the mug of their previous ruler for some time: There are 4.7 billion extant banknotes of the former queen, worth £82 billion (about $100 billion).

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Flagging
  • Feb. 23: The 49th César Awards for film take place in Paris.
  • Feb. 23: The UN Security Council meets to discuss Ukraine ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Protests and marches against Russia are expected in Prague, Tbilisi, and Belgrade.
  • Feb. 24: Chip company TSMC opens a factory in the Japanese town of Kikuyo.
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WeChat Window

WeChat is the center of the Chinese internet — powering everything from messaging to payments — and the main portal where China’s news outlets and bloggers publish their work.

The “poor man’s meal”

While China’s weak economy hasn’t kept young people away from malls, they now often “go shopping…and leave without taking anything,” wrote the personal economics blog People of the Day. But one part of the mall is still thriving: the food court. As foreign chains like McDonalds get more expensive, young people in China are turning to cheaper, local fast-food restaurants with menus that can be hacked to create “poor man’s meals.” On platforms like Weibo and Douyin, creators discuss chains like Rice Village Bibimbap, where a child’s meal with a side of extra veggies costs less than $3 and comes with unlimited rice and seaweed soup. Another popular option is the burger and chicken chain Tustin’s, where loyalty members can get spicy drumsticks for less than $2 on Tuesdays.

Trucking isn’t what it used to be

China’s trucking industry boomed in the 1990s as the government began investing in massive infrastructure projects, and until the early 2010s, truckers in the country could easily make more than $6,000 per month, according to the anonymous tech and business blogger Nine Sides. But it was a dangerous job to drive through unpaved mountainous roads that were frequently targeted by thieves.

China’s trucking golden days are now over: A decline in exports and real estate development means that there are less goods and materials to transport. As contractors, truckers are required to take out loans for their rigs and only make money when they find work. Nine Sides compared it to working for rideshare apps like DiDi, which they argued can still give “relatively high incomes to those who want to work hard.”

From smartphones to cars

Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi unveiled its first electric sedan last year and has pledged to invest $10 billion in auto development over the next decade. While his company is late to the sector, Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun has a reputation for being a “gold medal salesman,” according to tech analytics blog Insightful New Research Institute, and he’s relying on many of the same marketing strategies that worked for Xiaomi’s smartphones to sell its cars.

The company is flooding social media with ads about the sedan, which is still months away from reaching showrooms, and executives have welcomed comparisons to models from the luxury automaker Porsche. But not all social media users are impressed; some are calling the car cheap and glitzy. The Institute argued the problem is that smartphone marketing tactics don’t actually transfer very well to the auto sector.

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Curio
Starbucks China

Starbucks released a $9 pork-flavored latte in China this month to celebrate Lunar New Year. The drink, which comes with pork sauce and a breast meat skewer garnish, is meant to mimic the taste of Dongpo pork, a dish from the city of Hangzhou featuring thickly cut slices of meat that are marinated and then pan-fried. It’s the latest unique beverage recently released by a major Chinese coffee chain: Luckin Coffee went viral last year when it began offering alcoholic lattes infused with baijiu. “Eating meat means prosperity in the coming year,” the Shanghai Starbucks Roastery wrote on the Chinese social media site Weibo.

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