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Al Jazeera is banned in Israel, Xi Jinping visits Europe for the first time since 2019, and Labour w͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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May 6, 2024
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Flagship

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Asia Morning Edition
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The World Today

  1. Israel bans Al Jazeera
  2. Xi arrives in France
  3. Plan B in Japan
  4. Boeing sends crew to space
  5. Chinese brands in SE Asia
  6. Brazil floods intensify
  7. El Niño drought impacts
  8. UK Labour’s big wins
  9. Protests roil graduations
  10. Rolls-Royce goes nuclear

A beloved typeface is rescued from the River Thames after more than a century, and our latest WeChat Window.

1

Al Jazeera banned in Israel

REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

Israel banned Al Jazeera on Sunday and raided its offices. The government passed a sweeping law in April that allows it to shut down foreign news networks it deems a security threat for at least 45 days. Israel accused the Qatar-owned broadcaster of “incitement,” while Al Jazeera decried the decision as a “criminal act” that suppressed free speech. The ban could imperil the latest round of ceasefire negotiations; a Hamas delegation was in Cairo for talks Saturday and will reportedly return on Tuesday, but hopes for a breakthrough are slim. Fresh strikes in Gaza by Israel and Hamas may also derail the talks: Israel closed the main aid corridor into Gaza on Sunday after a rocket barrage from Hamas.

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2

Xi’s damage control mission

Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Europe this week is a damage control mission, analysts said, as Beijing looks to counter a host of European probes into Chinese trade practices. Meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday will feature “a renewed charm offensive from Beijing,” a Chatham House analyst said. Macron will push Xi to apply pressure on Russia over the war in Ukraine. But Xi is also likely to warn that EU duties on Chinese exports could spark retaliatory tariffs, the Financial Times reported. Later stops in Hungary and Serbia are a sign of Beijing’s push to stabilize its relationship with Europe despite growing calls in Europe to “de-risk” from China, Foreign Policy wrote.

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3

Japan urged to offer better contraception

Japan would boost its birth rate and economic productivity if more women had access to contraception, the head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation said. The number of children under 14 in Japan fell for the 43rd year to a record low this year, and officials worry its demographic struggles will impact Japan’s economy, the world’s fourth-largest. Planned Parenthood’s Alvaro Bermejo told Nikkei that “women need to be able to have children by choice, not by chance.” Female contraceptive use in Japan is lower than in other developed countries. Last year, Japan began offering prescription-free morning-after pills at pharmacies nationwide, but birth control pills and IUDs are expensive and not covered by the state’s health insurance.

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4

Boeing spacecraft put to the test

REUTERS/Steve Nesius

Boeing’s Starliner capsule is set to blast off to space with two American astronauts onboard. This is the first crewed test of the beleaguered spacecraft. It’s a big moment for Boeing: Starliner is more than $1 billion over budget, and has had numerous failed test flights, delays, and other technical issues. Meanwhile, Boeing is under intense scrutiny because of the fallout from the 737 Max, including several fatal crashes and the deaths of two whistleblowers. The plan is for Starliner to take off Monday from Florida and ferry the astronauts to the International Space Station for a week-long stay before coming back to Earth.

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5

Chinese brands mask origins in SE Asia

Screenshot via Skintific Indonesia @skintificid

Chinese skincare companies are downplaying their origins to court the Southeast Asian market. Brands like Skintific have recruited national celebrities in Indonesia and Malaysia to appear homegrown — even appearing in pharmacies’ “local brands” section, despite the fact their packaging is labeled “Made in the PRC,” the South China Morning Post reported. The Chinese approach contrasts to marketing by Western and Korean skincare brands that have taken off in Southeast Asia by being upfront about their origins — the K-beauty trend, for example. The Chinese brands have faced questions from Southeast Asian consumers generally suspicious of whether they have halal certification, and years of warnings from officials that Chinese cosmetics may be illegally imported and unsafe.

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6

Floodwaters rise in Brazil

REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

Brazil’s worst flooding disaster in the last 80 years left 60 people dead and more than 88,000 people displaced. The southern state of Rio Grande do Sul received more than 70% of all the rain it typically gets in April in the span of four days. The unrelenting rain is driven by a climate phenomenon known as El Niño, a periodic event that warms surface ocean water, spurring storms and rain in the Southern Hemisphere. Climatologists say the floods are evidence of a “disastrous cocktail” made up of human-caused global warming and more typical El Niño weather effects. One climate scientist told the Associated Press last year that Brazil’s oscillating extreme drought-extreme rain was likely “the new normal.”

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7

El Niño blamed for canal slowdown

El Niño, not climate change, was the key driver of the Central American drought that stalled shipping through the Panama Canal last year. Water levels in the reservoir that feeds the canal fell so low that shipping was cut by half. A new modeling study found climate change likely didn’t cause the drought, and may even have led to a wetter trend in the region. El Niño, a roughly once-every-ten-years event that brings warm water to the surface of the Pacific, is more likely to blame. A scientist told the Associated Press the study is “an important reminder that climate change isn’t always the answer” when investigating what causes extreme weather.

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8

Labour wins in the UK

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer. REUTERS/Craig Brough

The UK’s Labour Party trounced Tory candidates in hundreds of local elections across the country, largely seen as a bellwether for the next UK general election. Among the winners was Sadiq Khan, who was elected London’s mayor for the third time. Labour outperformed expectations, bagging key seats even in places where it had come under fire for its noncommittal stance on Gaza from British Muslims, a key Labour constituency, and others critical of Israel’s actions in the war. The ire may yet remain: A BBC analysis found that in councils where more than 20% of residents are Muslim, Labour’s vote share was down 21% compared to 2021.

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9

Security upped at college graduations

REUTERS/David Swanson

US colleges heightened security at graduation ceremonies over the weekend as pro-Palestine protests continue to rock campuses. Protesters were removed from the University of Michigan’s ceremony, and police cleared a student encampment at the University of Southern California, which has already canceled its main graduation event. Some colleges have banned flags and banners and installed metal detectors. The protests’ persistence suggest “the Palestinian cause has almost certainly emerged decisively as [the] international social justice cause for the current generation of American students,” The National’s US affairs columnist wrote, adding that the pressure to divest from Israel-linked companies “will probably emerge as the next phase of a protracted campaign on US campuses.”

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10

Rolls-Royce building nuclear plants

Felix Kästle/dpa

Rolls-Royce got approval to build nuclear power plants in Poland. The state-run energy company Industria chose the British firm to build 470-megawatt small modular reactors, each capable of powering around 450,000 homes. Warsaw wants the reactors to boost its green hydrogen plans, but in Rolls-Royce’s home country, things are moving more slowly. The company has scaled back plans to build two SMR factories in the UK as the government there drags its feet on appointing a company to design SMRs for British use.

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WeChat Window

Art exam reforms

For years, students saw the art college entrance exam, or art yìkǎo, as a “shortcut” to a a bachelor’s degree without having to worry about the notorious college placement requirements for humanities or STEM degrees, according to Southern Week magazine. But now the art test is also getting harder: Minimum scores to place into a four-year degree are being raised, and the Chinese culture section of the exam will now encompass 50% of all questions.

The changes appear to be linked to wider educational reforms in China. Nearly 11% of all university applicants sat for the art exam in 2020, but fine arts degrees have now been gutted by several schools across the country under Beijing’s requirements to reduce majors with low post-graduate unemployment rates. By 2022, nearly 150 institutions no longer had fine arts bachelor programs, Southern Week reported.

Cones of shame

Once known as the “Hermès of ice cream” because of its high prices and premium ingredients, China’s Chicecream brand is now on the brink of collapse, with 99% of it’s staff having been laid off or quitting in recent weeks, according to Renwu Magazine, a life and culture publication.

Due to Chiceream’s dismal management, social media has turned on CEO Lin Sheng, a celebrity entrepreneur who was the former head of ice cream company Zhongjie when it overtook Häagen-Dazs sales in China in 2016. But Lin paid the “price for being different,” Renwu wrote: His demand for unique flavors and eye-catching ice cream designs required sourcing expensive third-party manufacturers, ultimately draining the company of money. Sales also dipped after social media users complained last year that the ice cream barely melted, raising questions about the ingredients.

Tesla’s China problem

Tesla cleared a big hurdle in rolling out its “full self-driving” system in China this week after founder Elon Musk partnered with Baidu Maps. With Tesla profit falling, Musk is banking on advancing artificial intelligence and autonomous driving technology to win over customers globally: With more than 1.7 million Tesla drivers, China “is a market that full self-driving [technology] cannot miss,” wrote Tian Zhe, a Chinese EV industry blogger.

But Chinese competitors like Huawei already have an advantage over Tesla: Their broad reach in other sectors like telecommunications means they have the data and infrastructure to better support autonomous driving, and their assisted driving functions have had time to mature while Tesla was awaiting regulatory approval, Tian reported. Musk will also likely have to lower the prices for his full-self driving systems significantly to gain traction in China.

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Flagging

May 6:

  • Families in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, North Macedonia, and Ukraine observe Orthodox Easter Monday.
  • The Met Gala, an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, takes place in New York City.
  • The Milken Institute’s 27th annual Global Conference starts in Los Angeles.
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Curio
Wikimedia Commons

Pieces of a popular typeface once thought lost forever have been unearthed from the River Thames. More than a century ago, a local printer threw every piece of the so-called Doves typeface he created into the Thames as retribution against his business partner, whom he accused of swindling him. The typeface was known for its extra-wide capital letters and diamond-shaped punctuation, Artnet reported. A graphic designer became obsessed with the font in the 2000s and he scoured the Thames for the lost pieces, using diary entries to pinpoint where they were dumped. More than 150 pieces have been recovered and are now on display in a museum that once housed the printer himself.

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