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India’s opposition has momentum after its election comeback, Singaporean and Swiss banks expand in H͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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June 6, 2024
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Asia Morning Edition
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The World Today

  1. India’s opposition in spotlight
  2. China’s EU gambit
  3. Singaporeans, Swiss in HK
  4. Fighter pilot poaching
  5. Tokyo makes dating app
  6. NYC congestion tax halted
  7. Alzheimer’s study retracted
  8. MDMA rejected as therapy
  9. The Hubble is aging
  10. Death of a tennis stroke

A composer uses his audience’s cell phones as part of his symphony concert.

1

Gandhi’s big comeback in India

Rahul Gandhi. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi secured support to form a coalition with regional allies who don’t share his Hindu nationalist ideology. Modi, known for his strongman leadership style, will now face a political structure he’s unfamiliar with after his party lost its majority in India’s parliament. Though Modi still secured a third term, the face of the opposition, Rahul Gandhi, made an “unlikely comeback,” The New York Times wrote. Gandhi, mocked by Modi as an entitled dynast, wasn’t seen as a serious threat — Indian media “was very hostile to him and social media didn’t take him seriously,” a political analyst said. But he succeeded by focusing on unemployment and farmers’ issues, while highlighting Modi’s ties to Indian billionaires.

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2

China wields carrot and stick toward EU

China is taking a carrot-and-stick approach to potential European Union tariffs on electric vehicles that threaten to start a trade war, Politico reported. Two Chinese government ministers have toured Europe, with Chinese state media saying this week that Beijing is “keen to resolve” the trade row. At the same time, China has stepped up warnings that it could enact retaliatory measures. The EU is expected to announce the new tariffs, which follow a lengthy investigation into unfair subsidies, only after the results of the European Parliament elections that begin Thursday. But the trajectory of the continent’s assertive China stance could shift if leaders who are more skeptical of the tariffs make gains in Brussels.

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3

Singapore banks fill US-sized hole in HK

As American businesses pull out of Hong Kong over geopolitical concerns, other countries see an opening. Some top Singaporean and Swiss banks are ramping up hiring in the city, setting up new bases there, and hunting for new clients, Nikkei reported. The number of US-based companies with a regional headquarters in Hong Kong dropped to 214 in 2023 from 282 in 2020, as the city’s increased alignment with mainland China dented its reputation as a global finance hub. More Hong Kong customers “choose to talk to us, instead of talking to their Western counterparts,” the CEO of Singaporean bank OCBC said. Ties between China and Southeast Asia, she said, are “benefiting from some of our peers actually leaving this part of the world.”

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4

China allegedly trying to recruit US pilots

REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

The US and its allies warned that China’s military is “aggressively” recruiting Western fighter pilots as trainers. In a bulletin, the Five Eyes intelligence alliance — which also includes the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — said Beijing is using private firms that conceal their ties to the People’s Liberation Army and offer “exorbitant” salaries to lure military talent. It’s not a brand-new concern: In 2022, it was revealed that a private school in South Africa used retired British pilots to train Chinese military pilots. But Western worries have since risen given China’s military presence in the South China Sea and around Taiwan. “For some former military pilots, the opportunity to fly exotic fighter jets again can be a draw,” a US official told the Financial Times.

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5

Tokyo creates dating app to push marriage

Tokyo’s government is releasing its own dating app to promote marriage and reverse the country’s declining birth rate. Users have to prove they are single and have an income through an intense registration process that requires personal identification details and documentation. They will also have to sign a pledge stating they are using the app to find a marriage partner, and not just a casual relationship, The Asahi Shimbun reported. The city is putting more than $3 million toward the app and other marriage promotion projects over the next two years; new data Wednesday showed the country’s birth rate fell for the eighth straight year in 2023.

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6

New York halts congestion pricing

New York’s governor “indefinitely” shelved a plan to charge drivers a fee to enter Manhattan. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s surprise decision Wednesday — just weeks before the toll was set to go into effect — is “infuriating public transit advocates and spurring accusations of political posturing,” Gothamist wrote. Hochul cited economic reasons, saying the base toll of $15 “can break the budget of a hard-working middle-class household.” New York was set to be the first US city to implement congestion pricing, a move that has been largely successful in reducing traffic and pollution in Stockholm, London, and Singapore. But it faced court challenges, and pushback from some drivers in the New York suburbs that could be crucial for determining control of the US House of Representatives in November.

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7

Major Alzheimer’s study retracted

Researchers are retracting a landmark 2006 study on Alzheimer’s after it was found to contain manipulated images. Neuroscientist Karen Ashe’s paper has been cited nearly 2,500 times, making it the most cited paper to ever be retracted, Science wrote. Ashe stood by the paper’s controversial conclusion that an amyloid beta protein could cause the disease, but scientists are divided. Misleading imagery in papers continues to plague the academic community, except now, the issues are largely caused by AI. Earlier this year, a biology journal published — and retracted — a paper that had AI-generated text and diagrams of anatomically incorrect rat testicles.

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Plug

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8

MDMA rejected as PTSD treatment

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

US regulators rejected the use of MDMA as a therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. MDMA, the active ingredient in the drug ecstasy, is one of several psychedelics, along with psilocybin and ketamine, proposed as treatments for psychiatric disorders. But US Food and Drug Administration experts voted resoundingly against it, saying the evidence did not show the drug to be effective. The FDA said that two clinical trials that apparently showed impressive results were flawed. They also argued that the treatment involved what Ars Technica described as a “dubious cult-like new-age psychospiritual therapy” based on touching, and that one participant reported sexual assault by a therapist during the sessions.

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9

Age catches up to Hubble telescope

Flickr

One of the Hubble Space Telescope’s three functioning gyroscopes broke down. The 34-year-old Hubble is so effective in part because of its precision: It could “hold a laser steady on a drink coaster” from 1,000 miles away, Science reported. That’s because of its gyroscopes that spin 19,200 times a minute, holding it in place. But now just two of an initial six are working, and with NASA keeping one in reserve, Hubble will operate on just one gyroscope. It will slow Hubble’s scientific work, but NASA hopes to keep the telescope working until at least 2035. “We do not see Hubble as being on its last legs,” the mission manager said.

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10

RIP tennis’ one-handed backhand

imago images/Hasenkopf via Reuters Connect

The one-handed backhand in tennis is all but dead. At this year’s ongoing French Open tournament, just five women and 13 men, out of 128 of each, use the stroke, which a Le Monde epitaph called “the emblem of romantic tennis.” The tennis-loving writer Thomas Chatterton Williams wrote in The Atlantic that the one-handed backhand allows players to conceal their intentions until the last moment, allowing “subterfuge, and therefore artistry.” But statistically it is less efficient than the harder two-handed version, “essentially another forehand.” Novak Djokovic, the most successful player of all time, uses two hands, while the more elegant Roger Federer used one. “If efficiency were all that mattered,” Williams wrote, “we would be interested in the chess played only by Stockfish and AlphaZero.”

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Flagging

June 6:

  • European and US leaders attend D-Day anniversary commemorations.
  • South Africa’s ANC National Executive Committee meets to discuss the next government.
  • The European Central Bank is expected to cut interest rates for the first time in nearly five years.
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Curio
Screenshot from Huang Ruo’s Instagram @huang.ruo

A Chinese-American composer is using more than 1,000 cell phones as part of his symphony concert this week in Manchester, England. Audiences will play 11 pre-recorded tracks of Huang Ruo’s City Of Floating Sounds out loud from an app downloaded onto their phones, as they walk along designated routes to the venue, arriving together to experience part two of the concert: Huang’s live symphony performance. “It’s planned as an outdoor piece,” Huang told The Guardian. “And if there’s noise, or rain, or traffic – it’s all part of the symphony.” Huang’s work draws from his Chinese heritage; he is trying to revive the “democratising impulse” of China’s open-air opera performances that he attended with his father after the Cultural Revolution.

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