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While China struggles for world domination, Elon Musk has already got Twitter

28-10-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 2 times a week.

Politico: Putin's victory is China's victory

With Ukraine-skeptical Republicans poised for election gains, Jens Stoltenberg tells POLITICO a Russian victory would ‘send a message to authoritarian leaders — not only Putin but also China.’


Photo: nato.int

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has a message for U.S. Republicans making election promises to slash Ukraine’s support: That will only empower China.

Stoltenberg pushed his point in an expansive interview with POLITICO this week, in which the military alliance’s chief made the case for a long-term American presence in Europe and a widespread boost in defense spending.

“The presence of the United States — but also Canada — in Europe, is essential for the strength and the credibility of that transatlantic bond,” Stoltenberg said.

Yet anxiety is coursing through policy circles that a more reticent U.S. may be on the horizon. The upcoming U.S. midterm elections could tip control of Congress toward the Republicans, empowering an ascendant, MAGA-friendly Republican cohort that has been pressing to cut back U.S. President Joe Biden’s world-leading military aid to Ukraine.

Stoltenberg warned that Kyiv’s recent battlefield gains would not have been possible without NATO allies’ support. And he appealed to the more strident anti-China sentiment that runs through both major U.S. political parties.

A victorious Russia, he said, would “be bad for all of us in Europe and North America, in the whole of NATO, because that will send a message to authoritarian leaders — not only Putin but also China — that by the use of brutal military force they can achieve their goals.”

Stoltenberg, however, expressed optimism that the U.S. would not soon vanish from Europe — or from Ukraine. Indeed, a contingent of more establishment Republicans has supported Biden’s repeated requests to send money and arms to Ukraine.

“I’m confident,” the NATO chief said, “that also after midterms, there will still be a clear majority in the Congress — in the House and in the Senate — for continued significant support to Ukraine.”

The charged debate is the product of a troubling reality: Russia’s war in Ukraine appears likely to drag on for months as budgets tighten and economies wane. 

In Washington, that discussion is intensifying ahead of elections slated for November 8. And a chorus of conservatives is increasingly reluctant to spend vast sums on aid to Ukraine. Since the war began, the U.S. has pledged to give Ukraine more than $17 billion in security assistance, well above what Europe has collectively committed.

Stoltenberg said that he is confident Washington will continue aiding Ukraine “partly because if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wins in Ukraine, that will be a catastrophe for the Ukrainians.”

But he also stressed the China connection at a moment when Beijing is top of mind for many American policymakers — including some of the same conservatives raising questions about the volume of assistance to Ukraine.

The Biden administration recently described China as “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge” in its national security strategy.

And the document explicitly ranks China above Russia in the longer term:

“Russia poses an immediate and ongoing threat to the regional security order in Europe and it is a source of disruption and instability globally but it lacks the across the spectrum capabilities of” China.

NATO allies themselves have taken varying approaches to China, with some still adopting a much softer line than Washington.

Stoltenberg acknowledged these divergences. But he argued the alliance had made progress on confronting Beijing, emphasizing NATO’s decision earlier this summer to explicitly label China a challenge in its long-term strategy document.

It is “important for NATO allies to stand together and to address the consequences of the rise of China — and that we agree on, and that’s exactly what we are doing,” he said.

Stoltenberg did, however, lean on NATO’s European allies — which will include most of the Continent west of Russia once Finland and Sweden’s memberships are approved — to keep upping their defense spending.

“I strongly believe that European allies should do more,” he said, adding that he has been “pushing hard” on the topic. “The good news,” he noted, “is that all allies and also European allies have increased and are now investing more.”

Still, simple math shows that Europe is not close to being self-sustaining on defense.

The Guardian: World close to ‘irreversible’ climate breakdown

Key UN reports published in last two days warn urgent and collective action needed – as oil firms report astronomical profits.

The climate crisis has reached a “really bleak moment”, one of the world’s leading climate scientists has said, after a slew of major reports laid bare how close the planet is to catastrophe.

Collective action is needed by the world’s nations more now than at any point since the second world war to avoid climate tipping points, Prof Johan Rockström said, but geopolitical tensions are at a high.

He said the world was coming “very, very close to irreversible changes … time is really running out very, very fast”.

Emissions must fall by about half by 2030 to meet the internationally agreed target of 1.5C of heating but are still rising, the reports showed – at a time when oil giants are making astronomical amounts of money.

On Thursday, Shell and TotalEnergies both doubled their quarterly profits to about $10bn. Oil and gas giants have enjoyed soaring profits as post-Covid demand jumps and after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The sector is expected to amass $4tn in 2022, strengthening calls for heavy windfall taxes to address the cost of living crisis and fund the clean energy transition.

All three of the key UN agencies have produced damning reports in the last two days. The UN environment agency’s report found there was “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and that “woefully inadequate” progress on cutting carbon emissions means the only way to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a “rapid transformation of societies”.

Current pledges for action by 2030, even if delivered in full, would mean a rise in global heating of about 2.5C, a level that would condemn the world to catastrophic climate breakdown, according to the UN’s climate agency. Only a handful of countries have ramped up their plans in the last year, despite having promised to do so at the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow last November.

The UN’s meteorological agency reported that all the main heating gases hit record highs in 2021, with an alarming surge in emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “It’s a really bleak moment, not only because of the reports showing that emissions are still rising, so we’re not delivering on either the Paris or Glasgow climate agreements, but we also have so much scientific evidence that we are very, very close to irreversible changes – we’re coming closer to tipping points.”

Research by Rockström and colleagues, published in September, found five dangerous climate tipping points may already have been passed due to the global heating caused by humanity to date, including the collapse of Greenland’s ice cap, with another five possible with 1.5C of heating.

Inger Andersen, head of the UN environment programme (UNEP), told the Guardian that the energy crisis must be used to speed up delivery of a low-carbon economy: “We are in danger of missing the opportunity and a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Further reports published in the last two days said the health of the world’s people is at the mercy of a global addiction to fossil fuels, with increasing heat deaths, hunger and infectious disease as the climate crisis intensifies.

Prof Myles Allen, at the University of Oxford, said: “The combined profits, taxes and royalties generated by the oil and gas industry over the past few months would be enough to capture every single molecule of CO2 produced by their activities and reinject it back underground. So why are we only talking about transforming society and not about obliging a highly profitable industry to clean up the mess caused by the products it sells?”

Climate experts agree that every action that limits global heating reduces the suffering endured by people from climate impacts.

“The 1.5C target is now near impossible, but every fraction of a degree will equate to massive avoided damages for generations to come,” said Prof Dave Reay, at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

CNN: What happened to China’s former leader Hu Jintao?

It is a moment that for many observers has come to define strongman leader Xi Jinping’s tightening grip on China: his visibly frail predecessor, Hu Jintao, being escorted out of a key Communist Party meeting during a five-yearly leadership reshuffle – apparently at Xi’s behest.

Images of two men ushering the 79-year-old from his seat and toward the exit were beamed across the world as the party’s National Congress came to a close Saturday, leading to days of speculation over whether Hu was the victim of a deliberately public power play.


Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

This week, those rumors have only grown – despite a claim by Chinese state media on Twitter that Hu left due to ill-health – and the intrigue is likely to grow further still with the release of footage showing the 90 seconds leading up to his sudden removal.

The footage, released by Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday, shows a series of high-level exchanges between senior party leaders, in which Hu is repeatedly prevented from looking at official documents in front of him.

It shows Li Zhanshu, the party’s outgoing number-three official, who is sitting next to Hu at the front table on stage, take the documents from Hu’s hand and place them under a red folder. When Hu then reaches for the documents, Li pulls them away.

Xi, who is sat on Hu’s other side, glances at the exchanges and summons a senior aide to whom he speaks briefly. Moments later, a second aide hurries over, receives an instruction from Xi, then speaks to an apparently nonplussed Hu.

As per the footage that circulated on Saturday, Hu – who appears reluctant to leave – is then lifted from his chair, taken by the arm and escorted out.

None of the footage – either that released on Saturday or Tuesday – has been broadcast in China. Neither has the incident been reported in Chinese language media, or discussed on Chinese social media, where conversations around senior leaders are highly restricted.

Late on Saturday night, China’s official Xinhua news agency tweeted in English that Hu “insisted on attending” the closing ceremony despite his poor health and was escorted out after feeling unwell. However, within China, where Twitter is blocked, the incident was not mentioned.

Tuesday’s footage has fueled fervent speculation about what was in the document and why Hu was not allowed to see it – and left observers divided over what sparked his exit.

Some maintain it was likely due to Hu’s poor health or mental state – after retiring in 2013, he has been seen in public looking increasingly frail. Others suggest it could be a deliberate power play by Xi to show his unrivaled authority.

Like many unexplained episodes in the black box of elite Chinese politics, the true reason behind Hu’s unexpected departure may never be known. But experts say the symbolism – unintended or otherwise – is hard to miss: Having eradicated any vestige of influence from party elders or rival factions, Xi has ushered in a new era of one-man rule surrounded by only staunch loyalists.

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, said the latest footage suggests Hu’s dramatic exit was likely not planned.

“For whatever reasons, Xi ordered Hu to be escorted out when he must have thought that Hu might not behave exactly as Xi would have wanted,” he said.

Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University, said a planned public purge at the closing of the congress was unlikely, given the party’s emphasis on unity.

“The Chinese Communist Party prizes the image of unity and control, and more so than ever during the Xi era,” said Sung.

If Xi had wanted to purge Hu to prevent the former leader from raising objections in public, he would have done so before foreign press were allowed into the auditorium, Sung said.

“A high-profile purge of Hu at a critical juncture like the 20th Party Congress shows the presence of dissent, and the notion that Xi is at least ‘challengeable,’” he said. “Neither is great for Xi’s image of invincibility.”

Many observers were also struck by the apparent coldness of the other leaders on the stage. Few showed any concern for Hu, and many avoided looking in his direction.

But even if the real reason for the elder Hu’s departure never becomes clear, the incident has nevertheless sent an unequivocal message about Xi’s absolute hold on power, analysts say.

Hu’s undignified exit showed that “Xi had reduced the once powerful (Communist) Youth League faction to insignificance,” said Tsang at the University of London.

“With no successor in sight, and the previous leader humiliated, Xi had projected to the party that…no one in the party should look over his shoulder for another leader, be him the future or the past leader,” Tsang said.

“Now there is only one leader in China.”

AP: Musk has Twitter and is hungry for change

Elon Musk has taken control of Twitter and ousted the CEO, chief financial officer and the company’s top lawyer, two people familiar with the deal said Thursday night. Neither person wanted to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the deal.

A few hours later, Musk tweeted, “the bird has been freed,” a reference to Twitter’s logo.

Although they came quickly, the major personnel moves had been widely expected and almost certainly are the first of many major changes the mercurial Tesla CEO will make.

Musk’s changes will be aimed at increasing Twitter’s subscriber base and revenue.

In his first big move earlier on Thursday, Musk tried to soothe leery Twitter advertisers saying that he is buying the platform to help humanity and doesn’t want it to become a “free-for-all hellscape.”

The message appeared to be aimed at addressing concerns among advertisers — Twitter’s chief source of revenue — that Musk’s plans to promote free speech by cutting back on moderating content will open the floodgates to more online toxicity and drive away users.

“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence,” Musk wrote in an uncharacteristically long message for the Tesla CEO, who typically projects his thoughts in one-line tweets.

He continued: “There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.”

Musk has previously expressed distaste for advertising and Twitter’s dependence on it, suggesting more emphasis on other business models such as paid subscriptions that won’t allow big corporations to dictate policy on how social media operates. But on Thursday, he assured advertisers he wants Twitter to be “the most respected advertising platform in the world.”

Musk said Twitter should be “warm and welcoming to all” and enable users to choose the experience they want to have.

And overnight the New York Stock Exchange notified investors that it will suspend trading in shares of Twitter before the opening bell Friday in anticipation of the company going private under Musk.

Musk is expected to speak to Twitter employees directly Friday. Despite internal confusion and low morale tied to fears of layoffs or a dismantling of the company’s culture and operations, Twitter leaders this week have at least outwardly welcomed Musk’s arrival and messaging.

Musk’s apparent enthusiasm about visiting Twitter headquarters this week stood in sharp contrast to one of his earlier suggestions: The building should be turned into a homeless shelter because so few employees actually worked there.


Photo: still image from Twitter

The Washington Post reported last week that Musk told prospective investors that he plans to cut three quarters of Twitter’s 7,500 workers when he becomes owner of the company. The newspaper cited documents and unnamed sources familiar with the deliberation.

Musk has spent months deriding Twitter’s “spam bots” and making sometimes contradictory pronouncements about Twitter’s problems and how to fix them. But he has shared few concrete details about his plans for the social media platform.

Insider Intelligence principal analyst Jasmine Enberg said Musk has good reason to avoid a massive shakeup of Twitter’s ad business because Twitter’s revenues have taken a beating from the weakening economy, months of uncertainty surrounding Musk’s proposed takeover, changing consumer behaviors and the fact that “there’s no other revenue source waiting in the wings.”

“Even slightly loosening content moderation on the platform is sure to spook advertisers, many of whom already find Twitter’s brand safety tools to be lacking compared with other social platforms,” Enberg said.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva