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A phone call Thursday between Presidents Xi and Biden may have avoided adding tensions to U.S.-China relations, but now all attention will be back on the question of whether Nancy Pelosi lands in Taipei next month for a meeting that Beijing has been warning against and the Chinese media stirs the pot.
Fighter jets ready for takeoff at Kunsan Air Base
It's not quite "Nixon goes to China," but the question of whether U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will visit Taiwan is already stirring geopolitical tensions, and sparking rhetorical bluster from Beijing's official channels, as well as media and social networks.
Following The Financial Times' report on July 19 of a planned trip, Pelosi herself has still not confirmed whether she will be the most senior Congressional figure to make an official visit to Taiwan in 25 years. But that hasn't stopped continuous speculation and threats, and even insults, coming from mainland China.
The possibility of a visit also further complicated an already highly charged call Thursday between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first since March.
Neither Beijing nor Washington made explicit reference to Pelosi in debriefing the call, which lasted two hours Thursday, and observers note that the two leaders managed to avoid escalating the conflict over Taiwan.
Still the conflict has by no means gone away. The possibility of such a high-profile American visit to Taiwan could ignite a new phase in U.S.-China relations, and geopolitics more generally. Pelosi, considered the second most powerful U.S. official and a longtime Taiwan supporter, would be sending a clear message to Xi and others in mainland China if she meets with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who they don't recognize as a legitimate ruler and a threat to Chinese sovereignty.
Since news of Pelosi’s potential visit broke, Beijing’s outrage could not be clearer, with media across the country echoing the stance from the top of the Communist Party. Some on WeMedia social channels circulated references to Pelosi as an “old witch,” others described the potential visit as a “farce.”
Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of China’s state-affiliated tabloid Global Times, preferred to take the scenario seriously. Hu warned that “China’s planes would fly over Taiwan…if there would be a conflict between the U.S. and China at sea, the U.S. aircraft carrier fleet will be wiped out by the People’s Liberation Army.”
Pelosi reportedly intended to visit Taiwan back in April, but postponed the plan when she tested positive for COVID. If the trip takes place next month as reported, it would be the first since Speaker Newt Gingrich went to Taiwan in 1997.
The topic of China-Taiwan has a complicated history in Washington, particularly ever since President Richard Nixon made his historic trip to China in 1972 to meet with Chairman Mao. Seven years later, the U.S. officially established its diplomatic relation with Beijing, as Washington acknowledged that Taiwan is a part of China, and that there's only "One China."
Still, the U.S. has maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan ever since. In 2018, Congress passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which allows high-level officials to visit Taiwan and vice-versa. Now as relations chill across the Strait of Taiwan and China looks to cement its hegemony in the region, Pelosi's visit would be of great significance.
Nancy Pelosi speaking in Washington on July 21
Rod Lamkey/CNP/ZUMA
It is a sensitive point for Beijing, as it firmly believes that Washington is shifting its stance on the “One China” principle. It also comes just three months ahead of the Chinese Communist Party's national Congress, where Xi is aiming to secure his third five-year term as president — unprecedented in the People’s Republic.
Xi is also facing domestic resentments over his “Zero-COVID” policy, China’s economic recession and, internationally, the tensions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Raw nationalism has been Xi’s tool to keep his country united, and anything that concerns Taiwan is an opportunity for him to secure support.
The Economic Observer, a business weekly based in Beijing, commented that “China's should provide a strong counter-attack to the U.S. and give a sharp shock to the 'Taiwan independence' forces in the island.” While still calling for “peaceful unification,” Beijing is determined to demonstrate its strength and leave no room for negotiation on the issue of Taiwan.
For Taipei, President Tsai, welcoming guests from the U.S., Europe and Japan is hardly unprecedented, with high-profile politicians including former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Vice President of the European Parliament Nicola Beer, and currently a parliamentary delegation from Japan led by former defense ministers. In the meantime, the Han Kuang Exercise is taking place this week, the annual civil defense drill that simulates a potential enemy attack, which takes on more urgency this year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet commented on Pelosi's potential visit, and claimed that they have not received concrete information. Experts and scholars from the island had predicted that there is a high chance for the trip to take place, while mixed opinions were provoked as some feared “punishments" from the mainland. Alexander Huang, an expert on cross-Strait relations, raised concern about the "chilling effect from Beijing" if Pelosi was forced to cancel the trip.
Eric Chu Li-luan, chairman of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang, commented that he would "welcome any visits of U.S. officials to Taiwan, as long as it is helpful for Taiwan's democracy and national security."
Domestic security experts also have suppositions over Beijing's possible reactions, claiming that imposing a no-fly zone as some have suggested would amount to a declaration of war, while military exercises and flights of military aircraft from Beijing would be possible.
Within the current geopolitical context, Pelosi's potential visit is just one piece of Washington's position on Sino-U.S. relations, and its determination on supporting Taiwan. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan signaled last week that it was in Washington's interest to maintain the policy of "strategic ambiguity" when it comes to Taiwan. By all accounts, Pelosi's much talked-about, yet utterly unconfirmed visit is the perfect new piece of that strategy. For however long that can last.
A phone call Thursday between Presidents Xi and Biden may have avoided adding tensions to U.S.-China relations, but now all attention will be back on the question of whether Nancy Pelosi lands in Taipei next month for a meeting that Beijing has been warning against and the Chinese media stirs the pot.
Fighter jets ready for takeoff at Kunsan Air Base
It's not quite "Nixon goes to China," but the question of whether U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will visit Taiwan is already stirring geopolitical tensions, and sparking rhetorical bluster from Beijing's official channels, as well as media and social networks.
Following The Financial Times' report on July 19 of a planned trip, Pelosi herself has still not confirmed whether she will be the most senior Congressional figure to make an official visit to Taiwan in 25 years. But that hasn't stopped continuous speculation and threats, and even insults, coming from mainland China.
The possibility of a visit also further complicated an already highly charged call Thursday between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first since March.
Neither Beijing nor Washington made explicit reference to Pelosi in debriefing the call, which lasted two hours Thursday, and observers note that the two leaders managed to avoid escalating the conflict over Taiwan.
Still the conflict has by no means gone away. The possibility of such a high-profile American visit to Taiwan could ignite a new phase in U.S.-China relations, and geopolitics more generally. Pelosi, considered the second most powerful U.S. official and a longtime Taiwan supporter, would be sending a clear message to Xi and others in mainland China if she meets with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who they don't recognize as a legitimate ruler and a threat to Chinese sovereignty.
Since news of Pelosi’s potential visit broke, Beijing’s outrage could not be clearer, with media across the country echoing the stance from the top of the Communist Party. Some on WeMedia social channels circulated references to Pelosi as an “old witch,” others described the potential visit as a “farce.”
Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of China’s state-affiliated tabloid Global Times, preferred to take the scenario seriously. Hu warned that “China’s planes would fly over Taiwan…if there would be a conflict between the U.S. and China at sea, the U.S. aircraft carrier fleet will be wiped out by the People’s Liberation Army.”
Pelosi reportedly intended to visit Taiwan back in April, but postponed the plan when she tested positive for COVID. If the trip takes place next month as reported, it would be the first since Speaker Newt Gingrich went to Taiwan in 1997.
The topic of China-Taiwan has a complicated history in Washington, particularly ever since President Richard Nixon made his historic trip to China in 1972 to meet with Chairman Mao. Seven years later, the U.S. officially established its diplomatic relation with Beijing, as Washington acknowledged that Taiwan is a part of China, and that there's only "One China."
Still, the U.S. has maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan ever since. In 2018, Congress passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which allows high-level officials to visit Taiwan and vice-versa. Now as relations chill across the Strait of Taiwan and China looks to cement its hegemony in the region, Pelosi's visit would be of great significance.
Nancy Pelosi speaking in Washington on July 21
Rod Lamkey/CNP/ZUMA
It is a sensitive point for Beijing, as it firmly believes that Washington is shifting its stance on the “One China” principle. It also comes just three months ahead of the Chinese Communist Party's national Congress, where Xi is aiming to secure his third five-year term as president — unprecedented in the People’s Republic.
Xi is also facing domestic resentments over his “Zero-COVID” policy, China’s economic recession and, internationally, the tensions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Raw nationalism has been Xi’s tool to keep his country united, and anything that concerns Taiwan is an opportunity for him to secure support.
The Economic Observer, a business weekly based in Beijing, commented that “China's should provide a strong counter-attack to the U.S. and give a sharp shock to the 'Taiwan independence' forces in the island.” While still calling for “peaceful unification,” Beijing is determined to demonstrate its strength and leave no room for negotiation on the issue of Taiwan.
For Taipei, President Tsai, welcoming guests from the U.S., Europe and Japan is hardly unprecedented, with high-profile politicians including former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Vice President of the European Parliament Nicola Beer, and currently a parliamentary delegation from Japan led by former defense ministers. In the meantime, the Han Kuang Exercise is taking place this week, the annual civil defense drill that simulates a potential enemy attack, which takes on more urgency this year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet commented on Pelosi's potential visit, and claimed that they have not received concrete information. Experts and scholars from the island had predicted that there is a high chance for the trip to take place, while mixed opinions were provoked as some feared “punishments" from the mainland. Alexander Huang, an expert on cross-Strait relations, raised concern about the "chilling effect from Beijing" if Pelosi was forced to cancel the trip.
Eric Chu Li-luan, chairman of Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang, commented that he would "welcome any visits of U.S. officials to Taiwan, as long as it is helpful for Taiwan's democracy and national security."
Domestic security experts also have suppositions over Beijing's possible reactions, claiming that imposing a no-fly zone as some have suggested would amount to a declaration of war, while military exercises and flights of military aircraft from Beijing would be possible.
Within the current geopolitical context, Pelosi's potential visit is just one piece of Washington's position on Sino-U.S. relations, and its determination on supporting Taiwan. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan signaled last week that it was in Washington's interest to maintain the policy of "strategic ambiguity" when it comes to Taiwan. By all accounts, Pelosi's much talked-about, yet utterly unconfirmed visit is the perfect new piece of that strategy. For however long that can last.
Benin bronze at Berlin's Federal Foreign Office on July 1
August 27-28

Nigerian Culture Minister Lai Mohammed sported a big smile during a ceremony in early July to officially hand back artifacts that had been looted in the 19th century. Next to him stood German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, whose attitude appeared, well … demure.
In the foreground of the official pictures are two Benin bronzes (a 35-kg head of an oba, or king, from the 18th century, and a 16th-century relief of an oba accompanied by guards), the first two items that have now traveled home to Benin City, in the southern Nigerian state of Edo.
The agreement between Germany and Nigeria, which includes the promise to return more than 1,000 artifacts, has been celebrated as a milestone in post-colonial reparation attempts of cultural heritage.
This is a big step because Germany has until recently held the second-largest collection in the world of the Benin bronzes. The British Museum in London, which holds the largest collection, has so far refused to give up its 900 objects, arguing that the British Museum Act of 1963 and the Heritage Act of 1983 prevent it from doing so.
But Britain is far from alone. Countries like Italy, which had a relatively short but bloody colonial expansion into eastern and northern Africa that started in the 19th century and peaked during Fascism, looted artifacts that are still locked up in what was once called the “Italian African Museum.” As L’Essenziale reports, the museum has turned into a deposit, while Italians seem to be in denial about ever having played a role in Europe’s brutal colonial past.
The conversation about returning cultural items to African countries is relatively recent, and was given an extra boost by French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to west Africa in 2017, with his promise that “African heritage must be showcased in Paris but also in Dakar, Lagos and Cotonou. Within five years I want the conditions to exist for temporary or permanent returns of African heritage to Africa.”
The visit initiated the return of the Benin bronzes from countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
This push to return looted artifacts also coincided with the Black Lives Matter movement and the move to decolonize public spaces, such as #RhodesMustFall, a campaign to remove the name of slave owner Cecil Rhodes from university buildings in South Africa and the U.K.
But how much do these policies actually work? Or are they just a way for former colonial powers to wash their hands of their past without actually evaluating and atoning for the real legacy of their colonial past?
In the case of the Benin bronzes, for example, talks continue over the time frame for the physical return to Nigeria of the artifacts, while the German government has pledged support for a new museum in Benin City. Edo State is also engulfed in volatility and insecurity, with a local journalist telling German daily Die Welt: “I can't celebrate the return of the bronzes if I'm afraid for my life and wondering what I should eat."
Should financial compensation come with the artifacts’ return? Or a pledge to support the museum infrastructure, training experts and creating spaces where the artifacts can be truly welcomed? Perhaps the process should be tied to broader diplomatic and economic questions? It’s a reminder of how much culture policy says about any one nation, and its relationship with the rest of the world.
Irene Caselli
1. What did Ukrainians line up on the streets of Kyiv to celebrate Independence Day — and spite Russia?
2. Who is suing biotech companies Pfizer and BioNTech for patent infringement on their COVID-19 vaccine?
3. China announced that the dugong, a species of sea mammals, was considered extinct in the country. What is the dugong also known as?
4. A video showing inmates and guards competing against each other at a French prison sparked debate. What was the game? Go-karting / Paintball / Pétanque
The arrest of a Chinese girl for wearing a kimono on a street in Suzhou sparked considerable online debate. In a video, a policeman is seen shouting at the girl “How can you wear a kimono? You are Chinese!”, in spite of the fact that the scene happened on a specifically Japanese-themed street of the Chinese city. The girl was taken in for “disorderly behavior” and her clothes were confiscated. The incident provoked much discussion on China’s developing mentality of aggressive and conservative nationalism.

The actions of Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators, who failed to assassinate Hitler in 1944, offer no obvious positive lessons for the 21st century.
But 78 years later, with Russians bombs falling down on Ukraine, Stauffenberg's spirit offers an insight into how Ukraine can be free again and how Russia can be welcomed back into the family of nations, writes Thomas Weber in German daily newpaper Die Welt.

One day, as he was taking care of his sick son while his wife was working, Greece-based Argentine journalist Ignacio Pereyra started reflecting on the mental load — a concept described by the French feminist sociologist Monique Haicault in the 1980s, referring to the invisible burden caused not only by doing everything but also by thinking about everything that still needs to be done.
The key, Pereyra writes, is for men to anticipate what needs to be done, and not just wait for women to tell them what to do. In that way, the mental load will be shared and both fathers and mothers will be able to enjoy leisure time.
Read the full story: Invisible Work: The Weight Of A Family That Men Don’t See

In the 1940s, the city of Medellín, Colombia, wasn’t only the country’s main industrial city but also harbored the most brothels, sex workers and "red light" districts. The love district was called Lovaina and the number of “elegant” brothels started increasing.
But in the early 1950s, violence broke out. What has Medellín become today? Reinaldo Spitaletta writes for El Espectador about the city that lost its dreams and became a den of inequality.
Read the full story: How Medellín Became Colombia's "Open Air" Brothel
NASA released a spooky audio recording of a black hole spinning at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster. This is the first time such a sound has been extracted and made audible. It was made possible by scaling up the octaves.

Women around the world started posting videos of themselves dancing and partying, using the hashtag #SolidarityWithSanna to show support for the embattled Finnish Prime Minister. Sanna Marin is under continued scrutiny following the leak of videos showing her dancing with friends at a private party, culminating in the politician agreeing to take a drug test this week to shut down accusations from opponents. The test result was negative.
News quiz answers:
1. To replace Independence Day parades, Ukrainians displayed captured Russian tanks and military vehicles on Kyiv's main street. The day was darkened by renewed deadly attacks, including on a train station in Chaplyne that killed at least 25.
2. U.S. biotech company Moderna is suing Pfizer and BioNTech over infringement of patent relating to the mRNA tech used in COVID-19 vaccines.
3. Scientists have declared the dugong — the peaceful sea mammal also know as sea cow — “functionally extinct” in China, due to habitat degradation and hunting.
4. Videos of French inmates, seen competing against each other and against guards in go-kart races within the grounds of the Fresnes prison, have sparked controversy.
✍️ Newsletter by Worldcrunch
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*Photo: Thomas Trutschel/dpa/ZUMA
In irking Mexico's chief trading partners with decisions affecting energy firms, the country's leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is tinkering with the free-trade pact that is the very engine and ballast of Mexico's vast, and vulnerable, economy.
The breakaway republic of Transnistria declared its independence 30 years ago, but not even Russia recognizes it as a country. Transnistria is both nostalgic for the Soviet era and prosperous thanks to Russian funds. And a trip there is the closest you can get to visiting the USSR.
Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Ukrinform via ZUMA Press Wire
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Diocesan Archive of Vienna (Diözesanarchiv Wien)/BA Innitzer
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.

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