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90% of world’s population breathes badly polluted air: WHO

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World Health Organisation

Geneva, May 2:  Nine out of every 10 people on the planet breathe air that contains high levels of pollutants and kills seven million people each year, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) study released on Wednesday.

The study is an analysis of what the WHO says is the world’s most comprehensive database on ambient air pollution. The organisation collected the data from more than 4,300 cities and 108 countries, reports CNN.

People in Asia and Africa face the biggest problems, according to the study.

More than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths happen there, but cities in the Americas, Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean also have air pollution levels that are beyond what the WHO considers healthy.

The new WHO data show that US cities on the more polluted side of the list include Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Fresno, California; Indianapolis; and the Elkhart-Goshen area of Indiana.

Peshawar and Rawalpindi in Pakistan, have some of the highest particulate air pollution levels in the database. Varanasi and Kanpur in India; Cairo; and Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, also show higher levels.

“I’m afraid what is dramatic is that air pollution levels still remain at dangerously high levels in many parts of the world,” CNN quoted Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, as saying.

“No doubt that air pollution represents today not only the biggest environmental risk for health, but I will clearly say that this is a major, major challenge for public health at the moment and probably one of the biggest ones we are contemplating.”

Particle pollution, a mix of solid and liquid droplets in the air, can get sucked into and embedded deep in your lungs when you breathe. That can lead to health conditions including asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), according to the study.

These outdoor particulates — including sulphate, nitrates and black carbon — are largely created by car and truck traffic, manufacturing, power plants and farming. In total, air pollution caused about 4.2 million deaths in 2016, it added.

“Many of the world’s megacities exceed WHO’s guideline levels for air quality by more than five times, representing a major risk to people’s health,” Neira said. This is “a very dramatic problem that we are facing now”.

Cleaner air accounts for in cities like like Wenden, Arizona (population 2,882), or Cheyenne, Wyoming (population 64,019).

The Eureka-Arcata-Fortuna area of California; Battlement Mesa, Colorado; Wasilla, Alaska; Gillette, Wyoming; and Kapaa, Hawaii, are all on the cleaner-air list.

One of the bigger US cities with cleaner air is Honolulu, according to the WHO data.

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Chinese imperialism poses incurable threat to the world

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Xi Jinping

New Delhi: Two viruses have taken over the world. One, a minuscule creature called Covid-19, has killed more than 8,00,000 people around the globe, but is slowing down and will most likely be eliminated in the coming months.

Vaccines have already been developed against it and once inoculated, citizens of the world can expect to go on with their normal lives. However, it is the second virus, that of Chinese imperialism, which poses a long term and a much more potent and incurable threat to the world at large.

China’s shadow looms large over the world. Not only geopolitically, but also in the economic and cultural realms, the Chinese are attempting to remake the world as per their conception of a master-serf relationship. Though in international relations, politics, economics and culture are interrelated, it is important to discuss them separately in order to bring out the nuances of Chinese imperialism.

The age of colonisation and imperialism ended for good in the wake of the breakup and reordering of the international order. This order was based on liberal principles of free trade, respect for international law, prevalence of democratic norms and a security architecture underlined by the presence of two superpowers. Intra and inter country disputes did happen but they were generally localised at best or limited to particular regions.

It is only with the entry of China on the world stage in force that global disruptions have started to manifest themselves brutally. The 2008 financial crisis decimated economies of the West and the East Asian Tigers but China emerged unscathed, riding on the success of its impervious wall which prevented (and still prevents) foreign investments unless approved by the Big Brother Xi. China by then had established mass manufacturing bases in major parts of the country and unimpeded by human rights or basic minimum wages, yoked its population to work tirelessly. The end result: China now mass produces everything from a needle to an airplane.

This has enabled it to dump its produce on other countries initially through the pretensions of free trade (now censored by the WTO) and later through the mega-ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI has been used by China to weasel its way through national sovereignties like a hot knife through butter. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are best examples of what international observers euphemistically call “Debt Trap Diplomacy” but in reality is a gross usurpation of national authority.

China’s tentacles, unlike Covid-19’s, reach far and wide. In fact, Europe faces a double whammy of being repeatedly hit by the coronavirus and China almost simultaneously. With access to the Piraeus port of Greece, China has already started dumping products of all kinds in the European Common Market system. Italy’s untimely submission to Covid-19 was also made possible due to its proximity to the Chinese trading system. After all, Covid-19 and China have become synonymous with each other. In terms of politics, China has undertaken a multi-pronged attack across international borders of many countries.

India has been the first to bear the brunt of Chinese Janus-faced policies of illegal aggression on one hand, while calling for normalisation of trade and other relations on the other. However India is not the only one. The US faces a challenge of another kind. There is a real threat of China’s disinformation campaign affecting the outcome of the US elections in November.

China’s Thousand Talents Program has already ensured massive theft of data and exclusive technology from the US, the latest being Zhengdong Cheng of College Station, Texas who has been charged with making false statements and hiding his affiliations to the PLA. With Taiwan, China is playing the waiting game, pushing its ships and jets closer to the island nation with every passing week under the garb of exercises. Hong Kong for all matters has stopped existing as an autonomous region with only its nomenclature remaining unchanged.

China has also been active on the cultural front. The various China Study or Culture Centres opened in a number of countries act as both espionage and propaganda centres. There is a proactive effort to disseminate Xi Jinping Thought, a constricting ideology that aims to cement the Chinese President as the centre of China’s absurdist and all-encompassing universe.

The number of mushrooming Confucius Institutes all over the world teach everything but Confucian values. They are a front to propagate Chinese communist ideology under the facade of an educational institution and are now being investigated by a number of governments for their links to “The Party”. Chinese Students Associations have also been implicated in a number of countries to stifle criticism of Tibet and Xinjiang by expatriate Chinese students through use of violence and coercion.

Covid-19 is something that will ultimately have a cure. As it is, its lethality is very limited. However, the bigger virus of Chinese Communist Party keeps growing potent everyday and to counter it, the entire world needs to come together. The vaccination to get rid of the Chinese communist virus, though much more painful than the Covid-19 affliction, will have to be undertaken.

(Binay Kumar Singh is a columnist and researcher. Views expressed are personal)

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Middle East

Iran and Saudi Arabia: China’s new launch pads in the Middle East

Two years ago, the Washington Post had reported, based on analysis of satellite pictures, that Saudi Arabia was making a missile factory near the central Saudi town of Al-Watah.

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Iran & Saudi Arabia

New Delhi, Sep 18 : China has flagged Iran and Saudi Arabia as its bridgeheads for expanding its influence in the Middle East, taking advantage of Tehrans international isolation and Riyadhs focus on nuclear energy.

Faced with renewed pressure from the United States, which has attempted to disrupt Iran’s economic lifelines, including critically important oil and gas exports, and much more, Iran has reached out to China for support.

China, in turn, has grabbed the strategic opening, keeping in mind, its larger ambition of drawing the Middle East in its orbit of influence.

In June, Iran approved a quarter century blue print of strategic collaboration with China, with bold economic and security dimensions, worth around $600 billion. Under the pact, energy hungry China will buy Iranian oil, Tehran’s primary export, for 25 years, at highly concessional rates. In return for assured energy supplies, China will revive Iran’s moribund economy, which would be integrated in a China-centred ecosystem, covering trade, finance, investments, and market access. China would also cyber-network Iran, piloted by the telecom giant Huawei, especially in the 5G domain.

Specific infrastructure projects, the foundations of Iran’s new economy, would include airports, high-speed railways and subways. China would also develop free-trade zones in Maku, in north western Iran; in Abadan, where the Shatt al-Arab river flows into the Persian Gulf, and on the gulf island Qeshm, the New York Times reported.

China plans to establish a joint commission for developing weapons and tap Iranian talent for scientific research, including cyberwarfare. This initiative is expected to anchor China’s military presence in the Middle East, bolstered by an unprecedented ability to gather intelligence in the region. In going ahead with the deal, China, for the first time, would become a frontline player seated in the Middle East cockpit, empowered to seriously influence the region, which includes Israel, Iran’s arch-foe.

China’s military ambitions in the Middle East also stood out with its participation in 2019, in a trilateral naval exercise in the Indian Ocean, with Iran and Russia as partners.

China’s massive outreach to Iran, fully recognizes Tehran as a geopolitical pivot — a country whose importance is derived by its sensitive geographical location. Iran sits on the doorstep of South Asia, Central Asia and Europe. Its external orientation has a major spill over impact, across a large geographical space, across contiguous regions.

China views Iran as a launch pad for spreading the Beijing centred Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive transcontinental connectivity project, meant to launch China’s rise as an unrivalled great power.

China wants to extend the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a part of BRI in more than one direction. In the north, it has already announced its intent to stretch CPEC to resource rich Afghanistan, which has massive reserves of lithium, the feedstock for the electric car revolution that China wants to lead. Already, the Afghan Taliban are in deep conversation with the Chinese for projects that can be kick-started after a new government takes over in Kabul, following the ongoing US brokered reconciliation talks between Taliban and the Afghan government.

In case Iran agrees, CPEC can also be extended westwards from Pakistan’s contiguous Baluchistan province through which a large section of the corridor passes. In case that happens, Tehran will inch closer to being co-opted in the rapidly expanding Chinese political orbit.

China has also gate-crashed into the inner core of Iran’s rival-in-chief, Saudi Arabia, by agreeing to partner with Riyadh in the nuclear arena — a zone where most countries are reluctant to enter. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman has been quoted as saying in 2018 that in case Iran develops a nuclear bomb, Riyadh will also follow suit.

Blinded by its ambition to bulldoze into the Middle East, China is reported to have shared technology to enrich uranium — the feedstock for a bomb. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with China’s help , has built a facility for the extraction of uranium yellowcake, a potential precursor to fuel a nuclear reactor. The plant is located near the remote desert city of Al Ula, the daily reported. The presence of the site, which has not been publicly acknowledged has raised serious concerns that Saudi Arabia, engaged in a seething and violent geopolitical rivalry with Iran, in several regional theatres including Yemen, Lebanon and Syria, may be engaging in the nuclear weapons programme with the support of China.

Uranium when lowly enriched is used in electricity generation, but when refined to purity above 90 per cent, it can be used to making the core of an atomic bomb.

The Saudi Energy Ministry has “categorically” denied to the Wall Street Journal that the Kingdom has built a uranium ore milling facility. But he acknowledged that Chinese companies have been contracted for the exploration of uranium within Saudi Arabia.

The recent interaction between China and Saudi Arabia can be traced to a 2012 agreement for the peaceful development of atomic energy. Subsequently, Riyadh has signed agreements with China National Nuclear Corp and China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp.

China and Saudi Arabia have been partners in beneath- the- radar covert collaboration in the past. In 1988, Saudi Arabia bought Chinese DF-3 Silkworm ballistic missiles, which have been reportedly embedded with the Kingdom’s Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF).

Two years ago, the Washington Post had reported, based on analysis of satellite pictures, that Saudi Arabia was making a missile factory near the central Saudi town of Al-Watah.

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World

Russian deputy FM warns US ambassador against interference in Belarus

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Naryshkin accused the United States of playing a key role in preparing the protests following Belarus’ presidential elections.

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Andrey Rudenko Russia

Moscow, Sep 18 : Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko stressed “the inadmissibility of any interference in the internal political processes” in Belarus during a phone talk with US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan.

Rudenko also emphasized the inadmissibility of “attempts to destabilize” the situation in Belarus and “impose unilateral mediation services from outside,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday, Xinhua news agency reported.

He said that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s initiative to carry out a constitutional reform to liberalize the country’s political system is promising.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Naryshkin accused the United States of playing a key role in preparing the protests following Belarus’ presidential elections.

He alleged that the preparations began in 2019 and early 2020, when Washington channelled about US $20 million through various non-governmental organisations to help organise the protests.

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