Hi there Intriguer. Half of Sweden is covered in forest. Half of all the world's lakes are in Canada. And half of our readers don't know we have a podcast coming out every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday! Hosted by our very own baritone Ethan Plotkin, we alternate between news briefings and long-form interviews with amazing guests.
Check out ‘Intrigue Outloud’ wherever you get your podcasts.
Today’s briefing is a 4.7 min read:
- 🇨🇳 The annual 'two sessions' in China.
- 🤝 An unexpected US-Russia meeting at the G20.
- ➕ Plus: A picture out of this world, how the papers are covering turmoil within the Turkish opposition, and the reason why flamingos don't like you.
- Valentina, Ethan & Jeremy
🗺️ AROUND THE WORLD
- 🇰🇵 North Korea: Kim Jong Un held a series of emergency meetings last week to address North Korea’s spiralling food crisis. North Korea reportedly needs 5.5 million tonnes of grain per year to feed its population, and only produced 4.5 million tonnes last year.
- 🇧🇾 Belarus: Ales Bialiatski, a veteran pro-democracy activist and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was sentenced to ten years in jail on Friday on financial fraud charges. Analysts say Bialiastki’s trial was a sham.
- 🇰🇭 Cambodia: Not to be outdone, a court sentenced Cambodia’s main opposition figure, Kem Sokha, to 27 years of house arrest for treason on Friday. Prosecutors accused him of soliciting foreign help to overthrow the government.
- 🇦🇷 Argentina: The government has appealed to the UK to restart negotiations over the Falkland Islands which have been on hold since 2016. Las Islas Malvinas, as they are known in Argentina, have been under British control since 1833.
- 🇮🇷 Iran: The Director-General of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, travelled to Iran on Friday, days after his inspectors discovered uranium that was enriched almost to levels required to build a nuclear weapon. Iran denies it has any such ambitions.
🇨🇳 CHINA | TWO SESSIONS
Ain't no party like a Communist Party
Briefly: China's annual 'two sessions' kicked off in Beijing over the weekend. It's a rubber-stamping exercise, but still offers insights into China's trajectory and President Xi's priorities.
The National People's Congress (NPC) is the country's equivalent of a parliament, but its members are appointed (not elected) and it formalises decisions that've already been made.
Meanwhile, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is more of an advisory body. It has no real power, but observers watch it for clues of emerging issues in China.
Some of the ‘two sessions’ outcomes are already clear: China has set a 5% GDP growth target for 2023, and Xi Jinping’s unprecedented third term will be ratified. The real tea this year involves key personnel appointments, which will further entrench Xi’s allies in top posts and cement the Communist Party’s control over the private sector.
Intrigue’s take: Watching the 'two sessions' is like watching the Harlem Globetrotters play the Washington Generals: the result is never in doubt, but they sure put on a hell of a show (if you’re a China nerd).
Xi Jinping’s almost total control of Chinese politics will steal the headlines, but it could be a double-edged sword: much harder to blame party officials for mistakes when you’re the one who handpicked them. Still, Xi seems to be enjoying the perks of power... like getting one more cup of tea than everyone else.
Also worth noting:
- According to The NPC Observer, the NPC has never voted down an agenda item.
- NPC delegates this year include celebrities, business executives, and one of China's first female fighter pilots.
📰 GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES
How different newspapers covered: Disagreements within the Turkish opposition on which candidate to support in the upcoming elections.
Links: Al-Monitor, Daily Sabah, Bangkok Post.
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🤝 G20 | RUSSIA-US RELATIONS
Blinken and Lavrov talk on G20 sidelines in New Delhi
Briefly: The foreign ministers from the US and Russia met face-to-face on Thursday, for the first time since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Antony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov talked briefly on the sidelines of a G20 meeting hosted by India.
Beyond Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the two foreign ministers discussed Russia’s decision to suspend the START nuclear arms treaty, as well as a former US Marine imprisoned in Russia on spying charges (Paul Whelan).
Intrigue’s take: One would need more than a 10-minute chat to alter the trajectory of current US-Russia relations. But we can take some comfort in knowing that lines of communication between the world’s two largest nuclear powers are still open (if barely). The brief chat is also a win for India as host and facilitator, boosting India’s credibility as a neutral peacemaker.
Also worth noting:
- Last month’s G20 finance ministers meeting ended without a common statement after China (and Russia) refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
📷 PHOTO OF THE DAY
To infinity and beyond...
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket delivered American, UAE and Russian astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday. This is the first extended visit to the ISS by an Arab astronaut and a rare show of cooperation between the US and Russia.
👀 EXTRA INTRIGUE
Here’s your *expertly* curated roundup of humorous international news to get you cartwheeling into your Monday.
- A Japanese politician suggested his country’s low fertility rates were caused by young people’s lack of “romantic abilities”.
- A trash collection company hilariously named ‘Lord of the Bins’ was ordered to change its name by the Tolkien franchise. Gondor calls for aid!
- According to a new study, flamingos make friends based on personality, so if you’re unable to befriend a flamingo, it’s not them, it’s you.
- A class of UK pupils had to extend their trip to the US after a hotel mistakenly shredded 41 of their passports.
- Peruvian police found an 800-year-old mummy in a food delivery bag.
🗳️ POLL TIME!
Has the G20 become too politicised for an economic forum?
Friday's poll: Will cultivating friendly US ties land Central Asian countries in trouble with Russia?
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 ⚔️ Yes, but the benefits are clearly worth the risk (77%)
🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ❌ No, Russia's busy elsewhere (15%)
⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🖊️ Other (write in!) (8%)
Your two cents:
- ⚔️ G.F: "I don't see Russia doing much to retaliate since they have their hands full with Ukraine. [...] I see Russia as a convenient red herring. In my opinion, this is a surreptitious way to counter China's influence in the region."
- 🖊️ D.C: "I think it is naive to see this issue in black and white. We need to keep in mind the experience of history of these countries as well as the interests of their ruling elites"