Signal v Noise


Elections in Taiwan – President Tsai Ing-wen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a stinging defeat in local elections over the weekend, losing crucial posts to the rival Kuomintang party, which favors closer ties with China. Ms. Tsai, who refuses to accept China's position that Taiwan and the mainland are part of the same country, now faces fresh questions about whether she can win re-election in 2020. No matter how you slice it, losses for the nationalistic DPP are a win for Beijing, which has ramped up pressure on the self-governing island since Ms. Tsai was elected: picking off Taiwan's remaining diplomatic partners and increasing its military drills near the island.

Doctors Back Across Borders Cuba is withdrawing 8,300 doctors from some of Brazil's poorest regions in response to the election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil's president. Cuba has dispatched doctors to many countries with sympathetic leftist governments over the years, often in exchange for material support. No surprise that the right-wing Bolsonaro, who has criticized the Cuban government for keeping part of the doctors' salaries and demanded new conditions, would quickly clash with Havana. But beneath the high politics of ideology there is a more important issue here: how will hundreds of thousands of poor Brazilians who depend on those Cuban doctors get the care they need?


Closing the Open Society George Soros's Open Society Foundations (OSF) has announced it will pull out of Turkey. The only surprise here is that the organization, which promotes the expansion of civil society, was still in Turkey at all. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently accused Soros of trying to destroy the countries in which the OSF operates, and OSF remains under investigation in Turkey over its involvement in the Gezi Park riots that triggered nationwide anti-government protests in 2013.

Another Indian statue The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, population more than 200 million, has committed to build the world's tallest statue. This news comes just weeks after a nearly 600-foot tall statue of Indian founding father Sardar Patel went up in Gujarat. There is also a statue of medieval Indian ruler Shivaji under construction off the coast of Mumbai. Does India need the world's three tallest statues? Maybe there are better uses for the country's investment dollars.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

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North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

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As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

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