Three Notes in the News: The Sound and Music of Geopolitics

Three Notes in the News: The Sound and Music of Geopolitics

A few weeks ago, we looked at three stories about the geopolitics of springtime. Now that the season is in full bloom, here’s a handful of stories in which music, sound, and technology set the score for three big geopolitical issues today.


Better than a singing telegram — Authoritarian regimes are quick to crack down on social media and messaging apps, but more hesitant to target broadly popular and largely apolitical music streaming apps. So the German branch of Reporters Without Borders came up with a melodious solution to beat censors in five of the world’s most restrictive regimes: they hired musicians to work with local journalists in China, Egypt, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam to turn their reporting into songs, which have soared to the top of playlists on Spotify and other streaming apps. Have a listen here.

USB vs DMZ — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be on a charm offensive these days, but his regime is still the most repressive on earth. One small thing that is piercing the veil of his totalitarian state: the lowly USB flash drive. Smuggled across the Chinese and South Korean borders, drives containing hundreds of hours of outlawed K-Pop music and South Korean TV shows are a hot commodity for those willing to take the risk. To put the technological progress of dissidence in perspective: in the Soviet Union, people hungry for the sounds of banned Western pop and jazz once had to rely on “bone music” — homemade 78RPM records fashioned out of discarded x-rays (skeletal images still on them, hence the name).

Sound(less) underwater — We’ve written a lot about the scramble between the US and China to control the heights of technology, but there’s also growing competition to control the depths of the ocean. While the US is still the world’s only naval superpower, China has rapidly increased its naval forces over the past decade, in a bid to challenge that dominance. Submarines are one area where Beijing is making the fastest progress, and so Chinese and American researchers are racing for the holy grail of underwater naval power: a submarine that is undetectable by sonar. Get your three-dimensional underwater acoustic carpet cloaks out of storage, folks…

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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