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…

How much material do we use to send a package? Too much. Does recycling help? Yes – but not really. Packaging material often accumulates as waste, contributing to its own "polluting weight." To solve our packaging dilemma, Finland came up with RePack: a "circular" solution for the reuse of material.

Learn more about RePack in Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

A steady increase of violence in the Sahel region of Africa over the past eight years has imposed fear and hardship on millions of the people who live there. It has also pushed the governments of Sahel countries to work together to fight terrorists.

The region's troubles have also captured the attention of European leaders, who worry that if instability there continues, it could generate a movement of migrants that might well dwarf the EU refugee crisis of 2015-2016.

But is Europe helping to make things better?

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Donald J. Trump and CorOnaVirus decide to hit the road together across the USA. Will DJT and COV discover they are more alike than different? Will their interests diverge? #PUPPETREGIME

Jon Lieber, Managing Director for the United States at the Eurasia Group, shares his perspective on US politics.

Where are US-China relations in this battle over TikTok and what is happening?

Well, this may seem like a minor deal. It's a video sharing app that the president has given 45 days to sell to a US entity or get banned in the United States. But along with WeChat, these are two of China's most successful technology companies that the US has now banned from entry into the United States and potentially banned from being used on operating systems that rely on US software inside China. So, this is a huge escalation in the geotech war between the United States and China. China for a long time has not allowed Google and Facebook and other American applications to be fully operative inside their borders. And now the US is stepping up against Chinese technology companies. The reason is that there's concerns among the US government about these tech, these apps data security practices. Members of the military, high ranking government officials aren't allowed to have these on their phones because there's concern about what China does with the data that they can harvest from those phones. This is a real warning sign to other Chinese technology companies that they may not be welcome inside the American market unless they can prove in some way, they are totally independent from the Chinese government and the Chinese military. Expect a lot of escalation in this area over the coming months and years.

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In a new interview with Ian Bremmer for GZERO World, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says that the single most important step to reopening schools in the fall is to control infection in the community. But as of now, too many communities across the United States have lost control of the Covid-19 virus. Opening schools will only become a possibility once a majority of people start practicing the "Three 'W's" ("Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance") and local and federal governments enforce stricter protective policies. The full episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television on Friday, August 7, 2020. Check local listings.