From the future of China's BRI to red pandas – Here are today's Headlines

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the nation’s plan to link Asia, Europe and Africa through a web of infrastructure projects.

From the future of China's BRI to red pandas – Here are today's Headlines
A person stands in front of a sign of the Third Belt and Road Forum ahead of its opening ceremony, near the media centre in Beijing, China, October 18, 2023. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

To start off, we're looking into:

China BRI's 10-year vision

The backstory: China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the nation’s plan to link Asia, Europe and Africa through a web of infrastructure projects. Think roads, railways, ports – anything that helps different countries connect and trade. It's been going on for a decade now, and over 150 countries are on board, chipping in around US$1 trillion.

More recently: Last month, Beijing hosted its Belt and Road Forum. During the CEO conference at the forum, Vice Premier He Lifeng stressed the need to boost cooperation within the BRI, highlighting China's commitment to expanding global trade. The emphasis was on creating a "greener and healthier" initiative and fostering a supportive business environment for entrepreneurs.

The development: On Friday, China published its 10-year plan for the BRI. President Xi Jinping wants to give the initiative a boost, especially in the face of a sluggish economy at home and some doubters globally. Click the link here for more.

China's surge of “walking pneumonia”

China pneumonia
People stand outside a children's hospital in Shanghai, China November 24, 2023. REUTERS/Nicoco Chan/File Photo

The backstory: China has recently seen a surge in respiratory illnesses, especially affecting children. Recent reports highlight clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia cases in kids. Last Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) asked China for more info on these increased pneumonia cases. Then, mycoplasma pneumoniae was identified as the culprit – a bacteria causing cold-like infections but potentially leading to pneumonia, especially in kids with developing immune systems.

The development: Last week, the WHO confirmed that China hadn't found any unknown pathogens or unusual causes for this recent spike in respiratory illnesses. It highlighted that, although some of these began spreading around earlier in the season than usual, it was understandable because of the easing of COVID restrictions, which had kept the pathogens at bay for quite some time. Other countries like Australia, New Zealand and the US have seen similar illness surges when they lifted COVID restrictions. Click the link here for more.

Meta sued over age enforcement

Children playground miniatures are seen in front of displayed Instagram logo in this illustration taken April 4, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The backstory: Most social media sites have age limits on who can create accounts. This limit is usually 13 or 14 years old. In the US, where companies like Meta (the parent of Facebook and Instagram), Snapchat and X (formerly Twitter) are based, the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) doesn't allow anyone under 13 to have social media accounts and also limits childrens' web access based on parental permission. In China, where Douyin (China's version of TikTok) and WeChat are found, a similar law limits social media to teens over 14. In Europe, this age usually falls between 13 and 16, depending on the country.

The development: A complaint from a lawsuit filed against Meta in October was just unsealed to the public. The document, filed by 33 states in the US, states that Meta has been aware that children under 13 years old use its platforms and "coveted and pursued" this age group for years on Instagram. Click the link here for more.

To end, we'll look into:

The olive oil crisis

olive oil crisis
Source: Pexels/Pixabay

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is sometimes called “liquid gold.” Coming directly from the first pressing of olives, EVOO is usually a little pricier than other oils and other olive oil mixtures, but it’s also less processed and free of additives.

Now, the world is experiencing an EVOO crisis, leading to massive olive oil heists. At the end of August, about 50,000 liters of the stuff was reportedly stolen from one of Spain’s oil mills, Marin Serrano El Lagar. That’s a haul worth more than €420,000 (around US$450,000). Before that, according to local media, thieves took off with 6,000 liters of EVOO, worth over €50,000 (US$54,000), from the Terraverne oil mill.

Why are olive oil producers suddenly being looted for their products? Well, the output of EVOO is tanking, so its price is totally soaring. Spain, the world’s top producer of olive oil, has had its agriculture industry ransacked by the effects of climate change. Click the link here for more.

In other news ...

📰Israel/Palestine update: The temporary pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas is still in place at the moment. So, the UN has been able to get desperately needed aid into northern Gaza, with aid groups reportedly delivering the biggest aid shipment in over a month, including clean water. Hamas has released three rounds of hostages as of Sunday, including a 4-year-old American girl. Israel has also released dozens of Palestinian prisoners. But, even with the violence suspended in Gaza, the West Bank is still seeing conflict. Over the weekend, there was an Israeli raid on the city of Jenin, where eight Palestinians were killed within 24 hours, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Israel Hamas Gaza Palestine
Hamas militants stand by vehicles as they hand over hostages who were abducted during the October 7 attack on Israel to members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel amid a temporary truce, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, in this screengrab taken from video released November 26, 2023. Hamas Military Wing/Handout via REUTERS

🚓Sierra Leone military attacked: There's been a surge of coups in western Africa recently, which has put democratic countries in the area under stress. In Sierra Leone on Sunday, gunmen attacked military targets and prisons, reportedly kidnapping some of the inmates. Now, the country is under a nationwide curfew, but security forces seem to be making progress at getting everything under control, as most of the gunmen have reportedly been arrested. 

🎶Deadly crush at Indian uni concert: A concert was planned at the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) in southern India this Saturday. But, outside of the stadium, a crowd crush occurred, causing the deaths of four university students. Four more are in the hospital in critical condition, with dozens having been injured.

💣Russia downs drones over Moscow: Over the weekend, Ukraine said that Russia had launched the most intense drone attack on Kyiv since the war began in 2022. On Sunday, Russia said that its air defenses took down at least 24 Ukrainian drones flying near Moscow and other regions. There aren't any recorded casualties for either attack.

👮Derek Chauvin stabbed: In 2020, a global movement against systemic racism and police brutality began after an unarmed Black man named George Floyd died as police restrained him in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The county medical examiner's office ruled Floyd's death a homicide due to "cardiopulmonary arrest," and medical experts testified this was because of a lack of oxygen as he was pinned down by the police by his neck. One of the cops involved, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of second and third-degree murder and manslaughter. He was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison. On Saturday, Chauvin was stabbed by another prisoner, and he's currently recovering while in stable condition.

Derek Chauvin
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin addresses his sentencing hearing and the judge as he awaits his sentence after being convicted of murder in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. June 25, 2021 in a still image from video. Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

🚢Israel-linked oil tanker seized: London-based company Zodiac Maritime is an arm of the Zodiac group owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. This group has been targeted during the simmering conflict between Iran and Israel for years. More recently, ships associated with Israel have come under attack as the conflict between Israel and Hamas is ongoing. On Sunday, an oil tanker linked to Zodiac was seized by a still-unknown group off Yemen's coast. 

🏳️‍🌈Pride march in India: Legal rights for LGBTQ+ Indians have been expanding over the past decade or so, but there's still progress to be made. Last month, India's top court declined to legalize same-sex marriages, passing the decision down to a lower court. On Sunday, over 2,000 people joined a gay pride march in New Delhi to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and also to show disappointment over India's restrictions on the community. 

💼Visa-free travel to China: China's economy is still recovering from COVID-era pandemic restrictions, especially in the tourism industry. To encourage more foreign tourism, the Chinese government is welcoming travelers from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia with no visa required. From December 1 to November 30 of next year, citizens from these countries can go to China for up to 15 days without these documents, even if they're traveling for business.

🏦China launches shadow bank probe: Wealth management company Zhongzhi Enterprise Group is heavily involved in China's shadow banking sector. Early last week, the group told investors it can't pay back up to US$64 billion in liabilities, suggesting that China's property debt crisis might be affecting the financial sector. On Saturday, it was reported that China is investigating Zhongzhi for suspected crimes. 

💵Cathay returns to profit: Cathay Pacific has been in the red for the last few years as it faced challenges with the pandemic. Now, the airliner expects to report a profit this year after three straight years of losses. It's also optimistic that passenger numbers will get back up to 95% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year since travel is returning to normal.

✈️From plane seats to sneaks: The Dubai-based Emirates airline has a large fleet of Airbus SE A380 jumbo jets, while this model is less popular with other airlines. Airbus even pulled its production back in 2019. So now, Emirates is investing in a US$2 billion refurbishment program of the aircraft to keep them useful into the early 2040s. One way they're doing this is by pulling parts from the airplanes like the seats and recycling them into new products like shoes, belts, luggage and backpacks. Emirates says just one plane offers more than 250 kilograms of seat leather and more than 600 kilograms of other fabric that can be repurposed. 

☀️Solar storms?: The sun is seeing a lot of high magnetic activity right now, which has led to more sunspots and eruptions on its surface. Scientists are now saying that this activity could affect Earth, and we could get more solar flares, which interact with our magnetic field. This situation causes "geomagnetic storms," sometimes resulting in radio blackouts – or the much more welcome prospect of spectacular northern light displays.  

😍Red pandas headed to Hong Kong: Ocean Park in Hong Kong has three red pandas from mainland China that have all overstayed their time there on loan. Now, they've agreed to extend the pandas' time there, and even more are on the way to join them. They'll be on loan for another 20 years.

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Written and put together by Joey Fung, Vanessa Wolosz and Christine Dulion