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What Does Beijing Want From Berlin?

The meeting comes as Germany proposes to play a larger role in the Indo-Pacific region, a developmen..

The meeting comes as Germany proposes to play a larger role in the Indo-Pacific region, a development that has prompted Chinese state media to warn that “China-Europe relations may never be the same.”

“The Himalayas and the Malacca Strait may seem a long way away,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared on September 2. “But our prosperity and our geopolitical influence in the coming decades will depend not least on how we work together with the countries of the Indo-Pacific region.

“We want to help shape that order,” Maas continued, “so that it is based on rules and international cooperation, not on the law of the strong.” He said Germany has intensified cooperation with “countries that share our democratic and liberal values.”

Global Times, an arm of Chinese state media, responded a day later with an article that questioned Europes capacity to wield influence in the region, and bristled at the notion of an Indo-Pacific strategy, which has been formalized in U.S. policy statements for two years. The United States changed the name of its former Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command in May 2018.

The concept of Indo-Pacific “is not a simple political term, nor is it value-neutral,” the newspaper argued. Rather, it said, “this term implies one of the geopolitical focal points of the intensifying U.S.-China strategic rivalry.”

The article went on to say that Germany’s latest policy guidelines “reveal its recognition of the U.S. strategic orientation toward the Asia-Pacific region, and even herald a U.S.-Germany convergence in the future of their attitudes and overall policy lines in handling issues in this region.”

The article also questioned Europes potential to influence strategic security in the region, saying the continent has not been regarded as a stakeholder within the region “for a long time.”

“Whether in military tensions in the South China Sea or in the territorial disputes of the East China Sea, East Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea are more concerned with the orientations of the U.S., but do not take Europe seriously,” it said.

Nevertheless, the Global Times article said, “Changes are emerging on the horizon, and China-Europe relations may never be the same.” It noted that Germany and other European countries appear to be contemplating moving investments out of China “to India, or some [other] Southeast Asian country,” posing a more urgent challenge to China.

Beijings concerns are not groundless, said Roderick Kefferpuetz, a political analyst and member of the Atlantic Council’s U.S.-Germany Renewal Initiative, based in Baden-Württemberg, in southwest Germany.

The German governments new guidelines mark the first time Berlin has acknowledged a need to diversify its investments, Kefferpuetz said. “That doesnt seem like much, but for Germany, thats a strategic change. Whether words will be followed by action will be seen.”

Kefferpuetz described the Global Times article as an attempt to accentuate differences among Germany, the EU and the U.S. while “belittl[ing] the EU.”

“By doing so, it misses the bigger picture,” he said.

“Several years back, China was expanding its influence in Europe — buying up companies, establishing a variety of political platforms and engaging with EU member states bilaterally and regionally. Now, the tables are turning,” Kefferpuetz said.

Europe, he said, is increasingly wary of Chinese influence, and “relationships are souring.”

Meanwhile, European powers are moving closer to Chinas immediate neighborhood, Kefferpuetz said in a written interview with VOA. He cited Britains plan to send an aircraft carrier to patrol in the South China Sea next year, Germanys just-announced Indo-Pacific strategy and a similar strategy that France published last year.

“By claiming that the EU is weak, and the transatlantic alliance is divided, the Global Times article just highlights how nervous China must be, given Europes push into the Indo-Pacific alongside the United States,” Kefferpuetz said.

Robert Spalding, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, has served in senior defense and diplomacy positions in the U.S. government, including senior director for strategy at the National Security Council under U.S. President Donald Trump.

He told VOA in a phone interview on Thursday that the Global Times articles emphasis on the relative importance of the United States in the region contradicted previous Chinese assertions.

“Theyve been saying were not important, that the United States has ceased being relevant, hence the need for China to take over,” he said with a laugh.

He added that Beijing appeared to have lost its footing in managing the increasingly complex global relationships.

“They dont know what theyre doing,” Spalding said.

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Pope expresses support for same-sex civil union laws in new documentary

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 17:54

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals s..

Issued on:

Pope Francis says in a film released on Wednesday that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws, in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people.

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"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Pope Francis says in the documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," he said.

The pope appeared to be referring to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope's comments in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.

The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous "Who am I to judge?" remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.

Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope said in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.

He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children. It was not clear in which country RuberaRead More – Source

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Popping the digital filter bubble

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and ..

Issued on: 21/10/2020 – 10:36

Ever wondered why 2 people can search for the same thing online and get 2 totally different results? The answer is online echo chambers and digital filter bubbles – social media and search engines that skew our access to information and algorithms that artificially promote content they think should suit us. Those invisible chains shrink our freedom to learn and be confronted with new ideas. Want to break free? France 24 can help you pop the filter bubbles around you!

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Social networks have revolutionised how we access information. In France, over a quarter of people get their news from social networks – second only to television. And for young people, the change is even more drastic: 47% of the under-35s say their primary source of information is social media (Ifop, 2019). And we’re not just passive consumers of information online now – everyone can also generate content, leading to a vast quantity of news and views online.

Sifting through that ever-growing mountain of information forces search engines and social media to use algorithms – to sort the wheat they think will interest us, from the chaff they assume won’t. For Jérôme Duberry of the University of Geneva, it’s a simple calculation: “if a web-user has a given profile, then they will be fed information of a certain type”. Posts that seem to appear at random on our Twitter or Facebook timelines are in fact carefully chosen according to what the platform already knows about us – interests, friends, “likes”. Highlighting content that is tailored specifically to our interests filters out topics from outside our comfort zone – reinforcing our beliefs.

Online rights are human rights

But social networks are only one aspect of the digital echo chambers. Search engines are also key – once again due to their reliance on algorithms. Google’s search results are generated from our own online history, mixed with that of thousands of other users. The goal for the search engine is to maximise user engagement by finding results that are most likely to prompt interest (and sales) from the user – and so generate advertising revenue.

For Jérôme Duberry, those gatekeepers limit our access to knowledge: “it’s as if there was someone standing in front of the university library, who asks you a bunch of questions about who you are, and only then gives you access to a limited number of books. And you never get the chance to see all the books on offer, and you never know the criteria for those limits.”

The consequences of these so-called Filter Bubbles are far-reaching. For Tristan Mendès France, specialist in Digital Cultures at the University of Paris, “being informed via social networks means an internet user is in a closed-circuit of information”.

Blinkered online views, democratic bad news

For many academics, those echo chambers could threaten the health of our democracies, suggesting the algorithms could contribute to the polarisation of society. By limiting our access to views similar to our own and excluding contradictory opinions, our beliefs may be reinforced – but at the expense of a diversity of opinions.

And that could undermine the very basis of our democracies. For Jerôme Duberry, the Filter Bubbles “could lead to us questioning the value of a vote. Today, we lend a great deal of importance to the vote, which is the extension of a person’s opinion. But that individual’s opinion is targeted by interest groups using an impressive array of techniques.”

That isn’t the only distortion that algorithms have created. They have also allowed more radical views to predominate. Youtube’s algorithm is blind to the actual content of a video – its choice of what will be most visible is made according to which videos are viewed all the way to the end. But for Tristan Mendès France, “it is generally the most activist or militant internet users that view videos all the way through”. That provokes “extra-visibility” for otherwise marginal content – at the expense of more nuanced or balanced views, or indeed verified information.

Escaping the echo chamber

So what happens to the spirit of debate in a world where your online habits reinforce your beliefs? Is the echo chamber a philosophical prison? And how easy is it to get back out into the fresh air of contradictory views?

In the US, the movement opposing algRead More – Source

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‘Well, this is Iceland’: Earthquake interrupts Prime Minister’s interview

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post wh..

Katrin Jakobsdottir was discussing the impact of the pandemic on tourism with the Washington Post when her house started to shake, visibly startling the Icelandic leader."Oh my god, there's an earthquake," she said with a gasp. "Sorry, there was an earthquake right now. Wow."But Jakobsdottir quickly pivoted back to the matter at hand, laughing: "Well this is Iceland" and continuing her response to the question."Yes I'm perfectly fine, the house is still strong, so no worries," she later added.Jakobsdottir, 44, has been Iceland's Prime Minister since 2017.The 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday afternoon 10 kilometers southwest of Hafnarfjordur, a coastal town near the capital of Reykjavík, according to the United States Geological Survey, which measures quakes worldwide.The tremble led to reports of damage around the capital. Earthquakes are common in Iceland, which boats a sweeping landscape dotted with dozens of volcanoes. Jakobsdottir isn't the first world leader to be interrupted by a quake this year; in May, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was discussing lifting coronavirus restrictions


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