China’s pandemic controls may outlive the virus
During the coronavirus pandemic, China has honed its powers to track and corral its 1.4 billion citizens, backed by upgraded technology, armies of neighborhood workers and broad public support.
The foundation of the controls is the country’s health code. Based on location, travel history, test results and other health data, people are assigned a color — green, yellow or red — that determines whether they are allowed into buildings or public spaces. Legions of local officials now have the power to quarantine residents or restrict their movements.
Now, officials are turning their sharpened surveillance against other risks, including crime, pollution and “hostile” political forces. This amounts to a potent techno-authoritarian tool for Xi Jinping, China’s leader, as he intensifies his campaigns against corruption and dissent.
Concerns: Zan Aizong, a former journalist in Hangzhou, said that more surveillance could help the authorities break up dissenters’ activities. He has refused to use the health code, but it means that moving around is difficult, and he finds it hard to explain his reasoning to workers at checkpoints.
U.S. plays hardball with Russia
In an effort to deter an invasion of Ukraine, President Biden has threatened punishing sanctions on Russia that could cause a stock market crash, severe inflation or other forms of financial panic that would inflict pain on Russia’s people and could roil other major economies, particularly those in Europe.
The pain caused by the sanctions could also foment anger against Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leader. But resilience is part of Russia’s national identity, and three reactionary security officials dedicated to restoring Soviet glory have Putin’s ear.
Yesterday, in a sign of hope for further diplomacy, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said the country had sent an “urgent demand” to NATO to clarify its stance, days after the U.S. and its allies formally rejected Moscow’s demands.
Some analysts warn that Russia might retaliate over the sanctions by cutting off natural gas shipments to Europe or by carrying out cyberattacks against American and European infrastructure. Ukrainian officials criticized the Biden administration for its warnings of an imminent Russian attack, saying they had needlessly spread alarm.
Region: The U.S. and Germany are warning that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will not move forward if Russia invades Ukraine. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, is determined to engage with Russia and shape a new European security order. And Britain moved to broaden the range of sanctions available if Russia invades Ukraine.
Tussles: Lithuanian efforts to punish Belarus’s authoritarian leader by halting the transportation of potash, a key fertilizer ingredient exported by Belarus, may play into Russia’s hands.
U.S. allies retake control of prison in Syria
Kurdish-led forces regained full control of a prison in northeastern Syria yesterday in the most intense urban combat involving American soldiers in Iraq or Syria since the self-declared ISIS caliphate fell in 2019.
On Saturday, Kurdish-led counterterrorism forces backed by U.S. Special Operations troops went house to house in the narrow alleys of the Ghweran neighborhood of Hasaka, a majority-Arab city, throwing flash grenades into homes where they believed ISIS fighters were hiding. Clearing operations to find ISIS sleeper cells continued yesterday.
Journalists for The Times saw several dozen bodies, some dressed in orange prison jumpsuits, being removed over the weekend by Kurdish militiamen near the prison, an indication of the scale of fighting.
Background: The latest round of fighting began this month after an attack by ISIS on the prison, which housed more than 3,000 ISIS members and almost 700 minors. The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish militia, said that the remaining militants in the prison were believed to be holding teenage detainees — “cubs of the caliphate” — as human shields.
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The Swiss city of Lausanne has kept a night watch atop its cathedral since 1405. In August, and after a long fight, Cassandra Berdoz became the first woman appointed to the role.
“I work in a beautiful old place, I bring something to the city that I love, I keep alive an amazing tradition,” she said. “But I also get to shout in the name of women, which is my contribution to feminism.”
A second year of Sundance at home
The Sundance Film Festival — virtual for the second year in a row — wrapped this past weekend. “At a time when many of us are worried about the health of movies,” the film critic A.O. Scott writes, “it offers proof of life.”
Among the notable films: Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut, “When You Finish Saving the World,” about an Indiana teenager struggling with romance; “Navalny,” a suspenseful documentary about the Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny; “Nanny,” which subjects its protagonist, a Senegalese immigrant living in New York, to supernatural and psychological scares; and Mariama Diallo’s “Master,” a campus drama about a Black student and a Black professor in hostile surroundings.
One of Scott’s favorite films was Sara Dosa’s “Fire of Love,” which tells the story of a French couple who studied volcanoes. The film’s scenes of violent eruptions and serene lava flows were captured by the couple’s cameras before their deaths in 1991.
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