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Challenge or Opportunity? How China’s Digital Silk Road May Change Global Technology Order

Voice Of EU



Besides challenging the US’ Big Tech dominance across the world, the Beijing-led Digital Silk Road initiative provides its customers with vast opportunities through competitively priced digital products and services.

From 25 to 26 April, the People’s Republic will hold the Fourth Digital China Summit in Fuzhou, the capital of the Fujian Province. The event will be a platform for facilitating cooperation for e-governance and the digital economy, and advance the development of China’s Digital Silk Road (DSR) initiative.

DSR was launched in 2015 by Beijing as part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Within this strategy, China is providing development and financial aid to participating states along the New Silk Road. When it comes to DSR, this assistance includes upgrading recipients’ telecom networks, developing e-commerce and mobile payment systems, as well as artificial intelligence, surveillance, smart cities, cloud computing, and other cutting edge technologies.

​One of DSR’s elements is BeiDou, China’s global satellite navigation system – a worthy rival of the US’ GPS – which has already been adopted by a number of countries in Asia, Middle East, and Africa. According to some estimates, one-third of the countries participating in BRI (approximately 138) are currently cooperating within the framework of DSR initiatives.

​The DSR’s backbone is made up of the Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) 15,000 km-long (9,300 mile) subsea cables meant to tie Asia, Africa, and Europe together. The network, which is designed to transmit over 16Tbps per fibre pair, is owned by Hengtong Group, a China-headquartered international optical fibre and power cable manufacturer.

Photo : PEACE Cable International Network, Pakistan government

China Digital Silk Road

The Mediterranean section of the cable going from Egypt to France has already been laid. In March 2021, the Special Communications Organisation (SCO), the telecommunications branch of the Pakistan Army, was set to start laying the final stretch of a cross-border fibre optic cable between Rawalpindi and the port cities of Karachi and Gwadar in partnership with China’s Huawei Technologies, according to Nikkei. The PEACE cable is expected to become operational later this year.

DSR Catalyses a More Digitalised World

Meanwhile, American influential think tanks warn that China’s initiative poses a challenge to the established dominance of Western digital companies and could substantially diminish their market share in the future.

“The Digital Silk Road advances China’s bid for technological independence at home while moving it toward the centre of global networks,” noted the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in February 2021.

​According to the think tank, China has become increasingly competitive in delivering advanced telecom and subsea cable systems. Besides this, the DRS initiative is “well-timed, dovetailing with powerful, longer-running trends,” CSIS admitted, stressing that the COVID pandemic made digital infrastructure “even more essential.” The think tank argued that the Biden administration should step up the US technological development to tackle China’s challenge.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US influential nonprofit think tank shares CSIS’ concerns, suggesting that China could resort to espionage and coercion therefore misusing its telecom dominance. Beijing may train interested DSR on how to use surveillance capabilities against opposition groups and how to monitor and censor the internet in real time, according to the think tank.

China’s digital independence bid might play into the hands of global customers, suggest Richard Ghiasy and Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy in their op-ed for The Diplomat, a Washington DC-based magazine specialising in Indo-Pacific affairs.

“A small number of actors lead the tech world, and US tech giants Alphabet (Google), Intel, Amazon, Cisco, and Facebook in particular have a near-global monopoly in their respective domains,” the researchers highlight.

By the end of 2018, American Big Tech owned or leased over half of the undersea cable bandwidth which carried close to 98 percent of international internet data and telephone traffic. “Such dominance is not healthy and several actors, including the EU and Australia, have taken steps to curb these tech giants’ sway,” the researchers pointed out, adding that China, for its part, may provide competitively priced digital products and services.

While theoretically China could gain a “valuable tool of local political influence” by manipulating other countries’ reliance on its infrastructure, this hypothetical scenario, however, “is not exclusive to China,” the authors believe. “As the Edward Snowden revelations and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal showed, any tech provider or cyber tech-advanced actor could abuse their position, if so desired,” Ghiasy and Krishnamurthy remark.

The DSR catalyses a “more digitalised world” which might offer spinoff investment and sales opportunities not only for Chinese tech-firms but also to local companies and non-tech sectors, according to the researchers. At the same time, the Beijing endeavour obviously challenges the US dominance in the digital sphere and global market.

“Regardless of where one stands, amidst a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the global economy, digitalisation and economic growth are as welcome as ever,” the authors conclude.

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Missing child in Germany: German boy found alive after surviving eight days in sewer | International

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German police have found an eight-year-old boy who went missing from his home in Oldenburg, a city of 170,000 people in northwestern Germany. The child, named Joe, was discovered on Saturday in a sewer just 300 meters from his house. He had survived in the sewer for eight days while hundreds of officers and volunteers frantically searched the surface for clues to his whereabouts. “Eight-year-old Joe lives!” police in Oldenburg announced on Twitter.

The boy, who suffers from learning disabilities, disappeared on June 17 from the garden of his house. Police launched a large-scale search with drones, helicopters, sniffer dogs and dozens of officers, who were joined by hundreds of volunteers. As the days passed, a homicide team joined the investigation amid growing fears that Joe – who is only identified by his first name due to Germany’s privacy laws – could have been the victim of a violent crime. A witness claimed to have seen him in the company of an unidentified man and it was feared he may have been kidnapped.

“It was absolute luck,” said Stephan Klatte, the Oldenburg police spokesman, said of Joe’s discovery. A neighbor who was walking in the area raised the alarm when he heard “a whining noise” coming from the ground, just under a drain. When officers lifted the manhole cover, they found the boy, completely naked. He had no serious external injuries, but was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, for which he was taken to hospital for treatment. According to German media, he is recovering well. “If he hadn’t made a sound, or if no one had heard him, we might never have found him,” Klatte said.

In a statement, the police reported that they believed that Joe likely entered the rainwater drainage system through a sewer on the same day of his disappearance and “lost his bearings after walking several meters.” Police have ruled out any foul play in the incident.

On Sunday, the day after Joe was discovered, police commissioned a specialized company to inspect the sewage system with a robot equipped with a camera. The robot examined the sewer between the boy’s home and the place where he was found. It recorded several items of clothing, including what he was wearing when he disappeared, in a pipe about 60 centimeters in diameter that runs under one of the streets of the neighborhood where he lives with his parents. The robot found, for example, the child’s vest, 70 meters from the point of entry.

Officers found an entrance to a three-foot-wide drainage channel near the farm where he was last seen on the day of his disappearance. Authorities believe the boy entered the channel while playing. After 23 meters, the tunnel leads to another narrower plastic pipe and police think it is likely the eight-year-old continued down this path. Joe was eventually found about 290 meters from where he entered the sewer system.

Police believe that Joe became more and more disoriented until he could no longer find a way out. “A first statement from the child confirms this assumption,” said the statement, which does not provide more details about what he told officers. Investigators say they have not been able to question the boy in detail, as he remains in hospital. Nothing has been found to suggest that the child came to the surface in the eight days in which he was missing. In the statement, police asked that no questions about his state of health be made out of respect for him and his family.

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Bereaved then evicted by in-laws: Kenya’s widows fight disinheritance | Global development

Voice Of EU



Within months of the death of her husband in 2014, Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, from Meru, eastern Kenya, was told that his bank accounts had been frozen, and she had been forced out of her home by her in-laws.

The pregnant 37-year-old was left with no resources to fight back, and returned to her parents’ home. “It was traumatising, and I went into depression for five years,” says Kimathi.

Doreen Kajuju Kimathi
Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, who now volunteers for a widows’ support group. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

Her experience is far from unique. While Kenya protects widows’ inheritance in theory, the patriarchal culture and the influence of colonial legislation that restricted married women’s property rights means the law is often not enforced.

“There is an entire parallel system operating outside succession laws,” says Roseline Njogu, a Kenyan lawyer. “Years of law reform have led us to formal equality, but equality of law doesn’t mean equality of power, and that’s where we get tripped up.”

Human rights groups report that discriminatory practices in marriage limit women’s capacity to own land. According to the Kenya Land Alliance, only 1% of land titles are registered to women, and another 6% are registered jointly with a man.

While children have equal inheritance rights, land is more often passed on to sons, leaving daughters with fewer assets, and making a future wife vulnerable to eviction if her spouse’s family regard the property as theirs.

For young widows such as Kimathi, it can be even harder to hold on to marital property. “You’re considered less entitled to it because you’re expected to remarry,” she says.

But a fightback is under way. Grassroots organisations are emerging all around the country to build community awareness of women’s legal rights. One group, the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization (CTWOO), has offered legal advice and support to nearly 500,000 widows since 2013.

The NGO is trying to address disinheritance at its roots. It works with other groups to increase financial and legal literacy across the country, especially among married couples, encouraging them to discuss finances openly, and to write wills.

Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization.
Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization. Photograph: Courtesy of CTWOO

The founder, Dianah Kamande, says that – contrary to popular belief – most dispossessed widows are middle-class, like Kimathi, not poor. The poor usually have less property, and the rich have access to lawyers.

Kamande says death and estate planning are still taboo topics for many married couples, and that some people obscure their wealth. “Men keep lots of secrets about money from their wives, and trust their mothers and siblings more – who in turn disinherit the wife and children,” she says.

Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa logo
Grassroots groups are emerging to build awareness of widows’ rights. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

The country’s Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority says it has 50bn Kenyan shillings (£347m) in unclaimed assets, and about 40% is money left by people after they die. Concerned by the rising number of unclaimed assets, research by the authority found roughly 43% of Kenyan respondents said they would not disclose their financial assets to anyone – even people they trusted.

“There’s secrecy around financial investments. For many of the people who find out about the assets left by their spouse, it’s a eureka moment,” says Paul Muya, of the UFAA.

Five years after being widowed, Kimathi’s life was still on hold. She had looked into hiring a lawyer but could not afford it. Without access to the family property, it was difficult for her and her son to get by, and she had to rely on help from her parents and sister.

But through the CTWOO, she found out that she did not need a lawyer to access the courts. She filed a claim, and within a year had gained access to almost all of her dead husband’s property. Last year, Kimathi opened a bar and restaurant in Kitui, 110 miles east of Nairobi.

“It was a huge relief to get the money. Being a widow in Kenya is financially and socially isolating, and knowing what that’s like pushed me to help others in the same situation,” says Kimathi, who now volunteers with a widows’ support group.

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WHO concerned about first cases of monkeypox in children | Science & Tech

Voice Of EU



Reports of young children infected by monkeypox in Europe – there were at least four in recent days, with a fifth one recorded a few weeks ago – have raised concern about the progress of an outbreak now affecting more than 5,500 people in 51 countries.

The health organization’s Europe chief, Hans Kluge, also warned on Friday that overall cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks. “Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” said Kluge.

The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak a global health emergency, however. At a meeting last Saturday, the agency ruled it out but said it could change its views if certain scenarios come to pass, such as a spike in cases among vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people. Available data shows that children, especially younger ones, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.

The last known case of a child contracting monkeypox was reported on Tuesday in Spain, where a three-year-old was confirmed to have the disease. Cases in Spain are now in excess of 1,500 according to health reports filed by regional governments.

Also on Tuesday, Dutch authorities reported that a primary school student had become infected and that contact tracing had been initiated to rule out more cases within the child’s close circle of contacts. On Saturday, France reported one confirmed case and one suspected case among elementary school students.

The UK has so far recorded at least two infections in minors. The first case, reported in May, involved a baby who had to be taken to intensive care for treatment with the antiviral Tecovirimat, of which few doses are available but which has already begun to be distributed in several countries. British authorities this week reported a second case of a child with monkeypox. The UK currently has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa.

The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox. The European Medicines Agency said earlier this week it was beginning to evaluate whether the shot should be authorized for monkeypox. The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.

Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.

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