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Japan Prime Minister to Step Down Over COVID-19 Response

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Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, who is already wildly unpopular throughout the country and within his own party, has faced particular criticism in recent months over his refusal to cancel the 2020 Olympics amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


COVID-19 Related Downfall

Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide announced Friday that he is steppping down and will not contest his party’s leadership race on Sept. 30.

The decision comes as his ratings continue to fall below 30% and amid the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which many view as lacking.

Japan has struggled with consistent record-high case counts and daily averages in recent months. The rising cases have been attributed to several factors, though many locals have specifically blamed the 2020 Olympic Games, which the vast majority of the population wanted canceled.

On June 27, one month before the games began, daily new cases for that week averaged 1,482. Then, when the Olympics formally began, they averaged just above 5,000. Cases peaked just a month after the games started and two weeks after they ended, which coincides with the two-week period needed for most symptomatic cases to be identified. At that point, on August 25, average daily cases peaked at over 23,000. Since then, cases have slowly fallen but continue to hit nearly 20,000 new cases each day.

It’s unclear whether the games actually caused a spike in cases or if the timing was just a coincidence. Regardless, the perception is still there among the public.

Adding to the frustrations against Suga is that his government took far longer than other nations to approve COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, with widespread vaccinations not being available until shortly before the Olympics. Currently, about 27% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated, far behind other developed nations.

No Clear Solution

In a press conference Friday morning, Suga told outlets that he made the decision after wondering if he could both handle the pandemic and a campaign, saying, “Both require a lot of energy. … So I felt I should focus on measures to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19.”

The decision to step down indicates that senior party leadership lost faith in Suga, who has been in a senior position with the Liberal Democratic Party since 2012 when he was the spokesperson for Abe Shinzo. However, Suga has been unpopular with younger politicians for months. Many even felt they couldn’t mount effective reelection campaigns with Suga as the face of the party.

In the next few weeks, there will likely be a small power struggle within the Liberal Democratic Party, as many old-guard officials are seen as “tainted” for being involved in what citizens view as an inadequate COVID-19 pandemic response. As of Suga’s announcement, there is no clear frontrunner to take his position, and he won’t officially be out of office until the party votes later this month.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Kyodo News) (The Hill)

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names in our coverage are written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

International

India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People

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The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.


Bridge Collapses

After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people. 

According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125. 

During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.

“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.

Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government. 

Shifting Blame

In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.

“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.

The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.

“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.

Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (VICE) (CNN)

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Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals

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Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.


Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies

Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.

Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.

The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.

For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.

An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”

Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.

As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.

Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.

The Arc of History Bends Toward China

Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.

Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.

Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.

At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.

Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.

Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.

Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.

Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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Elon Musk Walks Back Threat to Cut Ukraine’s Starlink Internet Service

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Although the satellites have been invaluable for Ukrainian military operations, outages have left soldiers without communication devices in recent weeks.


Let Them Eat Satellites

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Saturday that his company would continue funding internet service for Ukraine after declaring that he would have no choice but to cut it off the day prior.

“The hell with it,” he tweeted. “Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the often jocular billionaire was being sarcastic, but in response to another Twitter user he said, “We should still do good deeds.”

SpaceX’s Starlink satellites help the Ukrainian military operate drones, receive intelligence updates and communicate out in the field, which is vital since many regular internet and cellular phone networks have been destroyed by Russia.

At least 20,000 satellite terminals have been donated to Ukraine since the spring, but SpaceX has footed the bill for a small minority of them. According to a letter the company sent to the Pentagon last month, around 85% of the terminals were paid for in part or in full by the United States, Poland, and other entities, who also covered some 30% of the internet connectivity.

SpaceX claimed in the letter that Starlink services for Ukraine would cost over $120 million for the rest of the year and nearly $400 million for the next 12 months.

“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” it said.

The company, therefore, requested that the Pentagon take over funding for the satellite terminals.

Earlier this month, Musk claimed on Twitter that Ukraine’s Starlink services had cost SpaceX $80 million so far.

On Friday, following CNN’s publication of the SpaceX letter, Musk reaffirmed that his company “cannot fund the existing system indefinitely, *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households.”

He added, however, that it was not seeking to recoup past expenses.

On Monday, Politico reported that the Pentagon is considering paying for the Starlink satellite network from a fund that has been used to supply weapons and equipment over the long term, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in the deliberations.

Starlink Leaves Ukraine’s Soldiers Stranded

Ukrainian troops experienced “catastrophic” outages in their Starlink communication devices in recent weeks, according to a Financial Times report earlier this month.

The services reportedly stopped functioning at critical moments, such as when soldiers breached the front lines into Russian-controlled territory or engaged in pitched battles.

“They were acute in the south around the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, but also occurred along the frontline in eastern Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk,” an official told the outlet.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to annex all four regions and held referendums widely considered to be a sham justification for his conquest of the Donbas.

The regions are also the focus of a massive Ukrainian counteroffensive that has sent Russian troops scrambling in recent weeks.

One Starlink donor reportedly believed the outages were a result of SpaceX’s efforts to block Russian forces from misusing Starlink terminals.

As Ukrainian soldiers liberated Russian-occupied territory, the sources said, public announcements of their gains lagged behind, and so did Starlink’s coverage.

Another official told the outlet that connection failures were widespread and led to panicked calls from soldiers to helplines.

Musk responded to the report by tweeting, “As for what’s happening on the battlefield, that’s classified.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Financial Times)

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