Your Thursday Briefing: Turkey’s NATO Block

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Good morning. We’re covering Turkey’s move to stall NATO’s expansion, North Korea’s effort to follow China’s pandemic restrictions and China’s new tactic to censor online speech.

Finland and Sweden formally asked to join NATO on Wednesday, heralding what could be the alliance’s biggest expansion in decades, and one that would increase its presence on Russia’s doorstep.

But later in the day, Turkey, a NATO member, blocked an initial effort to move ahead quickly with the applications. Analysts said it was an attempt to squeeze out political concessions and win President Recep Tayyip Erdogan domestic accolades.

Turkey presented NATO ambassadors with a list of grievances. Most address the issue of Western support for Kurdish groups that it regards as terrorists. Turkey also wants to unblock military sales of American F-16s. Here are live updates.

Analysis: “He is trying to give a message: ‘You cannot discipline me and my country. You have to make a broad bargain with me about Turkey’s problems with the West,’” a professor of international relations in Turkey said of Erdogan.

When North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, acknowledged a Covid outbreak last week, he ordered his government to learn from ​China’s “success” fighting the virus. ​

China has used strict lockdowns, mass testing and vaccinations to keep cases low throughout the pandemic. But outside health experts say an attempt to mimic its pandemic response could send Kim’s impoverished country into an outright catastrophe.

North Korea cannot feed its own people in the best of times, and lacks the basic therapeutics and food supplies that China has mobilized for the extreme restrictions seen in cities like Wuhan, Xi’an and Shanghai. It does not have vaccines, either, so people have developed no immunity against the virus.

History: North Korea’s state rations system collapsed during a famine in the mid-1990s, which killed an estimated two million people. It has never recovered. The country is so isolated that the outside world didn’t know about the famine until the bodies of famished citizens started washing up along the shallow river on its border with China.

Details: The suspected ​number of new patients in North Korea has soared from 18,000 last Thursday to hundreds of thousands a day today. Without enough testing kits​ to accurately measure the ​outbreak, the country has relied on figures for the number of “people found with fevers” instead of positive test results.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Beijing’s internet censors are starting to reveal the locations of users beneath their posts, a rapidly expanding practice which has further chilled online speech in China.

Authorities say the location tags, which are displayed automatically, will help unearth overseas disinformation campaigns intended to destabilize China.

But the move increasingly links Chinese citizens’ locations with their national loyalty. Chinese people posting from overseas, and even from provinces deemed insufficiently patriotic, are now easily targeted by nationalist influencers, whose fans harass them or report their accounts.

Details: People writing from Shanghai, where bungled Covid-19 shutdowns have triggered food shortages, are called selfish by nationalist trolls. Those criticizing the government from coastal provinces near Taiwan and Hong Kong have been called separatists and scammers. And those who appear to be going online from abroad, even if they’re just using a virtual private network, are treated as foreign agitators and spies.

Background: The locations were first applied to posts that mentioned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but have since expanded to most social media posts. The move follows months of online anger about Covid-19 lockdowns, which has sometimes overwhelmed the censors.

A small Colorado town maintains the only public outdoor funeral pyre in the U.S., a common practice in India. One man, Dr. Philip Incao, saw in it his own perfect ending.

In 2017, faced with slumping sales and a growing public distaste for its marquee lion, tiger and elephant acts, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus shut down after 146 years, allegedly for good.

That, it seems, was yet another act. On Wednesday, the circus announced that it is coming back, and will go on a tour next year. This time, though, only humans will perform for the crowds.

Instead of elephants standing on their hind legs, the circus will feature narrative threads and human feats, often highlighting the performers’ personal stories. That makes for a slimmed-down business model, too: Humans, unlike lions, can stay in hotels instead of purpose-built cabins on mile-long trains.

Animal rights groups have applauded the move. But not everyone is convinced that Ringling Bros 2.0 is a sure thing. Animals have been part of the circus since its inception in 1768, an expert noted. Without them, some wondered, will people come?


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