Your Thursday Briefing: Turkey’s NATO Bloc

Good morning. We discuss Turkey’s move to block NATO expansion, North Korea’s attempt to follow China’s pandemic restrictions, and China’s new tactics to censor online speech.

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

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

Turkey handed over to NATO ambassadors a list of grievances. Most deal with the issue of Western support for Kurdish groups it considers terrorists. Turkey also wants to unblock military sales of American F-16s. Here are live updates.

Analysis: “He’s trying to get a message across: ‘You can’t discipline me and my country. You have to make a broad agreement with me on 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” in fighting the virus.​

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

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

History: North Korea’s state ration system collapsed during a famine in the mid-1990s, killing an estimated two million people. It never recovered. The country is so isolated that the outside world knew nothing about the famine until the bodies of starving citizens began to wash up along the shallow river on the border with China.

Details: The suspected number of new patients in North Korea has risen from 18,000 last Thursday to hundreds of thousands a day today. Without enough test kits to accurately measure the outbreak, the country has relied on numbers for the number of “people with a fever” rather than positive test results.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Beijing’s internet censorship has begun to reveal users’ locations under their posts, a rapidly growing practice that has further cooled online speech in China.

Authorities say the location tags, which will be displayed automatically, will help detect foreign disinformation campaigns designed to destabilize China.

But the move increasingly links Chinese citizens’ locations to their national allegiances. Chinese who post from abroad, 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 stops have caused food shortages, are being called selfish by nationalist trolls. Those who criticize the government from coastal provinces near Taiwan and Hong Kong have been called separatists and swindlers. And those who seem to go online from abroad, even if they only use a virtual private network, are treated as foreign agitators and spies.

Background: The locations were first applied to posts mentioning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but have since expanded to most social media posts. The move follows months of online anger over Covid-19 lockdowns, which have at times overwhelmed censors.

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

In 2017, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus were shut down after 146 years, reportedly for good, as they faced declining sales and growing public dislike for their big lion, tiger and elephant acts.

That, it seems, was yet another act. On Wednesday, the circus announced it would return and go on tour next year. This time, however, only people will perform for the crowd.

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

Animal rights organizations applaud the move. But not everyone is convinced that Ringling Bros 2.0 is certain. Animals have been part of the circus since its inception in 1768, one expert noted. Will people come without them, some wondered?

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