China does damage control
China moved swiftly to limit damage to relations with Europe yesterday after China’s ambassador to France questioned the sovereignty of post-Soviet countries like Ukraine.
The comments made by Lu Shaye, the ambassador, in a televised interview on Friday caused a diplomatic storm among European foreign ministers and lawmakers this weekend. China tried to stop the fallout by insisting that it recognize the sovereignty of the former Soviet republics that declared independence, including Ukraine.
But the problem has not disappeared. France summoned Lu to the Foreign Ministry to explain the comments. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — which were annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II — also said they would summon their Chinese envoys.
Diplomacy: The repercussions of the comments threatened to disrupt China’s efforts to boost trade with Europe while supporting Russia. The war in Ukraine has put China in a difficult position. Beijing has refused to condemn the invasion, but has promised not to help Russia militarily.
Analysis: Europeans, one expert said, will listen to Lu’s comments “and think, that’s how the Chinese and Russians talk among themselves,” about a world divided into spheres of influence — China over Taiwan and the Pacific, and Russia over Ukraine and its former empire.
Individual: At the UN, US and European members of the Security Council refused to send their foreign ministers to a meeting chaired yesterday by Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat. China was one of the few countries to send its minister.
China is trying to rein in chatbots
China recently unveiled draft rules for artificial intelligence software systems, such as the one behind ChatGPT, to show the government’s determination to tightly control the technology that could define an era.
According to the design rules, chatbot content must reflect “core socialist values” and avoid information that undermines “state power” or national unity. Chatbot makers will also have to register their algorithms with Chinese regulators.
Companies are already trying to comply, but China’s efforts to control information could hamper its efforts to compete in AI, experts say. Chinese entrepreneurs are already racing to catch up with chatbots like ChatGPT, which is not available in China.
The challenge: On the face of it, China’s rules require a level of technical control over chatbots that Chinese tech companies haven’t achieved.
Thai elections are heating up
The daughter of a deposed populist leader is a strong contender for the premiership in Thailand’s elections next month, fueling concerns that the return of a divisive political dynasty could also revive instability in the country.
Paetongtarn Shinawatra, 36, is a member of the most polarizing family in Thai politics – the Shinawatras – and has little political experience. Her father, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup. His sister succeeded him as prime minister in 2011 before she was also ousted.
Critics have tried to come to grips with her family’s past scandals, but Paetongtarn has titillated the crowd and fueled nostalgia for her family’s legacy. Many also blame the current prime minister for slow economic growth.
legacy: Thaksin is fondly remembered for his $1 health care program and loan disbursement to farmers. Since 2001, the political parties he founded have consistently won the most votes in every election.
International Relations: Once a stable ally of the US, Thailand has moved closer to China under the military junta that ousted the Shinawatras.
THE LAST NEWS
According to many accounts – from players, parents, teachers and website statistics – the popularity of chess has exploded.
Casual observers may attribute the trend to pandemic lockdown and boredom. But quietly also unfolded a grandmaster plan, carefully crafted by Chess.com to increase the game’s appeal and turn millennials and Gen Z into chess pawns.
Memory of Barry Humphries (and Dame Edna)
For nearly seven decades, Barry Humphries, an Australian-born actor and comedian who died Saturday at age 89, brought to life the character of Dame Edna, his alter ego. Edna became a cultural phenomenon, “a force of nature trading in sequined bad commentary on the nature of fame,” my colleague Margalit Fox wrote in her obituary for Humphries.
Using Edna as an archetype for the common middle-class matron, Humphries denounced suburban pretensions, political correctness, and the cult of self-crowned celebrity. She has toured worldwide in a series of solo shows and has been ubiquitous on television in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere.
“The genius of Humphries’s conceit,” wrote our former chief theater critic, “was translating the mean-spirited, unyielding self-satisfaction of the middle-class Australian suburbs in which he grew up into the even more invincible self-satisfaction of excessive, drop-dead fame.”