Asia and Australia Edition: Guangzhou, Facebook, Kim Jong-un: Your Thursday Briefing
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Good morning. Trouble in Guangzhou, a crackdown in Pakistan, and a stranded superluxury yacht in Dubai. Here’s what you need to know.
• U.S. consulate workers fall ill in China.
A crisis over a mysterious ailment sickening American diplomats and their families — first reported in Cuba — is widening.
The State Department has evacuated several Americans who fell ill in Guangzhou after hearing strange noises at their apartment complexes, officials said. One of the residences is pictured above.
Those stricken have reported headaches, nausea, hearing loss, cognitive issues and other problems. Last month, one worker was reported to have brain trauma. Others are being tested.
The new episode has prompted American officials to focus suspicion beyond Cuba, to perhaps China or Russia.
• Facebook’s data sharing extended to at least four Chinese companies, our investigative team found. One is the smartphone giant Huawei, which has been flagged as a security threat by U.S. intelligence.
The revelation comes on the heels of the team’s report that Facebook opened data spigots for device makers including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung, raising concerns about whether it is adhering to even its own privacy policies.
• Pakistan’s military is on a warpath.
A month and a half before national elections, social media is being suppressed, media outlets disrupted and expressions of support for the civilian governing party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, censored or punished.
Many reporters and analysts are so terrified they won’t discuss the crackdown on the record.
On Tuesday, the newspaper columnist Gul Bukhari, above, was seized by armed men in a military cantonment. She was hauled off and the driver was beaten, according to the news station she had been on her way to.
“This is somehow far more suffocating than martial law,” said the editor of Dawn, an English-language paper whose circulation has been impeded. “This time, the facade of democracy is there.”
• Kim Jong-un’s new image.
Since assuming power in 2011, the young North Korean leader has cemented his grip on power with a hard-line rule that included executing and assassinating relatives and threatening the world with hydrogen bombs.
But, in what our correspondent calls “one of the most striking transformations in modern diplomacy,” he’s restyling himself as an amiable diplomat and peacemaker.
His popularity is surging in South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in meticulously choreographed the theatrics of one of their recent meetings. And President Trump, whom he is set to meet with June 12, has gone from calling Mr. Kim a “sick puppy” to “very honorable.”
• In the U.S., some of the dust has settled after a bustling Primary Day in eight states.
Democratic candidates are poised to advance to the midterms in key districts in California, which may be crucial for the party’s hopes of taking control of the House.
Elections in the Midwest and the South underscored President Trump’s power in the Republican Party and the different ways Democrats hope to loosen his hold on red states. Here are our takeaways.
Voters in San Francisco resoundingly supported a ban on sales of flavored tobacco products, including some vaping products and menthol cigarettes.
• Tesla repelled a rare challenge from shareholders who sought to shake up the board and force its chief executive, Elon Musk, to give up one of his two positions. The company also unveiled plans to build cars in China.
• Australia’s economy continued its winning streak: 27 months without recession and new data showing 3.1 percent growth over the past year.
In the News
• Alain Robert, known as the “French Spiderman,” was arrested before he could finish a barehanded free-climb of the 123-storey Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea. (He made it about 75 stories.) [Agence France-Presse]
• “No shots were deliberately or directly aimed towards her”: The Israeli military offered a brief explanation of how its soldiers shot dead a young Palestinian volunteer medic, a case that has drawn international attention. [The New York Times]
• The Trump administration’s practice of separating children from migrant families entering the country is a “serious violation” of the rights of children and international law, the United Nations human rights office said. [The New York Times]
• Former President Bill Clinton is on a book tour, but, given the #MeToo movement, there seems to be a lot more interest in his responses to questions about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. [The New York Times]
• Off and away: The French distance swimmer Ben Lecomte waded into Japanese waters and began an attempt, expected to take six months, to become the first person to swim across the Pacific. [ABC]
• When a far-right German leader went for a dip, another man made off with his clothes. His parting shot: “Nazis don’t need bathing fun!” [The New York Times]
Tips, both new and old, for a more fulfilling life.
• This $500 million yacht (with room for 18 guests — and 50 crew members) is stranded in Dubai, the most fought-over prize in what has been called Britain’s most expensive divorce. Our correspondent tells the tale of the battle between a Russian billionaire and his ex-wife.
• Australia Diary: A first-generation Italian-Australian reminisces about a play date that went wrong because her parents made everything from scratch. Everything.
In a recent reference to the volcanic eruption in Hawaii, the U.S. version of our Morning Briefing confused tea leaves with ti leaves. (A special mahalo to our readers in Hawaii and elsewhere who alerted us.)
After correcting our mistake, we wanted to learn more.
The ti plant, or lau-ki, is known scientifically as Cordyline fruticosa. It was taken to Hawaii by ancient Polynesian settlers, who believed that it had protective power. But it has been used in just about every way imaginable.
Its narrow leaves grow up to two feet long and can be green, red, purple and other colors — attractive additions to leis, table settings and floral arrangements.
Water runs off their waxy surfaces, so the leaves are useful for thatched roofs and footwear (and hula skirts).
The plant serves both as a food wrapper and as food itself: The roots can be turned into liquor or a sweet. It has medicinal uses as well.
Ti leaves are also used as offerings to Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, in the hope of halting lava flows. Plants are placed around homes to dispel evil.
Both Pele and ti leaves also play a role in a traditional sport: lava sledding.
Jennifer Jett wrote today’s Back Story.
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