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Your Thursday Briefing: Xi and Putin Show Solidarity

todayDecember 15, 2021

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We’re covering Russia and China’s united front and reports of North Korean executions over the distribution of K-pop.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China met in a video summit and sought mutual support in their conflicts with the West.

They did not declare a formal alliance, but they called each other “old friend,” “dear friend” and “esteemed friend,” showing solidarity in the face of increased Western pressure over human rights and an ever-tighter geopolitical partnership.

Putin said that he would attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in February, making him the first leader to confirm that he would go to an event that officials from the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other countries have boycotted.

Points of agreement: Xi voiced support for Putin’s demands for “security guarantees” from the West. Putin concurred with Xi’s critical view of Western military activity in the Asia-Pacific region. The leaders discussed forming an “independent financial infrastructure,” a Kremlin aide said, to reduce their reliance on Western banks.

Context: Western officials have been in talks about Russia’s pressure on Ukraine. But Moscow is signaling that it has plenty of other friends, as with Putin’s trip last week to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. Putin and Xi floated a possible three-way summit with India.

Quotable: “Both China and Russia face the same pressure from the United States,” Cheng Xiaohe, a professor in Beijing, said. “Therefore, the two countries need to support each other in diplomacy.”

North Korea has executed at least seven people in the past decade for watching or distributing K-pop videos, according to a rights group.

The group, Transitional Justice Working Group, which is based in Seoul, interviewed 683 North Korean defectors since 2015 to help map places in the North where people were ​killed and buried​ in state-sanctioned public executions​. In its latest report, the group said it had documented 23 such executions under Kim’s government.

Though he invited Korean musicians to perform in 2018, Kim has said he believes the entertainment corrupts North Koreans’ minds. Under a law adopted last December, those who distribute South Korean entertainment can face the death penalty.

Context: Public executions have been used to create an atmosphere of terror. One witness said her second-grade classroom had been made to watch. A few spectators have secretly filmed trials and killings, and they smuggled the evidence out of North Korea.

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, won the Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with his country’s longtime enemy — and then used the alliance to plan a war.

Abiy won the Nobel in 2019 for his surprise deal with Isaias Afwerki, the authoritarian leader of Eritrea. That pact ended two decades of hostility and war between the neighboring rivals. But it also emboldened Abiy and Isaias to secretly plot a course for war against their mutual foes in the northern Tigray region, according to officials.

Abiy insists that war was foisted upon him. But new evidence shows he was planning a military campaign for months before the first shot was fired. Analysts say that Abiy’s journey from peacemaker to battlefield commander is a cautionary tale of how the West, desperate to find a new hero in Africa, got this leader spectacularly wrong.

Quotable: “From that day, Abiy felt he was one of the most influential personalities in the world,” Gebremeskel Kassa, a former senior Abiy administration official now in exile in Europe, said of the Nobel. “He felt he had a lot of international support, and that if he went to war in Tigray, nothing would happen. And he was right,” he added.

Asia Pacific

Thousands of Afghan refugees are being released from military bases to U.S. cities to rebuild their lives. Settling them amid a housing crisis is proving to be a challenge. Many are being crammed into Airbnbs and motels.

At the beginning of spring, cashmere collection begins in Mongolia — which produces a third of the world’s cashmere — and in Inner Mongolia in northern China. The process occurs only once a year.

In many cases, the herders have worked with Loro Piana, a luxury brand known for its plush knits, for generations. The product of their work will be touched by approximately 100 hands in at least three countries, from Mongolia to Italy to its final store, over a period of 18 months to two years.

Soon, the garments that cashmere becomes will include garment tags that trace the cashmere’s journey from herd to bale to sweater. It may seem like a simple thing: a brand knowing exactly where and how its products are made.

Yet the fashion supply chain is so complicated, its many moving parts spread out over so many countries and processes, that for most of us the origin stories of our clothes are almost entirely opaque. Here’s what Loro Piana’s supply chain looks like, beginning with Ha Si Ba Gen, a rancher in Mongolia.

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