China does damage control
China moved quickly yesterday to limit damage to its relations with Europe, after the Chinese ambassador to France questioned the sovereignty of post-Soviet nations like Ukraine.
The comments by Lu Shaye, the ambassador, in a televised interview on Friday caused a diplomatic firestorm over the weekend among European foreign ministers and lawmakers. China tried to stem the fallout by insisting that it recognized the sovereignty of the former Soviet republics that declared independence, including Ukraine.
But the issue 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 fallout over the remarks threatened to upset China’s efforts to bolster trade with Europe while still supporting Russia. The war in Ukraine has put China in an awkward position. Beijing has refused to condemn the invasion but has promised not to militarily help Russia.
Analysis: Europeans, one expert said, will listen to Lu’s comments “and think, this is 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.
Separately: At the U.N., the U.S. and European members of the Security Council declined to send their foreign ministers to a meeting chaired yesterday by Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat. China was one of a few countries that sent its minister.
China tries to rein in chatbots
China recently unveiled draft rules for artificial intelligence software systems, like the one behind ChatGPT, in a show of the government’s resolve to keep tight regulatory control over technology that could define an era.
According to the draft rules, chatbot content will need to reflect “socialist core values” and avoid information that undermines “state power” or national unity. Chatbot creators will also have to register their algorithms with Chinese regulators.
Companies are already trying to comply, but China’s effort to control information could hamper its efforts to compete in A.I., experts said. Chinese entrepreneurs are already racing to catch up with chatbots like ChatGPT, which is unavailable in China.
The challenge: On their face, China’s rules require a level of technical control over chatbots that Chinese tech companies have not achieved.
Thai elections heat up
The daughter of an ousted populist leader is a strong contender for prime minister in elections in Thailand next month, fueling concerns that the return of a divisive political dynasty may 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 coup in 2006. His sister succeeded him as prime minister in 2011 before she was also ousted.
Critics have tried to seize on her family’s past scandals, but Paetongtarn has galvanized crowds and has 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 the disbursement of loans 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 U.S., Thailand has moved closer to China under the military junta that ousted the Shinawatras.
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Casual observers may attribute the trend to pandemic lockdown and boredom. But quietly a grandmaster plan was also unfolding, carefully crafted by Chess.com to broaden the appeal of the game and turn millennials and Gen Z into chess-playing pawns.
Remembering Barry Humphries (and Dame Edna)
For almost seven decades, Barry Humphries, an Australian-born actor and comic who died on Saturday at 89, brought to life the character Dame Edna, his alter ego. Edna became a cultural phenomenon, “a force of nature trafficking in wicked, sequined commentary on the nature of fame,” my colleague Margalit Fox wrote in her obituary for Humphries.
Using Edna as an archetype for the ordinary middle-class matron, Humphries lampooned suburban pretensions, political correctness and the cult of self-crowned celebrity. She toured worldwide in a series of solo stage shows and was ubiquitous on television in the U.S., Britain, Australia and elsewhere.
“The genius of Humphries’s conceit,” our former chief theater critic wrote, “was to translate the small-minded, unyielding smugness of the middle-class Australian suburbs in which he grew up into the even more invincible complacency of outrageous, drop-dead stardom.”