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Your Wednesday Briefing: Extreme Heat Grips China

Good morning. We’re covering a dangerous heat wave in China, the sentencing of a longtime activist in Hong Kong and President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to Iran.

Parts of China’s east and south withered under extreme temperatures as dozens of cities issued heat alerts yesterday. Some temperature forecasts exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

The heat waves melted the roofs of buildings and buckled roads in dozens of cities, as people sought cool air in air-raid shelters underground.

China’s quest to stamp out Covid-19 outbreaks remained undiminished. Health workers in hazmat suits persisted in administering a round of mandatory coronavirus tests, despite the bracing heat. One video showed a health worker in Henan succumbing to heat stroke as his colleagues fanned him with packaging from test kits.

What’s next: The heat wave is forecast to persist for at least two weeks.

Data: Mortality related to excess heat rose in China by 400 percent between 1990 and 2019, reaching 26,800 deaths in 2019.

Context: The scorching heat reflects a global trend of increasingly frequent extreme weather driven by climate change. In June, weeks of heat waves plagued northern China, as floods displaced millions of people in the central and southwestern parts of the country.


A Hong Kong court convicted a longtime pro-democracy activist of attempted sedition yesterday and sentenced him to nine months in prison for planning a one-man protest.

Koo Sze-yiu, 75, has late-stage colon cancer. Many fear he may die in prison. But in a statement before his sentencing, he acknowledged political prisoners and human rights lawyers in mainland China, who endure long sentences or torture.

“I don’t mind being a martyr for democracy and human rights,” Koo said, adding, “compared with human right lawyers in China, what I have sacrificed is nothing.”

Analysis: Koo’s conviction underscores the authorities’ drive to stamp out even peaceful, small-scale displays of dissent that were once common in the city.

Biography: Koo, who became an activist after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, cut a distinctive figure in protests. For decades, he often carried wooden coffins, which he built by hand, adorning them with messages denouncing China’s Communist Party.


President Vladimir Putin of Russia will visit Tehran next week for meetings with the leaders of Iran and Turkey, the Kremlin announced yesterday.

The trip is Putin’s latest in a recent diplomatic spree aimed at building ties with non-Western countries. It will offer him an opportunity to shore up military and economic backing to counter the West’s military assistance to Ukraine and its sanctions against Russia.

The move comes after President Biden’s national security adviser said that Russia was seeking surveillance drones from Iran, including those capable of firing missiles, to make up for its scarcity of unmanned aircraft.

Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has emerged as the most active mediator between Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky. Today, Turkey will host negotiations between Ukraine, Russia and the U.N. on resuming Ukrainian grain exports.

Iran: Russia sees Iran, a longtime ally, as a newly crucial economic partner, offering a trade route and expertise for circumventing sanctions and exporting Russian oil.

Fighting: Ukraine said its forces hit a Russian ammunition depot in the Kherson region, the latest in a counteroffensive to recapture territory in the south.

More than 40,000 pages from one of Timbuktu’s biggest libraries, smuggled out of Mali after jihadists took over the city in 2012, have been digitized and are now available for anyone to explore on Google Arts & Culture.

But they are largely undecipherable to people not educated in the West African Islamic tradition. Only a tiny proportion of the documents are being translated because there are not many scholars with the skills to do it.

My colleague Max Fisher, who writes The Interpreter, tackled a central question of our time: “Has the world entered a time of unusual turbulence, or does it just feel that way?”

Scanning the headlines, it’s easy to conclude that something has broken. But, in many ways, people around the world are better off than they ever have been.

By some measures, war is rarer and significantly less deadly. Life expectancy, literacy rates and living standards have risen; hunger, child mortality and extreme poverty have declined.

The gap between our perception and the data, Max writes, is complex. The internet can amplify bad news, and many gains have been gradual or are about prevention, obscuring progress.

The feeling that the world is getting worse is also not universal. In low-income and middle-income countries, which make up most of the world’s population, survey after survey has found people tend to express optimism about the future. Pessimism is the prevailing mood only in wealthy countries, much of which comes down to stalled economic mobility.

But despite all metrics that show steady improvement, Max writes, democracy is on the global decline. That dramatic and destabilizing erosion could have profound effects on the global mood, and global perceptions, for years to come.

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