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Under The Radar – 06 August

Ang on Unsplash

This week, we discuss:

  1. The crackdown on dissent in Belarus

  2. Germany sends a warship into the South China Sea

  3. Resignations at Nice as new policy begins to take shape

‘We’re on your side’

What happened?

Boris Johnson met Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Downing Street this week, where he provided his full support in her efforts to bring down Alexander Lukashenko’s despotic regime.

What does it mean?

Tsikhanouskaya arrived in London with more on her agenda than a polite meeting with the Prime Minister. She is working her way around the West, putting pressure on governments to turn up the heat on the Belarusian regime by closing the loophole allowing sanction exemptions.

This week has been significant for underlining why the international community must step up efforts to end Europe’s last dictatorship, with Belarus continuing to flout international norms to stifle dissent.

The high-profile case of Olympian Krystina Timanovskaya, who refused to fly to Belarus after she criticised her coaches, is sadly just the tip of the iceberg. Athletes in Belarus have been targeted by the regime as part of a massive crackdown on anyone criticising the government. Many have been imprisoned, and while some lucky ones have fled, Tuesday’s murder of Vitaly Shishov, the head of a Kyiv-based non-profit organisation that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution, proves that no one is out of Lukashenko’s reach.

The rise of such shocking incidents, both within and outside of Belarus’ borders, should sound alarm bells throughout the international community. Unfortunately, we should not be so quick in assuming that such activities are the last desperate gasps of a dying regime. Without tougher measures, the dictatorship will continue to survive and persecute those who campaign for democracy.

One German Warship

What happened?

On Monday, for the first time since the turn of the millennium, the Germans sent a warship into the South China Sea. But despite the historical significance, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer marked the occasion with deliberately anodyne comments: “We want existing law to be respected, sea routes to be freely navigable, open societies to be protected and trade to follow fair rules”.

What does it mean?

The Bayern’s voyage indicates a fundamental re-orienteering in German foreign policy. Until now, Germany has been wary of providing any military reproach to ongoing Chinese regional expansion. Partly because of WWII’s legacy on the nation’s psyche, but mainly since the eastern economic powerhouse is Germany’s most valued trading partner, which is something that China has been more than happy to leverage.

On a visit to Germany this year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang went so far as to praise the near-even export/import split as ‘win-win cooperation’, while also warning against intervention in China’s ‘internal affairs’ – a not-so-cryptic allusion to human rights abuses and aggressive regional expansion.

Thus far, Germany’s attempts to reconcile economic self-interest in the East with strategic alliances in the West has been to Washington’s consternation and detriment. Now the belated willingness to share the burden of risk in antagonising China comes as an overdue but necessary correction. With the imperial hegemon in Asia ascendant, and American might waning, leaving the US to counter China alone will soon cease to be possible.

The sea change in German policymaking here is welcome. Providing it has the wherewithal to stay the course

Nice lose their patience with patients

What happened?

Four members of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) have resigned in anticipation of a change in policy regarding recommended treatment for ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

In its updated guidance on ME, Nice will no longer include graded exercise therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy as recommended treatments.

What does it mean?

Chronic fatigue syndrome is one of those conditions that most often pits medical practitioners against their patients. The medical consensus for chronic fatigue is that it is largely a psychological illness best treated through non-pharmaceutical interventions. But sufferers of the condition have long argued that doctors fail to appreciate that their symptoms are real and physical and that the prescribed therapies are not effective.

Five of the twenty-one Nice committee members who drafted the new guidance were patient representatives. Whilst that’s a minority, it’s a higher number than usual, leading to suggestions that more weight was placed on patient views than on published scientific evidence. The wave of resignations from clinical professionals in protest of the new advice supports this view.

But the pitting of “scientific evidence” against “patient views” is unproductive and unnecessary. Medical understandings shift as new information and data points emerge and it is vital that patient testimony features among those data points.

In the past decades, there have been enormous strides in the medical understanding of eating disorders thanks to the tireless advocacy of survivors and their families. There must be much greater collaboration between scientific experts and “experts by experience” – that is, the people who can provide personal insight into how illnesses affect the body and mind. The medical establishment must continue to listen to and value the people that it aims to treat.

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. ‘The pandemic has exacerbated existing political discontent’ for The Economist

  2. ‘In a world of anodyne corporate PR, we should value the straight talkers’ by Graham Ruddick for The Times

  3. ‘How the bobos broke America’ by David Brooks for The Atlantic

  4. ‘Covid has shown up western democracy’s childish tendencies’ by Edward Luce for the Financial Times

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