Your Wednesday Briefing

The Myanmar military’s brutal practices.

By Melina Delkic

Good morning.

We’re covering a history of military cruelty in Myanmar, a vaccine passport system in China and a response from Buckingham Palace.

The military’s ‘heart of darkness’ in Myanmar

The military and its brutal practices have been on the global stage since a coup last month. The generals are now fully back in charge, and the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, has turned its guns on the masses, who have mounted a nationwide civil disobedience movement.

But the military has a long legacy of atrocities that has instilled an omnipresent fear in Myanmar.

During the last three years, the Tatmadaw has waged war against ethnic rebel armies in three states, Rakhine, Shan and Kachin, displacing 700,000 Rohingya Muslims. Survivors and witnesses described to us the campaign, which has included killings, systemic rape and abuse. Men and boys were often used as human shields by the soldiers.

In October, Sayedul Amin, a 28-year-old Rohingya man, was fishing when he and others were rounded up by soldiers. “We were ordered to walk in front of the soldiers,” he said. “It seems that they wanted us to shield them if anyone attacked.” He was hit by two bullets.

Quotable: “This is an army with a heart of darkness,” said David Scott Mathieson, an independent analyst. “This is an unrepentant institution.”

Context: Brutality is ingrained in the Tatmadaw. It first came to power in a 1962 coup, saying that it had to safeguard national unity. For decades, it has fought to control parts of the country inhabited by minority groups that are rich in jade, timber and other natural resources.

Finances: The Tatmadaw draws revenue from a lucrative business empire, reports the BBC.

China creates a digital vaccine passport

Beijing this week introduced a digital health certificate tracking users’ vaccination and coronavirus test history to allow international travel.

The vaccine passport runs on Tencent’s WeChat messaging app, according to a report by the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua. The service currently works only for Chinese citizens.

Europe, the U.S. and others have discussed creating their own version of the system in preparation for a likely boom in travel as more people receive vaccinations. President Xi Jinping of China has called for a standardized, global system, but privacy concerns make that outcome unlikely.

Context: In China, health code software that tracks users’ locations and that can link them to hot spots and outbreaks have become commonplace in the coronavirus pandemic. A green code, which indicates a clean history, is required to do an array of activities, including entering a grocery store or taking public transportation.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development expects the American economy to accelerate nearly twice as fast as predicted, but warned that countries struggling with vaccination distribution, especially those in Europe, risk falling behind.

Civil Liberties Union for Europe, a human rights group, warns that policies put in place by governments to fight the pandemic have weakened democracy across the continent, based on an analysis of 14 countries.

A year after its first lockdown, Italy surpassed 100,000 coronavirus deaths. The country is facing a large wave of infections driven by new variants.

Japan bets on hybrid cars as competitors go electric

A Japanese automaker was the first to produce a mass-market, all-electric car: the Nissan Leaf. Just over a decade later, such cars make up only 3 percent of global sales, with buyers balking at their price, limited range and charging times.

That makes it hard for carmakers to turn a profit on them, and as a result the Japanese car industry has neglected electric cars while dominating the global market for gasoline-electric hybrids. Automakers around the world are making bold pledges to transition to electric fleets, and national governments are issuing mandates to increase electric-car sales or to ban gasoline-burning vehicles. Japan’s auto industry could be left behind.

Power player: Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota and chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, has accused the Japanese news media of inflating the commercial and environmental value of all-electric vehicles. His company, which is the worldwide leader in hybrid car sales, sets the tone for the industry. Toyota is also heavily invested in clean-burning hydrogen, a technology that has yet to go mainstream.

If you have 4 minutes, this is worth it

Echoes of Diana in royal falling out

A quarter-century after Princess Diana broke her silence about life among the British royals, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, did the same. Their stories were remarkably similar, our correspondent writes.

Prince Harry has often spoken with anguish about what happened to his mother when she was cast out of the royal family after her divorce from Prince Charles and later died in a car wreck. He made an explicit comparison during the bombshell interview on Sunday when he referred to the “constant barrage” of criticism and racist attacks on his wife.

Here’s what else is happening

Royal family: Buckingham Palace issued a statement on Tuesday in response to an explosive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, saying the family was “saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been” for the couple. The queen said the issues raised were “very concerning” and would be addressed by the family.

Catalonian crisis: The European Parliament has stripped the immunity of Carles Puigdemont, the former separatist leader of Catalonia, clearing the way for another attempt by Spain to extradite and try him on sedition charges. Now it is up to the Belgian judiciary to rule on sending him back.

Snapshot: Above, the tiny village of Gósol in the Spanish Pyrenees. For years, the mayor had begged outsiders to come to his town to repopulate it. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many have come to make a new start — and they even saved the school from closing.

What we’re reading: This Atlantic article about how the internet doesn’t have to be terrible.

Now, a break from the news

Cook: These creamy braised white beans are simmered with milk, a whole head of garlic, herbs and nutmeg for a rich vegetarian dinner that can be on the table in under a half-hour.

Watch: A romance between a refugee and an escaped child bride is at the heart of the animated film “Bombay Rose.”

Listen: At the 63rd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, there will be no shortage of big-name matchups in the major categories. Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Dua Lipa dominate the nominations.

For a fascinating book or a fabulous recipe, turn to our At Home collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch, and do while staying safe at home.

And now for the Back Story on …

Celebrity documentaries

Last month, Apple TV+ released “Billie: The World’s a Little Blurry,” a documentary depicting the rise of the singer Billie Eilish and the creation of her Grammy-winning debut album. It follows other recent documentaries about pop stars including Justin Bieber, Beyoncé and the girl group Blackpink.

The artists or their labels helped produce all of these films, which promise an unvarnished glimpse into the lives of the performers. That’s not quite what they deliver.

Celebrities have long used documentaries to manage their images, even when the production team is technically independent. Music labels are often involved in the documentaries, in part because “directors have little choice: films about musicians need music, and licensing can be prohibitively expensive,” Danny Funt writes in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Perhaps the best way to approach celebrity documentaries is to enjoy them for what they are: carefully constructed entertainment. In Eilish’s case, the documentary often feels “almost observational, like a nature film,” The Times critic Jon Caramanica writes in a review. Still, he says, “there is never anything other than a sense of safety in this footage.”

As Simran Hans writes in The Guardian, “Artists continue to utilize the documentary form as a shorthand for truth — but that truth is still another construction.”

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina

Thank you
Whet Moser, Carole Landry and Amelia Nierenberg contributed to today’s briefing. Sanam Yar wrote the Back Story. Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh provided the break from the news. You can reach the team at

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