What We're Watching

China's National People's Congress – Hours ago, Chinese premier Li Keqiang opened the annual meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's (mostly ceremonial) parliamentary body. Although the rubber stamp NPC has never voted down a proposed law since its creation in 1954, the yearly confab is a chance to take stock of what China's leadership sees, or wishes the country to see, as key challenges. The two big issues at the moment are: an economic slowdown economy amid trade tensions with the US and the prospects for some form of trade deal when Xi meets President Trump in several weeks. Ok, you're not exactly excited to tune in to a meeting of hundreds of communist bureaucrats? Well martial arts film star Jackie Chan and 8-time NBA All Star Yao Ming, both members of the NPC, will also be on hand. Jackie Chan and Yao Ming!

What Modi Makes of Things – Tensions between India and Pakistan have cooled in the days since Pakistan returned an Indian pilot shot down over Kashmir last week, but one question is how the episode will play domestically for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Preliminary data suggests support for Mr. Modi has shot up since his dangerous gamble to strike Pakistan in retaliation for a Pakistan-based terrorist group's killing of Indian paramilitary police officers in Kashmir. But the capture of the Indian pilot was a mild humiliation, as are emerging questions about whether India's jets actually hit anything other than some pine trees. With Modi and his BJP girding themselves for a tougher-than-expected election in several months' time, we are watching to see how this national security crisis plays into the electoral campaign.


India's opium-addicted parrots – While we're on the subject of India, we can't help note that a pandemonium of brainwashed parrots has been making off with the poppy crop in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Frustrated local farmers, who are legally growing the opium-producing flowers for India's pharma industry, have tried beating drums and even lighting firecrackers to keep the addicted parrots away, to no avail. There's probably a good joke in here somewhere, but we're too busy googling other examples of drug use in the animal kingdom to bother with that right now.

Donald Trump Lie Counter – Media fact checkers tallied more than 100 false or misleading statements during President Trump's two-hour speech on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). It is important to keep politicians honest, or at least document their assaults on basic and observable facts. But from a political perspective, the latest slew of misleading statements, falsehoods, and lies won't change the acrimonious polarization in the US at all. For many Republicans, Trump – who continues to command overwhelming loyalty among GOP voters – is picking the right fights. For many Democrats, after the many thousands of falsehoods and lies already documented, it makes no difference whether Trump tells another 75, 100, or 10,000. The lines are drawn.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

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North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

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As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

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