A Week of Rising International Risk

A Week of Rising International Risk

The most consequential story in international politics right now is the sheer number of potentially consequential stories. Here are ten of them.

The US-China Trade War: Fed up with a lack of progress in negotiations, President Trump announced new tariffs on more Chinese goods. Beijing, with one eye on the US electoral map, responded by telling its state-run companies to stop buying from US farmers and then allowed traders to push the Chinese currency to a worrying new low. Markets quaked.

Fury in Kashmir: On Monday, India revoked the partial autonomy of the Indian-controlled sector of the disputed province of Kashmir. Pakistan, which controls the rest of the territory, denounced the move as illegal and downgraded relations. Large numbers of Kashmiris, some of whom fear that India wants to alter the region's demographic balance, took to the streets in protest, and hundreds were arrested. This heavily militarized territory has suffered from war, insurgent violence, and terrorism—and the political temperature has just gone up. As of this writing, landline connections, internet and mobile coverage are suspended inside Kashmir, and tens of thousands of additional Indian troops there.

Hong Kong Showdown: There is no clear off-ramp for the continuing conflict between Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters and the city's Beijing-backed government. China has warned its troops will intervene to restore order if necessary. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers responded with the city's first general strike in 50 years. Street protests continue, and on Monday, police reportedly fired nearly as many rounds of tear gas as they did during the entire months of June and July. At this point, it's not clear that conciliatory gestures from Beijing would ease tensions.

An Ebola Emergency: The spread of the Ebola virus inside the Democratic Republic of Congo appears to be accelerating, according to the World Health Organization officials. Save the Children, a relief organization, reports that Ebola has killed more than 500 children in that country. Last week, the government of Rwanda briefly closed its border with the DRC, where there have been at least four reported cases of the highly contagious virus in Goma, a border city of more than one million people and a major regional travel hub.

US-Iran Enmity: Iran reported on Monday that its navy had seized another foreign ship in the Persian Gulf, this one an Iraqi vessel. This is the latest confrontation near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passageway through which one-quarter of the world's traded oil passes each day. It's also a reminder that Iran's frustration with US sanctions continues to grow. The US accused Iran this week of jamming the GPS systems onboard passing ships to fool them into drifting into Iranian waters. The US and Iran have each said they want to talk but can't agree on where to begin.

North Korean Warning Shots: A new UN report claims that North Korea has used cyberattacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges to earn $2 billion for weapons. To protest US-South Korean military exercises, North Korea has test-fired four short-range missiles in the past two weeks and warns that it's considering a "new road," presumably one that leads away from the progress Trump and Kim have claimed in nuclear negotiations. President Trump says the missile tests are not alarming because the weapons could not reach the US mainland. But they could reach US allies, say South Korean and Japanese officials.

An Embargo of Venezuela: The US government has announced sweeping new sanctions against the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro, aimed not only at Venezuelan government assets in the US but also at countries, companies, and individuals who do business with it. The goal is to deprive of Maduro of support from Russia and China, and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized by the US and many other countries as Venezuela's legitimate president, applauded the move. The sanctions are likely to add to the hardship of a people already in economic crisis.

A Moscow Crackdown: In Russia's capital, police have arrested nearly 3,000 people this summer during demonstrations that began as protests against the exclusion of opposition candidates in Moscow's upcoming municipal elections. But despite a demonstrated willingness by police to rough up demonstrators, another protest rally is planned for this weekend. In 40 other Russian cities, supporters of often-jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny, who may have been poisoned earlier this summer, have announced "pickets in solidarity with Moscow."

A Brexit Crash: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain will leave the European Union, with or without a deal on the future UK-EU relationship, by October 31. A no-deal Brexit poses serious economic risks for both sides. What if Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn calls a no-confidence vote, triggering a two-week process in which parliament must form an alternative majority to prevent an early election? Leaked comments from Johnson advisor Dominic Cummings signal that, even if an alternative majority becomes apparent, the prime minister could refuse to resign… and call an election to be held after October 31. Imagine the resulting chaos.

American Political Violence: Bitterness between President Trump and Democrats—and their respective supporters—is intensifying. One of this week's two mass shootings—in El Paso, Texas—was explicitly political. It appears the man who murdered 20 people there had minutes before posted an online protest against a "Hispanic invasion of Texas." Democrats were quick to point out Trump's repeated use of the word "invasion" to describe illegal immigration at the nearby US-Mexican border. Trump supporters accuse Democrats of exploiting mass murder for political gain. The US now moves toward an election year with the risk of further political violence on the rise.

The bottom line: None of these stories is fated to end in disaster for those exposed to them. But all of them look to be moving in the wrong direction.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko — who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 — has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression. Also, on Friday US Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to continue talks on resolving the Ukraine standoff.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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