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Coronavirus Politics Daily: G7 name game, Rohingya at risk, and Sweden's gamble

Coronavirus Politics Daily: G7 name game, Rohingya at risk, and Sweden's gamble

What's in a name? Nothing on dealing with coronavirus: The foreign ministers of the G7 group of the world's leading industrialized democracies failed this week to issue a joint statement on fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Why? Evidently because US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted on calling the virus the "Wuhan Virus" rather than the internationally recognized "COVID-19" or "coronavirus." The White House, which has been particularly at odds with Beijing over coronavirus, is keen to link the outbreak explicitly to China, where it was first detected, and to fight what Pompeo described as Chinese "disinformation." The virus, for its part, doesn't care what you call it, but it's happy to see seven of the world's leading powers not doing much leading at all.


Fears for Rohingya refugees: The town of Cox's Bazar, in south-eastern Bangladesh, abuts the world's largest refugee camp, home to almost 1 million Rohingya Muslims who fled persecution in neighboring Myanmar in 2017. Now, a resident of Cox's Bazar has tested positive for COVID-19, sending aid workers into a frenzy as they prepare for what they say is the "inevitable" spread of the virus amongst one of the most vulnerable populations in the world. Many believe the coronavirus is already sweeping the refugee camp, but in the absence of testing it's impossible to be certain. Many in the camps don't have access to running water and only around 67 percent of people have access to soap, making it all but impossible to slow the spread of the disease through constant hand-washing. Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, is also nearing monsoon season, which regularly brings its own host of challenges to the camps, including regular spikes in infectious disease.

A Scandinavian gamble: "We cannot take draconian measures that have a limited impact on the epidemic but knock out the functions of society." That wasn't President Trump, or Jair Bolsonaro, or Putin, or any of the other world leaders who've been criticized for underestimating the threat of the coronavirus. It was the head of public health in Sweden. Although the country's vast social benefits system is in theory better positioned to cushion the economic blow of a massive lockdown, the government has taken a lighter approach: universities are closed and gatherings of more than 500 people are banned, but schools remain open, there are no explicit work from home orders, ski resorts are still humming, and you can get served in restaurants (but not at the bar). The government is confident that the country's health system is capable of absorbing a surge in cases if they come, but critics say the policy making has been too opaque and is a huge gamble. Fingers crossed that it's a winning one.


The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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