Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran exports virus to Afghanistan, Beijing's crackdown in HK, Australia calls for global probe

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Iran exports virus to Afghanistan, Beijing's crackdown in HK, Australia calls for global probe

Iran exports virus to ailing Afghanistan: As Iran grapples with one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the world, thousands are fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan to escape the plague, wagering that returning to conflict-ridden Afghanistan is safer than staying in hard-hit Iran. But Afghan authorities say this trend is having the reverse effect, bringing the virus into a country that has limited resources and is hobbled by conflict. Many of the people now returning fled conflict in Afghanistan years ago in search of a better life in Iran. But as work for Afghan day laborers dried up amid coronavirus lockdowns, and news circulated about the inundation of Tehran's hospitals, some 243,000 have made the journey from Iran to Afghanistan in recent months. There are now over 1,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Afghanistan, including an outbreak at the president's palace, and at least 40 deaths (though this is likely a gross undercount as Afghanistan only has the capacity to perform around 100 tests a day for a population of almost 39 million). Afghanistan's COVID outbreak comes at a particularly precarious time for a country that has one of the weakest healthcare systems in the world: When cases were first spreading last month, the Afghan government was negotiating a historic peace accord with the Taliban insurgent group, which includes the withdrawal of US troops. The Taliban, meanwhile, has continued to wage war, carrying out more than 500 attacks in recent weeks in provinces that are already hit by COVID-19.


Beijing cracks down on Hong Kong: It was just three months ago that millions of Hong Kongers were protesting Beijing's attempts to extend mainland control over the semi-autonomous city. Now, with the streets quiet and the world distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, China appears to be turning the screws. Last week, Beijing's local representative office asserted its right to interfere in local affairs, based on a controversial interpretation of Hong Kong's constitution. Local authorities then arrested 15 prominent pro-democracy activists, drawing rebukes from the United States. And Beijing is also calling for a new national security law that democracy activists fear could be used for further crackdowns. The mainland's muscle-flexing comes ahead of legislative council elections set for September, in which pro-democracy candidates are poised to do well, judging by the last local voting results. But if Beijing overplays its hand, it could reignite the protests — but then again, who wants to be in a massive crowd these days?

Australia calls for global probe of virus response: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been leading calls for an international investigation into the responses of China and the World Health Organization (WHO) to the coronavirus pandemic. In a series of phone calls this week, Morrison lobbied US President Donald Trump, as well as French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to band together in demanding a probe. China is believed to have covered up the initial outbreak, while the WHO has come under fire in recent weeks for being too differential to Beijing and for dragging its feet in responding to the pandemic. President Macron rejected Morrison's appeal, saying that now is not the time for an investigation, but rather for global cooperation. Meanwhile, Morrison said that he had "a very constructive discussion" with President Trump, who has sharply criticized both Beijing and the WHO. Chinese officials responded that Morrison was simply acting as "the mouthpiece" of the Trump administration. While Canberra and Beijing have maintained strong economic ties (China is Australia's leading trade partner) the political relationship has been tumultuous in recent years, and Australia's foreign minister warned that the coronavirus fallout could cause bilateral relations to change for the worse in more enduring ways.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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10: Joshua Wong was sentenced along with other Hong Kong democracy activists to 10 months in prison for participating in a vigil last year marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. Wong is currently behind bars for participating in separate pro-democracy protests, and will only start this new sentence after that term concludes in November.

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What's the biggest foreign policy misconception that Americans have about the US's role in the world? According to international relations expert Tom Nichols, too few Americans believe that the US, in fact, has a critical role in the world, and that the things Americans enjoy, from cheap goods to safe streets, are made possible because of American global leadership. "Americans have become so spoiled and inured to the idea that the world is a dangerous place that they don't understand that the seas are navigable because someone makes them that way. They don't understand that peace between the great powers is not simply like the weather, that just happens," Nichols tells Ian Bremmer. Their conversation is featured on an episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television – check local listings.

Watch the episode: Make politics "boring" again: Joe Biden's first 100 Days

The cover story of The Economist declares that Taiwan is "The most dangerous place on Earth," because China might finally be ready to plan an invasion of the island. But are the consequences of such a move worth the many risks to China and its President Xi Jinping? Ian Bremmer breaks out the Red Pen to to explain why a US-China war over Taiwan is unlikely.

We are taking our red pen to a recent article from The Economist. The Economist, you ask, how could I? I love The Economist, I know, I know. But you'd lose respect if I give this piece a pass. In fact, it was the magazine's cover story this week, so I had no choice. The image and headline say it all. Here it is, Taiwan is now "the most dangerous place on earth" as US/China relations continue to sour in the opening months of President Biden's administration.

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Delhi-based reporter Barkha Dutt's decades of journalism couldn't prepare her for the horrific experience of covering the death of one specific COVID-19 victim: her own father. In a conversation with Ian Bremmer, Dutt recounts her desperate struggle to find an ambulance to take her father through Delhi traffic to reach the hospital, only for him to die in the ICU. Their in-depth discussion looks at India's struggle with the world's worst COVID crisis in the upcoming episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television Friday, May 7. Check local listings.

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Would China really invade Taiwan?

The Red Pen

India’s COVID crisis hits home

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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