Coronavirus Politics Daily: Japan's PM clashes with Tokyo, China's beef with Australia, EU tries to reboot tourism

Coronavirus Politics Daily: Japan's PM clashes with Tokyo, China's beef with Australia, EU tries to reboot tourism
The prime minister vs the governor: Japan edition – Around the world, national and local leaders have been sparring over how to manage the coronavirus crisis. In Japan, long-standing political rivals, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Tokyo's Governor Yoriko Koike have been bickering over the national pandemic response strategy. Koike, for her part, has criticized Abe for his slow response to the outbreak, which she says cost the country precious time in curbing the virus' spread. While Abe dithered in his response to the pandemic, the governor's messaging has proved prescient, with recent reports revealing hospitals have turned away non-COVID-19 patients in need of urgent care because of a lack of beds, medical supplies, and staff, according to the Japanese Society of Emergency Medicine. A lag in testing, meanwhile, means that Japan has conducted a mere 1.8 tests per 1,000 people, making it impossible to know the real scope of the outbreak. (Consider that the US has conducted 28 tests per 1,000 people, while Germany has conducted 34 per 1,000.) Critics say that Abe's inconsistent messaging – he waited until mid April to declare a "state of emergency" that he insisted was "not a lockdown" – has not resonated with Japanese residents, an overwhelming majority of whom (some 74 percent) support a more aggressive response to the coronavirus crisis. This has also translated to the polls, where Abe's popularity has plunged in recent weeks. But Japan's next general election is not scheduled until October 2021, so the prime minister still has time to redeem himself.

China and Australia's coronavirus beef – The coronavirus crisis has exposed rifts between China and Australia, longstanding trade partners. For weeks, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for an international investigation into the origins and handling of COVID-19. His insinuation that China has something to hide sparked a firm response from Beijing, Australia's largest trading partner, with China threatening to slap tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Australian agricultural exports. Amid the war of words, China has already suspended purchases of red meat from several Australian abattoirs, sending agriculture industry leaders into a panic as China accounts for some 20 percent of all beef produced in Australia. The Australian government, which has long enjoyed a trade surplus with China, says it doesn't want a trade war with Beijing and hopes to deescalate the situation. China, meanwhile, responded with a statement that says, "mutual respect should be the basis for the development of good relations," before threatening Australia with additional tariffs.

The EU looks to open for tourism – As the summer tourism season approaches, the European Commission is urging EU states to carefully loosen coronavirus-related travel restrictions. Tourism is big business in Europe, accounting for about 10% of the bloc's overall GDP, with many countries more dependent than that: 13 percent of Italy's economy and 14 percent of Spain's depend on tourists. Fully, a fifth of Greece's GDP and a quarter of Croatia's depend on holiday-makers. Some EU countries have already begun selectively reopening their borders. Austria, where tourists contribute to 15 percent of GDP, is looking to reopen crossings with Germany and the Czech Republic in the coming days, while Germany will relax recent controls with France, Austria, and Switzerland. The three Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) are creating a "travel bubble" of their own starting on 15 May. Looking further afield, the union's external borders are to stay shut until at least mid-June. But opening borders is one thing, changing minds is another. Even if people can travel again, how long will it take for them to do so in large numbers? Masked bargain-hunters now is your moment.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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How will artificial intelligence change the world and especially the job market by 2041? AI scientist Kai-fu Lee just wrote a book about precisely that, and he predicts it'll shake up almost every major industry. AI, he explains, will be most disruptive to many so-called "routine" occupations, but the damage may be reduced by shifting "empathetic" workers to jobs that require human empathy. Watch his interview on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

The Atlantic CEO Nick Thompson believes in tech firms doing business in China because connecting with people there is a huge social good for the world. But in demanding LinkedIn de-platform certain people, he says, the Chinese government crossed a line, and "you can't justify that."

Watch Ian Bremmer's interview with Nicholas Thompson in an upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Sectarian clashes in Lebanon: As Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, were on their way to a protest in Beirut Thursday, gunfire broke out, evidently between Hezbollah militants and those of the Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. The protesters were rallying against the ongoing state probe into last year's devastating twin blasts at a Beirut port, saying that state authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. They have called for the dismissal of Judge Tarek Bitar — who is leading the probe and on Monday issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Shiite parliamentarian linked to Amal. Each side has blamed the other for starting the violence Thursday, which killed at least six people, injured dozens more, and threw the entire city into a panic. In a grim omen, the clashes, which are among the worst in recent years, erupted along one of the old front lines (dividing Muslim and Christian neighborhoods) of the 15-year sectarian civil war that devastated the country up until 1990. With the country mired in economic and political crises, the people of Lebanon can't seem to catch a break: just last week the country was plunged into complete darkness when its decrepit power grid ran out of fuel. Meanwhile, Najib Mikati, who became prime minister designate in July after months of political deadlock, declared a "day of mourning," but civil strife continues.

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35.4: The US has overtaken China as the country with the largest share of the world's Bitcoin mining networks, now accounting for 35.4 of the global mining presence. This comes after the Chinese government banned domestic cryptocurrency mining operations to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction.

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