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.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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