What We're Watching: Indian farmer revolt, EU vs vaccine makers, Myanmar saber-rattling, Maduro's miracles

Indian farmers wave flags during a protest against farm laws introduced by the government at the historic Red Fort in Delhi. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

EU threatens vaccine export controls: Fed up with delays in vaccine supply, the EU is threatening to impose export controls on the jabs unless pharma companies hand over more doses. The threat comes after Italy threatened to sue Pfizer for cutting the amount of vaccine doses it would supply, and AstraZeneca — whose jab has yet to be approved for use by EU health regulators — announced it'll cut supplies to the bloc by 60 percent. That nuclear option will likely be met with strong pushback from the pharmaceuticals, and may delay delivery of EU-made jabs bound for non-EU countries. Brussels is running out of options to ensure the 27 EU member states get enough vaccines to ramp up immunization as the continent suffers a third wave of the pandemic, and before new COVID strains potentially render the vaccines less effective. We're watching to see how the drug makers react to the threat of export controls, and whether the problem drags on and thus sets back the EU's plans of achieving herd immunity in a few months' time.

Coup in Myanmar? More than ten weeks after Myanmar held only its second national election since democracy was "restored" less than a decade ago, the outcome is still in limbo over objections from the party backed by the military. The now-dominant National League for Democracy has claimed a landslide win in the December vote. But the generals — whose party ran the show until 2015 — have alleged voter fraud, and ominously warned they may "take action" if the election commission doesn't fully investigate. Under the 2008 constitution, the military-backed party is entitled to a quarter of all seats in parliament and the national security portfolios in the cabinet, but the military has long aimed to become a viable alternative to the NLD, which is headed by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Until now, Suu Kyi has kept the generals at bay by sharing some power, but in Myanmar — where the military has ruled for most of the country's post-independence history — Suu Kyi needs to watch her back.

What We're Ignoring

Maduro's "miracle" drug: Finally, a cure for COVID! Easy to take! No side effects! Tastes great! Gives your hair a luscious sheen, acts as a mosquito repellent, and might just help you find the perfect parking spot! Forgive us for ignoring Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's claims that he has hit upon a miracle treatment for coronavirus. He claims that the new drug, Carvativir, was tested for nine months in a Caracas hospital but he has offered no scientific evidence for his claims. We are skeptical, but — but! — if Maduro is willing to throw in a free bottle of Original Orinoco Snake Oil as part of the package, we'll take the plunge and order up a case of Carvativir anyway.
A Walmart employee with a big smile wearing an employee vest

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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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What We’re Watching: China's problems, UAE vs Houthis, Nord Stream 2 split

China's mounting problems. Xi Jinping is not off to a good start in 2022. First, Chinese economic growth slowed down to 4 percent in the last quarter of 2021, almost a percentage point less than the previous period. While annual GDP was up 8.1 percent year-on-year, beating government expectations, the trend is worrying for the world’s second-largest economy. Second, annual population growth fell in 2021 to its lowest rate since 1949, when the ruling Communist Party took over. Although Xi probably saw this one coming, he's running out of ideas to encourage Chinese families to have more children — which the government needs in order to sustain growth and support the elderly over the long term. Third, and most immediate: the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics canceled ticket sales for domestic spectators — foreigners were not invited — as the more transmissible omicron variant has driven up COVID infections in China to the highest level since March 2020. It's only the latest sign that Xi's controversial zero-COVID policy is setting itself up for failure against omicron without mRNA vaccines. What'll it take for China to reverse course?

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Hard Numbers: Tongan volcano, Ukrainian cyberattack, Zemmour fined over hate speech, NK-China border reopens

100,000: We're still waiting for news from the Pacific nation of Tonga, two days after a massive underwater volcanic explosion triggered a tsunami that was felt thousands of miles away and sent a plume of ash 100,000 feet into the sky. With communications mostly cut off, Australia and New Zealand have sent airplanes to assess the damage.

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Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

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Omicron is here. The bad news is that it's more contagious. The good news is that mRNA vaccines work against death and hospitalization. COVID may soon become endemic in some parts of the world.

Not in China, where Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low.

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January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

Kevin Allison, director of geotech at Eurasia Group, is concerned about the rise of very powerful tech companies disrupting centuries of geopolitics led by the nation-state.

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