It looks like China's leadership has finally had enough of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.
In a speech on Thursday to the national people's congress, a symbolic confab of the country's ruling elite, Premier Li Keqiang announced a new national security law that would outlaw secessionist activity and criminalize foreign influence in Hong Kong. The measure, an explicit response to recent pro-democracy protests there, would also permit mainland China's security agencies to operate openly in the city.
<p>The move caught Hong Kongers and the rest of the world almost totally by surprise. </p><p><strong>If the law is passed, it would in practice end the "one country, two systems" </strong>arrangement between Beijing and Hong Kong that has existed since the territory reverted from British control to Chinese rule in 1997. Under that model, Hong Kong enjoyed special democratic and economic freedoms unknown on the mainland. </p><p><strong>This isn't the first time</strong> Beijing has tried to impose a security law like this on Hong Kong. In 2003, a similar attempt provoked mass protests that forced Beijing to back down. But 17 years later, China's leadership has grown much more assertive — both at home and abroad — while Hong Kong's share of the now-massive Chinese economy has dwindled from nearly a fifth of GDP <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-protests-markets-explainer/explainer-how-important-is-hong-kong-to-the-rest-of-china-idUSKCN1VP35H" target="_blank">to less than 3 percent</a>. </p><p><strong>Establishing firmer control over Hong Kong,</strong> which is already within China but living under different laws, is in some ways a dress rehearsal for President Xi Jinping's larger ambition: reunification with Taiwan, which he has <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/7500eb04-dfb6-11e9-b8e0-026e07cbe5b4" target="_blank">pledged</a> to make happen by 2049. </p><p><strong>The move could provoke fresh protests.</strong> It wasn't long ago that Beijing's attempt to subject Hong Kongers to the jurisdiction of the mainland's (highly politicized) courts touched off the largest demonstrations in the city's history. Those protests, some of which turned violent, fizzled out as the coronavirus pandemic began. But smaller scale ones have <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/hong-kong-hundreds-arrested-as-protest-movement-returns/a-53390601" target="_blank">popped up again lately</a>, and pro-democracy activists have responded to the new security law by sounding an urgent call to return to the barricades. </p><p><strong>Will this inflame US-China ties?</strong></p><p>They are in bad shape already, as Beijing and Washington <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/what-is-going-on-between-the-who-the-us-and-china" target="_self">blame each other</a> for the pandemic, <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/the-daily-vectors-us-china-tensions-migrants-in-danger-and-venezuela-isolated" target="_self">expel</a> each other's journalists, and continue to <a href="https://apnews.com/51bbf084069b430310aa7b03b18490ea" target="_blank">"decouple" their economies</a>. The Hong Kong move could make things worse. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-52771718" target="_blank">called</a> the new security law a "death knell" for Hong Kong's autonomy, and a related sanctions bill is already <a href="https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/news/press-releases/van-hollen-toomey-introduce-sanctions-bill-to-defend-hong-kongs-autonomy" target="_blank">circulating in the US Senate</a>. President Trump said the US would respond "very strongly" if the security law is implemented. But what, in practice does that mean? The US has limited tools to force China to behave differently within its own borders. </p><p><strong>The bottom line:</strong> the coronavirus pandemic cooled things off in Hong Kong for a while, but Beijing just whipped out a blowtorch. </p>
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May 22, 2020
Indonesia becomes an epicenter: Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is now considered an epicenter of the pandemic, after it suffered its biggest daily surge in cases Thursday with over 900 new infections. The country of 260 million has the largest outbreak in Southeast Asia, recording about 20,000 cases and 1,300 deaths, though a recent study suggested that as few as 2 percent of the country's coronavirus infections may have been reported. When pressed on why Indonesia is experiencing a surge in cases while the curve appears to be flattening in neighboring countries, Indonesian health authorities blamed the public's flouting of social distancing guidelines. But critics say the government has sent wishy-washy messages on how to stop the disease's spread, as demonstrated by the fact that only four of Indonesia's 34 provinces have applied widespread social-distancing restrictions. Meanwhile, as the country's 225 million Muslims prepare to celebrate the end of Ramadan this weekend, popular markets have been overwhelmed by shoppers buying food and clothing, with little guidance or enforcement of large-scale social distancing measures. Indonesia's public health system is grossly underfunded, and experts warn that given the shortage of hospital beds, medical equipment and staff, the situation could deteriorate fast in the coming weeks.
<p><strong>Ethiopia to the rescue:</strong> Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, has <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/c17614d0-cd94-4160-af0b-32dae6940253" target="_blank">emerged as a critical transit hub</a> for life-saving medical equipment sent to Latin America and the Caribbean. Why? The recipient countries say the stuff doesn't get stolen there the way it does when it goes through the US or Europe. Consider that authorities in the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, one of the country's poorest and a major center of outbreaks in the Amazon, claim that two crucial shipments of respirators from China were recently confiscated during refueling stops in Europe and the US, creating a dearth of medical supplies as <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31095-3/fulltext" target="_blank">Brazil </a>struggles to contain one of the world's worst outbreaks. Meanwhile, officials in the country's biggest city São Paulo, as well as <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-us-accused-of-diverting-medical-equipment-from-countries-2020-4#on-the-caribbean-island-of-barbados-a-minister-said-that-ventilators-donated-to-the-government-were-blocked-from-being-exported-by-the-us-3" target="_blank">Barbados,</a> have reported similar instances of resource hijackings in recent weeks, and are now opting to have equipment cargos refuel in Ethiopia rather than Europe and the US. This is the latest example of cooperation among the world's developing countries during the coronavirus pandemic as many <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/times-world-leaders-downplayed-the-coronavirus-threat-2020-4#prime-minister-boris-johnson-and-the-uk-government-believed-the-coronavirus-was-a-moderate-risk-up-until-late-february-and-were-late-to-impose-a-national-lockdown-4" target="_blank">world leaders</a> have come under fire for bungling both the national and global response to the crisis, leading – at least in some cases – to otherwise <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/20/us/coronavirus-distancing-deaths.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">avoidable deaths</a> and economic pain.<br/><span style="background-color: initial;"></span></p><p><strong>Sex in a pandemic: </strong>Governments have issued all sorts of guidelines on how the public should conduct itself during the coronavirus pandemic. Stay healthy. Eat well. Separate work life from playtime. Now, they are also weighing in on our sex lives, offering guidelines for how people should approach intimacy under various degrees of lockdown. Health officials in New York City and Los Angeles have offered a no-nonsense approach to sex in quarantine: "You are your safest sex partner," says a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/20/world/netherlands-sex-buddies-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">slogan</a> touted by both cities, clearly encouraging masturbation. In Washington DC, meanwhile, the <a href="https://coronavirus.dc.gov/sex" target="_blank">mayor's office</a> cautioned against engaging in sex if either partner is feeling under the weather: "Sex and close contact will be waiting for you when you are feeling better," the office reassured residents. Unsurprisingly, many European countries adopted a laxer approach to sex in lockdown. After the Dutch Health Institute <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/15/dutch-official-advice-to-single-people-find-a-sex-buddy-for-lockdown-coronavirus" target="_blank">encouraged</a> singles to find a <em>seksbuddy</em><em> </em>for comfort<em> </em>during quarantine, a health official was forced to clarify that this should be restricted to people who were already acquainted with one another but don't live together. The <a href="https://www.thelocal.dk/20200420/danish-health-chief-give-ok-to-singles-sex-is-good-sex-is-healthy" target="_blank">Danish health ministry,</a> for its part, went a step further in giving the green light to casual sexual encounters: "We are sexual beings, and of course you can have sex in this situation," one senior official said. </p>
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This is not the 2020 that Vladimir Putin had in mind.
As the year started, Russia's president was crafting plans for changes to the constitution that would permit him to stay in power for (at least) another 16 years. A rubber stamp public referendum was to be held in April. Then, in May, he was to welcome foreign leaders to Moscow for a grand celebration (parades, concerts, fireworks, and a reviewing stand atop Lenin's Mausoleum) marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War.
<p>Instead, the coronavirus crisis barged in and wrecked those nice, late-stage authoritarian plans. </p><p>Early in the pandemic, seeing <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/why-is-russias-coronavirus-case-count-so-low" target="_blank">unusually low numbers</a> in Russia, Putin claimed that things were "under control." But even after he changed tack and declared a "national paid vacation" (that's Russian for "lockdown") in March, Russia now has the second highest number of confirmed cases in the world, after the United States. And the official stats are so at odds with what health workers are reporting that it looks like officials are <a href="https://www.economist.com/europe/2020/05/21/russias-covid-19-outbreak-is-far-worse-than-the-kremlin-admits" target="_blank">covering up</a> the true extent of the disease's spread. </p><p>The anniversary ceremony was cancelled, of course. And the referendum has been postponed indefinitely. Putin will have to think carefully about whether holding the vote in the middle of this crisis is really a good idea. </p><p><strong>The economy is set to shrink </strong>by more <a href="https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2020/04/14/weo-april-2020" target="_blank">than 5 percent</a>, the <a href="https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?locations=RU" target="_blank">largest contraction since</a> the financial crisis of 2009. A collapsing oil price may force the Russian government to reach deep into its (sizable) cash reserves to bail out businesses, send pensions, and pay the salaries of state workers. (<a href="https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/09/02/why-corporations-are-the-kremlins-best-friends-a67106" target="_blank">30% of Russian workers</a> are paid, directly or indirectly, by the state.) </p><p><strong>His approval rating,</strong> meanwhile, has now fallen to 59% — its lowest point since 2000, the first year of his presidency. By comparison, after his widely adored invasion of Ukraine in 2014, his rating shot up to the mid 80s. A botched pension reform last year already took some of the stuffing out of that number. </p><p><strong>Putin has weathered crises before</strong> <strong>–</strong> terrorist attacks in the early 2000s and the 2009 economic collapse come to mind. He has also shrewdly turned them to his advantage, as he did by stoking trouble in Ukraine. </p><p><strong>Is his system built for this? </strong>Putin has shaped a deeply corrupt and uncertain system in which power flows from the top down — officials look mainly to please their bosses rather than their constituents. And he has carefully cultivated an almost cinematic image of himself as a man-of-action, defending Russia's interests, and making it "great again," you might say. Smart economic policies mean that the government always has a huge rainy day fund to keep the wheels spinning. </p><p>But managing a public health crisis requires more than just cash, yes-men, and photo-ops. It demands competent bureaucrats capable of making sound decisions on their own, a reliable flow of accurate information, and a responsive leadership. So far in this crisis, Putin has looked at best uninformed and at worst impotent. And it's hard for him to blame the usual suspects (the Americans) for this mess, try as he might. </p><p>If the death rates that people can see – as opposed to the ones reported in suspect numbers – continue to rise, Putin may have a much bigger problem on his hands than reshuffling his agenda for 2020. </p><p><strong>And this just in…</strong>Ramzan Kadyrov, the eccentrically cruel warlord who runs Chechnya for Putin, has been <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52761228" target="_blank">flown to a hospital in Moscow</a> after developing COVID-19 symptoms. If Kadyrov, who has been called "<a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/08/putins-dragon" target="_blank">Putin's dragon</a>," were to leave the scene, the brutal peace that he has imposed on Chechnya could come apart fast, with big consequences for Russia more broadly.</p>
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Have you ever read a major op-ed and thought to yourself, "no! no! no! That's just not right!" Us too. This week, Ian Bremmer is joined by analysts Kelsey Broderick and Jeffrey Wright to take the Red Pen to former World Bank president Robert B. Zoellick's Wall Street Journal op-ed.
<p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://www.gzeromedia.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMwODc3My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzczMTY3MX0.VJM_fB1hSuz2x8pK4bl1mGYd4Za8uBBGxSF18T8ydwk/image.png?width=980" id="da9d5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d7cb564fbcd29205a342957893c353f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Red Pen edit #1" /> </p><p>Hawks are pretty clear about what they want: to force supply chains out of China, reduce financial integration, keep China from dominating key technologies, and prevent China from undermining US power in Asia.</p><p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://www.gzeromedia.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMwODc3NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5ODA2NzAzMn0.xSpR3RekqOSeI9lpl-1LPNkwjmccH2Pwj_R5ZaJoZKs/image.png?width=980" id="66999" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5c0d1759cb4c862c999201fa610dbe15" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Red Pen edit #2" /> </p><p>The trade deal tackled restrictions on US crops, allowed market access for exports, and more. It's not a fix-all, but it shows that China responds to pressure.</p><p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://www.gzeromedia.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMwOTA0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTExODgwMH0.QYP17Sei9BQN8mCvScSJ9FmVPknR43ZOD6DvXaH6ILA/image.png?width=980" id="59963" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f77c9afd13ee626145d2b0ac87e53cc6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Red Pen edit #3" /> </p><p>China has become more assertive/authoritarian under Xi, while the coronavirus has exacerbated suspicions Americans hold toward Beijing. Cooperation is possible, but politics in both countries make it increasingly difficult.<br/></p><p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://www.gzeromedia.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMwODc3Ni9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjYxMjI5NX0.RgeOdtaFJLu8bibhqmHcyKP5KW2pOC1ODD3G5DIBWBA/image.png?width=980" id="2fb42" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7abedd9286c49aae2ffd115e595e20c4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Red Pen edit #4" /> </p><p>Cooperation HAS served US interests—to an extent. But many core issues between the US and China (on trade, technology, human rights, etc.) come from fundamentally different economic models and can't just be cooperated away.</p><p><em>—With research by <a href="https://twitter.com/kelsbroderick" target="_blank">Kelsey Broderick</a> and Jeffrey Wright</em></p>
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