10 Questions That Got Answered in 2017

10 Questions That Got Answered in 2017

1- What sort of president will Donald Trump be?

Trump has approached his role as president just as he played the role of candidate. He has opened nearly every negotiation — with foreign leaders, US lawmakers, reporters, and everyone else — with aggressive accusations and maximalist demands. He has repackaged modest results and several defeats as historic victories. He has shown that he knows what his most loyal supporters want to hear — and that he doesn’t understand how the US government works. Trump doesn’t change.


2- How much longer will China’s leaders follow Deng Xiaoping’s advice to hide the country’s strength and bide their time?

This turned out to be the most significant change in world politics in 2017. President Xi Jinping used October’s Party Congress to make clear that he is entirely in charge and that Beijing will now play a much more forceful role in the world. He used the phrases “great power” or “strong power” 26 times during a speech at the event. As Trump scales back US leadership ambitions, Xi has offered China as a leader on trade, investment, and the fight against climate change. Expect a more assertive Beijing in 2018 and beyond.

3- Do French voters want President Marine Le Pen?

Merci, non.There was a time when it appeared French voters might follow the trail blazed by Brexit and Trump toward an establishment-rattling protest vote. But of course, the French don’t follow the Anglo-Saxon lead on anything. They still dealt the traditional center-right and center-left parties a smack of historic proportions, but they did it with a fresh-faced, pro-European centrist with big aspirations for France and the EU.

4- Can Theresa May deliver a Brexit breakthrough?

Yes, but as public sausage-making goes, this process has been particularly hideous. UK Prime Minister Theresa May still lives at №10, the Europeans are still talking, and negotiations have advanced from “divorce terms” to future UK-EU relations. But nothing is final until everything is final, and the main lesson we learned this year is that May will step on more mines than she manages to avoid. #SausageMakingInaMinefield

5- Will Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) make his move to become king?

No doubt about that. We’d grown use to a young prince willing to start wars to bolster his resume (see Yemen). But 2017 proved that MbS is ready for all kinds of fights, and the length of his list of enemies (and potential enemies) would shock Michael Corleone. Iran? On notice. Qatar? Isolated. Religious conservatives? Overruled. Saudi royals of doubtful reliability? Detained. He’s not yet king, but he’s clearly in charge.

6- Can Erdogan win Putin-like powers in Turkey?

Yes, he can. In April, Turkey’s president won a narrow victory in a constitutional referendum that significantly extends the powers of his office. To get there, he dialed up his natural charisma, conjured fear of internal plots, stoked Turkey-against-the-West defiance, and probably ordered a bit of ballot-stuffing. He won’t get his new powers until he wins the next election, likely in late 2018. But Erdogan has cleared the highest hurdle on his way to the finish line.

7- Can the African National Congress (ANC) move beyond Jacob Zuma?

Yes, but it won’t be easy. Just this week, delegates at the ruling ANC’s party conference chose Cyril Ramaphosa as their new leader. Zuma remains South Africa’s president. He might even stay on the job through 2018. He certainly won’t go down without a fight. The choice of Ramaphosa brings potential for a change within the ruling party that South Africa badly needs, but Zuma loyalists will fight him every step of the way.

8- Can Brazil’s president survive the year with a single-digit approval rating?

Yes, he can. In fact, his approval rating surged from 3 to 6% just this week. Michel Temer doesn’t have much political future, but he has so far avoided both political oblivion and prison. (In today’s Brazil, that’s not nothing.) For millions of Brazilians, next October’s presidential election can’t get here fast enough.

9- Can I pass off Chuck E. Cheese game tokens as Bitcoin?

This question still lacks a clear answer. Earlier this week, your Signal author became very excited over reports that a man had successfully passed off round metal tokens used in the video game section of a popular pizza restaurant as Bitcoin. That report turned out to be a hoax, and I was inconsolable for several minutes. But the fact that it didn’t happen doesn’t mean it couldn’thappen.

10- Can NYC authorities prove the killer squirrel is dead?

Apparently not. The murderous squirrel that captured international attention in July by attacking people in Prospect Park — less than one mile from my apartment — has not reappeared. City officials say he’s dead, but they have not shown me (or anyone else) a corpse. Stay awake, Brooklyn.

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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