CHANNELING GEOPOLITICS: THREE STORIES ABOUT CANALS

CHANNELING GEOPOLITICS: THREE STORIES ABOUT CANALS

Some people build walls to cut off their rivals, but Saudi Arabia is taking its ongoing diplomatic dispute with Qatar to a whole other (sea) level. Riyadh reportedly wants to dig a canal along their shared 38-mile border that would turn the small, peninsular kingdom into an actual island. If that weren’t enough, part of the canal zone is to be used for dumping nuclear waste. Last year, Saudi Arabia and the UAE isolated the Qataris symbolically, by imposing an air and sea blockade over Doha’s alleged support for terrorism (psst: it was really about long-running tensions between a House of Saud that sees itself as the neighborhood heavy and a Qatari monarchy that has shrewdly sought to be an independent player in the Gulf.) But a year later, the embargo seemsonly to have strengthened Qatar’s economic and diplomatic resilience. If the canal gets built, how bad could island life be?


Meanwhile, now that Turkey’s President Erdogan has secured his supercharged presidency, let’s see if he follows through on a megalomaniacal infrastructure project to match. The Kanal Istanbul — which would bypass the treacherous Bosporus strait as an easily navigable link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean — is by Erdogan’s own admission a “crazy” project and a “dream.” But officials have been laying the groundwork for the project in recent months. What a way it would be for Erdogan to celebrate the centenary of the modern Turkish state in 2023. One critical issue to consider is that while international law regulates free passage for merchant and military vessels through the chronically-congested Bosporus, any new canal would be entirely under Istanbul’s jurisdiction, giving Erdogan huge discretion over Russian, American, and potentially Chinese access to the Black Sea. That won’t sit well with Putin, Trump, or Xi, will it?

Da ultimo, we travel to the most famous canal city of all — Venice — where Chinese policemen have recently completed a seasonal pilot program to patrol the city’s plazas and waterways with their Italian counterparts. The program, which Marco Polo himself would doubtless love, is now in its third year and it reflects the tremendous surge of Chinese global tourism in recent years. According to the latest figures from the UN World Tourism Organization, Chinese tourists spent $261 billion abroad in 2016, roughly equal to outlays by American, German, and British travelers combined. That China is sending its own policemen — unarmed and accompanied though they may be — to patrol foreign cities (Rome and Milan are also part of the program) is a subtle but extraordinary milestone in the expansion of China’s global clout. In a sense it mirrors the broader sweep of Chinese power today, in which Beijing is broadening its commercial and infrastructure networks first — and then slowly looks to expand its military reach to protect those assets thereafter.

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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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

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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