The Biggest Rivalry You're Not Hearing About

Sometimes the biggest global stories play out in the smallest places. Last week a political crisis in the Maldives, a tiny, idyllic island nation in the Indian Ocean, gave us a glimpse of broader geopolitical tensions between two giants: India and China.


The immediate cause of the current turmoil in the Maldives is a bitter rivalry between the head-cracking current president, Abdallah Yameen, and exiled former president, Mohamed Nasheed, who leads the opposition.

But things took on a global dimension fast when Nasheed called on India to send in troops to restore order and roll back Chinese influence on the islands.

The broader story is that while the Maldives have historically been close to India, President Yameen has tilted the country towards China economically since taking office in 2013, courting infrastructure investment, tourism flows, and signing a free trade deal with Beijing.

As you can imagine, the Indians don't like that, particularly since China is also spending billions on Indian Ocean ports and related infrastructure in neighboring Pakistan (an adversary), Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal (all friends).

From China's perspective it's a no-brainer — some two-thirds of the world's oil shipments cross the Indian Ocean, and those waterways are a critical part of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative. But for India it's a direct challenge to what New Delhi sees as its own historic sphere of influence.

The Indians and Chinese won't get into a real tussle over the Maldives, the islands are too small fry for that. But relations between the two Asian giants are already touchy. They still can't agree on a border more than 50 years after fighting a war over the issue, and they nearly came to blows last summer over a remote mountain road.

Last week's episode is a reminder that as China seeks greater commercial and strategic influence in Asia in the coming years, frictions between the world's two most populous nations — one a democracy, the other an autocracy — are set to grow.

Last week, in Fulton, WI, together with election officials from the state of Wisconsin and the election technology company VotingWorks, Microsoft piloted ElectionGuard in an actual election for the first time.

As voters in Fulton cast ballots in a primary election for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates, the official count was tallied using paper ballots as usual. However, ElectionGuard also provided an encrypted digital tally of the vote that enabled voters to confirm their votes have been counted and not altered. The pilot is one step in a deliberate and careful process to get ElectionGuard right before it's used more broadly across the country.

Read more about the process at Microsoft On The Issues.

The risk of a major technology blow-up between the US and Europe is growing. A few weeks ago, we wrote about how the European Union wanted to boost its "technological sovereignty" by tightening its oversight of Big Tech and promoting its own alternatives to big US and Chinese firms in areas like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her top digital officials unveiled their first concrete proposals for regulating AI, and pledged to invest billions of euros to turn Europe into a data superpower.

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Communal violence in Delhi: Over the past few days, India's capital city has seen its deadliest communal violence in decades. This week's surge in mob violence began as a standoff between protesters against a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against India's Muslims and the law's Hindu nationalist defenders. Clashes between Hindu and Muslim mobs in majority-Muslim neighborhoods in northeast Delhi have killed at least 11 people, both Muslim and Hindu, since Sunday. We're watching to see how Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government responds – Delhi's police force reports to federal, rather than local, officials.

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Ian Bremmer's perspective on what's happening in geopolitics:

What are the takeaways from President Trump's visit to India?

No trade deal, in part because Modi is less popular and he's less willing to focus on economic liberalization. It's about nationalism right now. Hard to get that done. But the India US defense relationship continues to get more robust. In part, those are concerns about China and Russia.

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27,000: The Emir of Qatar has decreed a $27,000 fine and up to five years in prison for anyone who publishes, posts, or repost content that aims to "harm the national interest" or "stir up public opinion." No word on whether the Doha-based Al-Jazeera network, long a ferocious and incisive critic of other Arab governments, will be held to the same standard.

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