THREE HITS IN THE KEY OF: NO, NOT THAT STORY

THREE HITS IN THE KEY OF: NO, NOT THAT STORY

Sometimes one big story or narrative in a given part of the world can divert people’s attention from other, similar things that are happening there at the same time. Here’s a quick run through a few stories that aren’t actually the stories you’ve heard most about...


The Latin American refugee crisis that’s not in Venezuela.

The economic catastrophe wrought by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has driven millions from his country, but there is a growing exodus from Nicaragua now too, as thousands flee the political and economic turmoil that began earlier this year amid protests and a brutal crackdown by President Daniel Ortega. Most of those fleeing are headed south into Nicaragua’s prosperous and stable neighbor Costa Rica. (Going north would mean entering Honduras, one of the world’s most violent countries).

In recent years, the so-called “Northern Triangle” Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, have become some of the most violent places on earth, wracked by gang violence, drug trafficking and weak governments. But the deepening crisis in Nicaragua, and growing refugee flows, could begin to test stability there and in Costa Rica as well.

The impending final bloodbath in a Middle East civil war that’s not in Syria.

The fragile fate of Syria’s Idlib province — the last remaining holdout against Bashar Al Assad’s Russian-backed war machine — has gotten much attention in recent weeks. But Yemen’s four-year-old civil war may be headed for a violent final showdown, as well. As a reminder, the war started in 2014 when the Houthis, Shiite rebels with ties to Iran, ousted a Saudi-backed government, prompting intervention by a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf States with US help.

The war has already created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, claiming the lives of more than 15,000 civilians, amid human rights violations on all sides. Following the recent collapse of peace talks, the UAE says it will retake the strategic port city of Hodeidah from the Houthis. Even beyond the impact of urban warfare on the city’s 600,000 remaining residents, Hodeidah is the port of entry for 70 percent of the food and medicine that goes to Yemen. With about three-quarters of the population dependent on that foreign aid, a battle for Hodeidah could have catastrophic ripple effects throughout the war-ravaged country.

The persecuted religious minority in China that’s not Xinjiang’s Muslims

China has been in the spotlight recently for its discriminatory and repressive policies towards Muslims, and Tibet sometimes makes the news as well, but there’s another minority of religious believers that struggles to worship freely in the country. China’s 60 million Christians have for decades been forced to choose between state-approved churches and underground places of worship that the state cracks down on – sometimes with bulldozers.

In particular, China’s 10 million Catholics have until now had to navigate a system in which Beijing and the Holy See -- which cut ties in 1951 -- each appoint bishops whom the other refuses to recognize. Over the weekend, the two sides took a big step towards reconciliation with an agreement under which the Vatican will recognize several government-appointed bishops and sideline several of its own appointees. In return, China will give the Pope a say in new appointments.

The agreement sparked criticism—from Catholics who don’t want to give an atheist authoritarian government influence over spiritual matters and from Chinese Communist Party officials who object to ceding any sovereignty over internal religious affairs to the Pope.

I’ll leave you with the question my fellow Signalista Willis posed to me: Is this the Pope bowing to the reality of China’s power, or China bowing to the reality of the Pope’s power?

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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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Governments around the world are offering creative incentives for getting a jab.

If you happen to live in New York and are one of the city’s 18% of unvaccinated residents, now might be a good time to go get jabbed. But not just because of omicron.

In late December, now former NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the city would start offering gift cards, free roller coaster rides on Coney Island and trips to the Statue of Liberty to those who get their shots. And it’s not just the Big Apple.

As infections jump, vaccination incentive programs have been brought back around the world. Officials in vaccine-hesitant Missouri have earmarked $11 million dollars for gift cards worth $100. Vermont is awarding schools with per-pupil bonuses if they hit rates higher than 85%.

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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

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