Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

The 212 Defend Islam Action Alumni — One year ago this week, hardline Muslim groups that want to transform Indonesia into an Islamic state governed by Sharia law succeeded in defeating the ethnic Chinese and Christian former Jakarta governor and having him thrown in jail. Those same groups commemorated their achievement this week with a large rallyattended by the governor they supported as his replacement. Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, remains popular and a defender of secular and inclusive government, but we’ll keep watching to see if these groups challenge him more directly in 2018 ahead of national elections in 2019.


Yemen — The killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh will provoke more violence and create more misery in a country that’s already home to an enormous humanitarian crisis. The war in Yemen has killed about 14,000 people and forced 3 million from their homes. More than 1 million are afflicted with cholera. The UN estimates that more than 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian help.

The HJK Helsinki football club — Two events were booked at the same time in the Tukkutori market in Helsinki. The first was a torchlight march of far-right Finnish nationalists to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Finland’s independence. The second was a children’s group that wanted to mark the same occasion with rabbits and alpacas. Local officials ruled that the guys with torches applied for the permit first. The HJK Helsinki football club then offered the kids, bunnies, and alpacas the use of its stadium. #Suomi100

What We're Ignoring

Early ANC voting — Cyril Ramaphosa has reportedly opened a lead in the battle to decide who will lead the ruling African National Congress into South Africa’s next election in 2019. We’re ignoring preliminary results. We’ll be watching closely (and writing about) the actual outcome of the vote later this month. Its significance is historic, but much can change between now and then.

The color yellow — Here’s another story you can ignore until later in the month. Spain’s electoral authority has ordered officials in Barcelona to remove yellow lights from public fountains around the city because they fear the color yellow, associated with Catalan identity, will encourage separatist sentiment. Catalans will vote in regional elections on December 21. Even if separatist parties win there will be no sudden moves toward independence, but demand may again begin to grow. That won’t be because of yellow lights in public fountains.

The Yulin City Zoo — Dear Finnish kids, please do not send your bunnies and alpacas to the zoo in Yulin, China, where the featured attractions are inflatable penguins, some roosters, and a “longevity turtle.” This is not China’s first zoo scandal. According to The Straits Times, “In 2013, an ‘African lion’ in a zoo in Henan was revealed to be a Tibetan mastiff when it barked.”

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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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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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.

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