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What We're Watching: Australia-China tension rising

For Beijing, there is thunder Down Under. Tensions between Australia and China just keep rising. After China responded to Aussie requests for a COVID investigation by imposing devastating tariffs and unofficial bans on Australian exports in 2020, Oz is pushing back hard now. Canberra on Friday accused China of “economic coercion,” while cybersecurity officials publicly confirmed malicious attacks against Australia by Chinese spy services working with Chinese telecom giant Huawei. The Aussies also say Chinese intelligence vessels are snooping around in Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. These accompany several clearly pro-American moves this year: the Aussies have signed on to AUKUS, an exclusive military club with Washington and London that gives them access to unprecedented weapons tech, are allowing the buildup of US military infrastructure (read, bases) on its soil, and joined America in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. But the Australians are taking the tensions directly to China’s neighborhood, too. Canberra just signed a $770 million weapons deal with South Korea, including tech to build Howitzers — really, really big artillery guns. And even though the spat between the two continues, there is evidence that Australia, though heavily dependent on trade with China, is successfully pushing for diversity in trade partnerships.

Chile's President-elect Gabriel Boric celebrates with supporters after winning the presidential election in Santiago, Chile, December 19, 2021.

REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

What We’re Watching: Chile’s new prez, Manchin sinks Biden’s agenda, Russian NATO wishlist, Australia vs China, Afghan trust fund

Boric wins in Chile. In the end, it wasn’t even close. Faced with two diametrically opposed choices for president in Sunday’s presidential runoff, more than 55 percent of Chilean voters went with leftwinger Gabriel Boric instead of his far-right opponent José Antonio Kast. The ten-point gap was so wide that Kast conceded before the count was even done. Boric, 35, now becomes the youngest president of any major nation in the world. Elected just two years after mass protests over inequality shook what was one of Latin America’s most reliably boring and prosperous countries, Boric has promised to raise taxes in order to boost social spending, nationalize the pension system, and expand the rights of indigenous Chileans. But with the country’s legislature evenly split between parties of the left and the center-right, the new president will likely have to compromise on his sweeping pledge to make Chile the land where neoliberalism “goes to its grave.”

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What We’re Watching: China vs Australia, Kashmir talks, EU’s Putin FOMO

China-Australia trade row continues: In the newest installment of the deepening row between China and Australia, Beijing has launched a complaint against Canberra at the World Trade Organization over tariffs placed on three Chinese exports: wind towers, railway wheels and stainless-steel sinks. Australia says it was caught off-guard by China's suit — the tariffs have been in place since 2014, 2015, and 2019 — and that Beijing didn't go through the regular WTO channels nor pursue bilateral talks before filing the complaint. It's the latest move in a game of tit-for-tat: last year, Beijing slapped tariffs on Australian products like wine and barley, a massive blow to Australia's export-reliant economy. Since the Chinese crackdown on Australian wine, sales have fallen from AU$1.1 billion ($840 million) to just AU$20 million, prompting Australia to recently challenge Beijing's move at the WTO. China-Australia relations have become increasingly fraught over a range of issues including trade, Chinese spying, 5G, and Australia's call for a global probe into the origins of the pandemic.

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