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Chinese medical workers in protective suits wave at residents during a farewell ceremony in Changchun.

China Daily via REUTERS

China is in a tough spot

This week, the head of the World Health Organization warned that China’s “zero-COVID” policy, which has left tens of millions of people locked inside their homes, is not “sustainable.” The Omicron variant is too transmissible to effectively isolate, and the cost of China’s lockdown strategy, for the country’s economy and the mental health of its people, is too high, warns the WHO.

But … also this week, a report from the peer-reviewed international scientific journal Nature Medicine warned that lifting the zero-COVID policy without taking a series of specific steps to mitigate the damage could create a COVID emergency on a scale the world hasn’t yet seen. More than 1.5 million would die within six months, according to the study, and demand for intensive care would be nearly 16 times greater than China’s hospitals can handle.

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An armored convoy of pro-Russian troops moves along a road during in Mariupol, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Chingis Kondarov

What We’re Watching: Russian military on the ropes, panic-buying in Beijing, Nicaragua out of OAS

Depleted Russian forces?

As Moscow struggles to rack up battlefield wins — narrowing its focus to the Donbas and to building a land bridge to its forces in Crimea — it’s reasonable to wonder just how potent Russia’s military really is. Most media information on the war comes from the Russian and Ukrainian governments, both of which need to sell the idea of Russian military might. The Kremlin needs to maintain troop and civilian morale, and Ukraine needs to woo Western support. But independent military analysts stress the Russians’ current limitations. “Russian [battalions] have taken high casualties in the battle of Mariupol, are degraded, and are unlikely to possess their full complement of personnel,” according to the Institute for the Study of War. As for elsewhere in Ukraine? “Reporting on numbers of [battalions] without additional context and analysis of the combat power of these units is not a useful evaluation of Russian forces,” it said.

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Annie Gugliotta

EU-China "reset" in limbo

On Friday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang in their first virtual summit since June 2020. Originally, they’d planned to try and ease tensions after a rough two years for EU-China ties. But then Russia invaded Ukraine, and that has scrambled the EU’s priorities. We asked Eurasia Group analyst Emre Peker to explain.

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COVID Immunity Gap Could Spell Disaster for China — Global Health Expert | GZERO World

COVID immunity gap could spell disaster for China — global health expert

China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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Ian Bremmer: The Future of the Chinese Communist Party | Quick Take | GZERO Media

The future of the Chinese Communist Party

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy Monday. Starting to bake in New York City in the summertime, but glad for it, given the alternatives.

And I thought I would talk a little bit about the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Big speech coming up from President Xi Jinping, a big historic plenary for the party. Already, a big meeting by Xi and a number of the senior leaders just a week ago at the new Museum of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, reaffirmation of loyalty oaths to the party. At a time when Communist party membership, which had been flattening over previous years, is now growing in a robust way. Again, you've got almost a 100 million members of the Communist party across China and it's hard to get in. Only about 10% of applicants actually are accepted. It is increasingly seen as a way to be successful in core state-owned enterprises, opportunity, political access, economic access, you name it. If you're a young elite and you want to make a difference in China, having a party membership card and being seen to be loyal and having behaviors that are befitting a Communist party member are increasingly important.

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The limits of a China-Russia partnership

Whenever China and Russia shake hands, alarm bells ring in Washington. It's an old story given new life by increasingly contentious US relations with both countries and a new round of glad-handing by senior Chinese and Russian officials. What if China and Russia were to form some kind of axis of revisionist powers, Americans (and others) wonder? How dangerous might that be for US interests and for global democracy?

China and Russia have obvious overlapping interests. Start with trade. China is the world's largest importer of oil and natural gas. Russia is the number two exporter of oil and the top for natural gas. It's a natural partnership.

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What We're Watching: Iran plays hard to get, China gets up in India's grid, Dominicans build a wall

Iran rules out nuclear talks… for now: Iran has reportedly rejected an offer to join direct talks with the US and EU over its nuclear program, saying it won't start the conversation until sanctions on Iran's economy are eased. To be clear, this does NOT mean that prospects for reviving the Iran nuclear deal are dead. Europeans and the Biden administration want a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, and Iran certainly needs the economic boost that would come from a removal of sanctions. But Tehran is going to try to maximize its leverage before any talks begin, especially since this is a sensitive election year in in the country. Iran's leaders are going to play hard to get for a while longer before edging their way back to the bargaining table. Still, it's high stakes diplomacy here between parties that have almost no mutual trust — and one misstep could throw things off track quickly.

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What We're Watching: Qatar-Saudi embrace, Jack Ma's whereabouts, Egyptian incompetence

Qatar blockade lifted: A bitter dispute between Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar has begun to ease after Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani flew to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf Cooperation Council summit and was warmly embraced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS. The immediate cause of the détente was Riyadh's decision to lift a years-long land and air blockade that significantly disrupted Qatar's economic activity and led to a bitter standoff in the Gulf. (The Saudis, along with Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE launched a joint blockade against Qatar in 2017, citing its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and regional foes Iran and Turkey.) It's unclear what concessions Qatar made in exchange for beginning the normalization process, though President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, a close friend of MBS, has been lobbying for the move for some time. Qatar has long denied claims that it supports Islamic extremist groups and rebuffed demands like terminating Turkey's military presence within its borders. As for the timing for the rapprochement, it could reflect a feeling that increased GCC cooperation is needed as the incoming Biden administration in the US is expected to promptly re-engage in talks with Iran.

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