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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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A man reacts during a rally to support the National Defense Force and to condemn the expansion of the Tigray People Liberation Front fighters into Amhara and Afar regional territories at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia August 8, 2021.

REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

What We're Watching: Everyone vs Ethiopian PM, Brazil ditches Huawei, (more) trouble in Sudan, Argentina's midterms, Iraqi powder keg

Opposition forces unite in Ethiopia's civil war. The Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has been locked in a brutal year-long civil war against Ethiopian government forces, has now teamed up with another powerful militant outfit that wants to oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF, now in alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army — which claims to represent Ethiopia's largest ethnic group — have swept towards the capital Addis Ababa in recent days, prompting the embattled Abiy to call on civilians to take up arms in defense of the city. The Tigray-Oromo alliance, called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist Forces, has called for Abiy's immediate ouster, either by negotiation or by force, and for the prosecution of government officials for war crimes. The UN says all sides in the conflict have committed abuses. The US, which has threatened to suspend Ethiopia's trade preferences over the government's alleged war crimes, is currently trying to broker a cease-fire. When Abiy came to power after popular protests in 2018, he was hailed for liberalizing what was formerly an extremely repressive government (controlled, as it happens, by the TPLF). Now it's looking like he may have unleashed the very forces that could tear the country apart and drive him from office — or worse.

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What We're Watching: Brazil's 5G pursuit

Is China shut out of Brazil's 5G comp? Earlier this year, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro set an ambitious deadline to roll out 5G broadband – which provides much faster internet connections – by July 2022. In recent days, telecom firms have been vying to get a piece of the pie as the tender process heats up. Indeed, it's a lucrative prospect for telecom companies in a country where more than three-quarters of the population (or roughly 190 million people) are connected to the World Wide Web. But the process has not been smooth sailing because, well: China. Bolsonaro has been under a lot of pressure from China skeptics within his own government, and Washington, to exclude tech giant Huawei from the bidding wars. Bolsonaro ultimately caved, as Beijing has evidently been locked out of the process for now. Claro, a Mexican-Brazilian venture, and Spain's Telefonica seem to have walked away big winners from the 5G auction after putting up the most cash for spectrum rights. But this is all very awkward because Huawei has been a major tech provider in Brazil for decades, and local cell phone operators also rely on Huawei's tech. What's more, excluding Huawei, by far the most cost-effective supplier of 5G equipment in the country, will increase the project's overall cost, which is now expected to exceed $7 billion. Many remain skeptical that this massive task can be pulled off in just nine months. But whenever it does happen, it will be great news for Brazilians, many of whom live in remote areas with shoddy internet access.

Nick Thompson on China's Tech U-turn | GZERO World

Nicholas Thompson on China's tech U-turn

Six months ago, China's tech giants were champions of the state, working with the government to conquer US Big Tech. But then Xi Jinping started cracking down, and a trillion dollars in their market value is gone. Huh? For Nicholas Thompson, CEO of The Atlantic and former editor-in-chief of WIRED, it makes sense for Xi to go after cryptocurrencies to ensure they don't replace the yuan. But going after national tech champions, he says, could be fool's errand because it's inevitable they'll someday become more powerful than the state itself.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

Ian Bremmer: US & China's Changing Status Quo on Taiwan | Quick Take | GZERO Media

US and China's changing status quo on Taiwan

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, everybody. And a Quick Take for you. I wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan. I'll tell you, I've talked about it in the media over the last couple of weeks and almost every questioner has been trying to prod me towards, "are we heading to war?" Then I was with some friends at the Trilateral Commission on Friday. I like that group a lot. It's one of these groups that a lot of conspiracy theorists pretend secretly run the world, like the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations. Now having attended all three, I can tell you, if they do run the world, they are not inviting me into the rooms where they're making those decisions. If they are doing that, they're also doing a lousy job of it.

Nonetheless, it was fun until I was on stage and the first question I got was about, "Hey, so the Chinese are changing the status quo. Do you think that means we're heading towards war?" I just want to say that, first of all, I am clearly less concerned about the imminence of confrontation and military conflict between the United States and China than almost anybody out there. Accidents are certainly possible, but particularly around Taiwan, where both sides know the stakes and have made them abundantly clear for decades now, and everyone involved gets it I think it's much less likely.

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Biden’s Legacy Largely Won’t Be About Afghanistan | Macron Egged | World In :60 | GZERO Media

Biden's legacy rests on pandemic leadership (not Afghanistan mistakes)

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the US Senate hearing on Afghanistan, French President Macron's popularity, and China's hostage diplomacy.

As top US military officials testify right now on Capitol Hill, just down the road, do you expect the Biden administration to suffer any long-term consequences for its botched Afghanistan withdrawal?

The answer is yes, but at the margins. I still think Biden will be most remembered overwhelmingly for how he handles the pandemic as well as for the three trillion plus dollars that will likely, but not certainly, get passed to pay for infrastructure and improve the social contract in the US. On both, he has been taking hits. Certainly the former has not gone well in terms of the pandemic response and on balance, I still think that means that the House in midterm elections is going to flip fairly solidly Republican. Means that they understand they have a narrow window to get policy done. Okay. That's it.

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What We're Watching: China and Canada's hostage diplomacy, Biden's big week, Lebanon's blast investigation on hold

China and Canada's hostage diplomacy: In 2018, Canada arrested Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou because US authorities wanted to prosecute her for violating Iran sanctions. China responded by arresting two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what looked like a tit-for-tat. Over the weekend, Meng and the "Two Michaels" were all freed to return to their home countries as part of a deal evidently brokered by Washington. The exchange removes a major sore spot in US-China and Canada-China relations, though we're wondering if establishing the precedent of "hostage diplomacy" with China, especially in such a prominent case, is a good one for anyone involved.

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