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What We're Watching: North Korean bluster, EU aid for Afghanistan, Tigray offensive

What We're Ignoring

Kim Jong Un's "invincible" military: North Korea's supreme leader is desperate for American attention these days. At the same time he's showing the South a little more love, Kim is lashing out at the US, now vowing to build an "invincible" army to defend his country from American hostility. The supreme leader, who just two weeks ago tested his first hypersonic missile, is doubling down on his strategy of getting more — and more powerful — weapons to convince President Joe Biden to stop ghosting him and return to the negotiating table. But it hasn't worked so far, and unless Kim has a bigger ace up his sleeve, the talks will remain frozen — as will North Korea's hopes of getting the US to lift economic sanctions in place because of Pyongyang's nuclear program.

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What We’re Watching: Kim goes hypersonic, confident Europeans, Japan’s new safe hands

Kim Jong Un breaks the sound barrier: North Korea has announced the successful test of a "strategic weapon" that travels five times faster than the speed of sound. The Hwasong-8 missile, which is believed to be nuclear-capable, is a hypersonic weapon which is much harder for missile defense systems to track than conventional ballistic missiles. The US, China, Russia, and India are the only other countries known to be working with this highly sophisticated technology. And although experts aren't quite sure how developed the Hwasong-8 actually is, this is the third missile test that North Korea has conducted in the last month, suggesting that Pyongyang is getting plucky again as nuclear negotiations with the US remain in a deep freeze.

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What We’re Watching: Korea vs Korea, Taliban vs Taliban, Haitian PM vs top prosecutor

North and South Korea trade barbs and missile tests: Just hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday, the South responded by conducting its own first successful test of a submarine-launched ballistic projectile, with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in boasting that it would deter the North's "provocations." Then Kim Yo Jong, the fiery sister of North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, responded to the South's response by threatening to cut all bilateral ties. Although bombastic statements by the Kims are nothing new, things are heating up. With US-led denuclearization talks stalled, Pyongyang carried out its first weapons test in six months a few days ago. Kim may be upping the ante deliberately right now, betting that after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Joe Biden is keen to avoid another foreign policy embarrassment on his watch. Maybe this time Joe will pick up the phone?

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China and US economic interdependence hasn't lessened

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the China-US economic relationship, North Korea's missiles tests, and the New York Times' investigation of the US drone strike in Afghanistan.

China owns more than $1 trillion US debt, but how much leverage do they actually have?

I mean, the leverage is mutual and it comes from the enormous interdependence in the economic relationship of the United States and China. And it's about debt. And it's about trade. It's about tourism. It's about sort of mutual investment. Now. There is some decoupling happening in terms of labor, increasingly moving domestic in terms of the China five-year plan, dual circulation focusing more on domestic economy, and in terms of data systems breaking up, the internet of things, being Chinese or American, but not both. And indebtedness is part of that. But I don't see that unwinding anytime soon. And certainly, the Chinese knows if they're going to get rid of a whole bunch of American debt, they wouldn't be as diversified in global portfolio. Not as great, it's much riskier. And also, the price of those holdings, as they start selling them down would go down. So, I don't think there's a lot of leverage there, frankly. I think the leverage is interdependent.

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What We're Watching: A big German debate, rare Israeli-Palestinian meeting, North Korea restarts a reactor

German elections heat up: Less than a month from Germany's general elections, the three contenders vying to replace longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel went head-to-head in the first major prime-time TV debate. The three chancellor wannabes — the Green Party's Annalena Baerbock, Olaf Scholz, Germany's finance minister from the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, and Merkel's handpicked successor Armin Laschet of the CDU/CSU coalition — debated climate change policy, taxes and COVID recovery, as well as Germany's place in the world. A post-debate survey showed that 36 percent of viewers said Scholz had the best performance, but polls suggest that the election remains anyone's to win. After soaring in the polls in the spring, Baerbock has fallen behind thanks to claims that she embellished her credentials. Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, is extremely unpopular, particularly after a series of gaffes as the country dealt with devastating floods in July. Whatever the outcome, next month's winner will probably have to form an ideologically broad coalition government.

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What We're Watching: Finger-pointing over Greek fires, US military's vaccine mandate, Kim Jong Un's sister's tirade

Fire and anger spread in Greece: The Greek island of Evia and surrounding areas have been ablaze for almost two weeks now, destroying hundreds of homes and ripping through more than 56,655 hectares of land. As the climate-linked wildfires have spread to the greater Athens area and beyond, public anger with the government has been boiling over, too. Local officials say that the national government has failed to provide adequate support for hard-hit communities, including aerial reinforcement needed to help put out fires raging through the forests. Critics also say that in many places, ill-equipped fire crews are relying on locals to help save homes and forestry from multiple blazes. PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, for his part, apologized (sort of) for any shortcomings in the government response, but said that his government had done whatever it could to tackle a natural disaster of "unprecedented dimensions." But angry residents pushed back, arguing that despite previous assurances, Athens didn't invest in recruiting more firefighters, as well as firetrucks and fire bombers even though there has been indication for some time that severe droughts and heatwaves are making wildfires more extreme — and frequent.

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What We’re Watching: EU COVID pass mess, Bolsonaro in trouble, Kim Jong Un’s latest shakeup

EU rolls out COVID digital certificate: As of today, the EU's long-awaited COVID Digital Certificate system — a centralized database of residents' vaccination status and test results — is up and running. Good news for those wishing to travel around the bloc again this summer, right? Not so fast. First, countries worried about the more infectious Delta COVID variant are still permitted to restrict travel from countries where the strain is prevalent. Second, some EU member states are still not fully integrated with the system, so the usual testing and quarantine requirements are in place. Third, the system greenlights people who have received vaccines approved by the European Medical Agency, but not others such as the WHO-approved Sinovac or Sputnik V, which are being administered, for example, in Hungary. As with its vaccine rollout, we predict the bloc's vaccine (gasp!) "passport" scheme will be initially glitchy, but ultimately work out fine.

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What we’re watching: Tigray ceasefire, Peruvians protest endless election, North Koreans cry for Kim, Tour crash suspect vanishes

Ceasefire in Ethiopia: In a stunning about-face, Ethiopian forces on Monday withdrew entirely from the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle, and declared an immediate, unilateral ceasefire. War has raged in Tigray since November, when a dispute over election dates ignited long-simmering tensions between Tigrayan militants and Ethiopian government forces. Since then Ethiopian government troops, aided by soldiers from neighboring Eritrea as well as irregulars from other parts of Ethiopia, have waged a brutal campaign in the region — pushing it to the brink of famine and, human rights watchdogs say, committing war crimes. In recent weeks, Tigrayan forces had mounted a forceful counterattack, regaining control over vast swaths of the region. The current ceasefire is meant to last until the end of the planting season, in September. Can the central government and the local Tigrayan leadership reach a more durable political agreement before then? After eight months of war, there is little trust and lots of bad blood.

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