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People in Hong Kong hold sheets of paper in protest over coronavirus disease restrictions in mainland China.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: China's zero-COVID shift, Russia's fertilizer deal, Ramaphosa's corruption probe, EU's oil wrangling

China hints zero-COVID shift, censors online protesters

Chinese people who can't wait to ditch zero-COVID — basically everyone except the government — got a glimmer of hope Thursday, when the senior official overseeing the policy said that China was entering a "new stage" in taming the virus. Although what that means is unclear, his comments follow moves by several big cities to relax lockdown rules. Meanwhile, now that most COVID protesters are off the streets, Xi Jinping's censors have taken the fight to cyberspace. They'll have to get creative because Chinese netizens are now ranting about zero-COVID with the online equivalent of the now-verboten blank sheets of paper: sarcastic memes or words that sound similar to Xi or resign. Interestingly, the government outsources content moderation to social media companies that use a mix of humans and artificial intelligence. Exhaustion with zero-COVID might be the biggest test to date of a system that’s not designed to be perfect but rather effective enough at wiping out critical voices.

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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Reuters

Why Washington is chatting up Nicolás Maduro again

You can isolate some of the oil-rich strongmen all of the time, or all of the oil-rich strongmen some of the time, but that’s about it these days, as Joe Biden is quickly learning.

Last week, it emerged that the White House is exploring ways to relax certain sanctions against the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro. Under a proposed deal, Washington would allow US oil major Chevron to resume exporting oil from the country while Maduro, for his part, would agree to restart talks with the opposition about free and fair elections.

As a reminder, a 2018 crisis brought on by Maduro’s repression and economic mismanagement drove millions of Venezuelans abroad. It also landed the country under “maximum pressure” financial and energy sanctions from the US, which were designed to squeeze Maduro — the heir to “21st Century Socialist” Hugo Chávez — from power.

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Biden's Trip to Saudi Arabia Viewed as a Win for the Saudis | GZERO World

Saudi Arabia proved it's still the key player in the Gulf

Joe Biden's pledges to prevent Iran from getting the bomb and to defend Saudi Arabia from an attack were "music to Saudi Arabia's ears," Bernard Haykel, a professor at Princeton University and confidante of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman tells Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Biden's controversial trip was largely viewed as a big win for the Saudis, while the US didn't get much out of the discussions because Biden's team didn't do their homework, says Haykel.

The Saudis "were able to show that they have tremendous convening power" by bringing in all the Gulf leaders, thus demonstrating that Riyadh is the most important player there — and the partner you need for political and energy stability.

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Rishi Sunak launches his campaign to be the next Tory leader and British PM in London.

REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Hard Numbers: Race to replace Boris, Mexico "pays" for wall, IMF-Pakistan bailout deal, pricey African crude

5: After two rounds of voting, five candidates are still in the race to succeed outgoing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The early frontrunners are former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, Trade Secretary Penny Mordaunt, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. The list will get whittled down to two before Conservative Party members have their say in early September.

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Russia Plays Hardball With Blockage of Ukraine Grain Exports | Europe In :60 | GZERO Media

Russia's weapon: blocking Ukraine grain exports

Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden shares his view from Bratislava, Slovakia.

What's going to be the effect of the EU sanctions on Russian oil exports?

Well, that's going to be somewhat dependent on what happens primarily with oil price. If the oil price were to go up, then in spite of exporting less quantities, Russia will probably earn more money. If the oil price goes down or stays stable, they will be able to gain less, especially since they will have to export at significant discount prices to the people that are ready to buy their oil. So remains to be seen, but a significant step.

Is there any prospect for really releasing all of the grain for the world markets from Ukraine, that Russia is blocking?

It doesn't look very good. Russia is saying "well, well, well, we can lift the blockage of the Black Sea, but that's only if you lift all of the sanctions on us", so they're playing hardball. But effectively, they are now using the restrictions on grain and other products coming out of Ukraine as a weapon against the rest of the world. And that is of course affecting a lot of people. Different studies say that we have perhaps up to 400 million people, in the poorer part of the world, that's going to be very hardly hit by these particular aspects of the brutal Russian aggression.

Ari Winkleman

The Graphic Truth: Who bought the most Russian oil?

Before Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine, Russia was supplying more than 10% of global crude oil supplies. That share has dwindled in recent months as many countries have (slowly) piled onto a boycott of Russian energy to punish the Kremlin for the ongoing onslaught. To make up the shortfall, the US has been pressuring other oil-producing behemoths – like the Saudis – to up oil production. There are even reports that Washington is contemplating the loosening of sanctions on pariah-state Venezuela to tap into that country’s vast crude oil reserves. We take a look at which countries imported the most crude oil from Russia up until recent embargoes were introduced, as well as which states have the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

This comes to you from the Signal newsletter team of GZERO Media. Subscribe for your free daily Signal today.

Albanese addresses supporters in Sydney after winning Australia's election.

REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

What We’re Watching: Australia elects new PM, Poland hearts Ukraine, Saudis stand by Russia

Albo takes over in Oz

After his Labor Party won Saturday's parliamentary election, Anthony Albanese, known popularly as Albo, is set to become Australia’s new prime minister. But it remains unclear whether Labor has a parliamentary majority: if his party falls just short in the end, it'll be a minority government, so Albanese will need some support from the Greens and climate-focused independents to get laws passed. In a gesture toward both, Albanese announced Sunday that he wants to make Australia a renewable energy superpower — a sharp departure from Scott Morrison, aka ScoMo, his coal-loving conservative predecessor. While mail-in ballots are still being counted, Albanese was sworn in Monday as acting PM in order to attend the Quad Summit in Tokyo on Tuesday. Albanese will need to hit the ground running because Australia is also in the AUKUS security partnership, which China doesn’t like one bit. Just weeks after Beijing inked a deal with the neighboring Solomon Islands that'll allow the Chinese to gain a military foothold in the Pacific, expect the China question to continue dominating Australian foreign policy under the new government.

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