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China's plans for Afghanistan

Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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What We’re Watching: Facebook refriends Australia, Biden on Afghan fence, Philippine labor for COVID jabs

Facebook "refriends" Australia: Last week, Facebook abruptly blocked news from appearing on Australian users' feeds after Canberra proposed a law requiring Big Tech companies pay news outlets for sharing their content. Facebook came under fire globally for banning news sharing in Australia, including crucial public health announcements on COVID. Now, five days later, Facebook has reversed course to suddenly lift the news ban. "Facebook has re-friended Australia," Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said after speaking with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. So, what changed? The two sides say they have reached a compromise, though some details remain murky. The Australian government will make several amendments to the Big Tech bill — including one that will allow Facebook to circumvent the new code and avoid hefty fines — if the social media platform shows a "significant contribution" to Australia's local journalism scene. In theory, this would require Facebook to prove it has cut enough deals with Aussie media companies to pay them for content — but what constitutes "enough" remains unclear. Frydenberg said Australia has been a "proxy battle" for the rest of the globe on Big Tech regulation. Indeed, Europe and the US have been fastidiously taking notes.

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What We're Watching: Afghanistan's progress, Venezuela's opposition boycotts, EU vs "illiberals"

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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The slow US retreat from Afghanistan

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, US President George W. Bush demanded that Afghanistan's Taliban government surrender Osama bin Laden and end support for al-Qaeda. The Taliban refused.

On October 7, US bombs began falling on Taliban forces. NATO allies quickly pledged support for the US, and US boots hit the ground in Afghanistan two weeks later.

Thus began a war, now the longest in US history, that has killed more than 3,500 coalition soldiers and 110,000 Afghans. It has cost the American taxpayer nearly $3 trillion. US allies have also made human and material sacrifices.

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Armenia-Azerbaijan ceasefire may not hold but direct war is unlikely

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

Let's go. Number one. What are the chances the Armenia-Azerbaijan ceasefire holds?

Well, I mean, in this environment, a hold is virtually zero. There's very little restraint on the ground. Local, military leaders, especially in the autonomous region of Karabakh, aren't necessarily listening to everything that the Armenian government has to say. One shot, one drone leads to more. And, there is no process by which the Armenians and the Azeri leadership can say that, "They're winning, yet." And so, that makes it hard. But the fact that the Russians are engaging, we had trilateral talks with the Armenians and the Azeris, the Russians matter the most here. They're the ones that have ensured, some level of frozen instability between the two. There's been significant behind the scene's engagement in Moscow with diplomats, from both sides. And, I think the Russians have made very clear to the Turks at this point, that the Turks are not going to get a leadership seat in the Minsk group, broader negotiations. And, that the Russians would not tolerate a broader expansion of the war that threatened Armenian territorial integrity itself, as opposed to Nagorno-Karabakh. If they were to do that, the Russians would come in and defend Armenia. So, a lot of people are dying, certainly in the high hundreds, at this point. We've got nearly a hundred thousand additional people displaced. This is a horrible thing to see happen, but it's not the tipping point of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

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