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The Taiwan trap

Tensions over Taiwan have surged in recent weeks. On September 19, US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach visited Taiwan, and Beijing responded by launching military exercises and sending 16 fighter jets and two bombers careening through Taiwan's airspace.

Krach was in fact the second notable US visitor to the island in just two months. In both cases, Beijing responded with a show of force. The US is reportedly also considering the sale of precision-guided missiles to Taiwan. China has responded with threats of sanctions against US companies.

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What We're Watching: UK's second wave, UAE-US eye arms deal, China's plans for Tibet

UK's new COVID restrictions: In a last-ditch effort to avoid another national lockdown, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday sweeping new restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country that could last up to six months, including limits on the number of people that can attend social gatherings. Warning that the country has reached "a perilous turning point," Johnson said that similar measures would soon be extended to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The PM's announcement comes as his government struggles to battle what he now admits is a second wave of the coronavirus. The UK now has the fifth highest death toll in the world and a steadily rising caseload. The new restrictions represent an about-face for the British government, which has been criticized for walking back its earlier calls for workers to return to the office. Will Johnson's move be enough to flatten the (second) curve?

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What We're Watching: Mexico dismisses US report on drugs, UN warns Burundi, Biden's limits on US-UK trade

Mexico rejects top drug hub claim: In response to a new US report on the countries that are major transit points and producers of illicit drugs, Mexico's populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, rejected the report's findings — which called out Mexico as one of the world's most prolific drug production hotspots — as merely a matter of "opinion." AMLO said that the accusation is an example of things that come up in its relations with the US that "we [Mexico] don't accept," but made clear that he would not seek confrontation with Washington over the disagreement. Indeed, AMLO's dismissal is remarkable considering he came to power in 2018 in part on his promise to root out crime linked to the country's powerful drug cartels. But to date, crime in Mexico has only exploded under AMLO's watch, while more recently, the country's powerful cartels have exploited the pandemic to expand their operations (evidence suggests that lockdowns have exacerbated the addictions of their US clientele, who account for over $20 billion of Mexican drug sales each year).

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What does a US troop withdrawal mean for Iraq?

Earlier this year, in response to diplomatic confusion over reports of an abrupt US withdrawal from Iraq, Mark Esper, the US Secretary of Defense, said decisively: "We have no plans to leave Iraq."

Now, eight months later, the Trump administration says it will reduce the number of US forces in the country to 3,000 in the coming weeks — a reduction from the 5,200 currently there. What does the US troop drawdown — and potential eventual full withdrawal — mean for Iraq, the region, and the US?

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A tenuous deal in Afghanistan

It's the decision that could kickstart intra-Afghan dialogue, and pave the way to ending the US occupation in Afghanistan after 20 bloody years.

On Sunday, after days of deliberations that involved thousands of Afghan delegates packing into one tent (what's COVID again), President Ashraf Ghani agreed to release hundreds of Taliban prisoners from government jails. The move opens the way to intra-Afghan dialogue under a deal that the US brokered directly with the Taliban earlier this year.

The Trump administration has touted this development as a major step towards peace, but after nearly two decades of war, the relevant players are still miles apart when it comes to laying out a common vision for the conflict-ridden country. What do they all want?

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