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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman fist bumps US President Joe Biden in Jeddah.

Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

What We're Watching: Biden-MBS fist bump, Xi in Xinjiang, Kenya-Somalia thaw

Biden’s Saudi trip fallout

Engagement with would-be pariahs may cost you politically, but it's necessary for the national interest. Over the weekend, US President Joe Biden got panned — mostly by fellow Democrats — for fist-bumping with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, during Biden's controversial Middle East trip. (The CIA believes MBS ordered the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi.) Still, the White House said the president returned from the region with some important agreements, such as progress on ending the war in Yemen or making a joint pledge with Israel to stop Iran from getting nukes. But did he really achieve much else? Riyadh announced that it'll increase oil production, but not enough to tame rising gas prices and inflation in America before the November midterms. The Saudis are also nowhere near joining the Abraham Accords, and peace between Israel and the Palestinians remains as elusive as it was under Biden's predecessors. So, why go at all then? The short answer is: as long as the US wants to continue being a player in the Middle East, you simply can't afford to ignore the Saudis, or MBS himself.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping meet via video link with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

EYEPRESS via Reuters Connect

Did the UN accomplish anything in Xinjiang?

When human rights are abused around the world, the UN playbook calls for its envoy to visit that country to assess the situation on the ground and then decide whether the allegations merit a full-scale probe. But what if you knew beforehand that you wouldn't see anything you shouldn’t and that your trip would likely benefit the authoritarian government allegedly responsible for atrocities?

That's perhaps how UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet felt Saturday after wrapping up a much-anticipated visit to China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Beijing has long been accused of subjecting over a million ethnic Uyghurs there to both classic violations, such as warrantless detention, torture, sexual assault, and separation from their families, as well as more Orwellian surveillance, forced labor, and internment in re-education camps.

So why go at all?

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People react after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

REUTERS/Marco Bello

What We're Watching: Texas mourns, Boris caught red-handed, lethal weapons sent to Ukraine, China’s human rights abuses leaked

Will Texas school shooting move the needle on US guns debate?

Another mass shooting has rocked America, leaving 21 dead (19 of them children) at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday — the second-worst school massacre in US history after Sandy Hook almost a decade ago. “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” President Joe Biden said in a nationwide address. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?” For one thing, stricter gun laws are vehemently opposed by most Republicans: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz controversially responded to the tragedy by calling for more armed law enforcement at schools. For another, 2nd Amendment die-hards like the National Rifle Association have deep pockets to fight legislation and fund campaigns (Cruz, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and former President Donald Trump are all slated to speak Friday at the NRA's annual conference in Houston). If a bipartisan gun bill failed to pass in 2013 in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, the odds are even longer now because US politics is even more polarized and we're less than six months out from the November midterms.

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Activists take part in a protest against China's treatment towards the ethnic Uyghur people and calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, at a park Jakarta, Indonesia, January 4, 2022.

REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

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Athletes Likely Exempt From Eventual Beijing 2022 Boycott | IOC's Dick Pound | GZERO World

Would athletes be exempt from a Beijing 2022 Olympics boycott?

Will Western nations boycott next year's Beijing Winter Olympics over China's human rights abuses in Xinjiang? Probably not, says the International Olympic Committee's Dick Pound. But some countries, he anticipates, may opt to only send their athletes — like his native Canada, which has a lot of diplomatic issues with the Chinese. Pound, a former Olympian athlete himself, spoke in an interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Politics, protest & the Olympics: the IOC's Dick Pound

Gabriella Turrisi

How political sports boycotts (really) work

In recent days, America's pastime has become deeply embroiled in America's politics. US Major League Baseball pulled its annual All-Star Game (an annual friendly matchup of the sport's best players at every position) out of Atlanta to protest the Georgia state legislature's recent passage of restrictive new voting laws.

Just a week into baseball season, the move is a big deal in the US. But more broadly, it's the latest in a series of increasingly high-stakes sports decisions around the world that have a lot to do with politics.

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What We're Watching: India halts vaccine exports, principle vs profit in China, Nigeria's crypto fiasco

India squeezes vaccine exports as COVID crisis deepens: India has embarked on one of the world's most ambitious vaccine drives, seeking to vaccinate not only its own 1.4 billion people, but also make hundreds of millions of jabs to inoculate low-income countries under the global COVAX initiative. To date, it has sent 60 million doses to over 70 countries. But now, as India grapples with a surging COVID caseload and death rate — in part because of a new "double mutant variant" — New Delhi has placed a temporary ban on exports of the AstraZeneca jab being produced by its Serum Institute. "Domestic demand will have to take precedence," one foreign ministry official said. The move, which is expected to hinder supply chains until at least the end of April, will have massive impacts on COVAX, which is counting on India's pharma sector to get millions of doses to the neediest countries. India's ban has already frustrated supplies that were supposed to go to the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil in recent days. The Serum Institute says it aims to produce 1 billion doses for low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2021, but so far, its monthly production cadence is lagging.

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The stories COVID buried

This year has been disastrous on so many levels as the COVID crisis wreaked havoc around the world. While coverage of the once-in-a-century pandemic dwarfed everything else in 2020, we have seen other huge political stories this year that will continue to shape the world for years to come.

We, your four Signal writers, each chose one big story that, to one degree or another, went under the radar as the global health crisis took centre stage. What do these tell us about the current state of our G-Zero world?

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