Coronavirus Politics Daily: US-China tensions, migrants in danger, and Venezuela isolated

Coronavirus Politics Daily: US-China tensions, migrants in danger, and Venezuela isolated

Read our roundup of COVID-19 themes and stories from around the globe.

The pandemic deepens US-China tensions – Rows over trade and technology have put a massive strain on US-China relations in recent years, tensions that the coronavirus pandemic appears to have deepened. On Tuesday, the Chinese government expelled 13 American journalists from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times. The move is part of a tit-for-tat over journalists that has already seen each country kick out a handful of the other's reporters. But the coronavirus crisis has now stoked fresh acrimony, with each side accusing the other of spreading "disinformation" about the virus (a Chinese official recently claimed that the US military brought the infection to the region). It's not entirely clear why China took this step now. As we've noted here, Beijing has become an important partner for countries in the West, particularly in Europe, that are now grappling with the pandemic. So it's entirely possible that China wants to keep the focus on that, while avoiding any more independent scrutiny from foreign journalists of its own handling of the outbreak, especially as it prepares to lift some of the quarantine measures.


COVID-19: the perils for migrants – Lacking access to healthcare and often stuck in precarious living conditions, asylum seekers are especially vulnerable to the spread of contagious disease. But they are also vulnerable to the measures that governments are taking to stop the spread of coronavirus. The Trump administration is floating fresh restrictions on migrants seeking refuge in the United States, according to reports, just as healthcare workers warn of a potential coronavirus outbreak near the US-Mexico border. Meanwhile, the European Union's decision to shut its borders over COVID-19 heightens the anguish for thousands of asylum seekers and refugees, many fleeing violence in Syria, who are now trapped in no-man's-land on the Aegean islands amid ongoing tensions along the Greek-Turkish border. Although several European countries recently agreed to take in more migrants – unaccompanied and "very sick" minors – the UN refugee agency is now temporarily suspending resettlement for thousands of refugees because of the new EU border restrictions. That means many more refugees will languish in camps where, even in the best of times, diseases and superbugs thrive.

Venezuela forced into COVID-19 isolation – In recent days, both Colombia and Brazil have shut their borders with Venezuela, over fears that the steady stream of refugees fleeing the country's grinding humanitarian crisis could be a major vector for the spread of COVID-19. The concern is understandable, especially for Colombia, which has already absorbed more than 1.3 million Venezuelan migrants. After years of economic mismanagement and crisis, Venezuela's healthcare system is severely depleted, hospitals can't count on running water or power, and the government is all but broke. It certainly doesn't help that prices for oil, Venezuela's main economic engine, have plunged as a result of the ongoing Saudi-Russia price war (which you can read about here.) Venezuela has already reported several dozen cases, but the numbers could soon rise catastrophically. Underscoring the severity of the crisis – as well as the topsy-turviness of the world right now – President Nicolas Maduro has sought $5 billion worth of help from a most unlikely source (at least from the perspective of the die-hard Chavista revolutionary): the International Monetary Fund. The fund, which his predecessor Hugo Chavez once wanted to destroy, promptly rejected the request, saying it can't move until there is international consensus on who is actually president of the country. Much of the world recognizes the head of the legislature, Juan Guaido, but Maduro is still functionally in charge.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

More Show less

Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.

More Show less

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

More Show less

6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

More Show less

Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

More Show less

China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal