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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.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

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

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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