China is no stranger to using social media networks to influence public opinion. But as Chinese foreign policy becomes increasingly assertive, they are doing a lot more to win foreign hearts and minds on Facebook and Twitter. A joint investigation by the AP and the Oxford Internet Institute has revealed how Chinese diplomats and state media outlets are coordinating on social media to strategically amplify messages from Beijing — which are then further amplified by an army of fake accounts that Facebook and Twitter keep playing whack-a-mole with. We take a look at China's public diplomacy activity, reach, and engagement on Facebook and Twitter over the span of a few months since mid-2020.
Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.
Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.
Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.
But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.
In fact, Khamenei has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure Raisi's win, according to Eurasia Group senior analyst Henry Rome, precisely because he considers Raisi a "safe pair of hands" in the presidency — a predictable and loyal leader — at this crucial historical moment.
As we approach just the second transition from one Supreme Leader to another in the Islamic Republic's history, no Iranian under the age of 45 will have any memory of the 1979 revolution that gives him his legitimacy. About 70 percent of Iranians are under 40. If a growing population of young people is less likely to accept the Supreme Leader's right to rule, no one can say much violence and upheaval this coming moment of change at the very top could create.
Some of Iran's people are desperate for change. They want more personal freedom, and many of them believe that greater engagement with Europe and the United States is essential if Iran's economy is to create opportunity and prosperity. Other Iranian voters fear that a more relaxed attitude toward religious values and rules, and greater contact with the West, would be toxic for Iranian society and could create chaos in its politics. Both sides are bracing for a fight.
We asked Henry Rome what all this means for Raisi and Iran's immediate future. You can read the full text of Henry's thoughts here.
Who is Raisi? Raisi is "ideologically very close to Khamenei," who has "elevated [him] to positions of national prominence throughout his career," Rome told us. But he's also a "poor politician… uninspiring, uncharismatic, with only a tenuous grasp on issues facing average citizens." Rome says the decision to clear the field for Raisi is "a back-handed vote of confidence: It reflects a strong desire to elevate Raisi but real doubts about whether he could win on his own."
What can we expect from his presidency? "Raisi is a firm believer in Khamenei's notion of a 'resistance economy' in which Iran builds up domestic capacity and self-reliance at the expense of broader global integration, especially with the West. But this strategy has very significant limitations. Iran's industrial sector, including automotive and energy, needs foreign inputs and investment to grow in a sustainable way. A more closed economy would struggle to create jobs, combat corruption, and raise living standards. And it would ignore the desire of many Iranians for closer ties with the West and for access to Western consumer goods."
Could that spell trouble for him? "Unmet popular expectations would leave Raisi exposed to popular discontent, especially once the initial economic benefits of a return to the nuclear agreement wear off. If Raisi gets roughed up in the presidency, the whole state may suffer further dents to its credibility."
If Rome is right, we'll be watching to see whether Raisi's "safe pair of hands" creates conflict inside the Islamic Republic at one of the most dangerous moments in its history.
Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent policy developments:
With the Supreme Court's recent decision, is the Affordable Care Act here to stay?
Yes, this was the Court's third ruling on the Affordable Care Act upholding its constitutionality. This challenge was brought by Republican attorneys general who argued that the repeal of the individual mandate tax undermined the court's previous justification for allowing the law to stand. They were unsuccessful, yet again. And the political salience of the Affordable Care Act has really diminished in the last several years, with Republicans moving on to fight other issues and the Court signaling very strongly they don't want to get involved in overturning this piece of legislation. The Affordable Care Act will be here at least until Congress wants to legislate on it again.
What does the House vote to repeal the 2002 authorization for the invasion of Iraq mean for presidential power?
What this means is that both parties in Congress see the lack of utility in keeping alive this almost 20 years old authorization of force. It doesn't mean the end of presidential powers to respond to terrorist threats, however, as there is still the 2001 authorization for use of force that's been used to target terrorists abroad and will be continued to be used that way. What's likely to happen is there could be a renegotiation of that 2001 authorization of force to make it more narrow, potentially more accountable to Congress. And what you're going to see is that the president now has to come back to Congress if he wants to engage in a larger effort overseas. Thanks for watching. This has been US Politics In (a little over) 60 Seconds.
Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.
What We're Watching: Latin America's vaccine shortage, Juneteenth a new national holiday, China cracks down on HK free press
Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, shut out from COVAX because of payment problems.
Juneteenth to become a US federal holiday: The US Congress has passed a bill making June 19 an official federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The bill immediately went to President Biden's desk, and he enthusiastically signed it into law. Juneteenth marks the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers proclaimed the freedom of slaves in Texas, a state where enforcement of President Lincoln's Emancipation Declaration, announced some 2 years earlier, had been sluggish. The bill was approved by a huge majority (415-14) in the House of Representatives and unanimously in the Senate, an important sign of unity at a time of hyper partisanship. Indeed, it stands in contrast to continued efforts to pass a bill on police reform, which have stalled in recent months because vast disagreements persist between Republicans and Democrats. It's the first time that a new federal holiday has been added to the slate since the early 1980s, when then President Ronald Reagan signed a law establishing Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday.
China targets HK pro-democracy media: Hong Kong police arrested on Thursday five editors and executives of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper, accusing them of the bogus charge of conspiring with foreign powers to impose sanctions on China and Hong Kong. It's a sharp escalation of China's push to end basic freedoms in the city, and the first time Beijing has brazenly used its draconian security law for the territory — passed over a year ago — against the independent media. China already issued a warning to Apple Daily last December by detaining its owner Jimmy Lai, one of Hong Kong's richest tycoons, who was later sentenced to 14 months in prison for leading pro-democracy protests in 2019. But even behind bars, Lai remained defiant, urging his reporters to continue doing their job. Now that'll be much harder, as Apple Daily will struggle to pay staff with its bank accounts frozen upon orders from Beijing. More broadly, other independent media outlets in Hong Kong — including the veteran South China Morning Post, owned by billionaire Jack Ma — now know exactly what'll happen to them if they publish stories Beijing doesn't like.
Hard Numbers: China blasts to space, Facebook removes fake Ethiopian accounts, Tokyo lifts pre-Olympic state of emergency, Gbagbo returns to Ivory Coast
3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars.
1.1 million: Facebook has taken down pro-government fake accounts followed by roughly 1.1 million users ahead of a contentious election in Ethiopia on June 21 amid the ongoing civil war in Tigray. The accounts have been linked to Ethiopia's cyberintelligence agency, and posted content critical of opposition parties including the nationalist Tigray People's Liberation Front.
12: Japan will lift a COVID-fueled state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures on July 11, just 12 days before the Tokyo Olympic begin. Most Japanese people oppose holding the games while the pandemic is still raging, one of the main reasons Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's popularity has hit record lows in recent months.10: Laurent Gbagbo, former president of the Ivory Coast, has returned to the country 10 years after he was ousted from power during a brief yet bloody civil war sparked by Gbagbo's refusal to step down when he lost the 2010 presidential election. Gbagbo was the first former head of state to go on trial at the International Criminal Court, which acquitted him in 2019 of crimes against humanity linked to the disputed election that left some 3,000 dead.
In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.
It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.
How did we get here? Ethiopia is deeply fragmented, made up of more than 90 ethnic groups, many of whom have traditionally felt excluded from political power.
Despite accounting for just 7 percent of Ethiopia's population, the Tigray ethnic group dominated Ethiopian politics for decades, after a coalition led by the nationalist Tigray People's Liberation Front helped end the brutal reign of Soviet-backed dictator Haile Mengistu in 1991.
Then came Abiy, an ethnic Oromo who when tapped to take power in 2018, pledged to reform a political system that left many Ethiopians feeling marginalized. Abiy promptly released political prisoners from jail, called for exiled Ethiopians to return home, and prioritized press freedom. But in ushering in these reforms, and others, the new PM unhatched the lid on deep-rooted ethnic tensions simmering beneath the surface. Soon after, inter-ethnic resentments boiled over.
Last November, in response to an alleged TPLF attack on an Ethiopian military base, Abiy launched a military offensive in Tigray. The aggressive move was broadly interpreted as comeuppance for Tigray holding regional elections, defying an order from Addis Ababa calling for polls to be stalled amid the pandemic. Abiy, for his part, said it was a response to "treasonous" provocations from the TPLF.
Worsening humanitarian crisis. The military offensive has since escalated into a full blown humanitarian crisis. Many analysts say that Abiy has overseen a campaign of "ethnic cleansing," where Ethiopian troops — backed by Eritrean forces — have brutalized Tigrayan communities; reports of massacres, rapes, and pillaging are well-substantiated. The UN says that at least 350,000 Tigrayans are experiencing famine-like conditions because Ethiopian troops have burned crops, killed livestock, and blocked humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, tens of thousands have been forced to flee to neighboring Sudan, and more than 2.2 million have been displaced.
What does all this mean for the upcoming vote? Abiy was tapped to lead the ruling coalition, and not elected prime minister by the people, so he has long sought a popular vote to earn real legitimacy. Domestically, this validation is particularly important given that Abiy is the first Oromo, Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, to ever serve as prime minister.
But now, many regions will not be participating in next week's vote, citing administrative and security issues. Meanwhile, several political parties, like the Oromo Federalist Congress, are boycotting the election due to a government crackdown on opposition parties in recent months. In total, at least 78 constituencies of the 547 represented in Ethiopia's parliament will not vote on June 21. So even if Abiy wins, it won't be the indisputable victory he wanted.
Unraveling. Despite all its shortcomings, Ethiopia has been deemed a beacon of stability in the chronically volatile Horn of Africa in recent decades, transforming its agricultural and economic sectors to become the third-fastest growing country in the world from 2000-2016.
But as violence persists, there seems to be no end in sight. The TPLF, resentful that it no longer calls the shots in Addis Ababa, has very little to lose, and Abiy has made it clear that he's not backing down either. This threatens not only the stability of Ethiopia, but of the entire region.
Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:
Cyber issues took center stage at the G7 summit. Is there a consensus among world leaders on how to handle cyberweapons?
Well, depending on who is included, there is a growing consensus that the escalations of conflict in cyberspace must stop. And G7 leaders that are now all representing democracies did call on Russia to hold perpetrators of cybercrime that operate from within its borders to account. So, I guess hope dies last because laws in Russia prevents the extradition of suspects to the US, even if Vladimir Putin answered positively when Joe Biden asked for cooperation on that front. And when it comes to limiting the spread of tools that are used for hacking, surveillance and infiltration, the EU has just moved ahead and adopted new dual use regulations which reflect the concerns for human rights violations when journalists are targeted the way that Jamal Khashoggi was. So ending the proliferation of systems that are used to attack would be an urgent but also obvious step for democratic nations to agree on.
Will Biden's meeting with Putin influence a united Western approach in combating cybercrime?
Well, after the intense and high-profile series of ransomware attacks, there's a fresh focus on deterrence and accountability in this space. Biden announced several sectors of critical infrastructure should be off limits for cyberattacks. But the need is really for sufficient consequences to force those in Russia, but also elsewhere to stop their lucrative, cynical practices.