Then and Now: Hong Kong and Lebanon in turmoil, Ramaphosa on the spot

Then and Now: Hong Kong and Lebanon in turmoil, Ramaphosa on the spot

Three months ago: Lebanon in turmoil Three months ago we unpacked countrywide protests over corruption and the economy that brought Lebanon's capital, Beirut, to a standstill. At the time, thousands of protesters called in particular for reforms to Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, which currently gives the country's top jobs to people based on their religion. Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, and has since been replaced by Hassan Diab, a university professor who has the backing of the powerful Shia Hezbollah party – designated a terrorist group by the United States – but not the Sunni-bloc. This will make it hard for him to unify the country and secure the Western aid needed to rescue Lebanon's teetering economy. Diab has appointed a new, ostensibly technocratic cabinet in a bid to meet protesters' demands for a break from the old guard. But thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again this week, decrying the new ministers' connections to the political elite. Meanwhile, as the political crisis deepens, Lebanon's economy is on the brink of collapse: Banks are tightening restrictions on foreign currency withdrawals, fueling more public rage.


Six months ago: Hong Kong's enduring protests Back in August, we checked in on the increasingly ferocious protests in Hong Kong, which had been going on for about eight weeks. What started as a rebuke of legislation that would allow extradition of suspected criminals to mainland China has since morphed into an enormous, sometimes violent, political movement in defense of Hong Kongers' political liberties. Despite the fact that the size of protests has waned in recent months, protesters aren't giving up. Thousands of black-clad demonstrators have continued to flood the streets, demanding greater autonomy from Beijing, as well as investigations into police brutality. Meanwhile, Hong Kong police have used increasingly militant tactics to break-up crowds, including live ammunition. The recent coronavirus outbreak brings a new dimension to the seemingly intractable conflict. On one hand, it's revived Hong Kongers' resentment of the mainland: More than 7,000 health workers took part in a strike this week calling on Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, to seal the entire border with China, something she's long resisted. But the outbreak, which has spread in Hong Kong, also makes it impossible to hold mass gatherings. Chinese officials have called protestors "terrorists," and have amassed forces across the border. But eight months later, it's still not clear if Beijing has a red line, and what it would take from protesters to trigger a full-blown Chinese military intervention.

Nine months ago: Cyril Ramaphosa faces the heat As we wrote after President Cyril Ramaphosa's electoral triumph last May, the leader of South Africa's African National Congress party (ANC) faced enormous challenges in trying to revive the country's flailing economy, plagued by decades of crooked leadership. When Ramaphosa took over as party chief from Jacob Zuma, the disgraced former president facing a host of corruption charges, he pledged to bring "ethics into politics," and to oversee South Africa's economic revival. While Ramaphosa has made some effort to ignite growth – such as "embarking on a $100 billion investment drive in five years – South Africa's economy is still on the brink. The IMF and World Bank recently urged radical reform to avoid a recession as the country grapples with spotty electricity supply problems, weak business sentiment, sky-high youth unemployment, and the worst drought in living memory. Ramaphosa's attempt at reform has largely been hampered by competing factions within the ANC itself – so far, he's failed to consolidate control of the party to meet the country's enormous challenges.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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