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Pakistan's new army chief Gen. Asim Munir meets with President Arif Alvi in Islamabad.

Press Information Department/Handout via REUTERS

After months of drama and debate, Pakistan finally has a new army chief, ostensibly the most powerful man in the land. While Gen. Asim Munir inherits a country in the midst of political chaos and economic disaster, he is also confronted by a crisis of confidence in Pakistan’s most powerful and organized institution.

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People gather for a vigil and hold white sheets of paper to protest COVID restrictions in Beijing, China.

REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Chinese people vs. zero-COVID

Unprecedented protests against Xi Jinping and his controversial zero-COVID policy have hit the streets and college campuses across China. On Saturday, demonstrators in the financial hub of Shanghai, the country’s largest city, waved blank sheets of paper to show defiance and demanded the unthinkable: that the all-powerful Xi step down. Similar scenes were seen from Beijing to Nanjing.

Such widespread protests are extremely rare in tightly controlled China, especially against Xi. But zero-COVID, despite recent tweaks, has not only affected everyday life and the economy — it may also have been the cause of a recent fire that killed 10 people in Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern Xinjiang region. While the tragedy may have sparked the latest round of protests, for months snap lockdowns have been triggering clashes between residents and officials in other cities. China’s low vaccination rate, ineffective homegrown vaccines, and the high elderly population support Beijing’s insistence on zero-COVID. However, the policy isn’t working anymore, with case numbers now hitting record highs. Xi just got a third term as Communist Party boss, putting him on the path to likely rule as long as he wants. Will the recent protests — which so far have been met with strong police action — force him to rethink the policy, or double down on it?

On Monday, some big cities responded to the unrest by (slightly) relaxing COVID curbs. However, Beijing and Shanghai stepped up security in protest areas and national state media clarified that zero-COVID is here to stay.

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Luisa Vieira

Yes, it’s the World Cup. But only a small part of the world actually gets to have it: Since 1930, every edition of the tournament has been won by a team from Europe or South America. Indeed, no country from any other part of the world has even been a runner-up. The last non-European or non-South American team to make it to the semifinals was South Korea in 2002, when it was host along with Japan — unless you count Turkey as part of Asia, which FIFA does not. We explore the World Cup’s winners and runners-up throughout history, showing how two regions dominate the Beautiful Game.

Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, and Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhamedov pose for a picture during the Central Asia-Russia summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.

REUTERS/Turar Kazangapov


Since it invaded Ukraine, Russia hasn't just been making enemies – it’s also been losing friends. Some Central Asian countries – considered part of Russia’s backyard thanks to their Soviet heritage – have begun distancing themselves from Moscow.

Tensions have been building: In October, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon told Vladimir Putin at a summit that his country needs “more respect.” At September’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov kept Putin waiting before a meeting. And last week, four of Russia’s treaty allies – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — abstained from a vote in the UN General Assembly that demanded Moscow pay war reparations to Ukraine.

“Central Asian Republics have always wanted to be free of Russian influence. Seeing Russia falter in Ukraine, they sense their opportunity,” says Husain Haqqani, director for Central and South Asia at Washington’s Hudson Institute.

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U.S. President Joe Biden shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they meet on the sidelines of the G20 leaders' summit in Bali.

Reuters

On Monday, US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met for their first face-to-face meeting since Biden was elected in 2020. “I look forward to working with you, Mr. President, to bring China-U.S. relations back to the track of health and stable development for the benefit of our two countries and the world as a whole,” Xi told Biden.

What’s at stake: Stopping the Russia-Ukraine war, Taiwan’s sovereignty and defense, North Korea’s increased weapons testing, battling COVID, resumption of global supply chains, and tackling climate change.

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China somewhat eases zero-COVID restrictions

Luisa Vieira

Change is afoot in China. Beijing’s zero-COVID containment strategy has been widely criticized at home and abroad, setting markets aflutter, and disrupting economies and supply chains worldwide. But now, just weeks after President Xi Jinping secured his norm-defying third term as CCP secretary-general, his new Politburo Standing Committee has issued changes to China’s zero-COVID policy. The news saw Hong Kong and mainland markets react positively, and online inbound flight bookings doubled overnight, but economists remain wary and are advising caution. We explore the differences between the two policies.

An image of Elon Musk is seen on a smartphone placed on printed Twitter logos.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Quo vadis, Elon?

Elon Musk is taking disruption to a whole new level as the CEO of Twitter. After firing half of his staff on Friday, the world's richest man has lit another fire with plans for an $8 subscription service to get verified on the social media platform. Before Musk took over, the coveted blue check was free for public figures, companies, and journalists, but now technically anybody can get it. That raises the stakes for all sorts of misinformation mayhem, though the rollout has now been delayed until after Tuesday's US midterm elections. Major corporate advertisers responded to the brouhaha by pausing their ads, with Musk admitting a big drop in revenue, which he blamed on firms caving to activists' demands. So, what’s next? Ian Bremmer — who tussled with Musk over Russia-Ukraine just weeks before the gazillionaire bought Twitter — hinted that the platform's new boss might have a shorter tenure than disgraced former British PM Liz Truss, who famously lasted less time than a head of lettuce in her last days in office. For Russia, Bremmer noted, "buying a few thousand verified Twitter accounts at $8/pop to promote disinfo feels like a no-brainer."

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Imran Khan supporters chant slogans as they condemn the assassination attempt on the former PM in Wazirabad, Pakistan.

REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Pakistan is still reeling after the assassination attempt on ex-PM Imran Khan, the born-again Muslim populist who has been campaigning for snap elections and a return to power since being ousted from office last April. After he survived gunshot wounds on his legs Thursday, a three-way political battle between Khan, the civilian government, and its military backers is now spilling onto the streets.

The flurry of accusations, questions, and investigations in the wake of the shooting doesn’t bode well for political and social stability in the world’s fifth most populous country and the only nuclear-armed Islamic republic.

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