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WHAT WE ARE WATCHING

Trump's "Signing Summit" – On Sunday, Donald Trump announced that "substantial progress" in US-China trade negotiations had persuaded him to delay a tariff increase on $200 billion of Chinese goods that was set to take effect on March 1. He also suggested that Chinese President Xi Jinping's upcoming visit to Mar-a-Lago could become a "signing summit" for a broader trade deal. But there may be some tension between Trump's trade team – who want to put the screws to Beijing in order to seal a deal that really changes China's economic behavior – and Mr. Trump himself, who may favor a faster but fluffier "win" as he gears up for re-election. If Trump settles for a vaguer deal, he risks backlash from lawmakers and business people who want a harder line against Beijing.

State of Emergency in Sudan – Simmering protests against the 30-year rule of strongman Omar Bashir flared again over the weekend, even after he declared a state of emergency and reshuffled his cabinet. As we've written, discontent first erupted in December over economic issues, but the demonstrations quickly expanded into calls for Bashir's ouster. The removal of US sanctions in 2017 exposed the rot of Sudan's economy and stripped Mr. Bashir of a favorite explanation for his people's hardship. Gulf Arab countries have supported him, but the domestic situation in Sudan is getting more tenuous by the day.

WHAT WE ARE IGNORING

Vladimir Putin, music director – Amid an ongoing conflict between Russian authorities and the country's hip hop scene, President Putin has now ordered his government to submit proposals for supporting "contemporary popular music" and "genres that are in demand among youth audiences." This is part of his strategy to get the government to "direct" rather than stifle the burgeoning rap scene. This should go well – after all, you definitely want the guy who objects to music about "sex, drugs, and protest" to be on the 1s and 2s at the club. With his approval ratings at their lowest point in five years, Putin should probably think this through a little more carefully…

Something rooting in the state of Denmark – The world's various controversies over border security have made walls the emblem of our era, and now Denmark plans to build a 40-mile-long, five-foot-tall steel fence on its frontier with Germany. The unwanted migrants in this case? Potentially sickly wild boars. Now, it's natural for the Danish government to protect the 30,000 jobs at risk if Danish pigs fall ill, but will a wall do the trick? In some places the Germany-Denmark border is a river, and boars have been known to swim.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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