What We're Watching: Hong Kong streets, Brazil's prisons, TikTok in India

What We're Watching: Hong Kong streets, Brazil's prisons, TikTok in India

The Chinese Army Stirs in Hong Kong –Yesterday the Chinese army in Hong Kong released a video of its troops undergoing anti-riot training, while the local garrison commander warned street protesters not to threaten the "life and safety of Hong Kong citizens" or upend the "one country two systems" model of governance (Hong Kong is part of China but enjoys more freedoms than the mainland.) Until now, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China has stayed out of the eight-week long, increasingly ferocious standoff between protesters and local police. But as the unrest grinds on and protesters increasingly take aim at mainland control over the territory, we are watching to see whether Beijing is about to take more drastic action to suppress dissent.

Brazil's Prison Problem – Earlier this week a fight between rival gangs in a Brazilian prison left close to 60 people dead. Sixteen of them had been decapitated. The clash at the Altamira complex in northern Brazil came just two months after a riot in another prison killed 55. Brazil is one of the most violent countries on earth, and rightwing President Jair Bolsonaro was elected in part on promises to "stuff the jails" with criminals. But the country's prison system is already hopelessly overcrowded – more than 700,000 prisoners (almost half of whom are in pre-trial detention) languish in facilities designed to hold just 400,000 people.

India's Sectarian Tensions Go Global on Social Media – Team 07, a group of five 20-something Indian Muslims famous for their viral comedy videos on the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, will soon be appearing in a Mumbai court to face criminal charges. They were arrested after a local Hindu nationalist political party complained about a video where the group, commenting on the recent lynching of a Muslim man, appeared to encourage the victim's relatives to seek revenge. We're watching this story closely for what it tells us about sectarian divides in India, but also to see how Chinese social media giants navigate tricky local politics far from home.

What We're Ignoring

Kim's gonna Kim – North Korea earlier this week fired two short-range missiles into the sea in the second round of weapons tests that Kim Jong-un has conducted since his meeting with Donald Trump at the DMZ last month. The move signals that Kim may be displeased: with the slow pace of talks with the US, South Korea's decision to buy a bunch of new US-made fighter jets, and upcoming joint US-South Korea military drills. We are ignoring the move, however, because Kim's good friend Donald Trump doesn't seem much fazed by the rocket tests – he has in fact sought to downplay them. The bigger question remains: can Kim get the US to agree to sanctions relief in exchange for merely freezing his nuclear program, rather than abandoning it altogether? The clock is ticking.

"I think there are certain times where you have tectonic shifts and change always happens that way."

On the latest episode of 'That Made All the Difference,' Vincent Stanley, Director of Philosophy at Patagonia, shares his thoughts on the role we all have to play in bringing our communities and the environment back to health.

One of the biggest threats to 21st century international peace is invisible. It recognizes no borders and knows no rules. It can penetrate everything from the secrets of your government to the settings of your appliances. This is, of course, the threat of cyberattacks and cyberwarfare.

During the coronavirus pandemic, cyberattacks have surged, according to watchdogs. This isn't just Zoom-bombing or scams. It's also a wave of schemes, likely by national intelligence agencies, meant to steal information about the development and production of vaccines. Attacks on the World Health Organization soared five-fold early in the pandemic.

Why is the threat of cyberwarfare growing, and why isn't more being done to stop it?

Hacking is increasingly the business of nation-states. Not so long ago, hackers were mainly hooded freelancers sitting in their basements stealing credit card numbers. Now they are increasingly the employees of national intelligence services.

Why are countries investing more and more in the cyber game? For one thing, hacking is a cheap way to level the playing field with larger global rivals. For North Korea or Iran, you no longer need a powerful military in order to project power across the globe. You just need a laptop and a few good programmers. What's more, unlike missile launches or invasions, the targets can't always tell where a cyberattack has come from. Plausible deniability comes in handy, especially when attacking someone bigger than you.

Targets are getting fatter. As countries build out 5G networks, data flows will increase massively, as more than a billion more people move online over the next decade. The so-called "internet of things," the network in which everything from your watch to your (potentially self-driving) car to your refrigerator are being hooked up to the internet. (That said, huge gaps in internet access persist, as we wrote here.)

There are no rules. Conventional war has rules about whom you can and cannot attack, occupy, or imprison. They aren't always respected or enforced — but the cyber realm has very few rules, mainly because the world's major cyber powers don't want them. If you're Vladimir Putin, hacking has brought dividends that your flagging economy and mediocre military cannot. If you're the US, you're historically wary of any binding rules about the conduct of war. (If you're Gulliver, why tie yourself to the ground for the sake of Lilliput?) So, while various groups of countries have, under UN auspices, started to develop "norms" – they are not binding.

Unfortunately, it may take a catastrophe to create those rules. So far, the damage inflicted by hackers has mostly been economic. In 2017, the NotPetya virus, which targeted Ukraine, quickly spread around the globe, inflicting $10 billion worth of pain. It was, so far, the worst cyberattack in history.

But it's not hard to imagine a cyberattack on a hospital network, a power grid, or a dam that kills thousands of people and forces even more from their homes. How can those responsible be called to account? And what would it take to make future such attacks much less likely?

Will it take an event that inflicts that much human damage for governments and tech companies to sit down and hammer out cyber-rules of the road?

Malaysian political drama: Malaysia's (eternal) opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says he finally has enough votes in parliament to be appointed prime minister, seven months after the coalition that was going to support him collapsed amid an internal revolt that also forced out 95-year-old Mahathir Mohamed as head of the government. Two years ago, Mahathir — who governed Malaysia from 1980 to 2003 — shocked the country by running in the 2018 election and defeating his former party UMNO, which had dominated Malaysian politics since independence in 1956. After winning, Mahathir agreed to hand over power to Anwar — a former protégé with whom he had a falling out in the late 1990s — but Mahathir's government didn't last long enough to do the swap. Will Anwar now realize his lifelong dream of becoming Malaysia's prime minister? Stay tuned for the next parliamentary session in November.

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


Why can't Europe agree on Belarus sanctions?


I think they can agree but the problem is that Cyprus has blocked. There's a veto right inside the European Union and they have blocked everything. I mean, everyone agrees, all of other Member States agrees that we should have had those sanctions in place. But the Cypriots have their own views. And then they are blackmailing, they are saying you have to sanction Turkey as well, at the same time. And most other states say there's no connection between the two. So, we do have somewhat of a constitutional crisis over foreign affairs inside the European Union. Distinctly not a good situation.

LIVE 11a - 12p ET TODAY: Will the global challenges of 2020 lead to more inclusive multilateralism in the future?

At 11a ET/8a PT/4p BST, our livestream panel, "Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding," will discuss how government, companies, citizens and other organizations can partner to solve today's major crises.

Watch at: https://www.gzeromedia.com/unga/livestream

Governments can't tackle today's global challenges alone. Will 2020 be seen as a shaping moment for a more modern and inclusive multilateralism, or a retrenchment to "business as usual"?

Our panel includes:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by António Guterres, Christine Lagarde, and Trevor Noah.

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