What We're Watching: Brexit clashes, China stalking Taiwan, strongman's son for Philippine president

British PM Boris Johnson

Bet you thought Brexit was over… it's not: The EU and UK remain at loggerheads over the future of the Northern Irish border. Brussels says that it won't renegotiate a part of the post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal that includes a symbolic border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, part of the UK, threatening to increase tensions along this decades-long flashpoint. Though British PM Boris Johnson agreed in December to a nominal border that would essentially run through the Irish Sea, he has been dragging his feet ever since, and has even threatened in recent weeks to use a loophole to renege on the Northern Ireland clause altogether, which would only further infuriate the Europeans. Indeed, Johnson is facing extreme pressure from all sides: Northern Irish unionists are furious that the British PM ever agreed to a border in the first place, saying it undermines its place within the UK trade system, while Brussels is refusing to budge, saying that renegotiating Brexit would destabilize the whole continent amid ongoing supply chain disruptions. London's ultimatum expires in 10 days.


China stalks Taiwan: To mark China's week-long National Day holiday, Beijing celebrated in style, opting to fly a flurry of military jets over Taiwan. China sent more than 150 aircrafts over four days into the self-governing island's air defense identification zone, its biggest incursion to date. Taipei says that mainland China has been increasingly infringing on its airspace as a show of force. Beijing, for its part, has remained mum, but analysts say that since its successful takeover of the once-autonomous city of Hong Kong, Beijing has become more emboldened to use force to take control of Taiwan, which it sees as part of the People's Republic. Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said that while she doesn't seek confrontation with China, Taiwan would "do whatever it takes to defend itself" — in other words, it needs Uncle Sam to boost arms sales ASAP. Meanwhile, as an act of support to Taiwan, likely at the behest of the US, the UK sent a warship through the Taiwan Strait on Monday for the first time in over a decade, which the Chinese were surely not happy about.

Dictator's son to run for Philippine president: Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late Philippine strongman, says he'll run for the presidency in the May 2022 election. Marcos, who narrowly lost the vice presidency in 2016, is a deeply divisive figure in the country due to the controversial legacy of his dad, who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1965 to 1986 — including eight years under martial law — and plundered billions of dollars. Still, the younger Marcos is now polling second for president in a crowded field that includes as frontrunners the famous boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao and Isko Moreno, a popular TV host-turned Manila mayor. Sara Duterte, daughter of current President Rodrigo Duterte, and VP Leni Robredo are also expected to throw their hat in the ring in a presidential race that was upended over the weekend when Duterte senior suddenly dropped his plans to run for vice president and announced his retirement. But given the history of Philippine political drama, there could still be more startling developments to come.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.

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China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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