What We're Watching: Chilean beekeepers, bartering in Xian, possible Turkish-Saudi détente

Beekeepers who demanded government measures to face the persistent drought that affects the country take part in a protest with honeycombs full of bees in front of the Chilean presidential palace, in Santiago, Chile, January 3, 2022

Standing up for the bees in Chile. Chilean beekeepers demonstrated Tuesday outside the presidential palace in Santiago, calling for the government to provide more support for the ailing industry. The protesters set up on the street dozens of hives containing 10,000 bees to draw attention to their plight, and stop police from shutting down the rally. (At least seven police officers were stung.) Beekeepers say that a decade-long “megadrought” has ruined the crops and flowers needed to sustain bees — and they want the government to guarantee honey prices or provide subsidies for producers. This might seem like an obscure agriculture story, but it’s not: bees pollinate some of Chile’s major food exports like avocados, apples and almonds, and thus help sustain an industry worth a whopping $6.46 billion in exports in 2020. Although the government says it has been supporting some communities facing water shortages, the bee industry says it’s not enough. Disgruntled beekeepers might be in luck: the leftist Gabriel Boric, who supports expanding Chile's social safety net, will be sworn in as president in March.


Cigarettes for cabbage in Xian. Residents of the central Chinese city of Xian — some 13 million people — have been forced to stay in their homes since December 23, as Beijing continues to use draconian measures to contain new COVID outbreaks. Indeed, most residents are only allowed to leave their homes for testing, and rely on the state to hand out free groceries and other supplies. But many people say that spotty deliveries are leaving families hungry, while some essentials like medicines are scarce. (A dystopian video last week reportedly showed cops beating a man who left his home to buy steamed buns.) What’s more, residents have reportedly adopted a bartering system, exchanging goods like cigarettes and tech appliances for vegetables. Despite the changed nature of the pandemic, Xi Jinping is intent on pursuing a zero-COVID strategy that might have made sense in 2020 — but not so much in omicron-inundated 2022. Less than a month out from the Beijing Winter Olympics, what’s the CCP’s game-plan?

Détente between Turkey and Saudi Arabia? Middle East rivals Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been mired in tensions for years, which peaked in 2018 after the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in Istanbul. Now, in a major diplomatic breakthrough, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that he’ll visit Riyadh next month to meet with the country’s de-facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. For years, the Saudis called on Ankara to stop supporting terror groups, citing Ankara’s close ties with Qatar, a Saudi foe. What’ll be on the agenda? Ankara, currently facing a collapsing currency, likely wants to patch things up so it can boost economic ties with Riyadh, including getting the Saudis to lift an unofficial boycott on some Turkish goods. Both sides are also keen to coordinate on regional geopolitics after the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and increasing disengagement from the Middle East. The signs of a détente are promising after Erdogan recently hosted MBS’ close pal, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who pledged to invest billions of dollars in Turkey.


People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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Governments around the world are offering creative incentives for getting a jab.

If you happen to live in New York and are one of the city’s 18% of unvaccinated residents, now might be a good time to go get jabbed. But not just because of omicron.

In late December, now former NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the city would start offering gift cards, free roller coaster rides on Coney Island and trips to the Statue of Liberty to those who get their shots. And it’s not just the Big Apple.

As infections jump, vaccination incentive programs have been brought back around the world. Officials in vaccine-hesitant Missouri have earmarked $11 million dollars for gift cards worth $100. Vermont is awarding schools with per-pupil bonuses if they hit rates higher than 85%.

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What We’re Watching: China's problems, UAE vs Houthis, Nord Stream 2 split

China's mounting problems. Xi Jinping is not off to a good start in 2022. First, Chinese economic growth slowed down to 4 percent in the last quarter of 2021, almost a percentage point less than the previous period. While annual GDP was up 8.1 percent year-on-year, beating government expectations, the trend is worrying for the world’s second-largest economy. Second, annual population growth fell in 2021 to its lowest rate since 1949, when the ruling Communist Party took over. Although Xi probably saw this one coming, he's running out of ideas to encourage Chinese families to have more children — which the government needs in order to sustain growth and support the elderly over the long term. Third, and most immediate: the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics canceled ticket sales for domestic spectators — foreigners were not invited — as the more transmissible omicron variant has driven up COVID infections in China to the highest level since March 2020. It's only the latest sign that Xi's controversial zero-COVID policy is setting itself up for failure against omicron without mRNA vaccines. What'll it take for China to reverse course?

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