What We're Watching: China tackles delta, Bolsonaro fans hit the streets for receipts, Nigeria's crypto conundrum

Citizens line up for COVID-19 nucleic acid test at a testing site in Yuhuatai District of Nanjing City, east China's Jiangsu Province, 2 August 2021. Nanjing City launches the fourth round of Covid-19 test.

China tackles delta: China is the latest country to express serious concern over the highly contagious delta variant, after recording 300 cases in 10 days. Authorities there are trying to trace some 70,000 people who may have attended a theatre in Zhangjiajie, a city in China's Hunan province, which is now thought to have been a delta hotspot. Making matters worse, a busy domestic travel season in China saw millions recently on the move to visit friends and family just as delta infections spiked in more than a dozen provinces. Authorities have enforced new travel restrictions in many places, including in central Hunan province, where more than 1.2 million people have been told to stay in their homes for three days while authorities roll out a mass testing scheme. The outbreak has reached Beijing, too, with authorities limiting entrance to the capital to "essential travelers" only. Indeed, the outbreak has raised fresh concerns about Chinese vaccines' protection against delta, because China has not provided efficacy results for the variant.


Bolsonaro hit the streets for receipts: Ahead of what looks like an increasingly tough fight for reelection in 2022, Brazil's provocative right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has been calling into question the integrity of the vote itself. Recently, he has alleged, without evidence, that there was "fraud" in the first round of the 2018 election, which he won in a runoff. Now, as Bolsonaro trails his most likely 2022 competitor, the popular leftist former president Lula, by double digits in early polling, he has suggested that Brazil's electronic voting systems are vulnerable to new mischief. On Sunday, a few thousand of his supporters took to the streets to support his demand that every vote cast electronically in 2022 come with a paper receipt for easy recounts. To be clear, there is zero evidence that vote tampering of this kind is a real problem in Brazil. Observers worry that Bolsonaro, who has badly mishandled the pandemic and faces potential corruption allegations that could open the way to impeachment, is laying a fictitious groundwork to contest an election that he might lose. Sound familiar?

Nigeria's crypto conundrum: The Nigerian government has tried to crack down on cryptocurrency trading over the past year, but recent figures show that the strategy is backfiring: Nigerians traded 50 percent more in the first five months of 2021 than during the same period last year, according to a Helsinki-based crypto platform. Many factors, including a stagnant economy, corruption, and a pandemic-related drop in remittances and the value of the local currency, have caused the surge in crypto trading in Nigeria, where 62 percent of the population is under the age of 25. (Nigeria is now second only to the US for Bitcoin trading.) Trying to reduce incentives for Nigerians to trade in unregulated currencies, in February the government banned cryptocurrency transactions through licensed banks, a measure that was largely ignored. The government, for its part, says the move is intended to protect users from a volatile and unregulated industry; critics say it's about excessive government control. Indeed, recent events show that any central bank must tread carefully when attempting to regulate crypto, which is fast becoming a major conundrum for monetary authorities around the world. Nigeria's central bank recently announced that it would pilot the launch of its own digital currency in October as an alternative, but none of these measures seem to have changed Nigerians' behaviors for now.

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The German people have spoken. For the first time in over 70 years, the country's next government is all but assured to be a three-way coalition.

That coalition will probably be led by the center-left SPD, the most voted party, with the Greens and the pro-business FDP as junior partners. Less likely but still possible is a similar combination headed by the conservative CDU/CSU, which got its worst result ever. A grand coalition of the SPD and the CDU/CSU — the two parties that have dominated German federal politics since World War II — is only a fallback option if talks fail badly.

Both the Greens and especially the FDP have been in coalition governments before. But this time it's different because together they have the upper hand in negotiations with the big parties wooing them.

The problem is that the two smaller parties agree on little beyond legalizing weed, and even when they do, diverge on how to reach common goals. So, where does each stand on what separates them?

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Joe Biden has already cancelled more US student than any other president. But progressive Democrats want him to write off a lot more to reduce the racial wealth gap and help people recover better from COVID's economic ruin. Republicans are against all this because it would be unfair to current and future borrowers and to taxpayers footing the bill, not to mention subsidizing the rich.

Watch the episode: How the COVID-damaged economy surprised Adam Tooze

China and Canada's hostage diplomacy: In 2018, Canada arrested Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou because US authorities wanted to prosecute her for violating Iran sanctions. China responded by arresting two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what looked like a tit-for-tat. Over the weekend, Meng and the "Two Michaels" were all freed to return to their home countries as part of a deal evidently brokered by Washington. The exchange removes a major sore spot in US-China and Canada-China relations, though we're wondering if establishing the precedent of "hostage diplomacy" with China, especially in such a prominent case, is a good one for anyone involved.

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40: Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body representing 40 Indian farmer groups, took to the streets Monday to mark a year since the start of mass protests against new farming laws that they say help big agro-businesses at the expense of small farmers. The group has called for an industry-wide strike until the laws are withdrawn.

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Germany's conservative CDU/ CSU party and the center-left SPD have dominated German politics since the 1950s. For decades, they have vied for dominance and often served in a coalition together, and have been known as the "people's parties" – a reference to their perceived middle-of-the-road pragmatism and combined broad appeal to the majority of Germans. But that's all changing, as evidenced by the fact that both performed poorly in this week's election, shedding votes to the minority Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. We take a look at the CDU/CSU and SPD's respective electoral performance over the past 60 years.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy week to all of you and thought I'd talk a little bit about Germany and Europe. Because of course, we just had elections in Germany, 16 years of Angela Merkel's rule coming to an end - by far the strongest leader that Germany has seen post-war, Europe has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And indeed in many ways, the world has seen in the 21st century. Xi Jinping, of course, runs a much bigger country and has consolidated much more power, but in terms of the free world, it's been Angela Merkel.

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Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

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