What We're Watching: Duterte's threat, West Africa's single currency, Raisi's hard line

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a news conference at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Philippines

Philippines' choice — jab or jail: As more countries get their hands on COVID vaccines, many are coming up with interesting schemes to convince skeptics to get the shot. But if you're in the Philippines, tough-talking President Rodrigo Duterte has the ultimate tough-love "incentive": he says he'll throw you in prison if you refuse your shot. A government spokesperson immediately sought to clarify Duterte's threatening comment, reassuring Filipinos that turning down a jab is not — yet — a criminal offense. This comes as the country's vaccination drive remains very slow, having fully inoculated only 2 percent of its population, in part due to high levels of vaccine hesitancy. Many Filipinos are turning down the Chinese shots provided by Duterte's pal President Xi Jinping because they perceive them as less effective and less trustworthy than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are scarce in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Philippines continues to suffer one of Southeast Asia's worst COVID outbreaks.


West Africa plans single currency: The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has agreed to roll out a single currency by 2027. ECOWAS leaders have agreed to the parameters of the plan, which would aim to "boost cross border trade and economic development" across the region, home to some of the poorest countries in the world. The plan has already been delayed three times, most recently because of pandemic-related disruptions. The currency, ECO, aims to replace the CFA Franc used in many former French colonies, allowing West African nations to gain economic independence from Paris, which still retains privileged access to government contracts in many of these states. But some problems persist. For example, Nigeria, Africa's largest economy whose central bank tightly manages foreign exchange policy, has reportedly been delaying the initiative. Meanwhile, ECOWAS is also not sure what to do about including problematic states like Mali, recently suspended from the regional bloc over a second coup.

Raisi speaks out: In his first press conference since "winning" Friday's pre-determined presidential vote, Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi took a firm stance against the US, saying he was not interested in sitting down for a face-to-face with President Joe Biden. Raisi also said discussions on reducing Tehran's ballistic missile stockpile and over Iran's support for terror proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon — major sticking points with Washington — were out of the question. Despite Raisi's combative stance, ongoing negotiations on resuming the 2015 nuclear deal, abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018, will continue because Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls the shots, and he continues to back this channel of communication — at least for now. Though Raisi talks a tough game, Khamenei is desperate for crippling economic sanctions to be lifted so Iran can resume selling oil to eager customers that have been blocked by the US from doing business with Tehran, although he also isn't willing to make too many concessions to the Americans.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the EU's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

Why should all eyes be on the Virginia suburbs?

I'm here in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where the state will be having a gubernatorial election on November 2nd. The Virginia governor election is held in the year after the US presidential election typically, and is generally seen as a bellwether for how popular the incumbent president of the United States is. In 2009, the Republican candidate won by a commanding 16 points despite the fact that Virginia has been trending more and more Democratic in recent years due to the population growth here in the suburbs, which tend to be more blue than rural areas of the state.

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Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

16: Rich countries have secured 16 times more COVID vaccine supplies than developing nations that rely on the struggling COVAX facility, according to analysis by the Financial Times. COVAX is steadily losing bargaining power to buy vaccines at low prices due to the combined effects of booster shots being doled out in developed countries, as well as low-income countries deciding to buy jabs on their own.

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Listen: Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

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