What We're Watching: Everyone vs Ethiopian PM, Brazil ditches Huawei, (more) trouble in Sudan, Argentina's midterms, Iraqi powder keg

What We're Watching: Everyone vs Ethiopian PM, Brazil ditches Huawei, (more) trouble in Sudan, Argentina's midterms, Iraqi powder keg

Opposition forces unite in Ethiopia's civil war. The Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has been locked in a brutal year-long civil war against Ethiopian government forces, has now teamed up with another powerful militant outfit that wants to oust Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF, now in alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army — which claims to represent Ethiopia's largest ethnic group — have swept towards the capital Addis Ababa in recent days, prompting the embattled Abiy to call on civilians to take up arms in defense of the city. The Tigray-Oromo alliance, called the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist Forces, has called for Abiy's immediate ouster, either by negotiation or by force, and for the prosecution of government officials for war crimes. The UN says all sides in the conflict have committed abuses. The US, which has threatened to suspend Ethiopia's trade preferences over the government's alleged war crimes, is currently trying to broker a cease-fire. When Abiy came to power after popular protests in 2018, he was hailed for liberalizing what was formerly an extremely repressive government (controlled, as it happens, by the TPLF). Now it's looking like he may have unleashed the very forces that could tear the country apart and drive him from office — or worse.


Is China shut out of Brazil's 5G comp? Earlier this year, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro set an ambitious deadline to roll out 5G broadband – which provides much faster internet connections — by July 2022. In recent days, telecom firms have been vying to get a piece of the pie as the tender process heats up. Indeed, it's a lucrative prospect for telecom companies in a country where more than three-quarters of the population (or roughly 190 million people) are connected to the World Wide Web. But the process has not been smooth sailing because, well: China. Bolsonaro has been under a lot of pressure from China skeptics within his own government, and Washington, to exclude tech giant Huawei from the bidding wars. Bolsonaro ultimately caved, as Beijing has evidently been locked out of the process for now. Claro, a Mexican-Brazilian venture, and Spain's Telefonica seem to have walked away big winners from the 5G auction after putting up the most cash for spectrum rights. But this is all very awkward because Huawei has been a major tech provider in Brazil for decades, and local cell phone operators also rely on Huawei's tech. What's more, excluding Huawei, by far the most cost-effective supplier of 5G equipment in the country, will increase the project's overall cost, which is now expected to exceed $7 billion. Many remain skeptical that this massive task can be pulled off in just nine months. But whenever it does happen, it will be great news for Brazilians, many of whom live in remote areas with shoddy internet access.

Sudan on the brink. Two weeks after a military coup in Sudan, the country's security situation continues to deteriorate. On Sunday, soldiers responded to pro-democracy protests in Khartoum by tear-gassing and arresting more than 100 teachers who refuse to return to work until the transitional civilian-military government is restored. (The intervention drew comparisons to the harsh crackdown against protesters that eventually led to the ousting of longtime despot Omar al-Bashir in 2019.) Meanwhile, civilian PM Abdalla Hamdok remains under house arrest, and the internet is still shut down. Arab League mediators have arrived in the capital to try to mediate between junta leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the pro-civilian forces, but Burhan refuses to even call the power grab a coup. The country's largest union, which played a pivotal role in the 2019 protest movement, has called a two-day national strike — the opening salvo of a campaign of civil disobedience to force the military back to the negotiating table. Since the generals show no signs of backing down, the odds of more bloodshed are growing by the day.

Argentina votes, ruling party in trouble. Argentines go to the polls this coming Sunday to vote in the country's midterm legislative elections, with the ruling leftwing coalition of President Alberto Fernández bracing for heavy losses in both houses of parliament. The result will likely reflect the outcome of last September's primary elections, where the president's allies got clobbered by the center-right opposition. Since then, Fernández has caved to pressure from his powerful VP, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (no relation), to double down on social spending and government intervention in the economy to curb skyrocketing inflation. But it hasn't worked: Fernández has capped prices on a whopping 1,432 products, yet annual inflation remains over 50 percent. Without a senate majority, it'll be very hard for the president to get much done in the second half of his term at the worst possible time: economists fear Argentina may stiff the IMF on part of the $45 billion it owes early next year. Another default could lead to a run on banks like in 2001, when the country suffered one of its worst financial crises ever. With presidential elections not on the horizon for another two years, buckle up for a lot of political instability until then.

Iraqi PM's narrow escape. Iraq's PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi is lucky to be alive after a barrage of explosives was fired at his compound inside a high-security zone, injuring several security personnel. The brazen attack was carried out by pro-Iran militias, who have been violently calling for a recount since their parties did poorly in the recent parliamentary elections. On Friday, the militias tried to breach the fortified area known as the "Green Zone," which includes the PM's compound and Western embassies. Pro-Iran factions are particularly worried that Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — whose party won the biggest share of votes and is trying to form a government — will try to temper Tehran's growing influence over the oil-rich country. (Al-Sadr has called for way less foreign interference in Iraq from Iran and the West). Even before the recent unrest, things weren't going well in Iraq, where power supplies are scarce and the economy is in shambles. What's more, Iraqis have little faith in the political elite's ability to fix things, as was reflected in the record-low election turnout. We're watching to see if this latest round of violence begets… more violence.

A blue graphic using 1's and 0's to form an image of roads leading into a city

Governments, civil society and industry are beginning to understand the value of data to society in much the same way they considered the importance of thoroughfares 200 years ago. Just as these roads ushered in a new era of physical infrastructure that helped society thrive then, today we are beginning to understand the need to invest in modern approaches to our data infrastructure that will enhance economic growth and innovation, support individual empowerment and protect us from harm. Just as our physical infrastructure of roads and highways needs to be used appropriately, maintained and protected, so does our data infrastructure.

To maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of our data use, we need privacy regulations to serve as our global rules of the road that preserve our ability to use and share data across borders, supported by innovative tools and solutions that protect privacy and empower individuals. As we reframe our focus to support data use, let’s examine the regulatory approaches that have been working, and develop new approaches where needed to enable the responsible use and sharing of data. To read more about Microsoft’s approach to protecting data infrastructure, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, our parent company, has opened this year’s GZERO Summit with a provocative speech on the near future of international politics. Here are the highlights.

Are the United States and China now locked in a new form of Cold War? Their governments behave as if they are.

But Bremmer isn’t buying it. He’s not predicting that Washington and Beijing will become more cooperative with one another, but that both will be too preoccupied with historic challenges at home in coming years to wage a full-time international struggle.

In Washington, the main worry will be for America’s broken political system. US politics is becoming even more tribalized as TV and online media target politically like-minded consumers with hyperpartisan news coverage. Widening wealth inequality fuels the fire by separating white and non-white, urban and rural, and the more educated from the less educated. Deepening public mistrust of political institutions will fuel future fights over the legitimacy of US elections.

Beijing’s burden centers on how to extend decades of economic gains while moving away from a growth model that no longer works, as higher wages in China and more automation in factories elsewhere cut deeply into China’s manufacturing advantages. China is still a middle-income country. To reach the prosperity level of wealthy nations, it needs 6-7 percent growth for another 20 years.

But China must spend less in coming years to keep giant, deeply indebted companies afloat and more to care for the largest population of elderly people in history. And its leaders must accomplish this at a time when China’s people expect ever-rising levels of prosperity from their government.

The domestic distraction of US and Chinese leaders will create new opportunities for European, Japanese, Canadian, Indian and other political and business leaders to contribute toward international problem-solving. But other governments aren’t the only new players stepping into this power vacuum.

Technology companies are fast becoming important geopolitical actors. We’re entering a world in which economic winners and losers, election outcomes, and national security will depend on choices made by both governments and by the world’s big tech firms.

Bremmer calls this a “techno-polar moment.”

The idea is simple but transformative: Just as governments make the laws that determine what can happen in the physical world, tech companies have final authority in a digital world that’s becoming both more expansive and more immersive.

The biggest tech companies will establish sovereignty by defining the digital space and its boundaries, the algorithms that determine what happens within that space, and the “terms and conditions” that decide who gets to operate in this world.

For skeptics, Bremmer poses this question: Who will do more to influence the outcome of next year’s US midterm congressional elections: The president of the United States or the CEO of Meta? According to Bremmer, since the vote will be influenced by both real-world rules changes and the online flow of information, the answer isn’t obvious.

How will tech companies try to expand their power? Some will behave as “globalists” by trying to reach consumers and influence politics everywhere.

Others will act as “national champions” by aligning with individual governments and their goals.

Still, others will behave as “techno-utopians,” companies that expect historical forces and tech innovations to help them replace governments in important ways.

The relative success of these models over the next decade will decide how government and tech companies share power over the longer-term and whether democracy or autocracy will have the upper hand.

What’s to be done? “Think adaptation, not surrender,” says Bremmer. Steps can be taken to limit the sometimes negative influence of tech companies in the political lives of democracies. But just as climate change can be limited but not avoided, so we must understand and adapt to a world in which governments and tech companies compete for influence over our lives.

Japan, the world's third-largest economy, has long been a bastion of modern capitalism. But newly-minted PM Fumio Kishida thinks it's time for a rethink of the neoliberal model.
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The Graphic Truth: French presidential frontrunners

France's presidential election is only three months away, and it’ll be no snoozer. Although barely one-quarter of French voters back current president Emmanuel Macron, he’s heavily favored to win re-election because he’d almost certainly beat far-right hopefuls Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour in a runoff. But the center-right French president now faces an unexpected challenge from the old establishment right: Valerie Pécresse, the nominee of the Les Republicains party, could give Macron a run for his money if she makes it to the second round. We take a look at how the top four French presidential candidates have polled over the past six months.

What We’re Watching: Biden vs Putin, Rohingya vs Facebook, Peruvian congress vs president

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agree to disagree. But what a disagreement it is…. From what we know, during their Tuesday video call, the Russian president made clear that NATO’s flirtations with Ukraine are a red line, and that Moscow is prepared to defend its sphere of influence. The Kremlin also wants to see movement on the 2015 Minsk peace plan, which would give Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine broad autonomy. Biden meanwhile stressed that if Russia stirs up fresh trouble in Ukraine, the US is prepared to impose more severe economic sanctions. The US president also told Putin that Washington doesn’t accept the idea that Ukraine’s interests are subordinate to Russia’s. All of that leaves us more or less where we were before the call: Russia with more than 100,000 troops camped out on the Ukrainian border, and the US sounding the alarm about a possible invasion.

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How is China able to control their tech giants without suppressing innovation?

For Ian Bremmer, one important reason is that there's a big difference between Jack Ma questioning Chinese regulators and Elon Musk doing the same to the SEC.

"In the United States you've got fanboys if you do that; in China, they cut you down," Bremmer told CNN anchor Julia Chatterley in an interview following his annual State of the World Speech.

Still, he says China knows it cannot kill its private sector because it needs to keep growing and competing with American tech firms.

So, who's winning the global battle for tech primacy?

Right now, Bremmer believes the US and China are at tech parity — thanks to their tech giants.

"When we're talking about tech supremacy, we can't just talk about governments anymore."

Hard Numbers: Japanese WW2 shrine visit, UAE shortens workweek, Ethiopian vigilantes, no vax no vote in Latvia

100: Some 100 Japanese lawmakers and cabinet members visited on Tuesday the controversial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo for the first time in two years. The visit was met with the usual outrage from China and South Korea because Japanese World War II war criminals are buried there.

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The French election is getting hot

Germany has been the European center of political attention in recent months, as punk-rock god Angela Merkel exits the stage after almost two decades at the helm. But there’s another big election heating up in Europe. The French will head to the polls in just twelve weeks, and the race has started to get very interesting.

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