What We're Watching: Indian farmers stop protesting, Evergrande on brink of default, Saudi camels get touch-ups

Farmers shout slogans as they attend ongoing speeches at the Singhu border protest site near the Delhi-Haryana border, India, December 9, 2021.

Indian farmers pack up their tents — for now. For over a year, tens of thousands of Indian farmers have been protesting three agriculture laws that they say would give more power to big agribusiness and reduce farmers’ incomes. (The government says they rather aim to streamline an outdated and inefficient sector.) Now, farmers’ unions say they will call off the protests — and shut down the makeshift protest camp they built on the outskirts of Delhi — after PM Narendra Modi agreed to their demands. The farmers want the government to set a minimum price for most farm produce, and withdraw criminal charges for farmers arrested during protests. Modi backing down is a big deal because agriculture is the primary source of income for nearly 60 percent of Indians, and dozens of farmers have been killed in confrontations with police over the past year. Protest leaders will meet with government officials on January 15 to assess the plan’s progress. But if the government doesn’t follow through on its promises, the farmers say they’ll go back to the picket line.


Evergrande on brink of default. Fitch became on Thursday the first global ratings agency to declare that Evergrande will likely default on its debt outside China. This means that international creditors can expect to get stiffed by the Chinese property developer, which on Monday missed a final deadline to cough up some $82.5 million to foreign investors. Does this mean that Evergrande will default on all the roughly $300 billion it owes, mostly inside China? The company and the Chinese government won't confirm it, but Evergrande's situation is looking gloomier by the day. Meanwhile, China's central bank has already loosened the rules for banks to keep cash on hand in order to inject some $188 billion into the economy. President Xi Jinping hopes that'll be enough to avoid the credit crunch that an Evergrande default could trigger in China's real estate industry and the broader financial sector amid an already sluggish economy.

Saudi camels get Botox. At the annual King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia, contestants are judged by, among other things, the size and shape of their lips, cheeks, heads, and knees. But each year, dozens of the humped mammals get disqualified because their owners inject them with Botox in order to have a better shot at the $66 million in prize money. More than 40 camels were thrown out of the 2021 edition. What’s more, the cheats have gotten more sophisticated by stretching out lips and noses, using hormones to up muscle mass, inflating body parts with rubber bands, and using fillers to relax tense faces. Think this story is fake? It isn’t. In fact, we first reported on this cruel trend almost four years ago.

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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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

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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