What We’re Watching: A Dangerous Escalation in Hong Kong

What We’re Watching: A Dangerous Escalation in Hong Kong

Bullets in Hong Kong — For the first time since Hong Kong's democracy protests began 4 months ago, a participant in the demonstrations has been shot with live ammunition. The severity of clashes between lightly armed protesters and the police has grown in recent months, but violence spiked sharply yesterday as tens of thousands of protesters marched in a "Day of Grief" meant to contrast with Beijing's lavish observance of the 70th anniversary of communist China's founding. Until now, the authorities in Hong Kong have used water cannons, truncheons, and tear gas rather than bullets, as the government weighed the risks of cracking down more forcefully. Now that lethal force has been used, we are watching to see if all sides step back from the brink, or dive over the edge into a much more serious confrontation. Can't lie: we're worried.


Who's running Peru? After Peruvian president Martin Vizcarra dissolved Congress yesterday in a last ditch bid to hold fresh elections, lawmakers refused to leave the building and instead appointed Vice President Mercedes Araoz as acting head of state. Vizcarra, who took office in 2018 when his predecessor resigned amid a sprawling graft scandal, has won popular support by tackling corruption. But his opponents, who control Congress, have blocked some of his anti-graft measures and resisted calls for fresh elections. Perhaps it's only a coincidence that the opposition leader is in jail facing corruption allegations of her own. The legality of Vizcarra's move -- which his opponents say is a coup that brings back bad memories of Peru's dictatorship -- will be settled by the courts. But Peru, one of South America's fastest growing economies, now has a more immediate problem: who runs the place? Vizcarra has the loyalty of the armed forces, but the standoff with Congress is unresolved and protesters are in the streets.

Boris Johnson's disappearing runway — The UK prime minister is preparing to unveil the country's latest formal proposal for a new Brexit deal on Wednesday, and it doesn't look promising. A leaked UK proposal for customs checks located away from the physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland was promptly slapped down by leading Irish politicians as a "non-starter" after details emerged late on Monday. Johnson says the critics haven't got his plan quite right, but with time running out ahead of the 31 October deadline to leave the EU, there aren't many more opportunities left to find a solution that can a) deliver the Brexit Boris has promised, b) satisfy the EU and c) get through a skeptical Parliament. We may have a much clearer idea by the end of this week whether a deal is possible or whether the Brexit plane is careening off the end of the tarmac with "no deal".

What We're Ignoring

Uganda's fashion police Ugandan civilians who sport a red beret are now risking life imprisonment, according to a new law that designates the hats as military-use only. It just so happens that the red beret is also the sartorial signature of pop star turned political hopeful Bobi Wine and those who support his bid to oust long-serving president Yoweri Museveni in 2021 elections. (Read Willis' profile of Wine here.) We are ignoring this one because Wine and his supporters are already doing the same. No word yet from French Marxists or 1980s New York vigilante icon Curtis Sliwa though...

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.

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China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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