What We're Watching: Afghanistan's inaugurations,Taiwan vs China, Italy under quarantine

What We're Watching: Afghanistan's inaugurations,Taiwan vs China, Italy under quarantine

Afghanistan's parallel inaugurations – Afghani President Ashraf Ghani was sworn in for a second term Monday, but his political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's Chief Executive, refused to recognize the inauguration and held his own concurrent swearing-in ceremony. Back in September, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission announced that Ghani had won the election, but technical issues that delayed preliminary results, as well as allegations of fraud, prompted Abdullah to reject the outcome and proclaim himself the winner. This deepening political crisis threatens to plunge that country into chaos just days after the US and the Taliban signed a deal on the withdrawal of US-led international forces after 18 years of conflict. Whoever heads the Afghan government will have to oversee complicated intra-Afghan negotiations and a contentious prisoner exchange – as of now, we don't know who that will be.


Taiwan vs China – Two months ago, Taiwan's presidential election pitted a party that promised a harsher policy toward China against a party that pledged a friendlier one. The more hardline candidate, incumbent Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, won. The losing party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has announced that it too will adopt a somewhat tougher approach to relations with Beijing. In particular, the KMT, Taiwan's dominant political party for 50 years before falling out of favor, has renounced its former support for the so-called "1992 consensus," a policy which declared that China and Taiwan are part of "One China." That deliberately ambiguous phrase has allowed Beijing and Taipei to develop commercial links while avoiding hostilities. Now, both of Taiwan's major political parties appear to have rejected it, heightening tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

Italy under quarantine – Europe's third-biggest economy has imposed the toughest measures taken by any Western democracy to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), locking down the entire country – 60 million people – in one of the most populated countries in Europe. The move isn't sitting well with some locals: one outraged mayor shot a home video in his t-shirt expressing frustration that he had not been consulted over the decision. European neighbors will be watching to see if the Italian government's strategy works. We're watching to see if the crisis forces the country's fractious ruling coalition to work together more effectively, winning new public support ahead of the next national election, or whether it will frustrate voters and further energize populists who want to buck EU budget rules and keep migrants out of the country.

What We're Ignoring

Venezuela's democracy on fire, literally – A fire has reportedly destroyed some 50,000 voting machines stored in a warehouse in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, casting doubt on the country's ability to hold parliamentary elections later this year. There isn't enough evidence to determine whether the fire was accidental or somebody's act of sabotage, but accusations and hard evidence of past electoral cheating by Nicolas Maduro's government suggest the machines would not have been used for free and fair elections anyway.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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