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What We’re Watching: Armenians & Azeris won't talk, Indian sectarian violence ruling, US-Taiwan infra plan

Armenian military volunteers gather in Yerevan. Reuters

No peace talks over Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia and Azerbaijan are resisting pressure from Russia and the United Nations to stop fighting and talk out their dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. Since major clashes erupted over the weekend, killing scores on both sides, the two countries are inching closer to a wider war that could potentially draw in not only Russia — which is treaty-bound to defend Armenia — but also a newly assertive Turkey, which backs Azerbaijan. Vladimir Putin has offered to mediate, but so far has no takers. Meanwhile, Armenia says Turkey has sent Syrian mercenaries to Nagorno-Karabakh and shot down an Armenian fighter jet. As if that weren't enough, the latest outside player to weigh in on the conflict is France, whose support for Armenia has put Paris at odds with NATO ally Turkey. We are watching to see if more countries — for instance the US — will get involved, and if this resurgent conflict becomes an even uglier proxy war.


India exonerates BJP leaders over sectarian violence: An Indian court on Wednesday acquitted 32 people — including the former deputy prime minister and two leaders of the ruling BJP party — over their alleged role in the 1992 demolition of a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya that sparked a wave of sectarian violence. Seventeen of those exonerated are now dead, among them Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP prime minister at the time. The ruling is great news for Hindu nationalist supporters of PM Narendra Modi, who just weeks ago played to his base by setting the first stone of a new Hindu temple that is being built over the razed remains of the mosque. The site has long been disputed by Hindus and Muslims, but a controversial Supreme Court verdict last fall allowed construction of the temple to proceed. On the other hand, the acquittals are seen as a blow to India's 180 million Muslims, many of whom worry that Modi is seeking to replace the country's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of Indian identity.

It's infrastructure week with Taiwan! The US and Taiwan have announced that they will team up to develop infrastructure projects across Asia and Latin America. The plan is meant as a direct challenge to China's trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to build new roads, rails, and ports in over 75 countries. For Taiwan in particular, the idea is to decrease its economic dependence on Beijing, which considers the self-governing island to be part of China. Most of the world (including the US) formally agrees with that view, but Washington has long maintained close ties to Taiwan. The Trump administration's recent moves to inch closer to Taipei have raised hackles in Beijing, where Xi Jinping has signaled his intent to eventually re-establish Chinese control over Taiwan. Alas, "infrastructure week" never amounted to much in the US, but with US-China tensions rising, it could get hot fast in East Asia.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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