What We're Watching: Australia-China row escalates, COVAX falling behind, Mexico's crackdown on "foreign agents"

Side-by-side images of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chinese President Xi Jinping

Australia takes China to the WTO: Amid a deepening diplomatic and trade dispute with China, Australia has upped the ante by taking its case to the World Trade Organization to probe what it calls China's "discriminatory [trade] actions." The complaint relates to Beijing's decision to slap an 80 percent tariff on Australian barley, which has been pummeling Australian growers and producers. (China accuses Australia of "dumping" barley at a discounted rate; Australia says that's nonsense.) Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sparred with Beijing over a range of issues, such as human rights, national security, and telecommunications. But what irked the Chinese the most was when Australia led the charge in calling for a global investigation into China's handling of the pandemic earlier this year, which prompted Beijing to slap tariffs on a host of Australian goods including wine, beef, barley, and coal that threaten about $20 billion worth of Australian exports. While the WTO filing is mostly symbolic, and the dispute could take years to adjudicate, the move is a significant escalation — and a risky one for Australia, which relies on China for 30 percent of its annual exports.


COVAX coming up short: Past pandemics have created a scramble for vaccines and relief supplies, and people in poor countries are often the last to get help. Created by the World Health Organization, the vaccines alliance GAVI, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the COVAX project was designed to provide global equal access to vaccines as they are developed. Unfortunately, lack of adequate international support is crippling its chances of success. Short on funding, COVAX hasn't yet come close to locking up the 2 billion doses it hopes to provide by the end of next year. According to Arnaud Bernaert, who heads global health for the World Economic Forum, about 75 percent of the 12 billion doses expected to be produced globally by the end of 2021 have already been purchased by wealthy countries. Beyond the question of fairness, if COVID lingers in the developing world well into next year, it will continue to pose risks of again crossing borders.

Mexico targets US Drug Enforcement Agency : Mexico's parliament has passed a new law that aims to curtail the activities of foreign law enforcement agents operating in the country. Although it doesn't mention the US Drug Enforcement Administration by name, the law is viewed as a sharp rebuke of the DEA, active in Mexico for decades but often criticized for not sharing information with local security forces. DEA agents will now be required to share their findings with the Mexican government. What's more, this development also means that American agents will no longer have immunity from prosecution. The move — backed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO — comes amid strained US-Mexico ties over the recent high-profile arrest of former Mexican defense chief Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda at Los Angeles airport over alleged drug charges. (Though the general was soon released after corruption and drug charges were dropped when AMLO threatened to expel all DEA agents from Mexico.) As the Mexicans play hardball, we're watching to see how the Americans might react.

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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