What We're Watching: Beijing's COVID clampdown, Nigeria attacks, COVID's cost for women and children

What We're Watching: Beijing's COVID clampdown, Nigeria attacks, COVID's cost for women and children

Beijing clamps down to stop second wave: Authorities in Beijing moved swiftly to reimpose strict lockdowns in the Chinese capital after dozens of new COVID-19 cases were linked to a sprawling wholesale food market there that supplies around 90 percent of the city's produce. Officials in charge of the municipality where the market is located were immediately fired from their posts for "failing" to curb the disease's spread. Meanwhile, thousands of residents who visited the market in early June were tracked down by authorities and ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days. The reemergence of new infections in Beijing, a city of 21 million people, highlights the coronavirus' resilience. But Beijing's decisive action – it quickly placed strict restrictions on movement for millions of residents, while also placing them under 24-hour watch by the military – also underscores the ability of an authoritarian regime like China's to swiftly employ extreme measures to squelch contagion. Whether the move works or not will be seen in the coming days.


Nigeria under attack: Nigerians are reeling after Islamist groups carried out three attacks in the country's northeast over the weekend, killing at least 60 people. An Islamic State offshoot claimed responsibility for the onslaught, which included the torching of a truck with 15 people inside it, and a raid on a military base that hosts personnel from a number of international NGO's. These deadly episodes came just days after Boko Haram militants razed a village in northern Nigeria, killing 80 people. The violence reflects a larger surge of jihadist activity in the vast Sahel region in recent years. The UN recently said that since 2016, the combined terrorist-attack casualties in the West African countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have leapt five-fold. And militants are taking advantage as local governments and security forces are distracted by the fight against COVID-19.

COVID endangers women and children: The direct health risks posed by the novel coronavirus are well known. But less emphasis has been placed on the indirect burdens of the pandemic on already vulnerable populations. The World Health Organization has now warned that because health systems in developing countries have been overwhelmed by COVID-19, many women are at greater risk of dying from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Lack of access to critical medical care could result in increased infant and child mortality rates, too, the group has said. Even before the pandemic, millions of women in Africa, Asia and Latin America struggled to access safe, affordable, and timely sexual and reproductive healthcare, with 94 percent of all maternal mortalities occurring in low income countries. Maternal and newborn deaths are now expected to skyrocket in remote and poor areas, the WHO says, far outpacing the number of deaths from COVID-19 itself.

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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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

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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