What We’re Watching: Brexit endgame, Ghana’s election, China-India water war

British PM Boris Johnson at an EU Summit in Brussels. Reuters

The final act of Brexit: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen agreed on Monday to meet in person in Brussels "in the coming days" in a last-ditch attempt to reach agreement on the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU. One of the major outstanding issues is labor and environmental standards. Johnson's key supporters want as much autonomy as possible, while Brussels worries that if the UK adopts laxer protections (which cost less to obey), London could flood the EU with cheaper goods. Another (fish)bone of contention is the level of access that EU fishermen would have to British waters. If the two sides cannot get to yes this week, then we'd we well on our way to the feared "no deal" scenario in which the UK and EU, lacking a trade agreement, impose much higher tariffs on each other, potentially dealing a huge blow to economies on both sides of the English Channel.


Ghana's "battle of two giants": Ghanaians went to the polls Monday to elect a new parliament and president in a race dubbed the "battle of two giants," because it is the fourth electoral clash between President Nana Akufo-Addo and his opponent John Mahama, a former president himself. But while Akufo-Addo was elected four years ago promising to root out corruption, many say he has failed to tackle the problem, which is still endemic in Ghana's politics. Still, it's a stretch for Mahama to attack the current president over corruption, considering that Mahama himself left office amid accusations that he had accepted corporate kickbacks. Whoever prevails has his job cut out for him. Ghana has long been a beacon of democracy and peace in West Africa, but the nation is struggling to deal with its first economic contraction in four years, rising unemployment, and shortfalls in healthcare infrastructure and education.

India-China water war: Beijing and New Delhi have long been at loggerheads over a disputed border area in the Himalayan mountains, which led to massive skirmishes earlier this year. Now, the two Asian powers are battling it out over water. China says that it is building a hydroelectric project in one of the largest rivers in the world that it calls Yarlung Zangbo, but that the Indians call the Brahmaputra river. After Beijing announced the project, which could be Beijing's biggest hydropower project in history if it comes to pass, New Delhi said that Beijing's aggressive plans could have major implications for India's food and water security, and that it would give China too much power to use the crucial waterway as a "weapon." Indian officials also said they were considering a rival water project in the same waters, spanning from Arunachal Pradesh state to neighboring Bangladesh. Analysts say that things could quickly spiral out of control because the two powers have not honored a water-sharing agreement, which usually governs plans and discussions surrounding new water projects.

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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