What We’re Watching: BYOB Boris, Kim Jong Un’s new toys, China will lend less to Africa

What We’re Watching: BYOB Boris, Kim Jong Un’s new toy, China will lend less to Africa

“Bring your own booze.” It’s an old story: the damaging reveal that the political elite holds the public to a different standard than it holds its own leaders to. News emerged on Tuesday — courtesy of Dominic Cummings, the UK prime minister’s former political adviser turned bitter political foe — that Boris Johnson’s private secretary had invited more than 100 people to a "bring your own booze" party at the PM’s official residence… in the middle of a coronavirus lockdown in May 2020. Johnson and his wife have not denied they were there. To be clear, this is not the same party that his staff was caught on video laughing about during another lockdown over Christmas in 2020. Is the political ineptitude even more damaging than the hypocrisy? Either way, Johnson’s government is now in real trouble. The PM faces a parliamentary grilling on Wednesday, and may not survive a leadership challenge from within his Conservative Party later this year. At a time of bitterness over his handling of COVID and consumer pain from rising prices, this was not the story Britain’s prime minister needed.


(More) hypersonic North Korea. There aren’t many things the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is good at, but its scientists do have a talent for building high-speed missiles. On consecutive days, North Korea launched what appeared to be two hypersonic missiles more advanced than the impressive weapon fired just last week, or the first hypersonic projectile Kim Jong Un tested in September. Tuesday’s version, fired into the sea about 435 miles off the country’s coastline, is estimated to have traveled at about 10 times the speed of sound and at a low altitude that makes it harder to detect than previous generations of missiles. Kim himself attended the Wednesday test in-person for the first time since the pandemic began. International reactions have been predictable; the US and Japan have condemned the launch, while China and Russia have called for an easing of sanctions to lower the diplomatic temperature. It’s an election year in South Korea, and we’re watching to see how the South Korean government responds to renewed pressure for inter-Korean talks.

China cuts Africa lending. China, Africa's top lender, is taking a closer look at its lending policy on the continent. Xi Jinping announced last November that China will cut overall lending to the continent by one-third until 2024, as many African countries risk default due to COVID-induced economic crises. In the future, Xi also wants to prioritize cash for small businesses and green projects over more big infrastructure stuff, a riskier investment that can leave Beijing holding a bigger bag when debts go unpaid. China has long been accused of luring African countries into a "debt trap" by lending them cash with no political strings attached, but with fine print that allows Chinese companies to take control of strategic infrastructure — like Uganda's Entebbe airport — if they get stiffed. What some view as "predatory" lending by Beijing also enables corruption, with Kenya's famously overpriced Nairobi-Mombasa railway as a glaring example. A defensive Beijing says that the world's poorest continent needs Chinese loans to build infrastructure, and that the IMF also gets tough on African governments. But needed or not, China’s investment strategy is becoming more cautious.
People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

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Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

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Hard Numbers: Tongan emergency fundraising, EU docks Poland pay, new Colombian presidential hopeful, Turkey gets UAE lifeline

345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week, discussing Boris Johnson's tenuous status as UK PM, US Secretary of State Blinken's visit to Ukraine, and the volcano eruption in Tonga:

Will Boris Johnson resign?

It certainly looks that way. He's hanging on by his fingernails. He's losing members of Parliament. He's giving shambolic media interviews. In fact, I think the only people that don't want him to resign at this point is the Labour Party leadership, because they think the longer he holds on, the better it is for the UK opposition. But no, he certainly looks like he's going. The only question is how quickly. Is it within a matter of weeks or is it after local elections in May? But feel pretty confident that the days of Boris Johnson are numbered.

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COVID at the Beijing Winter Olympics

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