What We’re Watching: Chad unrest continues, Brazil spikes Sputnik, Chinese population falls

What We’re Watching: Chad unrest continues, Brazil spikes Sputnik, Chinese population falls

Chadians reject "soft" coup: Street protests against Chad's new military-led government have turned bloody a week after the killing of longtime President Idriss Déby. Interim leader Mahamat Idriss Déby, son of the slain Idriss, has named one of his dad's former allies as prime minister, but the opposition says he has no right to do so because he took over in a coup (and neighboring countries agree). Meanwhile France, the former colonial power which backed Déby père for 30 years, was initially open to a civilian-military transition, but has changed its position and now wants a civilian-only government before a fresh election in 18 months. But as long as the younger Déby follows in his father's footsteps by remaining a strong ally of the West against jihadists in the wider Sahel region, Paris surely won't put up too much of a fuss.


China's falling population: The world's most populous country has a new and growing problem: too few babies. According to a Financial Times scoop, the 2020 census — which has not been released yet — shows that China's population has dipped below the 1.4 billion mark that it reached in 2019. Experts blame rising costs of living, education, and childcare. For decades, the Chinese Communist Party was worried about overpopulation, and in 1978 it imposed the infamous "one-child policy." But in 2016 the government relaxed those restrictions because of fears of sluggish population growth. (One side effect of the one-child policy was to encourage families to terminate pregnancies of girls, which has led to a male-female population imbalance among younger Chinese.) A stagnant or shrinking population could present serious long term problems for China's economic growth and the care of older generations. What can China do to convince more Chinese people to have... more Chinese people?

Brazil rejects Sputnik: On Monday, health officials in Brazil refused to approve the Russian COVID vaccine Sputnik V, citing concerns about the vaccine maker's quality-control processes, testing data, and information about potential side effects. This was the latest bad news for a vaccine that Russian officials say has been registered in more than 60 countries and distributed already in Belarus, Syria, Iran, and Argentina. The EU has raised similar concerns about the lack of information about the vaccine, and the government of Slovakia has rejected some shipments of Sputnik V on the grounds that the product they received did not share "the same characteristics and properties" as the Sputnik doses that were deemed "safe and effective" by the British medical journal The Lancet in February. Sputnik V's makers quickly accused Brazil's regulators of playing politics with the vaccine. This story reminds us that the true international reserve currency is trust.

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University of British Colombia professor Edward Slingerland says drinking makes us feel good and has historically encouraged socializing. But there are negative implications, as well. We now have the problem of "distillation and isolation": getting as much booze as you want and drinking alone, especially during the pandemic. There's a gender issue too: the "bro culture" associated with alcohol can exclude and even be dangerous for women. Not all regions have the same problems, though, as drinking habits vary widely. Watch Slingerland's interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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