What We're Watching: China’s Leaders Chewing the Fat

China's leaders chewing the fat - The elite of China's ruling Communist Party have convened for a four-day plenum in Beijing, where they'll set the country's policy agenda for the year ahead. Held behind closed doors to avoid leaks, these plenums have traditionally delivered China's most consequential policy proposals: in 2013, China relaxed its one-child policy and unveiled a fresh economic reform agenda. Last year's plenum removed presidential term limits, allowing President Xi to stay in office indefinitely. This year the stakes couldn't be higher. Beijing is facing its slowest growth in three decades, feeling headwinds from the trade war with the US, and a political crisis in Hong Kong rivaling 1989's Tiananmen Square protests. As the world's second biggest economy grapples with these challenges, we're watching to see what new policies emerge in the weeks and months ahead.


The cratering of Europe's political centre - Two big regional elections in Europe over the weekend showed fringe parties continuing to win at the expense of the centre. In the central Italian region of Umbria, Matteo Salvini's anti-immigrant Lega party thrashed a candidate supported by the current 5-Star/Democratic Party-led coalition government, marking the first time since the 1970s that the centre-left has lost Umbria. Meanwhile, in the eastern German state of Thuringia, the far-right Alternative for Germany, whose local leader wants to scrap Holocaust remembrances, eclipsed Merkel's centre-right CDU to become the second-most powerful political force in the state behind the hard left Die Linke (The Left) party. In both cases, the gains spell potential trouble for increasingly-fraught centrist coalitions in national government. Next up: Spain, where the Vox party and People's Party continue to gain ground in the polls ahead of national elections next month.

What We're Ignoring:

An anti-corruption campaign waged from a Bentley - Last year the government of Papua New Guinea angered taxpayers by spending more than $135 million on preparations for hosting the APEC summit, a yearly gathering of Asia-Pacific world leaders. The expenses included some 300 cars, among them several dozen Maseratis and Bentleys. The government of Prime Minister James Marape, who came to office on a bid to stamp out graft, pledged to sell the rides afterwards, but that tender process – shocker – hasn't moved forward. Now the PM is awarding himself a Bentley. And in true "for my friends, everything" style, he's also sending a car (not a Bentley or a Mas) to each of the 111 members of the Papuan Parliament, too.

Ferrera Erbognone, a small town in the northern Italian province of Pavia, is home to one of the most cutting-edge computing centers in the world: Eni's Green Data Center. All of the geophysical and seismic prospecting data Eni produces from all over the world ends up here. Now, the Green Data Center is welcoming a new supercomputing system: HPC5, an advanced version of the already powerful HPC4. Due to be completed by early 2020, HPC5 will triple the Green Data Center's computing power, from 18.6 to 52 petaflops, equivalent to 52 million billion mathematical operations per second.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

A few days ago, the New York Times published a bombshell report on the Chinese government's systematic oppression of Muslims in Western China. The story was about many things: human rights, geopolitics, Chinese society – but it was also about technology: Beijing's repression in Xinjiang province is powered in part by facial recognition, big data, and other advanced technologies.

It's a concrete example of a broader trend in global politics: technology is a double-edged sword with sharp political consequences. Artificial intelligence, for example, can help develop new medicines but it can also support surveillance states. Social media helps nourish democracy movements and entertains us with cat memes, but it also feeds ISIS and 4Chan.

More Show less

Increasingly violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong have dealt a major blow to the city's once booming economy. Tourism – an economic lifeline in that city – has dropped, and retailers are suffering from a sharp decline in sales. Now, six months since the unrest began, Hong Kong has recorded its first recession in a decade, meaning its economy has contracted for two consecutive quarters. Here's a look at how Hong Kong's quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) growth has fared during the past two years.

Tehran's Next Move: "We don't want an Islamic Republic, we don't want it," was the chant heard among some protesters in Tehran over the weekend after the government announced a 50 percent fuel price hike meant to fund broader support for the country's poor. Under crippling US sanctions, the country's economy has plummeted, unleashing a "tsunami" of unemployment. What started Friday as nationwide economic protests took on a political coloring, as protestors in some cities tore up the flag and chanted "down with [Supreme Leader] Khamenei!". The unrest seems to be related, at least indirectly, to widespread demonstrations against Tehran-backed regimes in Iraq and Lebanon as well. Economically-motivated protests erupt in Iran every few years, but they tend to subside within weeks under harsh government crackdowns. So far, the authorities have shut down the internet to prevent protestors from using social media to organize rallies. But Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps has warned of more "decisive action" if the unrest continues.

More Show less

13 billion: Building a single state-of-the-art US aircraft carrier costs about $13 billion, a figure that exceeds total military spending by countries like Poland, the Netherlands, or Pakistan. But as China's ability to hit seaborne targets improves, the Economist asks if carriers are "too big to fail." (Come for that, stay for the many strange Top Gun references in the piece.)

More Show less