What We're Watching: Dwindling Hopes of a Big US-China Deal

What We're Watching: Dwindling Hopes of a Big US-China Deal

Dwindling hopes of a big US-China deal – China's Vice Premier Liu He will be in Washington tomorrow for the latest round of US-China trade talks – but things don't look great. For one thing, Bloomberg reports that Chinese officials have privately made clear that while they'll talk tariffs, they aren't willing to negotiate core aspects of China's economic model, including Beijing's massive subsidies and protections for its state-owned companies. But omitting those things – which are critical for the US side –would mean there's no shot of the "100%" deal that the Trump administration seeks. What's more, on Monday night the US slapped fresh sanctions on 28 of China's top tech companies for their role in China's repression of Muslims in Xinjiang province. Without a deal this week, China may in fact be willing to stand pat and see how the impeachment, and the election, play out for Trump.


Disillusionment in Tunisia – The moderate Islamists of the Ennahda Party came out on top in a highly fragmented vote for Parliament over the weekend, but turnout was low (41 percent) and forming a government will prove tricky, as the party won only about 40 of 217 seats. After the last general election, in 2014, Ennahda governed in an unwieldy and largely ineffective coalition that left many voters disillusioned. Eight years on from the only successful democratic revolution of the Arab Spring, some 70 percent of Tunisians say they don't trust any political parties at all, and they are increasingly turning to outsiders: the leading candidates in this Friday's presidential election are a jailed populist media tycoon and a constitutional law professor with an uncommonly decent approach to politics.

A bulbous challenge in India – One of the biggest political challenges facing the world's most populous democracy at the moment has to do with… onions. The humble bulb vegetable is a staple food for hundreds of millions of Indians, and a hardy cash crop for millions of the country's farmers as well. So when floods caused onion prices to triple between August and October, the national government immediately banned onion exports in order to boost supplies and bring down prices. It worked. But that, in turn, prompted protests by onion farmers and exporters, particularly in the populous northern Maharashtra state which, as it happens, is about to hold local elections. As the BBC explains, onions have a long political history in India, and have played a starring role in major political campaigns over the years. Forgive us for calling this an eye-wateringly multi-layered problem.

What We're Ignoring

A Stupid Blame Game – After an apparently "frank" conversation about Brexit between British PM Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday morning, accusations flew fast. A 10 Downing Street source said the call had forever buried prospects for a deal. European Council President Donald Tusk accused Johnson of playing "some stupid blame game." Amusing as all this noise is, we're ignoring it because the raw situation is still this: 31 October is the deadline for the UK to leave the EU. Johnson says he'd do that with or without a deal, but an Act of Parliament requires him to seek an extension if he can't strike one. After his latest proposal for a Brexit deal failed to fly either with Brussels or with Ireland – whose border with Northern Ireland is the key sticking point – it looks like Johnson will make a big stink but end up asking for that extension. The EU will reluctantly grant it and then Johnson will look to hold elections in order to bolster his position ahead of fresh negotiations with Brussels. That, at least, seems like the obvious path – but nothing about Brexit has been obvious.

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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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

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