What We’re Watching: EU COVID pass mess, Bolsonaro in trouble, Kim Jong Un’s latest shakeup

What We’re Watching: EU COVID pass fiasco, Bolsonaro in trouble, Kim Jong Un’s latest shakeup

EU rolls out COVID digital certificate: As of today, the EU's long-awaited COVID Digital Certificate system — a centralized database of residents' vaccination status and test results — is up and running. Good news for those wishing to travel around the bloc again this summer, right? Not so fast. First, countries worried about the more infectious Delta COVID variant are still permitted to restrict travel from countries where the strain is prevalent. Second, some EU member states are still not fully integrated with the system, so the usual testing and quarantine requirements are in place. Third, the system greenlights people who have received vaccines approved by the European Medical Agency, but not others such as the WHO-approved Sinovac or Sputnik V, which are being administered, for example, in Hungary. As with its vaccine rollout, we predict the bloc's vaccine (gasp!) "passport" scheme will be initially glitchy, but ultimately work out fine.


Brazil's president jabbed by vaccine scandal: For two months, Brazil's Senate has publicly probed the government's mishandling of the pandemic. With more than 500,000 Brazilians already killed by COVID, the hearings have focused chiefly on the government's failure to secure vaccines fast enough, even as Bolsonaro doubted the severity of COVID and pushed quack cures. But this week brought some bombshell testimony: health officials said President Jair Bolsonaro ignored their concerns about corruption in the procurement of shots from India. If true, Bolsonaro could face criminal charges. Opposition leaders will doubtless seize on these new revelations to bolster their case for impeachment, but as long as Bolsonaro can count on the unwavering support of 25 to 30 percent of Brazilians, his opponents may have an uphill battle to remove him. A bigger question is how this affects Bolsonaro's 2022 re-election campaign. Recent polls showed him getting trounced in the first round by his nemesis, the leftwing former president Lula.

North Korean reshuffle: Kim Jong Un is quite upset these days (and not because Joe Biden is ghosting him). First, he admitted that North Korea, the worker's paradise where nothing can go wrong, has a food shortage problem. Then, the portly Kim found that instead of congratulating him for shedding a few pounds, his own countrymen are shedding tears over their beloved Supreme Leader looking "emaciated." Now he's fired an unknown number of his most senior officials for not doing enough to prevent a "great crisis" for the country with the pandemic — a somewhat bizarre statement, considering that to this day the country has yet to admit that there have been any COVID infections at all. The purge seems to be Kim's biggest shakeup since 2013, when the relatively new Supreme Leader ordered the execution of his uncle to show the elite of the one-party state that he wasn't to be trifled with. Now, the circumstances are quite different. With North Korea's economy in shambles due to crippling US sanctions and facing famine, Kim needs his lieutenants at the top of their game to help him drag the Hermit Kingdom out of its current troubles.

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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