What We’re Watching: EU agrees recovery fund, Emirati lift off to Mars, Far East tests Putin

What We’re Watching: EU agrees recovery fund, Emirati lift off to Mars, Far East tests Putin

Compromise on EU pandemic relief deal: In the wee hours of Tuesday, EU leaders reached consensus on a 750 billion euro fund to help EU member states recover from the crippling coronavirus-related economic crisis. Almost five days into what was supposed to be a three-day summit in Brussels, a group of "frugal" countries, led by the Netherlands, agreed to a combination of 360 billion euros in loans and 390 billion euros in non-repayable grants that will largely benefit Italy and Spain. These two countries were the hardest hit by the pandemic, but are reluctant to embrace labor market and pension reforms in exchange for EU rescue money. Disbursement of the funds will finally not be tied to upholding EU norms on democracy and the rule of law, as Hungary and Poland had pushed for. Although the "frugal" countries won generous rebates on their contributions to the EU budget, they failed to secure clear strings attached for big-spending recipients to get the money. Any deal is subject to parliamentary approval in all EU member states, so it will still be a long time until anyone sees any of the EU relief cash.


UAE goes to Red Planet: The United Arab Emirates successfully launched a Mars probe on Sunday, becoming the first Arab country to carry out a space mission. It's a major feat for the UAE, a rich but tiny Gulf nation which only started its space program six years ago, and has been able to pull off a launch to the Red Planet (almost entirely on its own) in about half the time it normally takes countries to do so. If the Emirati probe arrives safely, it will be joined on Mars by similar missions to be launched by the United States and China. With this move, the UAE — now a member of the elite club of countries with ambitious space programs — plans to achieve twin political goals: stoke nationalist sentiment by landing the Mars probe to coincide with the 50th anniversary of its independence in December 2021, and demonstrate its regional leadership on science and technology in the Arab world, where many Gulf states are exploring how to leverage such innovation to diversify their economies away from oil and gas.

Putin tries to tame the East: After more than 10,000 people again hit the streets in the Russian Far East region of Khabarovsk to protest the ousting of their popular governor, President Putin named a replacement in hopes of calming the protests. Will it work? Supporters of Sergei Furgal say that his recent arrest on murder charges was political payback from the Kremlin, whose own gubernatorial candidate Furgal beat handily in the last elections. Furgal is a member of the spectacularly misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, a far-right nationalist outfit that usually plays the role of lapdog opposition to the Kremlin. Lately, however, party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has been mouthing off more about the Kremlin. Critics say Furgal's replacement is just a more pliant member of the same party. With Putin's approval ratings touching all-time lows and Russia's economy battered by the pandemic, the Kremlin is keen to quash this bit of regional insubordination, lest it spread to other parts of Russia's vast hinterland that are frustrated with Moscow's political and economic dominance.

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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