What We’re Watching: EU vs Belarus, US booster shots for all, Afghan lessons for Taiwan

What We’re Watching: EU vs Belarus, US booster shots for all, Afghan lessons for Taiwan

Booster shots for Americans: After initially authorizing COVID vaccine booster shots for immunocompromised Americans, the Biden administration now says that most eligible people should get a booster beginning next month. It's quite an about-face for US health authorities, who just weeks ago insisted a top up was not necessary despite the spread of the more contagious delta variant, responsible for new COVID flare-ups in many parts of the country. Still, the US will likely face backlash from the World Health Organization, which has repeatedly asked nations with broad access to vaccines to hold off on booster shots until all countries inoculate at least 10 percent of their populations. The WHO's argument: if rich nations play me-first vaccine politics by doling out third doses instead of sending them to countries where most people haven't even had one dose, the virus will continue to mutate into new and potentially more lethal variants, making the pandemic harder to contain. But the US isn't the only country to go down the booster track: Israel has already distributed over 1 million, while Germany, France and the UK will begin in September.


EU-Belarus migrant row intensifies: One week after Lithuania's parliament voted to build a border fence with Belarus to stop non-EU migrants from entering the country, the plot thickens. Lithuania says it has caught Belarusian security agents red-handed, pushing migrants across the border. The Lithuanians say strongman Alexander Lukashenko has encouraged more than 4,000 migrants to cross so far this year as a reprisal for EU sanctions against Belarus, which the Belarusians deny. Meanwhile, Poland has sent almost 900 troops to the Belarusian border, which is being reinforced with barbed wire to keep migrants out. EU ministers are meeting Wednesday to decide what to do about Belarus weaponizing migration to punish the bloc for pushing back against Belarusian human rights abuses. But Brussels has little leverage with Lukashenko, who knows EU countries can't push him too hard because many need the Russian natural gas that transits through Belarusian territory on its way to Europe.

China taunts Taiwan with… Afghanistan: One country focused on the US' calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan is China, which has skin in the game. Just hours after the Taliban swept back to power, the editor-in-chief of a hawkish Chinese state media outlet tweeted that Taiwan "must be trembling" and fearing that America may not defend Taipei from an eventual Chinese invasion. The next day, China's military deployed fighter jets, anti-submarine aircraft and combat ships to conduct drills near the self-governing island — which mainland China has long claimed as part of its territory — in response to unspecified "provocations" from Washington and Taipei, perhaps related to the Biden administration's recent approval to sell Taiwan $750 million worth of weapons. The Taiwanese, for their part, brushed off the Afghan analogy, arguing that America will have their back as long as they avoid the domestic turmoil that preceded the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Either way, with a lot on his plate, it's unlikely that Xi Jinping will actually seek to reunify the island with the mainland by force anytime soon. But flexing China's military muscle across the Taiwan Strait is always a winner with Chinese nationalists, who welcome Xi's aggressive posturing on Taiwan.

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The German people have spoken. For the first time in over 70 years, the country's next government is all but assured to be a three-way coalition.

That coalition will probably be led by the center-left SPD, the most voted party, with the Greens and the pro-business FDP as junior partners. Less likely but still possible is a similar combination headed by the conservative CDU/CSU, which got its worst result ever. A grand coalition of the SPD and the CDU/CSU — the two parties that have dominated German federal politics since World War II — is only a fallback option if talks fail badly.

Both the Greens and especially the FDP have been in coalition governments before. But this time it's different because together they have the upper hand in negotiations with the big parties wooing them.

The problem is that the two smaller parties agree on little beyond legalizing weed, and even when they do, diverge on how to reach common goals. So, where does each stand on what separates them?

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Joe Biden has already cancelled more US student than any other president. But progressive Democrats want him to write off a lot more to reduce the racial wealth gap and help people recover better from COVID's economic ruin. Republicans are against all this because it would be unfair to current and future borrowers and to taxpayers footing the bill, not to mention subsidizing the rich.

Watch the episode: How the COVID-damaged economy surprised Adam Tooze

China and Canada's hostage diplomacy: In 2018, Canada arrested Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou because US authorities wanted to prosecute her for violating Iran sanctions. China responded by arresting two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what looked like a tit-for-tat. Over the weekend, Meng and the "Two Michaels" were all freed to return to their home countries as part of a deal evidently brokered by Washington. The exchange removes a major sore spot in US-China and Canada-China relations, though we're wondering if establishing the precedent of "hostage diplomacy" with China, especially in such a prominent case, is a good one for anyone involved.

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40: Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body representing 40 Indian farmer groups, took to the streets Monday to mark a year since the start of mass protests against new farming laws that they say help big agro-businesses at the expense of small farmers. The group has called for an industry-wide strike until the laws are withdrawn.

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Germany's conservative CDU/ CSU party and the center-left SPD have dominated German politics since the 1950s. For decades, they have vied for dominance and often served in a coalition together, and have been known as the "people's parties" – a reference to their perceived middle-of-the-road pragmatism and combined broad appeal to the majority of Germans. But that's all changing, as evidenced by the fact that both performed poorly in this week's election, shedding votes to the minority Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. We take a look at the CDU/CSU and SPD's respective electoral performance over the past 60 years.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy week to all of you and thought I'd talk a little bit about Germany and Europe. Because of course, we just had elections in Germany, 16 years of Angela Merkel's rule coming to an end - by far the strongest leader that Germany has seen post-war, Europe has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And indeed in many ways, the world has seen in the 21st century. Xi Jinping, of course, runs a much bigger country and has consolidated much more power, but in terms of the free world, it's been Angela Merkel.

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Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

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