What We’re Watching: Europe's trucker shortage, Mapuche emergency in Chile, Japan’s military plans

What We’re Watching: Europe's trucker shortage, Mapuche emergency in Chile, Japan’s military plans

Truck driver shortage across Europe: No, the UK is not the only European country with an acute shortage of drivers to move goods around. Indeed, the entire continent is now desperately in need of more truckers, mainly as a result of soaring demand coupled with less people willing to do a job for low pay and poor working conditions. The situation in mainland Europe is not as bad (yet) as in the UK, where Brexit has aggravated the problem: the army has been deployed to refill gas stations amid backed-up ports and empty supermarket shelves because EU drivers now need visas. Still, the shortage is creating a massive headache for European companies already struggling to keep up with so much pent-up demand. What's more, a new EU-wide law will soon require truckers to be paid the minimum wage in each EU member state they transit through. This is all precisely what the IMF has been talking about this week, when it warned that supply chain disruptions are slowing down the global post-pandemic recovery and driving up inflation.


Will Japan go Teddy Roosevelt? We all knew Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida speaks softly, but now his party wants him to also, as the 26th US president once advised, "carry a big stick." The ruling Liberal Democratic Party says it wants Japan to spend at least 2 percent of GDP — about $100 billion — on defense. That would double the country's current military budget, which has traditionally been pegged at 1 percent to comply with the pacifist spirit of the country's post-World War II constitution. Kishida hasn't committed to that target, but the mere party proposal could signal a profound shift in Japan's defense policy which has a lot to do with... China. When the more hawkish Shinzo Abe was in charge, the LDP didn't let him tweak the charter in order to beef up the military. But that was before China, whose navy often trolls Japan's near the disputed Senkaku islands, was as powerful as it is today. Still, the Japanese must tread carefully given that memories of its militaristic past remain fresh across Asia, and a move to boost spending could spark a regional arms race.

State of emergency in Chile: The president of Chile has declared a state of emergency and sent troops to two southern regions of the country, following deadly clashes between police and indigenous Mapuche groups there. The Mapuche have long demanded more autonomy and the restitution of certain ancestral lands that are now owned by logging companies. Mapuche grievances contributed to the wave of unrest that swept Chile in 2019-2020 over the broader issue of rising inequality. Those protests led to a referendum that voted in favor of rewriting the constitution, which currently doesn't recognize any rights for Chile's sizable Indigenous population. The current state of emergency lasts two weeks, but could be extended. We're watching to see if the move provokes further violence, and whether the Mapuche issue figures heavily in the run-up to the first round of the presidential election next month.

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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