What We're Watching: France tackles extremism, China’s vaccine goes global, Qatar-Saudi thaw

Art by Annie Gugliotta

France's anti-extremism law: On the 115th anniversary of France's famed laïcité laws that separate church and state, President Emmanuel Macron yesterday unveiled a controversial new bill meant to tackle religious extremism. While the bill doesn't single out Islam by name — that would be illegal under France's constitution — officials have made clear that its aim is to rein in Islamic extremism and organizations that support it. The proposed law comes as Macron is under tremendous pressure to respond to a recent spate of Islamic terror attacks in France, which has lost more of its people to terrorism than any other EU member state and seen thousands of its citizens join ISIS in recent years. The new law would scrutinize funding for religious institutions, restricts home-schooling, tightens rules on online hate speech, and even singles out punishment for doctors who issue "virginity certificates." It still needs to be approved in Parliament, where Macron (just barely) controls the lower house. Although close to 80 percent of French people believe that "Islam has declared war on France," debate over the law is expected to be fierce, with far-left and far-right groups saying it doesn't actually go far enough, while other critics say that the law needs to be part of broader efforts to better integrate French Muslims into society.


End to Qatar blockade? Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week made significant progress towards a deal to end Riyadh's three-year blockade of Qatar, imposed because of what the Saudis say is Qatar's support for terrorism. The latest diplomatic breakthrough was brokered by Kuwait and the US, which wants to end the standoff and give President Trump another foreign policy win in the Middle East before leaving office. The preliminary agreement hinges on Riyadh granting the Qataris access to Saudi airspace in exchange for the Qataris dropping their pending international lawsuits against the Saudis, which seek damages over the blockade. However, there's just one problem — Doha is also under blockade by Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE, and it's not clear that they are willing to give up just yet. There's also bad blood over Qatar's moves since 2017 to cozy up to Iran, mortal enemy of most of the Sunni Gulf powers and Egypt.

China's vaccine diplomacy: A Chinese coronavirus vaccine was approved for use outside China for the first time on Wednesday, when the UAE announced that the Sinopharm shot, which can be stored at room temperature, is 86 percent effective. It's a potential game-changer for many developing countries that lack cold-storage facilities for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are more effective than Sinopharm's but require deep freezing. The UAE's approval is likely the first among dozens of countries where China aims to push its own brand of vaccine diplomacy, which consists of sharing its drugs with poorer nations as a "global public good" instead of trying (like the US is doing) to inoculate all its own people first. On the one hand, China's vaccine push will be a lifesaver for developing countries that can't buy enough doses now, as Western countries hoard COVID-19 vaccines. And it may help restore trust in China after Beijing allegedly covered up the initial Wuhan outbreak. What will China ask for in return for this largesse? It's hard to say, but with this kind of leverage, Beijing will be in a good position — as long as its vaccines really work.

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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