What We're Watching: Greek border wall, China’s economic rebound, US overtures to… Syria?

Migrants wait on at Turkey's Pazarkule border crossing with Greece's Kastanies. Reuters

Build that wall... in Greece: The Greek government has finalized plans to build a wall along part of its eastern border with Turkey to prevent migrants from staging mass crossings to reach European Union territory. The move follows a March standoff between Athens and Ankara when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared he was "opening" the border because Turkey could no longer cope with so many migrants fleeing Syria. Since then, migrant flows via Turkey to the EU have declined dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic and tougher policing, but Greeks and Turks (as always) remain at odds over what to do with the migrants: Greece wants Turkey to do more to stop migrants crossing, while Turkey says Greece is sending back migrants who arrive at Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. As the two sides continue to bicker over this issue — and over energy rights in the Eastern Mediterranean — the only thing that's clear is that Greece won't demand that Turkey pay for the wall.


China's economic recovery: As most of the rest of the world grapples with a pandemic-fueled recession, the country where COVID-19 began is doing quite well. China's GDP grew 4.9 percent in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2019. That's slightly less than expected but still an impressive feat for a country whose economy contracted by a whopping 6.8 percent during the first quarter as China shut down the entire city of Wuhan and halted most economic activity to contain the coronavirus. Can Chinese consumers sustain the economic recovery — until now largely driven by a massive government stimulus program for state-controlled firms and online shopping — by spending more on brick-and-mortar retail and services? In the longer term, we're watching to see how the world's second largest economy will deal with long-term declining demand for its products in many of its major export markets.

A secret meeting in Damascus: The Wall Street Journal has reported that Kash Patel, the Trump administration's top counterterrorism official, recently traveled to Syria for secret talks with an unidentified official representing the Bashar al-Assad government. If true, it's the first known meeting between a senior US official and the Assad regime since the start of Syria's civil war a decade ago. The US halted diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012 in response to Assad's brutal crackdown on Syrian protesters and civilians. Patel's reported goal in Damascus was to win the release of some or all of (at least) six Americans held hostage by Assad's government. Trump's supporters will say this effort is a reminder that the president will talk with anyone to advance US interests, while his critics will call it a cynical last-minute attempt to boost his re-election chances. But we're watching this story, not to judge its political motivations or implications, but to see whether these talks can reunite hostages with their families.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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