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What We're Watching: Hong Kong, Rome vs Brussels, Tunisia's President

What We're Watching: Hong Kong, Rome vs Brussels, Tunisia's President

Hong Kong Protesters Get Violent – As we warned on Friday, the Hong Kong protest story is far from over. Yesterday, on the anniversary of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule, a small faction of protesters broke with the peaceful demonstrations of recent days, battered their way into the Hong Kong legislature building, and vandalized the place. The initial police response involved pepper spray and batons, and then moved to tear gas. We are watching to see if the use of violence by even this small subset of protesters changes perceptions of the movement in Beijing, and perhaps leads to a more decisive crackdown by the Chinese state.

Rome vs Brussels Soon Enough – The European Commission yesterday postponed a decision on whether to punish Rome for its high national debt, after EU leaders failed, in separate talks, to agree on who should lead the next European Commission. The delay heads off a big showdown between Italy's popular rightwing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – who says he'll quit (maybe triggering new elections) unless he can push through a massive tax cut– and the bean-counters of Brussels, who are nervously adjusting their green visors as Italy's deficit already looks set to exceed the limit of 3 percent of GDP specified by EU rules. Crisis averted for now, but the reprieve may only be temporary.

The Tunisian President's Health – Tunisia, the only country to emerge from the 2011 Arab Spring with a functioning democracy, suffered a scare last week when the country's aging President Beji Caid Essebsi was rushed to the hospital after suffering a "severe health crisis." While the 92-year-old Essebsi is reportedly on the mend, the episode reminded people that there is no clear mechanism for replacing him if he dies -- the court that is empowered to choose an interim replacement hasn't been set up yet because of squabbling between Tunisia's political parties. As Tunisia heads towards national elections this fall, Essebsi's death could plunge the country into major political uncertainty.

What We're Ignoring

Theresa May's Request of Mohammad bin Salman – Lost in the Trump-related news from last weekend's G20 summit was a side meeting in which UK Prime Minister Theresa May urged Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) to allow a "transparent" legal process to ensure accountability for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. Here are three reasons why we can safely ignore this conversation. One, MBS doesn't seem like a guy who likes to take advice from women. Two, he knows Theresa May will be in a new line of work by the end of this month. Three, why on earth would a Saudi prince want to hold someone accountable for a murder when that someone is all but assuredly… himself?


CORRECTION: The original version of this post misstated the EU fiscal rule as 2 percent of GDP.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Listen: The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he talks about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He also offers some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take