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.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko – who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 – has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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