What We're Watching: India halts vaccine exports, principle vs profit in China, Nigeria's crypto fiasco

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a graffiti on a wall, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Mumbai, India, March 25, 2021.

India squeezes vaccine exports as COVID crisis deepens: India has embarked on one of the world's most ambitious vaccine drives, seeking to vaccinate not only its own 1.4 billion people, but also make hundreds of millions of jabs to inoculate low-income countries under the global COVAX initiative. To date, it has sent 60 million doses to over 70 countries. But now, as India grapples with a surging COVID caseload and death rate — in part because of a new "double mutant variant" — New Delhi has placed a temporary ban on exports of the AstraZeneca jab being produced by its Serum Institute. "Domestic demand will have to take precedence," one foreign ministry official said. The move, which is expected to hinder supply chains until at least the end of April, will have massive impacts on COVAX, which is counting on India's pharma sector to get millions of doses to the neediest countries. India's ban has already frustrated supplies that were supposed to go to the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil in recent days. The Serum Institute says it aims to produce 1 billion doses for low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2021, but so far, its monthly production cadence is lagging.


Principle vs profit in China, again: Nike and H&M are the latest Western companies to find themselves in hot water with China over Beijing's human rights abuses. What happened this time? Last year both companies issued statements of concern about reports that the government was forcing ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang province to pick cotton. Although both Nike and H&M have factories in China, they made clear that they do not use any products sourced from Xinjiang specifically. In recent days, however, those comments resurfaced after the US and EU slapped sanctions on Beijing over human rights violations in Xinjiang. A huge online and public backlash against the companies ensued on Chinese social media, as well as sharp criticism from state television channels. As of Thursday, H&M had been removed from several major Chinese e-commerce platforms. As companies in sectors as wide-ranging as professional sports and air travel have learned, the issue is a thorny one: China is a massive market (of both consumers and suppliers) that Western firms are loathe to lose access to or alienate. But as China's abuses against human rights and democracy grow more brazen, it puts CEOs in a tough spot — is their business about values or valuations?

Nigeria's crypto misstep: Nigeria's central bank has come under pressure to clarify its position on regulating trade in cryptocurrencies, after a February directive misled people to believe that a 2017 edict would prevent people using banks and financial payment systems to trade crypto. The confusion has made waves in Nigeria, by far Africa's largest crypto market, where this sector has boomed over the past year due to the pandemic-related drops in remittances and the value of the local currency. But the developments have implications far beyond Nigeria: Recent events show that any central bank must tread carefully when attempting to regulate crypto, which is fast becoming a major conundrum for monetary authorities around the world — and pushing some of them to launch their own digital currencies as an alternative. Crypto has recently become the new foil for central bankers worldwide, with the US Federal Reserve warning that it's not only very volatile but can also be used for criminal activity. The debate over cryptocurrencies is only going to get hotter if crypto's value continues to skyrocket as it has done so far this year.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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