What We’re Watching: Irish reunification, China’s COVID passports, Ethiopian election boycott

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a map of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland

Will Northern Ireland leave the UK? Unifying the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland into one sovereign state has long been a pipedream for Irish nationalists. But recent polls reveal that public sentiment is changing. The combination of demographic shifts and Brexit, which resulted in Northern Ireland exiting the EU as part of the UK, have upped support to break away from London in the near term: one survey found that 42 percent of people in Northern Ireland support reunification, and the number was even higher among the under-45 cohort (47 to 46 percent). Meanwhile, the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party, which made massive gains in Ireland's general election last year, recently said that Dublin, Belfast, and London need to start getting ready for Irish reunification — and soon. But the issue is extremely difficult to reconcile: The 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of bloodshed between Irish nationalists and pro-UK unionists, says that a united Ireland can only be achieved if most Northern Irelanders consent. However, in 2016 most Northern Irish (56 percent) did say they wanted to stay in the EU. Could an Irish reunification referendum actually happen soon?


China launches COVID passport: As the global vaccine effort is well underway, with 313 million shots having been given in 118 countries, China has become one of the first countries in the world to issue an official certificate to show proof of vaccination and test results. Chinese officials are hoping that the new vaccine documents will boost both domestic and international travel for Chinese citizens, but there are two big remaining issues: To date China has only inoculated 4 percent of its population. Though that's still a lot of people, it has a lot of vaccinations to give before this program can really get off the ground. Additionally, it's still unclear which countries will accept China's COVID passport — and which nations Beijing will be willing to accept similar documents from. It's likely that some of the dozens of countries that China is already supplying its own vaccines to, as well as those with tourism-dependent economies that are desperate for cash from Chinese travelers, will be willing to play ball. Nevertheless, China's decision is a major development in the immunity passport saga, and could spur other nations to adopt similar measures as vaccinations become more widespread.

Ethiopian opposition boycotts vote: Two of Ethiopia's main opposition parties have pulled out of the country's June legislative election, citing the jailing of some of their leaders and interference with their parties' operations by the incumbent government. The election is seen as a major test for embattled Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose reputation as a peace lover has taken a massive hit since launching a military offensive in the Tigray region last year, which has displaced over 2 million people. Interestingly, the two factions who are boycotting the polls are ethnic Oromo nationalist parties that used to support Abiy — an Oromo himself — until two years ago, when the PM opened Pandora's box by ushering in ambitious reforms that many Oromos viewed as detrimental to their interests. The tensions boiled over last summer, when Ethiopia was swept by mass protests following the murder of an Oromo nationalist singer. Abiy responded by cracking down on Oromo activists, deepening ethnic tensions in the already divided state. Indeed, Ethiopia's leader is now in a tough spot: his ruling party will now surely win the vote, but that victory will be regarded as illegitimate by large swaths of the population due to the opposition boycott. Expect more political turbulence in the ethnically diverse country as we get closer to the election.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

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For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

India's rape problem: Hundreds of protesters have flocked to the streets of New Delhi for four days straight after a 9-year old girl was raped and murdered in a small village outside the capital while going to fetch water for her family. Some demonstrators burned effigies of India's PM Narendra Modi, saying that the government has not done enough — or anything, really — to address the country's abysmal rape problem: there were more than 32,000 rapes recorded in 2019, certainly a vast undercount given the stigma associated with reporting sexual assaults in India. The scourge of sexual violence against women and girls in India was brought to light in 2012 when a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and murdered while traveling on a bus in the nation's capital, prompting international outrage. Four men have been arrested in connection with this week's attack, though they have not been charged. The city of New Delhi, meanwhile, has ordered an inquiry to probe events surrounding the young girl's death, though Indians who have been sounding the alarm on violence against women for decades aren't expecting much to come of it.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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20,200: As the super contagious delta variant continues to spread, Thailand is now a COVID hotspot, recording more than 20,200 new COVID cases Wednesday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began. Authorities imposed new restrictions in Bangkok and other provinces as the vaccine rollout remains sluggish; just 5.8 percent of Thailand's 66 million people are fully vaccinated.

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University of British Colombia professor Edward Slingerland says drinking makes us feel good and has historically encouraged socializing. But there are negative implications, as well. We now have the problem of "distillation and isolation": getting as much booze as you want and drinking alone, especially during the pandemic. There's a gender issue too: the "bro culture" associated with alcohol can exclude and even be dangerous for women. Not all regions have the same problems, though, as drinking habits vary widely. Watch Slingerland's interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

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Does alcohol help or harm society?

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