What We’re Watching: It’s a Kim Jong-un Christmas!

North Koreans bearing gifts? – What kind of present will North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un leave under the tree for President Trump this year? US spooks are worried it could be a missile test: Talks over the North's nuclear arsenal have stalled since a summit between the two leaders broke down in February, leaving Pyongyang chafing under US sanctions. Testing a new ICBM that could reach the US would be one way for Kim to get Trump's attention, but it might provoke the US to seek even tighter financial curbs against the North. China, South Korea, and Japan have engaged in a flurry of diplomacy in recent days to try to tamp down rising tensions.


Turkey's refugee warning – Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said over the weekend that more than 80,000 refugees from the Syrian province of Idlib had fled for the Turkish border amid bombing by the Assad regime and Russian forces – and that Turkey would not shoulder the full burden of accepting them. Under a deal with the EU, Turkey already hosts more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees, and public anger about it is rising. That's one reason Erdogan recently invaded northern Syria—to create a "safe zone" for the resettling of some of those people. He says that unless Europe backs his plans, he'll "open the gates" to allow millions more refugees to enter the EU.

West African countries cut a lingering colonial tie – For decades, former French colonies in Africa have used a common regional currency known as the CFA Franc. Over the weekend, eight of those countries in West Africa – Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo – agreed with France to rename the currency the "Eco" and to scrap the requirement that they keep half of their foreign reserves in this currency. The new currency will still be pegged to the Euro, as the CFA Franc was. We are watching to see what effect the change has on the economy and well-being of these countries' populations.

What We're Ignoring

A flimsy fall-guy verdict in Saudi Arabia – A court in Saudi Arabia convicted eight people in the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and sentenced five of them to death. None of those people, of course, is Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman -- whom Western intelligence agencies believe ordered or approved the killing – nor two of his top advisers who were believed to have intimate knowledge of its details. This is hardly surprising – Saudi Arabia's highly politicized judicial system was never expected to punish the country's de facto leader or his aides. Still, we are ignoring this verdict because, frankly, it's (M)B.S.

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As the coronavirus pandemic has plunged much of the world economy into turmoil, you've probably heard a lot about what might happen to "supply chains," the vast networks of manufacturing and shipping that help create and deliver all those plastic toys, iPhones, cars, pills, pants, yogurt, and N95 face-masks you've been waiting on.

The future of global supply chains is an especially important question for China, the world's manufacturing powerhouse. Some countries and companies now worry about relying too much on any single supplier for consumer and medical goods, let alone one where the government hid the first evidence of what became a global pandemic and sometimes enforces trade and investment rules in seemingly arbitrary ways. The US-China trade war — and the vulnerabilities it reveals for manufacturers — certainly don't help.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Got through the Fourth of July. Pretty rough one for 2020 here in the United States. Still in the thick of it as we see caseload exploding in the United States. But really, the virus is all about developing markets right now. Poor countries around the world very soon, with the exception of the US and the UK, all of the top 10 countries around the world in terms of coronavirus caseload will be poorer countries. Let's keep in mind, these are countries that test a lot less, which means the actual numbers, in the United States the experts are saying probable likelihood of total cases is about 10x what we've actually seen in the US, in emerging markets and most of them, it's more like between 20 and 100. In other words, this is really where the virus now is.

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Many countries around the world — mostly democracies in the Americas, Asia, and Europe — have condemned China's recent move to implement a draconian new security law for Hong Kong that in effect ends the autonomy granted to the territory when it reverted from British control to Chinese rule in 1997. However, last week 52 countries expressed support for China's decision at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Most of these countries either owe China a lot of money or are relatively authoritarian regimes themselves — but not all of them. Here's a look at the China-debt exposure and freedom rankings of the countries that took Beijing's side on the new Hong Kong law.

0: The trial in the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi opened in a Turkish court on Friday, but 0 of the 20 Saudi agents accused of the gruesome murder were actually in the courtroom. Saudi Arabia says its own closed-door trial over the slaying was sufficient, and has so far refused to extradite the suspects to Turkey, where Khashoggi was killed.

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