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

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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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