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.

As Europe inches past the peak of COVID-19 deaths and the US slowly approaches it, many poorer countries are now staring into an abyss. As bad as the coronavirus crisis is likely to be in the world's wealthiest nations, the public health and economic blow to less affluent ones, often referred to as "developing countries," could be drastically worse. Here's why:

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25: A divorce lawyer in Shanghai told Bloomberg News that his business has surged 25% since the city began easing its lockdown in mid-March, as being cooped up on lockdown evidently exposed irreconcilable differences in people's marriages.

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Japan mulls state of emergency: Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe is poised to declare a "state of emergency" because of the coronavirus pandemic, giving local governments the authority to order people to stay in their homes and shutter businesses and schools. Japan has so far managed the crisis without the kinds of sweeping lockdowns seen elsewhere, but a surge of new cases in recent days – particularly in Tokyo – has put pressure on the government to do more. Japan has one of the world's oldest populations – a third of its people are older than 65, the demographic most vulnerable to COVID-19. The emergency decision comes at a tough time. Japan's economy has been hurting for several months now, as China's massive lockdowns in January and February cratered demand for Japanese exports. In order to deal with the fallout that comes with putting his economy on life-support, PM Abe said the government would push through a $1 trillion stimulus package.

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As reports swirl from sources in the U.S. Intelligence Community that China vastly underreported the number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths, China's top diplomat in the U.S., Ambassador Cui Tiankai, joined Ian Bremmer for an exclusive conversation in which he responds to the claim.

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