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What We're Watching: Japan's new leader, Moria refugees in limbo, Lebanon's blown deadline

Japan's newly-elected Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga arrives at his official residence in Tokyo

Who's Japan's new PM? The world's third largest economy has a new prime minister after the Japanese parliament voted to elect Yoshihide Suga to the top job just weeks after Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest serving prime minister, resigned because of health problems. Suga, a former cardboard factory worker and close political confidant of Abe for almost a decade, was elected to head the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with 70 percent of the parliamentary vote. There's widespread consensus among political observers that Suga, known as a pragmatist, will seek to continue Abe's political agenda and legacy, with one commentator dubbing him an "Abe substitute." Suga's cabinet also includes many former Abe loyalists, suggesting a continuation of his policies. Japan now faces twin economic and health crises, while experts say a second wave of infection has already hit the country. One key decision for Suga is whether to move forward with the Olympic games, which Tokyo is still slated to host next summer despite uncertainty about the pandemic.


Moria refugees in limbo: More than a week since a fire ripped through the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, thousands of refugees remain in limbo, sleeping on the streets with little access to food, water, or shelter. Of the nearly 13,000 displaced refugees — who hail from 70 different countries — the Greek government has been able to resettle about 1,200 in temporary migrant camps. In part, that's because many of the migrants are refusing to go to new camps, demanding to be resettled permanently elsewhere in Europe. Moria, an overcrowded camp originally intended to house just 3,000 people, became a symbol of despair in 2015 when thousands of refugees fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and parts of Africa began arriving at the Mediterranean coast in droves in the hopes of permanent resettlement in Europe. This week, Germany said it will take in more refugee families from Greece, but as Lesbos descends into chaos (yet again), critics say the offer doesn't go far enough. The plight of Moria has long been a symbol of the deep divisions over migrant policy that continue to plague the 27-member European Union.

Lebanon's blown deadline. With their country in turmoil, Lebanon's leaders had one job. Under a plan drawn up earlier this month by France, the country's ever-squabbling sectarian political factions agreed to form a new, reform-oriented government by September 16. In exchange for that, Paris was supposed to help unlock massive amounts of foreign financial support for the crisis-wracked country. That one job proved to be too much. Clashes over key posts, and resistance from parliament speaker Nabih Berri — an ally of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite group, who has criticized the French plan and called for the US to drop its sanctions against the group — scuttled the talks. As Lebanon staggers through a crippling economic crisis and the aftermath of last month's devastating port explosion, the stakes couldn't be higher. Prime Minister designate Mustapha Adib, whose job it is to form a government, says "god willing, all will be well." As Lebanon's human leadership continues to fail, God's will may be all that can help at this point.

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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