What We're Watching: Kim Jong-un as Santa

Kim Jong-un as Santa – With US nuclear talks stalled, Kim Jong-un has been trying to grab President Trump's attention in recent months by, for example, lobbing more rockets into the Sea of Japan, and today making good on threats to again call Trump a "dotard." But North Korea's supreme leader is also trying out some scary Santa shtick. This week, a North Korean official criticized efforts to restart the nuclear talks and said (ominously) that it's "entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get." We ignored his "Epitome of Civilization Village" in our Wednesday edition, but we admit we're curious to see what stunt Kim might dream up next.


A Ukrainian wall? – Next week, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France will meet for the first time in more than three years to discuss the war in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists, which has so far killed more than 13,000 people. A senior advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky warned this week that Ukraine might build a wall to separate the Russia-backed breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk from the rest of Ukraine unless the Kremlin agrees to a ceasefire and prisoner swap. Failure to reach an agreement next week will again raise a painful question for Ukrainians: Should Ukraine recognize the renegade provinces as independent in order to deprive Russia of its foothold in Ukraine? Or do the Ukrainian people believe that such a surrender of territory is unthinkable?

France on strike - Nationwide protests against proposed pension reforms brought France to a standstill on Thursday, shutting down Paris' sprawling public transport system and leaving schools and hospitals unstaffed. The strikes – dubbed "black Thursday" by French media – started when President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to overhaul France's 42 separate retirement schemes in order to offset the country's ballooning deficit. France has one of the world's most generous pension systems, and French politicians tinker with it at their peril. For now, Macron is going full steam ahead (unlike last year, when he dropped a fuel tax hike because of the Yellow Vest protests). But growing social discontent is still his biggest challenge. After last year's protests he softened up his image and returned from the political dead, but can Macron defuse this latest crisis and keep the calm for another two years to win re-election?

Kashmiris lose WhatsApp – This week, at least one million Kashmiris had their WhatsApp accounts suddenly wiped from the platform, and no one knew why. It soon became clear that the Facebook-owned messaging app automatically disables accounts after 120 days of inactivity. Why were so many Kashmiris inactive for so long? Because four months ago India's government revoked the legal autonomy of Kashmir— India's only Muslim-majority state – and shut down the region's phone and internet communications, making it impossible for Kashmiris to use WhatsApp. India is WhatsApp's largest single market, and many Kashmiris rely on it to communicate with dispersed family and friends. Now they will be doubly cut off from their loved ones beyond Kashmir's borders.

What We're Ignoring

Sisi vs Tuktuk – The Egyptian government wants to do away with tuk-tuks, the popular motorized rickshaws that careen through the capital's streets, beeping and blaring Arab pop music. They pollute, yes. And they are a nuisance for some drivers, yes. But they are also a source of informal livelihood and transport for millions of lower-income people in one of the world's most crowded cities. Ya raagel, as they say in Egypt, this seems like a battle the government isn't going to win easily.

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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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