What we're watching: Kim Jong-Un's weird frozen cosplay

What we're watching: Kim Jong-Un's weird frozen cosplay

Catalonia's violent revolt: Violent protests have roiled the Spanish region of Catalonia for days since the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy jail terms over their roles in the illegal 2017 independence referendum. Separatists have torched cars and rubbish bins. Police are shooting at them with rubber bullets, and at least 100 people have been hurt. Damages in the Catalan capital of Barcelona have already topped 1 million euros, and neither side shows signs of backing down. To the contrary. Quim Torra, Catalan government chief, has now pledged to hold a new independence vote within two years. As Spain heads to national elections next month, its fourth in four years, we're watching to see if the renewed focus on the separatist movement might swing voters, particularly if these protests get worse.


Kim Jong-un riding a horse up a snowy mountain: North Korea's state-run news agency released a series of propaganda photos of Kim Jong-un gliding across a powdered mountain atop a regal white horse. Twitter was abuzz with witty commentary about the photos, and rightly so: they're as amusing as you'd think, perhaps even rivaling Vladimir Putin's iconic bare-chested horse-riding snaps. But the propaganda could actually be a sign of something more than just the Dear Leader's wintry equestrian bliss. The backdrop for the shoot, Mount Paektu, has a sacred meaning in North Korean regime folklore: it's the mythical birthplace of Kim II Sung – Kim's grandfather and the founder of North Korea – and it was a tactical base during the Korean War. In the past, Kim Jong-un has visited the site before making major geopolitical moves. We're going to resist the urge to speculate here, but we're watching to see what Kim has in store now that he's come down from the mountain.

Canada's unpopular candidates battle it out: Canadians will head to the polls on Monday to elect a prime minister, ending six weeks of campaigning that has focused more on personality and ad-hominem attacks than on policy. Justin Trudeau, the sitting prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party, and the Conservative Party's Andrew Scheer, have been polling neck and neck, but neither is expected to win an outright majority, raising the prospect that a smaller party might emerge as powerbroker in forming a parliamentary majority. Trudeau's popularity has dipped in recent months after a series of scandals that dealt a blow to his finely-honed progressive image. Chief among them were photos that emerged showing that he'd worn blackface and brownface two decades ago. In what appeared to be a last-minute ditch to boost his prospects, Trudeau received an endorsement from President Obama, who's popular among Canadians. But after a contentious campaign will this be enough to get the incumbent over the line?

What We're Ignoring:

Pete Navarro's imaginary friends: Much of Donald Trump's policy against China has been shaped by one of his top advisers, the Harvard-trained economist Peter Navarro, author – most famously – of the book Death By China. But it now appears that one of Mr. Navarro's own top advisers is an imaginary person. Many of Mr. Navarro's books feature a character named Ron Vara, who exudes an earthy sort of wisdom with bons mots like "don't play checkers in a chess world" or slightly crazier musings like, "only the Chinese can turn a leather sofa into an acid bath." Mr. Vara, whose name is an anagram of his creator's, is a convenient figment of Navarro's imagination. However, Mr. Navarro, whose hardline views on China carry a lot of weight in the West Wing, is not.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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