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What We're Watching: Macron's troubles, Indian election, US-China defense talks

French President Emmanuel Macron. Reuters

Emmanuel Macron in trouble: These are trying times for Emmanuel Macron, as the French president suddenly finds himself dealing with three major crises at once. First, France is currently reeling from a massive second wave of coronavirus, which has forced Macron to order a second national lockdown. Second, he is facing rising social tensions at home over the (long-fraught) question of integration into French society, after an Islamic beheaded a teacher who had shown derogatory images of the Prophet Mohammed as part of a lesson on free speech. The killing of three people outside a Nice church by a knife-wielding man of Tunisian origin yesterday heightened the sense of crisis. Lastly, Macron is facing a backlash from much of the Muslim world over his controversial comments in response to the teacher's murder, in which he pledged to crack down on extremism but also seemed to target Islam in general. There have been anti-French protests across the Muslim world, and several countries have called for a boycott of French goods. Macron doesn't face voters again until 2022, but he's already had to reset his presidency a few times. And his rivals — particularly from the far right, anti-immigrant National Rally party— may start to smell blood in the water.


India's pandemic politics: Citizens of Bihar, India's third most populated state, are already voting in the country's first regionwide parliamentary election since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected over 8 million Indian citizens and killed more than 121,000. The vote is going ahead despite calls to postpone it due to COVID-19, although Bihar has not been hit as hard as other Indian states. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not on the ballot, but the election is seen as a major test for popularity of his ruling BJP party, which currently governs Bihar without a majority and faces a united opposition. The BJP recently came under fire for offering to dole out free COVID-19 vaccines if it wins in Bihar, giving the world a taste of what future pandemic politics may look like in countries where a shot of a miracle drug is now worth more than bags of cash to buy votes. Whether or not the BJP follows through on its promise, we're watching to see whether Modi's party holds onto power in Bihar, and if a loss hurts the PM.

China, US militaries talk "crisis": The military chiefs of China and the US held video talks this week on "crisis communication" amid rapidly deteriorating ties between Beijing and Washington and an increasing risk of conflict in the South China Sea or Taiwan. The Chinese defense ministry says that US Defense Secretary Mark Esper gave assurances that America will not seek war with China if President Trump loses next week's election, while his Chinese counterpart urged him to "walk the talk." Interestingly, the conversation took place as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a tour of Asia to rally support for a (still unofficial) NATO-style military alliance against China. Beijing, as expected, is not pleased with Pompeo's plans nor with the Trump administration's recent move to sell $2.4 billion in military equipment to Taiwan, which China regards as part of its territory. Regardless, it's always a good sign that the two of the world's most powerful militaries are still talking in private, no matter how much their governments bash each other in public.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely available in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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