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.

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This weekend, world leaders will open the COP26 climate summit, the UN's annual climate change conference, in Glasgow. Some insist this event is crucial to the multinational fight to limit the effects of climate change; others dismiss it as a circus that will feature politicos, protesters and celebrities competing for attention – one that's long on lofty promises and short on substance.

What's on the agenda?

Political leaders and negotiators from more than 120 countries will gather to talk about two big subjects. First, how to reduce the heat-trapping carbon emissions that scientists warn can inflict catastrophic damage on millions of people. This is where they'll offer their "nationally determined contributions," diplomatic jargon for their updated promises on their climate goals. Second, how to help poorer countries pay for adaptation to the climate damage that's already unavoidable.

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What pandemic result will have the largest and longest-lasting impact on women? Is the world really building back better for half the global population? How can we ensure that the post-pandemic recovery is fair to women? And how does this all play into a wider GZERO world? A group of global experts debated these and other questions during a livestream conversation hosted by GZERO Media in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, moderated by eNCA senior news anchor Tumelo Mothotoane.

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Iran to resume nuclear talks — but it might be too late. Iran's top negotiator says that his country is now ready to rejoin talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Those negotiations have been on ice since June, when a hardline new Iranian president was "elected." But hopes for a breakthrough are slim. For one thing, Iran and the US still disagree about who should do what first: Tehran wants the toughest US sanctions lifted immediately, while the Americans say no way until Iran stops steaming ahead with its nuclear programs. (For a good primer, check out this Puppet Regime.) The other big obstacle now is that since Donald Trump ditched the deal in 2018, Iran has made immense progress in enriching uranium, breaking through all the limits set by the original agreement. Reviving that pact would now entail forcing the Iranians to give that all up, which Iran's hardline leadership is very unlikely to do, while Washington certainly won't want to write up a new deal that accepts Iran's recent nuclear activity — in fact, the Biden administration is under pressure to impose fresh sanctions. Fresh talks are good, but things don't look promising.

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Less than a year after the world started putting COVID vaccines into people's arms, most regions have immunized at least half their populations, but Africa still lags behind. With industrialized nations hoarding jabs and the COVAX facility faltering, barely five percent of the African population is fully vaccinated.

Some enterprising South African scientists are now making a bold bid to change that, with an experiment that could benefit not only Africa's 54 nations and billion people, but the entire world: Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a Cape Town-based startup, has developed a plan to reverse-engineer Moderna's mRNA shot and manufacture it for priority distribution on the continent.

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11: Hit by a massive new COVID wave, Moscow has issued an 11-day lockdown of schools, businesses, and all "non-essential" services. Russia is now one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, having recorded 400,000 deaths by some estimates. Russia's high rate of vaccine skepticism isn't helping.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Has Russian behavior in cyber changed after President Biden and President Putin's meeting earlier this year?

Well, unfortunately, we see ongoing assertiveness and aggression from the Russian side, targeting the US government, but also US tech companies. And the fact that there is so little accountability probably keeps motivating. Shortly before the Russian elections, Apple and Google removed an app built by opposition parties, to help voters identify the best candidate to challenge Putin's party. The company sided pressure on their employees in Russia, but of course, the pressure on the Russian population is constant. And after these dramatic events, the silence from Western governments was deafening.

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No government today has the toolbox to tinker with Big Tech – that's why it's time to start thinking of the biggest tech companies as bona fide "digital nation states" with their own foreign relations, Ian Bremmer explains on GZERO World. Never has a small group of companies held such an expansive influence over humanity. And in this vast new digital territory, governments have little idea what to do.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

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