What We're Watching: Pakistan's COVID surge, high drama in the Himalayas, the UK's 5G problem

What We're Watching: Pakistan's COVID surge, high drama in the Himalayas, the UK's 5G problem

Pakistan's coronavirus surge: The World Health Organization is urging Pakistan to reimpose strict lockdowns, citing a surge in recent coronavirus cases in the country. Earlier this spring, the Pakistani government mandated lockdowns in some parts of the country, but opted not to order the closure of mosques, bowing to pressure from religious groups in the majority-Muslim nation. Most lockdown measures were then lifted ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr two weeks ago. Since then, the daily increase in confirmed cases has shot up from an average of about 1,700 before Eid to a record of nearly 5,400 on Tuesday, according to Al-Jazeera. The WHO says Pakistan has met none of the criteria for easing restrictions and needs to do much more testing. But Prime Minister Khan is in a tough spot. Lockdowns are not only hard to enforce, but in a country where up to three quarters of all non-farm jobs are in the informal sector and 24 percent of the population lives in poverty, shuttering businesses can have a catastrophic effect on society. To date, Pakistan has recorded more than 113,000 cases and about 2,200 deaths.


High-altitude tensions in the Himalayas: Nepal's government has just issued a new official map of the country which its neighbors in India are not going to like. In dispute is an area of about 140 square miles in the Himalayas that includes a mountain pass that India's military says is vitally important to the country's security. For the past sixty years, India has de facto controlled it, and the people who live there are Indian citizens. But last November, India published a new map that formally included the territory as a part of India, provoking fury in Nepal. In part the dispute goes back to an unclear map in a 200-year old treaty. But tensions over the area are intensifying now as Nepal has deepened economic ties with China, which Indian officials say has an interest in stoking tensions up in the mountains. Beijing is withholding comment, but the issue is drawing international attention in light of a recent uptick in high altitude border tensions between India and China directly. Keep an eye on this one: the air is thin up there, but the geopolitical drama is thick.

Can the UK do 5G without China? British telecoms giant Vodaphone has warned that if the UK government bans the use of equipment made by China's Huawei, Britain could fall behind in the global race to develop 5G technologies. The warning highlights a challenge that a number of countries around the world are facing. Blazing fast new 5G networks will massively boost technological innovation and data capabilities, underpinning a whole new generation of technologies like advanced manufacturing, the internet-of-things, and even self-driving cars. But to get there, most countries will need to rely heavily on components made by Huawei, the world's leading supplier. That's a problem for countries — especially the US and Europe — that have become more suspicious of Chinese technology. The US has already banned certain Huawei-made 5G components over fears that Beijing could use them to snoop on Americans or cripple critical infrastructure in a time of crisis. Vodafone says it can build 5G without Huawei components if it absolutely has to, but it's a lot more expensive and time-consuming to switch suppliers now. The warning comes as the UK explores ways to decrease its reliance on Chinese exports and technologies more broadly.

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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