What We're Watching: Protests spread to Pakistan

What We're Watching: Protests spread to Pakistan

Pakistan gets the protest bug - Thousands of anti-government protesters descended on the capital Islamabad yesterday, demanding the resignation of cricketer-turned-Prime Minister Imran Khan. The protests, dubbed a "freedom march," were organized by religious groups and political rivals who say the government is illegitimate, installed last year in elections rigged by the country's powerful military. The protesters are also mad about Khan's failure to weed out corruption and revive the economy: Pakistan's fiscal deficit has ballooned, and the rupee continues to plunge. Reports have surfaced that Pakistan's army chief is unhappy with the Prime Minister's handling of the economy and could soon oust him.


Chile cancels major summits amid unrest - Chile has pulled out of hosting two major international summits after government concessions failed to calm weeks of unrest over economic inequality that have left at least 20 people dead. President Sebastian Pinera said that Chile would no longer host next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit or December's COP25, the UN's annual climate conference. Organizers of both events are now scrambling to find alternative hosting options. We note that Donald Trump and Xi Jinping were supposed to meet on the sidelines of the APEC gathering to try and ink a partial trade deal. Spain has since stepped up to host the climate summit, but the outcome of APEC remains unknown.

China's Asian trade deal of the century - In just a few days, China is looking for a breakthrough on a massive new Asian free trade deal with countries that account for almost a third of the world economy. The deal, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), was once seen as little more than a feeble, China-oriented alternative to the much more ambitious Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations that were being led by the United States, without China. But the Trump administration ditched the TPP in early 2017, making RCEP a hot ticket. When Asian leaders meet in Bangkok today, Beijing is hoping to move the deal forward by getting India, the main holdout, to agree to a "substantial conclusion" of the deal. New Delhi has raised concerns about competition from Chinese imports, but also doesn't want to be left out of a trade pact run by its main economic rival.

What We're Ignoring:

Peace Train for the author of Peace Spring - Yusuf Islam, the folk-rock singer/songwriter formerly known as Cat Stevens, had a prolific music career thanks to sentimental hits like "Father and Son" and "Wild World." That is, until the late 1970s when he converted to Islam and quit making secular music for almost thirty years. The British national has now turned up in an unexpected place: Turkey, paying a visit to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to present him with a "peace train" named after another hit song of his (yes, there are photos). We're ignoring this because "peace" doesn't really come to mind when we think of the Turkish leader's current "Peace Spring" military campaign in northern Syria.

CORRECTION: This piece originally listed "Cat's in the Cradle" as a Stevens song, which it is not. It is by Harry Chaplin. We regret the error and apologize to little boy blue.

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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