What We're Watching: Status of COVID in the US, China wants a reset, Indian vax-makers under pressure

Lila Blanks holds the casket of her husband, Gregory Blanks, 50, who died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), ahead of his funeral in San Felipe, Texas, U.S., January 26, 2021.

Making sense of 500,000 COVID deaths in America: The US was on track to pass another grim milestone Monday, as it nears half a million deaths from COVID-19, the highest total death toll in the world. (To put that in bleak perspective: carrying 500,000 people would require a caravan of buses that would stretch 94.7 miles, the Washington Post finds.) Still, while the grief is being felt across the entire country (President Biden and VP Harris planned a moment of silence to mark the milestone), there's also some good news on the horizon: cases across the US are at their lowest level since the fall, while hospitalization rates are also plummeting (there's been a 50 percent decline in just over a month). The US vaccine rollout has also picked up steam, though recent volatile weather disrupted the rollout in many parts of the country. While some analysts say that the worst of the pandemic has now passed in the US — with some even suggesting herd immunity could come by April — others urge caution, saying that complacency could usher in a dreaded fourth wave.


China wants a fresh start with the US: Beijing's top diplomat says it's time for a reset of US-China relations after four years of rapidly deteriorating ties between the world's two largest economies. Foreign minister Wang Yi on Monday called on the US to lift the sweeping sanctions that the Trump administration imposed on Chinese goods, and to ease up on Chinese tech companies that Washington has targeted over national security fears. How will the Biden administration respond to this olive branch? By now it's largely the consensus in Washington, for better or worse, that China should be treated as a rival. That means Biden can't afford to look weak, particularly with Trump and the GOP ready to pounce on anything that looks like a sop to Beijing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Biden has kept in place most of the Trump-era pressure on China for now. But at the same time, he wants to distinguish his approach by working more effectively with US allies to pressure China over commercial, strategic, technological, and human rights issues. What's more, big picture global challenges like post-pandemic economic recovery and, above all, climate change will require significant cooperation with Beijing in order to succeed. Biden's in a tough spot on a big issue that could define his foreign policy — can he craft a coherent strategy?

Indian vaccine maker in a tight spot: The Serum Institute of India is set to produce hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccines for COVAX, the global initiative that aims to make the shots available to more than 90 low and middle income countries. But in a cryptic weekend tweet, Serum's CEO said his company had been "directed to prioritise the huge needs of India." He didn't name names, but the statement points to massive competing pressures facing the Indian government. On the one hand, India, which was already making some 60 percent of global vaccines even before the pandemic, is keen to use its biotech bonafides to win friends and influence people across the developing world. On the other, India itself is part of that world, and with more than 1.3 billion arms to jab — and the second highest confirmed case total in the world — Prime Minister Narendra Modi certainly can't afford to look like he's prioritizing Bangladesh over Bangalore.

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

More Show less

China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is the legacy of Colin Powell?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.

More Show less

Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.

More Show less

5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the first act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Happy Monday, everybody. And a Quick Take for you. I wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan. I'll tell you, I've talked about it in the media over the last couple of weeks and almost every questioner has been trying to prod me towards, "are we heading to war?" Then I was with some friends at the Trilateral Commission on Friday. I like that group a lot. It's one of these groups that a lot of conspiracy theorists pretend secretly run the world, like the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations. Now having attended all three, I can tell you, if they do run the world, they are not inviting me into the rooms where they're making those decisions. If they are doing that, they're also doing a lousy job of it.

Nonetheless, it was fun until I was on stage and the first question I got was about, "Hey, so the Chinese are changing the status quo. Do you think that means we're heading towards war?" I just want to say that, first of all, I am clearly less concerned about the imminence of confrontation and military conflict between the United States and China than almost anybody out there. Accidents are certainly possible, but particularly around Taiwan, where both sides know the stakes and have made them abundantly clear for decades now, and everyone involved gets it I think it's much less likely.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Colin Powell's legacy

US Politics

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal