What We’re Watching: Taiwan braces for Hong Kongers, COVID helps scrap subsidies, EU calls out China

Taiwan braces for influx of Hong Kong defectors: As Beijing continues to tighten its control over Hong Kong, threatening the safety of that city's pro-democracy activists, officials in Taiwan now say they are preparing to absorb an influx of defecting Hong Kongers in the coming months. After China announced a new national security law last month, allowing mainland China's security agencies to operate openly in Hong Kong, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, also wary of Beijing's increasing assertiveness in the region, pledged all "necessary assistance" to Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. Ms. Tsai has now reportedly instructed her government to provide a monthly allowance for Hong Kong defectors, as well as housing for new arrivals who can't afford to pay rent. But there's a catch: Taiwan has little experience in welcoming refugees, having absorbed few asylum seekers since Vietnamese refugees fleeing communist rule began arriving on its shores in the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, Taiwanese officials are also concerned that Chinese spies might disguise themselves as Hong Kong nationals and smuggle themselves into Taiwan to gain critical information on its neighboring nemeses.


COVID cover for subsidy cuts: Many countries, particularly energy exporting nations in the developing world, heavily subsidize prices for gas and electricity as a way to help their citizens make ends meet. And although the subsidies place a huge burden on government budgets, removing subsidies can be politically explosive. Just last fall alone, plans to scrap subsidies (which means gas prices go up for consumers) provoked major protests in Ecuador and Iran. But now that pandemic-related economic shutdowns have caused oil (and gasoline) prices to plummet, some governments are seizing the moment to chip away at those subsidies. In recent weeks, Nigeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Venezuela, and Dubai have all quietly moved to either cut subsidies or raise fuel taxes, according to the New York Times. The thinking is that at a time when prices for gasoline and other fuels are at their lowest levels in recent memory, people won't notice as much if prices rise. And the government budget savings can, in principle, be redirected to investment in other areas of the economy. We're watching to see what happens as the global economy recovers – when citizens face budget-busting fuel and gas bills, and governments face angry citizens.

The EU calls out China: In its most forceful condemnation of China since the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan back in December, the European Union has accused Beijing of spreading disinformation about the pandemic in order to sow division within the 27-member bloc. In a harshly worded statement, the Commission said Wednesday that "the pandemic showed that disinformation does not only harm the health of our citizens, but also the health of our democracies." It was a tacit reference, analysts say, to recent false claims disseminated by Beijing, including the unproven allegation that French care workers had abandoned their responsibilities leaving elderly residents to die. The EU also singled out Russia for spreading lies about the global health emergency and called on social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to more actively fact-check information about COVID-19 on their platforms.

In Italy, stacks of plastic boxes in supermarkets and stores are not garbage - they are collected and reused, thanks to a consortium that specializes in recycling them for food storage. How do these "circular" plastic boxes help reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions?

Learn more in this episode of Eni's Energy SUPERFACTS series.

Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.

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"Neither America first, which is ultimately America alone, nor America the world's policeman," Sen. Chris Coons told Ian Bremmer in describing VP Joe Biden's approach to foreign policy should he win the presidential election in November. In the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer, Sen. Coons provides details of how U.S. relationships with foreign governments and multilateral alliances could change in a Biden presidency. He also defended President Obama's track record, saying "I think it is a mischaracterization of the Obama-Biden foreign policy for President Trump to say that we were picking up the tab and fighting the world's wars and that we were disrespected." Coons stated that Biden would work to restore U.S. involvement in alliances like NATO, and shore up global support to pressure China on labor and environmental standards. The exchange is part of a broad conversation with the Senator about COVID response and economic relief, Russian interference in elections, and the 2020 presidential race. The episode begins airing nationally in the U.S. on Friday, July 10. Check local listings.

Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, shares his insights on US politics:

How is coronavirus jeopardizing the legitimacy of a 2020 presidential election?

Well, what coronavirus is doing is a lot of states are worrying about people who aren't going to want to come to the polling places in the fall, and they're worried about a shortage of polling workers who are going to want to come out and volunteer to get sick by interacting with a bunch people in person. So, what they're doing is they're looking at making a shift to vote-by-mail. Most states allow some form of absentee balloting today. Five states just automatically mail you a ballot and they don't do any in-person voting. But the challenge here is that a lot of states are unprepared for the sharp increase that's expected. In the last election, 25% of ballots were cast by mail. You may see 50, 60 or even more percent of ballots cast by mail this time, which could overwhelm election administration, which happens at the state level.

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The United States and the European Union have comparable population sizes, but their COVID-19 death toll trajectories have diverged. As of July 8, the average number of new deaths every three days in the EU had fallen 97 percent since peaking at the beginning of April. The US number, however, has fallen only 67 percent over the same period. That means that although both regions' death tolls peaked with only two weeks difference, the EU has flattened its COVID-19 fatality curve faster than America. Some experts attribute the difference to EU countries' more robust public health systems and better compliance with mask-wearing and other social distancing measures.