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

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.

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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Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

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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