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.

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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.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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