What We're Watching: The NBA's Double Dribble With China

What We're Watching: The NBA's Double Dribble With China

The NBA and the PRC – When the world's largest consumer market is also an opaque, highly nationalistic autocracy, global businesses have to walk a fine line between their values and their valuations. The latest example comes from the world of basketball. Over the weekend, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, a team in the US-based National Basketball Association (NBA), posted an image on Twitter in support of the Hong Kong protesters, who are currently fighting pitched street battles against the Chinese state. But after Chinese sponsors and state broadcasters immediately pulled the plug on Rockets games, the NBA issued a statement distancing itself from the post and apologizing for any offense it had caused in China. That contrasted markedly with the NBA's more supportive stance of its players' views on social justice issues in the US. The cold math here isn't hard – China is a billion-strong basketball-crazed market whose leaders, and people, are touchy about outside criticism. But should the NBA use its platform to speak out on global issues like this? What do you think?


Fresh Protests Against Lenin – Ecuador has been rocked by increasingly violent protests and strikes in recent days as people take to the streets to vent their anger about higher prices for gas and other consumer goods. President Lenin Moreno was once a devoted vice president to the socialist leader Rafael Correa, but since winning the presidency himself in 2017 he has pursued austerity policies (lower spending, higher taxes, fewer government jobs) designed to rein in the country's debt and stabilize the economy with IMF help. A recent decision to abolish fuel subsidies provoked the current unrest. In addition to cracking down on the protests, the government has been arresting shopkeepers for overcharging people for staple foods subject to price controls. A two-month state of emergency has been declared.

North Korea-US Talks Back on Ice – Evidently it took all of 8.5 hours for the latest round of nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang to break down. Ahead of the weekend talks in Sweden, things seemed to be promising: for one thing, the White House no longer employs John Bolton, who ferociously opposed talks with North Korea. For another, the US reportedly arrived with a proposal to lift some sanctions for 36 months in exchange for the verifiable closure of North Korea's main nuclear facility. But the North Koreans, who insist on a full removal of sanctions, said the meetings were "sickening." The US now has two weeks to come back to Sweden with something more appetizing. President Trump seems to want another summit with Kim Jong-un before the 2020 election, but – as with several other outstanding foreign policy issues – time is running out to seal a "deal" that he can point to in his campaign.

What We're Ignoring

Putin Picking Mushrooms – Russia's president spent the days leading up to his 67th birthday hiking through southern Siberia's rugged and richly forested landscapes with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Just two ordinary fellas enjoying the bounty of nature. Putin's vacation pictures are always carefully choreographed by Kremlin imagemakers (imedzhmeikerstvo is a real word in Russian), so there is clearly a political point to portraying Putin in this way. But we are ignoring this because we preferred the ones where he drove a Formula 1 car, shot a tiger, or disguised himself as a mommy Siberian white crane in order to lead a flock of the endangered birds on migration.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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