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.

As digital technology reshapes the workplace, a move toward skills-based training and employment will unlock opportunities for companies and job seekers alike. While automation and AI are already taking on many routine tasks, demand for people with technology skills is rising fast around the globe. Getting the right people into the right jobs within the right organizations is one of the biggest challenges facing the world of work. So how can it be overcome? To read some recent skills-related stories, visit Microsoft On the Issues.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

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The end of "forever" in Afghanistan: The Biden administration says it'll withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted Washington to invade the country in the first place. It's unclear how the withdrawal will affect American plans to steer intra-Afghan peace talks in the right direction under the terms of a peace agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban in May 2020. Trump promised to pull out next month as long as the former al-Qaida hosts kept their end of the bargain by not launching deadly attacks (spoiler alert: they have not). Biden's move honors his campaign pledge to end a "forever war" that has claimed more than 2,300 American lives and cost the US Treasury almost $1 trillion since 2001. However, critics fear that a hasty departure could leave the Afghans helpless to prevent the Taliban from returning to power, rendering the entire mission not only expensive, but ultimately pointless.

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week on World In 60: J&J vaccine woes, Blinken warns China, Fukushima water and a large rabbit.

How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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750 million: While struggling with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world right now, India has approved Russia's Sputnik V COVID vaccine. Moscow has a deal in place to produce 750 million doses of the shot in India.

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In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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