What We’re Watching: Tories Transformed

What We’re Watching: Tories Transformed

New Conservatives – Following a dramatic few days of parliamentary combat over Brexit, Prime Minister Boris Johnson no longer leads the same Conservative Party he inherited just six weeks ago. Gone are 21 members, some of them with decades of service to the party, who were expelled for voting with the opposition to strip Johnson of control of Brexit negotiations with the EU. Gone too is Boris' younger brother Jo, who, according to wags on Twitter, quit the party on Thursday to "spend less time with his family." The prime minister can now encourage party members to select Brexit hardliners and Johnson loyalists for the Tory electoral list, reshaping the party in his own image. British voters will then decide, once the opposition agrees to elections, where that party will go.


Italy's new interior minister – Matteo Salvini built his case to lead the Italian government on a reputation for furious opposition to would-be migrants. (As interior minister, he closed Italian ports to asylum seekers.) Now that a spectacular political miscalculation has left him outside government, a change made official when members of the Five Star Movement voted to approve its party's coalition with the center-left Democratic Party, Salvini has been replaced as interior minister by Luciana Lamorgese, an official recently in charge of planning refugee and migrant reception centers in northern Italy. This move represents a sharp shift in Italy's immigration policies and a big political opportunity for Salvini, now in opposition.

China vs Foreign Retailers – On Monday, as students in Hong Kong skipped the first day of class to join pro-democracy protests, Spanish clothing retailer Zara temporarily closed four of its 14 stores across the city. A local newspaper then published an article speculating on whether the stores were closed in support of the protests. When the story hit social media giant Weibo inside China, many angry Chinese called for a boycott of the store. The store's parent company then issued a statement that stores were closed only because protests delayed the commute of its employees and expressed support for the principle that Hong Kong is part of China. Weibo users said an explanation is not enough and demanded an explicit apology. Zara isn't the first, and won't be the last, Western company caught in the crossfire of controversy inside China.

What We're Ignoring

Russia's Versailles academy – Russian businessman Andrey Simanovsky has a lot of money and very bad taste. Don't take the Signal team's word for that. Check out these photos from a suburb of the Siberian city of Yekaterinburg of the public school he just had remodeled with chandeliers, marble floors, gold-trim, and ceiling paintings of angels. What sort of food can students expect from the lunchroom? Let them eat cake.
People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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The looming pandemic debt cliff

Right on the buzzer, Sri Lanka on Tuesday narrowly avoided its first-ever default on its sovereign debt. But the cash-strapped country is still on the hook for a lot more cash this year, which is shaping up to be a very painful one for low-income countries deep in the red due to COVID.

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The Graphic Truth: Deep in the red with China

The pandemic has thrown many already-indebted countries further into the red. The problem is two-pronged for many Asian, African, and Latin American countries. They have taken on huge amounts of debt from the IMF to weather pandemic-related economic uncertainty, while also being caught up in a debt trap set by China, which funds large infrastructure projects in developing states but often with complex or misleading fine print. We take a look at which countries out of a group of 24 surveyed states owe China the most compared to their respective IMF debts.

Ukrainian former President Petro Poroshenko gestures as he walks to address supporters upon arrival at Zhulyany airport in Kyiv, Ukraine January 17, 2022.

Ukraine’s political woes. While Russia maintains tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, domestic politics in Kyiv are becoming increasingly contentious. This week, former President Petro Poroshenko — who was elected in 2014 after the Maidan Revolution ousted a longtime Putin ally and then defeated for re-election in 2019 — has now returned to Ukraine after a month abroad to face a host of criminal charges. Those charges include treason, an alleged crime related to his decision to sign government contracts to buy coal from mines held by Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Poronshenko, a businessman worth $1.6 billion, says the deal was necessary to keep Ukraine from economic collapse and that the charges are an attempt by current President Volodomyr Zelensky to distract from unfavorable perceptions of the country’s (currently lousy) economic outlook. He also calls it a manufactured crisis and a “gift” to the Kremlin, because it distracts from Russia’s ongoing aggression. Also, on Friday US Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to continue talks on resolving the Ukraine standoff.

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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A newborn baby is seen being cared for in the ward of the hospital neonatal care center. The results of the seventh national census of China will be released soon, and some institutions predict that the birth rate will be lower than the death rate for the first time.

7.52: Birth rates in China dropped to a record low 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, down from 10.41 in 2019. This comes as the Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to boost birth rates to revive a slowing economy.

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China’s homegrown COVID vaccines were once crucial — but they're not as effective against omicron as mRNA jabs.

What's more, with with local cases near zero for the better part of the pandemic, most Chinese have no natural immunity. That could spell disaster for Beijing as omicron surges.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the highly transmissible new variant will make zero COVID harder and harder to sustain.

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