What We’re Watching: UK ditches Huawei, Bolivia becomes COVID hotspot, Caucasus clashes erupt

What We’re Watching: UK ditches Huawei, Bolivia becomes COVID hotspot, Caucasus clashes erupt

UK flops on Huawei: The UK has banned equipment made by the Chinese tech titan Huawei from its 5G networks. The move is a big about-face for London, which as recently as January had said it would allow the use of Huawei components, although with some restrictions. But a lot's changed since January. For one thing, the US — which has banned Huawei gear over national security concerns — is putting more pressure on a post-Brexit, pandemic-wracked Britain that badly needs a good transatlantic trade deal. In addition, UK-China relations have soured over Beijing's new Hong Kong security law, which erases the autonomy promised to the city when London handed it back to China in 1997. But in banning Huawei, London is wrestling with an increasingly widespread dilemma. Huawei provides the fastest and cheapest way to build 5G networks, which everyone agrees are critical for 21st century economies. But using Huawei gear also means accepting the risk of Chinese cyber-snooping on the one hand, or Washington's anger on the other. As the US-China rivalry steadily intensifies, this tradeoff is going to become an acute problem for many countries around the world.


Bolivia, a new hotspot: Bolivia, one of Latin America's poorest countries, has emerged as a coronavirus hotspot despite the government's early lockdown efforts. In recent days, the country's interim president, Jeanine Áñez, and her health minister have both tested positive, and authorities are now reporting some of the highest numbers of new daily cases per capita in the world. Bolivia's ramshackle healthcare system has been pushed to its breaking point, doctors say: the country has just 430 intensive care beds for its population of 11.5 million, and there are reports of sick patients being left to die in the streets. But analysts say two factors are making things worse. First, Bolivians who work in the country's informal sector, making up at least 60 percent of the workforce, were unable to adhere to strict lockdown rules without going hungry. Second, the country's deeply polarized political climate has meant that supporters of Áñez's ousted predecessor, leftwing populist Evo Morales, are often reluctant to heed the government's guidance on public health. We're watching to see how this crisis might affect Áñez's chances of keeping her job when Bolivians head to the polls in a few months' time.

Caucasian clashes: Skirmishes between Armenia and Azerbaijan have left at least 15 soldiers dead on both sides in recent days, in the biggest escalation of hostilities between the countries since 2016. At issue is the still-unresolved conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory that is still officially part of Azerbaijan but has been controlled by Armenian-backed local forces since a bloody six-year long war that (mostly) ended in 1994. Low-level clashes have persisted ever since, and both governments have often used the conflict to stoke nationalist support at home. The recent clashes are unusual in that they occurred along the actual Armenia-Azerbaijan border, rather than around the disputed territory itself. A wider outbreak of hostilities could quickly destabilize the South Caucasus, a region crisscrossed by important pipelines carrying oil and gas to Turkey and Europe. The US, the EU and Russia have all called for restraint. Moscow is the dominant external player in the region; it sells weapons to both sides and keeps troops garrisoned in Armenia.

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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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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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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