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What We’re Watching: US hits Turkey, EU stands up to Big Tech, Xinjiang’s cotton-picking forced labor

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during their joint news conference following Russian-Turkish talks in the Black sea resort of Sochi. Reuters

US sanctions Turkey: The US has imposed sanctions against NATO ally Turkey over its deployment of a surface-to-air missile system purchased from Russia that US officials say is incompatible with NATO technology, and finances Russia's defense industry. In response, Turkey has warned that it will "retaliate in a manner and time it sees appropriate." In recent years, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan has often tried to improve relations with Vladimir Putin's government to protest what he sees as overbearing behavior from Europe and the United States. But his combative, sometimes abrasive, personal and political style has repeatedly run the risk of isolating Turkey and exposing its economy to a lot of foreign pressure.


Will the EU break up Big Tech? The European Union has unveiled two proposals to curb the power of US tech giants that do business within the union. Brussels, wary of how powerful these firms have become, plans to offer new legal protections to small app developers and to allow users to uninstall pre-loaded apps from their devices. If tech companies fail to comply, they would face fines of up to 10 percent of their annual global revenue. And if they breach the rules often enough, the EU could break up these companies as the US Congress has threatened to do over their monopolistic practices, use of private data, and failure to stem the flow of online misinformation. Though these EU proposals have not yet become law, they signal that European regulators are prepared to be much more aggressive than their American counterparts in coming years with firms like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

China's dirty cotton: Chinese authorities have been accused of forcing more than half a million Uighur Muslims in the far-west region of Xinjiang to pick cotton that is then used in exported Chinese-made clothing. Uncovered Chinese documents corroborate satellite evidence that China runs large-scale internment camps in Xinjiang where up to a million Muslims have been imprisoned. (Beijing claims the camps are used for "vocational training.") But this new evidence will force many of China's commercial partners to choose between continuing to accept apparel possibly made from slave labor or boycott the products and brave China's economic retribution. In the United States, in particular, the use of minority slaves to pick cotton could hardly be more provocative.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meet next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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