What We’re Watching: US Olympic boycott threat, Myanmar junta delays vote, US resumes aid to Palestinians

What We’re Watching: US olympic boycott threat, Myanmar junta delays vote, US resumes aid to Palestinians

Will the US skip the 2022 Olympics? The Biden administration and its allies are reportedly discussing the possibility of a coordinated boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Although the State Department almost immediately tried to walk back its own previous statement, the move would be an act of protest over allegations of China's vast human rights abuses in Xinjiang province. Skipping the games is a big deal, symbolically at least. The last time the US did so was in 1980, when America boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow in response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan a year before. But practically speaking, do boycotts have a real effect on anyone besides the athletes who miss a shot at gold? That's a thornier question. Regardless, there are many ways to define "boycott" — the US could — and likely would — do as little as simply keeping its top diplomats from attending. China, for its part, has threatened a "robust response" to any efforts to snub the Beijing games.


Myanmar junta digs in its heels: As widely feared by pro-democracy activists, Myanmar's ruling generals on Wednesday announced they may delay new elections until at least 2023. The extension of the post-coup state of emergency confirms that the regime is indeed content with killing protesters and stifling the opposition until it deems citizens are scared enough that a military-backed party will "win" when eventually it's time to go to the polls. So, what's the way forward for Myanmar? The generals have so far held steady in the face of mounting street protests, international sanctions, and even a potential rift with China over attacks on Chinese-owned businesses. Rumblings of an impending civil war are getting louder, but it's hard to imagine a ragtag army of dissidents and ethnic minority groups posing a serious threat to the well-armed and battle-hardened military. As long as the junta is willing to watch the country burn if necessary to stay in power, the generals are likely to keep — literally — calling the shots for a long time.

US resumes aid to Palestinians: In the latest reversal of the Trump administration's Middle East policy, President Biden is restarting US funding to the Palestinians. The Biden administration will dole out $235 million, the lion's share of which will go to UNRWA, which provides financial and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Biden has also signaled his intention to give even more money to Palestinian leadership, and possibly reopen the Palestinian diplomatic mission shuttered during the Trump presidency. The current US administration aims to foster goodwill amongst the Palestinians, who felt shunned by President Trump's Mideast peace proposal, broadly seen as dismissing their interests and favoring Israel. Washington also hopes to restart peace negotiations between the two sides in the medium term, yet any engagement will need to wait until the dust settles on Israel's political stalemate and the Palestinians vote in their own polls in May and July. The situation is very much in flux.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

More Show less

Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

More Show less

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

More Show less

Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

More Show less

50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal