What We're Watching & Watch We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

A peace deal in the Central African Republic – The government of the Central African Republic yesterday struck a peace deal with 14 different armed groups intended to bring an end to over five years of political, religious and ethnic violence. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 640,000 displaced since the 2013 ouster of the country's Christian president by a coalition of Muslim rebels. While there's no guarantee this latest deal will stick – previous ones failed in 2014, 2015, and 2017 – the progress is encouraging. The peace talks that began on January 24 marked the first time the warring factions in the conflict had all sat down at the negotiating table.

"America First" at the World Bank – The Trump administration is expected to announce today its nomination of David Malpass as the next head of the world's largest development lender. Malpass, who is known for being a harsh critic of multilateral institutions, has in the past called for the World Bank to be downsized and to curb lending to China. The appointment is the latest example of President Trump's commitment to upend institutions he finds ineffectual or simply doesn't like, even if they ultimately serve US foreign policy objectives. The US provided about $3.8 billion to the World Bank last year, or around 13 percent of its total budget, and has substantial say in how it pursues its mandate to alleviate poverty and promote development around the world. We're watching to see how that mandate changes under new leadership.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

The UK's emergency plan to evacuate the queen – British officials in charge of organizing contingency plans for a messy Brexit are dusting off Cold War-era plans to whisk Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family out of London in case of riots. It seems like every new week of the Brexit saga brings some new absurdity, but this is really over the top. This family wasn't even evacuated from London during Germany's mass bombing campaign against the UK during World War II. The queen herself drove an ambulance during the war. A Brexit evacuation? One's mind boggles.

The Chinese Air Force's barely concealed menace – This Lunar New Year "goodwill" video from China's Air Force has it all: sleek bombers, aerial acrobatics, a catchy soundtrack, and the PLA's airborne corps logo superimposed against a backdrop of Taiwan's tourist hot spots. Real subtle, guys. We're ignoring the propaganda and wishing a happy New Year to all of our Signal readers in Taiwan, on the mainland, or wherever you may be. 恭喜发财!

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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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Governments around the world are offering creative incentives for getting a jab.

If you happen to live in New York and are one of the city’s 18% of unvaccinated residents, now might be a good time to go get jabbed. But not just because of omicron.

In late December, now former NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the city would start offering gift cards, free roller coaster rides on Coney Island and trips to the Statue of Liberty to those who get their shots. And it’s not just the Big Apple.

As infections jump, vaccination incentive programs have been brought back around the world. Officials in vaccine-hesitant Missouri have earmarked $11 million dollars for gift cards worth $100. Vermont is awarding schools with per-pupil bonuses if they hit rates higher than 85%.

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What We’re Watching: China's problems, UAE vs Houthis, Nord Stream 2 split

China's mounting problems. Xi Jinping is not off to a good start in 2022. First, Chinese economic growth slowed down to 4 percent in the last quarter of 2021, almost a percentage point less than the previous period. While annual GDP was up 8.1 percent year-on-year, beating government expectations, the trend is worrying for the world’s second-largest economy. Second, annual population growth fell in 2021 to its lowest rate since 1949, when the ruling Communist Party took over. Although Xi probably saw this one coming, he's running out of ideas to encourage Chinese families to have more children — which the government needs in order to sustain growth and support the elderly over the long term. Third, and most immediate: the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics canceled ticket sales for domestic spectators — foreigners were not invited — as the more transmissible omicron variant has driven up COVID infections in China to the highest level since March 2020. It's only the latest sign that Xi's controversial zero-COVID policy is setting itself up for failure against omicron without mRNA vaccines. What'll it take for China to reverse course?

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Hard Numbers: Tongan volcano, Ukrainian cyberattack, Zemmour fined over hate speech, NK-China border reopens

100,000: We're still waiting for news from the Pacific nation of Tonga, two days after a massive underwater volcanic explosion triggered a tsunami that was felt thousands of miles away and sent a plume of ash 100,000 feet into the sky. With communications mostly cut off, Australia and New Zealand have sent airplanes to assess the damage.

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Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

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Omicron is here. The bad news is that it's more contagious. The good news is that mRNA vaccines work against death and hospitalization. COVID may soon become endemic in some parts of the world.

Not in China, where Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low.

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January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

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GZEROMEDIA

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