When strongmen move from push to shove

When strongmen move from push to shove

Over the past few years, we've seen three major emerging powers take bold action to right what they say are historical wrongs.

First came Crimea. When the Kremlin decided in 2014 that Western powers were working against Russian interests in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to seize the Crimean Peninsula, which was then part of Ukraine. Moscow claimed that Crimea and its ethnic Russian majority had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries until a shameful deal in 1954 made Crimea part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Americans and Europeans imposed sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine is not part of NATO or the EU, and no further action was taken.


Then came Kashmir. Kashmir has long been divided into Indian- and Pakistani-administered sections separated by a "line of control." The two countries have come to blows over Kashmir several times, and some Kashmiris want independence from both. Indian-administered Kashmir has the only Muslim-majority population on Indian territory, and to manage the resulting tensions, Article 370 of India's constitution gave the territory its own constitution and flag — and the right to make its own laws in areas that don't concern India's defense or foreign policy. After years of periodic unrest and insurgency in the province, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered Indian troops into the province in August 2019, and India formally revoked Kashmir's autonomy.

Now comes Hong Kong. When Hong Kong passed from British to Chinese authority in 1997, Beijing agreed to respect a plan known as "one country two systems," which allowed the territory to make its own laws, in areas that don't affect China's defense or foreign policy, and to keep its own police force. Freedoms of speech and the media remained in place. After a proposed law that would allow Hong Kongers to be extradited to face trial on the mainland triggered a tidal wave of unrest across the city, Beijing imposed a new security law that undermines basic freedoms in Hong Kong, and would make it illegal for literally anyone on Earth to promote democracy for its people. Without sending in troops, Beijing effectively ended Hong Kong's autonomy.

These three cases have something basic in common, despite their dozens of differences. All involve powerful emerging states — Russia, India, and China — with nationalist leaders who used historical claims to seize control of territory they believed rightfully belonged to their countries. And all did so secure in the knowledge that no outside power, or alliance of powers, would be willing and able to stop them.

So, who's next? Successive Chinese leaders, including current president Xi Jinping, have made clear that they believe Taiwan is part of China and will one day return to Beijing's control.

In 1996, China fired ballistic missiles into the sea to intimidate Taiwan, and President Bill Clinton responded by ordering two US aircraft carriers into the Taiwan Strait to send Beijing a message. China backed down. That was 24 years ago. Since then, China has spent trillions to modernize its military and to equip it with 21st century weapons. In Asia, at least, the military balance of power has changed.

Taiwan isn't Crimea, Kashmir or Hong Kong. It's a wealthy country of 24 million people, that is very well armed (by the US).

But if China fired missiles toward Taiwan today, how would outsiders respond? If the US president flexed America's military muscle, would China's leaders back down? What if they didn't?

And for how much longer will this question remain hypothetical?

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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