Why is Xi Jinping lurking in bedrooms?

A Chinese newborn baby is seen at a hospital in Huainan city, east China's Anhui province, 1 October 2018.

Six hundred and eighty-eight million. That's how many Chinese women could be affected by Beijing's announcement this week that it will reduce access to abortions for non-medical reasons.

This follows a string of policies enforced by China's Communist Party — notorious for its ruthless one-child policy — in recent years to boost birth rates.

President Xi Jinping, why the massive change of heart?

The problem. For decades, the CCP was worried about overpopulation, and in 1978 told Chinese families they could only have one kid to contain the ballooning population size. (This was in response to Mao Zedong encouraging people to have lots of babies in the early 1950s.) But its most recent 2020 census data show that after years of restricting the number of births, China's population is now shrinking — fast.

This demographic trend is a massive problem for China, currently vying to overtake the US as the world's largest economy. From Beijing's perspective, it's also not helpful that budding economies across Asia and Africa are seeing the exact opposite trend.

Some experts blame the rising costs of housing, education, and childcare for the downward trend, which saw the Chinese population grow at its lowest rate recently since the 1950s.

Indeed, this shift hits at the very heart of China's new economic model, focused on boosting consumption at home to reduce reliance on exports, as well as increasing the number of workers to support the country's aging population. It's pretty straightforward: Beijing wants more people in the country to buy and produce more stuff.

Women as a tool for economic growth. To address this problem, the CCP has enforced a series of "family planning" laws aimed at boosting birth rates. After 35 years, they lifted the infamous one-child policy in 2016, encouraging Chinese couples to have two kids. Then it became three.

And Xi is still pulling out all the stops. To slow divorce rates the CCP also recently enforced a mandatory "cooling off" period before divorces can be finalized. Now they are limiting access to abortion, though details remain extremely scarce.

What's more, health officials have reportedly also discouraged women from having C-sections, saying that they increase the risk of complications during a subsequent pregnancy. If you're a Chinese woman, President Xi is not only in your bedroom, but also in your delivery suite.

The government may want Chinese women to become baby-making machines, but after spending decades using fear and punishment to limit family expansion, it will take a seismic psychological shift for many Chinese women, and men, to embrace the idea of having more kids.

Unintended consequences. For now at least, the loosening of family-planning rules is not going as Beijing may have intended. Part of the problem is that social policies and workplace discrimination laws haven't caught up with the government's procreation plans.

In the past, employers knew that women would take maternity leave only once, so if a mother of one interviewed for a job you knew she was a safe bet. But since now they can have up to three kids, that's no longer the case. The proof is in the data: one survey found that Chinese companies were 75 percent more hesitant to hire women after the two-child policy was introduced, while anecdotal evidence suggests discrimination against pregnant women, and women of child-bearing age, is rife. This dynamic certainly is not helping Beijing integrate more people into the workforce.

Moreover, there are no national regulations on maternity leave, meaning that women are often frozen out of the job market once they give birth. And while China has invested heavily in infrastructure development, for example, there's been little public investment in childcare. For many Chinese families, retaining private round-the-clock babysitting services could outpace what a woman might earn at a factory or office. Unlike in many parts of Asia, women's participation in the workforce is high in China, but that's changing.

Social engineering. China's economic ambitions are often viewed through the lens of flashy projects like its Belt and Road Initiative. But its social engineering activities at home, where female autonomy is increasingly under attack, are a crucial part of its grand economic plans, too.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, discusses the Democrats voting bill.

What is the status on the Democrats voting bill?

The Democrats are pushing a bill that would largely nationalize voting rules, which today are largely determined at the state level. The bill would make Election Day a national holiday. It would attempt to end partisan gerrymandering. It would create a uniform number of early voting days and make other reforms that are designed to standardize voting rules and increase access to voting across the country. This matters to Democrats because they think they face an existential risk to their party's political prospects. They're very likely to lose at least the House and probably the Senate this year. And they see voting changes that are being pushed by Republicans at the state level that they say are designed to make it harder to vote, particularly for minorities, a key Democratic constituency.

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Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?


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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
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What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

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345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

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China vs COVID in 2022

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COVID at the Beijing Winter Olympics

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