China Threatens Australia Because That’s All It Can Do

As cases of COVID-19 resurge elsewhere in the world, it’s worth remembering that Australia whipped the coronavirus into submission with relative ease, reducing the number of new daily cases to single digits by mid-April. Yet, the pandemic has left Australia with an acute case of economic and diplomatic whiplash anyway, not because of its public health shortcomings but because of its uneasy codependence with China. The country’s astonishing 29-year run of economic growth is set to come to an abrupt end, thanks in part to flagging demand from China, whose soaring commodities purchases helped keep Australia out of a recession after 2008. And Beijing, upset with Canberra over (among other seemingly trivial matters) its pro forma support for an international investigation into the origins of the virus and Taiwanese membership in the World Health Organization, is going the extra mile to ensure Australia doesn’t take Chinese buyers for granted. Over the past month, China has halted shipments of Australian beef, imposed an 80 percent tariff on Australian barley, warned of consumer boycotts targeting Australian winemakers and dairy farmers, and urged the more than 200,000 Chinese university students in Australia to consider studying elsewhere. Beijing, in other words, is becoming less […]

Daily Memo: An Anniversary of Political Unrest

31 years after Tiananmen Square. Thursday is the 31st anniversary of the deadly crackdown in Tiananmen Square, when the military opened fire on thousands of protesters. True to form, Beijing is tightening its hold on pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong, with the local government banning an annual Tiananmen vigil for the first time in three decades. (It did so under the auspices of public health, but throngs of protesters showed up anyway, standing roughly two meters apart.) It also passed legislation making it illegal to, among other things, boo the Chinese national anthem at soccer matches. As could’ve been expected, Chinese state media is also having a field day with the political unrest in the United States, saying that high-level calls for military intervention exemplify American hypocrisy and decline. It’s a false equivalent – at least for now – but it’s bound to resonate in certain parts of the world – especially when wielded by as talented a propagator of disinformation as Beijing. It’s always difficult to determine just how much things like ideology, arguments over human rights and democracy, and public perception in the developing world might matter to something like the U.S.-China competition; hard power typically matters more. […]

Mother Nature as a Geopolitical Force

History is biased, and not just because the victors tend to write it. The study of history is largely the study of humankind – specifically, the geopolitical events that have shaped human actions (and vice versa) over millennia. It’s true that to learn from the past, we must study ourselves. But what if we’re missing a large part of the story? What if Mother Nature plays just as large a role in shaping the course of human events as mankind? After all, any force that compels specific actions by nation-states is necessarily geopolitical. It has long been understood that geography imposes substantial imperatives and constraints on nations. Russia, for example, will always be obsessed with securing warm water ports and access to the Mediterranean via the Black Sea because accidents of geography placed the country adjacent to potential adversaries on one side and the Arctic Ocean on another, making it essentially landlocked. But geography is just one piece of the puzzle, one that fails to account for the vagaries of natural disaster. To understand just how potent a force Mother Nature can be in geopolitics, we must expand our understanding beyond basic geography to include transitory disasters. But this raises […]

Daily Memo: Funding a European Recovery

The most recent breakthrough is just a first step.

Daily Memo: China Fires Back

Beijing is making good on threats to retaliate against countries that hold it responsible for the pandemic.

Daily Memo: Preparing for Trade After the Lockdown

Many countries are already easing off their restrictions.

Four Coronavirus Lessons That We Will (or Won’t) Learn

How would we respond differently if another outbreak happened?

Medical, Economic, Social, Military: The State of Play

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A riot broke out in a poor, predominantly Muslim neighborhood north of Paris over the weekend. The immediate cause was a traffic offense and...

Daily Memo: In Asia, China Gets Defensive as Restrictions Ease

Some countries have declared victory over the outbreak.

Daily Memo: The U.S. and Iran Are at It Again

Tensions are raising as the world reckons with the economic impact of the pandemic.

Daily Memo: Watching What We Eat

The U.N. food program released some troubling numbers earlier this week.

Daily Memo: ‘Grave Danger’ in Oil Markets and North Korea

Kim rumors. CNN on Monday night, quoting a single U.S. intelligence official, reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in “grave danger after undergoing a previous surgery.” Bloomberg was likewise told by unnamed U.S. officials that Kim was in critical condition following a cardiovascular surgery. South Korean media confirmed that Kim had had heart surgery. However, the official line out of Seoul is that there’s been nothing out of the ordinary giving reason to be suspicious about the state of Kim’s health — that the 36-year-old Kim appears to be conducting “normal activities” in a rural part of the country — and that there’s no evidence of an emergency in the North. Beijing, too, pushed back on the rumors: Reuters quoted an unnamed official with China’s International Liaison Department who said Kim is not believed to be critically ill. North Korea is a black box, so to evaluate these sorts of reports, we’re always stuck working with scraps of information about conditions inside the country and watching for unusual behavior among the North’s neighbors. Some context adding credence to the rumors: Kim hasn’t been seen in public since chairing a ruling party meeting on April 11. He missed […]