Zambian President Edgar Lungu shakes hands with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, Sept. 1, 2018 (pool photo by Nicolas Asfouri via AP).

With its economy in trouble from a high public debt burden as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Zambia’s government recently suspended interest payments on some sovereign bonds. The country is already in arrears on some of its debt—including $183 million in official bilateral loans from other countries and $256 million from commercial banks—and has asked for a six-month suspension on interest payments from the holders of its $3 billion in Eurobonds, which are denominated in foreign currencies. These bondholders are due to make a final decision on Zambia’s request in mid-November, but a substantial portion of them have so far […]

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, right, walks near the Monument to the People’s Heroes during a ceremony to mark Martyr’s Day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Sept. 30, 2020 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

When the world first started learning about the outbreak of a dangerously contagious new respiratory virus in the city of Wuhan, in central China, the Chinese government was defensive and secretive about it. Many foreign commentators were quick to cast China’s reaction as a metaphor for the inherent weaknesses of an authoritarian system. Under the constantly tightening grip of its power-monopolizing leader, Xi Jinping, we were told, bad news has had an increasingly hard time traveling from China’s provinces to the capital in Beijing, and from there, into the higher echelons of the chain of command in the Communist Party. […]

Surveillance cameras near the portrait of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong at the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, March 15, 2019 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR contributor Lavender Au and Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curate the week’s top news and expert analysis on China. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive China Note by email every week. Last week, China’s National People’s Congress released the first draft of the Personal Information Protection Law, which would set up the first dedicated system to protect privacy and personal data in China. Having been in the works for well over a decade, it has been a wait. Personal information in China has been governed by a patchwork of regulations; some scholars […]

President Donald Trump arrives to speak about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, at Flavor First Growers and Packers in Mills River, N.C., Aug. 24, 2020 (AP photo by Nell Redmond).

President Donald Trump still just doesn’t get tariffs. On the campaign trail in Wisconsin recently, Trump again bragged—wrongly—about how China is paying for the higher taxes he slapped on imports over the past two years. He then touted the $28 billion in ad hoc payments that the federal government has doled out to farmers in that time to compensate for the hit they took when China retaliated against U.S. exports. What Trump doesn’t say is that it is American consumers and taxpayers who are footing the bill for his failed trade wars. Analysts project that American farmers will receive a […]

An excavator works on a road construction project in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 10, 2020 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

As the United States prepares for a full withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, potentially as soon as next spring, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over its efforts to promote infrastructure development in Central and South Asia. Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, China has become a major player in the region, especially through the 2013 announcement of its Belt and Road Initiative, a major infrastructure program involving hundreds of billions of dollars in investments throughout Asia and beyond. The rise of Chinese spending and influence has overshadowed America’s efforts, inducing a kind of collective amnesia among many […]

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Oct. 23, 2020 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

Should Joe Biden win the American presidency on Nov. 3, the world will experience whiplash, as the United States performs a second about-face in its posture toward multilateralism in only four years. Although the U.S. has oscillated through cycles of internationalism and isolationism before, it has never executed such a swift and dramatic double-reverse. A Biden triumph would repudiate the “America First” platform on which Donald Trump won the White House in 2016, and the hyper-nationalist, unilateralist and sovereigntist mindset that undergirds it. Such a stunning shift in America’s global orientation would have major implications for global cooperation on everything […]

Aung San Suu Kyi, center, leaves a demonstration of voting for the upcoming  elections, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Oct. 20, 2020 (AP photo by Aung Shine).

Myanmar is set to hold general elections next month, for the second time since the end of military rule in 2011. The last election, in 2015, ushered Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy into power with a landslide victory. Since then, the NLD has had a mixed economic record, and Suu Kyi, now the country’s de facto leader, has gone from human rights icon to international pariah for defending the army’s brutal persecution of the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority concentrated in western Myanmar. More recently, the government has mismanaged its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech at a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, in Moscow, June 24, 2020 (pool photo by Sergey Pyatakov via AP).

From mass protests in Belarus to political chaos in Kyrgyzstan to the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia is surrounded by mounting instability. According to Matthew Rojansky, the director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Institute for Scholars, President Vladimir Putin and his top advisers only have themselves to blame for these crises on Russia’s periphery, given their active assertion of “veto rights” over political outcomes that they find unfavorable, including any signs that a country is realigning away from Russia and toward the West. In many cases, this has meant staunch […]

Supporters of Kyrgyzstan’s new prime minister, Sadyr Japarov, at a rally in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Oct. 15, 2020 (AP photo by Vladimir Voronin).

Kyrgyzstan is in the midst of historic political upheaval, spurred on by nearly three decades of government misrule, a frustrated civil society and the rise of unsavory criminal groups to positions of power. With the resignation last week of President Sooronbai Jeenbekov amid mass protests, and his shocking replacement by a convicted felon freshly sprung from jail, the Central Asian nation looks set for more volatility—and the Kyrgyz people will pay the price. The trouble began with parliamentary elections on Oct. 4, which were marred by blatant evidence of fraud and vote-buying on behalf of government-friendly candidates. Official results showed […]

A protest against the appointment of Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Feb. 29, 2020 (AP photo by Vincent Thian).

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman turned heads in 2018 when, at the age of 25, he became the youngest-ever Malaysian politician appointed to a Cabinet post. Last year, he helped secure the passage of a landmark constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. Now, the telegenic former youth and sports minister is building a new, youth-led political party that follows a recent trend of millennial-inspired political movements in Southeast Asia, including the Indonesian Solidarity Party and Thailand’s now-banned Future Forward Party. Syed Saddiq’s party, the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance—or MUDA, which means “young” in Malay—aims […]

Delegates wait for the start of the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 21, 2020 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR contributor Lavender Au and Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curate the week’s top news and expert analysis on China. Following shutdowns of factories and lockdowns due to COVID-19, China’s economy shrank by 6.8 percent in the first three months of this year compared to 2019—its first economic contraction on record since 1976. But in the months since then, China seems to have bucked the trend of pandemic slumps hitting other countries, as it posted 4.9 percent year-on-year growth in the third quarter, according to data released Monday by the National Bureau of Statistics. China’s […]

Pro-Brexit demonstrators fly flags outside Parliament in London, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth).

Over the past four years, as the United Kingdom has wrestled with the consequences of its narrow vote to leave the European Union, there has been little to no broader foreign policy debate in the country. Instead, Britons seem to have become caught between three temperaments. There are the catastrophists, who argue the U.K. has become completely irrelevant on the international stage as a result of Brexit; the nostalgics, who see a powerful Britain through the lens of a great colonial power; and the denialists, who refuse to accept that Britain must adapt to a changing global context. All are […]

A firefighter watches the LNU Lightning Complex fires spread through the Berryessa Estates neighborhood of unincorporated Napa County, Calif., Aug. 21, 2020 (AP photo by Noah Berger).

As if COVID-19 were not enough to worry about, the global climate crisis is driving a “staggering rise” in natural disasters, the United Nations detailed last week in a new report, “The Human Cost of Disasters.” According to the U.N.’s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, known as UNDRR, the number of natural disasters was 75 percent higher between 2000 and 2019 than in the previous 20 years. Unless humanity takes prompt, dramatic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet risks becoming “an uninhabitable hell for millions of people,” the report’s authors warn. Unfortunately, the world is not doing nearly […]

Students attend a ceremony to kick off the new semester at Wuhan High School, Wuhan, China, Sept. 1, 2020 (Chinatopix photo via AP Images).

Earlier this year, as the coronavirus seemed to abruptly explode out of China and engulf the globe, Chinese authorities launched a propaganda campaign to try to turn the pandemic into a political win for Beijing. Months later, as governments around the world still struggle to contain COVID-19, with new waves and spikes from India to Europe to the United States, the time has come to take a tally of China’s efforts. The results are stark, showing some gains for the Chinese regime but also some major failures in the one area where Beijing had hoped to leverage the pandemic to […]

A TV screen shows a news program with an image of North Korea’s new ballistic missile, at the Seoul Railway Station, South Korea, Oct. 10, 2020 (AP photo by Lee Jin-man).

A massive military parade in North Korea last weekend was arguably the most hotly anticipated event in the country this year, but its organizers still managed to take viewers and analysts by surprise. In a departure from previous daytime processions, the parade was conducted in the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 10, while most of the country slept, with an edited version broadcast on state TV in the evening. In typically dramatic fashion, North Korea’s young dictator, Kim Jong Un, kicked things off with an emotional 25-minute speech, as onlookers cheered and wept. The meticulously choreographed affair then featured fireworks, a […]

A man walks by a money exchange shop decorated with Chinese yuan banknotes and other countries currency banknotes, in Hong Kong, Aug. 6, 2019 (AP photo by Kin Cheung).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR contributor Lavender Au and Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curate the week’s top news and expert analysis on China. In a further round of sanctions last week, the U.S. blacklisted virtually all of Iran’s financial sector. Perhaps in anticipation, Iran’s central bank announced that it had adopted the yuan, also known as the renminbi, as its main foreign reserve currency, replacing the U.S. dollar. With a 25-year strategic partnership with China under discussion, Iran will have a guaranteed market for its oil and gas exports, and with renminbi reserves, it will be able to […]

Sweden’s then-foreign minister, Carl Bildt, at a press briefing in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 8, 2014 (AP photo by Markus Schreiber).

“On foreign and defense policy, absolutely, there is an ambition to be more united, and that vision is shared by all of the member countries,” says Carl Bildt, former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, about the European Union. “Then in practice, as you’ve seen, there are divergences, and they are more or less clear in different areas.” Those divergences have frustrated advocates of a more forceful EU that operates on the world stage with “strategic autonomy,” a phrase Mr. Bildt finds “confuses more than it clarifies.” But he adds, as someone who has “been watching these things for a […]

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