Blackwater founder Erik Prince arrives for a closed meeting with members of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 30, 2017 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

It may take years to unravel the tangled web surrounding “Project Opus,” the bungled 2019 mercenary operation to prop up Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, which allegedly included efforts to deploy a special hit squad to Libya. Few observers tracking the burgeoning global market for privatized armies, however, were likely surprised by reports last week that U.N. investigators suspect the involvement of former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince. The recently leaked U.N. report makes only glancing mention of Prince’s alleged ties to the operation, but it marks the second time since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that Prince’s company, Hong Kong-based Frontier […]

Then-Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit in Los Angeles, Sept. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Kelvin Kuo).

One of former President Donald Trump’s principal legacies was to elevate the attention that U.S. foreign policy accords to China. His administration argued that America’s erstwhile “engage but hedge” approach had failed and that it was time to take a tougher line. The results of his policies, though, suggest that adopting an overly China-centric U.S. foreign policy is mistaken. Listen to this article: [soundcloud]993031504[/soundcloud] Pursuant to its more confrontational approach, the Trump administration imposed steep tariffs on Chinese exports and, having concluded that Beijing’s technological progress posed a particularly pressing threat to U.S. national security, took a number of steps […]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony in Beijing, Oct. 28, 2014 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

For much of the past couple of decades, Afghanistan has been a rare exception to the strategic competition between India and China in South Asia. New Delhi never believed it could be the preeminent power in Afghanistan, unlike in other nearby countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal. Following the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, India was happy to engage with Kabul under Washington’s security umbrella, while taking solace in China’s initial unwillingness to get more involved. A joint desire for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan even seemed to raise the possibility of cooperation between the two rivals. But […]

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference in Hong Kong, Jan. 19, 2021 (AP photo by Vincent Yu).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR contributor Rachel Cheung and Assistant 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. When Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp won the city’s local elections in a landslide in 2019, securing 17 of its 18 districts, their unprecedented victory was a slap in the face for the Hong Kong government, and for Beijing, whose puppets suffered a humiliating loss. But that victory was short-lived, as the authorities in Hong Kong are now making sure the opposition won’t be […]

Front pages of Australian newspapers featuring stories about Facebook, in Sydney, Feb. 19, 2021 (AP photo by Rick Rycroft).

Perhaps we’ll never know if Facebook’s surprise decision to cut Australians off from all news sources on its platform was a carefully planned strategic move, or the result of a tantrum in Menlo Park. Either way, Australia woke up to a unilaterally imposed news blackout on Facebook last week that raises important policy questions about democracy, corporate power and access to information. There had been no prior warning from Facebook, no tests—just an algorithmic change. Not only were News Corp., ABC and other mainstream Australian media shuttered on Facebook’s News Feed, so were services that might not consider themselves to […]

Demonstrators wave the flags of different ethnic groups during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 18, 2021 (AP Photo).

When Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, one resident of Yangon, the country’s largest city, was initially indifferent. A 34-year-old professional translator, he had lost faith in Myanmar’s public and its political classes long ago, he told me in a recent phone conversation. Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, or NLD, seemed too willing to compromise with the military and make progress in half measures, as evidenced by the country’s flagging, decade-long transition to democracy. But then, something unexpected happened: The people of Myanmar began to […]

The icon for the social media app Clubhouse is seen on a smartphone screen in Beijing, Feb. 9, 2021 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR contributor Rachel Cheung and Assistant 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. As China moved to block Clubhouse last Monday evening, a sense of impending doom spread among Chinese users on the audio-chat application that caught fire in the country this month. Moderators in group chats scrambled to let mainland Chinese speakers take to the podium, giving them a last chance to comment before they lose access to the app. The ban hardly came as […]

Residents taking the ferry stand near a Chinese national flag in Wuhan, China, Jan. 15, 2021 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

Sometimes springtime comes and goes in a flash. That’s the way things felt early this month, when people who follow China were left agog at the extraordinary flourishing of discussion on Clubhouse, the young but fast-growing app that combines social media with audio chat. Though available in China since last spring, Clubhouse saw a spike in interest after a widely noted appearance by Elon Musk, a big celebrity in China, on Jan. 31. Still flying under the radar of authorities in Beijing, the app allowed Chinese users to join up with people from all over the world in mostly calm […]

President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in support of Republican Senate candidates in Dalton, Georgia, Jan. 4, 2021 (AP photo by Brynn Anderson).

Over the past decade, illiberal populist leaders from across the political spectrum have won elections and taken power in many of the world’s biggest democracies, from the United States to India, the Philippines, Turkey and Brazil. Once in office, they have often undermined democratic norms and institutions, including the media, the judiciary, the civil service, and, in many cases, free and fair elections themselves. The rise of illiberal populism is a major reason why the annual “Freedom in the World” reports, published by the global watchdog organization Freedom House, have charted 14 straight years of global democratic regression. (I serve […]

Members of the Uighur community living in Turkey hold a protest near China’s consulate in Istanbul, Feb. 10, 2021 (AP photo by Mehmet Guzel).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR contributor Rachel Cheung and Assistant 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. The shocking allegations of systematic sexual abuse of ethnic Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region, detailed in a recent BBC report, did not come as a surprise to Arfat Erkin, a Uighur student living in the United States. “It is something all Uighurs know subconsciously,” the 23-year-old told me. “We all knew that, but we never brought it up or faced it, because it’s […]

A woman carries firewood on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Feb. 1, 2019 (AP photo by Anupam Nath).

For over two months, hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have been conducting sustained sit-ins on the outskirts of New Delhi. Undeterred by COVID-19 or violent police crackdowns, and despite the cold northern Indian winter, the protesters are demanding the repeal of controversial new farm laws that they say harm their livelihoods. The sit-ins have been largely peaceful, though tensions have risen in recent weeks. On Jan. 26, a group of farmers took to the streets on the occasion of India’s Republic Day holiday, clashing with security forces.* At least one protester died and hundreds more were injured, including more […]

A man looks at his smartphone near video display screens showing Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Beijing, Aug. 22, 2018 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

In late November, Daniel Zhang, the chairman and CEO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, gave a speech at the Chinese government-sponsored World Internet Conference. The event was taking place in Wuzhen, a historic town in eastern Zhejiang province, but Zhang’s intended audience was hundreds of miles away, in Beijing. Just weeks earlier, Chinese regulators had nixed the blockbuster initial public offering of Ant Group, Alibaba’s financial arm, reportedly at the behest of China’s leader, Xi Jinping. Xi and other top officials took umbrage at earlier comments by Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co-founder, who had publicly criticized regulators for stifling innovation. Seeking […]

President Joe Biden delivers a speech on foreign policy at the State Department, in Washington, Feb. 4, 2021 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

In his first foreign policy address as president, delivered last week at the State Department, Joe Biden drew the curtain on the disastrous Trump era, rededicating the United States to repairing its tattered alliances, reengaging the world and defending freedom. “We are ready to take up the mantle of global leadership yet again,” he declared. “America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.” The most novel aspect of Biden’s plainspoken speech was how he erased any clear distinction between foreign and domestic policy. The nation’s strength at home determines its success abroad—and vice versa. But […]

Supporters of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy protest in front of the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, Feb. 3, 2021 (AP photo by Eugene Hoshiko).

The military’s seizure of power in Myanmar this week unfolded in the squalid manner of coups everywhere. Senior politicians, including the country’s popular de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, were arrested along with civil society leaders in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 1, just before the newly elected parliament was set to convene its first session. Meanwhile, tanks and soldiers took up positions at key intersections of major population centers, including the capital, Naypyidaw. The nation, and the world, were left stunned. A coup had been telegraphed and feared, yet deemed improbable by many close observers of Myanmar’s vexed transition […]

Burmese living in Thailand hold pictures of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest in front of the Myanmar Embassy, in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb. 1, 2021 (AP photo by Sakchai Lalit).

When news started filtering out of Myanmar that the internet was dropping, troops were patrolling the streets of major cities, and Aung San Suu Kyi—the country’s civilian leader, who was once viewed in the West as a hero of democracy—had been taken into custody, the situation posed a quandary. Burma, as the country is also known, was in the midst of a coup. But how should the world respond? A decade ago, Suu Kyi was a shining star. But today, she is known as a defender of ethnic cleansing and perhaps even genocide. Should democracies forcefully demand her release, or […]

A Customs and Border Control agent patrolling on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico, east of Nogales, Arizona, March 2, 2019 (AP photo by Charlie Riedel).

For anyone looking out on the world from the new Biden White House, America’s challenges can only seem extraordinarily daunting. Even if it could be taken in isolation, the public health crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic would gravely test any administration. But, of course, the coronavirus challenge cannot be resolved in isolation. Beyond its immediate public health dimensions, the pandemic has created an enormous economic crisis for a United States whose status as a global leader has never looked so compromised in the postwar period. For Washington, the pandemic has also spawned a fiscal crisis, with the Treasury […]

A security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan, China, Feb. 3, 2021 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR contributor Rachel Cheung and Assistant 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. After months of bureaucratic delays and two weeks of quarantine in China, international investigators from the World Health Organization finally started their probe into the origins of COVID-19 in Wuhan. The mission began last Thursday amid political tensions and controversy. Less than a week into the trip, the scant information released so far under the watch of Chinese authorities offers little assurance that […]