Is Afghanistan China’s Problem Now?

Since before Kabul fell, a Chinese partnership with the Taliban has been viewed by some as a foregone conclusion. The Taliban seek international recognition, and opportunities for construction projects and mineral mining figure to appeal to Beijing. One plus one equaling two, the Taliban have called China their “most important partner” and welcomed its investment; before the US and NATO had completed their withdrawal, China’s Foreign Ministry hosted Taliban representatives for talks.

“Afghanistan has long been considered a graveyard for conquerors—Alexander the Great, the British Empire, the Soviet Union and now the United States,” former Chinese army officer Zhou Bo wrote in a New York Times opinion essay in August. “Now China enters—armed not with bombs but construction blueprints, and a chance to prove the curse can be broken.”

Noting that quote in a Foreign Affairs essay, Seth G. Jones and Jude Blanchette write that Afghanistan could become China’s problem to deal with.

No one knows if—or to what degree—Afghanistan will again become a safe haven for jihadists, and “[s]uch uncertainty will exacerbate Beijing’s long-standing fears about transnational extremist links between Afghanistan and Xinjiang, the autonomous region in western China where the government has interned more than a million Muslim Uyghurs under the pretense of counterterrorism and internal order,” Jones and Blanchette write. “As Beijing assesses the post-American landscape in the region, the risks associated with the U.S. exit outweigh the possible benefits. If China appears to be embracing the Taliban, that is because it has no choice. Beijing now faces a failed state in Afghanistan to its west, rising tensions with India to its southwest, a volatile and truculent partner in North Korea to its northeast, and escalating competition with the United States—most notably in the Taiwan Strait. Xi’s government craves stability and predictability, but after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it will likely get neither.”

‘Vaccine Apartheid’

That’s what some are calling the current state of global vaccination against Covid-19, as rich countries continue to outpace the developing world after buying up initial supplies of doses, Marco Evers writes for Der Spiegel, noting that less than 2% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people had been fully vaccinated as of last week. (Portugal, Malta, and the UAE have topped 80%; the UK sits just under 66%; the US is inching toward 55%.)

Things could improve soon, Evers writes: An African Union purchase of 400 million doses has begun to arrive, while wealthy countries have pledged to donate shots to global efforts, including Germany (30 million shots), France (60 million), the UK (100 million), and US (500 million). More than 30 million doses are being administered daily, worldwide; production is expected to double next year for BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna doses; and there is hope that new vaccines will arrive in 2022.

That said, it’s not clear that these gains will be distributed evenly, Evers writes, noting the move toward booster shots in some rich countries. Production may surge, but one expert predicts to Evers that some developing countries won’t be thoroughly vaccinated until 2023.

Covid-19 Has Spiked Among Kids, Too

As children return to school in the US, The Economist points to CDC data that show American children in all but the youngest age group (0-4 years) had higher Covid-19 infection rates than adults in the last week of August.

“[W]ith masks and other appropriate precautions, in-person schooling may not be that risky,” the magazine writes. Before vaccines arrived in force, “[s]tudies carried out in schools in Oslo, Salt Lake City and New York City during the autumn and winter months tested children and teachers who had been in contact with students diagnosed with the virus. All found that the attack rate—the percentage of people who became infected after exposure—was less than 1%.” But with mask and vaccine mandates playing out differently in different states, the magazine warns that “location matters.”

Is There a Better Way to Do Unemployment Insurance?

Unemployment benefits vary widely around the world—in France, for instance, a portion of one’s salary is paid out for up to two years for those under 53 and more for older workers—and in a New York Times opinion essay, economist Kathryn Anne Edwards suggests the US is doing it wrong. Congress had extended unemployment benefits during the pandemic until earlier this month, but Edwards argues that another Covid-19-response measure could become a model: the Paycheck Protection Program, which offered loans (some of them forgivable) to companies to support staff payrolls.

“Congress can continue ignoring unemployment insurance and limp through each new crisis, applying expensive, short-term fixes each time,” Edwards writes. “Or it can provide workers and businesses with the certainty of an effective, efficient program that will withstand the next crisis.”

Concerned About Climate Change? You’re Not Alone.

In most of the 17 advanced economies surveyed by the Pew Research Center, people are growing more concerned about how climate change will affect them, Pew reported today. (In Germany, for instance, 37% now say they’re “very concerned” about that they’ll be harmed personally; the Feb. 1–May 26 poll was conducted well before the country’s devastating July floods.)

Across the 17 countries, a median of 72% were concerned about personal harm—and 80% said they were willing to change how they live and work to reduce climate change’s effects. At the same time, faith in global efforts remains low, as a median of 46% were confident “that actions taken by the international community will significantly reduce the effects of global climate change,” while 52% weren’t.

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good

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