What We’re Watching: BYOB Boris, Kim Jong Un’s new toy, China will lend less to Africa

Today, we’ve got Boris in trouble, a memo from Modi, and Biden’s filibuster plans.

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— The Signalistas

What We’re Watching: BYOB Boris, Kim Jong Un’s new toy, China will lend less to Africa

Carlos Santamaria

“Bring your own booze.” It’s an old story: the damaging reveal that the political elite holds the public to a different standard than it holds its own leaders to. News emerged on Tuesday — courtesy of Dominic Cummings, the UK prime minister’s former political adviser turned bitter political foe — that Boris Johnson’s private secretary had invited more than 100 people to a “bring your own booze” party at the PM’s official residence… in the middle of a coronavirus lockdown. Johnson and his wife have not denied they were there. To be clear, this is not the same party that his staff was caught on video laughing about during another lockdown over Christmas in 2020. Is the political ineptitude even more damaging than the hypocrisy? Either way, Johnson’s government is now in real trouble and may not survive a leadership challenge from within his Conservative Party later this year. At a time of bitterness over his handling of COVID and consumer pain from rising prices, this was not the story Britain’s prime minister needed.

(More) hypersonic North Korea. There aren’t many things the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is good at, but its scientists do have a talent for building high-speed missiles. On Tuesday, North Korea launched what appears to be a hypersonic missile, one that’s more advanced than the impressive weapon fired just last week, or the first hypersonic projectile Kim Jong Un tested in September. This latest version, fired into the sea about 435 miles off the country’s coastline, is estimated to have traveled at about five times the speed of sound and at a low altitude that makes it harder to detect than previous generations of missiles. International reactions have been predictable; the US and Japan have condemned the launch, while China and Russia have called for an easing of sanctions to lower the diplomatic temperature. It’s an election year in South Korea, and we’re watching to see how the South Korean government responds to renewed pressure for inter-Korean talks.

China cuts Africa lending. China, Africa’s top lender, is taking a closer look at its lending policy on the continent. Xi Jinping announced last November that China will cut overall lending to the continent by one-third until 2024, as many African countries risk default due to COVID-induced economic crises. In the future, Xi also wants to prioritize cash for small businesses and green projects over more big infrastructure stuff, a riskier investment that can leave Beijing holding a bigger bag when debts go unpaid. China has long been accused of luring African countries into a “debt trap” by lending them money with no political strings attached, but with fine print that allows Chinese companies to take control of strategic infrastructure — like Uganda’s Entebbe airport — if they get stiffed. What some view as “predatory” lending by Beijing also enables corruption, with Kenya’s famously overpriced Nairobi-Mombasa railway as a glaring example. A defensive Beijing says that the world’s poorest continent needs Chinese loans to build infrastructure, and that the IMF also gets tough on African governments. But needed or not, China’s investment strategy is becoming more cautious.

A memo from Modi

Wajahat S. Khan

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is feeling more confident than ever. Despite bungling the initial COVID response, his Hindu nationalist BJP-led government is firmly entrenched in parliament, and India’s role in the global economy is growing stronger. But out on the streets — and in mosques and churches and newsrooms — a revisionist, sometimes violent Hindu majoritarianism, backed by a complicit government, threatens minorities and civil society.

In short, Indian democracy is backsliding, as the country’s famously secular 72-year-old constitution is threatened by its non-secular 72-year-old hardline PM. With organized attacks against Muslims morphing into a wider, jingoist campaign against Christians, dissenters, journalists and others, GZERO writer Wajahat S. Khan uncovers a top-secret (and, OK, maybe fictional) draft press release from Modi’s office that helps us see what’s really on his mind for 2022.

From: The Office of the Prime Minister of India

Dear brothers and sisters (if you’re a transgender “they” or “them”, kindly consult your human rights advocate, and good luck finding a vaccine)…

From Narendra Damodardas Modi Ji’s Yoga Cave, Namaste!

The PM hates frivolous press conferences. He prefers to speak directly to the 1.2 billion people of India (1.4 billion if you count those troublesome Muslim infiltrators). For the rest of you, especially the 40 million Christians whose safety has recently been the subject of unnecessary conjecture, the PM has an important message for 2022.

Let’s begin with priorities.

First, Santa Claus is real. And sadly, he’s a threat to India’s national security — a menace we are managing urgently. Much like those Muslims, who have cunningly seduced our daughters, this Saint Nick fellow is luring the most vulnerable in society into wickedness and diluting the identity of our great nation.

In this election year, we must be strong and righteous.

Like we’ve been in Kashmir. After effectively annexing them and rolling back their autonomy, we must now manage separatist Kashmiris with some brilliant, census-defying electoral remapping. But Santa’s blatant proselytization is simply unacceptable to us — and even though our Constitution guarantees religious freedom — it’s finally time for some reformative religious laws that ensure the inevitable return of our people from the falsehood of non-Hindu faiths.

Thus, as we consolidate our political hold, our message is simple: diversity is overrated. It’s a leftover from colonial times. Don’t change your beliefs — unless you intend to revert to your original faith, Hinduism, the oldest religion on Earth.

Read the piece about Modi’s 2022 plans here.

After Kazakhstan, how will Russia escalate in Ukraine?

What’s happening in Kazakstan?

What’s Russia up to there now?

And more importantly, how does Kazakhstan impact Russia’s calculations on Ukraine amid this week’s Russia-US/NATO diplomatic blitz?

Find out what Ian Bremmer thinks about all this in his Quick Take.

Humpday recommendations: Landscapers, Elizabeth Holmes, Ghostbusters

Watch: Landscapers — HBO’s four-episode mini-series tells the story of Chris and Susan Edwards, convicted in 2014 of murdering Susan’s parents and burying them in their garden. Director Will Sharpe and writer Ed Sinclair take big stylistic chances with flights into surrealism that map the landscapes of both fantasy and reality. But it’s the masterful, overpowering performances of actors Olivia Colman and David Thewlis that make this strange story worth your time. — Willis

Listen/watch/read: The Elizabeth Holmes Starter Pack – One of the biggest corporate trials of modern times just wrapped up. Elizabeth Holmes, the first “self-made female billionaire” behind the failed biotech firm Theranos, was convicted on multiple counts of fraud. To get your true crime kicks about the trial, catch The Drop Out, a podcast by ABC. For the visual backstory, check out The Inventor on HBO Max. But to really get inside the Theranos story, read Bad Blood, easily one of the best investigations of the last decade, by former WSJ reporter Jon Carreyrou. — Waj

Watch: Ghostbusters nostalgia fest — After the 2016 reboot debacle — which I hated from start to finish — I must admit I only reluctantly agreed to watch the latest Ghostbusters film. It was a good idea. The story, as expected, is thin, but Ghostbusters: Afterlife makes up for it with tons of Easter eggs and references to the 1980s movies for true fans. Don’t miss it if you love Ghostbusters as much as I do, and get a tissue ready for the last CGI-rendered spook. — Carlos

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