The threat spectrum

Planet A 

China has launched its long-awaited national emissions trading scheme, which aims to encourage thousands of power operators to improve their carbon efficiency in support of the nation’s pledge of carbon neutrality by 2060. The program radically expands and consolidates the pilot carbon-trading programs that had been rolled out across China into a single national scheme. It initially covers only the thermal power industry, but other industries will be gradually included.

China is simultaneously the world’s leading producer of carbon, coal and renewable energy. The government traditionally uses a ‘command-and-control administrative style’ in pushing carbon efficiency—including disciplinary measures recently imposed on its own National Energy Administration. Yet the scheme marks a decisive shift towards using market mechanisms to regulate carbon output. How these two different regulatory approaches will work together is uncertain. But in the short term, the scheme won’t directly curb emissions by major producers, meaning China’s record-setting coal expansion in 2020 may continue in 2021.

Democracy watch

Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise has refused to step down on completion of his five-year term, plunging the country towards a constitutional crisis. Moise maintains that his presidential term ends on 7 February 2022, while critics and the opposition party assert that it ended last Sunday. The debate over Moise’s presidential tenure originates from his 2015 election win, which was annulled due to credible reports of voter fraud. He was elected again in a second round of elections in 2016. His supporters say his mandate began when he was sworn in on 7 February 2017.

Anti-government protests have erupted across Haiti, fuelled by systemic poverty and political mismanagement. So far 20 people have been arrested—including a supreme court judge and two police inspectors-general—and the government has said it stymied a coup attempt. Moise has drawn reproach within the country and overseas for failing to address Haiti’s struggling economy, institutional violence and rampant corruption. It’s unclear whether he will galvanise enough support from government officials and civil society to remain in power.

Information operations

Vaccines have become a site of geopolitical gamesmanship according to ASPI researchers Ariel Bogle and Albert Zhang. China, Russia and India are using their respective vaccine candidates as part of international diplomatic efforts, and these campaigns are also playing out online. To deflect concerns raised about the efficacy of their own vaccines, for example, Russian and Chinese state-affiliated media have sought to amplify unfavourable reporting on some Western-manufactured vaccines through state-linked media and on social media.

Russian and Chinese media amplified stories that linked the deaths of elderly citizens in Norway to the Pfizer vaccine in January, despite the lack of definitive evidence the two were connected. The Chinese state–linked Global Times said Chinese health experts were advising Australia to halt approval for the inoculation. Some outlets also accused Western media of a coordinated effort to downplay the potential risks and side effects of the Pfizer vaccine.

Online influence and disinformation campaigns are part of a worrying trend in which vaccines are being used as a diplomatic tool and ‘political advantage is prioritised over scientific evidence’—all of which has the potential to undermine public trust and have a negative impact on vaccine uptake.

Follow the money

The Japanese beverage company Kirin Holdings, which owns popular beer brands including Kirin and Little Creatures, has suspended its partnership with breweries in Myanmar after last week’s military coup.

Kirin became the subject of controversy since the Rohingya refugee crisis broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017. After the Myanmar military was accused of committing ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, the company refused to give up its majority stake in Myanmar Brewery, which it owned jointly with Myanmar Economic Holdings, a conglomerate with ties to the Myanmar military. An investigation by Amnesty International found that Myanmar Brewery made three separate donations to the military, totalling approximately A$40,000. While Kirin denied having provided funding to the military, the company was unable to refute Amnesty’s finding.

However, after years of debate over the human rights violations, Kirin has finally decided to put its joint-venture partnership on hold. In doing so, the company has set an example for other foreign investors in Myanmar, and it remains to be seen if other businesses follow Kirin’s lead.

Terror byte

Canada has become the first country to proscribe the far-right group Proud Boys as a terrorist entity. According to Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, the decision was influenced by the instrumental role the group played in the US Capitol riots on 6 January. The Proud Boys, an all-male white nationalist group, has a history of violent political encounters.

The week before Canada’s announcement, the US Department of Home Security declared that the US faced an increased threat of terrorism from extremists unhappy with ex-president Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. Though the Proud Boys are active mainly in the US, offshoots of Proud Boys activity have been seen in Canada, Australia and Israel. Canada’s action will add to the pressure from civil rights groups that have been calling on Australia to denounce far-right groups like the Proud Boys as terrorist groups.