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The Real Story

The Real Story

Global experts and decision makers discuss, debate and analyse a key news story.


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Climate change: Lessons from Denmark

Denmark is at the forefront of the global effort to fight climate change. It has committed to cut emissions by 70% below 1990 levels by 2030. It also wants to be carbon neutral by 2050 and end all fossil fuel exploration. Denmark was an early adopter of climate friendly policies and successive governments have taken a consensus driven approach to putting the green transition into motion. Danish start-ups are among those driving innovation to reduce carbon dependency in the cities and in the country. There is even a plan to build artificial ?energy islands? in the sea. As governments grasp for solutions to the growing challenge of climate change, can the success enjoyed by a small, rich, northern European nation be scaled up and applied elsewhere in the world? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts in Copenhagen. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster
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Empty shelves and clogged ports

The world has emerged from pandemic lockdowns more optimistic about the direction of Covid, but the sudden surge in demand for goods is creating new economic shocks from London to Los Angeles. Factories and ports are not functioning as they once did due to the pent-up demand for goods and broken supply chains. Energy prices are surging and some shelves are empty. So is this a temporary blip or a new normal? Who will be the winners and losers of the post-pandemic global economy and what opportunities do new economic landscapes provide for fighting the climate crisis? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Paul Schuster and Junaid Ahmed
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How green is nuclear energy?

Is nuclear energy ?sustainable? and deserving of tax breaks? It?s a question dividing member states of the European Union which is considering what role nuclear should play in efforts to wean the continent off fossil fuels. Germany announced it would phase out its existing nuclear power plants after the disaster at Fukushima in Japan in 2011. But others are pushing ahead with plans to extend the life of existing power stations and even build new ones. But with the cost of renewable energy plummeting, critics say money invested in nuclear could be better spent upgrading power grids and improving the resiliency of cleaner forms of energy. Nuclear enthusiasts say new, smaller nuclear reactors will soon become available and could help keep the lights on when the wind doesn?t blow and the sun doesn?t shine. There?s increasing private sector money going towards the development of the next generation of nuclear reactors, plus Russia and China continue to invest heavily in a sector which provides export opportunities - particularly in the developing world. So, what role will nuclear play in the future and will the technology help or hinder attempts to avert catastrophic climate change? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Junaid Ahmed.
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How powerful is China's navy?

China has reacted angrily following this month's announcement of an alliance that will enable Australia to possess and deploy nuclear powered submarines in the region. Australia says the partnership with the USA and the UK, or Aukus, is not aimed at China. But most analysts agree that the initiative is hoping to counter Beijing's rapidly expanding naval capabilities. Chinese patrol boats have clashed with neighbouring vessels in disputed waters, home to billions of barrels of untapped oil and gas. The country has created artificial islands in the South China Sea and there are concerns it may use its growing amphibious capabilities to invade Taiwan. So how important is the Chinese navy to the country's overall strategic and economic plan? How does its expansion affect maritime disputes in East Asia and the safe passage of trillions of dollars worth of commodities each year? And is China right to accuse the West of a 'Cold War mentality' when it criticises the country's military investments? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster
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Canada votes: Is Trudeau in trouble?

On Monday Canadians will vote in a snap election called by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just two years after they last voted. He hopes to turn his minority in parliament into a majority having previously enjoyed favourable reviews for his handling of the pandemic. But since calling the election, a fourth wave of Covid infection has gathered pace in parts of the country prompting claims that he is putting his own political interests ahead of the public?s by going ahead with the vote. Some polls even show the governing Liberal Party slipping behind its main rival the Conservatives, led by Erin O?Toole. The PM also faces a strong challenge from the left in the form of New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh, and Quebec-nationalist party the Bloc Québécois is also polling strongly. So, what are the main issues that will decide the election and are Canadians in the mood for change? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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What's ailing Japan?

Japan has received much praise internationally for successfully holding both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. At home, however, events have failed to generate much enthusiasm for the government. Analysts say a public backlash over the Olympics is one of the reasons prime minister Yoshihide Suga is not going to contest the coming elections. But it is not just the Olympics. The LDP government is also in trouble over its response to Covid vaccines, and its failure to modernise the economy, which remains sluggish. It is accused of having done little to expand employment opportunities for young people and to give greater rights to working women. So why does Japan find it so hard to bring about the changes necessary to end years of economic stagnation? How is its ageing population and its unwillingness to open up to greater immigration affecting its ability to increase growth? Plus, what does all this say about the cultural shifts taking place in the country? Celia Hatton is joined by a panel of experts. Producers Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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Methane: The other greenhouse gas

The latest UN climate report concludes that while carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main driver of global warming, another gas - methane - is likely responsible for between 30-50% of the current rise in temperatures. Methane is much more effective at trapping heat in Earth?s atmosphere than CO2 is, but it also breaks down much faster, raising hopes that quick action to curb emissions could aid efforts to keep global warming below 1.5 C. Methane is the largest component found in natural gas and is also emitted during the process of fracking and coal production. It?s produced in large quantities by farmed animals but also leaks into the atmosphere when organic matter decomposes in landfills. A report published earlier this year claimed that if existing measures and technologies were used more widely, human-caused methane emissions could be cut by as much as 180 million tonnes a year by 2030. But others argue that until CO2 emissions are dealt with, methane will remain 'a sideshow' and that attention paid to the problem must not distract from the bigger threat. So, is enough being done to prevent the leakage of methane? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Zak Brophy.
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The challenges facing the Taliban

The World Bank this week halted funding for projects in Afghanistan, following the lead of the IMF and US government which also froze payments and accounts. The increased financial pressure on the Taliban is just one of the many challenges they?ll face now they've taken control of the country. Thousands of professionals who?ve worked with foreigners are fleeing, prompting increasingly urgent calls from the Taliban for them to stay. Internal disagreements within the movement are also likely to make forming a stable government difficult, as will attacks from the Islamic State militant group and rebel forces amassing in the Panjshir Valley. So, does the Taliban have what it takes to preside over a relatively orderly transition? Is the group capable of keeping the lights on and the water flowing in cities that now have much more complex infrastructure than they did back in 2001? And when it comes to the potential for a humanitarian disaster to emerge, should Western powers help the new administration in Kabul or work against it? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Ellen Otzen.
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America after Afghanistan

The speed with which the Taliban took control of Afghanistan surprised not just the world but even its own members. The group's rapid rise coincided with an equally fast withdrawal of US-led international forces. In a major speech this week President Biden rejected criticism that the manner of the American withdrawal contributed to the sudden collapse of the Afghan government. He also said that the mission was never about nation building. But critics argue that the events in Afghanistan have not just tarnished Washington?s reputation but they have also exposed the limits of its willingness to invest time and resources to achieve foreign policy objectives. So what does America's departure from Afghanistan tell us about its future engagement on global security issues? Is it an effort to concentrate on more pressing challenges from rivals like China and Russia? Or is it a continuation of Donald Trump's isolationist ?America First? policy? How will it affect Washington's international credibility and its desire to promote human rights and democratic values around the world? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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Silencing dissidents

A year on from the disputed election in Belarus, the country?s president has denied claims his security services were involved in the death of dissident Vitaly Shishov, who was found hanged in neighbouring Ukraine last week. The death follows EU accusations that Minsk effectively ?hijacked? a plane en route to Lithuania earlier this year, forcing it to land in Belarus where a journalist on board who was a critic of the president was arrested. Technology allows many dissidents to continue impacting events whether they live at home or abroad. But reports suggest spyware developed in Israel and sold to multiple governments may have been used to target rights activists, journalists and lawyers. The company behind the software denies any wrongdoing and says it?s intended for use against criminals and terrorists. But with surveillance systems proliferating and activists increasingly voicing fears over their safety, is the role that dissidents play under threat? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests. Producers: Paul Schuster and Zak Brophy.
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How do the Taliban keep going?

The Taliban is advancing in Afghanistan, launching major offensives to retake key cities as the last remaining US and international forces prepare to pull out. The group has taken more territory in the past couple of months than it has at any time since being ousted from power in 2001. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters have been killed during twenty years of fighting, yet the militants remain a potent threat to the survival of the Afghan government, its military, and other institutions nurtured by global powers. So what?s the secret behind the Taliban?s longevity? The UN says the sale of opium and illegal mining provides them with a steady stream of income, as do local taxes. Officials in Kabul also allege that the organisation is being propped up by foreign governments and that it continues to welcome foreign fighters in its ranks. Global efforts to starve them of funds have failed and Taliban officials now openly speak of victory, insisting that the United States has ?lost?. Who?s helping to prop up the Taliban and what does the last two decades tell us about their strength and potential after the last Western forces have gone? Ritula Shah is joined a panel of Afghanistan experts. Producers: Junaid Ahmed and Paul Schuster.
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Why has Australia's Covid strategy faltered?

Australia has been seen as a success story when it comes to controlling the spread of the coronavirus and was praised by US official Dr Anthony Fauci as being a world leader in ?containment and management of emerging variants?. The country had zero deaths from locally acquired Covid-19 infections during the first half of 2021 and has seen fewer than 1,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. But a new outbreak of the Delta variant has thrown Sydney into lockdown and cases continue to rise, prompting other states to accuse New South Wales of not locking down fast enough or hard enough. The national government in Canberra has been criticised for one of the slowest vaccine rollouts among industrialised countries and reports of rare blood clots linked to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab have left many confused as to which age groups should take it. So what went wrong with Australia's 'gold standard' response to Covid-19? As anti-lockdown protesters take to the streets, why is the policy failing to bring down cases in Sydney? Has Delta changed the game and could vaccine hesitancy delay any return to normal? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests.
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What's China doing to fight climate change?

This week a year?s worth of rain fell in just three days in China?s Henan province, flooding roads and public transport systems, killing dozens and displacing thousands. Floods are common in China?s rainy season, but this event is being linked to the climate crisis. China is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world ? and many of its most carbon-intensive sectors employ vast numbers of people. At the same time the country has led efforts to develop green technologies like solar and wind, bringing down prices and encouraging the global shift away from fossil fuels. China says it shouldn?t be expected to follow the same decarbonisation timetable as major Western economies. But the US Climate Envoy John Kerry this week insisted that efforts to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be "essentially impossible" without faster action from Beijing. So how crucial is China to the fight against climate change? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts.
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Cuba at a crossroads

Unauthorised public gatherings are illegal in Cuba and protests are rare. But this week the island nation has witnessed its biggest demonstrations in decades. People took to the streets calling for an end to President Miguel Díaz-Canel's government. They blamed him for food and medicine shortages, price hikes and the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Díaz-Canel described the demonstrators as 'counter-revolutionaries' and blamed the United States and its economic sanctions - in place in various forms since 1962 - for both the protests and Cuba's wider problems. So how big of a challenge do these demonstrations pose to Cuba's Communist government? Fidel Castro ruled for decades and was succeeded by his brother Raúl. How did their departure from the political stage change attitudes in the country and did it make protests more likely? And what is the Biden administration likely to do now? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts to discuss Cuba at a crossroads.
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The pandemic brings more robots

The world?s major economies are moving again thanks to mass vaccination against the coronavirus. President Biden says a higher demand for workers will help them negotiate increased wages and better conditions. But instead of welcoming them back, many businesses are replacing workers with automation and artificial intelligence - often a much cheaper and more reliable option in the long term. Even before the pandemic, one influential think tank predicted nearly 25 percent of jobs are being lost to automation. And it is believed that the months of lockdowns have accelerated that shift, especially in routine low-skilled jobs that require minimal human interaction. So where is the shift happening and how has the pandemic affected trends? What jobs are under threat, what are educators and policymakers doing about it, and could it actually mean more people doing more creative and fulfilling jobs? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of experts to discuss how accelerated automation is changing the world of work.
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Palestinians turn against the leadership

There is continuing anger in the West Bank over the death in custody of a vociferous critic of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Nizar Banat, an anti-corruption campaigner, was picked up in a violent night-time raid at his home in Hebron. The Palestinian Authority has launched an investigation into the circumstances of Banat's death and has promised action against anyone responsible. But that's done little to placate protesters who allege that the Palestinian security forces use extra-judicial force against anyone who questions or criticises the leadership. They say this behaviour is emblematic of a wider break down of law and order and a thriving culture of corruption in the West Bank, where elections were last held over 15 years ago. So why is corruption such a problem and where is it happening? Is there scope for reforms with the current leadership in charge? And how dependent is any change on the overall relationship with Israel and rival administration in Gaza, run by Hamas? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of Palestinian commentators.
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Hydrogen: A climate game-changer?

With less than six months to go before the next big climate conference (COP26) in Scotland, the world's major polluters are under pressure to significantly increase their ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions. One of the solutions being discussed is to increase the production of clean hydrogen. At present most of the world's hydrogen has a high carbon footprint, but engineers are coming up with innovative ways to produce the gas with the help of renewable energy. They say it will allow for a faster reduction of carbon emissions without the need to overhaul existing industrial infrastructure. It?s also claimed that hydrogen-powered cells can drastically cut pollution from aviation and transportation. But others argue that using large amounts of wind and solar power to create ?green hydrogen? is wasteful and that governments should instead focus on improving the supply of renewables. So how clean can hydrogen get and how valuable could it be in the fight against climate change? Will the high costs involved in developing the industry pay off in the long run, or does the technology give us all false hope? Ritula Shah and a panel of experts discuss the role of hydrogen in attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
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China's global project has a new rival

At their annual summit in Britain this year, the group of seven industrialised nations, or G7, has agreed to an infrastructure development plan for developing countries. The Build Back Better World ? or B3W ? is seen as an alternative to the multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched by China about a decade ago. The BRI has been a relatively easy source of funding for power plants, mining, road building and a range of other development projects, and more than 100 countries have partnered with Beijing as part of the scheme. But these projects are not without controversy and there are questions about China's long-term intentions in the countries taking part. The White House says its plan is not about confronting China, but about providing a better and more transparent alternative that reflects the democratic values of the countries involved. But critics say that without a consistent China policy across its member states the G7 plan is bound to face difficulties. What exactly is B3W trying to achieve and how will it benefit the developing world? Will it compete or compliment China's BRI? Can the G7 strategy be as consistent as China's? And how open will developing countries be to accepting the promotion of Western values? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts.
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Iran?s presidential election: What do the people want?

Iranians go to the polls next week to decide who?ll be the country?s next president. Hundreds of potential candidates were disqualified, some of whom represent the reform movement, leaving just seven men in the running. Whoever wins will inherit a dire economy, with one-in-ten Iranians unemployed, inflation running at roughly 50%, and growing queues to buy everyday items like chicken. The victor will also have to share power with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), and parliament. So what kind of mandate will he have? How democratic are the country?s elections? And what impact will the new leader?s policies have on Iran, its people and its place in the world? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of Iranian guests.
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Israel divided

Israel will soon have its first new prime minister in over 12 years if a freshly formed coalition holds. Benjamin Netanyahu is the country's longest serving leader, but in recent years he?s presided over an increasingly fractious political system. In a recent speech Israel?s largely ceremonial president repeated his warning that the country's population has evolved into four unique groups, often attending separate schools and living in separate communities. Israel?s had four elections in two years and there?s talk of another before the end of 2021. Mr Netanyahu has been criticised from the right for failing to stop rockets being fired into Israel by the Palestinian group Hamas, and is accused from the left of encouraging extremist nationalists. But internationally he?s forged new alliances with Middle Eastern countries through the Abraham Accords, successfully persuaded the United States to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, and celebrated the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem. After 15 years of leadership by the man they call ?Bibi?, Israel is at a crossroads - but where will it go next? Are the religious and cultural divisions making the country ungovernable? What changes are needed in order to encourage the formation of more stable governments? And what could such changes mean for the country?s Arab minority? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests.
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Why is corporate America getting political?

This week Exxon Mobil saw a board revolt over its stance on climate change. One of the energy giant's biggest shareholders supported rival directors to successfully replace two Exxon board members with more green-friendly candidates. This reflects a growing trend across the United States of corporations and investors being more willing to take a stand on climate, race and other social issues. Following the new and restrictive voter laws in Georgia, Major League Baseball pulled its All Star Game from the state. Nike announced a fund to help Black communities during the Black Lives Matter protests. While these moves are being welcomed by many activists and politicians, there's also been a backlash from those saying CEOs should focus on serving customers and not get involved in debates. So, what's behind corporate America's desire to delve into issues not necessarily linked to their companies' bottom line? Ritula Shah and a panel of experts discuss why corporate America is wading into politics.
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China in space

China has successfully landed and operated a rover on the surface of Mars, a feat only previously achieved by the United States. It follows Beijing?s successful robotic mission to the Moon to return lunar samples to Earth and comes just weeks after the launch into orbit of the first module of the country?s very own space station. China only sent its first human into space in 2003, but since then its technological capabilities have multiplied. But so too have the controversies. The mission to launch the space station module resulted in the uncontrolled return to Earth of debris from the Long March-5b rocket used, and a good deal of the ?space junk? currently orbiting the planet can be blamed on a Chinese missile test back in 2007. China says it has no intention of taking part in the militarisation of space and that its intentions are purely scientific. The country?s been banned from working with the United States and its partners on the International Space Station, but it is forming new alliances - with Beijing and Moscow agreeing to develop a joint base on the Moon. But what are the ultimate goals of China?s space programme? And as technologies needed to take humans to Mars are developed, are we about to witness a new ?Space Race?? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of expert guests.
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Ransomware on the rise in the US

A cyber-attack on an oil pipeline in the United States has caused widespread disruption and alarm. The Colonial Pipeline stretches thousands of kilometres from Texas to New Jersey and was shut down as a result of the attack, causing fuel shortages and price spikes on America's East Coast. This is the latest in a long list of recent ransomware attacks on US institutions and infrastructure, where groups have shut down crucial information networks or threatened to reveal trade secrets unless a fee was paid. President Biden has blamed a group based in Russia for the Colonial Pipeline attack; and while he did not hold Moscow directly responsible, he has blamed it and other nations for conducting cyber-espionage against America on a regular basis. Despite the advanced technological abilities of many US companies, and the investment of millions in digital security, hackers are continuing to find ways to break into government and commercial networks. So who are the hackers and how are their methods evolving? And how can the Biden administration ensure global cooperation in the fight against cyber-crime? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts.
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Germany after Merkel

Angela Merkel is the longest serving leader in the European Union. Known as Mutti, or mother, to her supporters, Merkel is credited with keeping Germany stable in the midst of global and European crises with her steely yet non-confrontational style of leadership. But the German Chancellor is stepping down later this year when the country goes to polls. Voters will then decide whether to choose a successor who'll maintain her style, or back more dramatic change. Support for Mrs Merkel?s CDU has dropped after a series of unpopular lockdowns and a patchy coronavirus vaccine rollout. The Greens, who are promising more climate-friendly policies at home and a pivot towards Nato and the United States abroad, are polling well. And the far right still garners hundreds of thousands of votes. So what does the future hold for Germany after 16 years of Angela Merkel? Will it now enter a period of uncertainty after years of stability? Does it have the right leadership to navigate the uncertainties of a post-Covid economic recovery? And how will it balance the economic and strategic interests of the United States and EU on one side, and Russia and China on the other? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts.
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Is the EU stifling AI innovation?

The European Commission has published draft proposals that will, if implemented, constitute the most expansive attempt to regulate the use of artificial intelligence. AI is becoming increasingly commonplace and automating jobs previously done by humans. From the algorithms that decide which social media posts to show you, to help desk chatbots capable of answering your questions, many AI applications make our lives easier and are set to receive fairly ?light touch? regulation. Others, such as computer programmes capable of reading thousands of CVs and drawing up a shortlist of job applicants to be interviewed, have been accused of bias and will face extra scrutiny. But under the plan some more controversial technologies could be banned altogether - such as the deployment of real-time facial recognition systems in public spaces. Some in the industry welcome clear rules of the road, but others fear that restrictions will hamstring companies and force innovators to flee. The United States is a global leader in the development of AI and the EU hopes it will adopt similar measures. But industry figures there are warning that Europe?s proposals go too far and would, if mirrored in America, result in China gaining dominance of the sector as it develops similar capabilities - but free from many of the regulations likely in the West. So, which AIs are good, which are bad, and how should they be regulated? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests.
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What is the cost of climate reform?

It?s been a week of tough talk on climate action. President Biden set out US plans for fighting climate change and called on the industrialised world to join his efforts to dramatically slash carbon emissions this decade. The global shift towards a greener world is transforming the way we work and live, but for many the changes are coming at a steep cost. Fuel taxes have increased the cost of farming, the shutting down of carbon-intensive industries is disproportionately affecting those in low-paid jobs, and while many big businesses have the resources to go green, levies for failing to reduce carbon footprints are increasing costs for many small and medium-size businesses. So how can the burden of a green transition be shared more evenly? Is the world at risk of leaving marginalised communities behind, and - if so - what can be done to minimise any increase in inequality that results from attempts to battle climate change? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests.
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Why is Myanmar?s military killing civilians?

Over 700 people, including children, have now died during pro-democracy protests in Myanmar following a coup on 1 February. Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing has declared a year-long emergency and promised to hold fresh elections at some time in the future. The armed forces of Myanmar are guaranteed a minimum number of seats in the nation?s parliament, retain control over many of the country?s institutions, and profit from a sprawling domestic business empire. But the military says the 2020 vote - which returned the governing NLD party under Aung San Suu Kyi to power with a larger majority ? was flawed. Many politicians, including Ms Suu Kyi, are under arrest. She?s been charged with criminal offences and if found guilty can be barred from contesting future elections. The coup has taken place at a time when Myanmar, also known as Burma, is continuing to battle the coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis, regional insurgencies and is also facing an international investigation into alleged war crimes over the killing and expulsion of tens of thousands of minority Rohingya people. So, what's behind the military's decision to row back democracy and attack its own citizens? And what can the international community do about it? Join Ritula Shah and guests as they discuss the military in Myanmar.
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Why is Russia massing troops near Ukraine?

The security situation in eastern Ukraine is flaring up again, seven years into a simmering conflict between Moscow and Kyiv that started with Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. Increased numbers of Russian armed forces have been moved to the region, Ukraine says two of its servicemen were killed earlier this week, and Moscow is blaming Ukraine for the death of a five-year-old in a reported explosion in a region controlled by Russian-backed separatists. The European Union is ?severely concerned? about the situation and the United States has put its troops in Europe on high alert. So why is Russia massing forces near Ukraine now? Is it a test for new US President Joe Biden and ? if so ? could it exacerbate tensions between the old Cold War rivals? What do events tell us about the intentions of Russia?s President Putin and Ukraine?s President Zelensky? Join Ritula Shah and guests as they discuss the latest escalating tensions between Ukraine, Russia and the West.
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What is the US plan for Africa?

US special operations forces have agreed to help ?support Mozambique's efforts to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism?, with dozens of people reported killed during an Islamist attack in the north of the country this week. Joe Biden?s Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and other members of the global coalition against the Islamic State militant group have warned of a ?serious and growing threat? from radical Islamists across Africa. But American?s interests in the region don?t end with security. Over recent years China has been extending its economic and military presence there and critics of Donald Trump?s presidency claim he failed to prioritise Africa policy - symbolised by the fact he didn?t visit during his 4 years in office. So, if the Biden administration is re-engaging with Africa, what does that mean? What should the priority be for US foreign policy across the continent? And what does China?s growing influence mean for America?s diplomatic credibility in the region? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of expert guests.
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Covid mutants: What are the risks?

A year into the Covid crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week announced her country was facing what amounts to ?a new pandemic?. ?The mutation from Great Britain has taken over,? she warned. ?It is clearly more lethal, more contagious, and contagious longer.? Even in countries where attempts to vaccinate the population are continuing at pace, the threat from mutant variants that have shown a greater ability than the original pathogen to evade vaccines is threatening any recovery. The US Centers for Disease Control this week warned that variants now dominate cases in California, and that increased air travel for spring break - combined with a rise in the number of states easing mask and social distancing mandates - may result in another surge. The UK hopes to curb the spread of variants as part of its roadmap to reopening, but in the last week an adviser to Boris Johnson?s government warned that any return to international travel was ?unlikely? given the threat new mutations pose. So how long will Covid variants rule our lives and what can be done to curb their influence? Paul Henley is joined by a panel of experts.
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Why are Asian Americans under attack?

The killing of eight people at a number of massage parlors in Atlanta this week has brought fears that the crimes may have targeted Asian Americans. Six of the people killed were of Asian descent. Although it is not yet clear whether there was a racial motivation in the shootings, they come against a backdrop of a sharp rise in violent attacks against Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic. An elderly Thai immigrant died after being shoved to the ground, a Filipino-American had his face slashed on the subway and a Chinese woman was slapped and then set on fire. These are just some of the thousands of cases reported in the US in recent months. Advocates and activists say they are hate crimes, and often linked to political rhetoric that blames Asian people for the spread of Covid-19. They point to the language used during last year?s election campaign by Donald Trump, who used terms such as the ?China virus? and ?kung flu?. During his first prime-time address to the nation last week, President Joe Biden denounced the attacks as un-American and urged federal agencies to fight ?a resurgence in xenophobia?. Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests as they discuss the causes of these attacks, who is carrying them out and what should be done about them.
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How dangerous are deepfakes?

When a series of chillingly convincing Tom Cruise deepfakes went viral on TikTok this month, it brought home how fast synthetic media technology is evolving. Deepfakes are like photoshop for video ? using a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning to create a realistic depiction of fake events. Are we entering an era where AI will let anyone make fake videos of anyone else? What will be the implications for individual dignity and privacy, and the shaping of public opinion and spreading disinformation? How might the technology bring new story-lines to filmmakers and joy to people who can now hear from their deceased relatives? What are the ethics of these developments and how do we regulate the technology as it continues to get better? Ritula Shah and a panel of experts discuss how deep fakes might change the world ? for better and worse - and what we need to do now to get ready.
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Can Biden reset US Saudi Arabia relations?

It took President Joe Biden more than a month to schedule a phone call with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, a contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump, who chose the kingdom as his first foreign destination after the election. Even though Saudi Arabia is considered a key ally in a volatile region, Mr Biden took a tough stance on the kingdom during his campaign. He promised to end the sale of offensive weapons used in Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, and accused its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, of directly ordering the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Mr Biden also pledged to restart nuclear talks with Iran, and further reduce America's dependence on fossil fuels, putting Washington at odds with the political and economic priorities of Riyadh. Now, as his administration looks for a reset of relations, what are the friction points in the decade old alliance between the two countries? Will a push for recalibration encourage Saudi Arabia to seek out new alliances at the expense of the United States? And can US policies succeed in the region by antagonising one of the leading countries in the Muslim world? Join Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts.
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Has Covid rolled back democratic rights?

Countries around the world are using the coronavirus pandemic to 'crush dissent and silence independent reporting' according to the UN chief Antonio Guterres. He says some nations are using restrictions meant to halt the spread of Covid-19 to weaken political opposition. Governments say a tighter grip over freedom of expression is essential to curb disinformation and confusion at a time when societies are under lockdown. Countries with authoritarian tendencies aren't the only ones under fire - the criticisms are being leveled at governments with well-established democracies too. So what are governments trying to get away with under the cover of Covid? How have the changes taken away democratic rights, and can the trends be reversed? Ritula Shah and a panel of guests discuss dissent in the time of Covid.
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Who should pay for the news?

Google this week signed multi-million dollar deals with a number of major news providers in Australia, agreeing to pay for the journalism it features on its new ?News Showcase? pages. It comes as Australia?s parliament debates a proposed new law that would force tech giants to negotiate with news outlets big and small. Facebook, which like Google opposes the draft law, responded by blocking access to news content on the platform nationwide. But critics argue the proposed laws don?t go far enough and that the traditional business model of funding journalism through advertising revenue is broken. The pandemic has meant reduced income for many small newsrooms, despite an apparent rise in appetite for local information surrounding Covid-19. If access to reliable news is crucial to the smooth running of democracy, who should step in to pay for the journalism voters need? When it comes to paying the bills, what is the future of news? Join Paul Henley and a panel of expert guests.
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Is China erasing Uighur culture?

This week, lawyers in London concluded that the genocide of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province by the Chinese government is a ?very credible? allegation. The London based court also said that it is ?plausible? that the country?s president, Xi Jinping, is driving that policy. The allegation of genocide - levelled by Uighur activists, international human rights groups, as well as the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken - stems from an industrial scale crackdown in China?s Xinjiang province which has seen more than a million Uighurs and other ethnic minority Muslims imprisoned in a vast network of camps, where people say they have been subjected to rape and torture. The Chinese government has vehemently rejected the claims. It says measures are necessary to put an end to violent attacks in the region and it describes the facilities as re-education centres. So, what do we know about what is really going on in Xinjiang? Is there any merit to China?s argument about the need to defeat violent extremism in the region? Why is the Communist party intent on assimilating Uighurs into Han Chinese cultural traditions? How much is Xi Jinping?s vision for China behind it, and to what extent is Uighur culture - with its unique history and traditions - at risk of being destroyed in Beijing?s plan? Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss whether China is erasing Uighur culture.
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Cryptocurrencies: Fad or the future?

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been back in the news this week after the endorsement of SpaceX and Tesla boss Elon Musk. His comments prompted the price of bitcoin to rise sharply. It?s thought that a perfect storm of inflationary coronavirus stimulus spending by governments, plus eroding trust in financial markets is pushing investors towards the volatile investments. Hundreds of so called ?alt-coins? have followed Bitcoin into the highly unregulated cryptocurrency marketplace and worthless coins are being marketed on social media with prices rocketing hundreds of percentage points in minutes. It all has institutional investors wondering whether to dip their toes in for fear of missing out - and regulators scratching their heads about what to do next. New US treasury secretary Janet Yellen says cryptocurrencies are of ?particular concern? and the Indian government is now seeking to prohibit private cryptocurrencies altogether. So what are they and how have they evolved since the early days of Bitcoin a decade ago? Ritula Shah and a panel of guests discuss cryptocurrencies and what should be done about them.
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China's advance into Latin America

This month, in a highly unusual move, an American government agency bought nearly $3bn of debt from Ecuador that was owed to China. The aim ? in the form of fresh loans ? was to help Ecuador pay off 'predatory Chinese debt', strengthen its alliance with the United States and exclude Chinese companies from developing the country's telecoms network. Although the deal came at the end of the Trump presidency, it may encourage other South American countries to reach similar arrangements in the future. According to the UN, Chinese companies have invested $10bn a year in Latin America. Although the amount is far less than that of the United States, Chinese companies have made rapid inroads into the heart of Latin American economies, including in crucial sectors such as mining, power grids and telecommunications. There's speculation that many leaders find Chinese investment attractive because it's rarely tied to anti-corruption measures. Others say countries are walking into a Chinese-made 'debt trap' which will have negative economic consequences over the long run. So is China viewed by those across the region with suspicion, or as a welcome alternative to the United States - which has a controversial history operating outside its own borders? What's been the tangible impact of China's economic advances in Latin America, and will President Biden seek to cooperate with China in the region - or treat it as a strategic threat? Join Ritula Shah and guests as they discuss China's growing influence in Latin America.
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Afghanistan: Hard choices for Biden

The future of US troops in Afghanistan could be Joe Biden's first major foreign policy decision. Less than a year ago the Trump administration reached a deal with the Taliban to withdraw all American troops from the country. The Taliban promised to stop targeting US and NATO forces as they wound down their presence. Now, with the May deadline fast approaching, President Biden will need to decide whether to honour the agreement at a time when the Taliban is being blamed for a string of deadly attacks targeting journalists, judges and police officers. The Red Cross described Afghanistan as the deadliest country for civilians in 2020, but despite the violence the government in Kabul is continuing discussions with the Taliban over a framework for peace negotiations. The presence of foreign troops has provided some level of security against an enemy that controls swathes of the countryside, so what will happen if and when they leave? And could advances in gender equality and religious freedoms be rolled back as part of any final agreement? Join Ritula Shah and guests as they discuss the state of Afghanistan and the tough decisions the Biden administration will soon need to make.
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America's damaged democracy

Donald Trump is ending his presidency with the distinction of being the only president in American history to be impeached twice by the House of Representatives. The behaviour of his supporters in breaking into the Capitol Building, where a session was in place to certify the presidential election, has received widespread condemnation. Several people died. Democrats say the violence was the culmination of President Trump's history of riling up his supporters with misleading claims and outright lies, and it was an attempt to overturn the will of the people who voted for Joe Biden as the next president. Yet many, including some Republican politicians who fled the mob, say the protestors were right to challenge the legitimacy of Mr Biden's victory - even though the claims of mass fraud have been debunked by election officials and rejected by the courts. And despite events, Mr Trump remains popular with a significant portion of Republicans. President-elect Biden takes office under the theme ?America United?, but it?s clear the country is anything but. So what lies ahead for America?s fragile democracy? With angry and polarised political groups, rampant misinformation, and an absence of dialogue, how dangerous a moment is this for country ? and what might pull it back from the brink? Join Ritula Shah and guests as they discuss the impact of a tumultuous week in Washington DC.
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Britain after Brexit: What?s its role in the world?

The Brexit transition period has ended and a new trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union is in effect. British PM Boris Johnson hailed ?the dawn of a new era? saying it marked ?a moment of real national renewal and change.? But there?s no consensus on what that change should look like and how it will impact the UK?s place in the world. The government in Westminster is now free to strike new trade deals, but US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he?s in no hurry to enter negotiations, having opposed Britain?s exit from the EU from the beginning. Whatever deals the UK signs will involve offering concessions to trading partners and debate over how much to give up and to whom will be fierce. A new points-based immigration system is being introduced to allow Britain to manage the skills of arrivals, but there?s been little debate over who should be allowed in and whether people from Commonwealth countries should be given preferential treatment. Mr Johnson will host the G7 and UN climate conferences later this year and says the country will remain a key player on the world stage, staying in Nato and retaining its seat on the UN Security Council. But Britain?s political influence over its European neighbours has diminished and debate about potential future alliances has begun. Ritula Shah and panel discuss Britain?s new role on the world stage post-Brexit.
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Big Tech under pressure

The European Union has this week proposed new rules that would police the practices of big technology companies, including US giants such as Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook. As well as delivering greater scrutiny, the laws, if passed, would even allow for the forced break-up of businesses deemed to be anti-competitive. The long awaited Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act are seen as attempts to redefine the regulatory framework for a sector that will be key to the economy of the future. Meanwhile in the United States, the federal government and a large number of states have filed a case against Facebook alleging that the company is obstructing competition by buying up rivals. The interventions have been welcomed by those who?ve long argued for targeted measures aimed at the growing digital economy. But technology companies say they?re being penalised for their innovative business models. So have the titans of Silicon Valley become too big for the greater good, and - if so - should they be reformed or broken up? Ritula Shah and guests discuss the renewed focus on regulating global technology companies and what might come of it.
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Is Macron marginalising France's Muslims?

French President Emmanuel Macron has described Islam as 'a religion in crisis.' This week he presented draft legislation to cabinet ministers aimed at tackling radical elements and propping up ?republican values?. Among the proposed measures are curbs on foreign funding for mosques and imams, new rules making it harder for children to be home-schooled, and fresh attempts to root out and prevent forced marriages. While the government has planned the policies for some time, it is publishing details just weeks after a pair of deadly terrorist attacks, including the beheading of a history teacher - Samuel Paty - who showed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to his students, and the killing of three churchgoers in Nice. But with the French presidential election less than 18-months away - and with the far-right politician Marine Le Pen thought to be one of Mr Macron?s greatest obstacles to re-election - many French Muslims have accused the government of unfairly targeting their community and using the national tradition of laïcité - or secularism - as an excuse to do so. France?s Muslim population has grown significantly since Algerian independence in 1962, as has the debate over ?French values?. So are Muslims now being exploited for political gain, or are the new proposals a common-sense response to serious problems? Ritula Shah and guests discuss whether the French government is marginalising Muslims.
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Is Biden facing a new Middle East?

The assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh appears to have made life more difficult for President-elect Biden - yet another event to weigh up as he considers what to do about Donald Trump?s legacy across the Middle East. Over the last four years the Republican president withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran known as the JCPOA, shifted the US embassy to Jerusalem, withdrew almost all American troops from Syria and refused to support a bill that called for a ban on weapons sales to Saudi Arabia because of its role in the war in Yemen. Mr Trump?s 'maximum pressure' strategy did not prevent Iran from conducting nuclear enrichment and the country remains an influential player in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Meanwhile the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, plus Israel and Bahrain have not just normalised diplomatic relations, but also opened new commercial and economic channels between old foes. In an article this year Joe Biden wrote that his administration would stand up to authoritarianism and will place democracy back at the core of US foreign policy. But is that realistic in a region that has adapted to the policies promoted by Donald Trump? To what extent does the thaw in relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours impact America's influence in the region? How much Obama-era policy can or should the Biden administration bring back? Join Ritula Shah and guests as they discuss whether Joe Biden is facing a new Middle East.
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Covid vaccines: An opportunity for science?

The rapid development of coronavirus vaccines has heightened the hope for a world free of Covid-19. Governments have ordered millions of doses, health care systems are prioritising recipients, and businesses are drawing up post-pandemic plans. But despite these positive signs, many people still feel a sense of unease. One poll suggests nearly a quarter of the world?s population is unwilling to get a coronavirus jab. How much of the scepticism has to do with the record-breaking speed at which the vaccines have been developed? How much can be attributed to a wider ?anti-vax? movement that relies on emotion more than it does on facts? What can those promoting the vaccines do to alleviate the fears of those willing to be convinced, but who 'aren?t there yet'? And what opportunities do coronavirus vaccination programmes present when it comes to improving society?s trust in science? Join Ritual Shah and guests as they discuss what's behind the hesitancy of some to accept a Covid-19 vaccination, and what can be done about it.
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Ethiopia crisis: High stakes for Africa

The fighting between Ethiopian federal troops and regional forces in Tigray has forced thousands of people to flee to Sudan for safety. The UN has warned of a full-scale humanitarian crisis. Ethiopia's Nobel Peace Prize winning prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, says there will be no let-up in his government's 'law enforcement' mission. His aim is to arrest and put on trial TPLF party politicians who he alleges have put the country's constitution in danger. Ethiopia plays a key role in maintaining security in the Horn of Africa. With a population of more than 110 million, and one of the fastest growing economies on the continent, what happens in Ethiopia will inevitably have a wider regional impact. So how did the TPLF - a group which once dominated Ethiopian politics - end up being accused of destroying national unity? Did PM Ahmed opt for a military confrontation before all avenues for negotiation were explored? And what role should Ethiopia's neighbours play in this conflict? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts.
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Climate change: Can Biden make a difference?

President-elect Joe Biden has said that one of the first acts of his presidency will be to return the United States to the Paris climate change agreement. His administration is proposing to make US electricity production carbon-free by 2035 and to have the country achieve 'net zero' emissions by the middle of the century. In 2015 the United States played a leading role in bringing together 195 countries that pledged to work together to keep the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. But less than six months after taking office Donald Trump said he?d withdraw from the agreement, claiming it was putting American jobs and the economy at risk. By the end of the Trump presidency the US had left - and had also rolled back dozens of environmental protections and implemented plans to expand drilling for oil and gas into public lands. So what has four years of President Trump done to global efforts to tackle climate change? How will America's return to the top table under a Democratic leader change the picture? Will President-elect Biden have the support he needs from Congress and the American people to meet his ambitious targets? And what now for US leadership in persuading other countries to commit fully to fighting climate change? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of expert guests.
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Is Trumpism here to stay?

Before this week's US presidential election, some predicted a landslide win for Joe Biden and a stark repudiation of the Trump years. That didn't happen. The intense criticism of President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic seems to have done little in changing the minds of his core supporters; and former Vice President Joe Biden's appeal for unity seems to have fallen flat in key states like Florida and Texas. Mr Biden called the 2020 election a fight for the nation?s soul. So what does the strong showing for President Trump say about the impact he has had on American politics? Is there such thing as 'Trumpism' and - if so - what defines it? How has he changed the relationship between the presidency and the other branches of government? His willingness to question democratic institutions has set him apart from predecessors - so how lasting will his style of leadership be? Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss whether 'Trumpism' is here to stay.
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US v China: A new Cold War?

The central committee of China?s ruling Communist Party has been meeting this week in Beijing to map out its priorities for the next five years. While Americans decide whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden will set the direction of US foreign policy going forward, there is little doubt that Chinese President Xi Jinping will remain in his post for the foreseeable future - party leaders have already abolished his term limits. Whoever wins on 3 Nov, Beijing is likely to continue advancing its interests across the Asia-Pacific region and globally, often at odds with US goals. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned more must be done to avoid ?a new Cold War?, adding: "our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a great fracture - each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities.? But as the Communist Party continues to successfully grow the Chinese economy and its influence overseas - while at the same time refusing to give ground on human rights or democratic reforms - is such a split inevitable? China?s military is expanding and the number of countries relying on investment from Beijing is growing too. As the country becomes more technologically and economically self-sufficient, are the chances of avoiding a global schism decreasing? Are we about to witness a new Cold War? Ritula Shah is joined by a panel of experts.
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What next for US foreign policy?

While US domestic policy has taken centre stage in the race for the White House, whichever man wins the presidency will also help define America?s place in the world for years to come. President Trump won 2016?s election, in part, on promising to reduce the number of military and diplomatic entanglements the country was involved in across the globe. In the Middle East he pulled US forces out of Syria, withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration, and has strengthened ties with regional allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In Asia the US is engaged in a trade war with its single biggest trading partner - China. During his first term Donald Trump also had a frosty relationship with many of his NATO allies - and a much closer one with Russia?s President Vladimir Putin than any of his predecessors. Did those newly-defined strategic partnerships herald new achievements? Joe Biden has promised to turn back the clock on many of Mr Trump?s ?America First? themed policies, but which ones? And has the role the US plays on the world stage changed forever? As part of the BBC World Service's 'US Elections 2020: What the World Wants' series, Ritula Shah and a panel of expert guests discuss what's next for American foreign policy.
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