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Forecast: Rare protests spread nationwide in China, Georgia holds high-profile Senate runoff, and EU and Western Balkans leaders meet in Albania

Photo of Cuba's El Capitolio in Havana in the sunshine

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

A wave of demonstrations has spread across China in recent days as crowds protest of the government’s “zero-Covid’’ restrictions. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Vivian Wang discuss how authorities have responded to the rare anti-government protests and what to watch for next.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of Dec. 2-9
A Look Ahead

Dec. 4 – Cuba municipal elections runoff  

Cubans will vote in the second round of municipal elections Sunday after many candidates failed to secure majorities in the first round amid record low participation.

What’s happened so far 
Just more than 60 percent of the 8.3 million Cubans with the right to vote participated in the first round of elections last Sunday and more than a half million voters issued blank or invalid ballots, leading to the lowest participation rate since 1976 and more than 920 candidates not reaching 50 percent of votes. The election comes amid a deep economic crisis on the island with daily blackouts, acute scarcity of food, water and medicine, and an opposition campaign pushing for abstention to protest undemocratic standards. 

The impact 
The outcome of the municipal elections will pave the way for parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023. The elected municipal delegates will form local governments, which will propose half of the candidates to the national parliament. The chamber will in turn propose candidates for the state council and the presidential elections.

Dec. 4 – OPEC+ meeting  

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies (OPEC+) are expected to meet in Vienna on Sunday in the group’s last meeting of the year to decide on future oil production.

What’s happened so far 
On Tuesday, oil prices went up by 3 percent to $85.69 per barrel amid hopes of a more relaxed approach to China’s zero-coronavirus policy following rare protests across the country. This comes after the OPEC+ group agreed in October to its most drastic cut in oil output production since early 2020, slicing production by 2 million barrels a day.

The impact 
With oil prices currently trading below October levels, the upcoming meeting will likely bring further cuts to production as oil markets continue to witness “severe fluctuations,” head of Iraq’s state oil marketer SOMO said. The European Union is holding parallel discussions on ratifying a price-cap on Russia for the country’s invasion of Ukraine, though there remain disagreements on an actual figure.

Dec. 5 – G7 plans to cap the price of Russian crude oil 

G7 nations will implement a proposed price cap on seaborne Russian oil starting Monday in an effort to allow oil to continue to reach Europe while cutting Russia’s ability to fund its invasion of Ukraine.

What’s happened so far 
Ahead of the self-imposed deadline, European Union officials have met over the past week to try to agree on the price level and cap mechanism. The United States first suggested the idea in a bid to prevent Moscow from profiting from its oil exports. G7 nations have so far proposed a softer version of the ban with a cap of $65-70 per barrel, but some EU countries have pushed back on this fearing it is not enough to hurt Russia.

The impact 
After failing to agree on a price cap during last week’s meeting, Polish officials warned that the EU is poised to implement tough measures agreed to back in May if Monday’s meeting fails. This would include a ban on all Russian crude oil imports. The difficulty so far has been finding a compromise between a cap that would hurt Russia but would still provide enough oil supply to the global economy. Meanwhile, some countries are pushing for new EU sanctions on Russia to complement the oil cap.

Dec. 6 – Georgia senate runoff 

Following record early voting turnout, Georgians will decide Tuesday whether to give Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock a full-term in Congress or select Trump-backed Herschel Walker.

What’s happened so far 
Neither candidate was able to win over 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 8, triggering a December runoff. Whichever candidate wins a simple majority of more than 50 percent wins the seat. Voters who registered by Nov. 7 can vote in this runoff election and early voting has already begun in some counties, following a Georgia Supreme Court ruling. With less than a week to go, polls show it’s a close fight between Warnock and Walker.

The impact 
Democrats have already secured control of the Senate thanks to victories in Nevada and Arizona, but a win in Georgia would expand the majority and give the party a freer hand in votes and also committee assignments. A win in Georgia would also likely help the party’s defense strategy going into the 2024 elections.

Dec. 6 – EU-Western Balkans summit 

EU and Western Balkans leaders will meet on Tuesday in Tirana, Albania.

What’s happened so far 
Previous summits have focused on efforts to further integrate the Western Balkans with the EU, including advancing accession talks for non-EU members and fostering further economic integration. Previous discussions have also focused on the need to bolster the region against hybrid threats amid a wave of cyberattacks targeting multiple countries.

The impact 
This summit comes with diplomatic momentum on the heels of a breakthrough EU-backed agreement to de-escalate tensions between Kosovo and Serbia over a previously planned initiative to force ethnic Serbs in Kosovo to acquire Kosovar license plates. Now the two sides will refocus efforts on long-running normalization talks.

Dec. 7 – COP15 summit in Montreal 

COP15 member states will gather Wednesday in Montreal for a summit to finalize targets on global biodiversity for the next decade, which many believe could be the “Paris moment” of the preservation of nature.

What’s happened so far 
The summit was originally scheduled to take place in 2020 in China, which currently holds the organization’s presidency. It was later moved to Montreal this year due to coronavirus restrictions. While some countries are hoping for ambitious targets, developing nations are relatively hesitant, as many depend on the commercialization of their natural resources for economic growth. Chinese President Xi Jinping is not expected to attend the summit and China’s decision to not invite heads of state has raised concerns about the downplaying of the conference.  

The impact 
With forests and other ecosystems continuing to be destroyed, human activities are causing a drastic decline in global biodiversity, putting at least 1 million species at risk of extinction, according to Rainforest Foundation Norway. Whether countries can reach an agreement during the upcoming summit would not only affect the survival of endangered species and exploited resources, but also have a significant impact on the broader battle against climate change.

Dec. 9 – U.S. rail strike deadline

Rail workers across the United States are poised to go on strike starting next Friday, unless Congress steps in.

What’s happened so far 
While labor and management negotiators reached a tentative agreement in September, four unions representing most of the workers rejected the contract. The sticking points appear to be sick pay and attendance policies. President Joe Biden has called on Congress to adopt the tentative agreement despite the union votes in order to “avert a potentially crippling national rail shutdown.” Lawmakers in the House passed legislation on Wednesday that would require unions to accept the September agreement and the Senate is expected to take action later this week or next, according to CNN.

The impact 
Considering railways move about 28 percent of the nation’s freight, a strike could have significant impacts on supply chains and the economy. Even the possibility of a strike is having effects, including prompting some companies to reroute shipments to trucking. Still, rail unions say Congress mandating the deal would deny railroad workers their right to strike. They also argue that mandating it wouldn’t address rail service issues and could worsen the situation.

What Else Matters

About a dozen people circle a candlelight vigil in the shape of a heart. They are on a street or plaza at night. Each is wearing a mask. Their faces are blurred to protect their identity.
Students at China’s Southwest Jiaotong University mourned the victims of the fire in Urumqi during a vigil on Sunday. (Photo: Date20221127 / Wikimedia Commons)

Protests against coronavirus measures across China 

In a rare display of anti-government sentiment in mainland China, demonstrations broke out this week in cities across the country following a deadly apartment building fire in Urumqi, as China faces its biggest-ever surge of new coronavirus infections. Ten people were killed in the blaze in the Xinjiang region’s capital city, prompting an outcry from citizens questioning whether coronavirus measures hampered firefighting efforts. Despite local authorities denying the allegations, the event has become a point of convergence for the public to express anger over the government’s rigid coronavirus restrictions and pervasive censorship. Protesters expressed frustration with lockdowns, censorship and the Chinese government itself. 

Watch for: Given China’s oppressive policies on speech and dissent, and with authorities already taking action to stifle the protests both online and offline, it’s not clear whether the demonstrations will survive into next week. Local coronavirus restrictions may ease somewhat moving forward, but the national party line on zero-coronavirus policy is unlikely to change, and dissatisfaction may continue to grow in areas experiencing particularly stringent lockdowns. Much of China’s Xinjiang region has been locked down for more than 100 days, and protests have erupted recently in both the Haizhu district of Guangzhou and in the city of Zhengzhou, where the largest iPhone assembly site in the world is based.

Somali parliament postponed after hotel attack 

On Sunday, al-Shabab militants stormed the Villa Rays hotel in central Mogadishu, creating an hours-long siege that killed eight civilians and a soldier. Government officials and politicians frequent the hotel for meetings, and while many were rescued or escaped, parliament was postponed due to the attack. This incident comes after months of increased deadly attacks in the capital, most notably a similar deadly siege at another hotel in August, and two car bombs that killed dozens and injured hundreds in October. 

Watch for: Somalia’s government and armed forces, with renewed military and financial support from the United States, have stepped up operations to continue battling al-Shabab militants directly at the group’s strongholds and strategic towns. These operations, while successful in rooting out militants across central Somalia, have also led to a significant increase in civilian attacks in response. Such high-profile attacks are likely to continue across several areas of the country, especially in the capital. Apart from consistent military action, the U.N. has again extended the arms and explosive embargo currently in place in Somalia, but this will have little effect on a group that has proved more than capable of carrying out attacks. 

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Dec. 2-9 

Dec. 4

  • OPEC+ meets in Vienna
  • Cuba municipal elections runoff

Dec. 5

  • Eurogroup meeting
  • Possible U.S. rail strike
  • G7 plans to cap the price of Russian crude oil
  • Russian foreign minister Lavrov to meet Azerbaijani counterpart in Moscow

Dec. 6

  • Runoff in Georgia Senate race
  • EU-Western Balkans summit
  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa hosts Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro 

Dec. 7

  • UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal
  • Bank of Canada policy decision

Dec. 9

  • U.S. rail strike deadline
  • Saudi Arabia hosts Chinese-Arab summit

Dec. 10-16 

Dec. 10

  • Louisiana runoffs

Dec. 13

  • Washington hosts U.S.-Africa summit

Dec. 14

  • EU-ASEAN Summit
  • Fijian House of Representatives election
  • Pacific Alliance summit in Lima, Peru

Dec. 15

  • European Council meeting 

Dec. 17-23 

Dec. 17

  • Tunisian Assembly of People’s Representatives Election

Dec. 18

  • Guinea-Bissau parliamentary elections
  • Hanukkah begins

Dec. 19

  • World Trade Organization General Council meeting

Dec. 21

  • Deadline to end Title 42 on U.S. border expulsions of migrants

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