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Bad News: The China edition

Bad News: The China edition

Want to hear some bad news? No, we don't either. But if you're leading a government, you need accurate information about what's happening inside your country and what people think of you—especially if it's not what you want to hear. You also need good advice about how to respond to what you hear.


Case in point: After Yuri Andropov became Soviet leader in 1982, he admitted publicly that Soviet economic decision-making had fallen prey in previous years to "elements of separation from reality." His predecessors had spent much more time on propaganda than on rational economic policy. Andropov, and eventual successor Mikhail Gorbachev, also knew that the Kremlin had no idea what Soviet citizens thought about anything.

That's one reason that Russia's Vladimir Putin allows his government to publish credible economic statistics, good or bad. It's why he's allowed the Levada Center, a public polling organization based in Moscow, to publish credible opinion surveys with only occasional political pressure. At least, so far.

Unwillingness to hear bad news and dissenting views made headlines again this month when Donald Trump seemed surprised by the furious response from within his own party following his announcement of a US troop pullback from northern Syria—as if no one had warned him this reaction was inevitable. He also provoked anger and disbelief with a (since aborted) plan to host next year's G7 Summit at a Trump-owned hotel. He faces fresh accusations that he's rid himself of advisors willing to speak truth to power.

At least as worrying is the question of whether China's President Xi Jinping is hearing warnings of trouble inside his country. Tom Mitchell wrote in Monday's Financial Times that China's heavily centralized system "may be great at building infrastructure, repressing dissent and censoring the internet, but it is often hopeless when it comes to passing bad news up the chain." We've written before that a future economic or financial crisis inside China will leave investors wondering whether the statistics Beijing publishes are reliable.

Take for example the introduction of a law in Hong Kong earlier this year that would have permitted residents of the territory to be extradited into mainland China's highly politicized court system. If senior Chinese officials knew of this proposal in advance, they were naïve to believe it would be easily accepted. If they didn't know in advance, then the center isn't effectively connected to local administrators, even on crucial questions. Either way, that law sparked protests that have convulsed Hong Kong for three months now.

For now, there are no economic or political problems that Beijing can't manage. But what about the future?

President Xi has repeatedly promised a "new era" in which China will "take center stage in the world." Is there anyone within China's leadership willing to tell him that this expansionist rhetoric might needlessly provoke pushback from foreign leaders, particularly in the United States and Europe? Is there anyone to take aside a man – whose "thought" has been written into the constitution – to offer a frank appraisal of why so many Hong Kongers are so angry?

Even if someone is willing to speak the truth, is Xi Jinping listening?

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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