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?

"I knew that history was my life's calling."

On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

Listen: A deep dive down the bottle to examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

A few weeks ago, a Signal reader emailed me to ask why so much of our coverage of the world is so damn dark. Aren't there any good news stories out there?

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There's a lot of doom and gloom in the world these days, and much cause for pessimism. Still, the advent of new technologies and scientific advancements has lifted billions out of poverty and increased quality of life for many over the last half century. Since 1990, global average life expectancy has increased by eight years to 73, while GDP per capita has also grown exponentially, doubling over the past decade alone. We take a look at how life expectancy and GDP per capita have evolved globally from 1960-2019.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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American gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee, 18, stunned spectators around the world with her breathtaking performance in Tokyo Thursday that earned her the gold.

Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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