Coronavirus: impacts on global politics

Ian Bremmer's perspective on the impacts of COVID-19 on big issues in geopolitics:

Does a global pandemic like coronavirus bolster the argument for leaders like Xi and Putin to remain in power forever?

Well, you'd certainly think so. I mean, Putin is now moving a constitutional referendum forward so that he can be president for two more additional terms. We'll never get rid of the guy. But is that justified by coronavirus because they can actually crack down and get the population to do whatever they want? I don't think that justifies it, especially because the reason why this pandemic expanded as explosively as it did is because the Chinese lied about it, covered it up, didn't have data, didn't have local officials that were able to have the legitimacy or the trust to understand what they were dealing with early. In an advanced developed economy with transparency and more legitimacy, you wouldn't have had that problem despite all of the ability of the Chinese to then crackdown once they realized at a national level just how dangerous this was.


What lessons can other countries take from Italy's response to coronavirus?

Well, number one, get testing done at scale early, so you know what you're dealing with. I mean, 5 percent mortality in Italy right now is nowhere close to what it really is. It should be about one tenth that. That's because they haven't been doing the testing. And given that it's been explosive, and they didn't contain it, they're now doing everything they can to try to keep people from interacting, the social distancing, which can have a bigger impact on their economy. So, if you can't contain early, you're going to have to take tougher measures that will impact your economy. South Korea's gotten this much better. Singapore, too, but the small than the Italians have.

If coronavirus transmission continues through the year, what will that mean for the US election and Trump?

It's going to change our views on whether or not Trump can be reelected. If it keeps going and it has a meaningful impact on the economy, then obviously the likelihood that he wins reelection against, looks like Joe Biden, is a hell of a lot lower. Also, the likelihood that Trump will earlier interfere with the election to try to ensure that he can secure reelection, that goes up. Questions of the legitimacy of election, is it rigged? Don't wait till November. They probably happen over the next few months.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

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North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

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As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

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