COVID-19 and global political risk

COVID-19 and global political risk

On January 6, we wrote about the annual Global Top Risks report from Eurasia Group, our parent company. At the time, there was not yet a single confirmed death from COVID-19 in China or anywhere else.

That was 11 weeks ago.

You can now read a coronavirus-related update to that report, which details the many ways this global pandemic has altered the world's biggest political risk stories.

Some highlights…


Back in January, Eurasia Group's Top Risk #1, titled "Rigged!: Who Governs the US?" argued that the legitimacy of the 2020 US elections will be widely questioned, given that political polarization in the US has become so intense that millions of Americans now believe that courts, federal agencies, the media and US political institutions like the Federal Reserve have no credibility.

Coronavirus has made this problem worse by forcing a number of upcoming primaries to be postponed and making it nearly impossible for candidates to campaign. It's not clear if the party nominating conventions will take place. But most importantly, the coronavirus itself has become a bone of partisan contention in ways that hamper the unity that is needed to defeat it: a recent poll shows that Democrats see the threat in much more urgent terms than Republicans. Meanwhile, some Republicans have charged that media coverage of COVID-19 is a ploy to discredit Donald Trump.

Top Risk #2, titled "The Great Decoupling," detailed how the US-China rivalry would cause the two countries to decouple their economies from each other, not only in strategic technologies like semiconductors, cloud computing, and 5G, but in broader trade and investment too. COVID-19 has given fresh urgency to Western companies' efforts to cut China-dependent supply chains.

Top Risk #3, titled simply "US/China" focused on the growing likelihood of clashes over national security, influence, and political values. Sure enough, the coronavirus crisis now has President Trump and other US officials referring to COVID-19 as the "China Virus," since it originated inside China, while some Chinese officials claim that actually the US planted the virus in Wuhan. In a better world, COVID-19 might have encouraged the US and China to work together to contain the threat it poses. But for now, each side's approach to coronavirus is stoking acrimony with the other.

We encourage you to read the full report, because it also includes Eurasia Group's updated thinking on how COVID-19 can aggravate US-EU tensions, overwhelm India's public services and worsen sectarian tensions, undermine governments in Iran, Iraq, and Syria, inflame public anger in Latin America, and add one more area of unpredictability and political pressure in Turkey.

On all these subjects, here's a video of Ian Bremmer in his own words.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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Whenever Burkina Faso is in the news, it's often about how the crisis-ridden country has got caught up in the crosshairs of horrific jihadist violence plaguing the Sahel.

But this week, the nation of 20 million was celebrating because Hugues Fabrice Zango won its first-ever Olympic medal after finishing third in the men's triple jump in Tokyo.

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Should people get COVID vaccine booster shots? Not yet, says the World Health Organization, which is pushing for rich nations or those with access to jabs to hold off until at least the end of September so all countries get to fully vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations before some jump ahead with boosters. But the WHO's call has fallen on deaf ears in nations like Israel, France, Germany and Russia, which are already planning to offer boosters, in part to better protect people against the more contagious delta variant. What's more, mRNA vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are recommending supplemental doses for the same reason. The problem is that, beyond the obvious moral imperative for equal access to vaccines, if the rich continue hoarding jabs while vaccination rates stay low elsewhere, the virus will continue to thrive — and mutate into new, potentially even more infectious variants that sooner or later will reach every corner of the planet.

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80: If polar ice caps continue to melt at their current pace due to climate change, 80 percent of all emperor penguins will be wiped out by the end of the century because they need the ice for breeding and keeping their offspring safe. American authorities want to list emperor penguins, which only live in Antarctica, as an endangered species so that US fishing vessels will be required to protect them when operating in their habitat.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent COVID-19 policy developments:

The Biden administration extended an eviction moratorium even after the Supreme Court said they couldn't, what's next?

Well, the CDC imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium in light of increased risk from evicted people because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Supreme Court in June ruled that they (CDC) overextended their authority in doing so and mandated that the moratorium expire on schedule in July. A group of progressive activists weren't happy about this and raised a huge stink in Congress, but Congress recessed for their August vacation before they could solve the problem, putting big pressure on President Biden to extend the moratorium even though he said he didn't think that it would pass constitutional muster. The CDC did it anyway, extending the moratorium until October 3rd, which is a time that's short enough to probably avoid it being overturned by lawsuits, but long enough that Congress has time to figure out how to either extend it on a bipartisan basis or put more money into a rental assistance fund that few people have taken advantage of so far. This whole incident shows the power of progressive activists in the Biden administration who were able to elevate the profile of this issue and potentially prevent millions of people from losing their homes this summer.

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On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

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