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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.

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When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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