Quick Take: Executive orders, stimulus & US-China

Ian Bremmer's QuickTake:

It's Monday, coronavirus still going on. Plenty to talk about.

I mean, I guess the biggest news in the United States is the fact that we still don't have any stimulus going forward. I mean, now, keep in mind, this is on the back of an exceptionally strong initial US economic response, over 10% of GDP, ensuring relief for small businesses, for big corporations, and most importantly, for everyday American citizens, many of whom, large double digit numbers, lost their jobs, a lot of whom lost them permanently but didn't have to worry, at least in the near term, because they were getting cash from the government. Is that going to continue?


Well, the Democrats and Republicans didn't get it done, at least not yet. And so, we have President Trump with four executive orders. Now, that's something that will probably push back on any eviction notices, it allows a delay in the payment of payroll taxes, and most importantly, it provides ongoing unemployment support, $300 instead of $600 for people, and another $100 that hopefully comes from states, though states under massive stress right now and need aid themselves, probably not going to happen. So, let's say its half the unemployment support they were getting. That means they're under a lot more stress. But, you know, also these executive orders and President Trump knows this, questionable legality, will be challenged in some courts, though the Democrats don't want to be seen as blowing up a lifeline to American citizens slash voters in the run up to the election, but everyone knows this is nowhere close to enough for all of these people that are very seriously suffering, will face evictions, will not have jobs, aren't going to have the ability to take care of themselves and their kids. And many of their schools are also not going to be restarting up in just a few weeks' time.

So, all of that implies to me that we are going to get a deal. Is it going to be three plus trillion dollars that the Democrats have been arguing for? No. And the reason, by the way, why this hasn't come together to begin with is because the Democrats, who are pretty well aligned, more so than the Republicans are right now on relief and stimulus, understand that the Republicans are highly incented to accept money, even if it's increasing the deficit when the economy is still in freefall, and elections are coming up in less than three months, all make sense, except that meant the Democrats were going to play hardball and demand everything they wanted, compromise much less with what the Republicans were talking about. And keep in mind that not all the Republicans in the Senate are actually up for reelection in November, it's only a third of the Senate that comes up every two years. So, that, the polarization, the hatred for Trump, the dysfunctionality, you name it, has meant that so far, no deal. And that probably means that when the deal comes, it will be less efficient, less effective, and smaller than it otherwise would have been.

So, the one part of the US coronavirus response that has been strongest, the economic piece, and has been bipartisan, I mean, Pelosi and Mnuchin were working quite well together in the initial weeks and months of the pandemic to ensure that the American government was getting cash to everyone that needed it, even if it was overkill in some cases and inefficient in others. Still, it meant that people felt whole. That's not where we are over the next few months. And the economic squeeze is going to be a lot worse. The good news is that at least that's happening when coronavirus is starting to get managed a little bit better. That is better treatment. That is more awareness on the part of local governments, as well as the people themselves about mask wearing, about social distancing, about what is and isn't safe to actually do. That education does matter no matter how political the virus treatment is being right now in an election period. And the fact that vaccines continue to move forward. You might have seen Bill Gates over the weekend saying that by the end of 2021, he thinks the coronavirus in the wealthy world will be largely managed. I don't know if I'm quite that optimistic because I think the politics will interfere with it, but still, we clearly have passed a tipping point because we're learning so much more. The scientists, the governments, the people. And all of that does really matter. The danger the coronavirus is putting in place for the average citizen around the world is less today than it was six months ago, and that is the ingenuity of humanity playing out.

The other thing I would mention is that the US-China relationship is bad, bad, bad, and it's getting worse. The funny thing is, you know, I've been talking to a lot of Chinese over the last couple of days and their focus has been overwhelmingly Taiwan because this is the highest level visit by a cabinet secretary of Health and Human Services, Azar, that the US has had to Taiwan since 1979. And because Taiwan is an issue of sovereignty, it's a red line, it's critical national security for China, they think that the United States is suddenly prioritized changing Taiwan policy when, of course, the United States, it's not even in the top five of issues between the Americans and Chinese. That would be technology, Huawei, TikTok, Hong Kong, you know, the trade deal, coronavirus, the Uighurs. I mean, Taiwan isn't even close, but they're very deeply worried about that.

I mean, the good news is that I don't actually see President Trump trying to provoke the Chinese any further on Taiwan. That's why you sent Azar as opposed to Pompeo to give a big speech, who's been leading the China policy on the more hawkish side, or even more problematically, say, Vice President Pence or Secretary of Defense Esper. They didn't do that. And that's not just because they're saving further escalation before November, it's also because there are people in the Trump administration that understand that if you really rattle them on Taiwan, you could end up with military confrontation on your hands. You don't actually want that. But on every other front, US-China relations are getting a lot worse. You're seeing expanded sanctions on Chinese officials, including the Hong Kong chief executive around the implementation of the national security law in Hong Kong. You have by far the most important sanctions taken against the Chinese so far, with the Xinjiang Construction and Production Company, it's the most important economic entity in Xinjiang, which is, of course, where the Uighurs are based and where all that repression systematically has occurred on the hands of the Chinese government. That's a very big sanction from the US. And you have coming down the banning of TikTok and WeChat, which would force the Chinese to spin those off to American companies in the next 45 days.

Big issue, Nancy Pelosi over the weekend saying that she's even tougher on China than Donald Trump. In an election period where everyone is saying we're beating on the Chinese and where the Chinese are also escalating vis-a-vis the US and internationally, let's keep in mind the Hong Kong national security law wasn't the American idea and just today, Jimmy Lai, major media mogul in Hong Kong, arrested along with many of his colleagues and lots of material taken out of his offices. Big escalation coming from the Chinese on Hong Kong, not making it any easier in this relationship.

So, that's what we're looking at right now. The geopolitics continuing to become a lot more problematic in the backdrop of this pandemic crisis.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past eight days, the US-China relationship got notably hotter. None of the new developments detailed below is big enough by itself to kill hopes for better relations next year, but collectively they point in a dangerous direction.

US jabs over Hong Kong: On September 14, the US State Department issued a travel warning for the city because of what it calls China's "arbitrary enforcement of local laws" by police. The US is closely monitoring the case of 10 people detained by China while attempting to flee to Taiwan by boat. China's response to US criticism of its new security law in Hong Kong remains muted. That could change if relations deteriorate further.

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Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, joins Ian Bremmer on this week's World in 60 seconds to discuss multilateralism, optimism, and the return to normal in the post-pandemic world.

Could this pandemic actually present an opportunity to bolster global support for multilateralism and what should that look like moving forward, Brad?

Brad Smith:

Well, I think it's an imperative and it has to bolster support for multilateralism for a very simple reason. We cannot afford to assume that it will be another century before we see a pandemic like this again. We have to take from this experience, all of the learning we can muster and put in place what we will need to be better prepared. And the only way we can do that is to start with an obvious fact. Viruses don't respect borders. So people have to work together across them as governments and with the kinds of support from companies and civil society that it'll take to ensure that we don't find ourselves as ill prepared a decade from now or five years from now, as we were when this year began.

Ian Bremmer:

On the one hand, there's been a lot of lack of leadership, at least internationally, the G20 doing nearly as much coming out of this crisis that we saw coming out of the 2008 financial crisis when it was founded. On the other hand, you've got supra-nationalism in Europe with the Germans and the French, and indeed unanimous votes to actually create stronger redistribution, stronger capacity and resilience of that institution. You've got the World Health Organization, the UN here working with a bunch of leaders and the private sector.

What gives you cause so far for most optimism that we actually are going to respond more effectively?

Brad Smith:

Well, I think one of the fascinating aspects of this pandemic in its own way has been the critical importance of data. We're all relying on data, literally, to manage government decisions that determine whether we get to leave our homes, where we get to go, what we get to do. But the truth is what we've also learned is that the data that is needed to address something like this needs to be measured in a consistent way across borders. At Microsoft we're doing a lot of work with the World Health Organization. Just learning from that how each individual government can be more effective if it's collaborating with others in a more unified way, putting digital technology and data to work. I think there's a lot of insight from that narrow slice that in fact impacts every part of the economy in the world today.

Ian Bremmer:

One of the things that people have been most concerned about is that the pandemic is driving borders up. It's driving people farther apart. But the fact that technology is working as well as it is right now is also unlocking human capital in terms of distance learning, in terms of telemedicine for large numbers of people that otherwise would have been left further behind in a crisis like this.

Brad Smith:

We're all learning a lot. I think tele health services are one of the great examples of where we're going to find in the future that it doesn't mean that people will no longer go to a doctor, but they'll only go to a doctor when they need to see a doctor in person.

And we'll probably live in a world where people have more consultation with health professionals because tele-health will fill-in a void, but we're also finding all the cracks in our societies. What it means when some people have broadband and others don't. Some people have access to digital skills and others don't. So it's a world of new opportunity, but if the opportunity isn't distributed more broadly, then it's going to exacerbate all the divides we already worry about in our societies.

Ian Bremmer:

What's the piece of life after coronavirus when truly people feel safe, again, that we're not socially distancing and the rest, that you think is going to be most different from life before coronavirus?

Brad Smith:

Well, I think it's going to be a more of a mixture of hybrid life. I'm not one who believes that people will want to stay in their houses forever. I think there's a lot that can be accomplished when people get together that they can't do when they're by themselves. But there's also a lot that we can do that will add convenience and efficiency and effectiveness to our lives by combining this in-person interaction with remote sort of everything, shopping, ordering food, connecting with people around the world, we have the opportunity to build sort of a richer experience. But again, only if the technology that's essential for this is within everyone's reach.

Ian Bremmer:

I also think we could get used to being six feet apart from each other for a longer period of time.

Brad Smith:

Yeah. But I still think you'll go to a sporting event, people are still going to want to be in a crowd. Go to a theater, people are going to want to be in the crowd. It will be fascinating to see how long some of these other habits persist once we're finally out of the other end of this tunnel and can look at it in the rear view mirror.

As global leaders turn their attention to the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the 2020 General Assembly, GZERO Media offers a look back at one of the greatest diplomatic mysteries of the 20th century. The UN's second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld's mysterious death in 1961, while on a mission to Congo, is the subject of a new book by investigative correspondent and New York Times correspondent Ravi Somaiya. It has the twists and turns of a Tom Clancy novel.

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