GZERO Summit: Geopolitics in a post-pandemic world

What major geopolitical trends are in store for 2021, when a new US president takes over and will face not only the mammoth task of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic but also the fallout from the G-zero world that the Trump presidency accelerated? Who will most benefit and suffer from a leaderless global landscape?

It may be a bit too soon to see clear winners and losers, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer said during the panel discussion on post-COVID geopolitics at the 2020 GZERO Summit in Japan.


The US, he explained, stands to win by exercising its hard power on tech, banks and vaccine production, but so far it's been a loser on political division and overall management of the pandemic under Trump. China, for its part, has its economy growing again but is now mistrusted a lot more by the world.

In Asia, it's time to pay close attention to Japan, a reliable US ally and traditional China rival that is undergoing a political transition after the departure of Shinzo Abe as prime minister. Under new PM Yoshihide Suga, Japan will be closely monitoring the incoming Biden administration's initial moves on rebuilding the liberal international order that Trump shunned, noted Taro Kong, Japan's minister in charge of administrative reform.

The US-Japan alliance remains strong, he said, but the US has not been a reliable partner for the past four years, and a single alliance is not enough to ensure Asia's security amid an increasingly aggressive China.

For Jane Harman, head of the US-based Wilson Center think tank, the problem is that Biden's foreign policy ambitions may be hobbled by a Republican-controlled Senate if the Democrats don't win both races in Georgia's runoff election in early January. Biden, she said, can govern by executive order but the scope of what he can accomplish beyond that could be severely hampered without a Senate majority.

Moreover, she anticipated that Trump will continue to wield significant influence over the Republican Party, and probably prevent it from supporting Biden even if what he wants to do serves US foreign policy interests.

Indeed, the persistence of Trumpism will be a key constraint to more US globalism, said Bremmer, who added that Americans are now less supportive now of the US being the global policeman. With that in mind and with COVID recovery as Biden's top priority, the new president's success or failure may ultimately depend on whether the US is able to vaccinate its citizens fast enough to fend off possible vaccine competition from China in other parts of the world.

For Bremmer, Biden understands that the US must pivot again to Asia and that China is a clear rival. In that regard, his China policy won't be that different to Trump's except when it comes to climate change, where Biden thinks the US can both cooperate with China but also compete on green technology.

Right now, and despite US political divisions, the ball is in America's court on what it wants to do in Asia and with China, said Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister and current president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. One positive development is that Biden will probably not mess with Taiwan, an immensely sensitive issue that Trump would often use to provoke Beijing's ire.

Beyond Taiwan and the South China Sea, Rudd commented that China is concerned about Biden because he will probably reverse four Trump trends that China was quite pleased with on democracy, allies, trade, and multilateralism. At the end of the day, China understands power, and knows that the US was less powerful with a president who stood up to China but on his own, without the allies that together have the combined power to really challenge China's regional superpower status.

Watch the above video to learn more insights from our panelists.

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Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens before the rest of the world, has been effective for rich nations like the United States and Israel. But leaving behind so much of the global population isn't just a humanitarian issue. It could prolong the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who argues that what the global vaccination effort most urgently lacks are doses, not dollars. In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, she calls for a large increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and suggests we may be seeing alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

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.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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