Ian Bremmer: Will China Lead in a Post-Pandemic World?

I've been writing about a G-Zero world, an absence of US global leadership for almost a decade now. Global crisis makes you question, how well does American democracy function? How well is it a representative democracy for the average American? Is it fit for purpose? Are other systems more effective?

A technologically empowered authoritarian regime has built-in advantages to respond to a pandemic. It can track people, make sure that they comply with authority. China can monitor in every building. There's extraordinary data concentration in smartphones. The digital Chinese economy is 50X the size of the digital US economy, even though the American economy is bigger. Built in tracking.


Google has the ability to geo track individuals. They can see where social distancing policies are working. Technology companies will be able to see who has gotten coronavirus and tested for it, who has not. Who is presently symptomatic, who is not, track where they are.

After 9/11, we were willing to give up liberties. The Patriot Act, TSA in airports. Surveillance on communications, supported because we were concerned about terrorists perpetrating another act like 9/11. I believe the pendulum swung too far on personal liberty and economic costs. That tradeoff is coming in the United States and in Europe.

I don't believe there is a moral equivalence between the US and China. But the argument that the Americans are leading the world by example is harder to make. American exceptionalism in its best manifestations - the Marshall Plan after World War II, the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organization, NATO; the Berlin Wall coming down.

My first trip to the Soviet Union was in 1986. I believed the American system was structurally better than the Soviet system. Our ideas, our conception of personal liberties, how a free market economy should run. The person living under dictatorship in the Eastern Bloc wanted independence. I think the collapse of the Soviet Union was an unmitigated positive for the world and the people living under it.

So many more will be left behind as a consequence of this crisis. I believe America's moral authority, ability to lead by example is being compromised structurally.

The alternative to the US for some countries will be China. Belt and Road comes with conditionality that will be problematic, but it's more than nothing. The Americans are abdicating leadership. "If you don't follow us, we're going to sanction you, we're not going to share intelligence." The US is wielding a stick, but very little carrot.

In the worst crisis we've seen since World War II, the US is offering allies very little carrot. China's carrot may be small, rotted, but there's a carrot. "What's our alternative? Chinese 5G, they get our data, but the Americans will too, it's cheaper if it's Chinese, they're doing stuff for us." When the Americans are no longer trusted. It's not clear to me that we have the moral authority to convince allies to align with us. That means the Chinese will pick up more ground.

The Chinese covered up the virus to begin with, we got the initial explosion. 5 million traveling from Wuhan in the initial month across China and all over the world. 500,000 of them traveling outside China. The Americans and Europeans responded late and inadequately, but the original sin of this pandemic comes from China. When the global economy is contracting and poor countries face an absence of economic support, "what are you doing for me lately," is more significant.

I don't think the Chinese are close to supplanting the United States as the global superpower. Military spending is nowhere close. The US has a global footprint. The Chinese footprint is regional. America's diplomatic core is a lot larger than China's. Despite everything I said about lack of leading by example, there is not moral equivalence between a system that has rule of law and independent judiciary, no matter how flawed, and the system that you presently have in China, authoritarian and state capitalist. We're going to have a power vacuum. There's going to be an absence of global leadership. In that vacuum, the Chinese will be able to take advantage. They'll have more influence than they did. Collective humanity is going to be poorer for it.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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