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.

Building on more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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