Xi Jinping's WEF speech on China's global leadership falls flat; Italy PM resigns over stimulus

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.


The call for abandoning ideological prejudice in the West, that sounds like, "But out of our affairs, we can do whatever we want to Uyghurs when there are a million in concentration and reeducation camps in our country." And we'll shut down journalists for even mentioning that if they try to operate inside China for that. The idea that the strong should not bully the weak sounds like, "Don't blame the United States. US, you better behave yourself." But what about the way the Chinese are treating Australia right now, or a host of other smaller countries that cross China's political, economic or national security interests? I mean, the willingness of Beijing to really make you pay when you engage in behaviors they don't like, is growing very quickly along with their international capacity to muscle flex.

And then on the pandemic, I mean, China is calling for greater global cooperation, but that also means that they need to cooperate in terms of transparency in what happened with coronavirus. And let's remember that there were, from my perspective, two big obscenities in terms of the world, in terms of coronavirus itself and the pandemic. One is the United States leaving the WHO in the middle of the pandemic, just an extraordinary antithesis of what a country should be doing, a country like the United States. But even more foundational was China lying to the World Health Organization about the lack of human-to-human spread for a month when we could have stopped this thing so much earlier, could have contained it, especially given the capacity we now see that China has to engage in contact tracing, quarantine and lockdown. And they chose not to. And that's a serious problem. For all of those reasons, this speech was not an enormously well-received speech by those watching.

Why did the Italian Prime Minister resign?

Well, I mean, largely it is over disagreement on how money should be spent in terms of massive coronavirus stimulus, sort of like the disagreement, the big disagreement, between Democrats and Republicans on the $1.9 trillion right now. I mean, how green, how sustainable should it be? How much money goes to healthcare? How much money goes to new technologies? How much to the workers? Former Prime Minister Renzi basically pulled out of the governing coalition over disagreements on that. And they weren't able to get a solid majority in a vote of confidence. That makes it much more difficult to governance done. And that's why Conte resigned. He is the 29th Prime Minister since World War II. If he doesn't get elected back in, if they can't put a new coalition together, they will have the 30th in Italy. Italy's kind of like the Doritos of G20 governments. Crunch all you want, they'll make more. That's kind of what we're looking at in Italy. The good news is it's not all that exciting.

Where is the international outrage for what's happening in Ethiopia's Tigray region?

And no question, there's a lot of violence. There are obvious human rights breaches across the board. There's danger of famine. There are tens of thousands of refugees. And this at the hands of a Prime Minister of Ethiopia that had won the Nobel Peace Prize, and some saying he should return the prize, just as they were saying that about Aung San Suu Kyi for some of her nationalist calls to help support minority repression in Myanmar after doing so much to stand up to the authoritarian government. A couple of points here. One is that Ethiopia, talking about this level of conflict at a time when everyone's focusing on coronavirus, everything small and local gets lost in the scrum. But also, Prime Minister Abiy in Ethiopia has led the charge in trying to move away from an ethnic-led federal government, where sort of different groups control political power, to one where it's much more of a traditional political party system, or I should say a modern political party system. And the Tigray in Ethiopia were the group that stood to lose the most party, a minority group that wielded effectively a majority of patronage and power. And so, the willingness to blame Abiy for the violence that we're seeing right now, even though he has the Ethiopian army, there's Eritrean military that's involved. It's an ally of his. I mean, clearly he has more power. But some of the initial violence clearly came at the hands of local Tigray as well who refused to recognize the Ethiopian election process and the suspension because of the pandemic, and instead held their own election, became a breakaway province. And so in these situations, there is so much conflicted narrative in terms of history, and it's very hard to lay responsibility and blame firmly at the hands of one side in this conflict. Those two things together get you why we're not paying as much attention as we perhaps should to a country with over 100 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, and one of the strongest growth trajectories economically in the entire world.

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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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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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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