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Politics Goes To The Beach

Politics Goes To The Beach

It's August. And you, a worldly and dedicated reader of Signal, are finally on vacation at your favorite beach getaway. The out-of-office reply is on, your phone is off, the sun is out, and the waves are rolling in. A gentle breeze ruffles the corner of your towel, seagulls wheel overhead, you gaze out at the sea.

Look, there on the horizon, the slate gray silhouette of a container ship inches ever so slowly across the ocean. How beautiful. How peaceful. How soothing.

How impossible… not to wonder if that ship might be headed for trouble in the Strait of Hormuz.. Wait, wait, maybe it's plying its way to the Arctic, to cross those new, hotly contested trade routes through the melting polar ice…

Or, hang on second, how much of the stuff on that cargo ship is affected by the US-China trade war? The two sides have put tariffs on $360 billion worth of each other's goods already. And now Trump says he'll slap a 10% duty on another $300 billion of Chinese exports starting September 1st! He's not happy with the slow pace of US-China trade talks. He's annoyed that the Chinese aren't buying more American products like they said they would. Now he wants to really turn the screws on Xi Jinping, especially since the Chinese economy is slowing and...

No, no, back to the beach, you say to yourself. Relax. Zen. This is your vacation. Chill. The beach is where people go to tan, relax, read, sip goofy frozen drinks, play ridiculous "sports" like paddleball, and also discuss the strategic options available to the world's second largest economy. Oh, yes. China's entire leadership, you now remember, will soon retreat to the secretive beach resort of Beidahe for their annual policy confab.

This year the conversation over the Beidahe early bird buffet sure will be something: Xi Jinping and his advisers not only have to craft a response to Trump on the trade war – fight back, wait him out, or cave? -- but they also need to decide how to handle the Hong Kong protests, which are now increasingly targeting Beijing's control over the territory itself.

Enough! You dip your toes into the sand, close your eyes. This is your time off. Your time away from thinking about global politics. You've even managed to swear off reading Signal for a few days. If possible.

Lulled by the susurrant rush of surf, you are dozing in your chaise longue when suddenly you are jolted awake by a shrill chirping sound. A few feet away, a man rolls over on his beach blanket, cursing under his breath. He plunges his hand into a tote bag and pulls out a cell phone, and you notice that it's made by … Huawei!

You cannot escape.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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