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.