China's repression and growing global influence; US stimulus, and Trump vs. Murdoch

Watch: Ian Bremmer with your last Quick Take of 2020. 2021, just around the corner. We know it's going to be better. I mean, not immediately. It's going to take some time. We're still in the teeth of this crisis. But 2021 feels like many of us are going to emerge from crisis. And that is a positive thing. The idea of going to work every day, sending your kids to school, just being normal, being a little bit more normal, something that I wish for all of us as soon as humanly possible.

Back to the news of the day: I was so disturbed to see this citizen journalist get four years in prison in China for reporting on what the Chinese government was doing in Wuhan in terms of the scale of the pandemic, the crackdown and the rest. She's been on hunger strike for some time. The sentencing came down just a few hours ago. All of three hours in the courts, such as they are. We know no rule of law, no independent judiciary in China. And don't you dare go after the official narrative. That is frowned upon to say the least.


We've all been very impressed after the first month where the Chinese government covered up the coronavirus and the transfer of human-to-human transmissions. Huge problem for them, for all of us. But after that, they did crack down. They cracked down hard. They had massive contact tracing. They had serious quarantines, and indeed, the Chinese economy is the one major economy in the world that was able to get back up and running really fast and is experiencing growth this year. All sounds great.

Don't forget the human cost. Don't forget the lack of political liberties. Anybody that decides that they're going to tell the truth about what the Chinese government has been up to. If China doesn't like that, and you're in mainland China, you're going to suffer. And that's exactly what we're seeing today. It is not a system to be emulated. It's incredible everything they've accomplished over the course of the last 50 years in terms of economic growth and the ability to get a middle-class having basic education and having goods and services to allow them to feel like they're living a better life. But the lack of political liberties that has been part and parcel of that is massively repressive. And frankly is only getting worse with the level of surveillance that the Chinese government has over everyone with Chinese data. And again, something I think is just worth headlines right now, especially because China's influence around the world is only going to grow. Very interesting.

Connected to that, to see the Philippine president Duterte say that if 20 million vaccines are not forthcoming from the United States in the coming months, that they are not going to allow the US to continue to station troops in the Philippines. It'd be interesting to see if he actually stands up to that because there are a lot of Philippine generals that really are worried about Duterte's willingness to swing more towards Beijing. But China's going to have a lot more surplus vaccines to export this year than the Americans are. And certainly, in Southeast Asia, that's going to lead to a lot more influence. I think it's really worth watching this. It's not just a Philippine story. It's going to tell us a lot about where 2021 is heading.

And for those of you thinking US-China is going to be just fine because Biden's going to be the president, I don't think so. I actually think that Xi Jinping has reflected a much greater shift in US-China relations than either Trump or Biden. And Xi is not going anywhere, right? I mean, in fact, we're done with term limits. He's basically leader for life, which again, you're not really supposed to say if you're on the ground in China, but here at your age group, we can call it as we see it and we do our best.

So that's what we've been watching internationally. Domestically these $600 checks that are going out, which is not just $600. Let's keep in mind that's $600 for every member of a household, so it can amount to significantly more than that. Plus, there's an extension of unemployment benefits. This is a $900 billion stimulus/relief package. It's significant in size. It will matter for probably a few months for the average working class American. And that does make a difference.

There's also a massive amount of pork in the bill. Things like support for education programs in Pakistan and every Congressman with a favorite threw it in because this is keeping the government budget running and its hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars that are on the docket. But the big joke of course, was when Trump came in at the last minute saying, "I want them to be $2,000 checks," which I personally would have been fine with, except of course the Trump administration, secretary treasury Mnuchin has been negotiating this deal for months. And so, coming in at the last second, it was going to accomplish exactly nothing. Trump should have known that. It was just a headline play. He failed pretty quickly. He backed off. And then it's the same exact bill that you're going to get before.

And that describes and defines so much of the Trump presidency. Fantastic at grabbing headlines, truly world-class, better than almost any politician I've ever seen in my life. Ability to execute vastly more limited than that. And he doesn't care because from his perspective, the headlines are actually more important than ultimately the execution. It says a lot about the ability to build a billion-dollar franchise, a multi-billion-dollar franchise on the back of brand without really producing very much, kind of the challenge of having that kind of a person in the presidency, but not for very much longer, only for a few weeks.

And you've already seen Rupert Murdoch and the New York Post come out with their editorial op-ed this morning, basically saying, "Come on Trump, if you don't back off, we know you lost the election, that's it for you. We're going to come after you hard." Of course, that does reflect reality. But the Post was uninterested in doing that at all. Rupert Murdoch was uninterested in doing that at all for the last four years during impeachment proceedings, or any of a number of other occasions where rule of law was getting breached. Why? Now he's no longer going to be president. Instead, he's going to be a billion dollar plus media competitor to the Murdoch empire, and nothing is going to set them off faster and harder than a threat directly to their business interests and promotion of Newsmax, as opposed to Fox, for example. That's a very big deal for them. That says a lot more about what you're seeing in the New York Post than whether or not what Trump is doing is untoward or problematic for democracy in United States.

For much of the world, at least this is the only holiday we're going to have to deal with that is truly as disrupted as this year's will be. So Happy New Year as it is.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer takes a look at the yin and the yang of alcohol's role in high-level diplomacy and society at large. Alcohol can bring people together just as easily as it can tear them apart. From a 1995 Clinton/Yeltsin Summit where a drunk Yeltsin almost derailed Bosnian peace talks, to Obama's Beer Summit and the recent G7 Summit, booze plays a part in how world leaders interact. Globally, alcohol consumption has been steadily increasing, by over 70 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to one report. . Low and middle-income nations like Vietnam, India, and China are a driving force behind that trend, with drinking in Southeast Asia rising by over 34 percent between 2010 and 2017. And yet, amidst this global booze boom, the world has only grown more and more divided.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

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For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

India's rape problem: Hundreds of protesters have flocked to the streets of New Delhi for four days straight after a 9-year old girl was raped and murdered in a small village outside the capital while going to fetch water for her family. Some demonstrators burned effigies of India's PM Narendra Modi, saying that the government has not done enough — or anything, really — to address the country's abysmal rape problem: there were more than 32,000 rapes recorded in 2019, certainly a vast undercount given the stigma associated with reporting sexual assaults in India. The scourge of sexual violence against women and girls in India was brought to light in 2012 when a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and murdered while traveling on a bus in the nation's capital, prompting international outrage. Four men have been arrested in connection with this week's attack, though they have not been charged. The city of New Delhi, meanwhile, has ordered an inquiry to probe events surrounding the young girl's death, though Indians who have been sounding the alarm on violence against women for decades aren't expecting much to come of it.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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20,200: As the super contagious delta variant continues to spread, Thailand is now a COVID hotspot, recording more than 20,200 new COVID cases Wednesday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began. Authorities imposed new restrictions in Bangkok and other provinces as the vaccine rollout remains sluggish; just 5.8 percent of Thailand's 66 million people are fully vaccinated.

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