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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.

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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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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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.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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