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.

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On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

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