DENIAL IN THE DESERT: SAUDI ARABIA’S INVESTMENT CONFERENCE

DENIAL IN THE DESERT: SAUDI ARABIA’S INVESTMENT CONFERENCE

What a difference a year (and the murky murder of a journalist) makes. When Saudi Arabia hosted its first Future Investment Initiative last fall, it was a coming-out party for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious vision of economic and social reform. This year, the event (known to the WEF’s chagrin as “Davos in the Desert”) is overshadowed by ongoing furor about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.  As a result, a number of participants have pulled out – but not all.


Here’s a look who’s going, not going, and on the fence – and why:

ATTENDING

Imran Khan: Pakistan’s prime minister desperately needs foreign financing to help solve mounting economic challenges at home, and Khan hopes Riyadh – which has always seen Pakistan as a strategic ally in South Asia  – will give him money with softer conditions than the IMF, with whom Pakistan is currently negotiating.

Chinese business leaders: Not exactly a paragon of the free press itself, China has stayed mostly quiet on the Khashoggi affair. But Beijing is also all business: China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, and the kingdom remains a good oil “hedge” for China as pressure on Iran ramps up. Furthermore, China is probably keen to profit from any downgrade in the kingdom’s relations with the West over the Khashoggi affair.

Russia’s investment chief and a 30-person delegation: No one loves to court jilted American allies in the Middle East more than Russia. Moscow has stayed out of the Khashoggi fray and is quietly hoping that the scandal does erode Washington’s ties to the kingdom, not least in the area of arms sales which Russia would love to make to Riyadh. Russia is also eager to take part, along with China, in the lucrative IPO of Saudi’s state-backed oil giant, Saudi Aramco.

NOT ATTENDING

US business leaders: Top US finance and tech CEOs are shunning the event because of the potential PR blowback. But will US firms actually stop taking tens of billions in investments from – or positions in – Saudi Arabia? The fact they’re still sending lower-level representatives suggests Prince Mohammed may be able to weather this storm yet.

Steve Mnuchin: Facing bipartisan pressure from Congress, the White House cancelled US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s attendance at the conference (he was to give the keynote.) But… yesterday Mnuchin nonetheless traveled to Riyadh and met with the crown prince to discuss other aspects of US-Saudi

cooperation.

MAYBE ATTENDING

Masayoshi Son: Perhaps no one has more to lose from the recent Saudi spiral than Masayoshi Son, the world’s biggest tech investor. The kingdom is the biggest backer of Son’s Vision Fund, which has heavy stakes in startups like Uber, WeWork, and Slack. A last-minute decision to back out could prove an early sign that the tech sector, which has had its share of politically-motivated problems of late, is truly starting to sour on Saudi.

 

Building on its previous commitment, Walmart is investing an additional $350 billion in products made, grown and assembled in America - supporting more than 750,000 new jobs by 2030. This pledge will aim to avoid more than 100M metric tons of CO2 emissions, advance the growth of U.S. based suppliers, and provide opportunities for more than 9,000 entrepreneurs to become Walmart suppliers and sellers through Walmart's annual Open Call.

"The people are stronger," pro-democracy demonstrators chanted as news broke that the Sudanese military had staged a coup Monday, overthrowing the joint civilian-military government and dashing hopes of democracy in the war-torn country.

The backstory. In 2019, Omar al-Bashir – a despot who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years – was deposed after a months-long popular uprising.

Al-Bashir was a bad guy: he cozied up to terrorists like Osama bin Laden and dropped barrel bombs on his own people. He also embezzled truckloads of money from oil production while millions of Sudanese went hungry, and oversaw a genocide in the Darfur region that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 1.6 million.

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500: Fuel shortages in conflict-ridden Haiti are putting many hospital patients at risk. If fuel isn't delivered ASAP, UNICEF says around 500 people – including children and COVID patients – are at very high risk of deterioration. Supplies and deliveries have been disrupted for weeks because of heightened gang activity in the country.

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Sort of, but governments haven't lost all control yet. On the one hand, The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson says that governments can still push tech companies for transparency in their algorithms, while Microsoft has partnered with the US government to together fight hackers "so the company is seen as a champion for freedom and democracy." On the other, over time Thompson expects tech firms in the US and China to gradually become more powerful as the state becomes less powerful toward them. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

As COP26 nears, the need for real climate action has never been more urgent. There are reasons for hope, but many scientists believe the ambitious goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is unattainable without immediate and significant change. Governments, financial institutions, and private sector companies alike have all recognized the need for a multistakeholder approach to solving this crisis of a lifetime.

Watch "Climate Crisis: Is net zero really possible?" a one-hour virtual livestream, hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft as part of the Global Stage series, to hear scientists, corporate leaders and policymakers debate this question and offer critical perspectives on the way forward. Live on Tuesday, November 2nd at 11am ET, we'll break down what "net zero" means, take stock of where the world is on the path to carbon neutrality, and discuss critical steps needed to make real progress.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody and happy Monday. Back in the office, getting a little cool. So I've got my sweater going on. It's the first time I've had a sweater on. What do you do with that? Discussing fashion, as I talk to you about what is on my mind this week?

And what's on my mind this week, Facebook. Facebook is on my mind. It's a tough week for Facebook. There are all sorts of whistleblowers out there. There's testimony going on. There's calls for regulation. Everybody seems unhappy with them. Indeed, you even got the government relations types, Nick Clegg, who I've known for a long time back when he was a policymaker in the UK saying that the headlines are going to be rough, but we're are going to get through it. But I will say, first of all, I'm kind of skeptical that any of this goes anywhere in terms of impact on how Facebook actually operates.

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Turkey's Erdogan ups the ante with the West: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared diplomats from 10 Western countries "persona non-grata" after the group — which includes the US, France, and Germany — called on Ankara to release Osman Kavala, a Parisian-born Turkish businessman who's been held in jail since 2017 but hasn't been charged with a crime. Erdogan says that Kavala was involved in an attempted coup against the government in 2016. This latest move is a sign of Turkey's authoritarian drift in recent years, which has seen Erdogan's government increasingly crack down on opposition members as well as journalists. It also reflects Turkey's increasingly fraught relations with the West: things got particularly bad between Washington and Ankara after Turkey purchased missile defense systems from the Russians in 2019. The Council of Europe (the continent's leading human rights organization) had previously warned that Ankara has until November to release Kavala or it would impose "infringements," though it's unclear what those would be.

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ASEAN gets tough(ish) with Myanmar: The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet Tuesday for their annual summit with one notable absence: the head of Myanmar's military junta. It's a rare snub from ASEAN, a regional bloc that's gotten a lot of heat in the past for giving tyrants a free pass. The junta says ASEAN violated its traditional principles of deciding by consensus by disinviting its leader, and non-interference in domestic affairs for demanding the bloc's special envoy meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi. For their part, the other ASEAN members have grown visibly alarmed at Myanmar's rapidly deteriorating political and economic situation since the February coup, and they're worried about the spillover effects of Myanmar becoming a failed state. More importantly, Myanmar is a big thorn in ASEAN's side as it walks a fine line between keeping warm ties with the US — which most members want cash and security from — and getting along with China, one of Myanmar's few remaining friends and viewed with suspicion by most ASEAN members over its South China Sea shenanigans.

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