Even Autocrats Get Headaches

Even Autocrats Get Headaches

Your Tuesday author has written about the sharp drop in Vladimir Putin’s approval numbers following unpopular changes announced to Russia’s pension system. That story made news again this week with a new poll that gives United Russia, a party distinguished only by slavish devotion to Putin, an approval rating of just 37 percent. That’s their lowest point since 2011.


Putin isn’t the only autocrat with a headache. After an historic consolidation of power over the past year, one made possible by purges of rivals and a surge in state censorship, President Xi Jinping has established a degree of political dominance not seen in China since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. But Xi is now grappling with two main sources of anxiety and anger.

The near-term problem is a public health crisis. A party that holds a monopoly on power assumes direct responsibility for the security and wellbeing of its citizens. In years past, China’s people have fallen victim to unsafe food and medicine, and last month a government investigation and news reports revealed that a major Chinese drug company produced at least 250,000 doses of vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough that didn’t meet safety standards. This is China’s third vaccine scandal in eight years. Protests erupted on social media and on the streets of Chinese cities.

The long-term challenge centers on growing economic anxiety. China’s economy has been slowing for years, in part by design, as the leadership shifts from heavy reliance on exports to a model fueled by the spending of Chinese consumers. It hasn’t been a smooth process, and the state has recently had to inject more than $100 billion to keep the economy moving at a healthy pace.

A growing trade war with the US has only added to unease about the future. President Trump again raised the stakes this week with threats to impose 25 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese exports to the US.

Last October, as presidential term limits were lifted, and a twice per decade Communist Party congress became a kind of coronation, Xi proclaimed a new era for China, one in which his rising nation need no longer hide its strength and surging self-confidence. Yet, if China’s economic worries continue to grow, some will blame Xi and this triumphalist message for provoking an unnecessary confrontation with the US and others.

Let’s be clear: Xi and Putin have plenty of power in reserve. Neither is in imminent danger. But both must fear that, over time, emboldened critics may limit their ability to take unpopular but necessary steps for the long-term health of their countries.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here from sunny Nantucket and going to be here for a little bit. Thought we would talk about the latest on COVID. Certainly, we had hoped we'd be talking less about it at this point, at least in terms of the developed world. A combination of the transmissibility of Delta variant and the extraordinary misinformation around vaccines and COVID treatment means that we are not in the position that many certainly had hoped we would be today.

The United States is the biggest problem on this front. We are awash in vaccines. Operation Warp Speed was an enormous success. The best vaccines in the world, the most effective mRNA, the United States doing everything it can to get secure doses for the entire country quick, more quickly than any other major economy in the world, and now we're having a hard time convincing people to take them. The politics around this are nasty and as divided as the country, absolutely not what you want to see in response to a health crisis.

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If your country had suffered decades of crippling corruption, wouldn't you want to prosecute those responsible? Of course you would. On Sunday, almost 98 percent of Mexicans who voted in a national referendum on this subject said, in so many words: "Yes, please prosecute the last five presidents for corruption!"

The catch is that turnout was a dismal 7 percent, meaning the plebiscite fell way short of the 40 percent turnout threshold required for its result to be binding.

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The COVID delta variant — which first surfaced in India earlier this year — is spreading rampantly throughout every continent, and is now the most dominant strain globally. But low- and middle-income countries, particularly in regions where vaccines have been scarce, are bearing the brunt of the fallout from the more contagious strain. We take a look at the 10 countries now recording the highest number of daily COVID deaths (per 1 million people), and their corresponding vaccination rates.

China tackles delta: China is the latest country to express serious concern over the highly contagious delta variant, after recording 300 cases in 10 days. Authorities there are trying to trace some 70,000 people who may have attended a theatre in Zhangjiajie, a city in China's Hunan province, which is now thought to have been a delta hotspot. Making matters worse, a busy domestic travel season in China saw millions recently on the move to visit friends and family just as delta infections spiked in more than a dozen provinces. Authorities have enforced new travel restrictions in many places, including in central Hunan province, where more than 1.2 million people have been told to stay in their homes for three days while authorities roll out a mass testing scheme. The outbreak has reached Beijing, too, with authorities limiting entrance to the capital to "essential travelers" only. Indeed, the outbreak has raised fresh concerns about Chinese vaccines' protection against delta, though many experts say they are still at least 55 percent effective in preventing serious illness.

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It was a weird series of events. Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya took to Instagram to lament that her country's Olympic Committee had registered her for the 4x400 relay event at the eleventh hour (because a fellow participant had failed to pass drug screenings) despite not having trained.

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100: A scorching heat wave has caused more than 100 wildfires across Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coastline in recent days. Scientists say that dry conditions induced by climate change have helped spread the fires, which have already killed eight people and caused mass evacuations from tourist hotspots.

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Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Also: since alcohol isn't the only social drug, a look at the state of marijuana legalization across the US and around the world.

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GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

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GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal