In almost every one of 27 countries recently polled by IPSOS, people said that their countries have grown more divided over the past decade. Here’s a look at what people said was the most polarizing issue in their country.
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October 18, 2021
China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.
Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.
Why is GDP growth slowing down now? For one thing, a combination of rising coal prices, tighter regulations on power consumption related to climate policy, and soaring demand in countries that buy a lot of Chinese-made stuff have all resulted in an energy crunch that'll likely worsen disruptions to global supply chains that rely heavily on China.
For another, Xi's crackdown on excessive borrowing in the real estate sector — which accounts for almost 30 percent of China's economic activity but was so in the red that it posed a systemic risk — is causing a lot of pain. Evergrande and other large property developers are missing deadlines to pay their creditors, and halting projects for homes they've already sold but have no money to build.
Finally, there's the pandemic itself, via strict local lockdowns that have hurt Chinese retail and travel in the only country in the world that still believes in zero COVID.
China's leader thinks that an economic slowdown, however painful in the short term, will be worth it in the long run because the economy needs structural reforms to narrow the income gap and deliver what Xi calls "common prosperity."
In a speech that stunned the business community two months ago, Xi confirmed that "common prosperity" means vastly expanding China's middle class, partly by raising taxes on the rich. He wants some of this wealth to be redistributed in order to make China a more equal society. (Indeed, the 1 percent have seen the writing on the wall — a single mention of regulating "excessively high incomes" prompted several panicked CEOs to immediately donate billions to charity right when Xi was going after the tech sector.)
Xi's goal is for China's GDP to continue expanding, but at a less ambitious pace so Chinese workers have time to earn more and become more productive at the same time. China, he says, should move away from mostly churning out cheap exports that pollute the planet as Chinese factories have done for decades to focus on producing high-quality, sustainably-made goods for the local market.
But it's a risky move. Winding down economic activity to the 2-3 percent annual growth levels of mature economies like the US or Germany will be a tricky balancing act for China. Sluggish growth that drags on could deter investment, and trigger social unrest if unemployment gets too high as a result.
Meanwhile, slower Chinese economic growth will have serious ripple effects for the rest of the world, given China's outsize role in the global economy.
The so-called "factory of the world," will probably continue exporting a lot of stuff, but not as much as it did before, and more of its exports will be high-value tech goods. Local companies will also likely outsource more of their manufacturing to lower-cost neighbors such as Bangladesh or Myanmar, and over time most Chinese-made products will get more expensive.Xi's "common prosperity" vision comes with many risks for China's juggernaut of an economy. But if he delivers on his promise, expect him to stay in power for a long time.
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October 18, 2021
China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.
The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.
In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.
The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.
In Poland, the latest battle is over judicial authority. According to EU treaties, all union members are subject to EU laws and the final authority of the European Court of Justice. But Poland's constitutional court ruled last week that Poland's constitution trumps EU law, a direct challenge to the basis of EU membership.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has faced off with the EU over press freedom and minority rights. The latest row began when Hungary's parliament passed legislation that bans the display to minors of products that depict or promote homosexuality or gender transformation themes. The government says the law protects kids and Hungary's family values, while the European Commission says it undermines values of tolerance and individual freedom enshrined in European law.
In the past, picking fights with the EU has boosted the popularity of both Orbán and Poland's Law and Justice Party-led government, headed by Jaroslaw Kaczyński, by playing on the anger that social conservatives feel toward liberal elites in Brussels. That's the main reason these governments tend to welcome fights with the EU.
They also know that, no matter how frustrated EU officials become with challenges from Warsaw and Budapest, the EU can't kick them out. Ejection requires a unanimous vote of all 27 EU members. To protect their own interests, Poland would veto such a move against Hungary, and Hungary would do the same for Poland.
But… there are three main reasons to believe that this time it's different.
First, it appears EU officials have had enough. Poland's court ruling is too direct a challenge to EU rules to ignore, and Hungary's government has been picking fights with Brussels for years.
Second, the European leader most instrumental in persuading EU institutions to go easy on Poland and Hungary is now leaving the stage. Germany's Angela Merkel will soon be out of power, and the country's likely incoming center-left coalition government will be much less sympathetic to rule-of-law challenges from its Eastern neighbors.
Third, Brussels has a powerful new weapon. The European Commission can withhold large amounts of much-needed COVID recovery funds until these two governments prove they respect EU rules. That's 36 billion euros ($41.7 billion) for Poland and 7.2 billion euros for smaller Hungary. The Commission is already signaling that Poland and Hungary will have to offer serious and specific concessions before checks are cut. Initial disbursements have already been delayed.
The Polish and Hungarian governments have limited leverage to fight back. Opinion polls show that strong majorities in both countries favor continued EU membership — and both governments have acknowledged as much. In Poland, the court rulings sent hundreds of thousands of pro-EU Poles into the streets in protest.
Both governments need only look toward the Czech Republic, where a surprise election result last weekend leaves euroskeptic, anti-immigration populist Andrej Babiš on the verge of losing power.
These fights will drag on into next year. But this time, Brussels may finally be fighting to win.
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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:
What is the legacy of Colin Powell?
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tragically died of complications of COVID-19. He was the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first Black National Security Advisor and the first Black Secretary of State. And he leaves a legacy of a long career, dedicated almost entirely to public service.
Powell's legacy will probably be defined by two things. One is the creation of the Powell Doctrine developed in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, which gave a blueprint for US military action that had to be overwhelmingly decisive and with a clear exit plan to avoid the kind of quagmire that the Vietnam War became. The second legacy item is his unfortunate role in making the case for the Iraq War, with a presentation in 2003 in front of the UN on Iraq's possession of chemical weapons, that later turned out to be false. This was a key justification used at the time by the Bush administration and a stain on Powell's otherwise excellent reputation.
Unfortunately, because Powell died of complications of COVID-19, he had been treated for multiple myeloma, which weakens the immune system and he was fully vaccinated. This means his death will become a political football among the 10% to 15% of Americans who are hardcore anti-vaxxers, and who claim the vaccines don't actually protect you from COVID-19. A sad day for the Powell family and a tragic day for America.
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What We're Watching: Viktor Orbán's rival, Pakistan's Taliban making moves, abducted Americans in Haiti
October 18, 2021
Can this guy defeat Viktor Orban? Hungary's opposition movement of odd bedfellows has finally settled on the person they think has the best chance of defeating PM Viktor Orbán at the ballot box: Péter Márki-Zay, a politically conservative small-town mayor from southeastern Hungary, who beat out left-leaning European Parliament member Klara Dobrev in a weekend poll. Márki-Zay has a lot going for him: as a devout Catholic and father of seven it will be hard for the ultraconservative Orbán to paint him as a progressive threat, even as Márki-Zay reaches out to reassure left-leaning groups that he will protect LGBTQ rights. What's more, Márki-Zay has little political baggage: until recently he was a marketing executive. But can the relatively inexperienced Márki-Zay keep the various opposition factions happy? The stakes couldn't be higher: since taking power more than a decade ago, Orbán has deliberately made Hungary into an "illiberal" state, cracking down on the press, undermining the rule of law, and clashing with the EU. Bonus: if Márki-Zay stays in the news, you get to say "Hódmezővásárhely" the name of the city he currently runs.
Pakistani Taliban making a move? Emboldened by the triumph of their coreligionists in Afghanistan, Pakistan's Taliban movement — known as Tehrik-e-Taliaban, or TTP — is becoming more active as well. Seven years ago,Pakistan's military crushed the TTP in the regions of Pakistan along the Afghanistan border where they operate. But local reports say that they are coming back now, extorting local businesses, seizing territory, and carrying out terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians and soldiers. Pakistan, of course, has long-standing ties to the Afghan Taliban, but it's not clear whether that will help them manage growing tensions with the Pakistani Taliban who, for now, want political recognition and control over tribal borderlands. Would it be a mistake for Islamabad to negotiate with the TTP? A poll from last week showed that 55 percent of Pakistanis would welcome a Taliban-style government throughout the country.
Can Biden rescue abducted Americans in Haiti? Crisis-wracked Haiti was rocked by another catastrophe Sunday, when gang members abducted 17 foreign missionary workers (16 Americans and one Canadian national), including five children. It is yet another sign of the deteriorating security situation in the country, where nearly complete lawlessness has reigned since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July. Large swaths of the capital Port-au Prince are now dominated by increasingly powerful gangs, who rule by terror and often kidnap civilians for ransom. In recent days, even Prime Minister Ariel Henry himself was forced to flee an official commemoration ceremony in the capital when gangs drove his security detail from the site. The US says it is working closely with the Haitian government to rescue the kidnapped missionaries, but remained mum on details. The Biden administration says it doesn't pay ransoms to terrorist groups or gangs, but we're watching to see whether it caves to the bad guys' demands as it has in the recent past.
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Hard Numbers: Amnesty in Myanmar, US to compensate slain Afghans' families, Venezuela and Iran are BFFs, Syria's new constitution
October 18, 2021
5,600: Myanmar's military junta will release from prison 5,600 people who were jailed for protesting against last February's coup. The gesture, the first act of amnesty since the junta took power, comes just days after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which rarely interferes in members' internal affairs, said it would exclude the head of Myanmar's military from an upcoming regional meeting.
10: The US Department of Defense says it will compensate 10 Afghans whose relatives – including kids – were mistakenly killed in a US drone strike in August. It's unclear how much the US military is willing to cough up, but for context, similar payments in 2019 for civilians killed and property destroyed in Afghanistan and Iraq ranged from $131 to $35,000.
20: The governments of Venezuela and Iran will sign a 20-year cooperation accord to strengthen bilateral relations and help them fend off "US intervention." Caracas and Tehran have deepened economic ties in recent years, in part through oil and fuel swaps that violate US sanctions.
45: Around 45 Syrian government officials, opposition members, and civil society representatives are meeting in Geneva this week to draft provisions of a new national constitution. The collaboration brokered by the United Nations is further proof that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is gaining more international legitimacy despite his role in a brutal civil war that has killed more than 350,000 people.
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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Happy Monday, everybody. And a Quick Take for you. I wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan. I'll tell you, I've talked about it in the media over the last couple of weeks and almost every questioner has been trying to prod me towards, "are we heading to war?" Then I was with some friends at the Trilateral Commission on Friday. I like that group a lot. It's one of these groups that a lot of conspiracy theorists pretend secretly run the world, like the Bilderbergers and the Council on Foreign Relations. Now having attended all three, I can tell you, if they do run the world, they are not inviting me into the rooms where they're making those decisions. If they are doing that, they're also doing a lousy job of it.
Nonetheless, it was fun until I was on stage and the first question I got was about, "Hey, so the Chinese are changing the status quo. Do you think that means we're heading towards war?" I just want to say that, first of all, I am clearly less concerned about the imminence of confrontation and military conflict between the United States and China than almost anybody out there. Accidents are certainly possible, but particularly around Taiwan, where both sides know the stakes and have made them abundantly clear for decades now, and everyone involved gets it I think it's much less likely.
I also think that the American and Western perspective on the Chinese are escalating is obviously only a piece of the story. I understand that, as Americans, if there's going to be a confrontation, we want to win it. But that doesn't mean that you only look at one side of the argument because then you tend to make mistakes. If we want to be honest around who is changing the status quo, there are very strong arguments to be made on both sides of the equation. Certainly, the big headlines over the last couple of weeks with the record number of Chinese military incursions through the Taiwanese Air Defense Identifications Zone, a couple weeks ago, they had several days, record numbers of incursions. Before that, probably the single event that most people pointed to was Hong Kong and the unilateral Chinese decision to aggregate the agreement of the political autonomy and rule of law that Hong Kong enjoys until the expiree of that agreement. They essentially ripped up the deal and decided for their own national security purposes that they would govern it immediately.
Then, finally, after the debacle and the Afghanistan withdrawal and the chaos that ensued on the ground, there were a number of both Chinese high-level state media organs, the editor-in-chief of the People's Daily, for example, some major opinion writers, as well as some Chinese officials, the lower-level, that were basically threatening Taiwan say, "You see, you can't count on the Americans to defend you. Look what just happened to Afghanistan. Don't pretend that you would be able to resist the Chinese incursion."
If you only focus on those things, certainly it looks pretty belligerent. It looks like the Chinese are getting more aggressive. They're changing the rules. But of course, it's not just that. The United States has changed the status quo as well. There's been the secret training of special forces of the United States on the ground of the Taiwanese military for at least a year now. There's been the creation of new status quo architecture in the region, whether it is the QUAD, which they never talk about China, but it's obviously oriented towards China. A new diplomatic agreement that's become quite robust and meeting regularly by Zoom on a whole host of different security-related issues between the United States, Japan, India, and Australia. You've got the new AUKUS defense pact. You've got Build Back Better World, which not much money has gone into it yet, but it's all oriented towards Asia encountering One Belt One Road.
Then, probably most significantly, if the Hong Kong move is the most significant move by China, the most significant move by the United States is on semiconductors and restrictions that make it very difficult for China's most important technology company, Huawei, to continue to operate in a globally competitive way, and also an effort to bring Taiwan's lead semiconductor company, which is responsible for 80% of all semiconductor exports globally, to become a trusted partner of the US. If that happens, they become part of the US military-industrial complex.
That was probably the single biggest potential change to the status quo that either side is talking about right now. Yes, the Chinese officials have said a whole bunch of things, though not Xi Jinping himself whose statements are very similar to what they've been historically. Biden's statements have been very similar to what they've been historically, but there've been crazy people among US policymakers, too.
I saw Madison Cawthorn the other day, who's a member of Congress in good standing, who said that all Chinese assets should be seized as down payments on reparations for the enslavement of Black people. No, that's not what he said. For COVID damages on the United States, which is a literally insane thing to say. If you were in the Chinese government looking at American leaders and American media and cherry-picking the most ridiculous stuff, you would have reason to believe that the Americans are preparing a radical change in the status quo.
The reality on the part of the policymakers that know better who are responsible for foreign policy on both sides is that these are testing moves to ensure the continued strong posture of the other side. When something is that important to you, you don't just want to make sure that you're defending, but you want to make sure that the other side is equally committed. All of that has been happening. It's been happening from Washington. It's been happening from Beijing.
If you ask me who has changed the status quo to a greater degree in the last year, it's probably more the United States than China. It's the United States primarily through a national security lens, broadly defined. It's China primarily through an economic and industrial lens, broadly defined. That should surprise no one because America's power in Asia is principally articulated through the military where China's is principally articulated through the economy. But in reality, all of that is to say there is less to worry about than the inbound questions that I've been getting.
That's it for me. Quick Take to make you a little bit less concerned to kick off this gorgeous week here in New York. It's beautiful. I'm about to get on a plane heading over to the Milken Conference, and I'm sure I'll be sending some stuff from there. Be good. I'll talk to everyone real soon.
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