More Questions About China

More Questions About China

As Alex Kliment wrote in your Tuesday edition of Signal, Xi Jinping has moved to eliminate the two-term constitutional limit on China’s president, allowing him to remain formally in charge beyond the end of his current term in March 2023. I’m opening your Friday edition on the same subject, because this is a very, very big deal.


Multiply China’s growing international power by Xi Jinping’s domestic political control, and Xi is already the most powerful man on Earth. This week, he began the process of removing the most important remaining check on his authority.

Questions to consider:

  • Should the rest of the world be happy about the predictability that comes with continuity at the top of the Chinese government? Maybe. Given China’s growing importance for the global economy, and China’s need for big changes in its economic and financial systems, shouldn’t we be glad that a self-professed reformer has minimized the risk that lame-duck status will undermine his ability to get things done? It’s not like China would otherwise become a democracy.
  • This story matters for all of us. In 1990, China accounted for just 1.6 percent of global GDP. By 2016, it had surged to 14.7 percent, second only to the US. In 1996, China invested just $2 billion beyond its borders. By 2016, that number had climbed to $217 billion. Given the worldwide economic implications of China’s rise, don’t we all need China to succeed?
  • Or maybe has Xi created a new sense of urgency within the party among those who fear his power and oppose his reform plans? Has he forced rivals to try to more actively sabotage his agenda or even to move against him?
  • At what point does Xi start thinking more about protecting his power than about building China’s future?
  • What happens if Xi fully consolidates power, but reforms fail, the economy sinks, and China has no clear alternative to his leadership? What sort of power struggle might that unleash?

We know there’s heightened caution in Beijing this week, because online government censors are suddenly very busy. You won’t have much luck if you try using any of these phrases on Sina Weibo (China’s version of Twitter) this week:

  • “Long Live the Emperor” (Pretty obvious)
  • “Constitutional rules” (None of your business)
  • “Animal Farm” (George Orwell says hi)
  • “Winnie the Pooh” (Don’t mock the president)
  • “I disagree” (Don’t think of debate)
  • “Emigration” (Don’t think of leaving)

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

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Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

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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Can "the Quad" constrain China?

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