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)

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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