WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE GEOPOLITICS OF 5G

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE GEOPOLITICS OF 5G

A fight is brewing between the US and China over the next generation of mobile technology.


This weekend, US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are due to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires. They'll talk tariffs, argue over soybeans, and maybe even trot out a "deal" to ease a trade spat that's seen the imposition of punitive tariffs on over $360 billion worth of goods so far.

Behind the scenes, though, a far more consequential struggle for the 21st century global economic balance of power will rumble on. I'm talking about the fight over the future of 5G mobile networks. Here's a quick explainer on 5G and why it's so important.

What is 5G? It's communications industry shorthand for the “fifth generation" of mobile data networks that will be rolled out commercially over the next decade.

Why should I care? 5G is what will enable the ground-shaking innovations of the future – like driverless cars and smart cities. Networks that run on 5G technology will be up to 100 times faster than today's 4G connections. That'll make “downloading" virtually obsolete.

More importantly, they're being designed to allow huge numbers of internet-connected devices to communicate nearly instantaneously across a wide geographic areas. That will not only make it possible for driverless cars to work, it will also drive further innovation through the production and capture of massive new amounts of data. Some boosters say 5G could be a bigger leap forward than the original internet, or even electricity.

The upshot: If you buy the idea that the countries that successfully use 5G-enabled technologies will dominate the 21st century, the issue of who builds and controls the new network takes on huge political importance. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump administration was leaning on key US allies to block Chinese technology companies from building portions of their next-generation mobile networks – the latest salvo in the two nations' ongoing confrontation over technology.

Here's where the political consequences of this technological shift will be felt the hardest:

  1. US-China: Even if Trump and Xi reach a deal on tariffs, it's hard to see how China can assuage US economic and national security concerns over China's plans for 5G. China, meanwhile, views 5G as critical to its future development and is racing to gain a head start in the new technologies that will run on top of the network. The resulting political tensions are already pushing the two countries' tech sectors apart, potentially raising the costs of building 5G for everyone, regardless of broader disputes on trade.
  2. Developing countries: Along with key European and other allies, the US is likely to pressure countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa to avoid a reliance on China for 5G. But cheap financing and other enticements available through China's Belt and Road initiative could make it harder for poorer nations to pass up Chinese help in building their new networks. The US has no comparable effort to extend its digital clout globally.
  3. Within the US: When the 5G revolution comes, it will come to cities first. That could exacerbate the “digital divide." Consider that today, just 65 percent of rural US residents have access to high-speed internet, compared with 97 percent of city-dwellers. Without careful planning, 5G could turn this divide into a chasm, as cities reap the economic gains from driverless cars, smart infrastructure, and other 5G-powered technologies, while rural and other poorly connected areas are left further behind.

The bottom line: 5G will be politically, not just technologically, disruptive.

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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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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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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149: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record-high 413.2 parts per million in 2020, 149 percent above pre-industrial levels. A new report by the UN weather agency released ahead of the COP26 climate summit found that last year's lower emissions due to COVID-related lockdowns had no impact on the overall amount of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

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