Xi's No Good, Very Bad Summer

Xi's No Good, Very Bad Summer

Back in March, Xi Jinping was riding high. Wielding more power than any Chinese leader since Mao, he was feeling good about China’s handle on North Korea and ready to stand toe to toe with Donald Trump on trade. One long, hot summer later, and Xi faces a reality check, with growing pressures on three fronts:


First, there’s the US-China trade fight. On Thursday, the Trump administration plans to slap tariffs on $16 billion worth of Chinese goods, the latest twist in the trade spat between the world’s two biggest economies. Beijing has promised to respond in kind, but the weakness of its tit-for-tat approach is starting to show. China only imported about $130 billion worth of goods from the US last year, so it will struggle to match the US dollar for dollar if Trump follows through on a threat to impose tariffs on an additional $200 billion of its goods. A mid-level Chinese trade delegation due in Washington this week is unlikely to come away with a deal – Trump believes his confrontational strategy is working and is unlikely to back down. It’s clear that this conflict isn’t playing out as Xi had hoped.

The second problem is Xi’s emboldened domestic critics. This summer the Chinese leader faced unusually public grumbling about his leadership style, including concerns about the return of a Mao-like personality cult. Some critics also fear that Xi misstepped by openly stating the country’s ambitions for global leadership, inviting a backlash that could ultimately hurt China.

Finally, there’s growing pushback against China’s aggressive plans for overseas investment, including Xi’s signature Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. During a state visit to Beijing this week, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed said he would cancel over $20 billion of Chinese infrastructure deals struck by his predecessor amid fears they would saddle his country with too much debt. Belt and Road projects may also face fresh scrutiny in Pakistan, where borrowing to fund a massive Chinese road and rail buildout has contributed to the substantial economic woes facing newly installed Prime Minister Imran Khan.

None of this will threaten Xi’s grip on power, but his no good, very bad summer has exposed a gap between the Chinese leader’s seemingly all-powerful public persona and the messy reality of managing a would-be superpower. In a top-down system like China’s, a leader’s perceived weakness can make it easier for rivals to obstruct his plans or ignore orders that threaten their interests. Heading into the autumn, Xi needs some wins to shore up and justify all the power he’s taken so much time and trouble to amass.

We pay little attention to the waves of the sea, yet they are the greatest unused source of renewable energy in the world. Meet ISWEC and Power Buoy, two interesting new technologies used to harness this energy. Learn more about the extraordinary power of waves in this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series, where we investigate interesting facts and trends about energy.

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens before the rest of the world, has been effective for rich nations like the United States and Israel. But leaving behind so much of the global population isn't just a humanitarian issue. It could prolong the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who argues that what the global vaccination effort most urgently lacks are doses, not dollars. In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, she calls for a large increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and suggests we may be seeing alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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