Zuckerberg and Xi at the Mic

Zuckerberg and Xi at the Mic

Today brings important statements from the most powerful man on earth and the most powerful man on the internet. Each, in his own way, is a visionary sort of authoritarian. Neither is especially well liked by the US government at the moment.


First, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote several hours ago at the Bo’ao Forum, a gathering of investors and global leaders that is China’s (tropical) answer to Davos.

Amid rising jitters about a US-China trade war, Mr. Xi struck something of a tactical retreat. He pledged explicitly to lower barriers to the Chinese auto sector — subject of a weekend outburst by Trump — and promised fresh movement on earlier plans to open China’s potentially lucrative financial services sector to foreign investment.

At the same time, Mr. Xi criticized the emergence of “zero-sum” trade policies and stressed the need for dialogue rather than threats. The ball (probably made in Thailand, rather than China, to be fair) is now back in Trump’s court.

But Mr. Xi remains at pains to paint a credible picture of China as a defender of free trade. China opposes tariffs on goods, sure — but the government’s expansive subsidies, low regard for IP rights, and generally high non-tariff barriers to investment are still acute problems for many of China’s trade and investment partners. On that score, Xi said little about changing his country’s signature industrial policy, the Made in China 2025 initiative, meaning that China’s strategic approach remains largely the same.

Later today, meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress about two things: his company’s failure to protect users’ private data, and the ways that Facebook unwittingly facilitated efforts to meddle in the 2016 US presidential election.

He’ll contritely detail what Facebook is doing to address these problems. His main challenge is to be transparent enough to satisfy lawmakers (and shareholders) that he can fix things, but without giving Congress any bright ideas about tighter regulation. Facebook is already facing a big regulatory hit in Europe, where privacy laws are much tougher.

For now, most in Congress still see tighter regulation as a threat to innovation and free speech. But amid growing concern about social media’s negative impact on social cohesion, that can’t be taken for granted any more, and Zuckerberg knows it.

Xi and Zuckerberg are, in a sense, both making tactical feints in order to avoid more significant reforms to business models that have served them well. How long will their audiences buy it?

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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:

Why can't President Biden order a vaccine mandate for all Americans?

Well, the reason is it's out of his powers. The one of the fundamental challenges in the pandemic is that the federal government has actually been fairly limited in the steps they can take to stop the spread of the virus. So, that's why you've seen President Biden order masks on transit, mass transit, airplanes, and the like. But he can't order masks in workplaces because that's not within his power. That power lies within state governments. State governments and other entities, like employers, can require vaccinations before you come into their buildings, or you come back to school, or you go to work in your office. But the federal government can't do that. What Biden is doing is, allegedly, supposedly going to announce a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated.

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Here are some interesting facts about Suni Lee, the gymnast queen:

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"Super Mario" takes his chances: Less than five months after becoming Italy's consensus prime minister, Mario Draghi's coalition government is on shaky ground over Draghi's proposed judicial reforms. "Super Mario" — as he's known for saving the Eurozone as European Central Bank chief during the financial crisis — wants to dramatically speed up Italy's famously slow courts. But his push to reduce judicial backlogs is opposed both by the populist 5-Star Movement, the coalition government's biggest party, and by prosecutors because many cases could be scrapped before reaching a verdict. Draghi, upset that this resistance is stalling his other initiatives to cut Italian red tape, has decided to roll the dice anyway: he'll put his plan to overhaul the courts to a no-confidence vote in parliament. If Draghi wins, he gets the reforms passed without debate; if he loses, the PM technically has to resign, but he'll keep his job because he has enough votes even if the 5-Star Movement bows out of the coalition.

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700: Roughly 700 people arrested for joining the unprecedented July 11 anti-government protests in Cuba are still being held by the regime. They may now face mass show trials as Havana continues to crack down on dissent following the biggest challenge to its power in decades.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

What is going on in Bosnia with Bosnian Serbs boycotting all major institutions?

Well, it's a reaction against a decision that was taken by the outgoing high representative during his very last days, after 12 years of having done very little in this respect, to have a law banning any denial of Srebrenica and other genocides. But this issue goes to very many other aspects of the Bosnian situation. So, it has created a political crisis that will be somewhat difficult to resolve.

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