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?

Last week, in Fulton, WI, together with election officials from the state of Wisconsin and the election technology company VotingWorks, Microsoft piloted ElectionGuard in an actual election for the first time.

As voters in Fulton cast ballots in a primary election for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates, the official count was tallied using paper ballots as usual. However, ElectionGuard also provided an encrypted digital tally of the vote that enabled voters to confirm their votes have been counted and not altered. The pilot is one step in a deliberate and careful process to get ElectionGuard right before it's used more broadly across the country.

Read more about the process at Microsoft On The Issues.

The risk of a major technology blow-up between the US and Europe is growing. A few weeks ago, we wrote about how the European Union wanted to boost its "technological sovereignty" by tightening its oversight of Big Tech and promoting its own alternatives to big US and Chinese firms in areas like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her top digital officials unveiled their first concrete proposals for regulating AI, and pledged to invest billions of euros to turn Europe into a data superpower.

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Communal violence in Delhi: Over the past few days, India's capital city has seen its deadliest communal violence in decades. This week's surge in mob violence began as a standoff between protesters against a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against India's Muslims and the law's Hindu nationalist defenders. Clashes between Hindu and Muslim mobs in majority-Muslim neighborhoods in northeast Delhi have killed at least 11 people, both Muslim and Hindu, since Sunday. We're watching to see how Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government responds – Delhi's police force reports to federal, rather than local, officials.

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Ian Bremmer's perspective on what's happening in geopolitics:

What are the takeaways from President Trump's visit to India?

No trade deal, in part because Modi is less popular and he's less willing to focus on economic liberalization. It's about nationalism right now. Hard to get that done. But the India US defense relationship continues to get more robust. In part, those are concerns about China and Russia.

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27,000: The Emir of Qatar has decreed a $27,000 fine and up to five years in prison for anyone who publishes, posts, or repost content that aims to "harm the national interest" or "stir up public opinion." No word on whether the Doha-based Al-Jazeera network, long a ferocious and incisive critic of other Arab governments, will be held to the same standard.

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