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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?

Dating and debates, music festivals and dance classes, work and education – an increasing amount of our social interactions now take place online. With this shift to virtual venues, ensuring kindness and respect in everyday interactions and encounters is more important than ever.

The digital space has become a fundamental part of the national and international conversation, and has also, at times, become a breeding ground for bullying, trolling and hate speech. There is a clear need for more "digital good" to ensure that online encounters have a constructive impact on everyone involved. To learn more about digital good and what it means, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele is an unusual politician. The 39-year old political outsider boasts of his political triumphs on TikTok, dons a suave casual uniform (backwards-facing cap; leather jacket; tieless ), and refuses to abide by Supreme Court rulings.

Bukele also enjoys one of the world's highest approval ratings, and that's what helped his New Ideas party clinch a decisive victory in legislative elections on February 28, securing a close to two-third's supermajority (75 percent of the vote had been counted at the time of this writing).

His triumph will resonate far beyond the borders of El Salvador, Central America's smallest country, home to 6.5 million people. Now that Bukele has consolidated power in a big way, here are a few key developments to keep an eye on.

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (a little over) 60 Seconds:

The Biden administration announced its first sanctions. How will it affect US-Russia relations?

Not very much. About as bad as they were under the Trump administration, even though Trump personally wanted to be aligned with Putin, the administration was not. This is the same approach on sanctions as we've seen from the European Union, they could go a lot harder. It's not sector level. It's not major state enterprises. It's a few Russian officials that were involved in the chemical program for Russia. And at the end of the day, the Russians are annoyed, but they're not going to hit back. That's that. Okay.

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Yemen left behind: A virtual pledging event aimed at raising funds for war-torn Yemen raised $1.7 billion, well shy of the $3.85 billion the UN says is necessary to alleviate suffering from years of famine conditions and war. At the session, jointly hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, the US pledged $191 million towards Yemen's humanitarian effort, while the Germans promised $241 million. The UN says the pandemic has limited the ability of wealthy countries to provide humanitarian help for Yemen, where two-thirds of the population rely on food aid to survive after six years of conflict between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition. This development comes as the Biden administration has sought to enforce a ceasefire in Yemen by stopping US support for the Saudi military campaign there and removing the Houthis from the US' State Sponsors of Terrorism list to help open Yemen up to more aid. Meanwhile, the Houthis continue their assault of the city of Marib, now home to millions of displaced Yemenis, exacerbating the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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279: All 279 schoolgirls kidnapped last week by gunmen in northwest Nigeria have now been released. The girls were set free after the government negotiated with the abductors, but many observers criticize this approach, saying it only emboldens militants to kidnap children for ransom.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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