Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.
Over the past eight days, the US-China relationship got notably hotter. None of the new developments detailed below is big enough by itself to kill hopes for better relations next year, but collectively they point in a dangerous direction.
US jabs over Hong Kong: On September 14, the US State Department issued a travel warning for the city because of what it calls China's "arbitrary enforcement of local laws" by police. The US is closely monitoring the case of 10 people detained by China while attempting to flee to Taiwan by boat. China's response to US criticism of its new security law in Hong Kong remains muted. That could change if relations deteriorate further.
<p><strong>Action on forced labor in Xinjiang:</strong> Also on September 14, US Customs and Border Protection issued import bans on computer parts, clothing, cotton, and hair products made at five facilities in China's Xinjiang region following accusations that they're made by <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/14/politics/us-xinjiang-cotton-imports-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">slave labor</a>. Xinjiang is home to most of China's Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, and Beijing has faced accusations from multiple countries that much of this population has been forced into <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/20/more-evidence-chinas-horrific-abuses-xinjiang" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">internment camps</a>. The economic impact of this action is limited, but China has reason to fear that other governments might follow the US' lead. </p><p><strong>US strikes China's Belt and Road project: </strong>On September 15, the US Treasury Department unveiled <a href="https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1121" target="_blank">sanctions</a> against Union Development Group, a state-owned Chinese company, for the seizure and demolition of land in Cambodia as part of a construction project associated with China's <a href="https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Belt and Road Initiative</a>. Here too the economic impact will be limited, but this is the first time the US has issued this type of sanction for actions directly related to China's signature international investment and development project. </p><p><strong>US ban on China's TikTok and WeChat: </strong>On September 18, the Trump administration moved to block <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/21/trump-admin-challenges-order-that-blocked-wechat-app-store-ban.html" target="_blank">WeChat and TikTok</a> from operating in the US on national security grounds, setting up a long legal battle. For now, a tentative deal involving US firms Oracle and Walmart will allow US downloads of TikTok to continue, but <a href="https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/21/trump-wavers-on-tiktok-deal-419424" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">confusion within the administration</a> over its terms could still kill it. </p><p><strong>New tensions over Taiwan: </strong>On September 19, US <span style="background-color: initial;">Undersecretary of State Keith Krach visited Taiwan, which Beijing insists is a renegade Chinese province, to attend a memorial for former president Lee Teng-hui, and to discuss the opening of a new US-Taiwan Economic and Commercial Dialogue. Krach is the <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/what-were-watching-modi-plays-to-his-base-us-visit-to-taiwan-irks-china-colombia-arrests-ex-leader" target="_self">second notable US visitor</a></span> to the island in two months. In both cases, Beijing responded with a show of force, this week by launching military exercises and sending <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/chinese-jets-buzz-taiwan-during-senior-us-official-visit-2020-9" target="_blank">16 fighter jets and two bombers</a> careening through Taiwan's airspace. The US is reportedly also considering the sale of <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/defense/517016-trump-administration-set-to-approve-large-arms-sale-with-taiwan" target="_blank">long-range missiles to Taiwan</a> in the coming weeks. China has responded with threats of sanctions against US companies.</p><p><strong>China flashes a trade weapon: </strong>Beijing faces domestic pressure to push back harder on the tougher Trump administration line. On September 19, China's Commerce Ministry took a big step in that direction. By publishing a "Provisions on the Unreliable Entities List," the Chinese government issued a <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-19/china-reveals-punishment-for-firms-on-unreliable-entity-list" target="_blank">stern warning</a> that further steps to block supplies of critical technologies to Chinese companies will draw retaliation against at least one high-profile US firm. More multinationals may find themselves caught in the crossfire. </p><p><strong>A turning point? </strong>All this comes in the lead up to a US election that will prove pivotal for the world's most important bilateral relationship. How will the outcome change things? China would love to know. </p><p>The current Cold War logic suggests that if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins, China may test him to look for signals of a change in US strategy. If President Trump is re-elected, these latest escalations might prove a sign of bigger fights to come. </p>
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September 22, 2020
Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, joins Ian Bremmer on this week's World in 60 seconds to discuss multilateralism, optimism, and the return to normal in the post-pandemic world.
Could this pandemic actually present an opportunity to bolster global support for multilateralism and what should that look like moving forward, Brad?
Well, I think it's an imperative and it has to bolster support for multilateralism for a very simple reason. We cannot afford to assume that it will be another century before we see a pandemic like this again. We have to take from this experience, all of the learning we can muster and put in place what we will need to be better prepared. And the only way we can do that is to start with an obvious fact. Viruses don't respect borders. So people have to work together across them as governments and with the kinds of support from companies and civil society that it'll take to ensure that we don't find ourselves as ill prepared a decade from now or five years from now, as we were when this year began.
On the one hand, there's been a lot of lack of leadership, at least internationally, the G20 doing nearly as much coming out of this crisis that we saw coming out of the 2008 financial crisis when it was founded. On the other hand, you've got supra-nationalism in Europe with the Germans and the French, and indeed unanimous votes to actually create stronger redistribution, stronger capacity and resilience of that institution. You've got the World Health Organization, the UN here working with a bunch of leaders and the private sector.
What gives you cause so far for most optimism that we actually are going to respond more effectively?
Well, I think one of the fascinating aspects of this pandemic in its own way has been the critical importance of data. We're all relying on data, literally, to manage government decisions that determine whether we get to leave our homes, where we get to go, what we get to do. But the truth is what we've also learned is that the data that is needed to address something like this needs to be measured in a consistent way across borders. At Microsoft we're doing a lot of work with the World Health Organization. Just learning from that how each individual government can be more effective if it's collaborating with others in a more unified way, putting digital technology and data to work. I think there's a lot of insight from that narrow slice that in fact impacts every part of the economy in the world today.
One of the things that people have been most concerned about is that the pandemic is driving borders up. It's driving people farther apart. But the fact that technology is working as well as it is right now is also unlocking human capital in terms of distance learning, in terms of telemedicine for large numbers of people that otherwise would have been left further behind in a crisis like this.
We're all learning a lot. I think tele health services are one of the great examples of where we're going to find in the future that it doesn't mean that people will no longer go to a doctor, but they'll only go to a doctor when they need to see a doctor in person.
And we'll probably live in a world where people have more consultation with health professionals because tele-health will fill-in a void, but we're also finding all the cracks in our societies. What it means when some people have broadband and others don't. Some people have access to digital skills and others don't. So it's a world of new opportunity, but if the opportunity isn't distributed more broadly, then it's going to exacerbate all the divides we already worry about in our societies.
What's the piece of life after coronavirus when truly people feel safe, again, that we're not socially distancing and the rest, that you think is going to be most different from life before coronavirus?
Well, I think it's going to be a more of a mixture of hybrid life. I'm not one who believes that people will want to stay in their houses forever. I think there's a lot that can be accomplished when people get together that they can't do when they're by themselves. But there's also a lot that we can do that will add convenience and efficiency and effectiveness to our lives by combining this in-person interaction with remote sort of everything, shopping, ordering food, connecting with people around the world, we have the opportunity to build sort of a richer experience. But again, only if the technology that's essential for this is within everyone's reach.
I also think we could get used to being six feet apart from each other for a longer period of time.
Yeah. But I still think you'll go to a sporting event, people are still going to want to be in a crowd. Go to a theater, people are going to want to be in the crowd. It will be fascinating to see how long some of these other habits persist once we're finally out of the other end of this tunnel and can look at it in the rear view mirror.
September 22, 2020
As global leaders turn their attention to the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the 2020 General Assembly, GZERO Media offers a look back at one of the greatest diplomatic mysteries of the 20th century. The UN's second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld's mysterious death in 1961, while on a mission to Congo, is the subject of a new book by investigative correspondent and New York Times correspondent Ravi Somaiya. It has the twists and turns of a Tom Clancy novel.