So, are we in a new Cold War or not?

So, are we in a new Cold War or not?

Top diplomats from the US and China will sit down on Thursday for their first face-to-face since Joe Biden took office as US president. Amid deepening tensions over trade, human rights, and technology, the encounter is certain to be a frosty one — and not only because it's in Alaska. Each side will size up the other, make clear its positions, and leave, perhaps without even so much as a closing joint statement.

You'll probably hear and see lots in the next few days about whether the US and China are slipping into a new "Cold War." Well, are they?


The growing rivalry does have a certain 20th-century vibe to it. It's a competition between two nuclear-armed powers with incompatible political systems, playing out across the globe in commerce, technology, and strategic influence.

But this is also very different. For one thing, interdependence is much, much greater. The United States and the Soviet Union had almost no economic ties to speak of. By contrast, the US and China exchange more than half a trillion dollars in goods and services annually, making for one of the top three bilateral trade relationships. China, moreover, owns as much as a trillion dollars in US sovereign debt, and is the largest market for many US firms.

If either economy trips — or is pushed — the repercussions are not only bilateral but global. These are the two largest economies in the world, accounting for 30 percent of global GDP. If US-Soviet mutually assured destruction was a matter of nuclear weapons, the US-China version is that plus the risk of global economic catastrophe.

What's more, this isn't the same zero-sum ideological competition. China and the US have very different political systems. The US is an imperfect liberal democracy, while China is a repressive one party state conducting a massive experiment in techno-authoritarianism. (That's not Daft Punk doing show in a gulag, it's using AI and data not only to keep the trains running, but to shape the behavior of the population.)

Each country is trying to set an example to others — and at the moment democracy is having a tough moment, as journalist Anne Applebaum recently told us. But unlike in the Cold War, neither side is actively — much less violently — exporting a specific kind of governance model that forces third countries to choose sides in ways that imply hard choices about the economic or political system. China, for example, does lots of business with countries that are democratic US allies, and accepting trade and investment from China hardly means renouncing US ties.

The one place where the "Cold War" tag maybe does work? Technology. The United States and China are steadily "decoupling" in the technology sphere — shutting each other out of their technology industries, cutting supply chains, and adopting very different standards for privacy.

And things here really are becoming more zero-sum. Beijing and Washington are pressuring third countries to choose whether to use, say, Chinese-made equipment for their 5G networks or not. There is a danger of the internet and the global tech industry eventually splitting into two rival and incompatible spheres altogether.

And one where it's definitely not helpful. Climate change. There's no serious effort to reduce emissions unless Beijing and Washington, the top two largest polluters in the world sign on. During the Cold War, the US and the USSR's main task was to avoid a conflict that would incinerate the planet. The US and China now have to cooperate broadly to avoid a different, slower burning of the Earth.

And that's the trick for both sides in Alaska and beyond. To figure how to manage potentially unresolvable disagreements on issues like governance, human rights, technology, and trade without rupturing cooperation on broader issues that affect not only China and the US, but the whole planet.

Building on more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike for almost three weeks over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohamed, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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1,544: South African authorities say that at least 1,544 square miles of land has already been destroyed by wildfires in Cape Town. Landmarks including an African antiquities library at Cape Town university were gutted by the flames, while communities around the historic Table Mountain were evacuated as fire engulfed the area.

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