Trump vs Fauci; UK bans Huawei; South China Sea pushback
Ian Bremmer shares his insights on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:
Number one, Trump vs Fauci. What's going on here?
Well, I mean, you know, it's a health leader who is quite popular across Dems and Republicans in the United States and an environment where President Trump is looking for folks to blame. And, you know, it's hard. China's been a big piece of this but hasn't been adequate in explaining why the red states are now doing so badly, for example. And why it continues to persist beyond Europe. And so, he's looking for others. And Fauci has been the most coherent, the most credible in the Trump administration, but has made mistakes. And certainly, also has been willing to come out and speak independently of the Trump administration, including criticizing the Trump administration in a way that Dr. Birx, for example, or the head of the CDC has not. And that's why you're starting to see anonymous opposition against Fauci. You're seeing some of the campaign proactively say they think Fauci has been a cold shower on the economy and has been Dr. Doom, Mr. No. It's funny, Larry Summers, my friend, was called Dr. Kevorkian by Obama when he was secretary there, because he was always providing the negative outlook. I can't imagine how Larry Summers would survive in the Trump administration right now.
But clearly, at the same time, Trump understands that getting rid of Fauci would be a huge mistake. So the question is, if the opposition gets significant, if it starts looking like they're taking serious shots at the guy, will he stay? And he's been around for a long time. He's worked under Republican and Democratic administrations. You go to Fauci's office, you see photos of him with all the presidents, and all the House speakers, and all the accolades he's gotten. He can handle it, right? So, I think he's willing to stay a lot longer than a lot of others would, and I don't see Trump forcing Fauci out the way Bolsonaro has basically forced out two health ministers that were both popular and scientifically credible the way that Fauci is.
So, first of all, the United States is handling this better than Brazil and, you know, thank goodness for small benefits. But also, it is showing that Trump understands that his popularity on handling the coronavirus is in the toilet. It's about 30 percent compared to 40 percent overall support. And he needs to show a better result, especially in terms of a core red states and purple states, some of which are where you're seeing the biggest explosion of cases right now. I mean, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, not California. That's on the blue side. But those others are all a lot of solid Trump supporters that are taking it on the chin now directly from coronavirus. That's not where he was even a month ago.
Why did the UK, United Kingdom, reverse course and ban Huawei and where does that leave China?
Well, the interesting thing is that the United Kingdom had decided to include Huawei in 5G. That was Boris Johnson. The Americans were very angry about it. You may remember that's when the Trump administration said, well, maybe we're not going to share Intel with you if you decide that you're going to work with China on 5G and on Huawei, their most important tech company. Now the UK has completely reversed their decision. And there's a few reasons for it. First, it's the United States. I mean, we've got new foreign product rules that not only will sanction those that work directly with Huawei, but also makes Huawei's own future much less certain. Are they going to be able to get the inputs, the semiconductors, the other critical pieces of their supply chain that would allow them to roll out 5G effectively? It's a much worse bet than it was even six months ago.
There's also the fact that the Chinese are not seen to be transparent around coronavirus. I've talked about this quite a bit before, the original cover up for the first month while this disease was exploding inside China. They weren't being in any way forthcoming about human to human transmission with their own people or internationally. That's angered not just the US, but a lot of allies, too. And, of course, China's actions in Hong Kong. So, there's been a lot of backlash against the Chinese and that is hurting them ultimately. And that's what's behind the UK decision. It's a big hit on China. They had major plans for the United Kingdom, including growing the connections between stock exchanges and London and Shanghai, crafting a new post-Brexit FTA (free trade agreement), invest heavily in UK infrastructure. Certainly, there's going to be retaliation of some kind from China. But this is one of the bigger strategic wins of the Trump administration and foreign policy since they've actually come into office.
Finally, with the US rejecting China's maritime claims in the South China Sea, how will this further escalate tensions?
Well, a little bit. I mean, it's not a military move. It's a diplomatic move. This is more symbolic. It's United States officially aligning itself with the 2016 ruling in The Hague instead of supporting it abstractly, which is what the Obama administration did. The alignment means the United States is formally denying specific claims, most importantly, this nine-dash-line that says that China basically has sovereignty over everything in the water going right down to the borders of South East Asian littoral states. Which is, you know, kind of crazy. Anyone looks at the map and sees what China is laying claim to, it's ludicrous. And it's only because China has such outsized power militarily in the region and of course, economically, that they can kind of get away with it. But again, it's not military escalation. The Pentagon could follow up with more aggressive exercises in the region, and that's certainly possible, especially as we get closer to election, and Trump wants to show his anti-China bona fides, the risk of accident is going up. But for now, this is a diplomatic move, not a military one. That's what I'd focus on.