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.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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