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Trump won't back off TikTok ban; China may react against US tech firms

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

Donald Trump, TikTok, and Microsoft. What's the story?

Well, the story is that this incredibly successful app that teenagers everywhere seem to really love is functionally owned by China, they are based in the Cayman Islands, registered there, but the Chinese government has itself said that TikTok is a Chinese firm. And that means that the United States, which is involved in a technology Cold War with China, has been looking to hit Chinese tech firms and make it much more difficult for them to act in the United States. I remember there was one Chinese firm that was trying to buy Grindr, which is this app where I think, you know, men can meet men for dating and whatnot, and the idea, in Congress especially, saying, "oh, my God, we can't possibly have China having data like that." Well, I mean, same sort of thing.


There is a national security issue, there is a political issue with Trump wanting to beat up on China and everyone, both Dem and Republican, finding that's a popular thing to do. And then there's the issue of reciprocity, that if China is not going to allow Facebook to operate in China, or Wikipedia, or Reddit, then why should the Americans allow TikTok? And other countries like India have already banned TikTok, the fastest growing app ever in India. So, no surprise that the Chinese are going to be forced to have to sell this to the US. But what's interesting is the Chinese government has responded very sharply to this move by the US. And assuming it goes through and I think there's no way that, you know, either it's going to be sold, which I think is more likely, or it's going to be shut down, it is going to go forward. I don't think Trump's going to back off. I think that this is going to lead to the Chinese taking serious steps among remaining US high tech firms in China. Not necessarily tariffs, but non-tariff measures. Some of them would be restricted in terms of what they can and can't do. You could even imagine executives being charged with some kind of illegal activity in China like they've done with a couple of Canadians, a former diplomat, the two Michaels they say, all of which has the potential to make this a much worse relationship. The next few months between the US and China in the run up to the election, very, very dangerous indeed.

Spain's former king is gone. What's happening?

Well, he's the Emeritus King Juan Carlos I and has been quite unpopular in Spain because of both tax fraud and money laundering inquiries. Big issues around his role in facilitating contracts with a high-speed rail that Spain was supposed to be building in Saudi Arabia between Mecca and Medina. There were other issues as well. He left Spain because of all of those problems. The decision to do that was actually facilitated with the existing Spanish government so as not to further damage the royalty in the eyes of the Spanish people. A smart move, a useful move collectively for the stability of the Spanish government. I don't think it's going to have a big impact on the existing coalition, shouldn't fall apart. Nor is it likely to have a lot of impact on the existing head of state.

What's interesting is that the King Emeritus does have immunity for any act conducted while in office. But whether or not some of these occurred after his abdication, I mean, that's something that we'll see as the cases continue. That could lead to making this up much bigger and more salacious story for the Spaniards going forward.

What can the US learn from Israel as back-to-school strategies are planned?

Well, Israel in the early days was seen as one of those that had most effectively hammered down the curve with very low transmission on the back of a very effective lockdown, and massive surveillance, and testing, and contact tracing in Israel. They then opened the schools, in part because there's a view that young people are not as likely to get the disease, they are not frequently vectors for transmission. Remember, we don't know a lot about this disease. Turns out that's probably wrong.

As you've seen, for example, a campground in Georgia and many dozens of campers end up getting the disease. Massive amounts of asymptomatic case transmission, which can put older people in a great deal of danger, those with preexisting conditions. So, what we're finding is that even in a country that's relatively small, with a lot of transparency, with incredible testing, very wealthy, good health care system, that Israel gets explosive cases because they bring the students in. And if they don't have massive social distancing and the kids aren't always wearing masks as they do, for example, in Taiwan, or in Thailand, or in South Korea, then you can get that explosive transmission. And that and the Israeli economy contracting this year, probably 5%-6% is leading to big demonstrations against Prime Minister Netanyahu, which, of course, as well, could lead to more explosive transmission in Israel. So, the United States surely is watching this. It's one of the reasons why you're seeing a lot of American political officials backing away from the idea that we can simply open all the schools if we don't have the conditions in place.

Finally, what is going on with Harry Potter inspired protesters in Thailand?

Well, Thailand actually has done a reasonable job of containing coronavirus, but a horrible impact on their economy, especially because they're so reliant on tourism, which is done for the foreseeable future. There's also been some corruption scandals and, of course, of government, which is functionally suspended democratic elections on the back of a military coup. And after the death of the last king, existing king in Thailand, nowhere near as competent, nowhere near as popular. What's interesting about these protests, aside the fact that they're Harry Potter inspired, so a bunch of people with wands and casting spells and holding photos of Voldemort, which, you know, makes it sound fun, but going after the monarchy is illegal. In fact, it is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. And there's never been a mass protest in Thailand that has directly criticized the monarchy before. Now, the prime minister is saying, let's calm this down, please don't be disruptive. They don't seem to be looking for reasons to arrest people for breaking these laws right now because it could make an unstable situation even worse, but that could also raise the question as to the position that the monarchy plays in Thailand. For so long a stabilizing feature, both economically, socially, and politically in that country. Maybe there are questions around how long it is fit to last.

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