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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.

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News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

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At first glance, it's been a tumultuous few weeks for Russia's president Vladimir Putin.

There have been large anti-Kremlin protests in Russia's Far East. Putin critic Alexei Navalny has survived an assassination attempt that many now blame squarely on Russia's president. Turmoil in neighboring Belarus reminds many of the troubles Russia faced six years ago in Ukraine.

Look more closely, and Putin is sitting prettier than you'd think.

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Elections continue despite pandemic: Nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis. Americans, like voters everywhere, are at odds on many issues these days. But a Trump victory in November would signal that voters aren't ready to blame political leaders for the coronavirus' impact while a loss would make him the world's first COVID-19 political casualty. There are more upcoming coronavirus election tests. Regional elections in Italy later this month will test the strength of that country's wobbly coalition government. Hard-hit Iran will hold a presidential election next June—though it's not clear how far the clerical establishment will go to limit voter choices—and the government's pandemic response will shape broader views of its competence. Voters in virus-ravaged Peru will have their say in April 2021, and Mexico will hold congressional elections in July. A power transition in Germany next year will allow voters angry over COVID-19 restrictions to air their grievances.

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Over the past 40 years, the economic gap between the world's richest and poorest countries and peoples has narrowed sharply. Goods, services, and people began to cross borders at greater velocity, creating opportunities for people to live healthier, more secure, and more prosperous lives. Billions rose out of poverty.

Here's the catch: all that beneficial economic activity has also sharply increased the use of fossil fuels and the amount of carbon that's reaching the atmosphere. Life on earth remains possible only because carbon dioxide in our atmosphere captures enough heat from the sun to sustain us while deflecting enough extra heat into space to keep us from burning up. That's the "natural greenhouse effect."

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Massimo Gaggi is an Italian journalist with the Corriere della Sera newspaper. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Willis Sparks: Italy has been through so much this year with COVID-19. What's going on in Italy at the moment, and what was the mood like then?

MG: The mood, obviously, was very depressed during the spring, when the crisis came out so badly in Italy. The mood was also a little bit upset vis-à-vis the other European countries and the United States, to be honest with you, because we felt that we didn't get any help in that period, and also that we got some judgment that was not so right. The situation is very much different now, because Italy is the country with the best situation in Europe at this moment. We are pretty proud about what we've done in this period.

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Ron Derby is an editor and columnist at Fin24, a division of News24, belonging to South Africa's Naspers group. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Willis Sparks: From a South African point of view, does the outcome of this election between President Trump and his challenger, Joe Biden, matter?

RD: Yes, it matters. I'd say, let's say first, it's almost like voyeurism, right? There's a huge level of interest in general in US politics. It's always been the case. Donald Trump, since his election [in] 2016, feeds this sentiment. His election, Brexit, the swing to right-leaning politics across Europe. This give[s] a negative feel [to] the global economy.

And post-COVID, as well, there have been issues of inequality globally, [and] South Africa being the center of that. And [in] the US, the Black Lives Matter [movement] does play a huge role in shaping sentiment [here]. Economically, you could argue that China is far more important to South Africa, and to the continent as a whole. But America plays a significant enough role [in] where the world is going.

WS: Tell me about how Black Lives Matter and what's happening in the United States is being perceived in South Africa.

RD: South Africa faces the same issues [as] black Americans, but our positions are different. [Here], the majority is black South African. But South Africa's economy is still dominated by the minority. It's part of our history.

The structural racism that exists in the US is pretty much prevalent in South Africa. As much as people will talk about 26 years ago, Nelson Mandela being freed, economic power [is] still pretty much in white hands. So, there's an immediate affinity [here] to the struggles in the US. Even though black South Africans are the majority here, it's a shared experience, it really is.

WS: Does that mean that Donald Trump is unpopular there and that people are hoping Joe Biden wins?

RD: Joe Biden was [Barack Obama's] deputy, right? South Africans know exactly who Biden is. Everyone is looking at who's going to take down this bombastic Donald Trump who represents everything that, I guess anyone who is in any sense a progressive, Trump is everything that is against that. We [are] all invested in this election in some form or other. [South Africa] is very much invested in what goes on in US elections.

WS: Switching gears a bit, the US and China are on a collision course these days. How does the US-China rivalry play out in South Africa?

RD: What goes on in China, we don't have a close affinity to. And there's lots of suspicion about Chinese investment on the continent. Even though our politicians found a great source of loans, there is a level of suspicion about China's motivations.

If you go to Botswana — I have family in Botswana — it's the same. Everyone [outside Africa] thinks that the African continent embrace[s] all that China's doing. Admittedly, they are a source of loans that no one else is affording the continent, but [there is] large scale suspicion [here].

Having good relations with the US for South Africa as a whole is always considered prime. I think we need to develop our Eastern strategy as a country. That's where the growth is going to come from, right?

WS: How do South Africans view the US in a general sense?

RD: The cultural influence of the US in the day-to-day lives of South Africa, you can't just discard that. It's massive. I guess it's a global thing, but particularly in South Africa. When the US decides to elect a president like Donald Trump, it quite clearly represents everything that's wrong with the world in truth. It shapes our sentiment of how the world is, just how fair the world is, and how it operates.

I remember when Barack [Obama] was elected in 2008. I was still working at Bloomberg in Johannesburg, and I went out to the streets, and there was a joyous mood in the streets about a president being elected 12,000 kilometers away.

If Trump is reelected, it will [have] an impact and feed into just the low confidence already that exists in South Africa. It would feed into the national mood of this country.

We all grew up with this ultimate superpower, right? The world's policeman. The US under Trump just totally goes off the leadership stage. No one quite understands what the US is going to be.

And then you have the rise [of] China. We know economically we are tied to it, but no one quite understands China's ultimate goal. [For] the first time since maybe World War II, you have an absent US. There's an implosion happening in the US. By leaving the stage, the US adds to anxiety, uncertainty, about everyone's standing in the world.

And if Trump wins again, then it's like, okay, the implosion continues. If Biden wins, what changes can be brought about in the US? As I say, there's always, we know, South Africa knows, the continent knows that there is the China alternative, but we're still very unclear about what China's ultimate motives are. It's almost like, better the devil you know, right?

In Trump's misbehavior... Not misbehavior, just his maladministration, his running of the country literally like a king… It encourages the worst of the rest of the world's leaders, right? It gives them license to do as they please, man. It literally is, so who can police anyone in this climate where you have Donald Trump behaving and running the country the way he's running [it]? And that's what the US doesn't understand. [W]hen they step away from that fold, then it's open season.

WS: Tell me what's going on in South Africa at the moment, what South African people are worrying about and reading in their newspapers every day.

RD: At the moment, going into the COVID period, March, it was quite impressive that you had this national effort to deal with COVID, combat it, lock down the economy. And it was actually this national agreement. And touch wood, [it's] not as bad as we initially thought. But as the lockdown [went] on, frustrations grew, of course with the economy, which was already struggling. Then you started hearing the rumblings from the business sector and noise about potential job losses. You can see the tension rise in the country.

There have been mistakes in the management of this lockdown. Then there were some stories of corruption, of people close to leadership in the party benefiting. Last year's elections were supposed to be a move away from that and a return to proper governance.

The state is suffering a real crisis of confidence right now. The longer this lockdown continues, [that problem] grows.

[With COVID] there was good conversation about reimagining the South Africa economy. [But] the state lost a lot of that goodwill in recent weeks [with] the age-old question mark about corruption. That's feeding into the general mood of the country.

This interview is part of the GZERO project Global voices on the US election, which you can find in full here.

Christopher Olaolu Ogunmodede is an editor at The Republic in Nigeria. He covers African foreign policy, institutions, and political economy. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Willis Sparks: Does the outcome of the US election matter to Nigeria's government or to Nigeria's future as a people?

COO: I think it does matter. The United States is a superpower, and it's a partner of Nigeria. It is one of Nigeria's largest donor partners on official development assistance. A lot of foreign capital comes from the United States. A lot of foreign investment in Nigeria comes from the United States. There's a large Nigerian diaspora in the United States.

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