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Uncle Sam, tech investor?

Uncle Sam, tech investor?

William Barr, the US attorney general, caused a stir last week when he suggested that the US government should consider buying Ericsson and Nokia, two European technology companies that are competing with the Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei are all competing to build the ultra-fast 5G networks that are supposed to power everything from your Netflix, to your self-driving car, to futuristic factories, to entire "smart" cities.

The US has recently been pressuring countries not to use Huawei equipment, because of fears that Beijing could use the company to spy or disrupt critical infrastructure (Huawei denies it has ever done this). And while not all of the US' allies have accepted this logic, there are concerns that in the long run, Huawei, which enjoys huge government support, could drive its competitors out of business, leaving everyone in the world dependent on China for critical mobile network gear.


So…enter Uncle Sam to change the dynamic by boosting some of Huawei's competitors? Here are arguments for and against what would be a dramatic US government intervention in the global tech sector:

The argument for: 5G is too strategic a technology to be left entirely to market forces – particularly if that means relying on China. So if there are no major US suppliers of telecommunications networking gear left, and it's unclear if European tech firms can compete in the long run against cash-rich, state-backed Huawei, it makes sense for the US to put its "large market and financial muscle" behind the European firms. The US acting as a private equity investor in tech would be a dramatic step, but there is some precedent here: After all, Silicon Valley as we know it, was nurtured by Cold War defense spending. If the US and its closest allies are in a new tech-centered geopolitical struggle with China, creating their own national – or transnational – technology champions is a logical move.

The argument against: For one thing, it's very hard to see European regulators approving a plan like this. One reason is that the EU – which is already wary of being caught between the US and China – wants to nurture its own tech champions, rather than farm them out to Washington. Another is that a move like this could provoke a sharp reaction from Chinese authorities, who might restrict European access to Chinese markets in response. There's also a philosophical argument: government interference in private business tends to create waste and could hurt innovation in the long run. The story of Silicon Valley was of seed capital and preferred suppliers, not the government making massive direct equity investments in companies. Boosting investment in basic research, education, and infrastructure would be a much better use of taxpayer dollars.

Some other members of the Trump administration quickly poured cold water on Barr's idea. There are other ways besides taking a direct stake that the US could get involved – it could try to offer tax breaks to private buyers, for example. But the fact that a top US official (a Republican!) is even talking about it shows that geopolitics is pushing the global tech sector into uncharted territory.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

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The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

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

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

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Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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