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US-China: Temperature rising

US-China: Temperature rising

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.

Action on forced labor in Xinjiang: Also on September 14, US Customs and Border Protection issued import bans on computer parts, clothing, cotton, and hair products made at five facilities in China's Xinjiang region following accusations that they're made by slave labor. Xinjiang is home to most of China's Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, and Beijing has faced accusations from multiple countries that much of this population has been forced into internment camps. The economic impact of this action is limited, but China has reason to fear that other governments might follow the US' lead.

US strikes China's Belt and Road project: On September 15, the US Treasury Department unveiled sanctions against Union Development Group, a state-owned Chinese company, for the seizure and demolition of land in Cambodia as part of a construction project associated with China's Belt and Road Initiative. Here too the economic impact will be limited, but this is the first time the US has issued this type of sanction for actions directly related to China's signature international investment and development project.

US ban on China's TikTok and WeChat: On September 18, the Trump administration moved to block WeChat and TikTok from operating in the US on national security grounds, setting up a long legal battle. For now, a tentative deal involving US firms Oracle and Walmart will allow US downloads of TikTok to continue, but confusion within the administration over its terms could still kill it.

New tensions over Taiwan: On September 19, US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach visited Taiwan, which Beijing insists is a renegade Chinese province, to attend a memorial for former president Lee Teng-hui, and to discuss the opening of a new US-Taiwan Economic and Commercial Dialogue. Krach is the second notable US visitor to the island in two months. In both cases, Beijing responded with a show of force, this week by launching military exercises and sending 16 fighter jets and two bombers careening through Taiwan's airspace. The US is reportedly also considering the sale of long-range missiles to Taiwan in the coming weeks. China has responded with threats of sanctions against US companies.

China flashes a trade weapon: Beijing faces domestic pressure to push back harder on the tougher Trump administration line. On September 19, China's Commerce Ministry took a big step in that direction. By publishing a "Provisions on the Unreliable Entities List," the Chinese government issued a stern warning that further steps to block supplies of critical technologies to Chinese companies will draw retaliation against at least one high-profile US firm. More multinationals may find themselves caught in the crossfire.

A turning point? All this comes in the lead up to a US election that will prove pivotal for the world's most important bilateral relationship. How will the outcome change things? China would love to know.

The current Cold War logic suggests that if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins, China may test him to look for signals of a change in US strategy. If President Trump is re-elected, these latest escalations might prove a sign of bigger fights to come.

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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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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Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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