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.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

Ian Bremmer explains how a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 1969, set the conservation movement ablaze in the United States. A TIME Magazine article about the fire led to the Clean Water Act, creation of the EPA, and the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970. Over 50 years later, citizens of the world agree that climate change is a global emergency. But how can nations come together to find solutions that are truly attainable?

Watch the GZERO World episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

US President Joe Biden's highly anticipated two-day climate summit opens on Thursday, when dozens of world leaders and bigshot CEOs will gather (virtually) to try to save the planet. Above all, the US is looking to showcase the idea that "America is back" on climate change. But will other countries buy it?

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55: EU governments on Wednesday reached a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment is in line with the bloc's broader goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

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