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US vs China: Are both sides winning?

US vs China: Are both sides winning?

Anyone with a pulse and a smartphone probably knows by now that the US-China rivalry is heating up these days, and fast. (If you know anyone who doesn't, get them a Signal subscription.)


Let's recap the latest drama between the world's two largest economies. In tech, after squeezing Huawei over 5G, US President Donald Trump now wants to ban TikTok and WeChat. Harsh words — backed up by sanctions — are still flying over China's crackdown on Hong Kong and its repression of the Uighurs. The US has also waded into the South China Sea dispute, closed China's consulate in Houston, and stirred up a hornet's nest by dispatching the highest-ranking official to visit Taiwan in more than 40 years.

Why is this all happening? Because each side, in its own mind, is winning.

Trump's big swipes at China are good electoral politics: Americans' distrust of China is at an all-time high, and one of the (very) few things that Democrats and Republicans agree on these days. What's more, Democrats can't really push back on Trump's China approach now that the US intelligence community has said it believes Beijing prefers a Biden victory in November.

For Beijing, the US undermining Chinese tech companies and slapping sanctions on Chinese officials over "internal" matters feeds President Xi Jinping's nationalist narrative that Washington is preventing China from taking its rightful place as a rising global power. It also explains why Beijing wants to break the (US-dominated) internet, and assert its dominance over all territories where China's rule is contested — including Taiwan.

However, there's one area they seem unlikely to mess with for now. Phase I of the US-China trade deal signed in January was hardly a big win for either side, but enough to pause a rapidly escalating trade war that was hurting both US and Chinese businesses (and consumers).

And despite the increasingly bad blood between the two countries, neither wants to blow up that agreement. Trump knows that if the Chinese reimpose earlier tariffs on US agricultural goods, it could hurt him with key US voters whose support he needs to get reelected. Xi, meanwhile, certainly doesn't want a fresh round of US tariffs to kneecap China's own economy, the only major one that is actually growing while the rest of the world suffers a pandemic-related recession.

But tick, tock… No, not the app. The clock is ticking towards a moment when the current situation between the US and China could change more significantly: November 3, the date of the US presidential election.

Competition between the two powers is virtually assured no matter who comes out on top. But the winner will shape what that rivalry looks like at a critical moment.

A Biden presidency is likely to be more predictable and diplomatic, sure — but also to cobble together a broad and effective global coalition that will stand up to China. If Trump wins, the president will probably feel vindicated by his policy so far, and emboldened to hit China even harder, though with less global help. Stay tuned.

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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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