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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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As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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