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We don’t get it: Does the US expect its allies to choose between the US and China or not?
Just a few months ago, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken promised that, although the two countries are in a deepening rivalry over trade, technology and values, Washington «won’t force allies into an ‘us-or-them’ choice with China.»
But as we noted yesterday, it seems that during a recent trip to Brasilia, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan gave the impression that if Brazil were to ban Huawei from its national 5G auctions later this year, there could be a NATO partnership in it for Brasilia.
The US state department denied that there was a clear quid pro quo — naturally, we shudder to hear those three words again — but Washington certainly appears to be mounting a full-court press to enlist the support of Latin America’s largest economy when it comes to facing down the US’ «most serious competitor.»
For background, under presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the US has been making the (not entirely crazy) case to allies that it’s foolish to allow their most critical communications infrastructure to be built by a company under the influence of a government that they could, one day, be in open conflict with. (The US is, of course, hoping those allies will forget credible accusations that the US has itself spied on its allies.)
But the Brazil case is trickier than most.
Yes, far-right former army captain Bolsonaro and his supporters have an intense ideological aversion to communist China. And if a NATO partnership were on the table, it would be great to have ties to the most powerful military alliance in history ]— even if, as Eurasia Group Brazil expert Silvio Cascione pointed out to us, Brazil hasn’t waged a war along its borders in 120 years.
Still, the downside for Brazil of cutting Huawei out of its 5G network could be immense. For one thing, all of Brazil’s major telecoms companies — which have used Huawei tech for more than two decades — bitterly oppose the move. Last year, they refused to meet with a US official who showed up to talk smack about the Chinese company. That’s because Brazil’s telcos already use relatively inexpensive Huawei equipment in more than half of their networks, according to a study from last year, and the costs of using comparable European or US-made stuff for new 5G networks would be immense. Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão, seen as a moderating force in the presidential palace, agrees.
More broadly, China could inflict serious harm on the Brazilian economy in response. China has been Brazil’s largest trade partner for more than a decade, accounting for about a third of the country’s total exports. Much of that comes from Brazil’s powerful agriculture sector, which doesn’t want to see any ripples in the relationship (even if their friends in the manufacturing sector are furious at Chinese companies for undercutting them on price in recent years.)
But the tradeoffs here aren’t Brazil’s alone. There’s also a circle that needs to be squared on the US side, and it has to do with the Biden administration’s «values agenda.» This White House has made a point of putting support for democracies back into US foreign policy after the rougher realism of the Trump era. But as Sullivan surely is aware, one of the most brazen assaults on democratic institutions in the world right now is happening in… Brazil.
With polls showing that Bolsonaro — who has badly mishandled the pandemic and is now facing corruption allegations — could get trounced in next year’s presidential election, he’s spent weeks questioning, without evidence, the integrity of Brazil’s voting system. Brazil’s highest court is launching a probe into his claims, while he is calling that court’s top justice a «son of a whore.» This is clearly preparation for a possible Trump-style election rejection next year. And as Cascione has warned, a January 6th crisis in Brazil is absolutely possible.
In recent weeks, countries as varied as Canada and the US, Iran, Turkey and Greece have experienced some of the worst heat waves, droughts, and wildfires in decades. Meanwhile, unprecedented torrential rain and floods have hit China and Germany. These climate-related disasters have killed scores of people, left thousands homeless, and cost billions from damaged infrastructure and property.
As Elizabeth Kolbert told us a few months ago, we’re screwed unless we all do something about climate right now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees.
The IPCC, which represents the world’s top climate scientists and is backed by national governments, published on Monday its first review of climate science since 2013. For the first time, the IPPC now says that climate change is unequivocally caused by humans, and that it’s directly linked to the extreme weather events we’re seeing recently.
First, some bad news. The latest data show that global surface temperatures have risen faster since 1970 than in any other half century in the past two millennia. And the IPCC warns that some of the damage will be permanent: in two decades it’ll be an average 1.5 degrees Celsius hotter than during 1850-1900. We’re getting close to various «tipping points» — when the planet undergoes abrupt changes in response to global warming that can’t be reversed no matter what we do, like polar ice caps or coral reefs vanishing.
Now some (sort of) good news. The IPCC says that maybe, just maybe, it’s not too late to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. For that to happen, though, the world must halve its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and for all countries to attain «net zero» emissions — taking as much carbon out of the atmosphere as putting into it — by 2050.
So, what’ll it take to actually get this done?
Between countries, governments will need to work together a lot more closely than they have in a long time to agree on ways for all nations to do their part — and sustain such efforts over time.
Among the top polluters, to meet the IPCC’s 2050 deadline the US and the EU will have to convince China to go «net zero» a decade earlier than Beijing now plans to, and perhaps offer India the cash Delhi has long demanded for poor countries that have polluted far less per capita yet are now being asked to cut emissions by as much as rich industrialized nations. The Chinese and Indians will likely need assurances that Americans and Europeans won’t back out later on (like the US having to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate deal signed by Obama but later cancelled by Trump.)
Climate activists like Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate say nations in Africa — which is barely responsible for causing climate change but will suffer some of its worst effects — will need incentives from wealthy countries to pursue green growth. So will crucial middle-income economies like Brazil (please stop burning the Amazon) or Indonesia.
Within countries, politicians and citizens will need to find on climate the common ground that’s otherwise absent nowadays. That means that French President Emmanuel Macron and the gilet jaunes will have to figure out how to get rid of diesel without unfairly taxing low-wage workers. In the US, some Republicans may have to acknowledge that climate change is real and back a long-term plan that creates green jobs and invests in sustainable infrastructure, although maybe not as much as the Green New Deal.
Even in China, where debate on climate change is less open than in democracies, Xi Jinping knows that he must strike a balance between burning coal to deliver economic prosperity and investing in alternatives to protect Chinese people from a climate dystopia.
Importantly, the private sector must be on board. Governments don’t pollute nearly as much as companies, especially those in countries with lax regulations. Businesses must come under intense pressure by both lawmakers and consumers to never put profits over the planet, and that they too must all go «net zero.»
What’s more, they should share all the technology they develop to curb emissions, particularly carbon capture and storage.
Is such cooperation even possible right now? The urgent tone in the IPCC report raises the stakes for COP26, the global climate summit to be held in Glasgow in November. It may be the last opportunity we get in the narrow window we still have to come up with a global consensus on how to save the planet from… ourselves.
Donald Trump may have lost the 2020 election, but his greatest hits still draw a big crowd.
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The US has reportedly offered Brazil a NATO partnership in exchange for banning Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G networks. NATO helps those non-members designated as «partners» build their defense capacity, better manage crises, and benefit from NATO’s expertise on counter-terrorism and non-traditional security threats like cyber warfare and piracy. In exchange, partners might be expected to join NATO-led military missions and exchange intelligence. Still, only NATO member countries are entitled to mutual defense by the alliance. We take a look at NATO’s partnership tentacles with 40 non-member nations around the world.
Ian Bremmer shares his insights on the Taliban’s rapid territorial gains, the politics of climate change and two court cases gaining political attention in Canada and China.
Is the US drawdown in Afghanistan going as planned?
Well, yes, in the sense that the US is quickly wrapping up military activities on the ground in Afghanistan, the longest standing war in American history will be over in just a few weeks. Not going as planned in the sense that the Taliban is retaking territory much faster than it had been expected. And the US State Department recently told all Americans living in Afghanistan get the hell out because the Americans can’t protect them. This is embarrassing for the US, but ultimately, a much bigger problem for the Afghans, and of course for other countries in the region, China, India, Pakistan, Iran. I think it will be an embarrassment for Biden on his administration, but on balance, not going to affect him very much politically. Remember, under both Trump and Biden, even Obama, overwhelming majorities in the United States wanted the Americans to get out of Afghanistan.
Are the global wildfires igniting political fires?
Well, I would say that people are paying a lot more attention to how quickly climate change is affecting their direct environment. We’ve seen this in California and Oregon. We’ve seen it in Greece and Turkey, floods as well in China, in Germany, displacing millions of people and creating casualties. And of course, this baseline already quite literally baked in. You saw in the major United Nations report that came out just on Monday this week, this is becoming, I mean, this idea that we are guaranteed to move towards 1.5 degrees centigrade minimum of warming. That means every year what you’re seeing, that’s still probably the best that we’re going to have going forward. And it’s horrible to think about that really for our futures, for our children’s futures, the fact that these disasters are only going to get worse at least for the next 20 to 30 years before we potentially hit a new status quo.
A Chinese court has upheld a Canadian citizen’s death sentence. What message is Beijing trying to send to Ottawa?
Well, this is also when the daughter of the founder of Huawei isn’t having her trial going on. The Chinese government saying the two are absolutely not linked, but of course there is no such thing as coincidence when you have high level political trials in a country that has no rule of law. They want to see the CFO of Huawei declared not guilty and let free. She has been under house arrest now for, I think something like a couple of years now, and of course the US is looking for her extradition. There are also the cases of the two Michaels where you still have not had, even though the cases have gone through, we have not seen a sentencing. And this is in a country where 99% of cases that go through do lead to convictions, criminal cases, so again, no rule of law. These are political decisions and what the Chinese are doing very much linked to how the Canadians decide to act on this case that the Chinese government sees as very much a political football.
Fire and anger spread in Greece: The Greek island of Evia and surrounding areas have been ablaze for almost two weeks now, destroying hundreds of homes and ripping through more than 56,655 hectares of land. As the climate-linked wildfires have spread to the greater Athens area and beyond, public anger with the government has been boiling over, too. Local officials say that the national government has failed to provide adequate support for hard-hit communities, including aerial reinforcement needed to help put out fires raging through the forests. Critics also say that in many places, ill-equipped fire crews are relying on locals to help save homes and forestry from multiple blazes. PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, for his part, apologized (sort of) for any shortcomings in the government response, but said that his government had done whatever it could to tackle a natural disaster of «unprecedented dimensions.» But angry residents pushed back, arguing that despite previous assurances, Athens didn’t invest in recruiting more firefighters, as well as firetrucks and fire bombers even though there has been indication for some time that severe droughts and heatwaves are making wildfires more extreme — and frequent.
US military’s vaccine mandate: In a massive development Monday, the Pentagon said that all active members of the US military — 1.3 million people across several military branches — will be required to get a COVID vaccine no later than mid-September. Those who refuse will face retribution, which could include administrative reprimands or even expulsion. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that going forward, it would be near impossible to deploy unvaccinated US troops in countries with strict vaccination rules. Additionally, a COVID outbreak within the US military would also undermine its ability to aptly respond to dangerous situations. To date, around 65 percent of active-duty personnel are at least partially vaccinated, while that number hovers at a much lower 50 percent for members of the Army. For months, both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the military have been struggling with lower-than-hoped for vaccination rates within their ranks. But legal experts warn that the Biden administration and the Pentagon should brace for pushback in the form of lawsuits from those who refuse to get the shot.
Kim Jong Un’s sister on a rampage: Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea’s supreme leader, is lashing out at South Korea and the US for holding annual joint military drills that Pyongyang demanded be cancelled amid a recent thaw with the South. What’s more, Kim Yo Jong is also threatening more nuclear activity because of Seoul’s drill with Washington, and proceeded to ghost the South Koreans on the bilateral hotline recently reestablished by the two countries a year after Pyongyang cut off communication. To be sure, it’s hard to know what the North Koreans are really thinking, but perhaps Kim Yo Jong’s antics are, at least in part, aimed at the Biden administration, which has shown little interest in engaging with the Kims since Joe Biden became US president, unlike his predecessor. It’s not uncommon for the North Koreans to make outrageous statements when they feel they’re being shafted, nor when they want to deflect attention from serious problems like a COVID-fueled economic crisis or looming famine. Regardless, if this tone continues, the latest détente with the South will likely be short-lived.
227: Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian citizen who in 2014 planned to smuggle 227 kg (500 lb) of methamphetamine from China to Australia, has lost his appeal against the death penalty in China. Ottawa has accused Beijing of using Schellenberg as a pawn amid an ongoing extradition battle involving Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who faces criminal charges in Canada.
65,000: Bangladesh has started vaccinating Rohingya refugees against COVID, and is hoping to vaccinate 65,000 of them (out of 990,000 who fled from neighboring Myanmar) over the next few months. The delta variant is already spreading in the refugee camps and has caused at least 200 deaths at the sprawling Cox’s Bazar.
88: The World Health Organization has identified a case of the highly infectious Marburg virus, linked to Ebola, in the West African country of Guinea. Marburg, which originates in bats, has a fatality rate of 88 percent but the WHO says it doesn’t pose a global risk.
150,000: More than 150,000 Chinese residents have been evacuated from the path of a herd of migrating wild elephants. It’s unclear why the elephants — an endangered species protected by the state — left their habitat in northwest Yunnan province some 17 months ago, but since then Chinese drones have been monitoring the herd’s movements, clearing residents from its path.