Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Xi dreamed a dream of China’s rise…

Ian Bremmer
Mar 20, 2013 20:35 UTC

China’s new president, Xi Jinping, gave his big inaugural address last week, talking at length about the “Chinese Dream.” He said: “We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

All that talk of ‘great this’ and ‘great that’ should sound familiar to Americans—it’s the same exceptionalism that their leaders espouse during any major national address. Both the American Dream and the Chinese Dream are patriotism without the isolationism—clarion calls for the nation as well as the individual. For America, it’s about holding on (or reasserting) its claim as the world’s foremost nation. For China, it’s about wresting that title away—or at least providing an alternative prototype that other nations can follow.

If China wants to become the world’s foremost country, it’ll mean jettisoning its more isolationist approach to foreign affairs. For 10 years we’ve heard Chinese officials say that they can’t intervene. We’re too poor; we’re still developing. In 2007, then-president Wen Jiabao described China’s economic growth as “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” But now that the financial crisis has exposed cracks in the Western capitalist model and China appears destined to one day overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy, China can’t stay on the sidelines anymore. It needs to secure its economic interests in every corner of the globe—and that will mean sometimes getting its hands dirty.

And so, I suspect in the near future you’ll see China’s formal renunciation of its policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries. That doesn’t mean it’s going to finally engage in all of the crises that the United States has been hoping it would. When I met with Chinese officials recently, I asked:  “So the British, the Soviets, and the Americans have had their turn in Afghanistan. Is it time for China’s?”  They were unenthusiastic, to put it mildly. Don’t expect more than an economic interest to arise in Beijing. And when China does choose to intervene, don’t expect it to do so in the way that the U.S. is hoping it will. China has its own thoughts on how things should be done.

The greatest hint of what’s to come appeared in China People’s Daily, the news outlet that doubles as a mouthpiece for the Communist Party. “Western universal values have suffocated diversity in the world in modern times,” it wrote before Xi’s speech. China sees its imminent ascension as a way to offer an alternative to Western hegemony: If market capitalism isn’t for you, that’s OK; there’s another way. 

China shouldn’t leave Kim Jong-un alone

Ian Bremmer
Mar 13, 2013 16:18 UTC

Tensions are running high on the Korean Peninsula, and instability is coming if it’s not already there. North Korea is declaring that truces no longer apply, claiming that the UN is faking its report on North Korean human rights abuses and threatening “thermonuclear war” against its aggressors.

I was in China last week, where I met with senior Chinese foreign policy officials who told me they don’t have the influence over North Korea they once had. There’s a self-promotional reason to say the situation is increasingly out of their hands – it insulates them from pressure to play a leading role in punishing miscreant North Korean behavior.  But I think we should start to believe them. Thus far, the normal Chinese channels have not worked. The officials told me that China has resorted to unofficial contacts – through business leaders, informal contacts, etc. – to try to pass on the word to Pyongyang. Mao Zedong famously once called China and North Korea’s relationship as “close as lips and teeth.” Today, when it comes to private bilateral communication, it seems Pyongyang’s lips are sealed, and China’s teeth are grinding.

How, then, do you solve a problem like Dear Leader? There are some within China asking whether the Chinese should break off contact altogether. A senior Communist Party official claimed that delegates discussed whether to “keep or dump” North Korea at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in early March. In a Financial Times piece entitled “China Should Abandon North Korea,” the deputy editor of the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party argued that the China-North Korea alliance was “outdated” and that “nuclear blackmail” from Pyongyang in the future couldn’t be ruled out. The silent treatment would be a last-ditch attempt to get North Korea’s attention by calling its bluff.

The top 10 grudges in the G-20

Ian Bremmer
Mar 7, 2013 20:14 UTC

The G-20 is no happy family. Comprised of 19 countries and the European Union, once the urgency of the financial crisis waned, so too did the level of collaboration among members. Unlike the cozier G-7 — filled with likeminded nations — the G-20 is a better representation of the true global balance of power … and the tensions therein. So where are the deepest fault lines in the G-20? 

Below is a ranking* of the 10 worst bilateral relationships in the G20. Russia is in four of the worst, while China is in three (although Russia and China’s relationship is fine). Several countries are also in two of the worst relationships: the United States (with the two belligerents mentioned above), Japan, the UK and the EU. 

1.   China–Japan

China and Japan have a historically troubled relationship, which has reached its most contentious point in decades as their dispute over territorial claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has escalated, leading to renewed geopolitical tensions and possible confrontation. When the world’s second- and third-largest economies are butting heads, it carries huge global ramifications.

Culture of silence

Ian Bremmer
Feb 19, 2013 19:41 UTC

American companies are at war, but don’t ask them why. They won’t tell. They’re besieged not by one another, but by hackers who target their intellectual property and confidential information. Just how deep this cyberwar goes is largely unknown to all but the companies being targeted. That’s because they are staying silent in an effort to not aggravate the countries in which they are being hacked. China is the site of the most cyber-aggression, and in many instances, the biggest opportunity for many businesses. Companies are turning the other cheek in an attempt to turn another check.

If the companies are not talking, how do we know it’s happening? Because the U.S. government has noticed.  On Tuesday, The New York Times ran a piece highlighting the link between anti-U.S. cyberattacks and the Chinese military.  In the Washington Post last week, word leaked that the United States has put out a National Intelligence Estimate that “identifies China as the country most aggressively seeking to penetrate the computer systems of American businesses and institutions to gain access to data that could be used for economic gain.”

This is the front in the U.S. cyberwar that we’re not winning. We know the U.S. does fine when it comes to its sovereign cyber-warfare, waged on a state-to-state platform.  Take Stuxnet — the US/Israel initiative to destroy Iranian nuclear centrifuges through a complex cyberattack (not to mention an odd follow-up that purportedly blasted AC/DC’s ”Thunderstruck” at odd hours). But when it comes to corporate sabotage and espionage, the United States is far less experienced than China. Blame free-market capitalism: The U.S. government does not intervene on the private sector’s behalf to obtain information that would benefit the economy. China, however, is far more adept at this because of its use of state capitalism (a system in which the state uses markets to create wealth that can consolidate its hold on power).

Too much of a good thing: the risks of information

Ian Bremmer
Jan 23, 2013 17:53 UTC

Another year, another Davos. Last year’s World Economic Forum was overwhelmingly about Europe’s existential crisis. But Europe has quieted down, at least for now, and so we’re entering the first non-crisis Davos in years. But that doesn’t mean things have settled into, as Mohamed El-Erian puts it, a ‘new normal.’ It remains difficult to find markets with good risk/return, or an area of the world without serious geopolitical tensions. 

Faced with this ‘new abnormal,’ where the only certainty is that shocks will arise from unexpected places, what is this year’s Davos about? 

Everything and nothing. The United States, the Middle East, emerging markets, Japan – all of these are on the agenda, but they’re not all necessarily connected. The emissaries at Davos are in the midst of their own locavore movement – their agendas are remarkably domestic.

2013′s top 10 political risks

Ian Bremmer
Jan 8, 2013 16:18 UTC

It was a close call at times, but we made it through 2012. Now we’re set to encounter a new set of risks ‑ but not in the world’s advanced industrialized democracies, which are much more resilient than feared. This year, with the global recession on the wane, attention shifts back to emerging markets, the economies that are usually the ones that pose the most political risk. You can read the whole report from my political risk firm, Eurasia Group, here, but an executive summary of this year’s top 10 risks, in video and text, is below:

10.) South Africa: Africa overall looks like it will continue its recent growth. But South Africa, one of the continent’s most complex and important economies, is floundering. Its dominant political party, the African National Congress, is resorting to populism to maintain its base among the urban and rural poor. That means more state intervention, more labor unrest and more assertive unions. We’re not predicting a fundamental political crisis, but the country is moving along a path that offers little reason for optimism.

9.) India: We’ve all read the predictions that India is poised to become the world’s next infinite-growth country. Not so fast. Despite initial optimism, the 2009 election hasn’t freed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reform the country as anticipated, with the tough choices continually being kicked to the next parliamentary session. (Americans should find this familiar.) Corruption continues to reign, and as we’ve seen in the rape protests of the past few weeks, there are fundamental cultural issues that India has yet to resolve. As general elections draw closer, the government’s ability to execute robust economic policies will decline even further.

The three 2012 themes that matter most

Ian Bremmer
Dec 27, 2012 15:47 UTC

2012 – the year of the primary, the election, the Diamond Jubilee, the superstorm, the flying dictator, the escaped dissident, the embassy attack, the empty chair, the tech protest, the Olympics, and dozens of other stories already forgotten. It was a busy year and a terribly volatile one, too. Which of these stories will actually matter five years from now? By my count, three:

1)     China rising

2)     The Middle East in turmoil

3)     Europe muddling along

They’re the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2012.

The Good: For the sake of our listless global economy, thank goodness for China’s rise. The country’s Commerce Minister is promising that China will hit its GDP growth target of 7.5 percent for the year. (In the first three quarters of 2012, it grew 7.7 percent.) China’s ability to power through the financial crisis provided global markets with much-needed energy, and its momentum, despite the crisis in the Eurozone, a key trade partner, has helped limit the damage. If it wasn’t for the resilience of the world’s second-largest economy, we’d all be a lot worse off.

The Bad: In 2012, almost every key story in the Middle East has gotten more complicated and more dangerous. Syria, Israel, Gaza, Iran, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt. Israel has become increasingly isolated within the region, facing Palestinian rockets, a nuclear-driven Iran, and the prime minister of a former ally dubbing it ‘a terrorist state’. Egypt’s president pulled off a power play, and the Syrian nightmare deepened. Iraqis struggled to build a new society in the wake of U.S. withdrawal, and (supposedly allied) Afghans killed a record number of U.S. troops before they could reach the exits. When the Arab Spring first began to take shape, many observers hoped it would be just that – a rebirth. But you can’t spin it now. It’s bad and getting worse.

China is the elephant in the situation room

Ian Bremmer
Dec 24, 2012 17:21 UTC

Earlier this month the National Intelligence Council released its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report — a document that comes out once per presidential administration — mapping out likely geopolitical trends over the next two decades or so. As usual, it’s a must-read, offering comprehensive analysis of the disparate factors that will drive global politics through 2030.

Further, the NIC took bold steps to correct some previous weaknesses in past reports. In the past the report nailed the “what” more often than the “when.” That is particularly the case with its treatment of the United States, for which “past works assumed U.S. centrality.” This time around the NIC sets an increasingly “multi-polar world” — which I call the G-Zero — as the backdrop of its report, acknowledging that the lack of global leadership has accelerated in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008-09. America’s status as a “hegemonic power” is eroding, and no country is likely to take its place.

This multipolar world is the foundation for the rest of the NIC’s predictions. The report is organized around subsections that range in probability: There are the megatrends that are sure to have an effect, the game-changers that could go a number of ways, and the four potential worlds of 2030.

In a year of big elections, Japan’s was Godzilla

Ian Bremmer
Dec 20, 2012 05:14 UTC

Entering 2012, we were staring at a host of critical elections and transitions in countries that represent about half the world’s gross domestic product. You would think those elections and political handovers would have been some of the most important events of 2012. Yet they were largely red herrings.

In China, the consensus view is that even with a change of leadership, China is largely the same as it was; if anything, the Chinese leadership has doubled down on the approaches of its former government. In Russia, Vladimir Putin went from running the country as prime minister to running the country as president. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy was voted out and a socialist, François Hollande, voted in, but that hasn’t changed France’s stance toward the European Union, its most important relationship. And in the U.S., Barack Obama swatted aside Mitt Romney while Congress remained divided, making four more years of the status quo likely.

Yet in one major economy an election really did matter, and really will change the way a country behaves in the global arena. That place was … Japan.

What do we know about China’s new leadership?

Ian Bremmer
Nov 28, 2012 21:19 UTC

As China obsessives know, it is tough to read tea leaves when the water is as opaque as that surrounding China’s Politburo. In the wake of the Chinese leadership transition, we’re left to sift through the news in search of answers. There is plenty we do not know about the process or what its outcome will bring, but when it comes to underlying themes we can understand, it is possible to make some predictions.

Start with solidarity. In the most telling example of Chinese political unity, the Politburo, the elite political body that makes all of China’s major decisions, went from nine people to seven to consolidate control of the political process. The Communist Party is now more unified than before and is less likely to tolerate dissent from within. The stability of the Communist Party is paramount. All else will fall in line.

Note what happens to those who don’t. If the Bo Xilai incident demonstrated anything, it’s that, in China, nails that stick up will be hammered down. There is no room for leaders who stray from the party platform.

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