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‘There are so many countries’ that have handled COVID-19 better than the U.S.: Ian Bremmer

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Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, joined Yahoo Finace Live to discuss his latest 'State of The World' outlook for 2021 and his outlook for Biden's presidency.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: Let's turn our attention to a lot that's happening in 2020 as we get ready for 2021. We're going to do that with Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group. He's joining us now to discuss the state of the world and what we can expect in 2021.

Ian, good to have you here.

IAN BREMMER: Sure. My pleasure.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Also want to let everybody know that our reporter Aarthi Swaminathan is joining us in this discussion. Ian, I want to start out with a big theme you talk about and that's G-Zero. The last time I think you said the G20 ever did anything on a global scale together was the Great Recession, nada since. And now you have this concept of G-Zero. Tell us more about that and what it means for us.

IAN BREMMER: Yeah, I mean, 2008 was the last major global crisis we had, and we set up the G20 so that all of the major leaders of the big economies around the world would work together, try to avoid a depression. This time around, the biggest crisis of your lifetime, of my lifetime, the G7 didn't even meet this year. The G20 has been completely absent. It's been every nation for itself in terms of supply chain response, economic response, vaccine response.

I mean, the United States is all about America First. We said we're leaving the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic, which is kind of an obscenity, but-- but clearly reflects that we're going to pay attention to what we need. And the fact is that with a global crisis economically, a global pandemic, you'd like to see a level of coordination and cooperation. It would make it much easier to get out of this crisis, and we don't have that. We don't have it domestically in the United States with our red versus blue states and the worst--


IAN BREMMER: --election outcome since 1876. The EU is going through Brexit, and they may or may not going to crash out, we'll find shortly. And the Chinese, you know, by far the country that's been most successful in coming out of the crisis economically. But you know, the level of mistrust of China, even as a lot of countries around the world don't particularly like America first and Trump, has actually grown dramatically on the back--


IAN BREMMER: --of this pandemic.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Let me-- I want to break all of this down, because we're going to talk about in this order. We want to talk about COVID. We want to talk about China and its aggressive ascendancy, the USA and the Biden election. Let's start first with COVID because, as you point out, it's accelerated important global changes already underway.

It's also eroding democratic legitimacy and outdated global institutions. It's also speeding up the tech disruption. So as far as COVID-19 is concerned, are you more concerned here in the United States with the K-shaped recovery and how that's advantaging the rich and disadvantages to the poor?

IAN BREMMER: It depends on what lens you want me to use. I mean, if you talk about global power, I'm not much concerned about it at all, because despite the fact that we're disenfranchising lots of Americans, look around the world. People still believe in the US markets and the US dollar, the US banks, the US tech companies, our energy production capability, our military defense. So I don't think that the United States is being seen as a less attractive investment because we're disenfranchising large percentages of our population.

But when I think about the future of my country and what that country means, the average American no longer believes that the institutions actually work for them, and so you get massive anti-establishment sentiment. You get an election of Donald Trump as president. You get people that increasingly believe that their own institutions don't work.

And even though other countries around the world believe in the US dollar and would want to send their kids to American universities, nobody looks at the US and says, I want my political system to look like that. In 1989 when the Wall came down, they did think that. '91 when the Soviet Union collapsed, they did think that, because our ideas were better. So that-- there is this deep structural challenge and Biden becoming president doesn't suddenly fix any of that, even-- even if his inclination is to be much more of a unifying force.

AARTHI SWAMINATHAN: Ian, so when you look at how the US has handled the COVID crisis, when you look at some country like Taiwan, basically less than 10 cases in a day, and then factor in all of what you said, does this undermine US soft power in the longer term?

IAN BREMMER: I think that there are so many countries around the world that have done a better job responding to coronavirus than the United States, poor countries, rich countries, left-wing government, right-wing government, communists like Vietnam, Democratic like, you know, South Korea or Canada. But what all of those countries did is they led in a unifying way. They led with science and expertise, as opposed to politicizing the disease.

In the United States, not only did it happen with a president who is a maximally divisive character and it happened in the middle of an election cycle making it much worse, but the leadership just maximally divided, maximally partisan. And that meant that we were blaming ourselves and each other and blaming China and weren't coming together as a nation. And so right now you're almost 300,000 dead. And by the time Biden becomes president on January 20, we're probably closer to 500,000. That's-- again, it's astonishing to think about.

Having said all of that, our economic response has been pretty good. Democrats all say Jay Powell has been fantastic as Fed Chair, despite the fact he was appointed by Trump. And in terms of vaccines, we are in a better place than any epidemiologist had dared to hope.

And Operation Warp Speed made a very big difference, largely the US military making that happen. But that was a Trump administration policy. So you know, as angry as we can be with the failings of the United States, in spite of that, there were still some bright spots that are worth mentioning.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So Ian, I want to talk specifically about what you're saying in regards to China, because you point out that recent research, I think it was Pew, found that among some economic leaders in European countries and in Australia, they consider China the world's leading economic power. What does that mean for us, the trade war? And then how would the Chinese react if Pete Buttigieg were to be named the ambassador to China?

IAN BREMMER: I don't think they'd care. I think the ambassador to China doesn't matter a whole hell of a lot. The Trump versus Biden story was a lot more challenging. I'm not sure that Mayor Pete should want that job, because the US-China relationship is really in a difficult position right now and probably going to get worse. And I don't think the US ambassador to Beijing can do much about it. And so since Mayor Pete clearly has ambitions for '24 and beyond, I think he'd be much better off in a position that he can be successful at.

But leaving that aside, the-- the Chinese are definitely much more powerful today than they were five years ago. Their economy has grown. It has grown this year, the only major economy to grow this year. And their ability to surveil, and crackdown, and quarantine on the back of coronavirus, once they stopped the cover up for the first few weeks, is astonishing at a country of scale.

Not only that, but they have now been so able to crush down human-to-human transmission in cases that they can actually export a lot of their vaccine. And their vaccine has now shown 86% effectiveness. And you don't need to freeze it. It's just being refrigerated.

So in 2021 what we're going to see is China sending a lot of vaccines to the developing world. They will have surplus, and it'll be usable by poor and middle-income countries. And the influence that China will have as a consequence of that is very high.

There will also be backlash from many countries around the world that really don't trust the Chinese government and don't want a world that's led more by a resurgent Chinese economy. Think about the fights you're seeing right now with India, with Australia, with Canada, over Hong Kong, over Taiwan, in the South China Sea. Never mind with the United States, these are not going away as China becomes more powerful, they're actually growing.

AARTHI SWAMINATHAN: It's interesting you bring up the South China Sea. I also want to bring up the Belt and Road Initiative, which China has been pushing so much. But I'm very curious, do you think a Biden administration is going to be more conciliatory or more aggressive? Also want to throw in North Korea, as well, how do you think that relationship is going to transition?

IAN BREMMER: No, I don't think Biden is going to be more conciliatory. I think he'll be less volatile, because the policy will not be made, you know, sort of randomly on the back of a presidential tweet. The administration will be rowing in the same direction.

They're not a team of rivals. They're kind of like a team of buddies, if you will, where under Trump, you could talk to Lighthizer, you could talk to Mnuchin. But you know, if Trump made a call, suddenly everybody had to go and follow Trump.

But if you talk about the places where the US-China relationship is pretty broken, like on 5G, for example, or the South China Sea, the orientation of Biden and his team is pretty identical to that of Trump. They will want to coordinate more with US allies, hoping that American power and ability to influence Chinese behavior will be made greater when it's not just the United States leading the charge. So that's-- that's a difference.

The other difference, of course, is that the United States under Biden will be much more focused on rejoining multilateral institutions like the Paris Climate Accord, like the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement, like the World Health Organization. So there'll be more contact with the Chinese in these multilateral settings. That could normalize the relationship a bit.

Finally, you've got a big push on climate from Biden. You had the opposite from that under Trump. Now, the Chinese government understands that that's where the future is, and they are trying to build a post-carbon economy.

But they also increasingly lead the world in many of those technologies, for example, you know, electric-- electric vehicle infrastructure, or nuclear development, or solar, or wind, and that could end up being an area of great competition with the US under the Biden administration. It doesn't necessarily open a new avenue of harmonious cooperation between the two largest economies. Oh, and North Korea--

ADAM SHAPIRO: Ian Bremmer is president--

IAN BREMMER: --you asked-- OK. Sure.

ADAM SHAPIRO: You want to finish up on North Korea? Give us [INAUDIBLE] real quick, Ian, on North Korea.

IAN BREMMER: Yeah, what the hell. No, she asked about North Korea, and it's not like I was ignoring you. The fact is that no one knows whether the North Koreans prefer Biden or Trump. They got their summits under Trump, but nothing-- nothing beyond that. And American sanctions against North Korea today under Trump remain every bit as robust as they were under Obama.

I do think that the North Koreans usually like to take periods of uncertainty to improve the lay of the land to their advantage. So I would not be surprised if before Biden's inauguration, if the North Koreans were to launch, test an ICBM, which has been a red line for the Americans, but then it's something addition-- additional they can negotiate with--


IAN BREMMER: --from a position of more strength when Biden comes in. They don't like being out of the headlines for this long. So I wouldn't be surprised if they make a couple before Biden becomes president.

ADAM SHAPIRO: A launch in time for Christmas. Ian Bremmer, thank you so much. You are the President of the Eurasia Group, as well as GZERO Media. And of course, Aarthi Swaminathan, who is a reporter here at Yahoo Finance.