Through much of the pandemic, we’ve felt somewhat confident on what we should be doing to protect ourselves and society, here in the U.S. and around the world. We were fortunate that we had a job where we could work from home. When we went to the store, we wore a mask, and once they were available, a K95 mask. As soon as we were allowed we got a vaccination. Early on we advocated for testing, tracing and centrally isolating. That is a time proven measure for dealing with pandemics and worked in countries that implemented it. The U.S. did not do so. We wanted to see vaccines approved quickly and spend as much money as needed to build up manufacturing for the U.S. and the world. How many times did we write, “No one gets out of the pandemic until everybody is out of the pandemic?”
But now, with the Delta variant, we are far less confident in our personal choices and in policies to pursue. It is not clear how effective masks are against the Delta variant. They are likely less effective but presumably provide some measure of protection for the wearer and for people around them. We still would like to see testing, tracing and centrally isolating but with infection rates so high and testing low that is currently not feasible. We still think we should be spending hundreds of billions to further ramp up vaccine manufacturing which would ultimately save trillions of dollars. But should we get booster shots? The data is not entirely clear and we are in no position to judge. The same is true for adjusting the vaccines to make them more effective against variants. We are still confident that we need to vaccinate the world but we are not certain how to convince those unwilling to be vaccinated how to change their minds.
In the Age of Delta, often we use the words we called in our book Challenging China the three most underused in the English language: “I don’t know.” But we do know there is actually some hope in the IPCC climate change report, who is investing in Southeast Asia and that China faces challenges in Pakistan. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, drumming like Charlie Watts on the ins and outs of our rotating globe.
Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.
Challenging But Not Hopeless
Understandably, people were concerned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recently released report, with the head of the United Nation’s calling it a “code red” alert. The world should react with concern and take more active steps to combat climate change but we also shouldn’t lose sight of the progress that has been made. Yes, believe it or not, the world has made progress as you can see in the Our World in Data graph below. If the world had not implemented climate change policies over the last 20 years and if there had not been technological progress in a host of areas, then the world would be on track for temperature increases of between 4.1 and 4.8 Celsius by 2100. But we did, and we have. Under current policies, temperatures are modeled to increase by 2.7-3.1 Celsius. That’s not good and we have far more to do to avoid those increases, but the trend is better than it was ten years ago. And good news continues to arrive in solar generation and storage advancements. India reached a milestone in installing 100gw of renewable energy generation and GDP growth is decoupling from carbon emissions to name just two examples. The IPCC report informs us on the seriousness of the problem but perhaps just as important is informing on the progress we have made so that people understand it is possible to meet the challenge. Hopelessness is not a good strategy.
Investment in Southeast Asia
The Delta variant is making our trip to Vietnam in December seem more unlikely. We were looking forward to seeing our colleagues, eating good food and seeing up close this increasingly crucial region. Because of China’s authoritarian rise, Southeast Asia is one of the most important geopolitical regions in the world (as we’ve noted before, Vietnam is one of the four most important countries in the world). It’s easy to think of China being the most influential economy in Southeast Asia and it is certainly its largest trading partner, but it is not yet the largest investor. Australia National University’s report, Chinese Investment in Southeast Asia documents that Japan, the EU and often the U.S. are larger investors in Southeast Asia. For example, in 2018, the EU and Japan each invested twice as much in Southeast Asia as China did. In Indonesia, the largest market in Southeast Asia and fourth-most populous country in the world, Japan is by far the largest investor. Perhaps trade is a stronger indicator of a country’s influence on a region, in which case China, as the largest trading partner for Southeast Asia, reigns supreme. But over the last ten years, it pales as an investor. Perhaps that will change over the next decade if China continues to strengthen its economy but we wouldn’t bet on it.
China Corner: Pakistan and China
Many worry how China is interpreting America’s exit from Afghanistan. We see many analysts believing that China will construe America withdrawing from Afghanistan as signaling we will not back Taiwan. In fact, China’s Global Times does exactly that as you see in the Tweet below. Perhaps, though Taiwan and Afghanistan are two very different issues and likely to be treated as such by both China and the U.S. Likely, China’s activities in Afghanistan will be complicated just as they are in Pakistan. Lost in the news shuffle of recent weeks are protests by Pakistanis against China’s Belt and Road projects there, including two suicide bombings. The Hindu reported on a suicide attack “against a motorcade carrying Chinese personnel” in Gwadar, as well as one targeting Chinese workers at the Dasu hydropower project. The Guardian notes “Protests have erupted in Pakistan’s port city Gwadar against a severe shortage of water and electricity and threats to livelihoods, part of a growing backlash against China’s multibillion-dollar belt and road projects in the country.” As we have written before, China’s global ambitions will bring global complications for its leadership.