RISK: The Oracle Online with Ian Bremmer

The bestselling author and risk guru connects the dots between Putin and Beijing's growing influence

The cliche goes that when you go to university, you’ll solve the problems of the world after hours in a bohemian cafe. Ian Bremmer has long been out of college, but he gets to analyze, if not solve, the problems of the entire world with laser-like intensity. And his successful risk consultancy, the Eurasia Group, doesn’t operate from a table in New York’s Greenwich Village but in prime offices on Fifth Avenue.

Bremmer is our Oracle for the upcoming issue of Corporate Risk Canada, but a conversation with Bremmer yields so much we thought we’d give part of it early.

He clearly keeps his eye on China, a country of paradoxes: one that he and others fully expect to become the word’s largest economy yet is still a developing nation, one with widespread poverty and an authoritarian state apparatus, yet collecting big on American debt.

“The state is the principal actor in the economy,” he reminds me, a theme in his book, The End of the Free Market. “The difference between that and the U.S. is enormous, and the concerns that [it] raises for the geopolitical volatility, and the impact on the marketplace is massive. It is by far the biggest question out there.

China doesn’t hold dominion over many countries at the moment, he explains, but in about a decade, the club will include some very big nations that will matter a lot. The ability for China to offer a blunt “no” to American global institutions “and build their own as alternatives… including the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, that’s enormously important, and everybody needs to pay attention to that.”

I wondered if he had in mind the African nations where China, ever hungry for commodities, has gained quite a foothold.

“They’re very big in Africa,” answers Bremmer, “but the countries right now that they truly dominate in Africa are ones that the United States and the Western countries haven’t done much in. China’s now sending peacekeepers to South Sudan, and that’s because they’re the only country that really has any commercial interests in that country. South Sudan’s falling apart. It’s a disaster, and China’s actually going to send 800 soldiers on the ground. They don’t usually do that. This is by far the largest peacekeeping mission the Chinese have ever had, and usually they’re engineers and they’re doctors, stuff like that.”

He expects that as China grows, its influence will extend beyond “very corrupt, authoritarian and fairly brittle states that have commodities” to larger domains.

“It’s not a surprise that as China grows, the first countries they have the most control over are the ones that everyone else couldn’t be bothered with. Russia is interesting. It’s potentially a game changer, but of course the reason why the Chinese are developing so much influence over Russia so quickly, is precisely because Putin’s doing everything possible to help make his country into a basket case.”

If he’s going to throw out a description like that, we obviously can’t leave it there—we need him to elaborate. Bremmer concedes the obvious, that Putin “has consolidated power massively in the hands of one person. Russia’s a petro-state, but they’ve done a horrible job of actually bringing foreign direct investment into the country and diversifying the economy, and now yes, the West has mishandled Ukraine, but so has Putin, and those sanction combined with the lower oil prices is putting him in a pretty difficult position, where his only choice is to align himself with China.”

 For more great geopolitical analysis with Ian Bremmer, look for the upcoming issue of Corporate Risk Canada and read our Oracle feature, Crowd Atlas.


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