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The Global Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Biden's Push to Defend Democracy; Europe's Growing COVID Concerns; Aussie Lawmakers Slam Murdoch. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired December 09, 2021 - 17:00   ET


PAULA NEWTON, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome. This is THE GLOBAL BRIEF. I'm Paula Newton, in for Bianca Nobilo.

Tonight, the U.S. president's global push. Joe Biden speaks to the Ukrainian leader and convenes a summit on the state of democracy. We'll

have all the details.

Plus, worrying new COVID numbers right across Europe have governments eyeing new restrictions.


A report in Paris just ahead.

And Australian lawmakers take aim at Rupert Murdoch. We'll tell you about a damning new report.

We begin with a very busy day for U.S. President Joe Biden as he tackles two of the most pressing foreign policy challenges. Now, he talked by phone

with Ukraine's president just a short time ago about the crisis with Russia that's raising alarm right across the West.

Now, according to Ukrainian state media, Mr. Biden told Volodymyr Zelensky that the U.S. will provide the necessary assistance, military, to help

Ukraine, quote, repel external aggression. He also promised top sanctions on Russia if it does invade. Now, President Zelensky says they also

discussed Mr. Biden's video conference with Putin earlier this week. The White House says the U.S. is pursuing a policy of what he calls deterrence

and dialogue to try to de-escalate the situation.

Now, if Russia was not invited to a virtual global summit today hosted by Mr. Biden that's focused, of course, on protecting democracy, a goal Mr.

Biden calls the defining challenge of our time.


CNN White House reporter Kevin Liptak meantime is covering all of these developments and he joins us now live.

Kevin, really good to see you.

This summit was supposed to be a counterpoint, right, to autocrats and yet, Putin and Russia, both in terms of what is going to happen here, this is

very much on Biden's agenda today.

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, Paula, it's really interesting to see the president focus on this theoretical question of

democracy versus autocracy this morning before turning to this kind of real world application later in the day.

Of course, this summit has been something that he's been talking about and planning since even before he became president. He talked at it when he was

a candidate, and it was really designed as a show of force against authoritarian regimes, and kind of sounding the alarm against what the

White House see as Democratic backsliding in countries around the world.

Now, it has generated some controversy. Some countries who weren't invited bike Russia and China say it demonstrates what they call Cold War

mentality. Even some in the United States say that the president shouldn't be focusing on global democracy when there's serious questions about

democracy here in the United States.

The president didn't shy away from those questions. He did address question like voting rights in his speech. But it was that call he had later in the

day about an hour long with President Zelensky of Ukraine that really puts this to the test, and the president in that call was really hoping to

reassure President Zelensky that the president of the United States has Ukraine's back as these Russian forces mass on the border.

The president wanted to coordinate with Zelensky, talk to him about where thing goes from here and to kind of reiterate and read out what the

president told Vladimir Putin in his call from Tuesday, which is that the United States is prepared to wield very withering economic sanctions on

Russia if it decides to go forward with an invasion. But there are a lot of unanswered questions.

One of them is, will the president -- what will the president say to European leaders who are a little skeptical, somewhat skeptical of the

economic ramifications that sanctions could have? The president wants to show a united front against Russia. It's not clear how far European

countries are willing to go. So this conversation, as I said, lasted about an hour long. We're expecting a formal readout later today.

But the president really wanting to tell Zelensky that he has his back here in these uncertain weeks to come -- Paula.

NEWTON: Yeah, and yet in having his back, I know many are wondering what concessions if any were made to Russia.

Kevin, thanks for that update as you continue to get more briefings from the White House. Appreciate it.

And for the other reaction, we want to go to Ukraine for more reaction on that phone call that Kevin was talking about between President Biden and

Volodymyr Zelensky.

CNN's Matthew Chance has covering all of it for us from Kiev.

Matthew, what can you tell us? I mean, Kevin just laid it out there. There were a lot of concerns. You've been saying for days that Ukrainians were

wondering whether or not they'd be thrown turned bus, quote-unquote, by Biden and the White House.

What indications are there about what discussed in that one-hour phone call?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, publicly, the Ukrainians are saying that there were no compromises made by

President Biden to his Russian counterpart in that video call they had a couple days ago that would affect Ukraine's national interest, and they

thanked the United States for standing by Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. But, I mean, behind closed doors, there have been

some anxieties expressed. In fact, I've just come off a briefing with a government official with knowledge of the phone call.


And, you know, he set out some of the things that President Zelensky said to President Biden, which sort of pushes back on this very positive image

that we're all being given about the nature of this phone call and the nature of kind of Ukraine's attitude towards it.

For instance, it's absolutely correct to say that President Biden set out these very tough sanctions that would be imposed on Russia if it were to

invade. But from my officials, what they're telling me here is that actually President Zelensky pushed back on that, saying he didn't believe

in prospective sanctions. We wanted immediate sanctions that could a delayed implementation and then sanctions that could be, you know, the

option of lifting rolling back those sanctions if Russia behaved, you know, well.

There was also some discussion about NATO and, of course, one of the things that Russia has said is it wants legal agreements to prevent NATO from

expanding eastward, therefore allowing Ukraine to join the western military alliance.

President Biden told President Zelensky on this call, again, considered to my source that briefed me on the contents of the phone call, that that was

indeed what was said, and that President Biden did not discuss NATO with Vladimir Putin and said it was still up to you countries to decide

themselves. But he also told President Zelensky that he didn't foresee Ukraine joining the Western military alliance before 2030, a decade away at

least before Ukraine would stand any chance at all of joining.

And so, you know, there was some -- it was a friendly atmosphere we're told, but there were some areas where there's a little bit of tension

between the two countries on this issue of dealing with Russia.

NEWTON: Yeah. And, Matthew, you laid it out well -- the point that they're negotiating with Russia, by definition, Ukraine feels as if some concession

will be made at their expense.

Matthew, appreciate the update there, live for us from Ukraine.

Now, as we mentioned before, the U.S. kicked off its suspect for democracy today with some notable absences. Neither Russia nor China were invited and

it may be obvious they were not.

Still, Beijing is going on a propaganda offensive. Selina Wang tells us how.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, Chinese state media has been working in overdrive to denigrate U.S. President Joe Biden's Summit for

Democracy. China was not invited to the virtual meeting of some 100 countries and it's calling the summit an exercise in hypocrisy, to promote

U.S. homogeny. Making Beijing even more angry is the fact that the U.S. invited Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy that China claims is part of its


On Sunday, China's foreign ministry released a lengthy report attacking American democracy, listing the Capitol riot, Black Lives Matter, and the

country's handling of the pandemic as evidence of its deep-rooted flaws and dysfunction.

Since Biden took office, he's doubled down on building alliances with like- minded partners to counter China's influence. To some, it's part of the broader theme Biden emphasized which is the global competition of the 21st

century is going to be defined by democracies versus autocracies and that the U.S. has a role in ensuring democracies prevail.

This meeting comes after the White House announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year. It was announced earlier this

week over concerns of human right abuses in China. Since then, Australia, the UK, and Canada have joined in. The purpose of the diplomatic boycott is

to hurt the pride of the host nation while still allowing athletes to compete -- Paula.


NEWTON: Selena, thank you for that.

Now, for years, human rights groups and Western nations have accused China of committing grave human rights abuses, accusing Beijing of detaining and

torturing Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. Now, an independent tribunal in London has ruled those acts amount to genocide.


GEOFFREY NICE, UYGHUR TRIBUNAL CHAIR: Xinjiang, parts of the Chinese government, the CCP, hundreds of thousand of Uighurs, to some estimates

well in the excess of a million have been detained by PRC authorities without any or any remotely sufficient reason and subjected to acts of

unconscionable cruelty, depravity and inhumanity.


NEWTON: Now, the tribunal says the mass detentions, torture, rape, and sexual abuse are part of the systematic effort to wipe out the ethic

minority Uighurs and that the effort started at the very top with senior leadership, including President Xi Jinping.

China is responding. Its foreign minute city spokesperson calling the tribunal, quote, a pure anti-China farce.

Turning now to the coronavirus pandemic, and evidence today that the omicron virus variant is taking hold in Africa.


COVID-19 cases across the continent are soaring especially in the southern part of the continent. The World Health Organization official says that

weekly case numbers in that region have now gone up by more than 140 percent, mostly because of a massive surge in South Africa.


DR. RICHARD MIHIGO, COORDINATOR, W.H.O. REGIONAL OFFICE FOR AFRICA: We are in the second week since the identification of the Omicron variant by our

team of scientists in south Africa. The variant has now reached around 60 countries worldwide, ten of which are in Africa. This continent currently

account for the 6 percent of nearly 1,000 cases of omicron variant reported globally.


NEWTON: And important to remember here that the agency's chief scientist tells us the focus right now shouldn't be on boosters, but on getting

everyone their first shots to put this pandemic behind us.


DR. SOUMYA SWAMINATHAN, CHIEF SCIENTIST, W.HO.O: When we take a global view, it's clear that we still have about half the world that has not

received the primary course of vaccination, including the fact that only 1 in 4 health-care workers in Africa have been fully vaccinated. And there

are plenty of people out there that still need to get their first and their second shots.


NEWTON: The Omicron coronavirus variant isn't dominant in Europe, meantime, not yet any way, but health experts expect it will be soon.

Perhaps in just a few weeks' time.

CNN's Jim Bittermann explains what's being done across the region to try to stop this new variant, even as a punishing Delta surge is under way.


JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, governments across Europe are grappling with how best to handle the increasing COVID

numbers they are all facing. Here in France, where nearly 50 percent of ICU beds are now occupied by COVID patients and the new infections over the

past week have been growing to near record numbers, the health minister this morning tried to be reassuring, saying that the rate of growth of the

COVID numbers seems to be slowing and indicating that for now, the government is not planning any further measures than previously announced.

Already, there are rules about social distancing and mask wearing and an increased requirements to carry a health pass. And earlier this week, a

lockdown on discotheques for four weeks.

President Emmanuel Macron said this evening that at the beginning of next week, the government is going to reevaluate the situation.

But elsewhere, further restrictions are already being considered. In Germany, where the infection numbers are the highest ever recorded the new

chancellor, known to favor vaccine mandates, is talking to the premiers of the 16 federal states about what measures need to be taken.

And in neighboring Austria, a vaccine mandate is set to go in place, but not until February. Perhaps, the best COVID news out of Europe came from

the head of the EU's medicines agency, who said more study is needed but cases of the omicron variant appear to be mostly mild -- Paula.


NEWTON: Jim, thank you for that.

And we want to take a look at other key stories making international impact today.

Britain's cabinet secretary will investigate three alleged Christmas parties involving government officials during a strict COVID lockdown last

year. Now, reports of the festivities have engulfed the prime minster who is said to have attended one of those parties.

New Zealand is cracking down on smoking. The country is implementing new measures so that anyone born after 2008 will not be able to legally buy any

tobacco products. The crackdown also includes new laws to lower the levels of nicotine in cigarettes already available to older New Zealanders.

Dozens of crews are battling a bushfire meantime in Western Australia. The flames have burned through thousands of acres and showed no signs of

stopping. Evacuation order is in place for the area and a center has been set up for those forced to flee their homes.

In the meantime, Australian lay-ups going after one of the largest news media companies in the world. A new report blasts Rupert Murdoch's News

Corp for its overwhelming control of Australian media and calls for an inquiry into his practices.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has the details now from Sydney.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Australian lawmakers this Thursday have criticized media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corps, and it's control over

media in this country. Now, this was the result of a yearlong inquiry by an Australian Senate committee, and they found that News Corp. is the

country's, quote, clearest example of a troubling media monopoly.

They did fall short of calling for the company to dilute or sell off any of its assets to address that.


They are recommending there's a judicial inquiry into diversity, ownership, and regulation, pointing out that media regulation in Australia at this

point is not, quote, fit for purpose.

Now this all started from a petition which was initiated by the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, himself not usually enjoying favorable coverage

from News Corp and its affiliates. But he managed to secure more than half a million signatories, and according to this report, that's the largest

electronic petition that's ever been delivered to an Australian parliament. And he is also calling for a royal commission into News Corp's influence on

media in the country.

Now, News Corp at this point has not commented to us on this particular report itself, but earlier in the year during a public hearing, they did

say they believed diversity was about not just ownership but diversity of opinion, and they believed that Australians had access to plenty of

diversity of opinion.


NEWTON: Our thanks there to Paula Hancock.

Still ahead, the defining challenge of our time. President Joe Biden opens a summit for democracy with a stark warning. We'll discuss the state of

democracy around the world and America's role in defending it.


NEWTON: I'm going to return now to our story, President Biden's Summit for Democracy. The two-day gathering will not rescue the system that's sliding

in many parts of the globe, but it does pose interesting questions about the U.S. role as the leader of the free world.

Now, President Biden has had multiple challenges on that front lately. I don't have to remind you, there's Russia, and its potential invasion of

Ukraine, China, its potential invasion of Taiwan, and, of course, its subverting of democracy in Hong Kong.

And then there's Iran and the future of its nuclear program. Not to mention ongoing problems like the ones in Venezuela, North Korea. I really could go


President Biden had this message, though, for those leaders who attack democracy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They seek to advance their own power, export and expand their influence around the world and justify their

repressive policies and practices as a more efficient way to address today's challenges. That's how it's sold.

By voices that seek to fan the flames of social division and political polarization. And perhaps most importantly, and worrying of all, most

worrying of all, by increasing the dissatisfaction of people all around the world with Democratic governments that they feel are failing to deliver for

their needs. In my view, this is the defining challenge of our time.


NEWTON: Julian Zelizer is a CNN political analyst and historian and professor at Princeton University.

Really glad to a sue on the opening day of the summit.

You know, for decades, governments have tried to export the American Democratic experience, right, believing it's superior. Next year, half a

century since Nixon went to China, he wasn't necessarily looking to convert communists, but certainly, there was that thought, right?


That American thought that the arc of history would always bend to freedom and democracy. And yet China's more autocratic than ever. Obama, we saw him

try a charm offensive there. That didn't end well.

The wall came down 30 years ago. It's been 20 years with Putin in power. Some argue he's more autocratic than ever. Middle East democratic movements

have fizzled.

When Biden's trying to take this on right now, what do you think he's trying to get at in terms of trying to move forward with that program?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, it's a herculean task and history shows this is enormously difficult. I mean, there's three things

that happen. One is it's hard to demand that another country changes. And even if we engage a country economically as we've done with China since the

1970s, or even if we two to war as we did in Iraq and topple a regime, it's very hard then to see a democracy flourish because we want it as opposed to

it happening naturally from within.

Second, our history is checkered. We've always supported many autocratic forces and many anti-democratic regimes. So we have not always played a

part in building democracy overseas, and Biden will have that weight on his shoulders. Finally, democracy starts at home. And we're in a moment now

where a lot of the world looks at school bus sees very anti-democratic elements of American politics, and that undermines our ability to call for

it abroad.

NEWTON: You know, it's interesting because they didn't really try to put any kind of sheen on it today. President Biden himself pointed out that

half of all democracies experienced some kind of decline in at least one aspect over the last decade, and as you pointed out, that includes the

United States itself. When he says there should be a call to action in the next year -- I mean, I went through some of it. There's some commitments to

spending, some to basically bolstering the media.

But when you look again at that arc of history, what chance does he have to really succeed in a year?

ZELIZER: It's a hard one, and the arc of history doesn't point in any direction. We've seen certain democracies flourish, and it can happen even

within the United States. We moved in a more democratic direction for many decades.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is emblematic of that. But as we see here and as we see overseas, it can move in the opposite direction. And so, the call

to do this is important, it's necessary, but it's going to be -- it's a very tough goal and a tough objective to achieve.

NEWTON: You know, Biden makes clear again that the allure of autocracies, the impression that only repressive policies can solve a problem in a

country where you have, you know, challenges that are, in certain cases unprecedented -- I mean, I've seen this firsthand, right, Julian? You go

into certain countries and people there really do believe that democracy is not adept at really dealing with the chaos of the modern world.

Having said that, at what point here can the United States, from a point of weakness now, interject?

ZELIZER: Well, it is very hard. And especially after -- during a pandemic, when people are desperate for strong leaders to promote a democratic

process which is inherently messy. But the president can keep asking for it. He can keep speaking about the virtues of democracies that people all

over the world hear it. That's what we tried to do during the Cold War.

But again, most important, show it right here in the United States. Push for the voting rights legislation that's been stalled in the Senate and

become a model about what democracy can do rather than just talking about what democracy can do.

NEWTON: To use a term, the audacity of some American presidents, we mentioned President Obama, you know, kind of what he was doing in foreign

policy. Does it take that audacity, or do you think sometimes it puts blinders on U.S. presidents in term of what they can achieve in U.S.

foreign policy?

ZELIZER: It can be both. I mean, audacity with realism is the mix that you hope for. A president should speak boldly and have big ambitions, but

understand the challenges that we will face and also be willing to commit the resources that would be necessary to achieve these sorts of goals. And

if you don't have to realism or commitment to resources, then the audacity becomes debilitating and sometimes destructive.

NEWTON: And especially when you're not speaking from a position of strength, as the United States still tries to shore up its own democracy.

I'm glad you mentioned, a lot of what people go through is looking at the autocratic regimes that they do a lot of businesses with, so that also

leads to a lot of trouble.


Julian, thanks so much. Really appreciate you going through this with us.

ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.

NEWTON: Now, coming up, while many of us have been reflecting on 2021's whirlwind events. Pantone has chosen the year they chose to represent 2022.

I can't wait to see this. We'll tell you next.


NEWTON: All right, it's here, the color that will define your New Year, at least according to Pantone.

Let's have a look. The color institute unveiled its pick for 2022 called Very Peri. I'm having a look at it now. The periwinkle hue was chosen by

experts who combined a tranquil blue and an energetic red. The color was manufactured instead of being chosen from Pantone's archives. The first

time the company came up with a new color for a selection and it says this year it was inspired by the rise of technology like NFTs and the space


Now, each year, Pantone tries to interpret the mood through color. I don't remember. Let's see if you do. Last year, it chose both a shade of gray and

a vibrant yellow to showcase the resilience and optimism during the first year of the pandemic.

I'm kind of liking that color. I like it.

And that's it for us on THE GLOBAL BRIEF. I'm Paula Newton. Stay with CNN.

"WORLD SPORT" is up next.