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Fareed Zakaria GPS

How A War With Iran Would Unfold; America And Iran On The Brink Of War; Boris Johnson Is Top Contender For British Prime Minister; Kim And Xi, The Odd Couple. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired June 23, 2019 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:22] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

We'll start today's with Iran's downing of that U.S. drone and America's retaliatory attack that was called off. Two nations brought to the brink of war. How did they get there and what would a war between the two look like?

And water shortages are plaguing cities from Chennai to Cape Town. Does the answer to the problem involve towing massive icebergs? I will take you through this wild idea.

But first here's my take. The massive protest we've been watching in Hong Kong highlights something we often tend to forget -- the fragility of the Chinese political system. China's rise has been something of a miracle. It is quite simply the most successful case of economic development in human history. The country's GDP has grown around 10 percent a year for 40 years, moving more than 850 million people out of poverty.

In doing so, China has also proved to be the greatest exception to a near iron law of politics. Decades of political science and research have shown that there is a fairly strong connection between economic growth and democracy. As countries modernize their economies, typically they're also forced to change their societies and eventually their political systems to make them more open, accountable and democratic.

Now there are outliers such as oil-rich countries, which gain their wealth without any need to modernize but China is the real outlier. China got richer but stayed resolutely non-democratic. In fact in recent years, the political system has become more oppressive, censorship has increased and the president has dispensed with term limits for himself.

What explains China's almost unique path to wealth without democracy? Yuen Yuen Ang argues in "Foreign Affairs" that over the last few decades, China has actually been developing an autocracy with democratic characteristics. She knows that reforms have made the country's vast administrative bureaucracy, once a stagnant communist behemoth, more nimble, transparent and accountable. These changes should be considered a type of political reform, she argues. Ang and others point to China's highly meritocratic political system,

where officials move up through rigorous examinations, evaluations and objective measures of results like economic growth. This exceedingly competitive system ensures quality and responsiveness, its defenders say. Scholars like Daniel Bell argue that such a political model rests on the trust and faith in a Mandarin governing class that is a key feature of Confucian societies.

And yet, one has to wonder. Good bureaucracy is not the same thing as democracy, which centers on the ability to both choose your leaders and throw them out of power. As for Confucian societies, whenever we hear cultural arguments, let's not forget Hong Kong and Taiwan. Both are thoroughly Chinese societies with a deep demonstrated desire for democracy.

The United States is now quarreling with China on several fronts. In these struggles, Americans often make the mistake of thinking that their adversary is 10 feet tall. First, it's not clear that China is an adversary, certainly not in the Cold War sense. But rather a competitor. More important, while China has great strengths, it also has weaknesses.

Consider President Xi Jinping's situation. Growth in China has slowed substantially. It is being bolstered because local governments and state-owned companies are borrowing vast sums of money. The country confronts a future with fewer workers, the consequence of its one- child policy, itself a classic example of the dangers of a dictatorship and planned economy. But perhaps above all, China has a political system that faces real pressure.

In a global age of populism and anti-elitism, China is still ruled by a cadre of distant elites. The Communist Party of China maintains power through the promise of growth and the application of force. It uses an elaborate system of censorship and increasingly sophisticated espionage on its own people.

[10:05:03] It faces a population that is not genetically or culturally different from those in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where millions are making clear, they don't want just good government or clever bureaucrats but democracy. So the trade war with America might turn out to be one of Xi's smaller problems.

For more go to, and read my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

President Trump said the United States was, quote, "cocked and loaded," unquote on Thursday night to attack three different sites in Iran. But, Trump went on, when he was informed that 150 people might die, he stopped the strike 10 minutes before it was to happen. That is about as close to the brink of hostilities as you can get. So I think it's important to talk about what a war between Iran and America would look like.

Well, that was an article Ilan Goldenberg wrote for "Foreign Affairs." He is the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, and he joins us now from Addis Ababa. Ilan, welcome.


ZAKARIA: Ilan, in your article you try to explain what this kind of war would look like. Explain to us, lay out what you see the most likely scenario for both the American strike but as importantly the Iranian response.

GOLDENBERG: Sure. You start with a very limited American strike. And what the president's advisers would say to him is, look, we're just going to respond and hit the target that hit us. And this will go just like Syria did in 2017-2018, when President Trump decided to launch very limited strikes against Bashar al-Assad in Syria in response to chemical weapons attacks.

The difference is Iran is not Syria. Iran is much more capable than Syria. It has missiles it can launch at the Gulf, it has missiles that can hit our ships with. It has various proxies in Iraq, in Yemen, in Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East, and it can even launch terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies and other facilities.

So Iran might decide, well, we don't want to get into a major conflict with the United States, or it might decide to retaliate and respond, in which case we could be off to the races. And I think that is the real danger.

ZAKARIA: And what would the United States do in the event of some kind of Iranian response along the fronts you're describing? Because as you said, they have multiple -- they have leverage and interests and capacities in multiple areas but the U.S. also has bases all over the Persian Gulf. So what would it look like if the U.S. were to try to respond to Iranian efforts to kind of increase tensions or ratchet up violence from Lebanon to Yemen to Syria to Iraq?

GOLDENBERG: Sure. Well, what Iran would do first is Iran would try to hit the U.S. with one of these types of options, but try to stay away from going into an all-out conflict. And then we would response. So if Iran launches a terrorist attack, we might hit a terrorist training camp inside of Iran. If Iran hits more Gulf, for example, if Iran launches missiles at our ships, we might start hitting the various missiles that Iran launched at our ships or the sites from which they would launch.

And then what happens is, very quickly you get into this tit-for-tat. And when you are, then I think the military comes to the president and says, look, we have options here where we could go a lot higher and we could just take all of this out, and all these various Iranian military capabilities, and that's where you might end up which would now not look like Syria 2017 and '18. It would look much more like Iraq 1991 where the United States were to launch a limited war that would last a few weeks to try to sink all of Iran's Navy to try to take out all these different capabilities that Iran has.

But let's be clear. Iran would exact a major cost in such a conflict. You'd have missiles falling on Abu Dhabi, on Dubai, on Riyadh. You'd potentially have Hezbollah launching hundreds or thousands of rockets into Israel and Israel responding in kind of potentially a land invasion into Lebanon if it's unable to protect itself through the use of its missile defense systems alone. And so really at that point the conflict starts to dramatically escalate.

I think the bottom line is it would be very bad for the United States and for its regional partners. It would be worse for Iran, who would have much of its military decimated, but would maintain I think a lot of these abilities to sort of launch proxy attacks at various facilities so you could have terrorist attacks going on for years of different kinds and you would have also to have the United States stay in a region after a conflict like this for years on end.

[10:10:04] The whole notion of pivoting to Asia or doing -- focusing on great power competition would be over because we would have a very angry, still very capable country three times the size of Iraq in the middle of a very strategic region that we would have to contain for years on end.

ZAKARIA: The Iranians seem to recognize what you're describing, which is that any kind of escalation, probably while it has all kinds of negative consequences for the U.S., it has worse consequences for Iran. So what they have done, it seems to me, they feel like they're backed in a corner, the Trump administration is trying to squeeze them.

And so they have launched a series of deniable -- you know, escalations. They've gotten the Houthis to attack in Saudi Arabia. They -- you know, they've done some of these plausibly deniable attacks themselves.

You know, what they're banking on is that this is not enough of a provocation for the Trump administration to go all out to war against Iran.

GOLDENBERG: Yes, I think that's right. But I also think I'm getting increasingly worried that they don't exactly understand our escalation ladder and we don't exactly understand theirs.

ZAKARIA: Thanks, Ilan. Fascinating stuff.

To read Iran's piece in "Foreign Affairs," go to my Twitter feed for a link. I am of course @fareedzakaria.

Next on GPS, just how did America and Iran get to the brink? I have a great debate with Reuel Marc Gerecht and Peter Beinart when we return.


[10:15:08] ZAKARIA: John Bolton has never been shy about his hostility toward Iran. That's been true in all of his roles in public and private life, and no different since he has been National Security adviser, a post he's been in for a little over a year now.

Last September, he warned Iran that there would be hell to pay if it continued to lie and cheat and deceive. He warned on to warn Tehran we'll come after you. Just last month he said in a statement that the U.S. was sending a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on the United States interests or on those of our allies would be met with unrelenting force.

So is John Bolton responsible for the ratcheting up of hostilities? And if so, is this approach the appropriate one?

Joining me now, Reuel Marc Gerecht was a Middle East specialist at the CIA. He's now senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Peter Beinart is a contributor to the "Atlantic," a professor at the CUNY's Newmark School of Journalism and an old friend of the show.

So let me ask you, Peter, it goes beyond John Bolton. I mean, in a sense, what's happened here is the Trump administration has deliberately backed Iran into a corner. It pulled out of the deal. It stopped issuing any waivers. So now Iran is sort of facing an economic death sentence almost. And do you think that it has been baiting Iran, in a sense, trying to get it to respond in some way?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Not only do I think that, but the United States military, according to reports, think that. The Europeans think that. You know, there's this great line from the movie "Cold Mountain" where they say they made the weather and then they stand there and say darn, it's raining. Right?

We pulled out of the Iranian deal, which the Iranians were complying with. We violated that deal brazenly. We then not only re-imposed sanctions but basically demanded that other countries not do business with Iran as well, basically to try to destroy the Iranian economy, which is producing immense suffering among ordinary whose people are oppressed not only by their own government but the fact that now they can't buy medicines. And according to "The New York Times," the joint -- head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford, said this maximum pressure campaign will incite retaliation. The Europeans said it. And now, lo and behold, it's happened and the Trump administration is shocked.

ZAKARIA: I'm guessing you have a different narrative as to what is going on.

REUEL MARC GERECHT, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Yes. I mean, one, certainly when President Trump decided to withdraw from the JCPOA, which I think was a highly defective, deficient agreement, the Iranians were going to get upset. They liked that agreement for a variety of reasons. It was quite a good one from their perspective. So I'm not surprised that they've gotten cranky and certainly the president has decided to engage in a massive pressure campaign against them.

It's not just John Bolton driving that. I think there's pretty strong agreement between Bolton and Mike Pompeo on that, the famous 12-point speech was co-written by the two of them.

ZAKARIA: But to what end, Reuel? What I'm a little unsure of, it feels this kind of almost like a reflex more than a strategy. Is the goal regime change? Is the goal to get them back to the negotiating table? Is the goal simply to inflict pain? It seems to me it's pressure without a strategy behind the pressure.

GERECHT: I mean, I think there is a strategy. But I think it's fair to say that it's conflicted. The president, obviously, wants to have new negotiations. I think it's fair to say that John Bolton believes that would be a mistake. I think Pompeo probably is more in the direction of John Bolton that he doesn't really believe that diplomacy is going to work with the Islamic republic, but he is the secretary of State and he certainly has said publicly that he's in favor of negotiations.

So in the meantime, I think they're just going to adopt sort of a containment minus approach. That is, they're going to deny the Islamic Republic billions of dollars of hard currency. They aren't going to really push back against it regionally, but for the time being, they are going to block a land route in Syria until the president changes his mind and withdraws those troops. So there is a coherent approach there, but there are contradictions within it that I don't think they're debilitating, but they're certainly annoying.

ZAKARIA: Well, it does feel like it's sort of like maximum pressure and then watch and see what might happen and the dangers of miscalculation, escalation, I mean, but all of it, Peter, is premised on the idea that Iran is this uniquely dangerous country in the Middle East. And I want to ask you, I mean, is that fundamentally true?

BEINART: No, I don't think so. I think Iran has got a brutal theocratic regime. I wish they had a better regime. I think, you know, the Saudis, who were their main regional antagonist, that we are arming and encouraging to take a more aggressive policy recently, you know, hacked to death an American journalist, right?

[10:20:08] So these are rough regimes in a rough part of the world playing a game of power politics. I see no moral distinction between the Iranians and the Saudis or the Emirates for that matter. And what we should be doing is trying to deescalate and trying to have a leverage with both sides so we can prevent this cold war from turning into a hot war.

We have no idea. And John Bolton has no idea what would happen if we started a war. This man, John Bolton, has been calling explicitly for war with Iran for more than a decade and he's never answered basic questions about what would happen the day after. My -- for goodness sakes, in the shadow of the Iraq war, how can we tolerate an American government that was so cavalierly moving to the brink of a conflict given what we know about the costs of the last one?

ZAKARIA: That does seem to be a reasonable question, which is all this pressure easily could lead to a spiral that gets us into a conflict. As I say, it's not clear to me what the end goal is but, you know, isn't that -- isn't the Iraq war a cautionary tale?

GERECHT: Well, let me just say one thing first. I think it is a bit much to make a moral equivalence between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia. I'm no fan of Saudi Arabia, I'm no friend -- fan of the crown prince but Iran has aided and abetted and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people in Syria. There simply is no equivalent of that on the Saudi side.

ZAKARIA: You don't think Saudi actions in Yemen are --

GERECHT: No. No, I do not. I do think the -- I mean, I think it's fair to say that one always has to be conscious of when the fire -- when, you know, the guns start firing, that you need to have some idea of your enemy. You need to have a good idea of what his capacity is and what his limitations are, and you need to know what your own are.

But let's -- I mean, this is basic 101. I mean, if you're going to engage in any type of containment approach, however limited it may be, that by definition means that you're willing to risk conflict. If you're going to walk away from the JCPOA and you're going to tell the Iranians, no, we're not going to permit you to gain a nuclear weapon within a decade, that means you're going to be -- you're going to risk a conflict.

I mean, this is sort of basic. The problem with Trump is that he seems to, at times, want it both ways. And that is that he suggests -- his rhetoric suggests he might be willing to risk conflict. But at the same time, his actions suggest that actually he's quite dovish, that he is, in some ways, Obama 2.0. And he's not nearly as bellicose as he seems and he may end up being just a Twitter tiger.

ZAKARIA: And, you know, one has to wonder what the world will look at this and see a pattern after a while. I mean, this is a guy who has bluffed much of his life. And does appear to be --

GERECHT: Exactly.

ZAKARIA: Doing exactly that. All right. We got to leave it there. I'm sure we'll get back to this. Thank you both.

Next on GPS, India's sixth biggest city is dry, almost totally out of drinking water. Cape Town has had similar problems for a while now. One man has a remarkable solution. It involves towing an iceberg. That story, when we come back.


[10:27:17] ZAKARIA: Now for our "What in the World" segment. It's that time of the year, temperatures are rising in much of the world and for many the heat aggravates an all-too-frequent problem, water shortages.

The climate crisis is part of the problem but so are simple numbers. As environmentalists will tell you, water supply is constant but population, therefore the demand for water, keeps growing. And it is only going to get worse. By 2050, the population is expected to swell to nearly 10 billion.

So how do we get more water? There's a wild idea detailed recently in a fascinating story in Bloomberg Businessweek. What if we towed massive icebergs off the coast of Antarctica to less icy shores? The idea comes from Nicholas Sloan, a Cape Town based marine salvager. Remember Cape Town desperately needs water. It had a dramatic water crisis last year when its taps nearly ran dry.

Iceberg towing may sound crazy but Sloan has assembled a team of experts who believe incorporating icebergs into the city's water supply can be done. And they're not the first to pursue it. For decades iceberg towing has been floated as a potential solution to water problems from Southern California to the Gulf. Many of the previous efforts have been met with skepticism even derision but that has not deterred Sloan. His team has a plan, they want to sail to a point near Gulf Island, which is about 1,600 miles southwest of Cape Town. From there, they would identify the perfect iceberg.

As Bloomberg notes, it would be more than 3,000 feet long and 800 feet deep, weighing 125 million tons. Then two tug boats would lasso the iceberg with a two-mile long net made from an exceptionally strong rope. Super tankers would pull the rope guided by tug boats and helped by currents to the Cape. About 90 days later, the iceberg would hit ground 20 nautical miles off the coast of Cape Town where it could be harvested for water.

Sloane says he's secured financing for the maiden voyage which would cost more than $200 million but he still needs the government to give him the green light. If Sloane did eventually succeed, which is by no means certain, he says the iceberg would provide parched Cape Town with 130 million liters of water a day for a full year. That may seem like a lot but according to Sloane's calculations, it is just 20 percent of Cape Town's annual water needs.

That's right. 125 million ton iceberg would supply just one-fifth of a single city's water.

[10:30:00] That should make clear the scale of the problem. And Cape Town's problems are the worst. The U.N. projects that by 2030, demand for water will exceed availability by 40 percent. In Africa alone, the continent that will this century's population explosion, demand will rise by almost 300 percent.

But lassoing icebergs isn't the only solution. Look at Israel that has made huge progress with desalination plants which remove the salt from ocean water. The approach is often dismissed as prohibitively expensive and hugely energy intensive. But it does work, according to reports. Half of Israel's water comes from desalination plants. The country now produces more water now than it consumes.

As the water crisis evolves, leaders are going to have to consider investing serious sums into securing a resource that many now take for granted. The important thing, whether you're looking at Antarctica or nearer shores, is to think big, as big as the problem.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, we're one step closer to knowing who will be the next leader of the United Kingdom? I was in London as the votes were coming in. I have a guest who will talk about what it will mean for Britain, Brexit and the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: Britain's ruling party, the conservatives, have now whittled the choices for their next leader down to just two. And the party's members will vote by mail on which of the two they would prefer.


The winner will become the country's next Prime Minister.

Rory Stewart had been one of the top candidates, a moderate who wanted Britain to stay closer to Europe and who wanted the Tories to attract younger and more diverse voters. He seemed imminently qualified for the job, a graduate of Eaton and Oxford, once private tutor to Princes William and Harry. He also helped to run providences in Iraq during the American occupation and walked across Afghanistan, yes, the entire country. But on Wednesday, he was knocked out of contention.

Welcome back, Rory.


ZAKARIA: You've known Boris Johnson for a long time. He has gotten as far as he has by promising to be the hardest of the hard Brexiteers. Is he going to betray his hard Brexit allies or he is going to, you know -- and work out some kind of a compromise or is he going to move the other direction?

STEWART: Well, this is what his supporters disagree on. So half his supporters said no, no, no, he looked me in the eye and he's going to deliver the hardest part of Brexit. And other half of his supporters, look, said, no, no, no, he looked me in the eye and he has promised he'd never do anything like that. He's going to go with a soft Brexit.

The problem is that on the 31st of October, we're going to find out one way or another, because he has, it seems, promised that he's leaving on the 31st of October. We're going to find out one way or another because he has, it seems, promised that he's leaving on the 31st of October.

He's also said --

ZAKARIA: I mean, he's leaving as Britain is leaving Europe.

STEWART": Sorry, he's going to take Britain out, yes. And the the challenge is, again, that he's saying before the 31st of October, he is going to negotiate a radically new deal with Europe. And Europe has been clear again and again that no such deal is forthcoming. They -- in fact, it legally in the extension they granted the United Kingdom, they said that the agreement they signed with Prime Minister Theresa May cannot be reopened before the end of October.

So one of the arguments I was trying to make is to say, look, if you say that you're going to be able to get a radically new deal out of Europe by the 31st October, it's simply not true that Europe is barely sitting between them the 31st of October, and they've made it clear they wouldn't give such a deal. So that means if you're really saying that you will leave the European Union regardless on the 31st of October, then you're signing up for a very, very damaging, destructive no-deal Brexit.

ZAKARIA: What do you think is animating this populous takeover of the Tory Party? I mean, the Tories are, you know, very conservative in the small sea sense of the word, they don't like radical change and this is something that's going to upend Britain's economic relationship with its largest trading partner. What do you think is it? Is it culture? Is it economics? You're a student of history and political ideas. What is the meta story here?

STEWART: I think it is about culture and history. I think it's very important to understand that for many people, particularly older people in Britain, they have felt angry with the European Union for 40 years. So they felt that they could join simply a free trade agreement. It felt to them as though what they signed up for in the 1970s was something like NAFTA. And they felt there's been a push over the last 40 years to make it more like the United States of Europe.

So it would feel a bit like if you were potentially an American voter who agreed to join with Canada and Mexico in a free trade agreement, and suddenly discovered that some city outside your own country with its own parliament that was passing laws and telling you what to do. So, for them, it felt like an independence movement. And like any independence movement anywhere in the world, Scotland, South Sudan, Kosovo (ph), ultimately, people don't care too much about the economics.

ZAKARIA: Do you think we are then entering into a world of greater nationalism, protectionism? And that seems to be happening everywhere.

STEWART: Well, ironically, in a British context, greater nationalist but not protectionist. They're nationalist radical free traders. They want to open up to Singapore, then they're modernists. In Singapore, they want deals with the United States, they want deals with China. They are real sort of free market fundamentalists. They're not like Donald Trump.

But I think what is like the United States politic is that I found myself trying to argue for things that nine, ten months ago seemed simply to be obviously true. A no-deal Brexit would be very damaging to our economy and finding that 70 percent of conservative party members said no-deal Brexit would be fine.

And I thought somehow by getting out and communicating on social media and talking to people, I would be able to win that argument. I'd be able to explain it to people what I believe to be the truth and I failed, but I'm still failing to win an argument that should be easy to win because every Nobel Prize winner economist in the world is on my side, the Treasury, the Bank of England, the OECD, everybody is reconfirming my hypothesis that's just saying this is going to be very damaging, but I still can't convince people of it. And one of the questions is how do you learn to do politics in a way that is radical on the center ground?

So I was trying to be a Trumpian anti-Trump. I was trying to use, you know, the Trumpian method of wondering around with Twitter, but I was trying to make the argument for center ground politics for moderation, for compromise.


And that seems increasingly difficult because in Britain, we've gone from a bell shape where most political opinion sat in the center to a U-shape where actually most of the votes are now in the extremes. And for somebody like me who is trying to hold the center, that's a pretty uncomfortable position to be in.

ZAKARIA: And putting out to the rest of the world. Rory Stewart, a pleasure to have you on.

STEWART: Thank you very much indeed.

ZAKARIA: Up next, China's President, Xi spent the end of the week in North Korea. What is behind the strange relationship? We will explain when we come back.


ZAKARIA: It had been 14 years since the last Chinese leader traveled to North Korea when President Xi crossed the border on Thursday. Kim Jong-un laid out the pomp and circumstance to welcome his patron, protector and sponsor. It is an unusual relationship and a very important one.

To help us understand it, I've asked Rana Mitter to come and join me. He is Professor of History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford. Rana, a pleasure to have you on. You know this history so well. These are sort of -- this is an odd couple. These are two -- North Korea is China's only formal treaty ally.


And it seems like that relationship comes from a very different time when Mao and Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, were sort of these two rogues, right, the two revolutionary radicals revolutionary radicals in the world, trying to foment instability everywhere.

RANA MITTER, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AND POLITICS OF MODERN CHINA, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: That's exactly right, Fareed. We use the phrase the odd couple. And we have to remember in that famous movie, Oscar and Felix were close friends but also quarreled with each other the whole time. And that's not a bad analogy for what's happened between China and North Korea.

The bond was very strong because it was forged in war. Essentially, Kim Il-sung, who you've mentioned, of course, as the founder, the founding father of North Korea, and Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader who conquered China in 1949, both had their revolutionary careers forged in the war against the Japanese in the 1930s and '40s. That's the Asian side of World War II.

And that experience of being relatively young or at least middle-aged communists who were fighting against external enemy not only bonded them together as communists but also as nationalists, wanted to make sure that their borders would never be breached. And those ideas has stayed very strong over decades.

ZAKARIA: So the crucial question is can Xi Jinping tell his North Korean counterpart, make a deal with the Americans on the nuclear issue and would he want to do so? So does he have the power and does he have the interest?

STEWART: So when I've talked about this to Chinese policymakers over the years, they would like to roll their eyes and say, we tell the North Koreans what to do and they pay no attention to us. But I've always thought that sometimes a bit of a convenient excuse for the fact that, actually, China has a lot of leverage over North Korea. When sanctions were recently imposed a couple of years ago, the amount of Chinese imports going into North Korea, at least on official figures, went down by 88 percent. So they really have control over a major economic lever.

But that having been said, North Korea is a very proud society. It does not like to be seen to be pushed around in terms of what it does. And in the first few years of the current Kim, Kim Jong-un's period in power, actually, he was not invited to Beijing. There was a major military parade in 2015 in Tiananmen Square and then a rather exquisite insult, it would seem, the South Korean President at the time was invited to be on the parade next to Putin and Xi, the North Korean President was not. So the relationship has had to come back from some pretty low lows.

ZAKARIA: And is it possible that Xi will try to link his influence in North Korea, such as it is, with the trade deal? In other words, could he say to the Americans, look, if you stop pestering me so much on the trade deal, I can deliver more on North Korea?

MITTER: I think he will, or at least to have representatives who try and float that as an idea. The fact is that there is potentially a grand bargain to be made between the various crises currently operating in that part of the world. So one is the U.S.-China trade war, trade dispute, which continues to rumbles on, but also the fact that the North Korean nuclear problem, which was much more in the headlines a year or so ago has not gone away.

Now, the question that's being asked, I suspect, both in Beijing and Pyongyang is how much consistency is there on the U.S. side, the Donald Trump administration, and would they be willing to actually negotiate that kind of grand bargain? But if there was and it was a bargain that, for instance, guaranteed the territorial security of North Korea, meaning, of course, that China maintained a friendly, socialist country on its Manchurian border on the northeast, then that might be a bargain that could be struck. The Americans have a role, as well as the Chinese.

ZAKARIA: What do you think Xi Jinping makes of the Trump administration and Donald Trump?

MITTER: All of the reports that we have from the inside of China is that there have been a lot of very nonplussed people at the top in Beijing. I think the starting point was that actually this is a guy unlike any other American President, a little bit more brash, more exuberant but actually we'll give him a feast in the Forbidden City, make him feel like, you know, imperial royalty and we'll be able to get what we want on trade.

The fact that the Trump administration has, first of all, pushed so hard on the trade issue and, second, made it, as you will know, Fareed, maybe the only bipartisan issue in Washington D.C., I think, are seriously worried negotiators on the Chinese side. And that means that at the moment, they are spending a lot of time, A, working out how to strengthen the domestic economy in case it goes on for a long time, and second, working out what the next move is.

ZAKARIA: Fascinating insight. Rana, a pleasure to have you on.

MITTER: A pleasure to be here, Fareed. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.

Don't forget, if you miss a show, go to for a link to my iTunes podcast.



ZAKARIA: After a week of internet blackouts, Ethiopian netizens got back online on Tuesday. It brings me to my question, which country experienced the most internet shutdowns in 2018, Ethiopia, India, Russia or China? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer.

My book of the week is George Will's The Conservative Sensibility. Will is a former professor of political philosophy and he returns to that calling in the superb account of American conservatism. He makes his history, philosophy and anecdote to create something rare, an important, serious book that is also eminently readable.

And now, for the last look. Humans produce roughly 330 million tons of plastic waste a year. That is nearly equal to the mass of the world's entire human population. We know that this has a dramatic impact on oceans from garbage patches to killing sea life. But now, it's become a bigger problem on land. Why? Because we're making the material far faster than we can dispose of it.

Of course, there are efforts to stem this tide. We've seen initiatives to ban plastic bags from California to Tanzania. Some nations, like Japan, are pledging to push plastic out of the picture in a matter of years by replacing it with biodegradable or reusable alternatives.


But our plastic problem makes worse, a key global divider, as wealthier nations ship their waste abroad to poorer ones.

Now, after China banned plastic imports in 2018, the western world turned to Asia's other developing nations. But now, other countries are following China's lead to keep from becoming the west's new wasteland. Vietnam plans to end plastic imports entirely and Malaysia is returning hundreds of tons of plastic waste to its home countries. In May, after years of back and forth, Canada finally agreed to retrieve its mislabeled trash from a port in the Philippines.

Well, there are growing actions being taken, we need to take many more or else the mark of our modern civilization that will live on for centuries to come will be its everlasting, indestructible mountains of plastic trash.

The answer to my GPS challenge question this week is, B, India. According to the annual freedom net report, India had over 100 shutdowns in 2018, most notably when a mob killed two people after a false video warned against Indi-speaking child kidnappers. Such government-directed blackouts were up 74 percent from the prior year.

If you guessed China, it turns out that the home of the great firewall actually rarely uses the blunt instrument of a shutdown, relying instead on a complex system of censorship and monitoring to earn its spot as top internet restrictor in the world.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week and I will see you next week.