Return to Transcripts main page
Fareed Zakaria GPS
Interview With French Ambassador To The United States, Philippe Etienne About AUKUS Deal; Interview With Iraqi President Barham Salih About United States Withdrawal From Afghanistan; Interview With Sweden's Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired September 26, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts right now.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, THE GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria, coming to you live from New York.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): We'll begin today's program with the French ambassador to the United States, Philippe Etienne.
When France became furious last week over the U.S.-U.K. security pact with Australia --
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has no closer and more reliable ally than Australia.
ZAKARIA: Ambassador Etienne was recalled back to Paris. I will ask him when he can get back to Washington and whether the rift between the two old allies is mended.
Also, what did the fall of Kabul look like in the other democracy midwifed by U.S. Military power. I will ask Iraq's president, Barham Salih.
BARHAM SALIH, IRAQI PRESIDENT: The lesson of Afghanistan was that corruption stands in the way of stability.
ZAKARIA: And the king of Sweden declared his nation's relaxed handling of the COVID crisis a failure. Does the country's prime minister agree? I'll ask him.
ZAKARIA: But first, here's "My Take." On September 15th, the U.S. and Britain announced they were signing an agreement with Australia to share technology for nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new enhanced security partnership to be known as AUKUS. A day after that announcement, however, came another that received relatively little coverage. China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive
Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the successor of the TPP, the trade fact negotiated and promoted by the Obama administration in large part to counter China's economic growing dominance in issue. Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement three days after entering the White House.
Taken together the two announcements show the complexity of the China challenge. In the wake of Washington's withdrawal from Afghanistan, many have commented on America's short-term thinking, its mercurial foreign policy and its lack of staying power. But the AUKUS deal illustrates that on the big issues, the opposite is true.
For 15 years now, the United States has been gradually pivoting away from Europe and the Middle East and toward Asia. During the Cold War, Europe was the central arena in which geopolitical competition took place. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, America began shifting its gaze east. Despite the post-Cold War demobilization, Bill Clinton pledged to keep 100,000 U.S. troops in Asia.
Then came 9/11 which forced America to focus on the Middle East, but it kept one eye on Asia. George W. Bush broke with decades of policy and normalized India's nuclear program, largely to gain an ally to deter China. Obama came into office consciously articulating a pivot to Asia. The day after he announced the station of 2,500 U.S. troops in Australia, he declared --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, 44TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Donald Trump's own strategy toward China was the usual personalized circus, zigzagging between slavish admiration for Chinese President Xi Jinping and outspoken attacks over trade deficits and later for COVID-19. But his administration followed and deepened the pivot strategy, withdrawing more troops from the Middle East and turning attention to the Pacific.
It took the Quad, a loose and mostly most ineffective security dialogue between the U.S., Australia, Japan and India, and strengthened military cooperation among the four nations with an implicit orientation to deter China.
The crucial accelerator of the pivot to Asia has been China. Beijing's belligerent foreign policy, a break from previous decades, has unnerved most of its neighbors. India was long the most reluctant member of the Quad, warry of alienating its huge neighbor to the north and in getting involved in a U.S. strategy to counter Beijing. But New Delhi dramatically changed its approach especially after bloody skirmishes on the Indo-Chinese border that gained Beijing nothing more than some frozen wasteland in the Himalayas.
Today India readily engages in joint military exercises with the Quad and has banned Chinese involvement in various aspects of the Indian economy.
Similarly, China's imperious 14 demands issued to Australia last year seemed to have played a crucial role in pushing Canberra to search for a more robust deterrent against Beijing and, thus, to ask America for a nuclear-powered submarines.
Now that brings me to China's bid to join the CP-TPP. Could it be a return to an older, more strategic Chinese approach that asserts China's influence using economic, technological, even cultural means? Xi Jinping does not seem like a man who acknowledges error but could it be that he is quietly attempting a course correction after seeing the disastrous results of his wolf warrior diplomacy?
Could China actually join the CP-TPP? It's unlikely since in key areas it remains a nonmarket economy, which is incompatible with the group's requirements. But were it somehow to manage that process, it would be a remarkable move of jujitsu. A trade in investment pact designed to combat Chinese influence would end up becoming one more platform in which China's weight was paramount.
The submarine deal is a big and smart strategic move. It plays to American strengths, which are military and political. But what if the China challenge is fundamentally economic and technological? Rejoining the trade pact is politically difficult in America but it might be strategically more important than eight Australian submarines, which will begin to be deployed 19 years from now.
Don't take my word for it. Ash Carter, Obama's Defense secretary said in 2015.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASH CARTER, FORMER OBAMA DEFENSE SECRETARY: TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Kurt Campbell, now the top White House policymaker on Asia, went further that same year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURT CAMPBELL, COORDINATOR FOR INDO-PACIFIC AFFAIRS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: If we did everything right in Asia and not get TPP, we can't get a passing grade. We can do everything wrong, cancel meetings, insult inadvertently leaders, and get TPP, and we have a B.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: What if Kurt Campbell was right?
Go to CNN.com/fareed for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started. Paris' reaction to the AUKUS submarine deal was swift and furious, as
France was several years into its own agreement to provide subs to Australia. But this week President Biden spoke to France's Emmanuel Macron by phone and the White House says Biden holds himself responsible for the lack of consultation with America's oldest ally. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, took a rather different tact.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I just think it's time for some of our dearest friends around the world to, you know, prenez un grip about all of this, donnez-moi un break.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
ZAKARIA: Joining me now to talk about it all is France's ambassador to the United States, Philippe Etienne, who is still in France.
Philippe, when will you get back?
PHILIPPE ETIENNE, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Thank you, Fareed, for having me. Soon, during the conversation between our two presidents, our president announced I will be back this week so I have a couple of consultations to complete but then I will be back in Washington where I will have a lot of work to do with our American intelligence.
ZAKARIA: Did President Biden apologize to President Macron?
ETIENNE: You can read their common statement. I think it is important to underline that the phone call was completed by joint statement, and I think you mentioned it just before we talked, there is this recognition that we should have had more consultations because we are allies and if we are really allies, allies behave in another way. They consult each other. And it did not happen. And it cost a tremendous amount of trust.
We lost trust. And now the way ahead is to really -- to find again the trust and to find again the trust, and it will be my work and the work of the two governments. We have to work together on very important issues, which have been discussed by the two presidents, which are in the joint statement and we have to decide on common actions.
ZAKARIA: But let me ask you, Philippe, one of the differences between France and Britain, for example, is that the U.S. has always cooperated and shared nuclear technology with Britain. Does France want to be in that group? Because there's always been a sense in Washington that France does not want to be seen as that close an ally of America. Your own officials in describing their reaction to this deal describe Britain as a vasal of Washington, a fifth wheel.
Is France willing to put aside its Gaullism and actually be, you know, the kind of close ally to Washington where you could imagine shared nuclear technology?
ETIENNE: But, Fareed, what does it mean to be a close ally? We are very close allies. And this explains also our strong reaction to the recall of the ambassador. Look, we fight together against terrorist groups. We are engaged in the Indo-Pacific. We are an Indo-Pacific nation actually. We have territories in the two oceans. And we have of course submarines, also nuclear submarines.
But what the Australians had wanted from us to get a sovereignty and to transfer of technology, it was conventional submarines. We were never asked about moving to another direction. We just heard about the new deal on the day it was announced. This is an issue, and this is an issue especially between very close allies. I think that we are.
ZAKARIA: But can I -- can I --
ETIENNE: And we have always been very close allies with the U.S. Yes, Fareed, please excuse me.
ZAKARIA: But can I ask -- the real question is, would you be willing to be that close? Because it seems to me, yes, there was a lack of consultation. I would point out France took this deal from Japan in 2016. Japan had a handshake deal with the Australians and the French fairly cleverly undercut the Japanese entirely. So, I mean, all is fair in love, war and diplomacy.
My point is today if you're asked, would you be willing to be that close to the United States? President Macron has talked about the need for strategic autonomy for France and Europe. Particularly on China. Does he have a different policy on China than Washington?
ETIENNE: First, in 2016, when we won the contract, it was completely different. It was a competition. It was a competition. It was completely different. And then on China, the European Union, because it is not a French-only issue. It's a European dimension, our Indo- Pacific, European-Indo-Pacific strategy was published on the same day the new project was announced by the three countries.
We have also moved quite a lot on China. There is a European policy on China. We have described China with three pillars in our policy towards it, I mean, as a systemic rival, as a competitor and as a partner in some global issues such as climate. So we have, of course, our European policy and since you speak about autonomy of Europe, I prefer the term European sovereignty.
We have developed our own instruments including in the field of security. And you know what, it's for me the best way for the U.S. to have a stronger ally, to have a European ally who is more able, including in security, to do things the U.S. doesn't want to do. Look at Sahil, for instance, what we are doing together with the U.S.
ZAKARIA: Philippe, thank you. Pleasure to talk with you and we look forward to working you back to the United States, where you have been a very effective ambassador.
ETIENNE: Thank you, Fareed, thank you. Same for me. I look forward to seeing you again.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, I will talk to the president of Iraq, Barham Salih, about what it was like to watch the fall of Kabul from Baghdad.
ZAKARIA: All eyes have been on Afghanistan for the last month, but there is another forever war that America will end soon. President Biden has said the combat mission in Iraq will officially be over by the New Year.
What will that mean for Iraq? I had a chance to sit down with the president of that country, Barham Salih, while he was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly this week.
ZAKARIA: Mr. President, welcome.
SALIH: Thank you for having me, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: When you watched the fall of Afghanistan, the fall of the Kabul government, the withdrawal of the Americans, what was your reaction in Iraq?
SALIH: Obviously, I was very concerned about the plight of the Afghani people. I feel for them. I know what it means to be in a situation of conflict for so long. I know the plight of refugees having a refugee myself and many Iraqis have been forced to flee their own country. So I felt very concerned about the plight of the Afghani people. But there was also a lesson learned from what happened 20 years on from the American intervention and international intervention in Iraq tells you --
ZAKARIA: In Afghanistan.
SALIH: Sorry, in Afghanistan. No matter how much international support and no matter how much investment is made in these situations without legitimacy and without good governance and without support of your own population, you cannot survive.
And the lesson of Afghanistan that corruption stands in the way of good governance, stands in the way of stability. And hopefully the lesson learned from that is that good governance should be at the heart of any international engagement anywhere in the world. And also the lesson for Iraq as I was watching, it is all about us too as well. We have to claim the destiny of our country. We have to have the legitimacy, the support, the tenacity to defend what is right for our own countries.
We need international support. We will continue to need international support. But at the end of the day, it is about us. We need to fight for our own countries.
ZAKARIA: Do you worry about America's staying power? You've heard all the -- you know, the fear is this shows America won't stay the course, it cuts and runs?
SALIH: Obviously, there are a lot of stories to that effect, there are lots of implications to what happened in Afghanistan and everybody has to watch very carefully. To be fair the United States has been engaged in this war for the last 20 years or so. I can understand the reasoning behind the policy and it is not for me to question it. It is for Americans to debate that. But at the end of the day, we cannot in this part of the world continue to blame our failures on the outside while trying to claim all these excesses to ourselves, and that I think it is about us.
In the case of Iraq, we have had the support of the United States and other members of the international community. We will continue to need their support to develop our economy, to develop our societies for the better. But at the end of the day, we also need to move away from military dynamics to one of development, to one of developing our political systems based on good governance because at the end of the day, populations in that part of the world, like those of the United States, require better schools, hospitals, dignity, rule of law. And I hope that we will do that.
ZAKARIA: Did you see the victory of the Taliban inspiring --
ZAKARIA: -- remnants of ISIS in Iraq?
SALIH: Yes, yes, yes. Across the region, not just in Iraq. This has been seen by many of these extremist organizations. Just look at the chatter on social media and others, and you will see that many of these extremist groups are inspired by what they consider to be a major victory for the Taliban against the United States.
ZAKARIA: Do you think the Saudis and the Iranians might restore relations diplomatically?
SALIH: We hope so. And obviously, there are impediments along the way, but we hope that this will happen before too long. At the end of the day, we are neighbors. We need to talk. Even if we have differences, it's better to talk about differences and managing those instead of staying in a state of disconnect. And that's no good for the region.
I'm hopeful, I'm more hopeful than I have been in a long time, that this dynamics is changing. And at the end of the day going back to the Afghan situation and lessons learned, at the end of the day we are the people in this part of the world. We also have to seek solutions based on our interests. In the case of Iraq, we have been a domain of conflict for regional actors and proxies that have fought along -- on Iraqi soil with Iraqi resources and with Iraqi lives.
We hope that we change this dynamic. Iraq, a sovereign Iraqi state, could be the common denominator of interest between the various actors, between the Iranians, the Arabs, the Turks. And for us instead of squandering our resources over conflict, we should build infrastructure, railway, gas pipelines, trade routes, and work together.
Fareed, what we have in this part of the world, really the problems are overwhelming while we are so much focused on terrorism and extremism, and we need to understand where that comes from. But at the end of the day, look at the case of Iraq, we have 14 million population today. By 2050, it is estimated to be 18 million. And we simply can't find jobs for our young kids with the present dynamics.
The same applies to the Iranians, the same apply to the Jordanians, to the Egyptians, to other neighbors of Iraq. We need to come together. We need to build infrastructure, to expand our economies, integrate our economies. Focus on what matters for all of us, fighting climate change, which is impacting our lives, all our lives. We need to come together to really find ways where we deal with these issues that matter to our population, jobs, better quality of life, better schools, better health care.
And to continue to be bogged down in this cycle of conflict forever is not on. And also the lesson is learned, you can't wait for the others to solve it for you. We are the people of that part of the world. We really have to come up with a solution based on what is required in that region.
ZAKARIA: Mr. President, pleasure to have you on.
SALIH: As always, sir.
ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, what would happen if a country never really went into lockdown even in the face of spiraling COVID cases? Well, we don't have to imagine. We can look at Sweden.
I'll talk to that country's prime minister about the results of this experiment.
ZAKARIA: Last December many were surprised to hear a European monarch criticize his own government's handling of the COVID crisis. But that's exactly what Sweden's king did, saying of his nation's response to the pandemic, "I believe we have failed. We have a large number who have died, and that is terrible."
Sweden, as you may recall, remained relatively free when much of the rest of Europe was on strict lockdown. Swedish schools, restaurants and offices did stay open, for the most part.
I talked this week with Sweden's prime minister, Stefan Lofven, who recently announced that he will step down from that post in November.
ZAKARIA: Prime Minister, thank you for doing this show.
STEFAN LOFVEN, PRIME MINISTER OF SWEDEN: Absolutely, it's my pleasure.
ZAKARIA: So over the pandemic, the world has been fascinated by Sweden because it chose a somewhat different approach, no lockdown. It really relied on people making their own judgments. And the feeling is; the data suggests that it was not a successful strategy. You've had, per capita, three times the number of deaths of Denmark, even more when you compare it to Norway.
Do you think it was a failure?
LOFVEN: No, I don't. First, it wasn't that big a difference compared to other countries. We also choose now stay home with symptoms, keep the distance, use masks -- we came to that later.
But so we -- it wasn't like "Do whatever you want." We trust you to do the right thing. So we were also quite harsh on -- on "Stay home if you can, work from your home. Stay home and work from your home."
ZAKARIA: But compared to other countries in Europe, you were the most relaxed, in terms of...
LOFVEN: I wouldn't say relaxed, no. I think it's not a fair word to use. And we should -- that is correct that, compared to Norway, Finland, Denmark, yes, a high rate, but as we -- as we saw the pandemic develop, and we said also last spring, this is a marathon; it's not going to be over summer 2020; it's going to last for a long, long time, which it did. And you -- you have countries with quite -- with lockdowns that did not manage to keep the number of deaths down.
So I think we should wait with a final evaluation.
One thing that we were criticized for was that we didn't close schools. That was a huge debate in Sweden, also outside Sweden. Today I think most of countries that closed schools regret that they did. So I think we should wait with the final evaluations.
ZAKARIA: Did the king make a mistake, then, saying that it was a failure?
LOFVEN: I wouldn't...
I wouldn't (inaudible) the king's -- what he said, but at the same time we of course felt that, I mean, one casualty, one people dying from COVID, of course, that's -- that's sad. We would have wanted zero, of course. So in that perspective, yeah, we would have -- would have wanted to do even better. But I guess all countries would.
ZAKARIA: If you could do it again, would you have done -- would you do a lockdown?
LOFVEN: No. Because, once again, lockdown for a week, two weeks. But if you have -- if you have this kind of disease running in the country for more than a year, can you lock down a country a year?
We've seen what -- what has happened also in countries that had harsh lockdowns, what it meant to people.
ZAKARIA: Part of your rationale was -- in keeping some things open and keeping some things voluntary -- that you didn't want to kill economic activity. But your economy suffered as big a drop, in fact slightly more than, again, Denmark, Finland, Norway.
So does that mean it wasn't successful in that sense?
LOFVEN: No, then, again, if you compare our economy that dropped to other countries in the -- in Europe, I would not say that we have a worst case. We do not -- we quite fast are recovering now. We have such a strong economy, so that we now are investing a lot in -- in restarting our economy.
So, no, we didn't -- we didn't suffer financially worse than -- than other countries, and we -- we can now see a quite fast recovery.
ZAKARIA: Is this experience with COVID one of the reasons why you are retiring?
I mean, you've been called the Houdini of Swedish policy...
... managed to survive everything.
Is this why you're leaving?
LOFVEN: No, no. It has nothing to do with that. We have an election coming up in September of next year. I've been a party leader for almost 10 years now, prime minister for seven years. And I thought it was time now to leave, and to do that before the election, well before the election, so that people know that the person that is now leading our party will stay there for years to come, also can be the prime minister for years to come.
ZAKARIA: Prime Minister, thank you so much for coming on the show.
LOFVEN: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," there was a lot of talk at the U.N. this week about getting serious on climate change. Will it amount to anything?
We'll be back in a moment with Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist who is actually optimistic about the possibility of collective action.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAKARIA: At his speech at the U.N. General Assembly this week, President Biden questioned whether the world would meet the threat of climate change or suffer from the ever-worsening heat and cold, floods and drought?
It's a fair question. Thus far there's been a lot of hand-wringing on the world stage but not close to enough action.
So the question is, what would spur enough action?
Joining me now is Katharine Hayhoe, the chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy and the author of a brand-new book, "Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing In a Divided World."
Welcome, Kathy. What do you think is the cause of the division, of the polarization, of the partisanship on climate in America?
KATHARINE HAYHOE, CHIEF SCIENTIST, THE NATURE CONSERVANCY: It's a symptom of the polarization on almost every issue that is tearing us apart. And at the root of that polarization is fear. The world is changing so fast, too many feel as if they're losing out, and others feel that it's not changing fast enough.
And the answer is not to continue to divide even further but to recognize that what we all have in common is greater than what divides us.
And in the case of climate change, it doesn't knock on the door of your house and ask who you voted for before it destroys it. Climate change affects us all, and we all need to be part of fixing it.
ZAKARIA: So you, in some senses, perhaps you understand the -- the fear or the opposition to thinking about doing something serious about climate change, because you grew up in a very Christian household. You're still a practicing Christian.
Do you think that there is a way to reach out to people who have been resistant?
And, again, this is almost uniquely an American phenomenon, so I stress the American issue. What -- you know, you talk about a better narrative. What is the narrative that would work, you think, to convince people?
HAYHOE: Well, it is most noticeable in the United States. And I live in Texas myself, where the signal-to-noise ratio, so to speak, is very high. But I am Canadian and I see it in Canada as well.
When people attack me online from the U.K., they're also pro-Brexit. In Australia, there's a strong climate denial, too.
So it is spreading around the world. And to counteract it, rather than beginning with what we most disagree on, we have to figure out something we agree on. Sometimes it can be a shared faith, but as I talk about in my book, it
can be many other things. It can be the place where we live, the fact that we are both parents. We might enjoy the same type of outdoor activity or beer or wine. These things might sound insignificant, but I have had incredible conversations on why climate change matters and what we can do about it that have literally started with knitting.
ZAKARIA: But that's one-to-one. I mean, you need something -- something -- you know, how...
ZAKARIA: What is Joe Biden going to do, or somebody who has to convince millions and millions of people?
HAYHOE: Well, we ran an experiment where we made four short videos by an Air Force general, a Republican congressman, a Libertarian and then me speaking from a Christian perspective.
They ran them on social media in purple districts in the United States, where there were Republicans and Democrats. And then after running them on social media, they -- researchers from Yale tracked Republican opinion on climate change. It moved significantly because they had seen climate framed in terms of their values, national security, the free market, individual rights and a faith-based frame.
ZAKARIA: So one of the things you say in the book is that we have a kind of potluck of solutions, and that tends to confuse people.
What's the best way to clarify that?
I mean, to me it seems obvious that the single simplest solution is a carbon tax. It's what the government does best, which is, you know, you tax what you want less of; you subsidize what you want more of, so you tax carbon and you subsidize new technologies. Is -- is that it?
HAYHOE: Well, I'm not an economist, but nearly every economist in the world, including the two who won the Nobel Prize two years ago, agree that pricing carbon just makes sense.
There's a price on carbon in Canada and there's a price on carbon in many other countries in the world. Making polluters pay -- it does just make sense. But then it spurs innovation in so many other areas. Because farmers can get the benefit of putting carbon back in the soil, where we want it, instead of the atmosphere, where we don't.
People who make individual personal decisions, but even more, corporations and businesses that reduce their carbon emissions, they also benefit, too.
So it sends a price signal for each of us to decide. And when I say each, I don't necessarily even mean individuals. I mean schools, universities, places of worship, corporations, businesses, cities, towns -- you get the picture -- all of us to figure out what we can bring to the table, incentivized by a price on carbon. ZAKARIA: And the final point, I just want to highlight something you
say in the book, the problem is not out in the future; it's happening right now. We've lost 4 million people around the world to COVID, but we lose 9 million people every year to the effects of breathing polluted air, largely because of the burning of fossil fuels, right?
HAYHOE: That's a stunning number, and I can't believe that we -- we don't know that number. We all know about COVID, but who knew that air pollution is responsible for almost 9 million premature deaths every year and that air pollution comes from fossil fuels?
ZAKARIA: We've got to leave it there. Terrific book. Thank you so much, Kathy Hayhoe.
HAYHOE: Thank you.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back.
ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. Earlier this week President Biden pledged before the U.N. to renew and protect democracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.: Authoritarianism, the authoritarianism in the world, may seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy, but they're wrong.
ZAKARIA: He's right to note a worrying trend. The world does indeed face a "democratic recession."
The phrase was coined by the Hoover Institution's Larry Diamond to describe an erosion of civil liberties around the globe. He notes a worrying trend where more countries in the last five years have abandoned democracy than embraced it.
It's gotten worse in the last year and a half. Under the cover of COVID, there has been a steady slide towards authoritarianism. For instance, we've told you about Hungary's flirtation with autocracy, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban seized emergency executive powers and stymied opposition.
But he's hardly alone. Take Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Quarantine measures were co-opted to crack down on critics of his regime. In Uganda, opposition supporters found they were disproportionately subject to coronavirus restrictions.
But amidst all this backsliding, there is one bright spot: Taiwan. That's according to the newest report from the Economist's intelligence unit, which ranks the self-governing island at number 11 globally, the highest-rated democracy in Asia. It jumped 20 spots since 2019, more than any other government in the
entire world. Taiwan's score is largely driven by its election in January 2020. Turnout was an astonishing 75 percent. And in contrast to another 2020 election, Taiwan's election's loser graciously and quickly conceded, calling for unity.
The success of this election is a testament to the strength of Taiwan's democracy. It's a relatively new system. Voters have only picked their own representatives since 1992, and over the last 10 years, power has been increasingly consolidated in the hands of the people.
In 2012 Taiwan began creating a digital democracy, giving citizens tools to debate, audit and collaborate on government digitally. Engagement soared.
Moreover, nearly everyone in Taiwan can access the Internet without censorship, so it's no surprise that Taiwan boasts one of the most free online environments in the world, ahead of other democracies like Germany and even the United States. That's according to Freedom House.
Participation is effective offline, too. In 2014 student-led protesters who objected to a proposed trade agreement with China took to the streets and even occupied parliament. They were successful. The deal was abandoned.
Taiwan's COVID response boosted public trust in the government even further. Its population of 24 million had only 16,000 cases. Compare that to another island with a similar population, Australia, where COVID cases are more than five times that number.
The Economist's intelligence unit report applauded Taipei's pandemic strategy for successfully allowing the government to avoid the kinds of restrictions that hampered civil liberties in so many other countries.
But for all its achievements, this democracy is conditional. Though self-governing, Taiwan is not technically a sovereign street. Just across the strait is China, which claims Taiwan is part of its territory and is determined to reunify the island with the mainland.
In the meantime China exerts control where it can. Taiwan's independent elections are allegedly subject to persistent interference from Beijing's meddling and disinformation campaigns. And the island is relatively isolated because China makes other nations and international bodies choose. If you recognize and have relations with Beijing, you can't have them with Taipei.
And the backdrop for all of this is the constant threat of military intervention, whether from President Xi Jinping's belligerent language or from the regular incursions by Chinese warplanes.
So, over the last few years Taiwanese democrats watched anxiously as China's supposed One Country, Two Systems model in Hong Kong was eroded. China has also proposed this model to Taiwan, a model that 88 percent of Taiwanese reject, according to a government-commissioned survey.
And as the protest movement fell and as China asserts control over Hong Kong every month, it is a bleak reminder to Taiwan and to President Biden that democracy at the mercy of an authoritarian behemoth is fragile at best.
Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week, and I will see you next week.