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World leaders won’t ‘see the end of Russia using food as a weapon’: Expert

Sonnet Frisbie, Morning Consult Head of Geopolitical Risk Analysis, EMEA, analyzes the pushback House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is receiving from Chinese officials on her trip to Taiwan, and the way Russia has been able to leverage grain and energy exports in deals with Ukraine.

Video transcript

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Switching gears now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is touring Asia this week. And amid speculation that she'll be making a stop in Taiwan, the Biden administration is assuring the international community where it stands on the PRC's one China policy.

Well, joining us to discuss the implications of this potential visit and more is Morning Consult Head of Geopolitical Risk Analysis Sonnet Frisbie. Sonnet, thank you so much for joining us today. So obviously, hearing about this trip that Nancy Pelosi is taking, what is at stake here in terms of the US-China relationship and the possible consequences?

SONNET FRISBIE: Yeah, absolutely. This potential visit really puts all parties in a bit of a difficult position. So if you're Taipei leadership, of course, you don't want to say no to such a high-ranking US official. If you're the Biden administration, you are looking to reassure people about the US's position on not changing the status quo on Taiwan. And if you're Xi Jinping, you, of course, are also looking to assert your position and to reemphasize your commitment to the one China policy. So it's a really difficult situation.

Our data shows that Americans support Taiwan. Majorities of Americans say that they would support Taiwanese independence and normalizing diplomatic relationships between the US and Taiwan. But at the same time, over 80% are concerned about China's growing geopolitical influence. So it's really a tough position.

SEANA SMITH: And Sonnet, when we talk about the actions that China might take if Pelosi does, in fact, visit, what does that potentially look like?

SONNET FRISBIE: Yeah, you know, I think it's anyone's guess what China could do. In the recent call between Biden and Xi, you really saw Xi wanting to make absolutely clear that he had expressed how important the one China policy is to the People's Republic of China and to the Communist Party. And I think that message came across loud and clear.

I think the Biden administration, for its part, took a bit more of a cautious tone. If you look at the White House's statement, they really wanted to reemphasize that the US is not trying to change the status quo. So I do think that the White House's reassurances will have, perhaps, allayed some of the fears. And Biden has not sought to, in any way, walk that back or change his position there.

DAVID BRIGGS: Yeah, this is one area-- you can criticize Biden all you want, this is probably his most experienced area, a lifetime of knowledge and support of that policy, so it's very interesting. Just to note that the military from China said, "we won't sit idly by if Beijing feels its sovereignty and territorial integrity is being threatened." So that is a scary scenario.

But I want to ask you about what's happening in the Ukraine. The first ship carrying grain from Ukraine after it-- left Odessa Monday. And that's finally allowing some freedom of movement. What are the implications there on the global food crisis? Is there any optimism on the Russian invasion of Ukraine at least showing a glimmer of hope of ending?

SONNET FRISBIE: Well, listen, it's undoubtedly a positive development. That Port of Odessa has been closed for months, exacerbating an already really serious food crisis around the world. But what I want to emphasize is this is not a panacea. We've seen one ship leave the port. That's fantastic.

It was bound for Lebanon, a country that we know is already having an incredible crisis, a financial crisis on top of a food crisis, so undoubtedly positive. But if you look at the prices for grain, and particularly of wheat, they were already at really record highs before Russia invaded Ukraine. So I don't think that we should look at this and say, listen, this is going to solve all of our problems.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And in terms of some of the economic implications that do come with geopolitical tensions, whether it's US-China or obviously what's happening with Russia, how does that tend to impact what we see in US markets?

SONNET FRISBIE: Yeah. Well, we survey in Europe and in the US, and we've seen no decrease in the expectations that people have that food and energy prices are going to rise. Now, of course, we may see changes in the market itself. But people are really feeling pinched.

When we look, for example, in Europe, we're seeing the highest rates in a year of people saying that food prices are going to go up, and we're also seeing people saying they're not sure that they can afford to pay their grocery bills. So it's really impacting people across the developed world. And then if you look, there are other things besides just the food itself, for example, potash in Belarus, that's not going to be in any way helped by the opening of the port. So those fertilizers, of course, very important for next year's-- next year's food markets and to bring those prices down in the longer term.

SEANA SMITH: Sonnet, how significantly do you think this will help Ukraine, getting some of these exports out, something it hasn't been able to do for months, as it tries to end its war with Russia?

SONNET FRISBIE: Yeah. Well, of course, it is going to help some. I think it's amazing what the Ukrainians have been able to do. I mean, you can see them producing goods, trying to keep factories open at the same time that there's active shelling. So it's absolutely amazing what they've been able to do.

I would like to emphasize we're not going to see the end of Russia using food as a weapon. Russia has not shown any reticence in using energy as a weapon, if you look at the situation with gas supplies to Europe, the decreases and the volumes in Nord Stream 1. Frankly, all of the last several years, its actions on Nord Stream 2, which we've really seen sort of come home to roost throughout this crisis. So this is not the last that we will hear of Russia using this as a weapon. It is, again, a very positive development that they've been able to get that grain out, but we have not seen the end of this particular crisis.

SEANA SMITH: Sonnet Frisbie, thanks so much for joining us.