Axios World

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August 18, 2022

Welcome back to Axios World.

  • We take off tonight (1,870 words, 7 minutes) in Brazil, before stops in Taiwan in Kenya. If you're reading this in Japan, feel free to pop open a beer (see item 6).

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1 big thing: Lula leads Bolsonaro as Brazil's campaign heats up

Bolsonaro at a motorcycle rally in Salvador in July. Photo: Arisson Marinho/AFP via Getty

Brazil's election campaign officially kicked off this week, with polls showing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leading incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in their titanic clash of ideologies and personalities.

Driving the news: A new Datafolha poll out this evening shows Lula up 47% to 32%. Four other recent polls showed him leading by between 7 and 12 points.

The big picture: Gustavo Ribeiro, editor of the Brazilian Report, tells Axios this is "both the most boring and most tense" election he has ever covered.

  • Boring, because Lula has held a consistent lead ahead of the Oct. 2 vote.
  • Tense, because of the intense dislike between the candidates and their supporters, and because Bolsonaro has repeatedly claimed the election will be rigged and he's threatened to reject the results.

"It would really surprise me if he doesn't try to pull some stunt like Jan. 6," possibly before the election, Ribeiro says.

  • The key date to watch is Sept. 7, the 200th anniversary of Brazil's independence, when Bolsonaro has called on his supporters to take to the streets.
  • Flashback: The far-right leader declared at a similar rally last year that only God could remove him from power. The rally fizzled out before some ardent supporters followed through on plans to storm the Supreme Court.

What they're saying: During a campaign launch Tuesday in the southeastern city where he was stabbed in 2018, Bolsonaro — whose base is comprised largely of evangelicals — proclaimed that "the creator saved my life so I could give my best for our nation as president."

  • At Lula's launch event, held in the industrial city where he began his career as a union leader in the 1970s, Lula remarked that Bolsonaro might be "possessed by the devil."
  • Lula was barred from running against Bolsonaro in 2018 due to a corruption conviction, which was later annulled. "I'm returning so we can take our country back," he declared.

Lula oversaw a dramatic reduction in poverty during a presidential tenure (2003–2011) that coincided with a commodities boom.

  • After a decade of turmoil for Brazil's economy and for his leftist Workers' Party (PT), Lula's pitch is that the good times will return.
  • Yes, but: "Public accounts are depleted, poverty rates are going up. It's a pretty nasty scenario for the economy," Ribeiro says, and Lula is "trying to avoid any specifics about his economic agenda."

Bolsonaro, meanwhile, is dramatically increasing social spending in an apparent last-ditch effort to win over low-income voters.

  • Mauricio Moura, a pollster and founder of IDEIA Big Data, expects him to narrow the gap as the remaining undecided voters make up their minds.
  • "This is an election of rejection — on the one hand of the government, on the other hand of the PT and Lula himself," Moura says. There are more voters who reject Lula but aren't yet backing Bolsonaro than vice versa, he says.

The bottom line: Bolsonaro's unpopularity makes this "a very difficult election" for him to win, Moura says, but he's expecting a close race.

  • Given Bolsonaro's vote-rigging allegations and the intense polarization in Brazil, a close result would make for tense times, indeed.
  • If neither candidate wins a majority, there will be a runoff on Oct. 30.

2. China's ambassador to U.S. issues sharp warning on Taiwan

Illustration of Taiwan's flag symbol as a clockface
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

China will view further U.S. arms sales, official travel to Taiwan or naval activity near the self-governing island as provocations that will further destabilize relations and prevent progress on other issues, Beijing's ambassador to the U.S. warned Tuesday.

Why it matters: Ambassador Qin Gang said if Washington doesn’t "show restraint" in the wake of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, there will be "another round of tensions" — and no dialogue on issues like climate change and nuclear security.

State of play: China conducted weeklong military drills after Pelosi's trip earlier this month. They appeared to be a dress rehearsal for subduing Taiwan and involved newly aggressive steps, like disregarding the median line between Taiwan and the mainland.

  • After Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) led another delegation to Taipei on Sunday, China launched a fresh set of smaller-scale exercises.
  • The White House contends that China is using Pelosi's visit as a pretext to change the status quo and "intimidate and coerce Taiwan."
  • Qin cited his own frantic efforts to prevent the visit — using "every channel possible," he said — as evidence that China had no desire for such a pretext.

Still, both sides acknowledge that tensions over Taiwan are escalating dangerously and poisoning the broader relationship.

  • The U.S. plans to send naval vessels through the Taiwan Strait in the coming weeks and to approve additional arms sales to Taiwan.
  • Those steps would be consistent with the practices of past administrations, but Qin warned that China would see them as an escalation of tensions and be "forced to react."

The bottom line: The world's two biggest powers are on track for more rounds of tension and little serious dialogue.

  • The latest: Beijing warned against sending "wrong signals" after the U.S. and Taiwan today outlined plans for new bilateral trade talks.

Go deeper: U.S. and China spar on Twitter over climate change action

3. Part II: Inside the briefing

Ambassador Qin Gang. Photo: Liu Jie/Xinhua via Getty Images

At a private home in Washington's elite Kalorama neighborhood, Qin spoke on the record with a small group of reporters for 80 minutes, fielding questions on a range of sensitive issues — something of a rarity for senior Chinese officials.

  • It was a bit jarring to watch him transition from warm greetings to hawkish talking points, particularly on Taiwan. “The U.S. side has done too much and gone too far in this region,” he warned.
  • But he did concede that Beijing has work to do to improve its image in the U.S., where he found considerable "fear of China," and also Taiwan.

Pressed on the fact that most in Taiwan oppose reunification, Qin said they don't understand what "One Country, Two Systems" would mean in practice. Taiwan could even remain a democracy, he stressed.

  • But Qin also claimed One Country, Two Systems was alive and well in Hong Kong, despite Beijing's reassertion of direct control there.
  • He also made clear that Taiwan doesn't really have a choice, as reunification "must be resolved in the course of national rejuvenation," peacefully if possible.
  • Asked about a comment by China's ambassador to France that China will pursue "re-education" in Taiwan after reunification, Qin said that Beijing had to "reinforce our [shared] national identity."

More headlines:

Bonus: Where in the world?

Screenshot via Apple Maps

Can you name all 12 cities seen glowing here at night?

Some hints...

  • 1–9 are all capital cities, and No, 1 is NOT Istanbul.
  • Nos. 2 and 3 are not in Israel, though they're close.
  • 4, 5, 7 and 9 are the biggest cities here, each with over 6 million people.
  • You may have passed through 6 or 11. They have two of the region's busiest airports.

4. Global news roundup

Catching up on the news in Nakuru, Kenya. Photo: James Wakibia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

1. Raila Odinga has refused to concede Kenya's presidential election after official results showed him losing to William Ruto by 50.5% to 48.9%. He's planning a court challenge.

  • The intrigue: Four members of Kenya's electoral commission disowned the results, claiming the process was opaque. But now the chair of the commission has accused them of pressuring him to manipulate the results.
  • Despite the drama, Kenya has remained relatively peaceful.

2. Salma al-Shehab, a Ph.D. student at Leeds University and a mother of two, was sentenced to 34 years in prison for her Twitter activity, including retweeting Saudi dissidents.

  • She was first detained in 2021 while visiting her native Saudi Arabia and accused of using social media to “disrupt public order," per WaPo, the sort of charge used in Saudi Arabia to criminalize any public criticism.

3. Former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had a hands-on approach to the pandemic — so much so that he appointed himself as joint head of five government agencies... without telling the country... or his Cabinet colleagues.

  • He says he wanted to be able to step in if a minister fell ill, but kept it secret because he worried it would be "misconstrued." His critics say that's not how democracy works.

4. A Russian ammunition depot in Crimea blew up this week in another apparent Ukrainian attack on the occupied peninsula. A senior U.S. official told Politico the U.S. has no problem with such attacks.

5. Estonia and Latvia joined Lithuania in pulling out of a forum designed to deepen China's ties with central and eastern Europe.

  • Views of China had already turned sharply negative in Western Europe. Beijing's support for Russia during the Ukraine invasion won't improve perceptions in the east.

5. From the Axios files...

Mystery Caps of Mexico collection by Ebbets Field Flannels. Photo: Courtesy of Ebbets Field Flannels.

1. While 81,000 Afghans have been resettled in the U.S., the State Department estimates that more than 74,000 are still in various stages of the Special Immigrant Visa process for Afghans who assisted the U.S. war effort, Axios' Stef Kight reports.

  • Some are in other countries, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Most are trapped in Afghanistan.

2. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid sent a message to the White House on Thursday that the draft nuclear agreement being discussed with Iran crosses President Biden's own red lines, Axios' Barak Ravid reports.

  • “In the current situation, the time has come to walk away from the table. Anything else sends a message of weakness to Iran," Lapid said.
  • State of play: Tehran replied to the EU's "final" proposal with additional requests, mainly on the issue of guarantees if the U.S. were to again leave the agreement. The White House denies it's considering any new concessions.

3. A new collection of re-created vintage Mexican baseball hats almost instantly sold out when it went on sale last week, illustrating the hunger fans have for uncovering the forgotten history of the ball game in Latin America, Axios' Russ Contreras writes.

6. Have a drink for your country

Buy the bottle. Your country will thank you. Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty

The Japanese government has a problem: Young people aren't drinking enough alcohol.

By the numbers: In the good old days of higher booze consumption (1980), alcohol taxes accounted for 5% of government tax revenues. That fell to under 2% by 2020, per The Guardian.

  • To help plug the gap, the tax agency has launched a competition for ideas to help... promote drinking.
  • Submissions for the "Sake Viva!" campaign are due Sept. 9.

What they're saying: "Many people may have come to question whether they need to continue the habit of drinking with colleagues to deepen communication,” an official at the National Tax Agency told the Japan Times. "If the 'new normal' takes root, that will be an additional headwind for tax revenue."

7. Stories we're watching

Lining up for a free meal in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty
  1. Bombing at Kabul mosque kills at least 21
  2. Abbas faces outrage over "50 Holocausts" remark in Berlin
  3. Narcoterrorism fears in Mexico
  4. WHO chief: Lack of aid for Tigray may be due to skin color
  5. Turkey and Israel restore diplomatic relations
  6. Prosecutors link Plácido Domingo to sex trafficking ring
  7. Syria denies it's holding Austin Tice
  8. Coming attractions: Biden's cybersecurity strategy

Quoted:

"I’ve danced, sung and partied and done perfectly legal things."
— Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin responding to videos of her at a party.

Answers: 1. Ankara; 2. Beirut; 3. Amman; 4. Cairo; 5. Riyadh; 6. Doha; 7. Baghdad; 8. Baku; 9. Tehran; 10. Isfahan; 11. Dubai; 12. Jeddah.