Oct 1, 2018

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome to Axios World, where two evenings a week we break down what you need to know about the big stories from around the globe.

Thanks for joining me! Please tell your friends and colleagues to sign up here, and I'd love your tips and feedback: lawler@axios.com.

1 big thing: Russia gives up on Trump

Trump and Putin in Helsinki. Photo: Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images

The percentage of Russians who are confident President Trump will "do the right thing regarding world affairs" plummeted over the last year from 53% to 19%, according to Pew's annual Global Attitudes survey.

By the numbers: Trump's campaign push for warmer ties with Moscow clearly broke through, with 41% of Russians viewing the U.S. favorably in the months after he took office — up from 15% at the end of Barack Obama's tenure. That number has now fallen to 26%.

  • Alina Polyakova of the Brookings Institution notes that last year's survey was taken at a time when there were real hopes of detente in Russia. What has followed has been a "much more hawkish Russia policy than I think the Russians expected to see."
  • Russia's state-controlled media has changed its tone on Trump accordingly, she notes. He's mentioned less often and less positively. "The tone now is nothing negative about Trump, but he's seen as hampered or boxed in by the bureaucracy," she says. The government and media also like to depict Washington as "a mess" to make Vladimir Putin "appear like a professional manager by contrast."

The bigger picture: Across the 25 countries sampled, 70% lack confidence in Trump, on average. Views of the U.S. remain narrowly positive, though, with 50% approving and 43% disapproving. In some key allied countries, meanwhile, we're sinking further into uncharted territory ...

  • Just 30% in Germany and 38% in France view the U.S. favorably, down from 35% and 46% last year and 57% and 63% in 2016, respectively.
  • Views of the U.S. have tumbled in Canada (39% favorable) and in Mexico (32% favorable), where Trump's approval rating is just 6%. That's a big change: Majorities in both countries viewed the U.S. favorably throughout the Bush and Obama presidencies.
  • The flipside: Views of the U.S. rebounded in South Korea and Japan over the past year, back to levels similar to those seen under Obama. Confidence in Trump has also ticked up in both countries.

What to watch:

  • Across the 25 countries surveyed, including among many close U.S. allies, there is more confidence that Chinese President Xi Jinping will "do the right thing" than Trump will. Several European countries even view China more favorably than the U.S.
  • But when asked whether it would be better for the world to have the U.S. or China as the leading power, big majorities in nearly every country sampled picked the U.S.
Bonus: The leaders the world trusts
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Adapted from Pew Research Center, Spring 2018 Global Attitudes Survey; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Grass is greener: Respondents in France were far more likely to say they have confidence in Merkel than in Macron. In Germany, the opposite is true.

2. North America: Just don't call it NAFTA

Illustration:Rebecca Zisser/Axios

President Trump hailed his NAFTA update today as "the most important trade deal we've ever made by far."

Between the lines: Trump says the deal he's calling the USMCA (U.S., Mexico, Canada agreement) is "brand new." But it doesn't appear that different from NAFTA, unless you're in the dairy or auto industries. Still, after all the drama and acrimony, we've actually got a deal — assuming Congress signs off, that is.

Smart takes:

  • Krishnadev Calamur, The Atlantic: "The new agreement shows not only how Trump is willing to risk alliances to get the kinds of agreements he believes benefits American workers, but also how, despite protests, U.S. partners have little choice but to go along with much of what the world’s largest economy wants."
  • Felix Salmon, Axios. Our Chief Financial Correspondent points out that this is an unlikely embrace of free trade from Trump: "It's NAFTA on steroids — a tiny little bit of steroids. If you hated NAFTA, you'd hate this, surely."
  • James Pethokoukis, American Enterprise Institute: "A tremendous expenditure of national political capital for cosmetic changes to what Trump called the worst trade deal in US history."

The bottom line: Axios' Jonathan Swan described Trump's negotiating strategy in April as, "Threaten the outrageous, ratchet up the tension, amplify it with tweets and taunts, and then compromise on fairly conventional middle ground." Sounds about right.

3. Asia: Indonesia lacked tsunami early-warning system

Survivors amid the wreckage in Palu. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The death toll from an earthquake and tsunami that struck Indonesia on Friday is now over 1,200 and expected to rise further, NPR reports, citing local media.

  • Horror stories have emerged from those who ran for their lives as waves of up to 20 feet slammed a city of 380,000 people. Rescue workers today scrambled to find any survivors, while the remains of many of those recovered were placed in mass graves.

Axios Science Editor Andrew Freedman notes that the lack of an early-warning system contributed to the devastation:

  • "Indonesia sits on the 'Ring of Fire' and is extremely vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunami events, as seen in 2003. However, the country lacks a functioning tsunami warning system, consisting of ocean-based sensors that can detect the small, fast-moving shifts in water levels that indicate a tsunami's passage."
4. Africa: Relief then recession in South Africa

Ramaphosa, with Mandela looking on (in mural form). Photo: Rajesh Jantilal/AFP

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's efforts to revive Africa's second-largest economy aren't off to a propitious start.

  • The country has now entered into recession for the first time in nearly a decade, and Ramaphosa's remedies are limited by the fact that his fantastically corrupt predecessor left a bare cupboard behind. Emigration is on the rise. Foreign investment isn't.
  • Ramaphosa's message since taking office in February has been that the bad old days are over. However, no corrupt officials have been jailed, and many remain in government.

Asked about that last week by Foreign Policy's Jonathan Tepperman, Ramaphosa said prosecutions "will definitely come." He asked for patience and added, "Because we’re not on a slide downward; we’re on a climb upward."

  • On land redistribution, a topic which sparked a recent feud with President Trump, Ramaphosa said South Africa had learned from Zimbabwe's example: "First, we’re not going to allow land grabs. Second, we’re not going to allow land to be redistributed to elites, to party hacks."
  • On the South Africa-U.S. relationship he said: "Despite what has been tweeted in the past, the relationship has not been negatively affected. But we would like to have it strengthened."
  • Ramaphosa rejected the idea that China's investments in Africa represented "a new colonialism," adding: "I come from the school that says you should be able to use other people’s money to make money. But you should also know that it doesn’t come for free."

Go deeper (NYT): South Africa’s Leaders Are Killing One Another.

5. Europe: Referendum hiccup in (North?) Macedonia

The Macedonians who turned out Sunday for a referendum on the country's name voted overwhelmingly to become the Republic of North Macedonia. However, not nearly enough of them showed up.

  • 50% turnout was required to make the referendum valid, and an organized boycott kept the numbers far below that mark. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev says he'll still move ahead with the name change in parliament.
  • The backstory, via the BBC: "Greece insists that only its own northern region should be called Macedonia — and it argues that the former Yugoslav republic's use of the name implies a territorial claim and cultural appropriation." That dispute has helped keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU.
  • Why it matters, from Ryan Scherba of Balkan Insider: "Supporters of the name change argue that a European future is the only future for Macedonia at all costs, even its name. Meanwhile, doubters are weary of Greece’s genuine support, and fear losing their cultural identity."

What to watch: "If the agreement succeeds," Jonathan Katz of the German Marshall Fund writes for Axios Expert Voices, "Macedonia will need to embark on a series of steps to pave the way for NATO membership, including adoption by its parliament of the contentious constitutional change, and parliamentary ratification by Athens. If the agreement falls apart, so too will Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations."

6. Homosexuality penalized around the world

Seventy-four countries have criminal statutes banning homosexuality, and arrests have been recorded in 45 of them over the past three years, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

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Data: ILGA sexual orientation legal dataset; Note: Data as of Sept. 2018. India and Australia's 2018 changes in law are reflected in map; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
  • Eight countries implement the death penalty for homosexuality, while five more have the death penalty but do not implement it, per ILGA.
  • Meanwhile 42 countries, most of them in Europe or the Americas, have legalized gay marriage or civil unions.

The latest: Gay rights activists in India recently won a major victory when the country's Supreme Court overturned a colonial-era law that had made gay sex a crime.

7. Stories we're watching

An apple harvest in Kashmir. Happy fall! Photo: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

  1. U.S. deploys disaster response team to help fight Ebola in Congo
  2. The Chinese threat to U.S. financial dominance
  3. A conversation with Iran's foreign minister
  4. North Korea says it won't denuclearize if it can't trust U.S.
  5. Italy's budget proposal sparks fears of financial collapse
  6. 7 arrested in Germany over suspected far-right terror plot
  7. China sees 14% spike in HIV/AIDS cases


"We had very strong tensions. ... It's all worked out. You know when it ended? Around 12 o'clock last night."
— Trump on Justin Trudeau
Dave Lawler