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.
It's been a chaotic few days in U.S. foreign policy, including flare-ups with Iran, North Korea and China.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The Trump administration says Nepal is “central” to its strategy in the Indo-Pacific, but the small South Asian country is already home to a battle for influence between its giant neighbors: China and India.
Why it matters: Nepal is a signatory to Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, and the government sees a railway deal with China as a “game changer” for the country, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali tells Axios.
India remains Nepal’s largest trading partner and maintains close cultural and economic ties.
China offers Nepal an attractive alternative to Indian domination. It's Nepal's largest source of foreign direct investment and has rapidly spread its tentacles in South Asia. China is now the largest trading partner of Bangladesh, Maldives and Pakistan.
The U.S. also granted Nepal $500 million for infrastructure development, in 2017.
The big picture: “Nepal has geographical limitations. It can’t antagonize India and it can’t abandon China,” says Sridhar Khatri, former executive director of the South Asia Center for Policy Studies.
What to watch: The benefits of the planned infrastructure projects are far off, and many Nepalis are skeptical they’ll ever match what’s being promised. Meanwhile, there’s some bemusement that great powers seem to be putting so much emphasis on Nepal.
Ramaphosa casts his ballot. Photo: Wikus De Wet/AFP/Getty Images
South Africa's ruling ANC party won yesterday's election with around 56% of the vote. That's down from 62% in 2014, but nonetheless means Cyril Ramaphosa will get a full term as president.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
National Security Adviser John Bolton "convened a meeting at CIA headquarters last week with the Trump administration's top intelligence, diplomatic and military advisers to discuss Iran," NBC News reports tonight.
Why it matters: There has been a flurry of activity at the top levels of the Trump administration since Bolton announced an aircraft carrier was heading to the Gulf and indicated the U.S. had intelligence of an Iranian plot to attack Americans or U.S. allies (Iran denies that). Concerns over the potential for war are rising.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meanwhile announced a partial withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal yesterday, a year after the U.S. unilaterally pulled out.
Between the lines: "U.S. policy has undoubtedly inflicted economic harm on Iran," but there are no signs the regime is in danger of collapse, Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group writes for Axios Expert Voices.
What to watch: "The White House appears to believe that the U.S. will come out ahead whether Iran honors the nuclear deal or withdraws from it," argues Joel Rubin of the Washington Strategy Group. "This rose-colored policy logic recalls the statements that preceded the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq."
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios
The U.S. has seized a North Korean ship, named the Wise Honest, for transporting coal in violation of U.N. sanctions, the Justice Department announced today.
The backdrop: This was the first such move taken against North Korea, and was announced just hours after the country test-fired what appeared to be 2 short-range ballistic missiles, the latest in a flurry of provocative moves.
What to watch: Kim Jong-un is clearly testing President Trump, and will probably keep prodding until he gets a reaction. For now, Trump isn't taking the bait:
"Nobody’s happy about it, but we’re taking a good look and we’ll see. We’ll see. The relationship continues, but we’ll see what happens. I know they want to negotiate, they’re talking about negotiating, but I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate.”— Trump today, on North Korea's latest missile tests
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He has arrived for last-minute negotiations with U.S. officials including Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer that are ongoing as this newsletter goes out, Bloomberg reports.
The backdrop: U.S. tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods are due to jump from 10% to 25% at 12:01 am on Friday after Trump earlier this week angrily accused the Chinese of backtracking on trade commitments.
How we got here: "[T]he U.S. thought China agreed to detail the laws it would change to implement the trade deal under negotiation. Beijing said it had no intention of doing so, triggering Mr. Trump’s threat Sunday to escalate tariffs and bringing the dispute into the open," the WSJ reports.
Go deeper: The world can't afford a trade war right now.
I joined Axios' Dan Primack on his Pro Rata podcast today, talking about why the position of so much of the world on China's detention of over 1 million Uighur Muslims is, "no comment."
Forgetting something? Pompeo, following his Arctic Council address. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Pompeo has had an interesting week.
Pompeo's week began at an Arctic Council summit in Finland.
What they're saying:
"Pompeo just said that ice is melting, but did not mention why. ... The Trump presidency is trying to stir the calm Arctic atmosphere by creating these narratives of conflict, tension and resource possibilities. They are not much based on facts, but they may influence how people think about the region."— Timo Koivurova, director of the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland
The bottom line: Rafe Pomerance, chair of Arctic 21 and a senior fellow at the Woods Hole Research Center, says the real threat isn’t China or Russia’s Arctic ambitions, as Pompeo portrayed it, but rather climate change itself. "That’s the real security challenge," he told Andrew. "This other stuff is small potatoes.”
Orban and Trump at a 2017 NATO summit. Photo: Danny Gys/AFP/Getty Images
Trump will welcome Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, to the White House on Monday.
Back home, Orbán has “systematically crushed” Hungary’s higher-education system as part of his “quest for eternal political life,” Franklin Foer writes in the Atlantic.
Between the lines: “How did the Orbán of the early ’90s, with his long hair and academic aspirations, become the architect of illiberalism? One theory suggests that political expediency pulled him to the right. But the liberals had also wishfully imposed their hopes on Orbán, never looking carefully enough at him to notice that he deeply resented them.”
Go deeper: “Trump’s outreach to Orbán will be seen as an effort to bolster populists, weaken Europe’s strained political center and undermine the EU,” Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations writes for Axios Expert Voices.
Kashmiri Muslims rest in the Dastgeer Sahib shrine in Srinagar. Ramadan Mubarak to those readers who are celebrating. Photo: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images
“I want to show that the idiocy in our country has gotten so strong that the police will detain me now even though there are no inscriptions, no slogans, without my chanting or saying anything."— Aslan Sagutdinov held a blank sign in Uralsk, Kazakhstan. Police appeared puzzled. But sure enough, they detained him.
Thanks for reading — have a wonderful weekend.