Sep 20, 2018

Axios World

Welcome to Axios World. This is my last edition before your usual host Dave Lawler retakes the reins — and I head back to my day job editing on Axios' newsdesk.

1 big thing: Everything is (relatively) awesome

While current headlines might make you think that geopolitics is going to hell in a handbasket, things right now are better than normal around the world — at least from the market's perspective — according to BlackRock's latest global risk update.

Expand chart
Reproduced from a BlackRock report; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: The respite is largely due to apparent breakthroughs in trade between the Trump administration and the U.S.' traditional allies. But some of the analysis' most impactful risks — like the state of play between the U.S. and China — are also among its most likely to worsen given the uncertainty of current policymaking, leaving the world facing potential volatility.

The good:

  • The analysis views tension surrounding global trade as one of the biggest, likeliest threats facing world markets, but it sees the U.S. as an increasingly stable player. The recent agreements with Mexico and the EU on trade make it seem like President Trump is attempting to salvage — or at least work to reform — America's trade deals with its core allies.
  • The biggest threat on the board — a complete breakdown between Russia and NATO — remains the least likely to take place, even as heightened tensions continue to grab headlines worldwide.

The bad:

  • Economic relations between the U.S. and China are not good — and steadily worsening, especially given the latest trade war salvo between the two nations. The analysis views continued tensions here as the market's most likely disruptor. And because the issue is so intertwined with the North Korea conflict, there are multiple ways for it to potentially boil over.
  • Emerging countries are marked by continued upheaval. Some, like Brazil and Mexico, are set or likely to have populist leaders in place soon. And Turkey is facing a continued currency crash and isolation from the international sphere amid the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The bottom line: BlackRock's risk measure is notably volatile. Take a look: The markets viewed the world's geopolitical risks as above-average back in June during the height of the uncertainty surrounding North Korea. Things have trended downward significantly since then on more positive news, but we live in an age when 280 characters can turn the world on its head.

Go deeper: Take a look at the full report, which includes detailed analyses of what BlackRock has deemed the 10 greatest geopolitical risks.

2. A look at refugees in Trump's America

After this week's news that the U.S. will limit refugee admission to 30,000 in 2019 — down from 45,000 this year — Axios' Stef Kight took a deeper look at 2018's admission numbers, finding that the overwhelming majority of the small group of refugees admitted under President Trump are Christians.

Expand chart
Data: Department of State, Office of Admissions - Refugee Processing Center; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

By the numbers: The number of Muslim refugees admitted into the U.S. dropped from more than 9,000 in the 2017 fiscal year to fewer than 2,000 with less than a month left in FY 2018 — an 80% drop.

  • Islam is the predominant religion in nations such as Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, which account for 39% of the 25 million refugees in the world, according to UN data. Most Christian refugees came from Iraq, Iran and Myanmar.

Go deeper.

3. Asia: The Koreas make nice

Photo: Pyongyang Press Corps, Pool/Getty Images

It's been an eventful week of announcements during the latest summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang.

The big picture: North Korea agreed to dismantle its main nuclear complex and allow international inspectors into the country as long as the United States takes still-undetermined "corresponding measures."

  • The announcement led Moon to declare that "the era of no war has started."
  • The two countries also agreed to pursue a joint bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics.
  • Moon told reporters today that Kim wants another summit with Trump as soon as possible to speed up the process.

The bottom line: Platitudes aren't progress. Much was made of the joint Korean show of diplomatic force at this year's Winter Olympics and Trump's summit with Kim, but there's been little concrete progress toward North Korea's denuclearization.

4. Brexit: EU says no to Chequers

Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

"Theresa May's proposed new economic partnership with the EU 'will not work,'" according to European Council President Donald Tusk after a summit of EU leaders in Austria, writes the BBC.

  • May responded that "her proposals were the 'only serious credible' way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland."

The big picture: Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the EU called May's bluff — just days after she said her Chequers plan was the only possible solution to avoid a "no-deal" Brexit.

  • From the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg: "Of course this is only one day, one set of fraught meetings, in a tangled and lengthy process. But as things stand, it seems Theresa May is going to have to budge, or walk away."

What's next: "Mr. Tusk added that October would be the 'moment of truth' for reaching a deal, and that 'if the conditions are there' an additional summit would be held in November to 'formalise' it."

5. Europe: Populism beyond immigration

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. Photo: Simona Granati/Corbis via Getty Images

The recent surge of right-wing populist movements in Europe has become a dominant narrative in international media, but the actual election performance of nationalist parties suggests that the scale of their growing influence may be overblown — and that their rise may be rooted in social forces besides migration, writes Axios' Zachary Basu.

The big picture: An Axios analysis found that in the last two election cycles, right-wing populist parties, as defined by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, experienced gains (>0.05%) in 15 out of the 27 countries that will vote in next year's European Parliament elections.

  • But a number of these parties were already growing prior to the 2015 refugee crisis — often cited as the main factor in the rise of the far-right — while others lost support after the crisis, despite vowing to cap immigration.

Go deeper.

6. South America: Salt Bae's botch

Salt Bae and DJ Khaled. Photo: Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Ciroc

"'Salt Bae' chef lavishes Venezuela’s Maduro with steak dinner," writes the Miami Herald's Carlos Frías about the week's most unexpected mashup of Internet memes and human suffering.

  • "Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, the man who became a meme by sprinkling salt over manhandled meat, has incensed the internet again, this time by hosting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as that country grapples with widespread food scarcity."
  • "In three since-deleted Instagram video posts to his 15.7 million followers, Gökçe, who has a restaurant in Miami, performs his usual routine at his Nusr-Et restaurant in Istanbul."
  • "Maduro smiles and laughs while smoking a cigar as Gökçe finishes the meat ... Gökçe later presents Maduro with a T-shirt of himself sprinkling salt, draping it over the leader like a bib."

Worth noting: A rack of lamb at Salt Bae's Manhattan location costs $250, notes the N.Y. Times. Back in June, it was nearly impossible to acquire the cash needed for a 29-cent cup of coffee in Caracas.

7. Stories we're watching

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks through a sniper rifle. Photo: Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images

  1. A new era of U.S.-China competition calls for new rules.
  2. Downing of Russian plane in Syria tests Netanyahu-Putin relationship.
  3. Alibaba bails on pledge to create 1 million U.S. jobs.
  4. Pompeo certified Saudi support in Yemen despite staff warnings.
  5. Bipartisan Senate bill threatens to reimpose sanctions on ZTE.
  6. Comcast, Fox headed to settlement auction for Sky.


"I want to contribute to society in a different way."
— Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, on choosing to spend a chunk of his fortune on a voyage to the Moon with SpaceX