Jul 9, 2020

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome back to Axios World. Tonight’s global spin is 1,696 words (6 minutes).

Situational awareness: Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Áñez, says she has tested positive for coronavirus, per Reuters.

1 big thing: What to do when it comes back

Tokyo in the time of coronavirus. Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty

Many politicians and public health officials sounded a similar lockdown refrain in the spring: let’s do this right so we only have to do it once.

Reality check: While some countries have thus far managed to keep cases under control after opening up, dozens of countries that had initially turned a corner are now seeing a worrying rebound. They have to decide if and how to return to lockdown — and whether their populations will stand for it.

Driving the news: Protesters have gathered again tonight in Belgrade, Serbia, following two nights of violent clashes. The tumult began after a sudden uptick in cases led President Aleksandar Vucic to announce a new coronavirus curfew.

  • Serbia had initially avoided a major outbreak but lifted what had been one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns in early May and began to allow crowds to pack into sporting events and bars. Parliamentary elections also went ahead in June.
  • Vucic’s critics claim Serbia reopened too rapidly and is now paying the price. Protests both nights began peacefully but ended in violence, some of it inflicted by police.
  • Where things stand: Vucic has backed down, but gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned and indoor venues will have to close early.

Japan has also seen its case count — long strikingly low given its large, dense population — tick upwards in recent weeks.

  • Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura denied yesterday that there was any need for a new state of emergency. Reopening plans, including allowing some fans back in stadiums, are moving ahead.
  • The government’s primary focus is the economy, as was demonstrated by the replacement of a panel of scientific experts with a new body that includes business leaders, the Washington Post notes.
  • Officials point out that many of the new cases are among younger people, death rates remain low, and hospitals aren’t under strain.

Other countries have been quicker to react to spikes. Melbourne, Australia entered six weeks of lockdown after a record-high 191 infections were recorded in the state of Victoria on Tuesday.

  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s second-largest city was sacrificing for the whole country so that its outbreak would be contained there.
  • Chinese cities, including Beijing, have also seen quick snapbacks as the government attempts to confine outbreaks to one location.

Several European hotspots — Leicester in the U.K., Guetersloh in Germany, parts of Catalonia and Galicia in Spain — have re-entered lockdowns.

  • The Israeli government is considering neighborhood-level restrictions, as its success at containing the virus seems to be unraveling.
  • Targeted restrictions have already been applied in 19 Lisbon boroughs, a few Rwandan villages and a single building in Italy, per CNN.
  • These small-scale clampdowns could help countries avoid the deep economic harm of the first lockdown wave.

What to watch: It has been exactly four months since the first lockdown outside of China was announced, in Italy. It will likely be far longer before a vaccine is widely distributed.

  • Some countries may avoid major new outbreaks. Others, particularly in the developing world, will reject new shutdowns even if they don’t.

The bottom line: We can expect to see many cities, and perhaps countries, dancing in and out of lockdown in the months to come.

2. Seoul mayor found dead

Park at a conference in 2017. Photo: Aurelien Morissard/IP3/Getty Images

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was found dead today following a seven-hour manhunt.

What we know: Park's disappearance came a day after local TV stations reported that a former secretary in his office had filed sexual harassment allegations against him. Police confirmed a claim had been filed but wouldn't offer details, per AP.

The big picture: Park, 64, was a leading figure in the ruling Democratic Party, one of South Korea's most prominent progressive politicians, and an early favorite for the 2022 presidential election.

  • The former human rights attorney had been mayor since 2011 and was praised for successfully controlling the city's coronavirus outbreak.

The latest: Police say Park's body was found in forested hills in northern Seoul, per Yonhap. He cleared his schedule before leaving his home this morning, and his phone had been turned off.

  • Park's daughter reported him missing after finding a "'will-like' note."
  • A TV news program was reportedly planning to disclose more details from the sexual harassment claim tonight.
3. World news roundup

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

1. Poland heads to the polls Sunday for a presidential run-off between incumbent Andrzej Duda, a conservative aligned with Poland's populist Law and Justice party, and Rafal Trzaskowski, the centrist mayor of Warsaw.

Why it matters: The race is expected to be close. If Trzaskowski wins, he'll be able to veto legislation from Law and Justice, which has clashed with the EU over alleged infringements against judicial independence and freedom of the press.

  • The race has largely come down to culture wars. Duda is expected to dominate more conservative rural areas, while Trzaskowski should fare well in cities.
  • On the one hand... Law and Justice had accused foreign media outlets, particularly from Germany, of trying to prevent Duda from winning.
  • On the other... state media has been all but openly promoting Duda's candidacy, monitors say.

2. Ivory Coast Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly died on Wednesday. He had been President Alassane Ouattara's handpicked successor ahead of October's election.

What to watch: There was immediate speculation that Ouattara might reverse his decision to step down. The ruling party is already hinting it might ask him to do so, though the opposition claims he's ineligible.

  • The stakes are high: there was a brief civil war after power last changed hands, in 2010.

3. The Treasury Department announced Thursday that the U.S. has sanctioned four Chinese Communist Party officials and the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau for human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

4. Data du jour: Local Chinese officials clean up their act

Confidence in local officials has been dramatically increasing in China, while support for the central government remains high, according to surveys conducted between 2003-2016 by Harvard's Kennedy School.

Why it matters: The findings run counter to theories that rising expectations and growing inequality may be spawning dissatisfaction with the Chinese Communist Party.

Between the lines: The authors found that satisfaction with the government in a particular area correlates with the quality of the environment, public services and transportation infrastructure, indicating approval does hinge on effective governance.

Zoom in: Approval of officials at the county (52% to 74%) and township (44% to 70%) levels has skyrocketed since 2003.

  • Respondents are now nearly twice as likely to view their local officials as "kind" (39% to 74%) and "concerned with the difficulties of ordinary people" (28% to 52%).
  • In 2016, 56% said problems raised with local officials had been "completely resolved," compared to 19% in 2003.
  • Satisfaction with government has risen most in poorer, inland regions where services like health insurance and pension plans became widely available over this period.

The other side: Corruption has long been a top concern, and the percentage of people viewing local officials as "clean" fell to 35% in 2011. It rose to 65% by 2016 amid a highly publicized anti-corruption drive.

  • Air pollution easily tops the list of environmental concerns. Respondents tend to think their local air quality has deteriorated (49%) or stayed the same (29%) over the last five years, but 43% believe it will improve over the next five years.

What to watch: By most measures, quality of life has increased significantly across China since 2003. As economic growth slows, a gap could emerge between the improvements people expect and what the government can deliver.

Bonus: What China's recovery tells us
Adapted from the Institute of International Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals. (“EM” denotes emerging markets.)

China and much of Southeast Asia look to be bouncing back strongly from the coronavirus pandemic, Axios' Dion Rabouin reports.

But, but, but: That's not necessarily great news for America's recovery. Not only did China contain its outbreak much more effectively, its economy is also more heavily reliant on manufacturing, which has bounced back faster than services.

Go deeper.

5. China's law for Hong Kong applies to you

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It's now illegal for protesters to demand democracy in Hong Kong. But, as Beijing's new security law is written, it's also illegal for you to do so wherever you may be.

  • Article 38 of the national security law states, "This Law shall apply to offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region."

Why it matters: China has long sought to crush organized dissent abroad through quiet threats and coercion. Now it has codified that practice into law — potentially forcing people and companies around the world to choose between speaking freely and ever stepping foot in Hong Kong again, Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports.

  • "If I appear at a congressional committee in D.C. and say something critical, that literally would be a violation of this law," Wang Minyao, a Chinese-American lawyer based in New York, told Bethany.
  • "One of the main purposes of having the national security law is to quash the international front of the movement," added Nathan Law, a Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker who fled the city last week.

The big picture: All multinational companies and executives need to worry about breaking U.S. law, no matter where they're based or doing business. Now, they need to worry about Chinese law, too, writes Axios' Felix Salmon.

The bottom line: You won't get arrested so long as you remain outside China and Hong Kong. But for many businesses, that's not an option.

Go deeper.

Podcast: China's war on your speech

6. Untangling the Russian bounties story

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Russian support for the Taliban has been debated within the CIA dating back to Barack Obama's second term, reports Axios Codebook author Zach Dorfman.

Behind the scenes: CIA officials disagreed about the strength of the intelligence, and because there was no "specific threat information," it didn't make it into Obama's Daily Brief, former intelligence officials tell Zach.

The digging continued and by 2019 some U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had transitioned from merely providing support to the Taliban to actually paying them to kill U.S. soldiers.

  • The alleged bounty scheme was discussed at a high-level National Security Council meeting in March, sources told the NYT, but no action has been taken by the White House.
  • Assessments about the strength of the intelligence vary among U.S. spy agencies.

Between the lines: U.S. officials believe that the bounties were organized by members of Unit 29155, an arm of Russia's military intelligence agency GRU, according to the Times. This notoriously aggressive group is considered responsible for:

  • the poisoning, via a powerful nerve gas, of a Russian defector and his daughter in the U.K. in 2018;
  • an attempted coup in Montenegro in 2019;
  • other actions aimed at destabilizing Europe.

Go deeper.

7. Stories we're watching

Munir Uz Zaman/AFP via Getty

  1. TikTok caught in U.S.-China vise
  2. A swift Hong Kong decoupling looms
  3. Kenya gets internet access via balloon
  4. Trump notifies WHO of intent to withdraw
  5. U.K.-China tension heats up over Huawei
  6. India's cases climb
  7. U.K. to subsidize restaurant meals by 50%

Quoted:

"Just look at my face. I'm fine."
— President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, after testing positive for COVID-19
Dave Lawler

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