May 21, 2020

Axios World

Happy Thursday, World readers. I hope those of you in the U.S. enjoy the long weekend ahead, even if your beach and BBQ options are limited.

  • We'll be off on Monday, but back and better than ever on Thursday.
  • It was a wild day in world news, so let's get right into it (1,575 words, 6 minutes).

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1 big thing: Blow it up to beat China

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo opened a press conference on Wednesday with a remarkable statement: "The media’s focus on the current pandemic risks missing the bigger picture of the challenge that’s presented by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Why it matters: In the midst of a global crisis with more than 300,000 dead and no end in sight, American foreign policy seems absorbed with China's actions at the start of the outbreak, rather than a global effort to contain and eventually end it.

  • Anger over China's slow and secretive response clearly extends beyond Washington, and 62% of Americans now consider China "unfriendly" or an "enemy," according to a Morning Consult poll. That anger is already a core feature of President Trump's re-election campaign.
  • Some of America's allies, notably Australia, have joined the call for more accountability for China in international institutions like the United Nations and World Health Organization.
  • But another sentiment is bubbling up in Washington: that the international system has been so toothless in the face of China's transgressions, and so warped by China's participation in it, that it's time for America to walk away.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who is often floated as a 2024 presidential prospect, gave voice to that view in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

  • He argued that the existing global order served America's interests through the end of the Cold War, but has more recently come to facilitate China's rise.
  • Maintaining it now, Hawley contended, would doom America to “second place to the imperialists in Beijing.”

Hawley's primary target is the World Trade Organization, which admitted China in 2001 in what many hawks now consider the original sin of America's China policy. Hawley has introduced a joint resolution to pull the U.S. out.

  • Hawley's proposal has little chance of passage, and an assortment of trade experts and pro-business groups have warned of dire economic consequences if it did.
  • "Dismantling the WTO would turn the global economy into the Wild West," says Fred Hochberg, former chair of the Export-Import Bank (2009–2017).
  • Hochberg agrees that the WTO needs reform, but says the U.S. has "benefited enormously" from the principles underpinning global trade, which it played a decisive role in shaping.

That's not to say Hawley is merely shouting from the margins. Blowing up multilateral agreements and institutions to thwart China has become central to American foreign policy.

  • Trump has announced a total funding cut to the WHO in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century because the organization has refused to criticize China.
  • On climate change, even some who acknowledge the threat argue the U.S. should not be constrained by international accords that seek sharper reductions from America than from China — still considered a developing nation.
  • On arms control, the U.S. is threatening to walk away from the lone remaining treaty constraining the world's two largest nuclear arsenals unless China — which has one-twentieth as many warheads as the U.S. or Russia — signs on.
2. Then what?

Josh Hawley. Photo: Carlos Barria-Pool/Getty Images

"We have to face the reality that the existing organizations have not kept up with the current challenges," says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The World: A Brief Introduction."

  • That's certainly true of the WHO and WTO, he says. "But before you go about ripping them up, you had better be confident that you can replace them with something better."
  • "To begin with the assumption that all is lost and the best way forward is to destroy what exists is the foreign policy equivalent of blowing up Obamacare before you have anything to replace it with," Haass says.

The big picture: The U.S. largely led the world into the current global system. Few countries appear prepared to follow America out of it.

  • That may not matter to Trump. His withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and threats toward the WHO show he's willing to stand alone.
  • And the rhetoric from a number of ambitious Republicans — Hawley, Pompeo, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — suggests "America First" will live on beyond the current administration.

The bottom line: The stage is set for a momentous debate: Is abandoning the existing global order the only way to halt America's decline, as Hawley argues — or would it only hasten it?

3. The end of Hong Kong as we know it?

Protesters outside the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, Nov. 2019. Photo: Vivek Prakash/AFP via Getty Images

It emerged today that China plans to implement a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong that could provoke a fierce backlash from pro-democracy activists there.

Why it matters: Beijing's encroachment on Hong Kong's independent legal system prompted massive protests last year that have resumed on a smaller scale as social-distancing measures lift.

  • The current proposal appears to be even more far-reaching, banning sedition, treason and secession, which Beijing tends to define very broadly.
  • The proposal would amend the Basic Law, which has governed relations with the mainland since Hong Kong was handed back to China from the U.K. in 1997.

By addressing this law in Beijing, China's leaders are bypassing Hong Kong's legislature and chief executive, Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian notes.

  • The law could mean the end of the relative political freedoms that Hong Kong's people have enjoyed under the Basic Law — and thus the effective end of the "one country, two systems" framework.

What they're saying: "This move affirms that Hong Kong as we knew it is gone and rule of law is now rule by law, with the CCP determining what the laws are and how they will be enforced," writes Bill Bishop in his Sinocism newsletter.

What to watch: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said that if Hong Kong's political freedoms are not upheld, the U.S. will consider revoking the special status that allows the city to thrive as an international financial hub.

For your radar: China's secret paper trail

My colleague Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian obtained a secret extradition request from China for a Uighur man who fled Xinjiang for Turkey. Dive in

4. Global news roundup: Out of (arms) control

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

1. The U.S. is moving to withdraw from Open Skies, a 1992 treaty that allows NATO countries and Russia to surveil one another from the air to prevent the risk of military conflict.

  • "Trump administration officials and some conservative lawmakers have long argued that the Russians have used the Open Skies accord to gather intelligence on U.S. sites while restricting access for Western overflights of Russian territory," per WSJ.

2. Meanwhile, the fate of New START, the last treaty constraining the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, is in the balance.

  • Marshall Billingslea, Trump's arms control envoy, announced talks with Russia today aimed at bringing China into a new trilateral agreement.
  • But he expressed skepticism that Russia could be trusted to comply with any treaty, and he would not discuss the idea of extending New START before the Feb. 5 deadline without Chinese participation.

3. The Senate confirmed Rep. John Ratcliffe as the director of national intelligence in a 49-44 party-line vote today.

  • Why it matters: Ratcliffe, a vocal ally of President Trump, now heads an intelligence community in the midst of political firestorms surrounding the prosecution of Michael Flynn and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

4. Europe came one step closer to the long-held dream of fiscal union this week, as both France and Germany signed on to the idea of the EU itself — rather than member states — raising money on the bond market that could then be spent on crisis relief, Axios' Felix Salmon writes.

  • Where things stand: All 27 EU member states, including fiscally hawkish nations like the Netherlands and Austria, would need to sign on. But up until now, Angela Merkel's Germany would also have been considered to be in that group.

5. Burundi's election went ahead yesterday with few precautions around COVID-19 and social media sites blocked — perhaps to keep reports of irregularities from spreading widely.

5. Data du jour: Our partisan pandemic reality
Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans tend to think South Korea and Germany responded effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic, while China and Italy failed to do so, according to new polling from Pew Research.

Breaking it down: The responses are sharply partisan.

  • Republicans give the U.S. top marks of the six countries, with 71% thinking the U.S. did a "good" or "excellent" job.
  • Democrats rank the U.S. last of the six, at 27%.
  • Democrats were also twice as likely to think the U.S. could learn "a great deal" from the ways other countries responded.
6. State of the outbreak: Who gets vaccinated first?
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

There are dozens of candidate COVID-19 vaccines in development and at least eight are now in clinical evaluation — four from China, two from the U.S., one from the U.K. and one from an international collaboration, per the FT.

Why it matters: The gap between the first and last people to be vaccinated will almost certainly be months, and it could be years. The process will be dictated by some combination of geopolitics, manufacturing capacity, capitalism and — least assuredly — international cooperation.

So who goes first? Eurasia Group's GZERO Media has this helpful breakdown of the options:

  • "The highest bidder. It's not cheap to develop and produce vaccines. If this vaccine goes first to governments or individuals who pay the most for it, the large profits can then be reinvested to produce more vaccine for more people more quickly."
  • "Citizens of the country where the vaccine was made. If you're French, and a French company develops the vaccine first, shouldn't French citizens benefit first?"
  • Front-line workers. But even then, would it be sent to the hardest-hit countries first, spread among fewer front-line workers in many countries, or revert back to the first two criteria?
  • Who decides? "[T]he CEO of the company that gets there first? Or the government of the country where that company pays taxes? The World Health Organization? A vote of the United Nations General Assembly? Someone else?"

These are difficult questions. Let's hope we have to answer them soon.

7. Stories we're watching

Xi Jinping (center) and the maskless men who lead China's Communist Party at the opening of party meetings today in Beijing. Photo: Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images

  1. 80+ dead after Cyclone Amphan lashes India and Bangladesh
  2. Russia floats summit to get U.S. and Palestinians talking
  3. Latin America surpasses U.S. and Europe in new COVID-19 cases
  4. Tokyo Olympics to be canceled if not held in 2021
  5. Trump says he's "considering" holding G7 in person
  6. Podcast: An economic cold war with China
  7. Pompeo's government-funded dinners draw scrutiny


"I've seen the various stories, that someone was walking my dogs to sell arms to my dry cleaner. It's all just crazy."
— Pompeo bristled at questions about the firing of the State Department's inspector general

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