Jun 1, 2020

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome back to Axios World and thanks for being a subscriber. Tonight's edition is 1,650 words (6 minutes).

  • I intended to begin with a case for optimism about the post-pandemic future, but the events of the past few days have kept me, like most Americans, focused on our very troubling present.
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1 big thing: World watches America burn

Newspaper front pages via the Newseum

The world is watching the grief and anger, violence and pain in America's streets.

The big picture: The U.S. accounts for nearly one-third of the world's deaths from COVID-19. The killing of a black man, George Floyd, by police has sparked days of protest and nights of chaos in America's major cities. Rather than uniting in the face of trial and tragedy, America's divisions feel only more raw.

  • It's worth considering how the United States appears to observers around the world right now.

Zoom in: I occasionally click through the gallery of global front pages compiled by the Newseum to see how major events in the U.S. are being covered.

  • Often, including during President Trump's impeachment, America's news takes a back seat to developments closer to home.
  • Not this morning.

Paper after paper from country after country was splashed with images of American cities filled with demonstrators or, in some cases, in flames.

  • "Protests and looting throughout the U.S." was the headline in Clarín, Argentina's largest newspaper.
  • Folha de Sao Paolo, a major Brazilian paper, wrote that "protests against racism" had devolved into "repression and barbarism."
  • "Looting, fighting and curfew: the U.S. at war," was the headline that greeted readers of Italy's La Stampa.
  • "USA at War with Itself," agreed the West Australian, out of Perth.
  • Mexico's Diaro 24 Horas led with an image from Washington: "Anti-racist Anger at the Gates of the White House."

There were scenes of solidarity around the world over the weekend, with large protests taking place in London, Berlin and Toronto.

  • Soccer stars in Germany displayed the message "Justice for George Floyd" after scoring goals. English Premier League leaders Liverpool took a knee at midfield.
  • The U.K. Foreign Office called for journalists to be allowed to do their jobs — following the arrest of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez — and for a "de-escalation of tensions," in comments more often associated with fragile states or dictatorships.
  • Still, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was criticized at home for declining to comment on Trump's rhetoric, including Trump's tweet that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

The other side: Authoritarian governments that have long bristled at American criticism over human rights and respect for press and protesters sensed hypocrisy and opportunity.

  • Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded to State Department pressure over Beijing's actions in Hong Kong with a three-word tweet: “I can’t breathe.”
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry lamented the history of "unjustified violence" by U.S. police, while Dmitry Kiselyov, known for spouting the Kremlin line on state TV, declared "a new world order" in which "shaming will no longer work," per the Infodemic newsletter.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan bemoaned the "racist and fascist approach" of U.S. police and "the unjust order we stand against around the world."
  • Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi made a rare English-language statement "to the American people," saying Iran stands with them against "state oppression."

Between the lines: These messages are clearly not motivated by a belief that protesters must be heard and oppression must stop.

  • They are coming from governments that see opportunity in America's current crisis.
2. By the numbers: Where police shootings are rare

A police line in Glasgow, Scotland, during a commemoration of Bloody Sunday. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

1,004 people were shot and killed by police last year in the United States, according to the Washington Post’s database. That’s roughly 30 people for every 1 million U.S. residents.

Breaking it down: That’s not the highest rate in the world. Authorities in Brazil, the Philippines and Venezuela, for example, kill significantly more people as a proportion of their populations.

  • But America’s rate is far higher than those of most other wealthy countries.
  • America also sees more police officers shot and killed in the line of duty (44 in 2019) than most other countries.

By the numbers: In England and Wales, three people were shot and killed by police last year. Roughly as many (22) were killed over the past decade there as are killed by police in the U.S. in an average week (19).

  • The U.K. is not an exception. Police in Australia shot and killed between 1 and 11 people each year from 1991 to 2017, according to a government report.
  • Killings by police in Japan are exceptionally rare (two were recorded in 2018), and many smaller European countries like Denmark can go years without a single such incident.

One differentiating factor is that in the U.S., most police officers and many civilians carry guns. Tactics also differ widely.

  • Flashback: In 2015, the NY Times documented a visit of U.S. police leaders to Scotland, where just 2% of officers carry guns, to be trained to defuse situations without weapons.
  • The officers were astonished to hear that not only had Scottish police only shot two civilians in the previous decade, no officers had been killed in the line of duty since 1994. Go deeper

Worth noting: The data referenced above only includes shootings, not other causes of death in police custody.

3. G7 summit: Room for one more?

Trump and Vladimir Putin discussed plans for September's G7 summit today.

Flashback: If that sounds odd, it's because Russia was expelled from the then-G8 over its invasion of Crimea.

  • As this year's host, Trump can invite additional countries to attend. He plans to include Russia, Australia, India and South Korea in a summit that was pushed back from late June after Germany's Angela Merkel said she wouldn't attend due to COVID-19.
  • Following Trump's curveball, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. would veto any attempt to bring Russia back into the fold as a member, something Trump has floated in the past.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went a step further, seeming to object to the idea of Russia attending the summit in any capacity, while declining to say whether he'd boycott if Russia was invited.

Between the lines: After broadening the invite list, Trump criticized the current G7 lineup — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S — as "outdated."

  • Trudeau said the annual G7 summits bring together "allies and friends who share so much," while the G20 — which includes Russia as well as China — includes countries "we don’t necessarily have great relations with."

Meanwhile, Putin today set July 1 as the new date for a constitutional referendum that could allow him to remain in power through 2036.

  • Putin was forced to delay the referendum from April due to the coronavirus pandemic. He set the date despite his falling popularity amid Russia's continued struggles to contain its outbreak.

Go deeper: Pandemic brings Putin down to size

4. Global news roundup: Low infections and high altitude

The light at the end of the lockdown, in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo: Emmanuel Croset/AFP via Getty Images

1. Police in Hong Kong banned an annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, per WSJ.

  • That could be a sign of what’s to come under the new security law.
  • Trump announced the end to the special trade status that has allowed Hong Kong to flourish as a gateway to the Chinese market on Friday, citing Beijing’s encroachment on the city’s autonomy.
  • The details aren’t year clear. Neither is the future for businesses that operate in Hong Kong, not to mention the city's 7 million residents.
  • Go deeper

2. President Dési Bouterse’s hold on power in Suriname seems to be slipping, after four opposition parties announced a pact to oust him in the wake of the May 25 election.

  • Bouterse, who could go to prison for ordering the execution of 15 political opponents if he loses his presidential immunity, has called for a recount.

3. People in South Africa lined up to buy alcohol today after restrictions on its sale finally ended after two months.

  • Doctors and police say the ban has led to a sharp decrease in violence, per the BBC. But it hit brewers, winemakers and government revenues hard.

4. People who live high in the mountains — from the Andes to the Himalayas — seem to be contracting and dying of COVID-19 at very low rates, puzzling scientists, the Washington Post reports.

5. What I'm reading: China's sci-fi surge

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Audiences, authors and authorities in China have all fallen in love with science fiction, reports the FT’s Jing Tsu.

Why it matters: The once-banned genre has become the surprising focus of a soft power push aimed at changing global impressions of China.

  • “[U]nlike Beijing’s ‘panda’ or ‘ping-pong’ initiatives of the past, it is driven by popular grassroots enthusiasm — which has made Chinese officials sit up and take notice.”
  • “In the early 1980s, during Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms, the genre was banned under suspicion of spiritual pollution in a general backlash against westernisation.”
  • “Despite past tensions between writers and Beijing, the genre’s global visibility is coinciding with the visions of the Chinese state, which has enlisted the popular dissemination of science and technology in the 13th Five-Year Plan, 2016-20.”

What to watch: Chengdu is bidding to host the world’s largest sci-fi convention in 2023.

Go deeper

6. The world out there is coming back

Dining in Berlin before the pandemic (1926, to be more precise). Photo: Katherine Young/Getty Images

Many of you may find yourselves considering spending a night out at a restaurant for the first time in months.

My wife and I were discussing exactly that when I stumbled upon this delightful description of opening night at Pauly Saal, a Michelin-starred bistro in Berlin, in the NY Times:

  • "The staff were all wearing gloves and masks. The famous dining hall — a former gymnasium in what was once a Jewish girls’ school — looked the same, but the diners were to be spread at intervals throughout its velveteen green seats."
  • "It was winter when [chef Dirk] Gieselmann had shut the kitchen, still the season for truffles, chard and parsnips. ... Now he was reopening during the asparagus, strawberry and rhubarb harvests. And this called for a completely new menu. ... [T]he pandemic had left just a single day for his chefs to practice."
  • "Inside, the sommelier, Paul Valentin Fröhling, was practicing the strange art of smelling and sipping wines while wearing a mask."
  • “Marvelous,” said Mr. Aldag, the loyal patron. The lockdown had been “really difficult to survive,” he said. “Of course, there were many delivery companies but it’s not the same, sitting on your sofa and having this ugly pizza.”

Dine in

7. Stories we're watching

Berliners are back out on the Landwehrkanal. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

  1. SpaceX put men in space
  2. European soccer's push to return
  3. U.S. and Israel huddle on annexation
  4. Your guide to comparing climate change and coronavirus
  5. India extends lockdown, with exceptions
  6. Lessons from the lockdown — and what comes next
  7. Podcast: The virus didn't go away

Quoted:

"I did speak to Prime Minister Modi. He’s not in a good mood about what’s going on with China."
— President Trump on Friday, when asked about India's border dispute with China
“There has been no recent contact between PM Modi and President Trump. The last conversation between them was on April 4, on the subject of hydroxychloroquine.”
— Indian government source refuting Trump's claim, to Reuters
Dave Lawler