Feb 25, 2020

Axios World

Welcome back to Axios World. Tonight's journey is 1,660 words (6 minutes).

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1 big thing: Snapshots of virus panic

Taking precaution, in the Philippines. Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

The coronavirus is spreading quickly in cities nowhere near Wuhan, China, and the window to prevent a global pandemic is narrowing.

Zoom in: Here's a look at what comes with a coronavirus outbreak in communities outside China that have been hardest hit so far.

In South Korea, the biggest outbreak outside of China has prompted the closure of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive sect that worships its founder as the second coming of Christ.

  • Most of the known cases in South Korea have been traced back to the church's branch in Daegu. Police have been dispatched to track down and test members.
  • But hundreds of them appear to be in hiding. “For them, the fear of being outed as a Shincheonji follower is bigger than the fear of getting ill from the virus," Shin Hyun-wook, a former member, told the Washington Post, citing the “cult stigma.”

Towns in northern Italy, where a fast-growing outbreak has sent fears rippling around Europe, have been locked down — mirroring precautions taken in China, albeit on a much smaller scale.

  • Carnival was brought to a close on Sunday in Venice, two days ahead of schedule, and four Serie A soccer matches were canceled.
  • A major Armani fashion show was held in Milan without spectators and streamed online instead.
  • Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League and Italy's most popular politician, called on the government to shut Italy's borders and used the outbreak to justify his anti-immigration policies.

Iran has reported 12 deaths but just 66 known cases, an improbable ratio given the virus' 1–2% fatality rate, suggesting a much larger outbreak.

  • A local representative in the holy city of Qom said 50 people had died there, though Tehran vehemently denied it.
  • Clerics have claimed that to close Qom's shrine to pilgrims would be to give in to "a U.S. plot to undermine the religious institution," per the FT.
  • Authorities blamed the virus for record-low turnout in Friday's parliamentary elections.
  • The first confirmed cases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain were all linked back to Iran.

New border closures are being announced in response to the outbreaks in Iran and elsewhere.

  • Meanwhile, five countries turned away the Westerdam cruise ship and its 2,257 passengers and crew because one was believed to be infected.
  • Cambodia took the ship in. It was another opportunity for Hun Sen, Cambodia's dictator, to downplay the risks from the virus and continue to curry favor with China.

In Blagoveshchensk, Russia, locals are now looking across the frozen Amur River that divides them from China with resentment, rather than a sense of opportunity, the NYT reports.

  • "Businesses that depend on China are shriveling, hotels once full of Chinese guests stand empty and the local university, once a magnet for paying pupils from China, is struggling to cope."
  • "Giant neon signs, clearly visible from the Russian side, flash constant reminders of the crisis, displaying the Chinese Communist Party’s rallying cry: 'Go Wuhan, Go China.'"

In China, the year's most important political gathering was postponed today. The National People’s Congress was due to begin March 5.

  • President Xi Jinping said over the weekend that the virus "is a crisis for us and it is also a major test."
  • The test now extends far beyond China's borders.
2. Trump in India: Praise and protests

Awaiting Trump, near the Taj Mahal. Photo: Yawar Nazir/ Getty Images

President Trump received a boisterous welcome today at the world's largest cricket stadium, in Ahmedabad, and returned it by offering effusive praise for India and its prime minister, Narendra Modi.

Split screen:

  • In Ahmedabad, Trump told the attendees that India's development was one of the most remarkable stories of this century, all the more so because, “You have done it as a democratic country, you have done it as a peaceful country, you have done it as a tolerant country and you have done it as a great, free country.”
  • In Delhi, a policeman and at least four civilians were killed in clashes over a new law that grants fast-track citizenship but excludes Muslims. Protesters argue that India's status as a secular democracy is at risk on Modi's watch.

Trump said he and Modi were "united in our ironclad resolve to defend our citizens from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism."

Polls suggest Trump is relatively popular in India, and the government has made sure there are cheering crowds wherever he goes.

  • "In some ways, American presidents go to India to feel loved," Tanvi Madan of Brookings told reporters on a briefing call.
  • Bruce Riedel, who traveled to India as an adviser to Bill Clinton, said that the trip felt like the Beatles arriving in America.
  • Trump and Modi also visited the Taj Mahal and the former home of Mahatma Gandhi. His Tuesday itinerary includes a banquet at the presidential palace.
3. Data du jour: Where the presidents go

Teddy Roosevelt on the first presidential trip overseas. Photo: History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Trump is the fourth consecutive U.S. president to visit India.

  • Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both visited in their second terms, while Barack Obama visited twice.

By the numbers: There are 18 other countries and territories visited by all four of America's most recent presidents.

Asia: China has been visited by every president since Richard Nixon. Bush and Obama visited four times each.

  • Vietnam has hosted all four recent presidents, as have the Philippines, South Korea and Japan (Clinton 5x, Bush 4x, Obama 4x and Trump 2x so far).

Middle East: All four visited Saudi Arabia (Obama 4x), Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Europe: All four presidents made multiple visits to the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and the EU's host country, Belgium.

  • They all also visited the Vatican, Ireland and Poland.

The Americas: Trump followed his three predecessors in visiting Canada, but while Bush visited Mexico four times in his first term and Obama three times, Trump hasn't been as president.

  • All four visited Argentina.

One country greeted Trump's most recent predecessors multiple times each but has yet to host him: Russia.

  • There's also one country where Trump's was the first presidential foot to tread: North Korea.
  • Trump has yet to visit Africa.

Trivia bonus: Teddy Roosevelt (pictured) was the first president to travel abroad while in office. Where did he go? (answer at bottom)

4. World news roundup

"I quit." Mahathir earlier this year. Photo: Mohd Daud/NurPhoto via Getty Images

1. Malaysia’s 94-year-old prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, announced his resignation on Monday, but he will stay on in an interim capacity.

Why it matters: The circumstances of the dramatic resignation remain murky. Mahathir returned to power in 2018 alongside a former protege, Anwar Ibrahim, with a promise that Anwar would succeed him as prime minister before long.

  • It was a remarkable truce, given Anwar had been jailed on dubious charges after a previous split with Mahathir.
  • It appears to be over. Mahathir’s party quit the ruling coalition and is reportedly considering joining with the corruption-tainted opposition to form a new government.
  • No one knows what will happen next, but Reuters has a good explainer.

2. South Sudan’s warring leaders have reached a delicate power-sharing deal.

Why it matters: Riek Machar was sworn in Saturday as vice president to President Salva Kiir, renewing hopes that the civil war that has killed 400,000 people may be over.

  • Machar fled the country after a previous deal, in 2016, amid renewed violence. Concessions were made this time around on Machar’s security and South Sudan’s gerrymandered political map.
  • The U.S. threatened sanctions if a deal wasn’t reached, Pope Francis urged reconciliation, and African leaders attempted to moderate.

3. Lesotho's prime minister is seeking immunity from charges that he murdered his ex-wife days before taking office.

5. Sanders says he'd go to war if necessary

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Joshua Lott/Getty Images, David McNew/Getty Images, and Mario Tama/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders told "60 Minutes" that he would be willing to use what he called "the best military in the world" if America or its allies were under threat.

Why it matters: When it comes to foreign policy, the front-runner to face Trump in November is perhaps best known for opposing "endless wars" and for his past support for leftist regimes in Latin America. However, many of his positions sound fairly conventional.

  • He reiterated that he supports NATO and answered Anderson Cooper's hypothetical about a Chinese military intervention in Taiwan by saying he would be willing to take action.
  • "We have got to make it clear to countries around the world that we will not sit by and allow invasions to take place, absolutely."
  • Sanders also said he would be willing to meet with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, contending that Trump erred not in meeting an adversary but in failing to adequately prepare.
  • He wouldn't "trade love letters with a murdering dictator," though, or make friends with Vladimir Putin.

None of those comments received as much attention as what he had to say about Cuba:

"We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad, you know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?"

Go deeper: What the Democrats are offering the world

6. What I'm reading: Inside Hifter's Benghazi

Supporting Haftar in Benghazi. Photo: Abdullah Doma/AFP via Getty Images

The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick visited Benghazi, the stronghold of rebel field marshal Khalifa Hifter, to report on what life looks like under the man who wants to rule all of Libya.

Why it matters: Hifter's backers, most notably in the UAE and Egypt, believe he can defeat political Islam and deliver stability by force. But in Benghazi, Kirkpatrick reports, "the deals he struck with tribal militias, Salafists and former Qaddafi henchmen ... threaten to run roughshod over his promises of secular law and order."

  • "[W]e found a half-ruined city beset by corruption, where security agents trailed foreign journalists, residents cowered in fear of arbitrary arrest, and pro-government militias answered to no one."
  • "Aging and distracted, Mr. Hifter is seldom seen in Benghazi. He presides from his mountain home an hour’s drive to the West. He holds salons with tribal elders and depends on family as his closest advisers."
  • "Many Benghazi residents celebrate Mr. Hifter for restoring security to the streets, an attitude reinforced in his official media. ... Weekly street demonstrations, organized by the government’s Office of Supporting Decisions, recall Qaddafi-era displays of forced enthusiasm."
  • "Last July, a British-educated politician, Seham Sergiwa, 57, publicly questioned Mr. Hifter’s assault on Tripoli. A group of armed men abducted her that night."

Read the piece

7. Stories we're watching

A displaced woman and her possessions, in Idlib, Syria. Photo: Burak Kara/Getty Images

  1. U.S. stops offensive military operations in Afghanistan
  2. In photos: Protests in Chile rage on
  3. Germany mourns 9 killed in racist shooting
  4. O'Brien rejects report Russia's trying to re-elect Trump
  5. Democrats want new Russia sanctions
  6. Heat wave melting Antarctic island
  7. The real impact of Trump's "public charge" immigration rule


"It's a hard thing for a journalist to acknowledge, looking back on a body of work, to realize it has had so little impact."
— The Telegraph's Josie Ensor on covering five years of international inaction in Syria

Trivia answer: Panama. Roosevelt inspected the construction of the Panama Canal in 1906.