Dec 13, 2019

Axios World

Welcome back and happy Thursday, World readers. We're trekking around the globe in 1,623 words (6 minutes).

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1 big thing: Indian citizenship bill excludes Muslims

Demonstrators and security personnel today in Guwahati. Photo: Biju Boro/AFP via Getty

India's parliament passed a bill this week that would link citizenship to religion for the first time in the country's history.

Why it matters: This is the latest in a series of steps by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that could "fuel the sentiment that Muslims are a kind of permanent underclass," says Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment. "The damage that could do to the social fabric is potentially enormous."

  • The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says the bill, which will become law once signed by India's president but already faces a court challenge, is designed to protect religious minorities.
  • It would make Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who arrived from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before 2015 eligible for citizenship after six years.
  • Muslims were excluded, officially because they are not religious minorities in those countries.

Between the lines: The bill is linked to a deeply controversial effort to register all citizens in the northeastern state of Assam. The government has vowed to nationalize the citizenship register.

  • A lack of paperwork and haphazard legal proceedings have plunged many of those attempting to prove citizenship into a Kafkaesque nightmare.
  • The register was targeted at Muslims who came from Bangladesh, but some of the 1.9 million people left in limbo are actually Hindu.
  • While hundreds of thousands of Muslims may become stateless, Hindus and others could be fast-tracked for citizenship under the new law.

Zoom out: Modi’s critics say he’s undermining the secular principles on which the Indian state was founded 70 years ago.

  • But his supporters believe that framework always masked what India truly was: a great Hindu civilization. Four-in-five Indians are Hindu, while 15% are Muslim.
  • “You can easily mobilize on that resentment: ‘Wait a minute, we’re a majority in this country and we’ve been living like we’re afraid of wearing our identity on our sleeve. We don’t have to do that anymore,'" Vaishnav says.

The big picture: “The BJP has for a long time been powered by three principle objectives,” Vaishnav says. They include modernizing the economy, making India a leading global power, and redefining India’s social contract in a more “pro-Hindu” fashion, he says.

  • Modi prioritized the first two in his first term. Having been returned to power in May with a thumping majority despite a mixed economic record, Modi has made a sharp pivot to social issues.
  • The most dramatic step up to now was the revocation of the special constitutional status for India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, which was placed under a prolonged lockdown.

The bottom line: “The economy is in a tailspin,” Vaishnav says. "Instead of addressing that with the urgency it deserves, they’re lighting all of these other fires that are going to be hugely distracting and detrimental to the larger objective of 'making India great again.'"

The latest: Violent mobs set buildings and rail stations alight and clashed with police today in Assam, leaving at least two dead. Authorities cut internet and mobile service and imposed a curfew. The demonstrators worry the new law will flood the state with immigrants and change the local culture.

2. U.K. election: Exit polls show Boris up big

Johnson and his dog after casting their votes today. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Polls have closed in the U.K.'s general election and a key BBC exit poll suggests Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on track for the parliamentary majority he has desperately sought to "get Brexit done."

Why it matters: If the results hold, Johnson will have far exceeded expectations and should be able to easily pass his Brexit deal. It would be the biggest Conservative majority since Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's 1987 victory, and a disaster for the opposition Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

By the numbers:

  • Conservatives: 368 seats (+50)
  • Labour: 191 (-71)
  • Scottish National Party (SNP): 55 (+20)
  • Liberal Democrats: 13 (+1)
  • Brexit: 0

Between the lines: After three years of division over Brexit, Johnson appears to have united the "Leave" vote behind him while the "Remain" vote was divided between Labour — which lacked a clear position on Brexit — and the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats.

What to watch: This result would be a massive vindication for Johnson — long mocked and little trusted, but now set to steer the U.K. through what should be a crucial five years for the country.

  • The success of the pro-independence SNP in Scotland could have big implications for the future of the union.
  • Corbyn's position will likely now become untenable. His allies will seek to keep control of the party within its leftist flank, but they'll face strong opposition.
3. Global elections roundup: Winning, losing and staying away

Alberto Fernández at his Dec. 10 inauguration ceremony in Buenos Aires. Photo: Mario De Fina/NurPhoto via Getty Images

1. Alberto Fernández was inaugurated Tuesday as Argentina's new president, but he has yet to reveal how he'll pull Argentina out of its economic slump while balancing demands from vying political factions, Michael McCarthy of American University writes for Axios Expert Voices:

  • Since the campaign, Fernández has been dogged by persistent questions about whether he or his vice president — populist former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — will call the shots.
  • Fernández is attempting to reassure investors without fraying the heterogenous Peronist movement. Go deeper.

2. Israel's political drama is entering yet another unprecedented stage. The Knesset, Israel's parliament, dissolved itself last night, and the third election in under a year was set for March, Axios contributor Barak Ravid writes:

3. Algeria held an election today to find a successor for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced to resign in April amid a popular uprising.

  • Protesters flooded the streets and refused to take part in the vote because all five candidates are closely linked to Bouteflika and the long-ruling political elite. Go deeper.
4. World views America as a friend. And a threat.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Many countries around the world view the U.S. as a vital partner — and as a potential threat, according to a survey of 18 countries from Pew.

Why it matters: The data is a reflection of America's superpower status. But while American power is still respected, polls also show global views of the U.S. growing frostier in the Trump era.

In 14 of 18 countries polled, the U.S. ranked first as top ally:

  • Israel (82% chose the U.S.), South Korea (71%), Philippines (64%), Japan (63%), Canada (46%), Australia (38%), Kenya (35%), Brazil (32%), Nigeria (27%), Mexico (27%), South Africa (24%), India (21%), Indonesia (16%), Argentina (15%).
  • The exceptions were Lebanon (France came first), Tunisia (Algeria), Turkey (Azerbaijan), and the U.S. (U.K. first, with 31%).
  • China didn't finish first anywhere, but narrowly trailed the U.S. in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. That appears to be a recent phenomenon. In 2007, for example, 63% of Kenyans listed the U.S. as their top ally.

The flipside: 5 of 18 picked the U.S. as the top threat to them:

  • Mexico (56%), Turkey (46%), Argentina (40%), Brazil (18%), Nigeria (14%).

7 of 18 picked China:

  • Philippines (62%), Japan (50%), Australia (40%), South Korea (32%), Canada (32%), Indonesia (21%), South Africa (13%).

Other choices:

  • India (Pakistan was top threat), Lebanon (Israel), Israel (Iran), Tunisia (Libya), Kenya (Somalia).
  • In the U.S., both China and Russia received 24%. No other country picked Russia first.

Worth noting: Just 2% in Turkey (a NATO member) listed the U.S. as their country's top ally, while 46% consider America the top threat.

5. Trade war fallout: Pentagon digs into rare earths

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The U.S. Army is planning to finance mines and processing plants to establish a domestic supply of rare earth minerals, which are used in weapons and electronics, according to a government document reviewed by Reuters.

Why it matters: The investment comes in response to last year's threat from China, which processes most of the world’s rare earths, to stop exporting them to the U.S. amid the ongoing trade war, Axios' Jacob Knutson writes.

  • President Trump warned that relying on other nations for strategic minerals could hamper U.S. defenses and ordered the Pentagon to update its supply chain.

Details: Though the U.S. has domestic deposits of rare earths, it imports roughly 80% of its supply from China because mining and processing the materials can be difficult and environmentally dangerous.

  • The minerals are necessary components in nuclear rods, precision-guided missiles, smart bombs, military jets and most consumer electronics.

Flashback: The U.S. hasn't invested in domestic rare earths since developing the atomic bomb during World War II.

The latest: "Trump is expected to sign off on a limited agreement aimed at ending the trade war with China that would prevent new tariffs planned for Sunday and roll back some existing tariffs," WSJ reports tonight.

6. Data du jour: How's your job?

Just 3% of Haitians have "good jobs," according to Gallup. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Global unemployment has been pegged as low as 5%, but add in self-employed people living on less than $2 per day and part-time workers seeking full-time jobs, and you’re up to 32% of the global workforce — or 1.7 billion people — according to a new Gallup report.

  • Gallup's “good jobs” metric only counts those working full time for an employer, in an attempt to get a more useful representation of the global employment picture.

The big picture: The countries with the highest percentages of workers in “good jobs” are Gulf states with expat-heavy populations (Kuwait: 61%; UAE: 58%), with Singapore (53%) and Israel (51%) also high in the rankings.

  • Several former Soviet bloc countries (Belarus: 52%; Slovakia: 52%; Hungary: 50%) are high on the list, followed by Nordic states (Sweden: 50%; Norway: 49%; Finland: 49%). The U.S. and Canada are both at 42%.

Key trend: China is almost solely responsible for the global rise in good jobs, as the percentage there has risen from 29% to 36% over just a few years.

The flipside: Haiti (3%), Liberia (4%), Niger (5%) and Yemen (6%) are at the very bottom.

  • On a regional level, sub-Saharan Africa (14%) ranks far behind the rest of the world.

The gender gap: 36% of men worldwide have “good jobs,” compared to 21% of women.

  • That gap is widest in the Middle East and North Africa (28%) followed by Asia (17%), and it's narrowest in Europe and North America (both 9%).
7. Stories we're watching

Swinging at sunset on Indonesia's Lhoknga beach. Photo: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP via Getty

  1. Scoop: China tried to get World Bank to fund surveillance in Xinjiang
  2. Trump kneecaps the WTO
  3. Senate passes Armenian genocide bill, infuriating Turkey
  4. Bolton knocks Trump for North Korea decision
  5. Search teams find debris near where Chilean Air Force plane vanished
  6. China imprisoned most journalists in 2019
  7. Global consequences of warming Arctic


"[Genaro] García Luna cultivates the image of a cop in a world of politicians, a doer in a world of talkers, and after a cursory welcome he quickly moved to the matter at hand. He wanted to discuss, he said, 'combating corruption through the systematic purging of the police corps.'"
— From a 2008 NYT profile of the man who oversaw Mexico's war against drug trafficking.
"Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s former public security secretary, was charged with taking millions of dollars in bribes while in office to protect the Sinaloa Cartel, allowing the organization to smuggle tons of cocaine and other drugs into the United States. "
— From the NYT yesterday. García Luna's arrest in Texas stunned Mexico.