Aug 31, 2020

Axios World

By Dave Lawler
Dave Lawler

Welcome back to Axios World.

  • Tonight's journey (1,634 words, 6 minutes) takes off from Peru and lands in Abu Dhabi.
  • Heads up: "Axios on HBO" is back tonight (11pm ET/PT) with interviews about vaccines, the gig economy and potential election-night chaos. Tune in!

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1 big thing: Where the pandemic has hit hardest
Data: European Center for Disease Prevention and Control via Our World in Data; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Peru now has the world's highest coronavirus death rate, surpassing Belgium and exceeding even Brazil (7th) and the U.S. (8th).

Why it matters: Peru and Belgium illustrate the divergence between the world's two hardest-hit regions since the eye of the storm shifted from Europe to Latin America in the spring.

Zoom in: Belgium saw an incredibly sharp spike over a single month, from its first death on March 11 to a daily high of 321 deaths on April 9.

  • The post-lockdown descent was nearly as sharp. It has now been three months since Belgium last recorded more than 15 deaths in one day.
  • The trend is similar in other European countries, like Italy: a terrifying spike, a steady decline and consistently low death tolls even after the lifting of lockdowns.

The flipside: Peru was hit later than Belgium, and it imposed a lockdown in March before recording a single death. Death tolls climbed much more slowly, but over nearly three months rather than one.

  • On April 27, Peru’s daily death toll crossed 150 for the first time.
  • Since then, Peru (pop. 33 million) has recorded over 150 deaths nearly every day for four months.

Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra was initially praised for locking down early and hard, while passing a large aid package for workers.

  • But Peru's health care system has been chronically underfunded, its economy is largely informal, and social distancing is difficult in its densely populated slums and crowded food markets.
  • Hospitals struggled to cope with rising caseloads, while attempts to restart the economy caused further spikes.
  • Peru is facing the worst of both worlds. In addition to the world's highest death rate, its lockdown also caused the world’s deepest economic contraction in the second quarter, per Bloomberg.

Zoom out: Over the past week, the 10 countries with the highest population-adjusted death rates have all been in Latin America and the Caribbean (Peru is 5th).

  • Brazil and Mexico have grabbed international headlines for their high overall death tolls and COVID-skeptic leaders, but Colombia (1st) and Argentina (4th) are now recording among the world's highest death rates despite far stricter policies.
  • Buenos Aires has been under continuous quarantine for nearly six months, but it hasn't followed the trend of European cities like Milan or Madrid, where fast-growing outbreaks were eventually brought under control.
  • Latin America's economic downturn could be the most severe in the world, with the recovery stretching into 2023, per WSJ.

What to watch: While death tolls remain relatively low across Europe, cases have begun to spike dramatically in Spain and France while ticking upward elsewhere, including in Belgium.

  • Family gatherings and domestic travel have been cited as potential drivers, in addition to significantly higher testing rates.
  • In Spain, the median age of those testing positive has fallen to 37 from 60, per NYT.

The bottom line: Latin America was unable to match Europe's success in quickly suppressing the virus — but it remains to be seen if Europe can sustain it.

Go deeper: 9 things for the next pandemic

2. Asia: Japan after Abe

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party will gather in mid-September to elect a successor to Shinzo Abe as its leader and the country’s prime minister.

Driving the news: Abe announced his resignation on Friday due to chronic ulcerative colitis, just days after becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.

  • Favorites to succeed him include Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, an Abe ally, and Shigeru Ishiba, an Abe critic and former defense secretary.

Flashback: Before Abe returned to power in 2012, Japan had shuffled through five prime ministers in as many years.

Data: Gleditsch and Chiozza, 2016, "Archigos — A Data Set on Leaders 1875–2015", Axios research; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The big picture: In his resignation statement, Abe acknowledged his failure to achieve signature promises, including a peace treaty with Russia to secure the return of disputed islands and reform of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

But Abe will perhaps be best remembered for restoring Japan’s status as a major player on the world stage and for strengthening the role of prime minister.

  • He also strengthened Japan’s alliance with the U.S., Michael Auslin writes for Foreign Policy.
  • “It’s been nearly a decade since Washington had to worry about whether a Japanese leader was fully committed to the alliance, could keep a stable parliamentary majority, and had clear plans for making Japan play a role in the world commensurate with its position as the third-largest economy.”
  • That era may be ending.

Editor's note: This graphic was created in 2019, which is why the tenures of some current leaders (e.g., Boris Johnson) appear so short. See the interactive version.

3. Headlines from around the world

Trump visits troops in Afghanistan. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

1. Lebanon picks PM as Macron meets celebrated singer Fairuz (FT).

  • Lebanon's little-known ambassador to Germany, Mustapha Adib, has been revealed as the consensus pick for prime minister among the country's political factions, including Hezbollah.
  • Meanwhile French President Emmanuel Macron — who has promised a "new political pact" for Lebanon — landed in Beirut today and elected to meet with a legendary singer before any politicians.

2. France: Senior military officer suspected of spying for Russia (The Guardian).

  • A French lieutenant colonel stationed with NATO in Italy has reportedly been charged with “delivering information to a foreign power.”

3. Guinea's Conde accepts nomination to seek third term (Reuters).

  • Alpha Condé would be barred due to term limits, but pushed through a new constitution earlier this year that he claims allows him to run in October.

4. Hotel Rwanda film hero arrested on terrorism charges (BBC).

  • After Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu, saved hundreds of Tutsi at his hotel during the 1994 genocide, he formed a political party with an armed wing — and became a target of strongman President Paul Kagame.

5. Poll: Trump trails Biden among troops (Axios).

4. Belarus update: Dancing for freedom

Dancing for freedom in Minsk. Photo: Sergei Bobylev/TASS via Getty

Protesters and security forces were both out in numbers in Minsk on Sunday — strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s 66th birthday, and three weeks since he claimed 80% of the vote in a sham election.

Driving the news: There were no violent crackdowns or reports of mass detentions, but riot police blocked protesters from assembling in certain areas. A strike leader from a large factory was also arrested today.

  • Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya plans to address the UN Security Council on Friday, per the BBC, while another leading opposition figure, Maria Kolesnikova, today announced the formation of a new political party.
  • The Baltic states today announced sanctions on Lukashenko and are calling for swift action on EU-wide sanctions.
  • At least 17 reporters, most of them Belarusian nationals working for foreign outlets, had their press accreditations withdrawn by authorities on Saturday over their coverage of the protests.

What to watch: Russian President Vladimir Putin has formed a police force to deploy to Belarus if “the situation gets out of control.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned him not to use it.

5. Europe: Political earthquake in Montenegro

Opposition supporters celebrate in Podgorica. Photo: Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Montenegro's pro-Western ruling party could be forced from power for the first time after finishing just behind a loose confederation of opposition parties in Sunday's elections.

The big picture: Montenegro (pop. 620,000) joined NATO in 2017 and has been ruled by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) since independence from Serbia in 2006.

  • The lead-up to the election was dominated by a dispute over a law stripping the Serbian Orthodox Church of property in Montenegro, which inflamed Serbian nationalists and led to large protests.
  • Where things stand: DPS remains the biggest party, but the opposition bloc has a one-seat majority in parliament and hopes to form a government.

Why it matters: The future of NATO and the EU was essentially on the ballot, emails Ari Mittleman of Balkan Insider:

  • "DPS presented the campaign as a battle between deepening ties with the West and admission into the EU versus a Russian-backed theocratic opposition."
  • "Russian influence in the lead-up to Sunday’s election was the most extensive and overt of anywhere in Europe in recent history."
  • U.S. Cyber Command chief Gen. Paul Nakasone recently outlined an unprecedented "hunt forward" mission where American cybersecurity experts went to Montenegro to help the government combat Russian hackers, Mittleman notes.

The other side: "While he has won plaudits for fortifying ties with the West, [President Milo] Djukanovic's critics accuse him of turning the country into a personal fiefdom built on graft and crime links," per AFP.

6. Dispatch: Our man on the plane

Kushner and O'Brien on board the El Al flight from Israel to the UAE. Photo: Nir Elias/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The first commercial flight from Israel to the UAE — El Al flight No. 971 — brought U.S. officials including Jared Kushner to Abu Dhabi today. It included an in-flight address from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Axios' Barak Ravid was on board:

  • "Kushner and the U.S. delegation were in a festive mood during the flight, taking selfies with the Israeli delegation and giving a long and optimistic briefing to the traveling press," Barak emails.
  • "By joining the flight and taking along a senior Israeli delegation, Trump’s advisers forced the normalization process to move forward regardless of irritants like the disagreements over the F-35 deal."

Behind the scenes: "In several rooms at the St. Regis hotel in Abu Dhabi, U.S. officials sat for hours in working groups with Israeli and Emirati officials to start drafting agreements on tourism, civil aviation, the opening of embassies, trade and visas."

  • "The main message from Kushner was about the need to keep pushing forward in implementing the deal in order to get to a signing ceremony at the White House in the next few weeks."
  • "The White House is satisfied by the many steps the Israelis and Emiratis have taken in the last two weeks — including phone calls between ministers from both countries, interviews by Emirati officials with the Israeli press and the abolishing of the UAE's Israel boycott law.

What to watch: Kushner told reporters Trump will be speaking with Netanyahu about the pending sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE — a major source of tension that has emerged in the wake of the deal.

7. Stories we're watching

Exploring an "aquatic forest" in Yangzhou, China. Photo: Meng Delong/VCG via Getty Images.

  1. Berlin police break up protests against virus restrictions
  2. India reports world's biggest case spike
  3. Trump to withdraw more troops from Iraq
  4. Weak dollar shapes global recovery
  5. Flash flooding in Afghanistan kills 160
  6. Kushner clearance concerns
  7. Japanese company tests flying car

Quoted:

"Mr President, this statement that you make is not helpful to the ANC, in my respectful view. For all intents and purposes, it can only serve to destroy the ANC."
— Jacob Zuma in an open letter to his successor as South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who had pledged to root out corruption in their party's ranks. Zuma himself faces prosecution for corruption.
Dave Lawler