Jan 28, 2020

Axios World

Welcome back to Axios World. We'll take you around the world tonight in 1,599 words (6 minutes).

  • Thanks for joining me! Please tell anyone who might enjoy this newsletter to sign up, and I'd love your tips and feedback: lawler@axios.com.

A word of warning... I've hardly mentioned the 2020 election in this newsletter, and it'll remain a refuge from U.S. politics this year, but we're a week out from Iowa and I thought it might be time to zoom in on the top Democrats' foreign policies.

1 big thing: What the Democrats are offering the world

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

With the first votes of the 2020 Democratic primary one week away, the foreign policies on offer from the leading candidates merit closer inspection.

Why it matters: If a Democrat wins back the White House in 2020, they'll face steep obstacles to turning their domestic agenda into reality. But in foreign affairs, particularly when crises arise, they will wield immense power.

Biden's foreign policy centers around restoring America's global leadership and alliances.

  • He argues that will allow him to repair global institutions, defend the international rules of the road, confront China — which he increasingly cites as a priority — and rein in Russia.
  • Biden sounds more prepared to support foreign intervention and free trade deals than his leading rivals, though less than some Democrats (including himself) in cycles past.
  • Key policies: Biden wants a cautious withdrawal from Afghanistan, more military aid to Ukraine and sanctions on those responsible for China's mass detentions in Xinjiang.
  • Between the lines: His pitch boils down to, essentially, everything you liked about Obama's foreign policy and less of what you didn't.

Sanders is more likely to condemn American imperialism than launch into Biden-style celebrations of American greatness — though he also emphasizes re-establishing U.S. moral authority.

  • Sanders has made common cause with leftists around the world for decades, sometimes controversially.
  • But his foreign policy platform is not as radical as some might imagine. He supports U.S. membership in NATO (though, like Trump, he wants allies to foot more of the bill) and won't rule out using military force (though he sets a high bar).
  • Key policies: Sanders wants to scale back the U.S. drone program, drastically cut the military budget and increase foreign aid. He hates most proposed trade deals, including the Obama-era Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trump's NAFTA replacement (which Warren backed).

Warren contends that America has hurt itself and the world by promoting globalization, big corporations and a model of capitalism that drives inequality and resentment.

  • She's skeptical of the IMF, wants to break up "multinational monopolies" and "crack down on tax havens."
  • Warren plans to slash the Pentagon's budget and increase the State Department's. Like Sanders, Warren frames many U.S. interventions as harmful to the countries concerned and the Americans funding them.
  • Key policies: Warren says she'd need a clear national security imperative and congressional approval to use military force. She has ruled out "first use" of a nuclear weapon and vowed not to appoint donors as ambassadors.

Between the lines: Warren and Sanders have similar diagnoses in terms of the failures of U.S. foreign policy, and many of the same prescriptions.

  • Sanders places more emphasis on righting historical wrongs and on the global struggle against injustice and "oligarchy."
  • Warren, meanwhile, says America needs to renew itself at home first if it hopes to lead abroad.

Common ground:

  • All three want to return to the Paris Climate Accord and spur international action on climate change.
  • They all support a two-state solution in the Middle East and think the U.S.-Saudi partnership must be scaled back.
2. Tracking the coronavirus' spread
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

A virus believed (but not certain) to have spread from a fish market in Wuhan, China, has sparked panic in China and around the world.

But, but, but: The risk to Americans remains low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By the numbers: There are at least 2,886 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in 16 countries or regions and 82 deaths in China. The U.S. has five confirmed cases with 110 people in 26 states under investigation so far, 32 of whom tested negative, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes.

Catch up quick...

  • Because this is a new coronavirus and there are many "unknowns" about it, there's the potential for a pandemic, the CDC acknowledged on Sunday.
  • If the Chinese Health Ministry is correct that people can spread the virus before even showing symptoms, that could be a game-changer.
  • "This would be very unusual, and very concerning," as a similar coronavirus, SARS, was not contagious before symptoms appeared, Melissa Nolan, an infectious disease expert, tells Eileen.

Reality check:

"Absolutely, the flu is a bigger risk for Americans than the coronavirus, right now."
Melissa Nolan

What's happening: The U.S. will continue screening passengers coming indirectly from Wuhan at five airports, among other steps.

3. Trump peace plan: Israeli rivals in the Oval

Gantz visits the West Bank. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

President Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top political rival, Benny Gantz, at the White House today ahead of the release of his long-awaited Middle East peace plan tomorrow.

  • Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival in Israel’s March 2 election and wants a green light from Trump to annex parts of the West Bank immediately after the plan is presented.
  • Gantz told Trump he supports the plan but wants to move ahead with it only after Israel’s next government is formed, and through dialogue with the Palestinians, Axios contributor Barak Ravid reports.

Between the lines: Gantz's meeting with Trump was widely seen as an achievement, given he holds no official position. He had considered skipping the trip to Washington out of fear he'd be sidelined by Trump and overshadowed by Netanyahu.

  • Gantz plans to return to Israel “to vote against Netanyahu’s bid to win parliamentary immunity from prosecution on corruption charges,” rather than attending tomorrow’s ceremony, per Reuters.

What to watch: The Palestinians have boycotted this process and are expected to immediately and emphatically reject Trump’s proposal. Netanyahu and Gantz, meanwhile, are on board.

  • The key factor will be the Arab reaction, from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • If those countries express openness to the plan, it could come to be seen as a “reference point” for future negotiations, says Dennis Ross, formerly Bill Clinton’s Middle East envoy.
4. Deep Dive: The view from Davos, on China

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Trump administration is gearing up for a long-term confrontation with China, a rival viewed increasingly as an existential threat, but a week in Davos offered a stark reminder that the world is not prepared to line up behind it.

The big picture: There was a palpable sense of relief among the Davos crowd after the "phase one" trade deal reduced tensions between the U.S. and China.

  • But while both parties in D.C. think this is just the beginning, the executives we spoke to see it as a sign that the world's biggest market remains a can't-miss opportunity.

Experts, executives and most world leaders agree: China is too big and advancing too fast to be forced out of the equation.

  • On 5G technology, where the U.S. has squeezed allies hard to convince them to shun China’s Huawei, the U.K. and Germany, among others, are hedging their bets, and China is using leverage of its own.
  • Electric vehicle manufacturing is just one example of an industry where it’s not possible to be competitive globally without employing Chinese technology, says Adam Tooze, a historian at Columbia University.
  • The dependency goes both ways. Most consumer electronics, including nearly all computers and smartphones, are made in China, while China still relies on U.S. semiconductors and software. 

“It’s more of a Washington sentiment than it is a business sentiment,” Kelly Grier, U.S. chair and managing partner of Ernst & Young, says of hawkish claims that doing business in China crosses security and ethical boundaries.

Go deeper: Read our Davos Deep Dive

5. Data du jour: Sitting out the next war

Most European citizens aren't lining up behind the U.S. in the impending confrontation with China either, according to a poll from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

By the numbers:

  • In Austria, just 4% believe their country should take America's side in a future conflict with China, while 6% pick China and 83% neither.
  • In Germany, 10% pick the U.S., 6% China and 73% neutral.
  • The picture isn't all that different in France (18% U.S./5% China/64% neutral), Italy (20%/7%/63%) or Poland (24%/6%/54%), where respondents are most likely to back the U.S. of the 14 countries polled.

When it comes to Russia, "neither" remains the overwhelming answer.

  • Slovakia is an outlier, with 20% supporting Russia and just 6% the U.S.
  • But few are ready to support the U.S. in France (18% U.S./6% Russia/63% neither) or Germany (12%/7%/70%) — worrisome given they'd be among the first countries the U.S. would likely turn to.
6. Elections: Salvini comes up short

Salvini (R) faces the music. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

1. Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, will have to wait a bit longer to inflict a death blow on Italy’s wobbling coalition government.

Driving the news: The fiercely anti-immigrant Salvini campaigned aggressively in the left-wing heartlands of Emilia-Romagna, predicting a victory on Sunday would prove fatal to the government. In the end, the League was comfortably beaten by the center-left Democratic Party in regional elections.

  • The Democrats will be relieved, but their coalition partners — the populist Five Star Movement — continued their implosion, finishing in single digits. Luigi Di Maio stepped down as party leader ahead of the vote.

What to watch: The League remains Italy’s most popular party, and Salvini will get his chance sooner or later.

  • But as recent "Sardines" protests and a sharp increase in turnout in Emilia-Romagna have shown, those who oppose Salvini are mobilizing against him.

2. Peru's main opposition party saw its seat total fall from 73 to around 12 in Sunday's congressional election, an apparent vindication of President Martín Vizcarra’s decision to shut down the last congress.

  • "Some analysts believe the president’s bold move acted as an escape valve for pent-up public anger and saved Peru from the violent street protests that rocked other Andean nations in late 2019," per the FT.
  • Still, without a party of his own and with 1o parties now represented in the 130-seat congress, Vizcarra's life might not be much easier.
7. Stories we're watching

Construction on a new hospital to house coronavirus patients in Wuhan. Photo: Getty Images

  1. In photos: 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation
  2. UN aviation agency blocks critics of Taiwan policy
  3. Bolton's bombshell on Ukraine aid
  4. Pentagon: 34 U.S. troops suffered brain injuries following Iran attack
  5. Locusts swarm in Kenya
  6. In photos: Lunar New Year celebrated around the world
  7. Pompeo releases scathing statement on NPR reporter


"It is worth noting that Bangladesh is NOT Ukraine."
— Pompeo seeming to confirm he forced NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly to point to Ukraine on a blank map during a post-interview altercation. Kelly has a graduate degree in European studies and almost certainly did not point to Bangladesh.
"Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?"
— Pompeo during that altercation, per Kelly
"We can only conclude that the State Department is retaliating against National Public Radio as a result of this exchange."
— The State Department Correspondents' Association on news that another NPR correspondent, Michele Kelemen, now won't be allowed to cover Pompeo's upcoming trip.