Feb 26, 2019

Here comes a wild week for communism

In North Korea, Vietnam, China and Cuba, we’re witnessing tests this week of what it means to survive and prosper as a communist state in 2019.

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Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
  • The big picture: In the three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, communism has faded in much of the world and, where it remains, been pushed “discreetly aside in the pursuit of business,” as Will Englund put it in the Washington Post.
  • “Today it lives on in only the most attenuated forms. North Korea is the one ferocious holdout among the remaining Communist nations, but even there markets have been changing the nature of the economy,” Englund writes.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in the midst of a multi-day train journey to Vietnam, where he will hold his second summit with President Trump. Since taking power in 2011, Kim’s top priorities (other than consolidating power) have been to bolster North Korea’s nuclear program and its beleaguered economy.

  • The U.S. intelligence community believes Kim views nuclear weapons as so critical to the survival of his regime that he is unlikely to ever give them up.
  • Having made substantial progress on the nuclear front, though, Kim used his New Year’s address to lay out a “new strategic line focusing exclusively on the economy,” says Suzanne DiMaggio, a Carnegie fellow who has facilitated dialogue with the North Koreans on behalf of both the Obama and Trump administrations.
  • “In some ways, he has to deliver on it,” DiMaggio adds, and he won’t be able to without relief from sanctions. Trump hasattempted to sell Kim on the idea his country “will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse” if he only gives up his nukes.

Vietnam, which liberalized its economy beginning in the 1980s, in many ways represents the future the Trump administration is encouraging Kim to pursue.

  • “Prosperity and security abound. When the leaders in Hanoi go to bed at night, the notion of conflict with America is the last thing on their minds,” Secretary of State Pompeo said on a visit to Vietnam last year before addressing Kim: “It can be your miracle in North Korea as well.”

China's economic might is viewed in Washington less as a miracle than as a threat. But Trump today gave the clearest indication yet that he plans to wind down a trade war that has posed pointed questions to Beijing.

  • He has been demanding fundamental changes to China’s economic model on issues like intellectual property, forced technology transfers and support to state-owned enterprises.
  • Trump said today that after “substantial progress” on those fronts, he expects to sign a deal with President Xi Jinping, perhaps next month at Mar-a-Lago.
  • However, Axios contributor Bill Bishop writes in his Sinocism newsletter: “Everything I am hearing supports that idea that Chinese have offered little in the way of the core structural concessions the U.S. wants, but Trump is eager for a deal regardless of what some of his advisors are telling him.”

Finally in Cuba, voters have ratified a new constitution for the first time since 1976.

  • "The rewrite is supposed to bring the constitution up to date in a world where the Soviet Union no longer exists and Cuba has taken steps to modernize its own economy, including allowing limited private enterprise and trying to attract foreign investment," per the Miami Herald.
  • One thing that won't change: The one-party, socialist system is declared "irrevocable."

Go deeper

LATAM Airlines files for U.S. chapter 11 bankruptcy

A LATAM air attendant aboard one of the company's planes in March. Photo: Kike Calvo/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

LATAM Airlines Group SA said in a statement early Tuesday the firm and its affiliates in in the United States, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

Why it matters: Latam is Latin America's largest airline and its shareholders include Delta Air Lines. CEO Roberto Alvo noted in the statement the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the airline industry.

Novavax starts human trials for coronavirus vaccine

Novavax's Nita Patel with a computer model showing the protein structure of a potential coronavirus vaccine at the lab in Gaithersburg, Maryland in March. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Novavax began clinical trials of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus in Australia on Tuesday, per a statement from the Maryland-based biotechnology firm.

The state of play: 131 volunteers in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Brisbane will undergo injections as part of the study, the company’s research chief Gregory Glenn said during a briefing, per Australian Associated Press.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 5,495,061 — Total deaths: 346,232 — Total recoveries — 2,231,738Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 1,662,302 — Total deaths: 98,220 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy