BY RYAN HEATH
The global politics center of gravity is continuing its shift away from transatlantic relations this week. Indo-Pacific leaders are asserting their shared democratic vision and planning to flood the region with vaccines, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken is touring east Asia, and Australia is settling in to lead the OECD global club of rich economies.
AUSTRALIA HEADING OECD — WHAT IT MEANS
Mathias Cormann, a former Australian finance minister both and raised in Belgium, has pulled off a surprise win against Sweden’s Cecilia Malmström to lead the Paris-based economic club for rich democracies.
Why it matters: The OECD leads global efforts to streamline tax policies, including on digital tax and corporate tax evasion (bodies like the G-20 often offload intractable economic and political problems to OECD). If the OECD can’t strike a digital tax deal in 2021, around a dozen large economies have said they will push ahead with their own national taxes on Big Tech.
How he won: Cormann squeezed out a narrow win (the decision was delayed by several days because of a deadlock) by splitting support from several European countries away from Malmström, and winning the backing of the U.S., Japan and U.K. He toured the world in an Australian government jet lobbying for the job, as most of his rivals restricted themselves to Zoom calls.
Climate controversy: The decision is controversial because the Australian government’s weak climate commitments are at odds with the OECD official line. Cormann faced petitions against his candidacy from political parties at home and in the U.K., but said he supports policies aimed at net zero emissions by 2050 (unlike the Australian government itself).
What Cormann’s win means for U.S. policy: Australia has surged to global attention in recent months as the government stood up to the world’s biggest countries (hello, China) and companies (hello, Facebook). The government Down Under has also been a leader in controlling Covid, with fewer than 1,000 deaths during a year of lockdown, and virtually no active cases today. That the U.S. chose tosupport Cormann — despite its own massive climate action commitments — means Washington does not see the OECD as the right forum to prioritize climate diplomacy, and instead prefers it as a coalition to contain China and tech companies.
AUSTRALIANS NOW LEAD A TRIO OF GLOBAL ECONOMIC CLUBS: Cormann joins Sharan Burrow, head of the International Trade Union Confederation, and John Denton , Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce on the global conference circuit.
DEMOCRACY MEETS WORLD
BLINKEN IN ASIA TODAY: Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have started a four-day trip to Japan and South Korea, for meetings with key defense and diplomatic counterparts and business meetings, AP reported. Leaders of the Quad alliance laid out their vision for Indo-Pacific cooperation, in a Washington Post op-ed, following their first ever leaders meeting Friday.
MYANMAR — SPIKE IN PROTEST MURDERS: Another 51 killedover the weekend, by the military as mass protests for democracy continue.
UKRAINE — AT ARM’S LENGTH UNDER BIDEN: When Donald Trump was president, Ukraine was never far from the center of America’s partisan political brawls. Now, eight weeks into Biden’s administration, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is still waiting for a call.
MEET TODD YOUNG — THE REPUBLICAN HEIR TO JOHN MCCAIN ON FOREIGN POLICY: The senior Senator from Indiana is only in his fifth year in office, and is willing to buck his party and work across the aisle. “Voters want foreign policy to be a non-partisan exercise,” he said.
Meet America’s vaccine refusers: Half the Republican men surveyed in an NPR/PBS poll conducted by Marist said that they won’t get the Covid vaccine.
WORLD VIEW — BARELY ONE-THIRD OF AMERICANS SATISFIED WITH U.S GLOBAL POSITIONING: Another poll, this time from Gallup, confirms that Americans now split almost purely on parisian lines when it comes to how they see America in the world, and how they think Americans are seen by others. Declining belief in America’s global standing is driven by Republicans, whose near record highs on these measures last year have tumbled since Joe Biden became president.
CHINA MEETS WORLD
HACKED — CHINA’S BIGGEST OPERATION YET: Upwards of60,000 American organizations — home to hundreds of thousands of individual users of Microsoft Exchange email products — were hacked by Chinese state operatives since Feb. 26, according to Microsoft, though the U.S. government has not formally attributed responsibility yet. The situation is severe enough that President Biden is “very engaged,” a senior administration official said Friday afternoon.
One reason why the hacks were hard to detect is that they were launched from privately-owned and operated American infrastructure: “We're not looking at additional authorities for any government agencies to do additional monitoring with the U.S. at this time. We are focused on tightening the partnership between the U.S. government and the private sector,” the administration official said. Microsoft is set to receive $150 million in Covid relief funding to enhance its security systems.
XI LOOKING TO ANNEX TAIWAN IN THIRD TERM SAYS CHINESE ACADEMIC: "Beijing is looking at speeding up a resolution of the Taiwan issue during Xi's third term as president," Wu Qiang, a former politics professor at Tsinghua University told Radio Free Asia , arguing that President Xi Jingping is likely planning to make a definite move to annex Taiwan, an independent democracy China insists is part of its territory.
SULLIVAN: TARIFFS NOT A FOCUS IN CHINA TALKS
CHINA’S WEAK SPOT — EDUCATION: Jude Blanchette , the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), recommends Scott Rozelle and Natalie Hell’s book, "Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China’s Rise." “If you’re thinking seriously about China’s future trajectory, it’s imperative you read this book to understand the possible impacts of China’s chronic underinvestment in education,” he suggests.
GLOBAL RISKS AND TRENDS
AMERICA — TRUMP DEFLATES OUT OF OFFICE: The former president was supposed to take on the role of political Godzilla. Instead he’s adrift , and the only impact he’s having comes from the possibility that he might run for office again.
EUROPE — DUTCH NATIONAL ELECTION TODAY: In the highly fragmented Dutch electorate, up to 15 parties may emerge with parliamentary seats. The party of Mark Rutte, the liberal who has served as prime minister for the last decade, is leading handily according to POLITICO’s poll of polls . Rutte’s liberals are on track for 24 percent of votes, ahead of the far-right Freedom Party on 14 percent.
EUROPE — MERKEL’S PARTY BATTERED IN STATE ELECTIONS:The center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) posted its worst-ever results in the 11 million-person state of Baden-Württemberg — which it ruled for more than 50 years until 2016 — winning 24 percent compared to the Green Party’s 32 percent. In the smaller Rhineland-Palatinate, CDU won 26 percent compared to the Social Democrats’ 35 percent.
While CDU holds a clear lead for now in national polls ahead of a September federal election, Angela Merkel’ s legacy is coming into question. Every time Merkel is not on the ballot, the party struggles. That may also apply in the federal election once CDU finally chooses its Merkel replacement.
COVID — U.N. AND EU APPROVE SINGLE SHOT J&J VACCINE:The pair of approvals should enable a faster vaccine rollout through the COVAX facility in Africa, and help the EU overcome the AstraZeneca supply problems that have slowed down its rollout.
COVID — 8 EUROPEAN COUNTRIES PAUSED THE ASTRAZENECA VACCINE: Ireland on Sunday became the eighth European country to announce it was pausing use of the AstraZeneca shot. Why? One Austrian died and another fell ill after taking the shot. Both the EU and WHO say there is no proof the vaccine caused the reported blood clotting incidents.
Existential AstraZeneca question: Will health authorities continue to follow science and data in setting vaccine policy? As skepticism and cross-shopping are becoming widespread, the big question is whether government health officials will allow public fears and perceptions over isolated incidents to influence what vaccines they approve and administer.
COVID — BIKE INFRASTRUCTURE BOOM: European cities have spent over $1.2 billion on COVID-related cycling measures since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF). That includes over 1,400 kilometers of new cycle lanes, car-free sections of road, and wider sidewalks.
ECONOMY — INFLATION NOT ON CARDS; THANK MNUCHIN’S WAR CHEST: How Trump’s Treasury team amassed a $1 trillion cash pile for Biden to deploy , which means that “despite concerns that markets will be flooded with new U.S. government debt to pay for the rescue package, the Treasury Department might not have to change its borrowing plans,” Victoria Guida reported. The Chinese government has been among those openly fearing asset bubbles and inflation as a result of the stimulus package.
SPACE — RACE FOR BETTER GOVERNANCE: While a growing set of governments and private companies are battling for supremacy in space, the risks of political clashes and literal clashes (space junk) are growing. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has launched a new Space Project to develop ideas for reducing those risks and increasing collaborative space governance.
JOBS RECOVERY SPOTLIGHT
HALF OF G-20 HOUSEHOLDS HAVE LOST A JOB OR WORKING HOURS: A new YouGov poll of citizens in ten G-20 countries, commissioned by the International Trade Union Confederation, found that 49 percent of people surveyed live in a household where someone has either lost a job, or had working hours reduced due to the pandemic. The worst affected were Indonesians (74 percent), followed by Brazil (66 percent) and Mexico (63 percent). Majorities in Indonesia (58 percent) and the U.S. (51 percent) believe the government should be doing more to create jobs.
PRIMARIES AT THE UNITED NATIONS? A new campaign called #Forward wants open, digital global primaries to find a “people-backed” candidate to run the United Nations, Stéphanie Fillion reports. The founders of the campaign, Andrea Venzon and Colombe Cahen-Salvador , previously founded a pan-European youth political party called Volt Europa that ran candidates in the 2019 European Parliament election.
Current Secretary General António Guterres’ term ends Dec. 31. A decision around his reappointment or replacement is made by the U.N. General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council.
HOW TO MISMANAGE A $52 MILLION FIFTH AVENUE MANSION: The American Irish Historical Society’s mansion on Central Park symbolized the hopes of a former immigrant underclass that managed to embed itself in the heart of American culture and politics. Now it’s a money pit, causing community fights and heartburn in the Irish treasury, reports Dan Barry.
READER FEEDBACK — FLIPPING THE COVID FREEDOM SCRIPT: Global Translations reader Stefano Stefanini writes in: “Sure, vaccination cannot be compulsory. But people who choose not to be vaccinated are free riders on the bulk of the population being vaccinated, and have to accept the consequences of their choice,” such as lacking the freedom to travel using a vaccine passport.
Thanks to editor Ben Pauker, Nahal ToosI, Stuart Lau