The U.S. Commerce Department announced Thursday that despite trillions in emergency government spending, the economy shrunk a record 32.9 percent on a year-to-year basis between April and June. The devastating number is three times worse than any previous quarter, putting the U.S. economy on course to shrink more in 2020 than in 1932, at the depth of the Depression. The global economy was already facing its most severe recession since World War II. Within an hour of the news, President Trump called to delay the Nov. 3 U.S. election, citing, without evidence, the risk of massive voter fraud. Trump’s suggestion was quickly rejected by most of his fellow Republicans.
The Middle East is now arguably a new Covid-19 epicenter: Qatar has the highest infection rate in the world, with 1 in 25 Qataris has tested positive. And this week we’ll look at the declining power of the American passport and national brand. But here’s an opportunity to travel vicariously while you’re stuck at home: Passport is a new podcast that takes you to places you can’t visit in 2020.
WHAT DOES YOUR NATION BRAND LOOK LIKE?
Nations have always had images abroad, but it was Simon Anholt, a British consultant, who developed the “nation brand” concept in the 1990s — helping to create cottage industry of consultants and marketers that tried to apply the idea of product branding to cities and countries. With the Covid-19 pandemic upending how countries are seen by the rest of the world, Global Translation takes a look at whose stock is rising and falling, and who’s had the biggest turnaround.
Anholt told Global Translations he never meant to suggest governments could engage in propaganda to rebrand themselves. In the end, nearly every attempt by a leader “to manipulate the way that people in other countries view his or her country has failed,” he said. Instead, he believes the global population — with its social media voice and tourist presence — drives an increasing amount of one country’s national image. In other words, a global reputation can’t be bought with a PR campaign (sorry, “Incredible India” and “Malaysia, Truly Asia”), a loan (sorry, China) or an army (sorry, North Korea and Russia).
Showing-off and one-off acts of generosity are also a dead-end. Instead, “People reward the countries that contribute most. What they need to feel is that you’re a principled player in the international community,” Anholt said, adding that “everyone knows China can burn a few million euros on face masks, but that doesn’t tell you anything, because they haven’t sacrificed anything.”
Having created the Nation Brands Index — which ranked Germany first in 2019 and crunched up to a billion data points a year to reach its conclusions — Anholt is now trying to move on from the idea because “it is the most boring social survey ever conducted.” He says the results are nearly identical each year, because, for the most part “we’ve just lost the capability of changing our minds.”
Anholt also says he realized that country images tend to “go up and down collectively,” based on global public mood more than a government leader or policy. He cited Greece’s cataclysmic debt crisis from 2010 to 2018: “The crisis had no impact whatsoever” on how ordinary people — as opposed to policymakers — viewed Greece. “The politicians are not the country. Greece is still there. It’s still full of lovely Greek people, lovely Greek food, and beaches and history,” he said. The U.S. and, increasingly, China, are the exception because they have the biggest global footprint: new leaders and policies do affect their standing. Denmark also suffered lasting damage in the Muslim world after the 2005 Muhammed cartoon controversy, he said.
US AND CHINA FACE REPUTATIONAL HEADWINDS: Recent multi-country surveys suggest the U.S. and China are losing favor around the world. While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued July 23 that the U.S. is “perfectly positioned” to lead the free world, a new 135-country Gallup poll disagrees: Germany is listed as the country with the most admired leadership in the world, leaving the U.S. on the global second rung, level with China and Russia. Only 33 percent of those surveyed approved of U.S. leadership, down from 48 percent in 2016. Even in Australia, which has fought alongside the U.S. in every war since its 1901 founding, 67 percent disapproved versus 23 percent who approved. Data from Pew Research Center shows a perception gap between how American leadership and the country at large are seen.
Democrats, meanwhile, torched Pomepo in a new report “Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department.”
While populations in nearly all countries believe China handled its coronavirus outbreak well (see this Alliance for Democracy global opinion poll), China’s strong-arm tactics with Hong Kong, Taiwan and its Uighur population compound hard feelings overseas about Beijing’s initial coronavirus cover-up. Europeans, in particular, have grown suspicious: 48 percent across nine countries surveyed this month by the European Council for Foreign Relations say they have a worse view of China since the pandemic began, compared to 12 percent with an improved view. Around three-quarters of U.S. adults have an unfavorable view of China today, according to new Pew Research Center data.
In contrast, Taiwan’s stock is rising. The country’s new U.S. Ambassador Bi-khim Hsiao told Global Translations that’s down to “transparency and efficient” pandemic handling, which allowed even schools to stay open throughout the pandemic. “The people of Taiwan were prepared and resilient, for we are no stranger to adversity.”
The proof is in the passport: Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic U.S. citizens had a top-tier passport, able to travel visa-free to around 160 countries. Now, Americans have unrestricted access to just nine countries, and conditional access to around 25 others. A recent Forbes headline captures the trajectory: “Want To Escape From America? 12 Countries Where You Can Buy Citizenship.” Things are better for Chinese travelers, but they still face restrictions entering 80 countries.
GLOBAL BRITAIN OR ISOLATED ISLAND? The U.K., meanwhile, is facing its own unique struggles. Anholt said he is asked “every month” by a new government to help them replicate the U.K.’s “GREAT. Britain” advertising campaign. But the government’s post-Brexit “Global Britain” plan isn’t, well, going to plan. Britain’s trade negotiations with its three most important partners — the European Union, U.S. and China — have nearly ground to a halt, and it’s not replicating the deals it enjoyed as an EU member. POLITICO in May rated the U.K. as having the worst overall government response to Covid-19. And despite offering Hong Kongers a pathway to citizenship if they want to flee China’s rule, just one in 10 would consider the U.K. their first port of call, behind Taiwan, Canada and Australia. It’s a long way from Tony Blair’s Britain and the idea of Cool Britannia.
WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN
Other countries that are flying high but run the same risk as the U.K. are Canada and New Zealand, whose national brands were thrust into the spotlight when they elected youthful leaders — Justin Trudeau and Jacinda Ardern — adept at capturing the attention of global media and online audiences. Both feature in Anholt’s latest projects. Canada is ranked 11th — the first non-European country — in The Good Country Index, a ranking of countries according to the good and harm they do beyond their borders. But Trudeau’s multiple ethics scandals now also consume media attention, and Canada’s failed effort to join the U.N. Security Council doesn’t help. Ardern was ranked atop Anholt’s Good Leader Index in 2019.
In the other direction, there’s Australia. After weeks of devastating wildfires starting in November 2019, Scott Morrison, Australia’s climate-skeptic prime minister took a global beating. By June, he’d doubled his domestic approval rating by containing the coronavirus, and Australia was once again the global destination of choice for Chinese students and tourists.
While many have praised the Covid-19 response of African leaders and the African Union, that admiration has yet to show up in global surveys and rankings. The top African countries in the Good Country Index are South Africa (47), Kenya (55) and Uganda (56). Other organizations tend to be more interested in what Africans think about the West than vice versa. Western observers tend to think of Africa as a bloc, rather than as individual countries, which one can view either as an African image problem or a problem of Westerners’ ignorance. After advising more than 50 governments as their national economies globalized, Anholt believes that “with a good image everything is cheap and easy. Where your image goes, your economy goes.”
REALITY CHECK CORNER
ELECTIONS WORK JUST FINE DURING PANDEMIC: President Donald Trump on Thursday called for a delay to the U.S presidential election. Several countries have delayed their election by between a day and seven weeks during the pandemic, but most have proceeded as planned. The countries that have pulled off credible elections since the pandemic started are: Croatia, Malawi, Mongolia, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Suriname and seven small island states. France also held two rounds of nationwide local elections. Syria and Burundi held widely discredited elections.
TOUGH REGULATORY ROAD AHEAD OF BIG TECH FIRMS: They’re all making a killing during the pandemic, but trouble is looming. Heading into Wednesday’s Congressional hearing, Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook had similar messages: we’re good for America and we face strong competition. That failed to win over members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, who pummeled Sundar Pichai, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg for more than five hours. Chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) concluded by saying: “These companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up; all need to be properly regulated and held accountable.” Regulators around the world were watching and taking note. In the end, it wasn’t about a single exchange or error — it was all of it. The complaints span both parties and will take years to digest. Here’s why the tech giants may suffer lasting pain from their Hill lashing.
Was there a winner? Not among the CEOs, though Mark Zuckerberg was most adept at giving members the things they wanted to hear, including agreeing with Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) that the Chinese government steals American technology. The Democrats were the most organized interrogators, each speaker tackling a new company or theme for shareable clips.
Biggest loser: Jeff Bezos had the most to lose and he did. At one point Bezos was unable to answer four consecutive basic questions from Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga) about what safeguards Amazon has in place to avoid the sale of counterfeit goods.
EU effort to tax tech giants falters under pressure from the U.S, despite the support of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The moment of reckoning for the Facebook advertiser boycott: The tech giant hasn’t budged, despite a month-long boycott over racism and hate speech policy. Zuckerberg told Wednesday’s Congressional hearing that advertisers should not dictate his platform’s content policies, and boycotters haven’t rallied a global reaction in line with Facebook’s global revenue sources. In short: The protest is still too American-centric.
Kara Swisher argues that Zuckerberg is more worried about employee blowback than advertiser boycotts. Employees have choices about where to work, but advertisers have fewer options about where to advertise, because of the monopoly situations debated Wednesday in Congress.
HOTSPOTS: Abrahm Lustgarten of the New York Times spent a year with a team that fed more than 10 billion data points into a new computer model of climate-driven migration. What they found was ”climate’s subtle fingerprints almost everywhere.” In North Africa’s Sahel region — nine countries from Mauritania to Sudan — “extraordinary population growth and steep environmental decline are on a collision course.” The population of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa is set to double by 2035. And in Mexico, we can expect 1.7 million climate migrants moving mostly to Mexico City or the U.S.
RECORD NUMBER OF ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS KILLED: 212 activists were killed in 2019, according to a Global Witness tally. Colombia, with 64 murders, and the Philippines, with 43 murders, accounted for half the deaths.
Read our full Global Public Health Spotlight with insights from African CDC chief John Nkengasong and GAVI alliance CEO Seth Berkley about Africa’s perspectives on the global vaccine race.
Here’s Ashleigh Furlong on the ultimate geopolitical game: distributing a coronavirus vaccine. In the U.S., vaccine distribution will be a joint venture between CDC and Pentagon.
CANADA — TRUDEAU KEEPS TRIPPING UP ON ETHICS: After the government handed a no-bid contract to a charity empire that delivered cash and overseas trips to their family members, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Finance Minister Bill Morneau find themselves in a familiar ethical quagmire. Trudeau was grilled by parliamentarians Thursday. He insisted: “Instead of encouraging it along, like some people say, because it was somehow connected to my family, I actually slowed it down and pushed back on it to try and make sure that everything was done exactly right.” And yet the deal still happened. “This doesn’t feel like a random Trudeau screw-up. It feels like a highly characteristic Trudeau screw-up,” write Paul Wells and Marie-Danielle Smith. With only a caretaker opposition leader in place to apply pressure, Trudeau is likely to survive
NORTH KOREA — PANDEMIC GESTURE OR BIOTERRORISM PLAY? Experts increasingly believe Kim Jong Un is using the Covid-19 crisis to beef up his biological weapons arsenal. “Humanitarian things are not prohibited by sanctions,” said Bruce Bennett, RAND Corporation researcher. More from Elizabeth Ralph.
ETHIOPIA DOESN’T GIVE A DAM: The new Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the upper Nile River is now full, infuriating downstream Sudan and Egypt, who say it steals a key source of their livelihoods. This is just the beginning of a bitter dispute. There’s no legally binding agreement on splitting water rights between the three countries, which are set to be hard hit by climate change. Ethiopia plans to expand the dam’s capacity 15-fold within the next few years. Eurasia Group has this primer.
COUNTDOWN CLOCK: It’s just 48 days until early voting starts in Minnesota (seven other states also start voting in September)
ELECTORAL MAP: Niskanen Center | Cook Political Report
Democrats now have a durable lead in national polling and all swing states except Ohio and North Carolina, but only 39 percent of voters think Joe Biden has the best chance of winning.
BIDEN VEEP LIST COMES UP SHORT: Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden will announce his running mate next week, and his VP candidate list is like Democrats’ presidential primary field: long, competitive and lacking in standouts. California Sen. Kamala Harris is the favorite, but not a lock. The candidates who will be ready from Day One to tackle global issues and threats are Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Iraq, and Susan Rice, President Obama’s former national security adviser.
US — DETAILS OF TROOP WITHDRAWALS FROM EUROPE: The Pentagon plan, which comes with a timeline, would bring 6,400 service members home from Germany and move another 5,600 currently in Germany to Belgium and Italy. The Pentagon says it wants to better manage resources against threats from Russia and China. President Trump has long expressed anger at Germany’s low defense spending, but Italy and Belgium spend even less on defense per capita.
NEW ZEALAND — ARDERN ON COURSE TO GOVERN ALONE: Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party is now polling at 61 percent, five weeks out fr om voting, according to Newshub-Reid Research. The Opposition National party is at 25 percent.
FEDERAL RESERVE CULTURE UNDER FIRE: Claudia Sahm, a long-time Fed employee, blasted the U.S. central bank’s workplace culture in a 6,000-word blog post Tuesday night that criticized the former chair of the organization, Larry Summers, among others.
NGOs REJECT STATE DEPARTMENT ON HUMAN RIGHTS: 230 NGOs, faith groups, ex-diplomats and others have written to reject the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. Read here.
COUNTDOWN TO U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY (UNGA)
The 75th U.N. General Assembly is supposed to be virtual this year, with leaders giving speeches via video Sept. 22 to 25, but U.S Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft said Thursday at a Meridian Center event that President Donald Trump will likely be the only world leader speaking live from New York.
Diplomatic Speed-Dating — the new StateCraft: Amb. Craft also said she used the pandemic to “start calling 185 of the ambassadors, just to check on people.” Craft said ambassadors from smaller countries were “shocked” to receive her call, but said they were “very responsive,” helping to create “a special bond” and giving the ambassadors “credibility in their capital.”
Kentucky Derby: Craft proudly spoke of taking the Security Council members to her home state of Kentucky to see horses, drink bourbon and take in a University of Kentucky basketball game. J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, was a keynote speaker. “It brought us all together,” Craft said.
Germany — “amazing” ally: Craft is most animated when discussing the plight of Syria’s opposition and refugees. She called Germany the best U.S. ally on Syria: “they were amazing” during their U.N. Security Council presidency. “The lives that we’re losing are going to be on Russia, on China. Shame on them. Every life matters,” she said. Apparently the Kentucky goodwill only goes so far.
Who needs the Paris Climate Agreement? While the U.S. is on the way out of the Paris deal, Craft told Global Translations that, “We don’t need to be members of any group to be a leader.”
“We are more engaged in our sustainability without being a member of the Paris climate (deal). We are lowering our emissions with technology,” she said.
PODCAST + BOOK: In Babel, Kim Ghattas joins CSIS’ Jon B. Alterman to discuss her new book, Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry
BOOK: Reimagining Capitalism in the Shadow of the Pandemic, by Rebecca Henderson
LONG READ: What is the Future of the U.N. in the Age of Impunity? By Patrick Wintour
LONG READ: The Cold War Bunker Turned Dark Web HQ, by Ed Caesar
REPORT: Trans-Atlantic Scorecard, by Brookings’s Center on the United States and Europe.
ODDS AND ENDS
RELIGION — ISLAM’S HAJJ PILGRIMAGE IS NOW UNDERWAY: This year 1,000 specially-selected pilgrims are replacing the usual two million, after Saudi Arabia banned international travelers. The Hajj culminates with the Eid al-Adha celebration July 30 and 31.
CONSPIRACIES — THE QANON NETWORK SPREADS GLOBALLY
HOME SWEET HOME — GOOGLE WORKERS WON’T RETURN TO THE OFFICE UNTIL JULY 2021.
THANKS to editor Emily Cadei, Halley Toosi, Luiza Ch. Savage, David Wertime, Melissa Heikkilä, Elisa Braun, Nancy Scola, Leah Nylen, Bob King and Avi Glijansky
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