Coronavirus Politics Daily: Asia's factories lag, Finland misses Russians, Venezuelan gas lines

Asia's manufacturing is still sick: Hailed for successfully managing the public health challenges of the pandemic, some of Asia's exporting powerhouses are now coming to terms with the economic impact of the crisis. A series of surveys released Monday show that the continent's crucial manufacturing sector took another hit last month as global trade continued to contract. While China's manufacturing activity expanded in May, showing some signs of a modest economic comeback, some of the region's export heavyweights have suffered their sharpest economic downturns in over a decade, as new export orders from their main trade partners remain slim. South Korea, for example, has been hailed for its apt management of the health crisis, but its exports have now slumped for three months straight, with shipments contracting 23.7 per cent year-on-year in May. Similarly, Taiwan has recorded just 7 deaths from the virus, but its manufacturing activity fell again in May from the previous month, while the IMF predicts that the economic bloc made up of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam will grow at -0.6 percent this year, down from its earlier estimate of +4.8 percent. Analysts now say that the region's economic rebound could take way longer than previously predicted.


Finland feels Russia's absence: While Finland's entire economy is reeling amid government-mandated lockdowns, the people of South Karelia, the picturesque Finnish border region that abuts Russia, are under particular stress as border closures keep out Russian tourists who are an economic lifeline for the area. Last year, some two million Russians visited, infusing cash into the lake district's tourist-dependent retail and agricultural sectors. But as Russia continues to grapple with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, the Finland-Russia border is unlikely to reopen before the usually-lucrative summer tourist season – and could even stay shuttered for the rest of the year. Experts now say that for every month that the border is closed, local Finnish businesses could lose an estimated 25 million euros, shedding 900 jobs in total. Indeed, it's the worst crisis to hit the area since the economic turmoil caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union some 30 years ago. Finland's tourism industry is trying to boost domestic travel and lure tourists from elsewhere in Europe, but whether this will offset the loss from Russia this summer remains to be seen.

Venezuela's pain: Venezuela faced a severe economic crisis well before coronavirus arrived, but COVID has now inflicted a new degree of pain. The country's fuel shortage not only leaves drivers walking to work, stalled in traffic, in long lines hoping pumps will contain enough liquid to partially refill empty tanks, or sucking gasoline through plastic tubing to siphon it from one vehicle to another. It now also leaves coffins containing the remains of COVID-19 victims sitting in parked hearses that are unable to reach cemeteries because they have no fuel. It's an irony made even more bitter by the reality that Venezuela has the world's largest proven reserves of crude oil.

Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick joins That Made All the Difference podcast to discuss how his career as a surgeon influenced his work as an educator, administrator and champion of underserved communities, and why he believes we may be on the cusp of the next "golden generation."

Listen to the latest podcast now.

It's been a bad week at the office for President Trump. Not only have coronavirus cases in the US been soaring, but The New York Times' bombshell report alleging that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan has continued to make headlines. While details about the extent of the Russian bounty program — and how long it's been going on for — remain murky, President Trump now finds himself in a massive bind on this issue.

Here are three key questions to consider.

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Jon Lieber, managing director for the United States at Eurasia Group, provides his perspective on US politics:

How likely is bipartisan action against Russia in light of Taliban bounty reports?

I think it's probably unlikely. One of the challenges here is that there's some conflict of the intelligence and anything that touches on the issue of President Trump and Russia is extremely toxic for him. Republicans have so far been tolerant of that and willing to stop any new sanctions coming. I think unless the political situation or the allegations get much worse or more obvious, that stalemate probably remains.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Yes, still in the middle of coronavirus, but thought I'd give you a couple of my thoughts on Russia. Part of the world that I cut my teeth on as a political scientist, way back in the eighties and nineties. And now Putin is a president for life, or at least he gets to be president until 2036, gets another couple of terms. The constitutional amendments that he reluctantly allowed to be voted on across Russia, passed easily, some 76% approval. And so now both in China and in Russia, term limits get left behind all for the good of the people, of course. So that they can have the leaders that they truly deserve. Yes, I'm being a little sarcastic here. It's sad to see. It's sad to see that the Americans won the Cold War in part, not just because we had a stronger economy and a stronger military, but actually because our ideas were better.

Because when those living in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Block looked at the West, and looked at the United States, they saw that our liberties, they saw that our economy, was something that they aspired to and was actually a much better way of giving opportunities to the average citizen, than their own system afforded. And that helped them to rise up against it.

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When hundreds of thousands of protesters in Ethiopia brought sweeping change to their government in 2018, many of them were blaring the music of one man: a popular young activist named Hachalu Hundessa, who sang songs calling for the liberation and empowerment of the Oromo, the country's largest ethnic group.

Earlier this week, the 34-year old Hundessa was gunned down in the country's capital, Addis Ababa.

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