President Trump visits Chinese leader Xi Jinping, 2017. Wikimedia Commons.

The World This Week: February 18, 2019

Asia and the Pacific

The United States and China have initiated a new round of trade talks in Washington after negotiations last week failed to result in any deal. The talks are aimed at averting new US tariffs, which are set to begin on 1 March. The new rules would increase the standard tariff on Chinese imports from 10% to 25%. American and European stock markets stumbled slightly as investors’ doubts grow over the ability of the two nations to reach an agreement before the deadline in two weeks. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer insisted that the negotiations last week in Beijing had been fruitful, despite the lack of formal agreement. Lighthizer is expected to be joined by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and advisors Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro for this week’s negotiations, a possible indication of the urgency felt by the administration to achieve an agreement before the tariff bump.

An unusual story is playing out in the international press after U.S. President Donald Trump claimed the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, had nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize at the behest of the White House and gifted him with a framed copy of the nomination letter. Abe, one of the first world leaders to embrace Trump after his 2016 election, has praised the President for his efforts at negotiating denuclearization and peace with North Korea, but refused to confirm the President’s statement. The claim has caused a stir in Japanese media, and Abe was questioned extensively in Parliament regarding the alleged nomination. The Nobel Committee does not comment on nominees or nominations. Regardless of whether or not Prime Minister Abe did make a formal nomination, Trump’s name has already been put forward by two Norwegian lawmakers. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was awarded the prize in 2009, less than a year into his first term.

Europe and Central Asia

Thousands of people have joined protests across France after several anti-Semitic attacks. No official number has been reported, but demonstrations were reported in 60 cities including Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Nantes. The events were organized with the endorsements of more than 50 political parties, unions, and associations. Currently France has the biggest Jewish community in Europe, consisting of around 550,000 people.

In the past week vandals have defected portraits of the late Holocaust survivor and French Minister, Simone Veil, scrawled the German word for “Jews” on a Parisian bakery and cut down a tree planted in memory of a Jewish youth tortured to death by an anti-Semitic gang. On Tuesday, French President, Macron, visited a Jewish cemetery in Eastern France where nearly 100 graves were desecrated with Nazi symbols. Mr. Macron stated during his visit, “Whoever did this is not worthy of the French Republic and will be punished.”

Near Shaymak, Tajikistan there’s a new power watching over the passage into Afghanistan: China. For at least three years, Chinese troops have quietly monitored this choke point in Tajikistan just beyond China’s Western frontier. The outpost of about two dozen buildings and lookout towers illustrates how the footprint of Chinese hard power has been expanding. The modest facility has not been publicly acknowledged by any government, but its presence is rich in significance and symbolism. 

At a moment when the US might consider a pact which would pull American troops out of Afghanistan, China appears to be tiptoeing into the volatile region considered critical to its security and continental ambitions. U.S. officials say they are aware of the Chinese deployment but do not have a clear understanding of its operations. They say they do not object to the Chinese presence because the U.S. also believes that a porous Afghan-Tajik border could pose a security risk. 

 North America

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s principal secretary and closest adviser, Gerald Butts, resigned on Monday after allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office “pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to help Quebec-based multinational engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya.” Gerald Butts denied vehemently that neither he nor anyone else in the PMO did anything of the sort, although his departure from office throws suspicion on the office. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer affirms that the investigation into this scandal is far from over.

President Trump has declared a national emergency on the border, a move being faced with many legal and political challenges. The emergency status could make up to $8 billion available to build Trump’s wall, even after Congress refused to appropriate funds. President Trump says he expects to be sued and that he hopes the case will make it to the Supreme Court where he will get a “fair shake.” The newly appropriated funds for the wall under a state of national emergency would come from a military construction fund, the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, and the DOD’s drug interdiction program.

In Mexico, displaced families from Guerrero and oil workers from the Gulf of Mexico protested in front of the National Palace on Monday. Violence in the Guerrero municipalities has forced more than 400 people to flee their homes. Members of Section 47 of the Petroleum Workers’ Union and Pemex employees protested unfair labor practices and withholding of salaries from workers. President López Obrador removed the metal barricades blocking off the National Palace from protesters when he took office in December, and Mexican citizens are taking the opportunity to ask for help at his front door, hoping that he is listening.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Middle East and North Africa

After a chill in relations with the West, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is on a three-country tour in Asia, hoping to bolster ties with Asian allies. Prince Mohammed visited Pakistan on Monday, signing a $20 billion deal that includes investment in energy, minerals, and agriculture. He plans to stop in India on Tuesday for a two day visit and will finish his trip in China.

Leading up to Prince Mohammed’s visit to Beijing, China’s top diplomat said that China seeks to deepen “strategic trust” with Iran.  China has long tried to balance relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both who are important trading partners and provide a significant amount of oil imports. In a trip to Beijing following the Munich Security Conference, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Jahad Zarif echoed the Chinese diplomat’s positive comments: “Our relationship with China is very valuable to us. We consider the comprehensive strategic partnership between Iran and China as one of our most important relations.”

A suicide blast in Cairo near its historic city center killed three policeman on Monday.  Officials investigating the blast say the suspect, 37-year-old Hassan al-Hassan Abdullah, was a foreign national, but have not released any more details. This attack comes after a December bombing which killed three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide near the Pyramids of Giza, the first attack against foreign tourists in over a year.

Sub-Saharan Africa

A Tanzanian court sentenced a prominent Chinese businesswoman dubbed the “Ivory Queen” to 15 years in prison on Tuesday for smuggling the tusks of more than 350 elephants to Asia – a big victory in the battle to stamp out poaching in Africa. Yang Feng Glan had been charged in October 2015 along with two Tanzanian men with smuggling 860 pieces of ivory between 2000 and 2004 worth $5.6 million. Police sources said Yang, 69, had lived in Tanzania since the 1970s and was secretary-general of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council. A Swahili-speaker, she also owns a popular Chinese restaurant in Dar es Salaam. Kisutu Court Magistrate Huruma Shaidi sentenced Yang, Salivius Matembo and Manase Philemon to 15 years in prison on convictions of leading an organised criminal gang. Shaidi also ordered them to either pay twice the market value of the elephant tusks or face another two years in prison.

Uganda’s ruling party has endorsed President Yoweri Museveni as its candidate for the 2021 elections. This means the 74-year-old leader, who came to power in 1986, will be running for a sixth term.The National Resistance Movement (NRM) agreed, in a meeting chaired by Mr Museveni on Wednesday, that he should “continue leading the movement and the state in 2021 and beyond to eliminate bottlenecks to transformation”. Mr. Museveni once said leaders who “overstayed” in office were the root of Africa’s problems. However, he said, while running for a fifth term in 2016, that it was not the right time for him to leave as he still had work to do. His candidacy for Uganda’s next election comes after he signed a 2017 bill that scrapped the presidential age limit of 75. Uganda’s Supreme Court began hearing a petition last month to challenge this decision.

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