Weekly Global Newscast | 20 August - 26 August, 2018
US-China Trade War Worsens with Mutual Tariff Hikes
Washington and Beijing levied new tariffs on $16 billion worth of each other’s goods in the latest round of an escalating trade war spurred by US complaints of unfair trade practices by China.
Products targeted in the most recent round include Chinese semiconductors, chemicals, and plastics and US steel products and medical equipment; the moves follow similar tit-for-tat duties on $34 billion worth of imports last month. China vowed to lodge a complaint against the United States at the World Trade Organization as senior envoys from both countries continued trade talks in Washington. The United States is holding public hearings this week on its proposal to levy tariffs on up to $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.
‘The actions threaten to weaken the [Chinese] economy over the longer term, many economists warn. That is because China’s debt load has soared since 2009, when Beijing was fighting a global recession, and the trade fight may prompt Beijing to put off debt restructurings,’ Lingling Wei and Bob Davis write for the Wall Street Journal.
‘Despite US pressure, China remains committed to its own economic agenda because it believes that achieving technological supremacy today will enable it to write tomorrow’s rules,’ Abigail Grace opines for Foreign Policy.
‘Up until recently, the two nations’ economic ties had served as an effective brake on escalating strategic distrust. A China less constrained by and invested in economic ties with the United States could pose a substantially greater challenge to US foreign policy,’ Ali Wyne writes for Foreign Affairs.
Rocket Attack Shakes Kabul During Afghan President’s Eid Speech
A sustained rocket attack shook the Afghan capital Tuesday morning just as President Ashraf Ghani was delivering a speech marking the beginning of Eid al-Adha, a three-day festival that is the most important holiday on the Muslim calendar.
There were no reports of casualties from the dozen short-range rockets fired, and no group immediately asserted responsibility. The Taliban issued a statement saying it had no role in the attack. The insurgent group’s leaders have not responded to Ghani’s offer last Sunday of a conditional three-month truce. Some Taliban leaders said Monday that they were still discussing the proposal, and the group has sent out conflicting signals.
As Ghani spoke from his palace Tuesday, the rocket fire could be heard across the city. During the broadcast, the president calmly acknowledged the threat of violence and made clear that the government had been expecting attacks during Eid.
Middle East & North Africa
Facebook, Twitter Accuse Iran-Linked Accounts of Disinformation
Hundreds of accounts allegedly originating in Iran and Russia were shuttered by Facebook and Twitter for ‘inauthentic behavior’ and ‘coordinated manipulation,’ the companies announced.
Facebook deleted 652 pages, groups, and accounts on its flagship platform and Instagram that were created as far back as 2011 and which the social media giant said originated in Iran, while Twitter suspended 284 accounts it said were also largely from Iran. Facebook accused many of the accounts, apparently linked to state media, of posing as news and civil society organizations while targeting users in the Middle East, Latin America, United States, and United Kingdom with political disinformation. Others engaged in traditional hacking and malware attacks, the company said.
‘The intent behind this activity appears to be to promote Iranian political interests, including anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as to promote support for specific US policies favorable to Iran, such as the US-Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA),’ states FireEye, a security company that alerted Facebook to the online activity.
‘[The campaign] reinforces that this is an ongoing information war, that our social ecosystem is vulnerable to manipulation by a variety of adversaries,’ Renee DiResta said in an interview with the New York Times.
‘The news is a reminder of the broad scope of potential adversaries targeting American tech companies. But it simultaneously signals a strengthening alliance between those companies, which have begun proactively sharing the details of their investigations with other tech giants,’ Issie Lapowsky opines for Wired.
Sub Saharan Africa
Russia Signs Military Cooperation Deal with CAR
Russia signed a military cooperation agreement with the Central African Republic (CAR) on August 21, less than a month after three prominent Russian journalists were killed in the war-ridden country while investigating Russian mercenaries.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his CAR counterpart, Marie-Noelle Koyara, signed the document on the sidelines of a state arms exhibition outside Moscow, Russian news agencies reported. The deal ‘will help strengthen ties in the defense sphere,’ Shoigu was quoted as saying after the ceremony.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Fomin told Interfax news agency that the pact was a ‘framework agreement’ establishing general avenues of cooperation, including ‘exchange of delegations, education in Russian military institutes, mutual visits and so forth.’ The agreement is set to deepen Moscow’s involvement in the impoverished African nation, where the government is seeking to boost its armed forces in the fight against militias that control most of the country.
Greece Exits Bailout, but Economic Challenges Remain
Greece has officially ended its third bailout program, after eight years of European financial support and controversial austerity measures. The chair of the eurozone’s bailout fund, Mario Centeno, said the country can ‘stand on its own’ financially for the first time since 2010.
Through the bailouts, Greece has received roughly €290 billion in loans from other European nations and the International Monetary Fund. The country is expected to make its final debt repayment to European creditors in the 2060s, and analysts say Athens will have to average budget surpluses of 2.2 per cent of gross domestic product until then to sustain its debt load. Centeno credited the exit to cooperation by Greece’s government, the ‘extraordinary effort’ of the Greek people, and support from Europe, while the IMF’s Christine Lagarde has cautioned that ‘greater reform efforts remain key to an economic recovery.’
‘Real GDP has shrunk by more than a quarter from its pre-crisis peak in 2007-08. Unemployment is still about 20 per cent, and youth unemployment is more than double that,’ writes the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Joan Hoey.
‘Both Greece’s leftwing Syriza-led government and the centre-right opposition New Democracy party agree on the need to boost growth,’ Jim Brunsden and Kerin Hope state in an article for the Financial Times.
Australia’s PM Ousted Amid Party Divisions
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was ousted by conservative members of his center-right Liberal Party amid bitter disputes over issues including climate change and immigration. He was replaced by his treasurer, Scott Morrison.
Morrison, a social conservative known for hardline policy on asylum seekers, was sworn in Friday after narrowly winning a leadership vote. He vowed to prioritize national security and to deal with a long-running drought. In a farewell speech, Turnbull called his opponents ‘insurgents’ and said Australians will be ‘in disbelief at what’s been done.’ Morrison is Australia’s fourth Prime Minister in five years.
‘Morrison was once a darling of the conservative wing within the Liberal Party of the Coalition government, known in Australia and in the region, particularly Southeast Asia, as the architect of the uncompromising turn-back-the-boats policy on border protection,’ Daniel Flitton opines for the Interpreter.
‘Just when the world may feel it’s stumbling down a darkening path, Australia offers the prospect of a different way: a country that’s outgrown its vicious origins to become one of the richest and happiest on the back of migration, trade, and an embrace of its environment. The costs of choosing the wrong course could reverberate for generations,’ David Fickling states in his analysis for Bloomberg.
‘With the progressive Turnbull, whose interests more or less aligned with those of urban Australia, out of the way, they [the Nationals] could well have a window of opportunity to place more focus on rural Australia,’ Gregory Melleuish writes for the Conversation.
Venezuela Rolls Out Rebranded Currency
President Nicolas Maduro’s regime imposed drastic measures to halt a deepening currency crisis, devaluing the Venezuelan bolivar by 95 per cent and pegging it to a recently introduced cryptocurrency. Opponents of the regime have called for demonstrations as the new measures take effect.
The move to peg the bolivar to the state-run cryptocurrency, the petro, weakens the official exchange rate from 250,000 bolivars to the US dollar to 6 million bolivars. The currency overhaul comes amid an exodus of Venezuelan refugees into neighboring Brazil and Colombia, as well as nearby Ecuador and Peru. Some of the countries have in recent weeks tightened restrictions at their borders as they struggle to deal with the influx of migrants.
‘Whatever its reception in international financial circles, the combination of events in the capital city of Caracas foretells heavy use of calculators—and perhaps chaos,’ Fabiola Zerpa opines for Bloomberg.
‘Sustained efforts by Washington and its regional allies to isolate the country and the regime have, unfortunately, done little to improve the situation. Instead, they provided first Chavez and then Maduro with a tailor-made excuse to blame the country’s ills on Washington and its allies,’ writes Michael P. Dempsey for War on the Rocks.
‘The total number of displaced Venezuelans may already have reached four million, out of a population of some 30 million. The outflow could eventually surpass the six million people who have fled the Syrian civil war,’ as per an article in the Economist.