Daily Memo: African Swine Fever Spreads, Xi Goes to Russia, Germany Eyes the Taiwan Strait

All the news worth knowing today.

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Update on African swine fever. The spread of African swine fever is not letting up. The chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Agricultural Associations, Chan Kin Yip, claimed that mainland pig farmers had told him that the disease has spread to 30 percent of mainland pigs. Another Hong Kong pig farmer based in mainland China, speaking to the South China Morning Post, claimed that figure was as high as 50 percent. The central government is encouraging provinces to provide financial support to large-scale pig farms that have had to cull large amounts of pigs, including guarantees on loans set for near-term maturity.

In Vietnam, where fear of the disease is growing, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc instructed various ministries to urge the culling of infected pigs. ASF is believed to have spread to over 52 cities in Vietnam, leading to the culling of more than 2 million pigs. Officials in Vietnam are even encouraging hog farmers to switch to other livestock. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Thailand’s $3.3 billion hog industry has not yet been hit as hard by the disease, and Bangkok believes it can stop ASF from crossing over its borders. Meanwhile, Poland is experiencing the largest outbreak of ASF in its history. (The disease first reached the country in 2014.) This is the third outbreak of ASF in Poland this year, and it’s affecting 8,000 pigs. European officials are already issuing warnings to pig farmers to be on guard. The Irish Farmers’ Association president warned that, should the disease reach Ireland, it could wipe out Ireland’s pig stock.

Dairy farmers, too, are becoming concerned that ASF could indirectly affect them. Many pigs eat whey, a byproduct of cheese. As swine herds are failing in Asia and the ones in Europe are threatened, there’s been downward pressure on whey: Whey powder prices have already dropped by about 20 percent this year. Rabobank estimated that U.S. dairy farmers could see a decline of as much as 50 percent in the price of their cheese products due to the declining demand.

Xi goes to Moscow. Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in Russia, where he’ll be until June 7. He met Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks in Moscow, and the two leaders signed more than 20 documents including contracts to attract investment in the Russian economy. The pair have also agreed to set up a $1 billion venture fund that will invest in developing new technologies in key sectors of the economy. The two leaders also discussed international security and economic issues. The Chinese delegation noted that trade between the two “broke a new historical record,” reaching $100 billion. Putin also pointed out that the positions of Moscow and Beijing are aligned when it comes to the Korean Peninsula. Xi, calling Putin his closest friend, said the talks had a very friendly atmosphere. In a final act of friendship, China deployed its “panda diplomacy,” presenting two pandas to the Moscow zoo.

Germany eyes the Taiwan Strait. High-ranking German officials are discussing sending a warship through the Chinese-claimed and highly contested Taiwan Strait, which U.S. warships have been visiting with increasing frequency, according to a Politico report citing two unnamed German officials. A decision this summer is unlikely. This is interesting less for what it means for the future of the Taiwan Strait and more for what it tells us about the gradual increase in Indo-Pacific activity among European powers. In April, the Chinese navy shadowed a French frigate as it transited the strait, and last month, France deployed its only aircraft carrier group to Southeast Asia. The U.K., too, has said it may start conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. But Berlin has been much more cautious about any displays of military force. Its potential change of heart is likely motivated by a desire to prove its value as an alliance partner to the United States, which is still holding the threat of tariffs on foreign cars over the export-dependent German economy and perpetually frustrated over the meager military budgets of many of its NATO allies.

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