May requests another Brexit extension. On Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May formally asked for an extension of Brexit negotiations to June 30. When May’s government first asked for a delay to June 30, the European Union refused because May had resisted participating in the EU parliamentary elections on May 23. Importantly, May’s new request confirmed that the U.K. is making preparations to take part in those elections. Still, an increasingly frustrated Brussels is widely expected to offer only a long extension; European Council President Donald Tusk had suggested a delay to March 31, 2020, but the EU hasn’t yet made a formal counteroffer. May and Tusk have suggested that the extension could be cut short if the British Parliament ratifies the withdrawal agreement early (though this condition already exists under EU rules). Despite some European capitals’ annoyance with the dragged-out process, it is highly unlikely that any of the 27 other member states will block a long delay and risk a no-deal Brexit that would be blamed on the EU. It’s also unlikely that the U.K. would sabotage EU business during a long delay to secure concessions in the withdrawal negotiations, though there could be posturing and squabbles in the European Parliament.
Guns, pigs and steel. The latest round of high-profile U.S.-China trade talks in Washington ended inconclusively, despite reports yesterday that a substantive deal is taking shape and that U.S. President Donald Trump was readying to announce a “signing summit” with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Instead, Trump announced that a deal merely remained possible within the next four weeks. China is strengthening its hand with timely reminders of just how important a consumer market it’s becoming; newly released U.S. data shows that Chinese purchases of U.S. farm products, particularly pork products, soybeans and cotton, have surged since the beginning of the year. Curiously, though, Trump also hinted at what negotiations might come next, if and when a trade truce is ever inked, floating a proposal that China, Russia and the U.S. open talks on capping military spending. It’s an intriguing proposal, even if bereft of details at this point. Russian and Chinese officials both responded positively, but don’t expect much, at least in a trilateral framework. For Russia, a prolonged arms race would strain its already overstretched budget while delivering minimal strategic benefit. (Moscow has unpleasant memories of how the last arms race with the U.S. ended.) China, however, has little strategic choice but to push for something close to parity with the U.S. in the Western Pacific, and it has a long way to go. Substantially reducing spending would effectively lock its vulnerabilities to the U.S. in place. Only a collapse of the Chinese economy is capable of slowing China’s arms buildup.
Europe’s own frustrations with China are about to get the spotlight. Next week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk will meet for a summit. But several diplomats in Brussels told Reuters that advance work on a joint communique is not going well. Brussels reportedly wants to include commitments from Beijing to address alleged Chinese cyber-espionage and human rights abuses of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, and to complete talks on an investment agreement and removing various structural barriers to trade. As could have been expected, Beijing is insisting that the joint statement include nothing of the sort. The diplomats said no joint statement may be released as a result. Statements themselves aren’t particularly important, but the underlying forces they reflect can be. And while Europe hasn’t followed Washington’s playbook for pressuring Beijing, its interests in curbing supposedly unfair Chinese trade practices are basically the same as those of the U.S.
To the shores of Tripoli … again. Libya is bracing for one of the largest outbreaks of fighting since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 as Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army and de facto ruler of eastern Libya, moves on the capital of Tripoli. On Friday, LNA forces reportedly sacked the town of Gharyan, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Tripoli, but were also repelled by forces loyal to the U.N.-recognized, Tripoli-based government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj at a checkpoint 20 miles west of the capital during a bid to close the coastal highway to Tunisia. U.N. chief Antonio Guterres has rushed to Benghazi to meet with Haftar and try to talk him into abiding by the U.N.-backed peace process. Rumors of international meddling are beginning to swirl. Russia has denied accusations that it encouraged Haftar to take Tripoli – indeed, its interests in Libya are pretty limited. And Qatar, which supported the original rebel uprising against Gadhafi, has accused the United Arab Emirates of backing the new offensive despite the fact that it has joined Egypt, the U.S. and key European countries in condemning the violence.
- Trump abandoned his threat to close the southern border, warning instead that Mexico has one year to get the situation under control (though it seems improbable that the White House would be any more willing to follow through on its threat, given the potential consequences to the U.S. economy, six months before a presidential election).
- The U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. (The Senate passed the resolution last month.) It’s the first time Congress has invoked the 1973 War Powers Act to limit the executive’s prerogative to intervene in a foreign conflict without congressional approval. Trump is expected to veto the resolution.
- A London court has ruled on the United Arab Emirates-Djibouti port dispute case, ordering Djibouti to pay $385 million plus interest. Djibouti had claimed it was renationalizing the UAE’s stake in the port, but the court said it had violated part of the contract in doing so.
- Mongolia’s Democratic Party organized protests in Sukhbaatar against accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
- Brazil’s agriculture minister will meet with 51 representatives from Arab countries on April 10, aiming to preserve trade ties with these countries despite Brazil’s recent overtures to Israel.
- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to send troops on “a suicide mission” to Pag-asa Island, the Philippines’ largest holding in the disputed Spratly archipelago, if the nearly 300 Chinese vessels currently surrounding the island don’t “lay off.”
- A senior Pentagon official told Congress that the U.S. is considering selling F-35 fighter jets to five new countries – Romania, Greece, Poland, Spain and Singapore.
- ASEAN finance ministers and central bankers agreed to push to finalize the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact by the end of the year.