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Daily Memo: Cash Flow in China, Shake-ups in Central Asia, Migration Everywhere

All the news worth knowing today.

|June 29, 2018

By GPF Staff

It’s going to be difficult for civil servants in Leiyang, China, to enjoy their weekend. According to a report from the South China Morning Post, they didn’t get paid on time because the city was running short on cash. City officials admitted the shortfall and asked provincial authorities for assistance. The report is a few days old, but it’s an ominous sign for Beijing. We’ll keep an eye out for similar stories in other cities.

Hardly a day goes by in Uzbekistan without an announcement of a new government purge. This time, the Uzbekistan tax committee fired more than 1,200 officials to combat “corruption.” (It was this very issue that Uzbekistan’s president referred to when he said Uzbekistan was facing “major threats.”) Meanwhile, Uzbek media have recently been trolling neighboring Turkmenistan by reporting on food shortages that the Turkmen government is trying to cover up – doubly significant considering an Uzbek state TV channel can be watched in select Turkmen provinces. Even more curious is a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report that the Turkmen government is clamping down on minorities, including Uzbeks, the second-largest minority group in the country, who are beginning to wonder if and when Uzbekistan might come to their aid. This report is unconfirmed, but if it’s true, it could shake up the balance of power in the region.

Speaking of unstable regions, Sputnik has reported that Kosovo sent special Albanian/Kosovar police units to the border with Serbia on Thursday. Kosovo’s foreign minister confirmed the deployment, according to unconfirmed reports from B92, a Serbian news agency. The same day of the deployment, Serbia’s defense minister was barred from entering Kosovo to celebrate a Serbian holiday called Vidovdan, which commemorates the Battle of Kosovo fought between the Serbian Kingdom and Ottoman Turks in 1389. Yes, memory runs that deep in this part of the world, and the affront has not gone unnoticed in Serbia, where the defense minister will consult with the Serbian president on the issue. And yes, Kosovo deploys police to the border occasionally. It’s the diplomatic slight, not to mention the Serbian announcement of an upcoming visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, that draws even more attention to this latest instance of Kosovar-Serbian tensions.

The United States is concerned with issues in Central America, as evidenced by Vice President Mike Pence’s recent travel schedule. Pence met with Ecuador’s president on Wednesday, during which they exchanged the usual pleasantries about renewing ties and establishing policies of mutual benefit. But they also spoke harshly of Venezuela, and their words have already begun to reverberate throughout the region. (Some local media in South America have suggested that Pence is attempting to foment a coup.) From there, the vice president traveled to Guatemala to meet with the leaders of all three “Northern Triangle” countries – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Here the focus was on migration, the primary U.S. message of which was: “Don’t come north.” It’s unclear what these three countries can do to stop the “migrant exodus,” as Pence called it. U.S. threats to withdraw aid won’t induce these countries to, say, stop the international drug trade, nor will it make the United States any less attractive a place to work or live. In other words, the U.S. has a problem on its hands, and it has no clear view as to how to solve it.

Last (and least), the European Union issued a new 11-page document midway through what was billed as an important EU summit on migration. Leaders from many European countries have already claimed the summit was a major success. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Visegrad Group members had been heard. Italy’s new prime minister said the country was no longer alone. France’s president said the spirit of EU cooperation had prevailed. And so on. European media are more skeptical, and rightly so. The conclusions reached at the summit are heavy on ideas and light on practice. The much ballyhooed idea to set up migrant processing centers, for example, will be implemented voluntarily, with undefined amounts of EU support. It makes sense for the EU to submit platitudes and unclear policies; the unspoken purpose of a consensus statement like this is to water it down. In short, the story is capturing headlines on a slow Friday news cycle but is unlikely to amount to much. Brave readers can find the full document here.

Honorable Mentions

  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is reportedly headed to North Korea next week for the much more difficult talks on next steps in denuclearization. The State Department has yet to confirm the visit.
  • Haaretz has reported that Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have all warned Israel about Turkey’s attempt to buy influence in East Jerusalem. Turkey’s rise to power appears to be one of the few issues that can compel countries to set aside their differences on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • Rumors have surfaced that Turkey is preparing to take a “new role” in NATO by assuming command of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and by boosting the NATO presence in the Black Sea. If true, Russia will not be pleased.
  • British government officials have expressed concern to reporters about the upcoming Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki. They aren’t sure what the U.S. is looking for, and they’re nervous that Trump may improvise as he did with Kim Jong Un on an issue that the U.K. government has staked a lot on.
  • Pension reform continues to make waves in Russia, with more poll numbers saying support for the government is down. Some regional government officials have resigned, and protests were announced for as soon as next week. Russia’s economic issues simply won’t go away.