A cease-fire in the trade war. The meeting yesterday between presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping lived up to the hype. The most notable topic of discussion was the U.S. decision to delay the escalation of tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products for 90 days – tariffs were due to jump from 10 percent to 25 percent on Jan. 1. In return, China agreed to import more U.S. products, including the immediate purchase of agricultural products, to reduce the trade imbalance between the countries. (That’s the White House’s version, anyway. The Chinese government simply said that China would import more U.S. products but made no mention of agricultural goods.) Both sides walked away from the deal claiming success, spinning the summit to appease their respective bases, securing political support and, of course, taking credit for it.
Now comes the hard part. Washington has said that if the U.S. and China don’t reach a broader deal by April it will move forward with more punitive measures. The U.S. and China still want very different things from each other, and nothing that was agreed to on Sunday has changed the underlying structural problems that got them there in the first place. The U.S. has demonstrated its leverage in these negotiations – and its willingness to use it. But the U.S. must also determine how far it will go now that the global economy is contracting. For its part, China must determine what it can concede without sacrificing its immediate economic needs or its long-term strategic ambitions. Bottom line: De-emphasizing short-term tensions isn’t the same as resolving long-term issues. The cease-fire gives China some breathing room, but it’s not a permanent armistice.
France on fire. Protests against fuel tax hikes, rising living expenses and French President Emmanuel Macron himself have entered their third week. Over the weekend, protesters torched cars, looted stores and vandalized homes and cafes throughout Paris. Some even vandalized the Arc de Triomphe with graffiti calling for Macron’s resignation. It is the most intense and significant social unrest Paris has seen since 1968, when student strikes evolved into a countrywide expression of dissatisfaction with the French government. The situation became so bad over the weekend that a French government spokesperson said Macron was considering imposing a state of emergency.
The protesters, known as “yellow vests” for what they wear, have not articulated any kind of political platform beyond a dissatisfaction with Macron and his attempts to reform the French economy. Indeed, local authorities noted that Saturday’s protests featured groups from the far-right, the far-left, and youths from the suburbs. The protests undermine Macron’s attempts to push for meaningful reform of the European Union, but the deeper question here is whether these protests reflect a French version of a continental disillusionment with status quo policies or a narrower expression of dissatisfaction in a president whose great virtue, at the time of his election, was that his last name wasn’t “Le Pen.”
OPEC loses a member-state. Qatar announced it would leave the oil cartel, but on a practical level its departure won’t amount to much. The country is a liquefied natural gas juggernaut but produces comparatively little oil, accounting for just 1.9 percent of OPEC crude oil production last quarter. (The energy minister says Qatar plans to increase LNG production by almost 50 percent “in the coming years.”) The political symbolism of the departure is undeniable. Qatar has already demonstrated that it wants a better relationship with Turkey and a more pragmatic relationship with Iran than Saudi Arabia and its regional allies would like. Saudi-led efforts to isolate Qatar for its “roguish” relations have failed. Qatar said it would still abide by global oil deals, but even so, Qatar has always done what is in Doha’s interests. Flexibility is a hallmark of its foreign policy. By leaving OPEC, it is exposing the weakness of Saudi Arabia, a country that wants to be a leader in the region but cannot even dictate the actions of a small country that defies it.
Iran tests a missile. The U.S. national security adviser accused Iran of test-firing a medium-range ballistic missile capable of hitting Israel on Saturday. The U.S. secretary of state followed up with a statement of his own, accusing Iran of violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231. (It’s strange that a senior U.S. government official would point to Resolution 2231, considering Resolution 2231 is the U.N.’s official endorsement of the same Iran nuclear deal Washington abandoned earlier this year.) The secretary of state also warned that Iran’s missile testing was dangerous and risked serious escalation, ominously concluding that the U.S. needed to “restore deterrence” to prevent the situation from getting out of hand. Iran neither confirmed nor denied that it had tested a missile. It insisted that its missile program was entirely defensive and that it would pursue a defensive military capability regardless of what the U.S. says.
- In an election in the Spanish region of Andalusia, two upstart parties made major gains against the ruling Socialist Party: a self-described right-wing party called VOX and a not-easily-pigeon-holed party called Ciudadanos.
- Israeli law enforcement officials announced they would recommend bribery charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife. The recommendations will be reviewed by the state prosecutor before being passed on the attorney general for a final decision on whether to indict.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 that Turkey and Russia needed to hold a meeting on the future of Idlib governorate in Syria.
- India’s defense minister is in the U.S. to discuss defense cooperation and the issue of a sanctions waiver for Indian arms purchases from Russia.
- According to Russia’s foreign minister, the U.S. national security adviser told a Putin aide that the U.S. wanted to continue to normalize relations with Russia. He added that Russia is ready when the U.S. is.
- Annual inflation in Turkey fell to 21.6 percent in November from 25.2 percent in October.