The United States extends a deadline. U.S. President Donald Trump said he would extend the March 1 deadline to increase tariffs on U.S. imports of Chinese goods from 10 to 25 percent. It’s unclear how far the deadline has been pushed, but that might be irrelevant: The president said the current round of trade talks was going so well that a deal might be announced in the next two weeks. Chinese media was also upbeat about the talks, with Xinhua reporting that China’s trade delegation said “substantial progress” had been made on a number of sticking points. Our forecast that China and the U.S. would seek temporary accommodation in their trade skirmish is therefore well on track. We also forecast, however, that no short-term deal will solve the rivalry that has emerged between Washington and Beijing. On that issue, there has been little progress but some attempts to focus on other issues.
Pressure builds in Venezuela. The question we’ve been asking ourselves at GPF for years now is: how much can the pressure in Venezuela build before something changes? Apparently quite a lot. On Saturday, Venezuelan opposition groups attempted to deliver humanitarian aid from Colombia, Brazil and Curacao to Venezuela. Venezuelan military forces blocked the aid deliveries, clashing violently with the opposition groups. Reports suggest that anywhere between two and 25 people were killed in the fighting and that the clashes were most intense on the Venezuela-Colombia border. The Venezuelan navy, meanwhile, blocked the arrival of a ship carrying humanitarian aid from Puerto Rico. Self-declared Venezuelan President Juan Guaido arrived in Colombia this morning for a face-to-face meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that will follow Lima Group talks to consider new measures to bring down the resilient Maduro regime. Despite reports of small numbers of military defections at the Colombian border, Venezuelan armed forces remain squarely behind President Nicolas Maduro, who broke diplomatic relations with Colombia and closed Venezuelan airspace to commercial planes as a result of this weekend’s violence.
Kazakhstan fires its government. On Feb. 21, Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, sacked his government. The stated reason was bad economic performance, which is a little strange considering that just two months ago, Nazarbayev gave an upbeat New Year’s address on the state of the Kazakh economy. Earlier today, Nazarbayev appointed a new prime minister and a number of other cabinet officials to replace the ones he fired last week. KazTAG news agency reported the sudden and wide-ranging dismissals were simply electioneering – a scapegoating move as Nazarbayev prepares to call for snap elections meant to buttress his position and legitimacy. Even if that is the primary motivation, the reshuffling still speaks to a significant level of dissatisfaction in the country that bears close watching going forward.
The crown prince supports the troops. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia appointed one of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s brothers to the post of deputy defense minister. He wasted no time going to work, traveling the next day to the southern border to meet with Saudi soldiers fighting in the war in Yemen. He was probably greeted with a warm reception – MBS had just announced that the soldiers would be given a bonus of one month’s salary, according to the Saudi Press Agency. The crown prince, who seemed to have fallen out of favor after Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, continues to appoint loyalists he can trust to key bureaucratic positions – and to cultivate the support of the institution most important to his ability to rule, the Saudi military.
More political infighting in Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told Iran’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs that the Iranian armed forces needed to “quit the economy and leave it to the people and instead perform their own important and heavy duties.” Rouhani’s speech is all the more striking considering the Iranian chief of staff said just last week that the Iranian army was preparing to become more engaged in the country’s auto manufacturing industry. This is not a new dynamic – Rouhani has been trying to curb the economic power of the military since he took office – and his success or failure in that regard is perhaps the most important issue in Iran today.
Following Kim Jong Un. With his sister and closet adviser in tow, the North Korean leader is on a train bound for Vietnam for his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. (Our very own Phillip Orchard wrote an excellent piece on what to expect from the meeting.) The train has already entered China, so it will be interesting to see if Kim stops to chat with Chinese President Xi Jinping. More interesting, though, is the report from South Korea’s Maeil Broadcasting Network that Seoul has acquired North Korea’s “first” official economic summary, which includes details on its national budget and mineral reserves and seemed in general to be focused on the prospects of foreign investment. It’s hard to know whether the report is credible and, if so, what it means for peninsular relations. Considering its implications, we’ll try to figure out quickly.
- For the third day in a row, tens of thousands of Algerians protested against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is seeking his fifth presidential term.
- Protests against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir also continued over the weekend.
- Earlier today, U.S. and U.K. regulators announced a long-term agreement on overseeing derivatives markets after Brexit.
- Both Israel and Iran wrapped up naval drills this weekend; Iran’s garnered special attention for the successful test of a cruise missile fired from a submarine.
- In Yemen, Houthi forces have delayed withdrawing from key points around the port city of Hodeida for a second time.
- Qatar announced yesterday that the latest round of U.S.-Taliban negotiations for a cease-fire in Afghanistan would begin in Doha this week.