China’s precarious economy. Beijing released a slew of monthly data on Friday. As usual, it’s a stew of both good news and bad. Perhaps most important, China’s credit crunch may finally be easing, with total credit in March reaching 2.86 trillion yuan ($426.54 billion), a 10.7 percent annual increase (compared to 10.1 percent in February). New bank loans grew 13.8 percent year over year, up from 13.3 percent the previous month. However, shadow lending contracted less quickly than in February, highlighting just how hard it is for Beijing to snuff out off-balance-sheet lending and still get firms the credit they need. Meanwhile, exports soared 14.2 percent year over year, following a more than 20 percent contraction in February. That sent China’s trade surplus with the U.S. surging back up to $32.65 billion; the U.S. tariffs simply aren’t having their intended effect. However, imports contracted 7.6 percent year over year, while vehicle sales in March plunged 5.2 percent year over year, underscoring concerns about weak consumption across the economy. On the whole, it often takes several months for a credit recovery to lead to a growth spurt; expect China’s short-term cyclical downturn to drag on toward the end of the year – putting China in a precarious position as global demand begins to slip.
Sudan’s uncertain future. The morning after longtime Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a military coup, the country awoke to a deeply uncertain future. The deeper structure of Sudanese politics is still firmly in place, much to the ire of protesters, who defied a curfew Thursday night and dismissed the ruling military council’s pledge to restore civilian rule after a transition period lasting as long as two years. Al-Bashir built that structure around a rivalry-ridden tangle of military, intelligence and internal security forces. There is no clear leader in Khartoum at the moment, and since al-Bashir was essentially singularly responsible for keeping this hydra from eating itself, potentially violent power struggles seem inevitable in the coming months. (Already, the commander of Sudan’s elite paramilitary force is opposing the new junta.) The implications of any prolonged period of instability are likely to ripple out across the region, starting with Sudan’s fragile, eight-year-old neighbor to the south. The South Sudanese government and rebel leaders – themselves clinging to an inchoate peace deal – expressed shared alarm about the coup. When it finally achieved independence in 2011, South Sudan took a substantial portion of Sudan’s oil with it, contributing to the economic woes that laid the groundwork for al-Bashir’s fall. (The South has remained dependent on Sudan’s transport infrastructure to move its oil.) For any Sudanese leader looking to consolidate power, a nationalist platform aimed at reclaiming Sudan’s lost riches is a natural place to start.
The Taliban’s renewed offensive. The Taliban announced plans to continue with their annual spring offensive, Operation Fath, in Afghanistan despite engaging in multiple rounds of peace talks. The move goes against U.S. calls for a cease-fire to help reach a deal. This comes one day after planned intra-Afghan talks, scheduled for April 19-21 in Qatar, were delayed by five days when the Afghan government did not finalize its delegation in time. On April 29, the Afghan government will also host a grand assembly to discuss peace in the country, but the Taliban declined Kabul’s invitation to participate. Tensions between the two groups are to be expected, but there is still strong international support for a deal. The United Nations temporarily removed sanctions on the 14 Taliban leaders engaged in peace talks with the U.S., and the Taliban and U.S. are expected to hold another round of talks later this month.
The Venezuelan opposition’s persistence. The Venezuelan opposition and its allies have not given up hope of removing President Nicolas Maduro from power. Opposition leader Juan Guaido refused Maduro’s offer for dialogue and revealed that he was holding secret meetings with members of the armed forces. (Cooperation with the military is considered necessary before the opposition can oust Maduro.) Meanwhile, the president of the World Bank announced that both the bank and the International Monetary Fund were preparing to get involved in Venezuela. The IMF said its members will be responsible for deciding which leader – Maduro or Guaido – the fund recognizes. Since early February, Colombia has said it has been working with international groups, the U.S. government and private firms on a $60 billion recovery package for Venezuela. However, when exactly that recovery package would be delivered remains in question. Maduro’s government has managed to muddle on; despite U.S. sanctions, the latest data from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company show that it delivered 1 million barrels of oil to Cuba in the past week.
- Following talks with his South Korean counterpart, U.S. President Donald Trump said sanctions on North Korea will remain in place and that the timing isn’t right for expanded South Korean economic cooperation with Pyongyang.
- North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature approved a major leadership reshuffle, appointing Central Military Commission member Choe Ryong Hae as nominal head of state and an obscure provincial official as premier – moves seen as cementing newly minted “supreme representative of all the Korean people” Kim Jong Un’s grip on power.
- Serbia and the Eurasian Economic Union are contemplating establishing a free trade zone in October.
- In response to Russian restrictions on trade, Belarus said it would close five sections of the Druzhba oil pipeline for repairs.
- Russia has bestowed its highest state award, the Order of St. Andrew, on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his “exceptional services in promoting special and privileged strategic partnership” and “friendly relations” between Russia and India.
- Malaysia has confirmed that it will move forward with a previously scrapped rail line backed by China – a key link in the Belt and Road Initiative – at roughly two-thirds of the original cost.
- Beijing said it would not participate in talks on an extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, despite U.S. calls for it to do so.
- Brazil’s Congress received a legislation proposal from President Jair Bolsonaro that would empower the Central Bank of Brazil to act independently on monetary policy.
- Germany’s National Security Council has reportedly resumed approvals of weapons exports to countries involved in the war in Yemen, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
- Russia has launched military exercises at the Kuzminsky training ground, 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the Ukrainian border. The exercises involve some 2,000 troops, including motorized rifle brigade units and Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile units, and more than 30 aircraft.