The Chinese economy hums along. The Chinese economy grew 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 2019, according to official figures, matching the previous quarter. Industrial production, fixed-asset investment, retail sales and urban unemployment all improved over the end of 2018. Housing prices, too, appear on the upswing; in March, they increased 10.6 percent in 70 Chinese cities compared to the same period the prior year, and the quickest pace of growth since April 2017. But despite the better-than-expected quarterly economic performance, growth in China’s tax revenue is declining. Driven by a decline in individual taxes and land sales, the central government’s tax revenue rose 1.9 percent in March, down from 14.3 percent growth in the same period last year. Some of this slowing growth is related to the tax cuts that Beijing has implemented as an economic stimulus measure. So while the Chinese economy seems to be humming along in some areas, its budget is coming under greater pressure as a result of the stimulus meant to keep up the momentum. And, as noted by China’s statistics bureau, downward pressures on the Chinese economy aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. China isn’t out of the woods yet.
Care for a loan, comrade? Business owners in China have been receiving loans for studying the philosophy of President Xi Jinping. Granted, the business itself must be economically viable, but applicants who dutifully spread Communist Party ideology qualify for what’s not-so-subtly being called “red impetus loan.” The loans are reportedly guarantee and collateral free, and come with lowered interest rates. They are yet another example of how the Communist Party is trying to tie economic productivity to political allegiance.
Iran can’t catch a break. On top of U.S. sanctions driving oil shipments below 1 million barrels per day in April, floods in Iran’s Khuzestan province are forcing the closure of some oil wells. The floods have also forced tens of thousands of people in the city of Ahvaz to evacuate. Units from the Iraqi People’s Mobilization Forces are being sent to Iran to support relief efforts. Members of the Fatemiyoun brigade, a group composed of mainly Afghans who also fought in the Syrian war, are also reportedly helping in the flooded areas. This is another example of the Iran government’s willingness to use foreign militias to help stabilize the situation at home. But there has been something of a backlash; some see the PMF as a shield to protect the regime as Iranians grow increasingly frustrated with the government’s poor management of the floods. Meanwhile, the government has said sanctions should be suspended so the country can deal with the natural disaster, just as India and Turkey have asked for waiver extensions from the U.S. to continue importing Iranian oil.
Turkey tries to make a deal. Turkey’s defense minister paid an unannounced visit to Washington to meet with acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Tuesday. The trip was reportedly due to Ankara’s anticipated purchase of S-400 missile defense systems from Russia, to which Washington responded by promising to halt sales of F-35 fighter jets. This visit came a day after Turkish Finance Minister (and son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan) Berat Albayrak went to Washington to speak with U.S. President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Albayrak told Turkish media that the meeting was about the S-400 purchase and whether the Trump administration could offer some compromise. Erdogan himself may be amenable – though he has repeatedly insisted that the missile acquisition was a done deal, an anonymous Turkish official has hinted that there is some wiggle room, according to al-Monitor.
- Russia’s Federal Security Services searched the facilities of the Turbina Special Design Bureau in Chelyabinsk as part of an investigation into an embezzlement case involving 300 million rubles ($4.7 million). Turbina is part of state-owned firm Rostec.
- Turkey and Iran have entered into negotiations to create financial mechanisms that would allow bilateral trade to continue while avoiding U.S. sanctions.
- Trump vetoed a Congressional resolution to end U.S. support of the Saudi coalition in the Yemeni civil war. This is the second veto that Trump has used in office.
- A high-level Iranian military delegation visited Oman.
- Russian forces stationed in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria conducted small-scale military exercises.
- China conducted military exercises near Taiwan and Japan. Several long-range bombers, accompanied by an airborne early warning aircraft, an electronic warfare and surveillance plane, and several fighter jets flew over the Bash channel, a waterway between the Philippines and Taiwan, and the Miyako Strait, to the east of Taiwan.
- Russia has completed delivery of 24 Su-35 fighter jets to China.
- The U.S. and France conducted joint aircraft carrier strike group drills in the Red Sea.
- The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and an anonymous Taliban official have suggested peace talks are expected to continue despite the Taliban’s spring offensive.
- Brazilians have more confidence in the armed forces than they do in other institutions, according to a recent Datafolha survey. Results show 45 percent have a high level of confidence in the military, 29 percent in the presidency, 25 percent in the judiciary, 24 percent in the media, 22 percent in large companies, and 8 percent in Congress.
- The Egyptian parliament has approved constitutional amendments that would allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to stay in office until 2030. His current term is set to expire in 2022.
- Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s incumbent president, is on track to win re-election, according to exit polls and unofficial preliminary results.