The trade war escalates. According to unnamed officials, the United States is planning to take the trade war with China to the next level in December by imposing new tariffs, which will cover as much as $257 billion in Chinese exports, if a deal isn’t reached at a (possible) upcoming meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit. The U.S. is already pressing its advantage on the technology front; on Monday, the Commerce Department banned exports of U.S. component parts and software to a Chinese state-backed semiconductor firm, Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co., Ltd. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, told Fox News that a “great deal” is on the table but that Beijing isn’t ready for it. China can’t give the U.S. what it’s asking without abandoning its state-led plan to climb the manufacturing value chain. The U.S. holds most of the cards and thus has little need to compromise. A deal is certainly possible, but the conditions are not particularly conducive to one.
Shaky deals in Syria. On Monday, Syria’s foreign minister accused Turkey of failing to honor the agreement that established a de-escalation zone in northern Syria’s Idlib province. According to Damascus, Turkish-backed rebels armed with heavy weaponry are still present in the buffer zone and effectively control the province. Turkey, of course, denied the accusations. More interesting is that Russia came to Turkey’s defense, albeit subtly: A Kremlin spokesperson said the Turkish government was “doing its best” to implement the deal — even if “not everything is going as it was planned.” This isn’t entirely unexpected; controlling rebels who don’t want to be controlled was always going to be easier said than done. In the meantime, Turkey said that the offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels east of the Euphrates would soon escalate. (The statement came just after the Turkish military finished shelling positions of the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish-dominated militia known as the YPG, in the northern Syrian city of Kobani.) These developments won’t necessarily break Turkey’s agreement with the U.S. over Manbij, a city in western Syria – on Monday, U.S. and Turkish officials said they had even completed preparations for coordinated patrols there – but the possibility of a U.S.-Turkish clash elsewhere can’t be ignored.
Feints and gestures in the South China Sea. On Tuesday, Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said the U.S. and Chinese navies would “meet more and more on the high seas,” a reference to a September incident in which a Chinese warship came within 45 yards (41 meters) of the USS Decatur during a freedom of navigation operation, or FONOP. The U.S. needs a consistent, visible presence in the disputed waters to reassure allies, and remind Beijing, that it’s not withdrawing from the region. Beijing needs consistent, visible responses to U.S. FONOPs to satisfy domestic hard-liners, and remind Southeast Asian states, that the future is Chinese. Their respective positions will raise the risk of accidents or miscalculations. But aside from unintended provocations, these sorts of run-ins won’t affect the long-term balance of power – until China is ready to force the issue and challenge the U.S. directly, of course. That won’t happen anytime soon. Still, the increasingly crowded and militarized waters are making littoral states in Southeast Asia nervous. Upcoming China-ASEAN drills are expected to focus primarily on avoiding mishaps, and the Philippines is now hinting at a compromise with Beijing over their territorial dispute.
The U.S. may have suspended Afghan military training. Again. Earlier this month, three senior officials in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province were assassinated by their own security guards. The Taliban said, however, that the intended target was Washington’s top general in Afghanistan, who escaped without injury. Four days after the assassination attempt, a member of the Afghan army attacked a NATO-led mission in Herat province, which left one Czech soldier dead and two U.S. soldiers wounded. As a result, face-to-face meetings between Afghan and U.S. troops have been suspended, as have U.S. training programs for Afghan forces, according to Sarkhat, a local Pashto-language paper. The report has not been verified but, if true, it would not be unprecedented – the U.S. halted training for Afghan police units after a series of attacks on NATO soldiers in 2012. Evidently, the security environment hasn’t improved in the intervening years. The Taliban are biding their time, improving their position while the U.S. continues to look for a way out.
Machinations in the Caucasus. The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of attempting to break the “traditional friendship” between Armenia and Russia following U.S. national security adviser John Bolton’s visit to Yerevan. With typical sarcasm, the ministry said “it would be good for John Bolton to ponder the meaning of his own words.” Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia met yesterday and signed the “Istanbul Declaration.” It’s a pledge consisting of the usual platitudes, with the notable addition of a denunciation of the status quo in certain regional conflicts – an obvious reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia is mired in domestic political drama now that its parliament has again failed to pass a draft of the electoral code ahead of elections currently scheduled for December. The South Caucasus is one of the key flashpoints between the U.S. and Russia and between Russia and Turkey, and while it’s unclear whether the Istanbul Declaration has any teeth, it is clear that Russia is unhappy with the direction the region seems to be heading.
- China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier has launched its third sea trial and is expected to go into service next year, according to Chinese state media.
- Moscow gave Cuba a $50 million loan to buy Russian military equipment.
- India signed a $950 million deal to purchase two Russian guided-missile frigates.
- New Delhi and Tokyo have officially opened talks on an agreement that would give their navies access to each other’s bases and agreed on a $75 billion currency swap to bring India some financial stability.
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to meet with his North Korean counterpart in the U.S. next week, according to sources in Seoul.
- South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon admitted that Seoul has had differences with Washington over its road and rail cooperation plans with Pyongyang.
- Seoul has asked Washington for “maximum flexibility” on compliance with U.S. energy sanctions on Iran. Iraq said it should be exempted from the sanctions because it depends on Tehran for natural gas and electricity supplies.
- Fiji’s president and prime minister are in Beijing on an official visit. The two countries pledged to deepen “all around practical cooperation.”