Tensions in Hong Kong. Hong Kong police are warning residents against participating in unauthorized protests on Saturday. The island’s police commander reportedly said his forces would “act sternly” against anyone attempting to incite violence. The police commander has one particular unauthorized protest in mind: a rally proposed by the Civil Human Rights Front. The Hong Kong police filed an objection to the rally, and the objection was upheld by an appeal board. Meanwhile, Hong Kong police today arrested a number of high-profile activists, including a district council member, for their roles in allegedly organizing and inciting unauthorized assemblies and obstructing officers at various protests over the past two months. The move comes just days after what Beijing is claiming is simply a routine rotation in which People’s Liberation Army forces at the Hong Kong garrison were replaced with fresh troops, but the combination of tough police talk, activist arrests and rumors of fresh PLA troops in the area is creating additional uncertainty. Case in point: Hong Kong airport officials are already considering canceling a number of flights in and out of Hong Kong this weekend.
EU leaders’ Iran efforts. The British, French and German foreign ministers and the European Union’s foreign affairs chief are holding a two-day meeting in Helsinki. Their focus: preserving the Iran nuclear deal and protecting commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the meeting would carry forward momentum from the G-7 summit, at which Iran’s foreign minister made a guest appearance. A day earlier, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said EU defense chiefs had discussed testing in the Gulf of Guinea a “coordinated maritime presence,” which would see countries voluntarily cooperate to provide maritime security. Mogherini said the initiative had been in the works for months and was not linked to tensions with Iran, but she acknowledged that a future deployment could be made to the Persian Gulf region. The U.S., of course, has already launched its own maritime defense mission in the region, with the U.K. among the participants. Other crucial details on the EU plan are yet to be settled, including the combat capability of participating forces, and Mogerhini said deployment would occur only with the assent of coastal countries in the affected area. In other words, at this stage the plan is toothless. With the exception of the U.K. – which is conducting a mesmerizing balancing act in its Iran policy – the EU’s focus is still on keeping the nuclear deal alive, American and Iranian guns silent, and its own options open.
Japan’s defense budget grows. Japan’s Defense Ministry requested $50.3 billion for its 2020 budget. This marks the eighth consecutive year that the military’s budget has increased, though it still accounts for only about 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. (China spends about 2 percent and the U.S. about 3 percent of GDP on defense.) The budget focuses primarily on increasing Japan’s air capabilities with the planned purchase of six F-35B stealth fighter jets in addition to F-35A jets. The Defense Ministry also plans to reconfigure one of its two destroyers to be able to host F-35Bs onboard. Many of the purchases follow Japan’s trend of increasing interoperability with U.S. forces and increasing the island nation’s ability to protect its surrounding waters and increase denial capabilities. According to the constitution, Japan’s forces are supposed to be defensive in nature, but the government has been pushing the envelope on that interpretation, even as efforts to amend the war-renouncing Article 9 remain a work in progress.
- The Philippines and China agreed to set up an intergovernmental group charged with promoting joint exploration of oil and natural gas in the South China Sea. This builds on a November 2018 agreement to pursue joint energy projects.
- Argentina announced that it plans to open negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and sovereign bond holders in an effort to extend the maturities of its debt obligations.
- U.S. President Donald Trump is sending his vice president to Poland this weekend in his stead so that he can focus on responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, due to make landfall on Monday. Warsaw and Washington are expected to sign an agreement on 5G cooperation.
- A Scottish judge denied a request for an injunction to stop British Prime Minister Boris Johnson from suspending Parliament for several weeks until mid-October. The case, one of three similar legal efforts, will be reassessed on Sept. 3.
- Ethiopia’s National Electoral Board set Nov. 13 as the date for the Sidama zone to hold its referendum on regional statehood.
- Saudi state oil company Aramco said its revived initial public offering plans may be executed in two parts. The first would see shares sold on the Saudi stock exchange this year. In the second, shares would be opened to international participants sometime in 2020 or 2021.
- India’s Central Statistics Office reported that the country’s economy only grew 5 percent from April to June (compared to the same period last year). This marks its weakest quarterly performance in six years.
- Deutsche Bank’s chief economist said the government should resist calls for stimulus unless there is clear evidence that a deep recession is imminent.
- Italy’s unemployment rate ticked up to 9.9 percent in July, from an upwardly revised 9.8 percent in June. The unemployment rate had been falling each month since October 2018.