The Reiwa era begins. Japanese Emperor Akihito stepped down from the Chrysanthemum Throne after 20 years on Tuesday, becoming the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in more than 200 years. His son, Naruhito, took the throne on Wednesday, launching the Reiwa era. The reigns of monarchies – even ones like Japan’s that have little formal influence over policy and generally try to float above the political fray to preserve their legitimacy with the public – can provide subtle insights into the cultural shifts and political currents that shape a country’s power structures and geopolitical behavior. Akihito, for example, with his carefully worded “expressions of remorse” over atrocities committed by Japanese forces during World War II, including one issued during his landmark visit to China in 1989, helped carve out the political space needed for Japanese leaders to follow suit, cultivate deep ties in Asian states Japan once invaded, and reassert Japan as an emerging regional diplomatic and economic heavyweight. Now, with intensifying regional competition forcing Tokyo to shed the self-imposed pacifistic constraints that defined Japanese foreign policy for more than half a century, Naruhito may have a quiet role to play leading the country further out of isolation.
Game of Ports. Two longshore labor unions, the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance, are protesting two bills in the Texas legislature that would limit port calls of “megaships” (vessels larger than 1,100 feet long) to once per week at the Port of Houston. Extremely large ships can impede access to the narrow channel and disrupt port access for non-container ships. But the two labor unions warn that the bills would significantly impact economic activity at the port. In related news, the Port of Long Beach, the second-largest container terminal in the U.S., has been sold to a U.S. infrastructure fund after Washington raised national security concerns about the port’s prior Hong Kong-based owner, which is a subsidiary of China’s state-owned shipping company Cosco.
Protests in Kazakhstan. Small, unauthorized protests took place in Nur-Sultan (the new name of the Kazakh capital) and Almaty, with estimates ranging from 100 to 1,000 participants. Some protesters carried signs calling for President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s resignation and fair elections, while others expressed frustration with the construction of a nuclear plant. Others still were encouraging a boycott of the presidential election, which will be the first since former President Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down. While the protests are a clear indicator of discontent with Kazakh political leaders, willingness to turn out on the streets remains limited. A Kazakh news agency claimed that 500 protesters in Almaty were rounded up, with only women and children being allowed to leave.
Turkey planning for the long run in Syria. ANSA, an Italian news agency, reported that Turkey was building a wall between Afrin, the Turkey-controlled province in northwestern Syria, and the neighboring area of Tell Rifaat, which is still controlled by the Syrian government. At the same time, even as Russia continues to bomb positions in Idlib province, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that there are no plans for a ground offensive in Idlib despite Turkey’s failure to contain violence against the Syrian regime stemming from the province. All this points to Turkey preparing for a long slog in Syria.
Tariff-ing the fabric of America. The U.S. has imposed stiff tariffs on imports of Chinese and Indian yarn. Tariffs on the Chinese imports, though, are much higher than the Indian ones, with duties ranging wildly from 32 percent to 460 percent, compared to 7.1 percent-20.5 percent for Indian producers. The U.S. Department of Commerce claimed that the tariffs were imposed because of unfair subsidies supporting those industries, adding that they are preliminary and could be reduced or eliminated after further investigation. The tariffs should be seen as little more than an attempt by Washington to boost its leverage to eventually resolve larger and more important issues. Until then, America’s grandmothers may need to charge for their Christmas sweaters.
- After designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, the Trump administration is now contemplating applying the same designation to the Muslim Brotherhood, and not for the first time; The New York Times reported in early 2017 that the White House was considering the move.
- Azerbaijan and Turkey have begun joint live-fire tactical exercises.
- Iran’s military spending declined by 9.5 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released Monday.
- Saudi Arabia has offered $10 billion to the Palestinian Authority if it accepts the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan, according to Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas reportedly rejected the offer.
- Preliminary data shows the Mexican economy contracted 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the previous quarter, though it expanded 1.3 percent compared to the previous year.
- In a letter dated March 4, Germany’s ambassador to the U.S. warned that Berlin could cancel plans to cofinance a liquefied natural gas terminal to import U.S. LNG if Washington imposed sanctions on Russia that would affect the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- A Taiwanese jet accidentally fired an infrared decoy projectile – a defensive weapon used to avoid being hit by an incoming missile – in an encounter with a Chinese warplane, according to Taiwanese media. It is not clear when the reported incident took place.
- India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj requested an extension of India’s waiver for purchasing Iranian crude oil, despite the U.S. announcement that no further extensions will be offered after existing waivers expire tomorrow, May 2.
- The Israel Defense Forces deployed additional Iron Dome batteries throughout Israel, in anticipation of possible hostilities from Gaza during Remembrance Day and Independence Day.
- China, which is in the midst of a highly contagious outbreak of African swine fever that has led to the culling of over 1 million hogs, has struck a trade deal with Argentina to import more pork.