Kurdish woes. On Tuesday, the U.S. announced that it had effectively placed bounties on the top three leaders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PPK, a militant political organization Turkey and the U.S. consider a terrorist group. Washington’s objective here is to allay Turkey’s concerns over the U.S. partnership with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia that Ankara believes is an offshoot of the PKK. The problem is that the YPG has been invaluable to the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Earlier this week, in fact, Kurdish forces (with U.S. air support) killed scores of IS fighters in Deir el-Zour province. The U.S. can’t afford to abandon the partnership just yet; efforts to stamp out Islamic State holdouts have largely stalled, and several governments have warned that the group may soon stage its comeback. But U.S. pressure on the PKK doesn’t appear to be doing much to appease Ankara, which called the bounties overdue but ultimately insufficient so long as Washington conducts joint patrols with YPG “terrorists.” All the while, Turkey continues to periodically shell YPG positions in the north. So far, though, the Turkey-U.S. deal to conduct joint patrols around the northern Syrian city of Manbij, which Washington brokered as a way to head off another Turkish offensive against the Syrian Kurds, appears to be holding.

Petroleum and power in the South China Sea. The governments in Beijing and Manila have been trying to reach an agreement on joint exploration and production of energy resources in disputed areas of the South China Sea, near Philippine shores. The Philippines’ existing fields are running dry, so Manila desperately needs to start producing elsewhere, but China has blocked past Philippine attempts to do so with firms from other countries. Officials from both sides spoke optimistically about a deal potentially being finalized during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming trip to Manila. On Wednesday, though, the Philippine energy secretary said that won’t happen after all. The underlying issue: Unless Beijing is willing to concede that the waters belong to the Philippines, Manila can’t agree to a deal without either effectively ceding its claims or running afoul of its constitution – and potentially creating a political crisis at home. Manila may still be able to find a convoluted legal solution, or the politics may prove manageable. But for Beijing, this is less about access to oil and gas and more about forcing South China Sea claimant states to conclude that they have little choice but to cooperate on China’s terms.

Russia doesn’t want anyone to ignore Russia on North Korea. On Thursday, Moscow called for an immediate discussion at the U.N. Security Council on reviewing its sanctions on North Korea. This comes as new data shows that Russia exported more than $1 million worth of oil to Pyongyang in August – by no means a large volume, but more than quadruple the value of what Russia sent Pyongyang in July amid intensifying U.S. pressure for Moscow not to do it. Also on Thursday, the Kremlin said it had invited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to visit Moscow next year. Russia was never going to be a decisive player in the standoff over North Korea, and Moscow’s direct interests in its outcome are negligible compared to the other parties involved. But by offering a lifeline to the North, and by wielding its position in the U.N. Security Council to influence the intensity of the sanctions, Moscow has created some leverage it could use in negotiations with the West over issues it cares more about. The fragility of the North Korea talks will give Moscow plenty more opportunities to make sure it has a seat at the table.

Honorable Mentions

  • U.S. President Donald Trump said a second summit with Kim Jong Un will take place early next year. Seoul said the sudden delay in talks scheduled for this week between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean security chief Kim Yong Chol was requested by Pyongyang.
  • Chinese exports rose 15.6 percent year-on-year in October – up from the 14.5 percent year-on-year gain in September.
  • China and Thailand signed a framework agreement on trade.
  • Australia unveiled plans for a $2.18 billion infrastructure fund for South Pacific nations.
  • Taiwan commissioned two U.S.-made guided missile frigates in a boost to the island’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
  • A Canadian naval commander said one or two Canadian warships will be deployed to the Western Pacific year-round.
  • Mexico said the U.S. midterm election results won’t affect the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
  • Italy’s coalition government survived a no-confidence vote in the Italian Senate.
  • Brussels said Italy was on track to surpass the European Union’s 3 percent deficit limit by 2020.
  • Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Friday.