The latest on Saudi Arabia. Speaking yesterday at the Saudi investment forum known as Davos in the Desert, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had nice things to say about Qatar and its economy – a notable shift in tone from the man who masterminded the Qatari blockade of 2017. (He was even rumored to favor regime change.) Also interesting were statements made by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said his government is mediating a resolution in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran. More important, however, is an official announcement from the Saudi king himself that Riyadh would reinstate bonuses to public sector workers. This is the first sign that the ruling family has succumbed to institutional pressure since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Revoking these payments was an important aspect of MBS’ economic reform. Their resurrection may indicate deeper divisions within the Saudi ruling elite.
Another dimension. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has begun a three-day visit to China. As soon as he arrived, he said that relations with China would take on a “new dimension.” China has rolled out the red carpet for Abe, and economic deals, trade synergies and even reviving a defense hotline are all on the table. One of GPF’s forecasts for 2018 is the beginning of regional competition for power between Japan and China. It’s a testament to geopolitics that that forecast can be on track even as Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping explore ways to thaw relations. Japan’s and China’s economies are intertwined, so new U.S. trade policies that target Beijing are bad for Tokyo too. Still, the glowing media reports belie the strategic issues on which Japan and China disagree, especially in the East and South China seas, and bring home the fact that neither is powerful enough to assert its will over the other. Until things come to a head, there’s no reason not to reap the economic benefits of cooperation.
Russia has accused the U.S. of assaulting an air base in Syria. Speaking at a conference in China, Moscow’s deputy defense minister said the weapons of choice were drones, piloted from a reconnaissance plane, but failed to specify when the attack took place. At least one report suggests it occurred back in January – possibly a reference to events that Russia blamed on Syrian rebels and then used to justify their elimination. A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the issue would be raised at an upcoming meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. The timing is as strange as the allegation itself. Just two days ago, Russia’s defense minister was congratulating the governments’ cooperation in Syria. And just a few days before that, the U.S. said it would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty because of alleged Russian provocations. We’re not ashamed to say we don’t yet know quite what to make of it.
Italy and Russia want to do more business together. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte repeated his calls to end EU sanctions against Russia. Though he stopped short of threatening to use Italy’s veto power to prevent the measures’ renewal, he did say his country was ready to help restart dialogue between Russia and the EU over the matter. Reports suggest that Russia, in turn, may buy Italian bonds to calm markets since the EU rejected Italy’s latest draft budget. (Conte denied asking Moscow to do so.) Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Italian companies for participating in Russia’s economy and encouraged them to expand their presence there, while also calling Italy an important economic partner. In addition, he pledged his support for Italy’s efforts to address the political and security crises in Libya, a former Italian colony. Russia will send a delegation to a summit Italy is hosting next month to address the problems in Libya, and Putin left open the possibility that he would attend himself. The budding relationship between Moscow and Rome poses challenges for the EU, which is split on whether to extend the sanctions on Russia. Their cooperation over security issues such as Libya could conflict with the interests of other NATO and EU members that want to keep Russia out of the Mediterranean, too.
Mexico gets serious about stopping migrants. La Jornada Online reported that the Mexican navy will soon launch an operation to “dissuade and stop” the flow of migrants to the country’s southern border. Until now, surveillance at the border has been the responsibility of unarmed federal police officers, a system that didn’t work, judging by the number of migrants who have crossed illegally into Mexico in recent days. That a wave of migrants is making its way north from Central America has already caused a political stir in Mexico and in the United States. But this report caught our eye because, if true, it suggests that Mexico is taking a more proactive and even strategic role in its near-abroad, as we’ve expected it would.
- Officials from India, Afghanistan and Iran convened their first trilateral meeting to discuss fully operationalizing the Chabahar port.
- Russia wants more advanced warning ahead of Israeli airstrikes, and Israel says it has satellite imagery showing Russian-made S-300 missiles stationed near a chemical weapons site in Syria.
- Israeli jets pounded Hamas positions after the Palestinian group fired a single rocket into southern Israel, breaking a week of relative calm between Israel and Gaza.
- Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi peacefully handed power to his successor, Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
- South Korea’s Defense Ministry confirmed that the two Koreas had completed disarmament of the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone, withdrawing military posts, armed troops and firearms.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would respond in kind if the U.S. were to deliver missiles to European countries.
- South Africa’s National Treasury anticipates a budget deficit of 4 percent of gross domestic product, which will limit the amount of money the government can spend to try to boost the country’s sluggish economy.