Mahathir Mohamad is bucking China, as promised. Malaysia’s newly re-elected nonagenarian prime minister was in China on Friday for talks on whether to revise – or to cancel outright – a number of commercially dubious Belt and Road Initiative projects. After his shock electoral victory in May, Mahathir quickly made good on campaign promises to curb China’s growing influence in Malaysia, most notably by suspending some $22 billion in China-backed infrastructure projects, including a flagship rail link. Beijing allegedly secured the terms of the project by bribing Malaysia’s previous government. Mahathir’s visit will shed light on how Beijing plans to address growing concerns in BRI-targeted states about predatory lending practices.

Mahathir’s visit comes as China continues to grapple with the question of whether its assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region is causing more problems than it solves. On Wednesday, Kyodo news agency reported that authorities in Fujian province have ordered Chinese fishing fleets — a tool Beijing routinely uses to assert its control over disputed waters — to refrain from fishing around the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, a hotly contested atoll at the center of China and Japan’s territorial dispute. In the South China Sea, though, China doesn’t appear to be softening its position. On Thursday, it lashed out at Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for criticizing China over its attempts to restrict movements by Philippine forces around the Spratly archipelago, while Chinese state media announced that it would launch a series of satellites to monitor and reinforce “national sovereignty” in the South China Sea.

Speaking of Chinese assertiveness – the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China’s military capabilities is out, and it’s a doozy. Among other differences with past reports, this year’s includes a heavier focus on China’s growing civilian and paramilitary maritime capabilities. The report details how China’s coast guard — the world’s largest — and maritime militias (read: conspicuously well-armed fishermen and commercial vessels) are coordinating with the Chinese navy to engage in “low-intensity coercion to advance its claims in the East and South China Seas.” China’s navy is still far behind the United States’, but these unconventional capabilities, combined with onshore missiles and air power, allow China to dictate terms to weaker regional states in the South China Sea.

Trade negotiations do not appear to be affecting U.S.-Mexico security operations. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Mexican law enforcement announced they will work together to crack down on drug cartel activity in Chicago. For years, Mexican cartels, including Sinaloa, Jalisco New Generation, Los Zetas, Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos, have had a presence in the United States to work with their distributors. U.S. Homeland Security has continued working closely with the Mexican government throughout the NAFTA negotiations, and representatives of the incoming Mexican government are already in touch with their U.S. counterparts. The incoming president has said he will review all security agreements with the U.S. upon taking office. While he has pledged an unorthodox approach for fighting drug cartels, some aspects of it, such as going after cartel finances, align with the U.S. approach. There may be some differences at the tactical level but ultimately reducing the presence and power of Mexican criminal groups is a common goal that forces both countries to work together.

Honorable Mentions

  • The U.S. is doubling the number of Marines deployed to Norway to 700, ostensibly for training purposes, and extending the rotation for up to five years.
  • Montenegro has deployed troops to stem the flow of migrants across its border with Albania.
  • Heads are rolling in China over the latest vaccine scandal, with the Politburo Standing Committee announcing the firings of four senior officials.
  • China’s currency appreciated for the first time in a week.
  • Two senior North Korean officials are visiting China.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington may levy sanctions on China if it continues to import Iranian oil. Other State Department officials said Washington is mulling sanctions on China over its alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
  • Despite looming U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, Germany’s ADL and Iran’s Sepahan Oil Company reportedly signed a deal to cooperate in technology transfer in oil and gas industry lubricants.
  • The U.S. threatened new sanctions on Turkey over the continued house arrest of and travel ban on an American pastor.
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed a reform that effectively would have prevented candidates from small political parties in Poland from running for European Parliament.