Daily Memo: More Russian Protests, an India-China Meeting, Hong Kong Update

All the news worth knowing today.

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Russian protests. On Saturday, protests were held in multiple Russian cities, including St. Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don and Bryansk, but the epicenter of the movement was in Moscow. With estimates ranging from 20,000 demonstrators (according to Russian police) to 50,000 (according to protest organizers and monitoring groups), the sanctioned protests targeted a broad range of issues, from violence linked to recent crackdowns against anti-government demonstrations to the general economic malaise. Hundreds were arrested, though more than half of the arrests reportedly came after the demonstrations were over and a group of protesters was walking through Moscow’s city center. In our 2019 forecast, we predicted that “A decline in living standards will lead to social unrest in Russia.” It seems that forecast is coming to fruition.

India-China meeting. India’s external affairs minister arrived in China yesterday for a three-day visit. Earlier today, the minister met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as well as Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan – President Xi Jinping’s most trusted lieutenant. Not much came out of the meeting besides the usual pleasantries. On the situation in Kashmir, the Chinese foreign minister said Beijing was watching developments closely and urged India to play a “constructive role” in upholding regional peace and stability. The meeting comes just two days after Pakistan’s foreign minister visited Beijing and said China had offered Pakistan its full support on the Kashmir issue. China is not just worried about Pakistan – it also lays claim to some of the territory involved in India’s recent “reorganization.”

Hong Kong update. A 10th consecutive weekend of protests in Hong Kong was punctuated by the cancellation of all departures from Hong Kong International Airport on Monday afternoon. Thousands of protesters staged a sit-in that forced airport authorities to cancel roughly 160 flights. This weekend, thousands took to the streets again in Hong Kong, clashing with police who fired tear gas and attempted to disperse the protesters. A representative for the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the protests over the weekend exhibited “signs of terrorism” and condemned the use of petrol bombs by what he described as a “very small number of rioters.” It was the office’s third and most urgent press conference on the situation in Hong Kong.

Yemen update. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman met with Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in Mecca yesterday to discuss last week’s violence in the Yemeni port city of Aden. The violence seemed to pit Saudi-backed Yemeni forces against the Southern Transitional Council, a United Arab Emirates-backed separatist group. It’s not the first time Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who have been allies in the conflict, have found themselves on the opposite sides of the war, but it is the most severe altercation between them that we have seen. The STC’s leader said the group would attend a Saudi-led meeting to discuss the situation but didn’t offer to relinquish control over the Maashiq presidential palace and various army camps its forces seized, contradicting Saudi media reports to the contrary. All this came as Iran’s foreign minister hosted a Yemeni Houthi spokesman in Tehran. It seems the Houthis aren’t Saudi Arabia’s only problem in Yemen.

South Korea-Japan update. South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced earlier today that it was removing Japan from its list of trusted trade partners in response to Japan’s recent imposition of controls on Japanese exports to South Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae-in criticized Japan again today, calling the controls an “unfair economic retaliation.” After meeting with representatives from South Korean firms earlier today, South Korea’s finance minister said the government was continuing to explore ways to help South Korean businesses, especially local display makers, manage the fallout from Japan’s moves. Perhaps most ominous, Kyodo News reported on Saturday that Japan would lower South Korea’s standing as an important security partner in the Japanese Defense Ministry’s soon-to-be-released annual white paper. Meanwhile, North Korea has continued to criticize South Korea for participating in military exercises with the United States.

Guatemala’s new president. Alejandro Giammattei won a runoff presidential election in Guatemala on Sunday, garnering 58 percent of the vote. From a geopolitical perspective, what’s important for the 63-year-old standard-bearer for the conservative Vamos party is not his personal views on Guatemala’s domestic politics but what he will do about an agreement his predecessor signed with the United States making Guatemala a “safe third country,” a move that remains highly unpopular in Guatemala and that was challenged in Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. Giammattei told Reuters that he hoped to amend the deal, but either way, he will be under significant pressure domestically to do something.

Honorable Mentions

  • Representatives of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation met with officials from Azerbaijan’s Economy Ministry and expressed interest in cooperating on infrastructure projects in the country.
  • The Greek and Egyptian navies carried out exercises in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Ukraine and Turkey announced the establishment of a joint company to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles.
  • The eighth round of U.S.-Taliban talks wrapped up with both sides needing “to consult their respective leaderships for next steps,” according to a Taliban spokesman.
  • The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ naval forces said any Israeli presence in the Persian Gulf could lead to war. Meanwhile, Iraq rejected any Israeli participation in a U.S.-led coalition to secure maritime navigation in the Persian Gulf.
  • Iran’s foreign minister was in Doha yesterday on an official visit.
  • Ethiopian security authorities said they arrested more than 400 people over recent clashes and unrest in Oromia Regional State.
  • According to Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, some 90 U.S. soldiers who will be working with the Turkish army to establish a safe zone in northern Syria have arrived in southeastern Turkey.
  • A member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Joint Commission on Defense and Security said the government will not submit an annual national program to NATO.