The White House is managing its expectations over North Korea. On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said there’s now no time limit for North Korea’s denuclearization. His change of tune was weeks in the making, but it’s particularly stark when compared to his rhetoric leading up to the talks, when Washington was pushing for complete denuclearization by the end of Trump’s first term. There is still no evidence that North Korea is willing to fully dismantle its nuclear program without reciprocal measures from the U.S. that Washington probably wouldn’t tolerate. If anything, the evidence suggests North Korea is moving in the opposite direction. (On Monday, for example, Japanese media reported that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused North Korea of operating secret uranium enrichment facilitates during his recent trip to Pyongyang.) Still, the European Union followed Washington’s lead on Tuesday, saying sanctions would not be lifted until denuclearization is complete, so there’s reason to believe the international community will maintain at least some pressure on Pyongyang. In the meantime, North Korea has every reason to make enough low-level concessions to keep the diplomatic process going.

Japan continues to slowly increase military spending – a sign that Tokyo is still uneasy about the security situation in Northeast Asia. The Nikkei Asian Review reported that Japan’s Defense Ministry plans to request a record budget of around 5.3 trillion yen ($47 billion) for the 2019 fiscal year – its sixth consecutive annual increase. The bulk of the spending bump is expected to go to new purchases of F-35A fighter jets and U.S. ballistic missile defense systems. (Conveniently, both purchases would reduce the trade deficit with the U.S.) North Korea is also evidently still a motivating factor here. Even if the U.S. manages to strike a deal with the North that rolls back its intercontinental ballistic missile program, it’s becoming clearer that Pyongyang will likely be able to keep the missiles that can reach Japan. Still, North Korea and trade are both mostly sideshows. The intensifying competition between Japan and China is the main act. Stay tuned for more.

Russia may have an unlikely friend in Italy. Italian Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini traveled to Moscow for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, during which they discussed ending sanctions on Russia. Salvini said Rome would not be afraid to use its veto powers to push the EU into lifting the sanctions. The Italians also proposed that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold their next meeting in Italy. The new government in Rome is trying to chart a course for a more independent foreign policy, and it comes at a particularly welcome time for Moscow: Following the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised the possibility of levying new sanctions on Moscow.

The Syrian military is moving on the last remaining rebel holdouts in southern Syria. On Monday, government forces announced the capture of the southern city of Daraa and will now begin their advance elsewhere in the area, where shelling reportedly intensified overnight. The military will almost certainly pacify the south before turning its attention north to Idlib. Its prospects there, however, are much bleaker, dependent as they are on the extent to which Turkey and Russia are willing to risk a confrontation with each other in support of their northern proxies.

Chinese President Xi Jinping may not be invincible after all. Trivium China, a newsletter covering the Chinese economy, says the rumor mill in Beijing is running hot and heavy with speculation about Xi’s job security. It doesn’t give the rumors much credence, and we’ve seen nary a hint of a major backlash forming against the emperor. But considering how much pressure is weighing on the Chinese government at the moment – and how things will only get worse as the trade war and Xi’s ambitious reform agenda collide – any cracks in the facade will be exposed. Watch this space closely.

Honorable Mentions

  • China is reportedly building eight submarines for Pakistan. The report comes a week after a report that India may transfer submarine technology to Taiwan.
  • An alliance of some 150 farmers’ organizations in India is planning a series of protests to pressure the government to raise minimum prices on summer-sown crops.
  • A U.S. delegation is meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale in New Delhi to try to persuade the Indian government to stop buying oil from Iran.
  • EU trade officials are headed to China and Japan next week. Meanwhile, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker is heading to the U.S. to try to talk Trump out of auto tariffs, which auto industry groups estimate would boost prices of foreign cars by nearly $6,000.
  • Emergency rule is set to end in Turkey this week, two years after the failed coup attempt. Ankara is trying to sustain many of its provisions through new legislation.
  • Iraqi security forces dispersed another protest at the Zubair oilfield near Basra.