Problems in the Hermit Kingdom. As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepares for his second nuclear summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, he’s leaving behind an uncertain landscape at home. On Wednesday, a report released by Seoul-based think tank North Korea Strategy Center claimed that 50-70 figures in Pyongyang have been purged since late 2018, many of them believed to be opponents of Kim’s outreach to the U.S. and South Korea. Yesterday, Reuters reported that a North Korean memo to the United Nations said drought, floods and U.N. sanctions have created a food shortfall of some 1.4 million tons this year and that the government has been forced to nearly halve rations. Neither of these developments is likely to dramatically affect the nuclear negotiations in the near term; deeper geopolitical forces have left only a narrow space in which the two countries can find agreement. Still, anything that could weaken international sanctions pressure, like the apparent food crisis, will weaken U.S. leverage. And purges in Pyongyang always merit investigation. But the Trump administration has already given up the ghost on quick denuclearization. On Thursday, for example, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signaled that sanctions relief might be forthcoming even without full denuclearization – just the latest move to downplay expectations ahead of the summit.

Huawei or the highway. The U.S. is getting more explicit about what will happen if allies incorporate technologies into their 5G wireless networks from Chinese telecommunications companies like Huawei. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. won’t share information with or work alongside countries that use them. This comes after key U.S. allies like the U.K. and New Zealand, whose intelligence agencies have been partnering with those in the U.S. to sound the alarm about Chinese tech, and Germany have been softening their position on the issue. Whether or not the U.S. would really have to end or even dramatically scale back security and intelligence sharing with these countries is the question. (Pompeo specified installing Chinese tech in “critical information systems” would be the problem, leaving some wiggle room for determinations on what these actually are.) But the U.S. evidently doesn’t want things to get to the point where it really has to make that decision, and Pompeo’s warnings aren’t falling entirely on deaf ears. After the secretary of state’s warning, ruling party lawmakers in Italy, where Huawei already has a foothold, called on parliament to pass a blanket ban on the company. Curious, though, were a pair of tweets from President Donald Trump on Thursday that suggested he may back off plans to ban Chinese telecommunications technology in U.S. systems, saying he wants the U.S. “to win through competition, not by blocking out currently more advanced technologies.” The president is meeting with China’s top economic adviser, Vice Premier Liu He, today.

A deadline in Venezuela. According to Venezuela’s self-proclaimed President Juan Guaido, tomorrow is the day international aid will arrive in the country, one way or another. The three collection points for the delivery are on the borders of Colombia and Brazil and off the coast in Curacao. The government of President Nicolas Maduro has worked to shore up support from Russia – its deputy foreign minister and its industries and national production minister both paid a visit to Moscow this week – and considering it received 300 tons of Russian humanitarian aid, it appears to have had some success. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has claimed that tomorrow’s deliveries are little more than a pretext for military action as the U.S. attempts to overthrow the Maduro government.

Precise details on how the U.S. aid will be delivered remains unclear. A recent survey shows that 85 percent of the population want security forces to allow aid to enter the country. Yet Maduro has closed Venezuela’s borders at checkpoints from Curacao and Brazil, and there are rumors that the Colombian border may be closed as well. Either way, Caracas has increased security along all international borders. According to the opposition, a massive network of Venezuelan civilians, including transport workers, have been activated to carry in and distribute provisions throughout the country. The opposition reportedly plans to surround military facilities tomorrow to encourage soldiers to join their cause. So far, the top military brass has remained steadfast for Maduro. Tomorrow may be their biggest test of loyalty yet.

Honorable Mentions

  • According to Iranian state media, the Iranian navy will test its first submarine-launched cruise missiles during ongoing three-day war games.
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country will consider a joint response with Russia if the U.S. stations intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Europe.
  • The U.S. plans to leave 200 “peacekeepers” in northern Syria.
  • Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. said her government wants U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs to be lifted before the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade is ratified. Canada’s ambassador said he expects the tariffs to be lifted within weeks.
  • An unconfirmed Reuters report said the Chinese port of Dalian has banned imports of Australian coking coal.
  • Mexico’s Senate approved plans to stand up a new, civilian-led (rather than military-led, as originally envisioned) national guard.
  • The Munich-based Ifo Institute for Economic Research’s business climate index fell to its lowest reading since December 2014.