Taming expectations. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. goal at the Feb. 27-28 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi was merely to “get as far down the road as we can” on North Korean denuclearization. His comments aren’t particularly surprising given that Washington has been trying to set lower expectations on North Korean denuclearization for a while now. Earlier this week, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun told a parliamentary delegation from Seoul that the two sides had yet to narrow their differences on denuclearization, though new possible concessions had been put on the table. Last month, U.S. intelligence chiefs effectively said full denuclearization wasn’t going to happen. It’s a dramatic change from the rhetoric that both preceded and followed the Singapore summit last May. But by managing expectations, Washington is trying to prevent itself from being boxed into a political corner, and thus reducing the leverage needed to shape the North’s behavior as a nuclear power, by claiming victory where there will be none.
An attack in Kashmir. India-controlled Kashmir suffered its deadliest attack in nearly 30 years on Thursday, when a suicide car bombing near the southern town of Gundipora killed 44 people, most of them paramilitary police. The jihadist group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility, but India is putting the blame firmly on Pakistan, which New Delhi accuses of aiding the group despite its formal ban in the country. India has removed “most favored nation” trade privileges from Pakistan and pledged to push for the “complete isolation” of the country. Some form of measured military retaliation is probable as well; following Jaish-e-Muhammad’s last major attack, in 2016, India launched a series of airstrikes in Pakistan. Complicating matters, Pakistan announced Thursday that it would host peace talks between the U.S. and the Afghan Taliban. The U.S. hasn’t confirmed the talks yet, but if they happen, India may be looking for a seat at a table where it isn’t welcome.
May loses again. British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered yet another defeat in the House of Commons on Thursday, this time on a motion that would have endorsed her strategy for forging consensus on Brexit. The vote was symbolic, but it illustrates the difficulty May’s government is having in finding a way to avoid either a no-deal Brexit or delaying the departure date beyond March 29. This comes the same week British figures were released showing just 0.2 percent gross domestic product growth in the fourth quarter and 0.4 percent contraction in December. All this makes it hard to take seriously the U.K.’s recent steps to magnify its global presence – whether by sending its new aircraft carrier to the South China Sea (as promised by British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson) or by going toe to toe with China at the trade negotiating table (as planned, at least until Beijing backed out in response to Williamson’s pledge). With the global economy starting to slow and with stalwart alliance structures across the globe in flux, the U.K. picked a bad time to tie itself in an ever-tighter knot.
- Chinese factory inflation decelerated for the seventh consecutive month in January. The producer price index rose just 0.1 percent year on year, compared to 3.5 percent last year.
- Chinese imports of U.S. goods plunged 41 percent year on year in January to just $9.2 billion, the largest annual decrease since at least 1994. Meanwhile, China exported $36.5 billion worth of goods to the U.S. last month, a fall of 2 percent year on year.
- U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams secretly met with Venezuela’s foreign minister as recently as this week, according to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, a member of Venezuela’s National Assembly said the country needed $20 billion for reconstruction.
- Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is expected to call snap elections for April 28 after losing a key budget vote.
- According to Turkey’s official statistics agency, unemployment in Turkey rose last November to 12.3 percent, up two percentage points from the previous year. Earlier this week, the Turkish Employment Agency reported that 3.7 million people were registered as unemployed last month compared to 2.4 million a year earlier.