Did South Korea just side with North Korea? Today, the two Koreas began general-level military talks as top military officials from South Korea and the U.S. wrapped up annual discussions across the Pacific in Washington. They all have plenty to talk about, and if reports from earlier in the week are true, the meeting in Washington was tense. According to a report from KBS World Radio on Oct. 23, an official from the South Korean Defense Ministry said the U.S. would now be required to notify North Korea before flying helicopters near the Joint Security Area of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The report said the official implied that this was done in consultation with the U.S.-led U.N. Command. That would be something of a surprise, considering that just last week, Reuters cited two unnamed sources as saying the U.S. opposed the plan to set up a no-fly zone – this shortly after South Korea’s foreign minister told reporters the U.S. secretary of state had expressed “discontent” at the idea. Washington has yet to comment on the KBS World Radio report, though the State Department did announce that its North Korea envoy would travel to Seoul for talks on Monday. You can read some of our coverage of South Korea’s preparations for life outside the U.S. security umbrella here.

A second Cultural Revolution? On Oct. 23, China’s State Council announced the appointment of Hao Ping as the new president of Peking University – China’s premier university – and Qiu Shuiping as the university’s new party secretary. Hao has impeccable Communist credentials. He is a former vice minister in the Ministry of Education and served as a deputy to the National Committee of the 11th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a legislative body. (Qiu, meanwhile, is a Beijing official whose experience includes a stint in the Ministry of State Security.) Hao’s bona fides are certainly better than those of his predecessor, Lin Jianhua, who was removed from the position because he was past the age of retirement, according to Xinhua News Agency. The thing is, Lin is hardly an advocate of Western liberal thought. His appointment stoked controversy because he was seen as too authoritarian for an institution of higher education. Beijing’s slow-motion crackdown on universities is starting to resemble the early days of the Cultural Revolution, in which freedom of thought was one of the very first things Mao suppressed.

Will China comply with U.S. sanctions on Iran? The Wall Street Journal reports that China’s largest oil refiners, China National Petroleum Corp. and China Petrochemical Corp., have yet to purchase oil from Iran for the month of November. The news seems to corroborate an earlier report from Reuters that said the Bank of Kunlun, allegedly a financial conduit between China and Iran, will cease to accept yuan-denominated Iranian payments starting Nov. 1, according to unnamed sources. If true, China’s compliance is a huge concession. The country imports substantial amounts of oil – from Iran alone it imports roughly 600,000 barrels per day. Abiding by U.S. sanctions means China will have to spend a premium on its imports. It would also put China in the better graces of the U.S. than India, which Washington has been courting for a stronger relationship all year. This is one of the clearest indicators yet that Beijing is as willing to offer concessions as it is eager to find leverage against the U.S. to ease the pressure on Chinese exports.

Is Poland backtracking on judicial reform? Earlier this week, Polish Supreme Court judges returned to work after a ruling by the European Court of Justice suspended judicial reforms that had forced some of them into retirement. Poland’s deputy justice minister, Marcin Warchol, told Polish radio station RMF FM yesterday that “the decision of the ECJ will be implemented.” That doesn’t mean Poland plans to roll over – Warchol said the law would be amended (he didn’t suggest it would be scrapped) and that dialogue with the European Commission would start within a month. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party had mixed results in recent regional elections, as its share of the vote declined by roughly 5 percent and it unexpectedly lost some races, including the mayoral race in Warsaw. According to a Financial Times report, the party itself may not be in agreement on the judicial reforms issue. To be clear, Poland doesn’t seem to be reconsidering the reforms, but it’s notable that the government doesn’t think it can or should flout an ECJ decision.

Another sign the Turkish governing coalition may be fraying? Yesterday, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP – the junior partner in the governing coalition led by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP – supported an opposition motion to establish a parliamentary committee on the issue of early retirement. This follows a couple other indications that the party is veering away from its coalition partner. We noted just two days ago an announcement by the MHP that it would not ally with the AKP in March 2019 municipal elections. A week before that, the MHP put forward its own motion to set up a parliamentary committee on the problems facing nut producers and gained support from opposition parties – though it ultimately abstained from the vote. What’s important here is that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s position could weaken if these minor rifts signal a real divergence between the MHP and the AKP. In the past, the two parties have managed to smooth over their differences – in fact, it was the MHP that in April called for early elections so Erdogan could assume greater executive powers after passing constitutional reforms. Those powers will be diminished if there’s more to this squabbling.

Honorable Mentions

  • The U.S. is sending troops to its border with Mexico to help stop potential border crossings.
  • The war of words between Greece and Turkey over territorial claims in the Aegean Sea continues.
  • In northern Syria, state news agencies and opposition sources alike have reported breaches of the demilitarized zone created by Russia and Turkey.
  • The U.S. commerce secretary is leading a U.S. business delegation to Kazakhstan, where several deals are expected to be signed.
  • Brazilian military leaders held a meeting during which they agreed that whoever wins the upcoming presidential election should support the country’s “reconciliation.”