South Korea’s falling fertility rates. Seoul’s statistics agency released on Thursday a report claiming that the declining fertility rate (0.98 babies per woman in 2018) could lead the population to peak as early as this year. South Korea is just one of several advanced economies in East Asia and Western Europe facing this problem. Like Japan, and unlike China, South Korea is already a high-tech country dependent on high-tech, high value-added industries. This makes the country both less dependent on a large labor pool and more easily able to keep living standards high for the elderly. And lopsided demographics aren’t always predictors of imminent economic doom. Still, flat growth in Japan, where the population is already shrinking and the government is gradually opening the country up to immigration, has shown the limits of technological solutions to this sort of problem. Thus, it’s yet one more reason why South Korea is urgently probing for a viable path to reunification with its irascible but cheap labor-laden northern neighbor.
Huawei still under pressure, still churning out profits. The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center released on Thursday a report criticizing the telecom giant for failing to patch security vulnerabilities in its equipment first identified in 2012. This comes as the U.S. continues to warn friends and allies that doing business with Huawei might force Washington to curtail intelligence-sharing and military cooperation. The company has good reason to be concerned about the campaign led by the “Five Eyes” countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S.) to freeze out the firm. On Wednesday, rival firm ZTE posted $1.03 billion in losses in 2018, with sales dropping 21 percent in part because of a brief U.S. ban on selling critical components like semiconductors to the company. Nonetheless, for the most part, Huawei is still riding high. Most European countries have thus far shrugged off the U.S. pressure and declined to freeze out the firm. And this morning, Huawei announced that its net profits soared more than 25 percent last year, with sales revenue topping $100 billion for the first time.
April 12 is the new March 29. The British Parliament voted down the European Union withdrawal agreement again today, this time by the relatively narrow margin of 58 votes. (The previous margins of defeat were 230 and 149.) The U.K. needed to pass the deal today to win a short extension to May 22 from the EU. The U.K. must now decide by April 12 between a no-deal departure – likely sometime in early May – or a much longer extension of the negotiations, likely through March 2020. Such a long delay would force the U.K. to participate in European Parliament elections in late May, a political embarrassment for the government but an issue on which the EU is unlikely to bend.
- The Turkish lira is plummeting again, falling 5 percent in Thursday trading and another 1.5 percent this morning, despite the government’s best efforts to stem the decline by restricting lira lending to short sellers. In tandem, net foreign reserves also continued to fall, shrinking the buffer that Turkey has to insulate it from its large amounts of external debt. This comes as Turks prepare for municipal elections on Sunday.
- Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the jihadist militant group best known for foiling Turkey’s plans in Idlib, Syria, carried out what seems to be its first attack against government forces in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, according to an announcement made on the group’s website.
- China pledged to give the Philippine military an additional 1 billion pesos (around $19 million) in aid.
- Cuba’s state telecommunications company and Google executives signed a memorandum of understanding for negotiating a future service agreement that would allow for the interchange of internet traffic between Cuba and Google.
- A U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed that a residual force of U.S. troops will remain in northeastern Syria to work as part of a multinational coalition in a safe zone along Turkey’s border but declined to confirm earlier comments by a U.S. envoy suggesting that Kurdish rebels with the People’s Protection Units will be forced to leave the area.
- Russian Black Sea Fleet vessels are keeping an eye on three NATO frigates. The Dutch, Canadian and Spanish naval vessels reached the Black Sea on the evening of March 28.
- Japan’s Ministry of Defense said it had scrambled fighter jets over the Sea of Japan Wednesday to intercept Russian maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft.
- According to anonymous U.S. sources who spoke to Reuters, the United States can produce F-35 fighter jets without Turkish-made components, a move it’s considering because of Ankara’s insistence that it will move ahead with its purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defense systems. On Thursday, four U.S. senators introduced a bill to ban the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey until Washington can guarantee that Ankara will not purchase the S-400s.
- As a precondition for talks after a no-deal Brexit, the EU would demand that the U.K. pay a 39 billion pound ($51 billion) divorce bill, guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. and of U.K. citizens in the EU, and accept the Irish backstop, according to a diplomatic note seen by BuzzFeed News.
- British car production fell by 15.3 percent year over year in February, the ninth consecutive month of decline. The head of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said it should be a “wake-up call” for those who believe the auto industry, which is already experiencing significant disruptions, wouldn’t be seriously affected by a no-deal Brexit.
- German unemployment hit a post-reunification record low of 4.9 percent in March, and retail sales in February unexpectedly rose. With exports flagging, domestic consumption is driving German growth this year.
- Russia confirmed that it has deployed military “specialists” to Venezuela.
- The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned the U.S. government that a peace deal that does not allow for the continuation of international aid to Afghanistan’s military would pose a serious threat to the country’s stability and security.
- During a stopover in Hawaii, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen confirmed that her government is seeking to purchase new F-16V fighter jets and M1 Abrams tanks from the U.S.
- Germany extended its ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia for another six months.