Daily Memo: Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, China and the Rockets, Germany and Domestic Demand

What's geopolitically important today.


Leaving the Syrian Kurds high and dry. According to an official White House press release, U.S. President Donald Trump informed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that U.S. forces would withdraw from areas in northern Syria that are soon to be the target of a Turkish military operations. Trump tried to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria before, only to be reined in by the faction of foreign policy advisers that think doing so would hurt U.S. interests. It seems as though that is no longer the case. By giving Turkey the green light, the U.S. has effectively declared it will no longer protect Syria’s Kurds, whose People’s Protection Units were the vanguard for much of the U.S.-supported military operations against the Islamic State. The development means a short-term improvement in U.S.-Turkish relations – but in the long term sets the two on a collision course. It is also hard not to see the similarities between this move and former President Barack Obama’s military withdrawal from Iraq – short-term moves designed to please domestic political constituencies but that will have dangerous unintended consequences for both the region and U.S. interests.

Houston, China has a problem. It’s not often that basketball and geopolitics intersect, but that is precisely what happened this weekend, when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a picture with the words, “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet, which Morey has since deleted, set off a firestorm of disapproval in China, with the Chinese Basketball Association announcing it was cutting all ties with the Rockets and several other Chinese companies vowing to do the same. China’s consulate in Houston even got involved, urging the Rockets to “immediately correct mistakes” in a statement released on Sunday. The Houston Rockets reportedly considered firing Morey for expressing this view; Morey tweeted an apology and said he was considering “other perspectives.” The U.S. National Basketball Association even felt compelled to release its own apology – though it turns out the apology released in Chinese was far more supine than the fairly innocuous one released in English. Like many businesses, the NBA is counting on its relationship with China to power economic growth in the coming years – and like countless others, the NBA is finding that access to the Chinese market is contingent upon not running afoul of China’s political sensibilities.

Domestic demand lags in Germany. German economic data has been gloomy the past few months, but the latest monthly report from the Federal Statistical Office for the economy’s performance in August 2019 is especially worrying. New orders in manufacturing were down 0.6 percent compared to the previous month and 6.7 percent compared to the previous year, but the more worrying development was a decrease in domestic orders by 2.6 percent, even as foreign orders increased by 0.9 percent month on month. Germany has managed to weather mercurial demand for its goods in recent years because of increased demand at home, and continued growth in domestic demand will be crucial to German attempts to reduce dependence on exports. The news is being read by many as confirmation that Germany will be pronounced “in recession” when official third-quarter growth figures are released, which will put pressure on the German government to do what Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed countless times not to do: maintain its strict budget policy of no new debt.

Ecuador seethes. Ecuador declared a two-month state of emergency last Thursday, but the end of domestic unrest seems nowhere in sight. It began when the government eliminated fuel subsidies and raised prices for consumer goods. Indigenous groups clashed with security forces over the weekend as they blocked various roads and highways and even reportedly took some 50 police officers as hostages. The protests were initially led by transportation unions, and while they have since stopped, there is talk of a national strike on Wednesday. Meanwhile, as the government attempted to get the situation under control, it has been forced to release a statement decrying price gouging and has even arrested shopkeepers for overcharging consumers for staples like corn, onions, carrots and potatoes. The backlash comes as the fairly fresh administration of President Lenin Moreno attempts major structural reform of the Ecuadorian economy, but the emergency will not win him any support from a population that showed former President Rafael Correa the door in part for his violent suppression of dissent.

Honorable Mentions

  • A marathon session between North Korean and U.S. officials yielded few results; Pyongyang warned Sunday that it might immediately halt all diplomacy unless Washington makes a major concession before year’s end.
  • A collision between a North Korean fishing boat and a Japanese coast guard patrol boat in the Sea of Japan seems to have come to little consequence, as all North Korean crew members were rescued.
  • Iran’s oil minister announced that the China National Petroleum Corporation was no longer a partner in Iran’s biggest natural gas project (phase 11 of the South Pars field) and that Iran will develop the field on its own.
  • Russia’s deputy prime minister met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas to renew agreements on military-technical cooperation between the two countries.
  • The U.S. and Greece concluded a revised mutual defense cooperation agreement on Saturday.
  • Greece’s new government released its 2020 budget, forecasting that growth will rise from 2 percent to 2.8 percent and committing to achieving a 3.5 percent budget surplus next year, the European Union’s magic number.
  • Pakistan and Japan are discussing signing a possible memorandum of understanding on Pakistan exporting thousands of skilled laborers to Japan.
  • Another weekend, another round of protests and low-level violence in Hong Kong.