France stays at a simmer. More than 100,000 protesters, mostly in Paris, demonstrated against the government – at times violently – marking a fourth consecutive weekend of protest in France. The demonstrations are starting to take their toll on the French economy. The French retail federation estimates that as of Friday, retailers had lost roughly 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion) as a result of the unrest. The leader of a confederation of small and medium-sized businesses said the protests could cost its members 10 billion euros, and perhaps even more, if authorities could not contain them. Embattled French President Emmanuel Macron is holding emergency meetings with labor unions, employee organizations and officials and is set to address the public at 8 p.m. local time to announce “immediate and concrete” measures to respond, according to the French labor minister. At this point, the protests have not congealed into a discernible movement nor do their participants espouse a political ideology. The main upshot here is that the would-be leader of EU reform is struggling to keep its own house in order.
Another GCC summit. At the end of the 39th annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit, the secretary-general of the bloc outlined ambitious visions for its future, including plans for a common market and customs union by 2025 and the appointment of a unified military command to solidify the defense alliance between member states. The elephant in the room is Qatar’s reluctance to go along with the rest of the bloc. In fact, the country’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, declined to attend the summit, sending his foreign affairs minister in his stead. And the Qatar-based media outlet Al-Jazeera described the readout at the meeting’s end as “bland.” On the one hand, the Saudi-led bloc’s inability to bring Qatar to heel underscores its weakness. On the other, the rest of the Gulf states seem to have fallen in line, mostly out of fear of Iran’s aggression in expanding its power over the last two years. Saudi Arabia can’t resist Iran on its own; more than a typical conference, then, the latest GCC summit was an important opportunity to lay groundwork for a closer alliance among the Gulf states. Still, the only thing we really learned from the event is that the GCC has a long way yet to go.
Fallout continues from the arrest of a Huawei executive. China lodged a strong protest with Canada’s ambassador Saturday and threatened “grave consequences” if Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, is not released. On Sunday, Beijing followed up by summoning the U.S. ambassador and stating simply that it would respond in due course if the U.S. did not withdraw the warrant for Meng’s extradition. Chinese media aren’t shying away from the issue, either; an editorial in the China Daily called the move “nasty” and accused Canada of holding “a candle while the devil does its dirty deeds.” So far, China hasn’t backed up its rhetoric with concrete action – it’s in the difficult position of needing to look tough without derailing its trade negotiations with Washington.
Oil prices decline after a Friday spike. After an OPEC deal sent them climbing, oil prices have come down again to around $61 a barrel Monday morning. The agreement to reduce production, reached Friday, will take 1.2 million barrels per day off the market – 800,000 from OPEC, and the rest from Russia. That may be enough to prevent a strong decline in prices, but it probably won’t facilitate the massive recovery needed by many oil-producing countries. The group exempted Iran, Libya and Venezuela from the deal because of the international pressure they’re facing, allowing those countries to continue at their current, already reduced output levels.
- The Israel Defense Forces warned two villages on the Lebanese border that the demolition of underground Hezbollah attack tunnels could damage their homes. Over the weekend, Lebanese media also reported that Israeli forces were building a barrier.
- The political wing of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed rebel group, says it wants to continue negotiations with Syria’s government to maintain the country’s sovereignty and geographic unity.
- A small task force of Chinese naval vessels is sailing to the Gulf of Aden to protect civilian ships in the waters off Somalia.
- The deputy prime minister of Belarus said talks with Russia on taxes in the Russian oil sector were going well.
- British Prime Minister Theresa May has delayed Tuesday’s vote in the House of Commons on the Brexit deal because of its poor prospects for approval.
- Chinese authorities arrested 10 people for organizing a “serious attack” on police officers during a protest by veterans in October.
- The upper house of Japan’s parliament has approved the country’s free trade deal with the EU, following the lower house’s approval last month.
- Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Arab countries are in talks with Washington over a new NATO-style security agreement, to be known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance.
- After pledging in October to provide Pakistan with investment support for oil-related infrastructure and to help with its balance of payments problem, Saudi Arabia has agreed to increase the quota of Pakistanis allowed to visit the kingdom for the pilgrimage to Mecca.