U.S. energy exports to Europe. The European Union will try to facilitate a doubling of imports of U.S. liquefied natural gas by 2023, EU and U.S. officials said Thursday. It seems a modest goal considering that Europe’s LNG imports from the U.S. have grown by 272 percent since Washington and Brussels released a joint statement last July declaring their intent to improve energy cooperation. Moreover, the EU is currently using only 26 percent of its available capacity for LNG imports. The bottleneck comes from the U.S. side, where export capacity is still limited. The assistant U.S. secretary for fossil energy, however, said the U.S. would more than double its export capacity, to 112 billion cubic meters per year from 50 bcm per year, by 2020. Washington wants to boost natural gas sales to Europe so that the Continent will be less reliant on Russian supplies.
Paper tiger. China has suspended pork imports from two Canadian firms, according to Canada’s agricultural minister – just the latest move by Beijing presumably intended to pressure Ottawa into freeing detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. Exports of other Canadian agriculture products, such as oilseeds, peas and soybeans, have also slowed to a trickle. And on April 30, a man named Fan Wei became the second Canadian national to be sentenced to death in China on drug trafficking charges since Meng was arrested in Vancouver in December at the request of the U.S. Canada isn’t alone. China is also trying to strong-arm Australia, for example, on issues like its partial ban on Chinese 5G technology. Last week, unnamed sources told Bloomberg that Chinese curbs on imports of Australian coal would remain at least until Australia’s May 18 elections, in hopes that the next government in Canberra will play nicer with Beijing. But other countries have proved that it’s possible simply to wait China out on these matters. On Thursday, for example, China finally lifted sanctions on South Korean retailer Lotte Group, whose stores and products have largely been unwelcome in China for more than two years since the company sold land to the South Korean government for the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system. Every situation is different, of course, and China’s ability to sustain these sorts of tactics hinges largely on the impact of declining exports, diplomatic backlash, loss of investor confidence and so forth. But Beijing doesn’t always get its way.
Russia regulates the web. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law an internet regulation bill that the Kremlin says will help protect the country from cyber attacks. Under the new law, Russian authorities will have the ability to switch off certain servers and regulate certain types of traffic. Though the law will take effect in November, its more complex components like cryptographic protection and a national domain name system will not be implemented until January 2021. Russia still needs to build out its tech infrastructure if it wants to establish its own internet system, but it seems the Russian public is somewhat hesitant about the new measures. A recent survey conducted by the state-funded Russian Public Opinion Research Center revealed 52 percent of Russians oppose the law and only 23 percent support it. Only about two-thirds of Russians use the internet on a daily basis, while 18 percent do not use the internet at all.
Turkish defense supplies headed for Ukraine. Turkish defense electronics company Aselsan has signed several contracts to provide telecommunication supplies to the Ukrainian military, including thermographic cameras for anti-tank weapons and radio communication equipment. The deal will also involve the transfer of technology for encrypted radio communications and battle control systems. Turkey has been increasing military cooperation with Ukraine since 2014, so this development isn’t particularly surprising. But it’s notable for its possible implications for Turkey-Russia relations. Though Russia and Turkey have been cooperating in several areas of late – including Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems and creating safe zones in Syria – Turkey is now providing arms to a country that’s engaged in low-level combat with Russia. It’s a sign that the long-standing competition between Russia and Turkey is indeed alive and well and that the two countries’ divergent interests in the Black Sea region will continue to pit them against one another.
Controversial comments by Georgia’s president. The Georgian opposition has threatened President Salome Zurabishvili with impeachment after she said in an interview with Voice of America that Georgia was not yet ready to host a U.S. military base. In the Interview, Zurabishvili said such a move might be seen as a “provocation” and might attract negative reactions from both Russia and extremist groups. She added that Georgia has continued to deepen relations with the United States and is concerned about the “growing militarization” of the breakaway region of Abkhazia. She also expressed concern about the joint drills involving Russian and Abkhaz forces in late April.
- Another round of U.S.-Taliban talks has begun in Doha.
- Yemen’s Houthis asked the United Nations to help them establish mechanisms to sell crude oil. That they need to turn to the U.N. for assistance may be an indication that, as we’ve seen with Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon, Iran is finding it difficult to keep funds flowing to its regional proxies.
- The Conservative Party of British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to suffer heavy losses in English local elections on Thursday. Local elections are also being held in Northern Ireland.
- In a survey conducted by pro-EU group European Movement Ireland and the Red C polling company, 50 percent of Irish respondents said Brexit makes a united Ireland within the EU more likely, up from 44 percent a year ago.
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Berlin on May 7 to discuss, among other things, the situations in Ukraine and the Balkans with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Other stops include Finland, London and Greenland.
- Mexico’s foreign minister and ambassadors to Brazil, Cuba, Chile and Panama all expressed the Mexican government’s desire to strengthen ties with countries in the region and underscored their desire for a peaceful resolution to the Venezuelan crisis.
- Malaysia and Indonesia will each receive six ScanEagle 2 unmanned maritime surveillance systems from the U.S. over the next three years.
- China and Thailand are holding joint naval training.