The United States will not suspend any more major military exercises with South Korea, or so says Defense Secretary James Mattis. Halting these drills was a key component of the U.S.-North Korea detente. The announcement comes just days after President Donald Trump canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned visit to Pyongyang – a decision reportedly motivated by a letter he received from Kim Jong Un’s spy chief, Kim Yong Chol, criticizing the White House for failing to take steps toward signing a peace treaty with the North and warning that negotiations may fall apart. South Korea, which has been more successful in its parallel efforts to mend ties with the North, says it has not yet discussed resuming major drills with Washington. In short, the White House got caught out on a limb after the Singapore summit and is looking to regain lost leverage.
Meanwhile, Japan is trying to work things out with North Korea on its own. According to the Washington Post, officials from Tokyo and Pyongyang held a secret meeting in Vietnam in July without informing the U.S. Tokyo has not denied the report. This may explain why Japan, the country left most vulnerable by any deal between Washington and Pyongyang that doesn’t address shorter-range North Korean missiles, has been reaching out to the North lately. Tokyo is even openly considering a new policy to allow economic assistance to North Korea. Earlier this week, the North released a detained Japanese tourist on “humanitarian grounds.” Given the divergence in U.S. and Japanese interests over the North, Tokyo has little choice but to try to carve out some room to maneuver on the issue, but it is nonetheless tied to the U.S. course of action.
South America’s governments are trying to cope with Venezuela’s migrant crisis. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have poured into Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru in recent weeks, and tensions have begun to flare. In Brazil, the issue has divided the Senate leadership, and the government has issued a decree to temporarily increase the operations of troops at the border regions and giving them policing powers. In Peru, which is reportedly harboring as many as 200,000 Venezuelans, the government has declared a 60-day state of emergency in its border regions with Ecuador “due to the imminent danger of impact on health and waste management services.” Members of the Andean Community customs union will meet in Lima on Wednesday to discuss potential responses to the problem. In the past, South America’s governments have been content to criticize Caracas from afar. Now, they may actually have to deal with Venezuela’s political crisis firsthand.
Ukraine is bowing up to Russia. On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that Kiev is ready to end the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, a mostly symbolic agreement that includes the recognition of Ukrainian borders. Notably, Kiev also made a formal request to buy at least three new air defense systems from the U.S., as well as drones, counterbattery radars and counter-sniper systems. The Ukrainian navy also announced plans to build up its presence in the Sea of Azov, where Russia has blocked Ukrainian and foreign merchant ships trying to reach Ukrainian ports. The announcement came just a day after Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said that it would not renounce a 2003 treaty with Russia on shared use of the waters.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he would water down the draft of an unpopular piece of legislation that would reform the country’s pension system. He insisted, however, that Russia’s shrinking labor force still requires some kind of reform.
- The South China Morning Post reported that the People’s Liberation Army is building a military base in Afghanistan. Beijing denied the report, but as we’ve noted recently, security threats to Belt and Road Initiative projects across South Asia are inviting a stronger Chinese military presence.
- Sri Lanka, which was already up to its ears in Chinese debt, announced it will borrow another $1 billion from China and is seeking another $250 million in yuan-denominated bonds.
- The Argentine peso hit another record low against the dollar despite a move by the central bank to auction off $200 million to stabilize the currency.
- Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said Turkey’s economy is actually fine, citing low public sector and household debt and a robust financial system.
- U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said U.S.-China trade talks are unlikely to resume until the U.S. sorts out its trade issues with Europe, Canada and Mexico.
- Official Chinese growth figures continued to defy the laws of statistical probability, with the economy posting its 12th consecutive quarter of GDP growth of between 6.7 percent and 6.9 percent.
- Turkish media report that additional military reinforcements are being sent to Idlib.