Asia & Pacific
China: A two-day trade conference, aimed at soothing tensions between the United States (US) and China did not go according to the plan. Attended by US vice president Mike Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the event was aimed at trying to bring the US and China closer again following the billions of dollars of tariffs the two countries have slapped on each other over the last year. Unfortunately, the conference seemed only to have further cemented the respective positions of the two countries, as both leaders tried to explain their position and showed no signs of compromise. The group of 21 nations all assembled in Papa New Guinea were not even able to get a routine joint statement about what was achieved during the conference. The Chinese continue to try to promote free trade, while rejecting the United States turn towards unilateralism and protectionism. The US attacked Chinese‘s authoritarianism and aggression. The fight is expected to continue with another showdown expected in Argentina later this month at the G20.
Hong Kong: The Chinese are facing problems both internationally and domestically. A new trial has begun in Hong Kong, which is seen as a measure of how far Beijing has encroached onto what is supposed to be a special administrative region. Nine leaders of the umbrella movement, a protest movement in Hong Kong that fought against Chinese encroachments onto Hong Konger’s rights have pleaded not guilty after being charged with civil disobedience. The group is a mix of lawyers, students and activists and could be jailed for up to seven years if found guilty. International groups are keeping a close eye on the trail, claiming there is an attack on freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. A verdict is expected in the next three weeks.
North Korea: North Korea continues to test new weapons, despite the peace summit between the US and Koreans now over a year ago. Earlier last week, the North Koreans claimed to have successfully tested a new ultramodern high-tech weapon. Not a lot of information is known about either the new weapon or test but it is a sign of how the talks between North Korea and the US is constantly faltering. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has increasingly returned redirecting anger towards the US and increasing the threat level they pose. All of this is taking place, while talks between the two countries seemingly continue, despite little to no progress being made.
Sri Lanka: following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the dissolution of parliament, a vote of no-confidence was held in the new Prime Minister, who was illegally appointed by the President Sirisena. Now parliament has voted no-confidence against Prime Minister Rajapaksa, following the shock and illegal removal of Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister a few weeks ago. The political deadlock that had gripped the country, only last week has now seemingly shifted towards a victory for democracy, as Sri Lankan balances and checks have shown their worth.
Japan: In a seemingly worrying and comical moment of equal measure, the Japanese minister in charge of cyber security has admitted to never having used a computer before. Yoshitaka Sakurada told a committee meeting he had never had to use one before despite now being 68 years old. Worryingly for the minster all answers were on live TV and he may be looking for a new job, despite having only joined a month ago because of a cabinet reshuffle.
The front page of our weekly dispatch is covered by the new Brexit deal, discussed and approved by Theresa May the last week with the European Union.
Time was running up, and the Prime Minister, to avoid the risk of a no-deal Brexit – with apocaliptic economic scenarios – accepted a new plan, very close to a “vassalage” according to Jo Johnson, to the UE, enraging her fellow Tories, that left en masse their positions, bringing the government close to a collapse.
The hardest pill to swallow was the resignation of Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, followed by the secretary for work and pensions Esther McVey. Nonetheless, the government resisted, and now the Brexit deal looks more official than ever. Still, the broken government that was brought to chaos by the deal is in part trying to catch some more time to discuss a new deal: Michael Barnier, EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has asked for a “maximum extension” that would last until December 2022.
Next, the US Department of Justice is working on the Danske Bank scandal, that involves more than $200 billion. The investigation started after a whistleblower – a Danske Bank manager – revealed to the SEC and the DoJ the money-laundering scheme, that has brought to ex-Soviet States lendings close to 10 times the size of Baltic State economies, mainly, money to Russian activities.
For a detailed history of the events, click here – an article by the Financial Times.
In the end, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are discussing a new joint plan to create a eurozone only budget that would be used to finance investment spending in eurozone economies in order to help foster “convergence and competitiveness”. It has been resisted by Finland and Netherlands for now, for its risks regarding national responsability for economic management.
It was a regular week without much going on in Syria. In the Efrin region controlled by Turkish forces there has been some violent clashes between security forces and some rebels/looters. Army started a curfew in the early morning before dawn and it seems like it is under control of the security forces at the moment.
On the other hand, regular small scale Turkish artillery fire to SDF territories and Assad forces bombardements to rebel controlled areas around south of Idlib are ongoing.
Turkish bombardements to Northern Iraq are continuing, Kirkuk petrol started to flow to Turkish distribution centers. Pipes were closed when Northern Iraq declared independence and USA was pushing both sides to continue the oil trade since USA put sanctions to Iran and wants to make sure there are not any other problems in the global oil supply.
Jamal Khashoggi incident is growing even more popular around the world as more countries started banning Saudi’s who were involved.
Many more countries clarified that there will be consequences of this violent massacre and now there are negotiations going on behind the doors. Soon we will see what is going to happen.
House of Representatives – After regaining the House majority, it is time for the Democratic Party to choose who is going to be the next Speaker of the House, the third most important role in Federal Institutions after the President and the Vice President. Almost surely, this position will be again occupied by Nancy Pelosi, from California, who has been the highest-rank Democrat in the House since 2002 and is the current Minority Leader.
However, it is important to notice that some dissent actually exists among fellow Democrats: even if they probably will fail in challenging Pelosi’s leadership, this situation could generate some tension, that could lead not immediately, but in the near future, to a transition in the top post.
Indeed, Marcia Fudge from Ohio, former Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman, a six-term, well respected lawmaker, is said to be considering a bid. As of now, Democrats have 233 seats in the House, 15 above the majority threshold, but 17 Dem lawmakers (or 20, according to another source) declared that they are not going to support Pelosi’s bid for Speakership, potentially making impossible for her to achieve the votes she needs. However, it is important to specify that there is not a clear, alternative candidate yet: Rep. Fudge still remains just a potential one.
The Democratic Nominee for Speakership will be decided through a vote inside the Democratic majority; although Pelosi surely has a majority inside the Caucus, it is highly unlikely that the Democratic leadership will ignore the “rebels”, risking an embarrassing defeat in the House vote.
In conclusion, the next weeks will see an intense internal debate: according to some insiders and commentators, a likely scenario is a deal that will see Pelosi get the Speakership, while organizing a transition in the near future. It would be, more or less, a peaceful version of what happened in the Republican majority in 2015, when Paul Ryan had succeeded to John Boehner. In the framework of this prospective transition, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (maybe Rep. Fudge) will probably obtain an important position in the Leadership Team, maybe the role of Majority Leader.
Midterm Results – Update – The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives increased during this week, thanks to the newly called races. The net gains are now 38; Democrats have now 233 seats, while Republicans remain at 199, with 3 races still undecided.
In the Senate, as expected, Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema won the Arizona contest against Republican Martha McSally, with a margin of almost 40,000 votes.
In the other hotly contested race, in Florida, the Democratic candidate, incumbent Bill Nelson, conceded on Sunday, after two recounts, to Republican former Governor, Rick Scott.
The Senate count is now 52-47 in favor of Republicans, with the only seat not yet assigned, the Mississippi one, that will be decided in the run-off of the Special Election, on 27 November.