VIF News Digest: International Developments (28 May- 3 June, 2018)

USA

GOP leaders scramble to contain immigration rebellion, 28 May 2018

Grand Old Party’s (GOP) Republican leaders are facing long odds as they scramble to thwart an internal rebellion over immigration just months before November’s midterm elections. The leaders are attempting to broker a deal that satisfies competing factions of their restive conference and defuses a push by mutinous centrists threatening to force action to protect undocumented immigrants in a series of head-to-head floor votes that would highlight deep GOP divisions over an issue that has long been radioactive within the party.

The dispute has centered largely on what legal protections should be extended to those living in the country illegally, and to whom they should apply — thorny enough questions on their own. But the leaders’ effort was further complicated on Thursday, when President Trump warned that he'd veto any bill to shore up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program if it fails to fund his favored wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Click here to read...

Jobs report raises GOP hopes for midterms, while worrying Dems, 2 June 2018

A strong jobs report on Friday bolstered the GOP’s argument that the economy is humming under President Trump, raising Republican optimism for the midterms. The economy added 223,000 jobs in May, a bigger than expected number that was coupled with news that unemployment had fallen to 3.8 percent.

It extends the good economic news for Trump and the GOP, which has seen a series of favorable jobs reports this year. Economists such as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell think the rate could drop as low as 3.5 percent. That would be lowest unemployment rate in more than 45 years. Click here to read...

Trump defiant on tariffs, touts job numbers, 1 June 2018

President Trump on Friday struck a defiant tone as he waved off concerns of a mounting trade dispute with the European Union and other U.S. allies over steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Trump cast his decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum exported to the U.S. from the E.U., Canada and Mexico as a way to level an uneven playing field.

Financial markets appeared to agree with the tariffs, Trump said, pointing to new employment numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday showing that the economy added 223,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropping to 3.8 percent. “We have the lowest numbers of unemployment that we had — is it 50 years?” Trump said. He also said that leaders in Europe, Canada and Mexico had acknowledged to him in past discussions that their trade arrangements with the U.S. were one-sided. Click here to read...

Trump and Abe to Meet Before North Korea Summit, 28 May 2018

With efforts being made to reinstate the planned summit meeting between President Trump and North Korea’s leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan is not taking any chances. After speaking with Mr. Trump by telephone on Monday, Mr. Abe told reporters in Tokyo that he and the American president had “agreed to meet before the US-North Korea summit.”

Mr. Abe has been concerned that Mr. Trump might make a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea that protects the United States but does not address Tokyo’s worries about the North’s short-range missiles that could hit Japan. By offering to meet with the American president before he heads to Singapore, Mr. Abe hopes to be one of the last advisers to have his ear before he meets with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Click here to read...

North Korea summit: former Pyongyang spy chief flies to New York, 31 May 2018

A senior North Korean official, Kim Yong-chol, has met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York. Kim, described by the BBC as “the right-hand man to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un”, reportedly flew into the US from China to dine with Pompeo, ahead of further talks later today. A former spy-chief for North Korea, he is the most senior member of the regime to visit the US in 18 years.

What will they talk about? Talks between Pompeo and Kim are aimed at reviving the “the prospects of an on-again off-again summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un”, which was scheduled to be held on 12 June in Singapore, CNN says. Click here to read...

Ivanka Trump wins China trademarks, then her father vows to save ZTE, 28 May 2018

China this month awarded Ivanka Trump seven new trademarks across a broad collection of businesses, including books, housewares and cushions. At around the same time, President Trump vowed to find a way to prevent a major Chinese telecommunications company from going bust, even though the company has a history of violating American limits on doing business with countries like Iran and North Korea. Coincidence? Well, probably. Still, the remarkable timing is raising familiar questions about the Trump family’s businesses and its patriarch’s status as commander in chief Click here to read...

INDOPACOM, it is: US Pacific Command gets renamed, 30 May 2018

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced Wednesday that U.S. Pacific Command would now be called US Indo-Pacific Command, in the latest move to counter Chinese economic and military pressure in the region. Mattis said he directed the name change in recognition that “all nations large and small are essential to the region, in order to sustain stability in ocean areas critical to global peace.”

Mattis made the remarks at the change of command ceremony in Pearl Harbor for incoming INDOPACOM commander Adm. Phil Davidson. “In recognition of the increasing connectivity of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, today we rename the US Pacific Command to US-Indo Pacific Command,” Mattis said. Click here to read...

Talks between foreign and defence ministers of India, US likely in July, 31 May 2018

India and the US are working towards holding their postponed “2+2” dialogue— talks between their foreign and defence ministers—in July, according to two people with knowledge of the developments. The first ever dialogue in this format was to be held in April but was postponed because of the sacking of then secretary of state Rex Tillerson. The US has strategic consultations in this format with partners, including Australia, Japan and the Philippines. India has had a dialogue in the two-plus-two format with Japan.

A raft of issues will be on the table when Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman meet US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary James Mattis, said analysts. Click here to read...

'US keen to build ties with India through agricultural products’, 30 May 2018

Minister-counselor for the foreign agricultural service wing of the United States department of agriculture (USDA) Jeanne F Bailey on Tuesday said the US was keen on strenghening cultural relationship between the two countries through agricultural products. "India is a wonderful country, having a vibrant cultural diversity. It has a great tradition of food. Our aim is to strengthen the relationship between both India and the US through agricultural products, as Indians are fond of soybeans, sauces, ketchups, jams, jellies and chocolates made in the US. We would like to introduce those products in India," said Jeanne F Bailey, while having a select media round table at Taj Club House in the city on Tuesday. Click here to read...

WTO to set up dispute panel on India-US case on export subsidies, 30 May 2018

The World Trade Organisation's (WTO) dispute settlement body has agreed to set up a panel to examine America's allegations against certain alleged export subsidy measures in India. Last month, the US dragged India to the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism over export subsidies, saying that these incentives were harming the American companies. "At its meeting on 28 May, the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body agreed to a request from the United States for the establishment of a dispute panel to examine certain alleged export subsidy measures in India," the WTO said in a statement. Click here to read...

EU and BREXIT

What are the pros and cons of a second Brexit referendum?, 30 May 2018

A campaign to secure a second referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU will be launched within days, philanthropist and financier George Soros has announced. The billionaire founder of the Open Society Foundations, an international grant-making network, said that the prospect of the UK’s prolonged divorce from Brussels might persuade the British public by a “convincing margin” that EU membership was in their interests. In a speech to think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations, which he also helped found, Soros said: “Divorce will be a long process, probably taking more than five years. Click here to read...

RUSSIA

India, Russia team up to overcome US sanctions on defence deals, 30 May 2018

India and Russia have pledged to jointly create a plan to resolve U.S. sanctions on Russia that is hampering defence deals between New Delhi and Moscow. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to formulate the plan during a May 21 informal summit in the Russian city Sochi.

The US law, Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, is negatively affecting defence business with Russia, according to an official with the Indian Ministry of Defence, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It is an extremely complex issue and has direct consequences on defence supplies from Russia, but Indian government will ensure that [defence] ties are not with Moscow,” the official said.

Notably mum about the impact of CAATSA on Russian defence deals, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs released a statement May 21 saying: “The two leaders agreed that the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia is an important factor for global peace and stability. The two leaders also reiterated the significance of longstanding partnership in the military, security and nuclear energy fields and welcomed the ongoing cooperation in these areas.“ Click here to read...

The inland part of the Russian-Indian military exercises Indra-2018 will be held in India, 29 May 2018

The inland part of the joint Russian-Indian military exercises Indra-2018 will take place at one of the test sites in India in the second half of the year, the press service of the Eastern Military District (VVO) reported. Reportedly, representatives of the Russian and Indian sides will hold conferences where the order of crossing the state border will be discussed and approved, the idea and scenario of the practical part of the exercises, the composition of forces and facilities, and the organization of material and technical support for Russian units. In the international exercises this year, it is planned to involve a number of units of the general military association of the Air Defense Forces deployed in the Primorsky Territory. Click here to read...

Chinese, Russian firms look to exploit Europe’s retreat from Iran, 29 May 2018

As European companies react with trepidation to the Trump administration’s efforts to blow up the Iran nuclear deal, pulling out of business deals in the face of looming sanctions, Chinese and Russian firms wait in the wings. The Wall Street Journal took stock of some shifting sands in Iran’s landscape on Monday:-
• Earlier this month, Chinese state oil giant Sinopec finalized a US$3 billion deal to develop an Iranian oil field previously coveted by Royal Dutch Shell. The British firm dropped negotiations on the deal in March, amid fears of a sanctions redux.
• China National Petroleum Corp may step in to snatch up French energy company Total’s US$1 billion share of the South Pars natural-gas development project. CNPC is currently a partner with Total’s partner in the project.
• Chinese firms already have long-standing investment relationships with Iranian firms in areas ranging from transportation to clothing, cookware and consumer electronics.
• Meanwhile, Russia has cautiously cultivated business ties business ties in Iran. Last year, Russia’s state oil company, Rosneft, agreed to US$ 30 billion in strategic deals in the sanctions-battered nation. Though few details have been confirmed. Click here to read...

Arkady Babchenko: ‘murdered’ journalist who fled Russia appears on Ukrainian TV, 30 May 2018

Arkady Babchenko, the Russian journalist and Kremlin critic who was reported this morning to have been shot dead in Ukraine, has appeared alive at a news conference. Babchenko was earlier reported to have been shot three times in the back outside his apartment building in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, but in an unexpected turn of events he appeared on live TV this afternoon, flanked by Ukrainian security officials. At the news conference, the head of the Ukrainian security service, Vasily Gritsak, said that Babchenko’s death had been faked in an attempt to flush out an unidentified group of people who were trying to kill him. Click here to read...

Russia ruined Ukraine's plan to sell Tu-160 strategic bombers to China,
28 May 2018

Beijing Times wrote that China was about to sign the deal to acquire strategic Tu-160 bombers during the late 1990s, but the US and Russia did not let the deal materialise. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited 19 new strategic Tu-160 bombers, but was expecting to sell them being unable to exploit the aircraft. Russia did not want China to obtain the aircraft. In 1999, Ukraine had to return eight Tu-160 strategic bombers to be able to pay debt for shipments of Russian natural gas.

In addition, the US and the EU signed an agreement with the new Ukrainian government to destroy strategic weapons that Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union. The US provided Ukraine $15 million for the purpose. As a result, China failed to buy Tu-160 bombers from Ukraine. Click here to read...

Putin turns Crimea and Kaliningrad into two unassailable fortresses, 28 May 2018

German publication the Focus states that the Russian authorities continue their efforts to enhance the defence of the Crimea after the region returned to the Russian Federation. Russia has been turning the Crimean Peninsula into an "impregnable fortress," the publication said. The Vyshniy Volochek, small ship equipped with Caliber missiles, arrived on the peninsula. There are also two divisions of S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems on the Crimea, along with coastal artillery systems, whereas the fleet received several new frigates and submarines. Click here to read...

Lavrov meets Kim in Pyongyang, invites him to Moscow, 31 May 2018

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang on Thursday, the Russian foreign ministry said, and invited him to visit Russia. Lavrov visited the secretive state ahead of a possible landmark summit between US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader in June.

Russia has appeared to be on the fringes of a flurry of international diplomacy as North Korea and the US have taken steps to set up talks aimed at ending years of tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Lavrov on Thursday passed on good wishes to Kim from Russian President Vladimir Putin and invited him to visit Moscow, TV footage showed. Click here to read...

AFRICA

Tanzania: Dar Shines in Global Peace Ranking: allAfrica, 27 May 2018

Tanzania is the most peaceful and calm nation in East Africa and ninth in the continental ranking, according to the Global Peace Index (GPI) 2017 report. Click here to read...

Ethiopia's Abiy Ahmed and the Survival of the Ruling EPRDF: Al Jazeera, 28 May 2018

Over the last three years, protesters across Ethiopia have been demanding political and economic changes and voicing their frustrations with government policies. Earlier this year, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the coalition that has been ruling the country for 27 years, finally realised that this latest episode of popular unrest will not settle without the government introducing major changes. Click here to read...

26 Countries sign commitment to AU's single african sky: The New Times, 29 May 2018

Twenty-six African countries have so far committed to the establishment of the concept of a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), the African Union Commission chairperson has said. Click here to read...

10 persons beheaded in Mozambique by Islamists: Africanews, 31 May, 2018

The Police in Mozambique say at least 10 people were beheaded in an attack in the northern part of the country over the last weekend in an area where previous Islamist attacks have been reported. Click here to read...

China angles for Swaziland to ditch Taiwan before major African Summit: Reuters, 1 June, 2018

China hopes self-ruled Taiwan's only remaining African ally, Swaziland, will sever ties with Taipei before China hosts a summit of African leaders this year, the foreign ministry said on Friday, keeping up the pressure on Taiwan. Click here to read...

Sushma Swaraj leaves for SA on 5-day visit; to attend BRICS, IBSA: The Economic Times, 2 June, 2018

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today left on a five-day visit to South Africa where she will meet top leadership of the country and attend meetings of BRICS and IBSA - the two major groupings where India has been playing a key role. Click here to read...

Ahead of AU summit, Western Sahara Leader’s tour takes him next to SA: Africa Times, 3 June 2018

South Africa is the next stop for President Brahim Ghali, leader of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), as he continues a tour of southern African nations ahead of an upcoming African Union summit. Click here to read...

Landlocked Ethiopia plans new Navy: The Times of Oman, 3 June 2018

Landlocked Ethiopia, which lost its access to the Red Sea nearly three decades ago, plans to build a navy as part of military reforms, state-affiliated media said. The country disbanded its navy in 1991 after its then-province Eritrea seceded following a three-decade war for independence. Click here to read...

CENTRAL ASIAN REPUBLICS (CAR)

CIS Prime Ministers meet in Dushanbe, 1 June 2018

The regular meeting of the Council of Heads of Governments of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was held in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe. In tradition, the meeting has began in a narrow format, during which the heads of governments exchanged views on topical issues of economic cooperation, discuss the progress of negotiations on the draft agreement on free trade in services, as well as the time and place of the next meeting of the council. Further, the heads of government met in an expanded format. Click here to read...

EEU and China sign first major economic coop agreement, 28 May 2018

Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) member states and China signed a trade and economic cooperation agreement, the first major arrangement between them. The document was signed on the sidelines of the Astana Economic Forum – the Global Challenges Summit, and creates a ministerial level joint committee and information centres for businesses. It also facilitates cooperation between customs authorities and requires customs officials to provide explanations for delays of goods at the border. Click here to read...