World update: August 22 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban may be attending Afghan peace talks in Russia next month, but the Afghan government said on Wednesday that it will not. Kabul cited its desire for “direct talks” with the Taliban but offered no reason why it up and decided not to go after it initially appeared receptive to the idea and even asked the Russian government to put pressure on the Taliban to engage in negotiations. It’s possible the US, which already said it won’t attend the talks, pressured the Afghan government into rejecting Russia’s invitation as well.

On the plus side, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is apparently about to make Zalmay Khalilzad his new special Afghan envoy. The involvement of the veteran diplomat Khalilzad, who was instrumental in helping the Bush administration turn Iraq and Afghanistan into the stable, peaceful democracies they are today, is bound to yield positive results.

KASHMIR

Al Jazeera reports on a new outbreak of violence that’s marred Kashmir’s Eid celebrations:

INDIA

Writing at The Diplomat, Stimson’s Nikhil Mandalaparthy argues that the US should temper its efforts to strengthen ties with Delhi in light of the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalism:

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s international image has become more robust, and the United States has designated India as its partner in balancing China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific. However, these recent developments contradict the U.S. vision for India to “strengthen the fabric of stability” in the region. Since Modi’s election in 2014, there has been a significant increase in anti-minority rhetoric and mob violence committed by Hindu nationalist groups against Muslims and other minorities. Although India’s strategic importance has led the U.S. government to largely ignore these domestic issues, the dangerous effects unleashed by Hindu nationalism have had a destabilizing effect in South Asia, compromising India’s ability to play the leading regional role the United States seeks.

CHINA

The next round of the US-China trade war will kick in on Thursday, as Washington and Beijing will each levy another set of tariffs on $16 billion worth of one another’s goods. More tariffs are probably on the horizon–Donald Trump has threatened tariffs on another $200 billion in Chinese goods that could be implemented as soon as next month.

NORTH KOREA

38North is reporting that its satellite image analysis shows that the North Koreans have ceased demolition activities at their Sohae Satellite Launching Station. There was significant activity at the site, which is ostensibly linked to the country’s space program but had less official links to its intercontinental ballistic missile program, last month, but it looks like that activity stopped on August 3. I guess you can add this to the list of things North Korea isn’t doing to disarm.

Ankit Panda sees a pattern in North Korea’s diplomatic efforts with respect to the United States–a consistent effort to separate Donald Trump from the rest of his administration in order to criticize the US without criticizing Trump:

As I’ve written before — and recently discussed in more detail in a co-authored article with Vipin Narang in Foreign Affairs — North Korea is actively working to decouple Trump from the rest of his administration. The theory behind this approach is simple and alluring from a North Korean perspective. Pyongyang has calculated — accurately, in my view — that Trump is largely interested in the optics surrounding the U.S.-North Korea diplomatic process this year. The flimsy and vague declaration to come out of the Singapore summit underlined that.

Accordingly, North Korea has chosen to emphasize the camaraderie forged between Trump and Kim on June 12 — what it has called the “Singapore summit” elsewhere. Trump continues to egg on this approach by complimenting Kim Jong Un. In an interview with Reuters earlier this week, Trump commented again about how much he liked Kim and how much he thought Kim likes him. “I have very good personal relations with Chairman Kim, and I think that’s what holds it together,” Trump said. It would seem that the North Koreans would agree.

OCEANIA

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is likely to be out of a job very soon. After he narrowly survived a leadership vote within his Liberal Party earlier this week, Sky News is reporting that Turnbull will probably not contest a second challenge, this time from Treasurer Scott Morrison. Turnbull’s intra-party opponents began working on a second leadership challenge not long after the first one failed. Peter Dutton, who stood against Turnbull in the earlier challenge, may stand against him again in addition to Morrison, but either way Turnbull’s time appears to be reaching an end.

AFRICA

SOMALIA

The US military says it carried out an airstrike on Tuesday northeast of the port city of Kismayo that killed two al-Shabab fighters.

ESWATINI

Despite an apparently heavy press from China, the small kingdom of eSwatini is refusing to break its diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The kingdom is one of only 17 countries left in the world that formally recognize Taiwan (as “the Republic of China”) rather than Beijing, and the only one left in Africa.

SOUTH AFRICA

I guess Tucker Carlson mentioned something about white people losing their farms in South Africa this evening, so naturally this happened shortly afterward:

Whatever else you can say about Trump, he certainly does know what his base cares about.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

NATO officials are verbally sparring with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the alliance’s deployments in Eastern Europe:

Nato has traded barbs with Russia’s Vladimir Putin after he accused the alliance of moving its military assets closer to the Russian border.

Mr Putin said Russia must strengthen its own capabilities in response.

Nato then defended its actions as “defensive, proportionate” and “in line with our international commitments”.

A spokeswoman told Reuters: “NATO has deployed 4,000 troops to the eastern part of the Alliance to deter any possible aggression.

“These troops cannot compare to the divisions deployed by Russia. In contrast, Russia has troops in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova against the wishes of their governments.”

Of course NATO leaders can’t imagine how anyone could see their intentions as anything other than good and pure. It must be that Putin is arguing in bad faith.

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik says that the Bosnian government and USAID are conspiring to manipulate the country’s politics and pull it away from Russia:

“Aiming to directly interfere in internal affairs of the Republika Srpska and Bosnia, USAID … tries to avoid all institutions and to grant funds under cover of the alleged fight against crime and corruption,” Dodik said.

Dodik, a critic of the West who favors closer ties with Russia, accused the central Bosnian government of conspiring with USAID in the matter and said that NGOs in the Serb Republic which receive USAID funding would be investigated.

Dodik wants to be elected as the Bosnian Serb representative in Bosnia’s three-way presidency in October, so this is mostly electoral rhetoric.

GREECE

Al Jazeera looks at what eight years of forced austerity have done to young Greeks:

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Another new poll on Wednesday found that support for jailed ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has increased ahead of October’s presidential election. If Lula were allowed to run and the election were held today, Lula would win 39 percent in the first round, well ahead of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro at 19 percent.

Assuming Lula is not allowed to run, his Workers’ Party wants to keep him in the race as long as possible, increasing his support, before he would throw his weight behind his running mate, former São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad. Polling shows that around half of Lula’s supporters would or at least might move to Haddad if Lula endorses him, and the party plans to work hard to increase that percentage over the next several weeks. If it’s successful that would put Haddad into a runoff against Bolsonaro, and that prospect has Brazilian markets freaking out. The guy Brazil’s plutocrats want to see elected is center-right candidate Geraldo Alckmin, but most polls have him struggling to break into double digit support despite major advantages in both financing and TV airtime. He’d likely beat Bolsonaro in a runoff, but at this point his chances of getting that far are a long shot.

VENEZUELA

Welp, we’re three days into Venezuela’s currency reform, and not only has commerce slowed down but it seems the country’s runaway inflation hasn’t:

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