Trump Arrives in London
Plus: Mexico prepares to meet U.S. officials over trade, a threat to Merkel's ruling coalition, and what to watch in the world this week.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Trump begins a state visit to Britain amid political turmoil, Mexico and the United States prepare to meet over trade, and a resignation threatens Merkel’s ruling coalition in Germany.
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Trump Begins U.K. Visit by Pouring Fuel on Fire
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives in Britain today for a state visit at a fraught moment—just days before British Prime Minister Theresa May steps down amid an impasse on Brexit negotiations and as the political battle to succeed her gains steam.
Before he traveled to London, Trump barreled into controversy when—true to form—he violated diplomatic norms by wading into Britain’s domestic politics. In an interview with the Sun, a British tabloid, Trump praised the former London mayor Boris Johnson, effectively endorsing his campaign for the Conservative Party leadership, and criticized May for allowing the European Union to “have all the cards” in Brexit negotiations. Trump also called Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, “nasty” and then denied it, despite an audio recording.
The U.S. ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, sparked further outrage by saying the beloved British National Health Service should be “on the table” in any future U.S.-U.K. trade deal, suggesting that the U.S. private sector could become involved in the NHS. At least one Tory candidate to succeed May has already denounced the idea.
Trump’s trip is bound to strain the countries’ already tense special relationship. Britain and the United States are already at odds over two big issues: Britain’s role in propping up the Iran deal that Trump is keen to dismantle and the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s potential role in developing Britain’s 5G infrastructure, despite U.S. warnings of the security risks. One bright spot: Britain is one of the few NATO countries to meet the benchmark of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense—long a sore point for U.S. presidents, particularly Trump.
The visit will feature British pageantry, including a visit to Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, where Trump will deliver a banquet speech. (First Lady Melania Trump and all four of the president’s adult children are tagging along.)
Cold reception. Britain is preparing for widespread protests to greet the U.S. president, who remains deeply unpopular abroad. Trump’s last visit drew hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in London.
Pit stop. On Wednesday Trump will make a stopover in Ireland, where he will meet Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the airport. Don’t expect the U.S. president to bungle a serious relationship there: Currently, there isn’t much of one, Paul Musgrave argues for FP.
What We’re Following Today
Violent crackdown on protests in Sudan. Sudanese forces fired into a crowd of protesters, killing at least five people according to doctors affiliated with the demonstrators. The security personnel who used live ammunition were reportedly seeking to disperse an encampment of protesters. In response, unrest broke out around the capital, Khartoum, and the neighboring city of Omdurman, with bridges over the Nile blocked with burning tires.
Mexico prepares to meet U.S. officials. Mexican and U.S. officials will meet later this week in attempt to avert a trade crisis, after the surprise announcement that the United States would slap tariffs on all Mexican imports if the country does not slow the flow of migrants to the United States. Meanwhile, Mexico’s ruling party looked set to win two governor’s seats on Sunday, giving a small boost to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as he grapples with widespread violence and a weak economy.
A threat to Merkel’s ruling coalition. The leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, Andrea Nahles, will resign today, threatening Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition with the center-left party. Nahles’s resignation comes after a loss in support in the EU elections last week. While the coalition is set to rule until 2021, a change in leadership could cause the SPD to pull out, leading to a minority government or, possibly, new elections.
United States, China trade barbs over trade war. China and the United States clashed during a defense summit in Singapore over the weekend, with their defense officials trading harsh words over regional security disputes and the ongoing trade war. On Sunday, analysts adjusted their forecasts for slower growth for the U.S. economy in the second quarter due to the risks of trade conflicts with both China and Mexico.
The World This Week
Tuesday marks 30 years since the bloody military crackdown on student-led protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Although anniversaries of the event are officially ignored, rather than commemorated, in China, the country’s defense minister, Wei Fenghe, made a rare comment on the 1989 events over the weekend in Singapore. He defended the government’s actions as “correct” and suggested that China has enjoyed stability as a result.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet this week in Russia, their second summit this year. Beijing is seeking to strengthen its ties with Moscow as the trade war with the United States escalates. Xi’s three-day visit to Russia begins on Wednesday.
Denmark holds general elections on Wednesday. While opinion polls have consistently projected a Social Democratic victory and a change in government, the ruling center-right party’s surprise victory in the EU elections last week suggests the outcome could be close.
World leaders will gather on Wednesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and honor the veterans of the Normandy invasion.
British Prime Minister Theresa May steps down as Conservative Party leader on Friday. The contest to replace her will likely last through July, at which point the winner will become the new prime minister.
Keep an Eye On
North Korea’s former nuclear negotiator. North Korea says that Kim Yong Chol—the country’s former top nuclear envoy—was seen with leader Kim Jong Un, contradicting a South Korean report that Kim Yong Chol was executed with five other senior officials after talks broke down with the United States in February. Previous accounts of summary executions have proven false, Robbie Gramer reports.
A standoff in Algeria. Algeria’s ruling council canceled the presidential election scheduled for next month to replace ousted former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika—a concession to protesters who called the vote illegitimate. The demonstrations have gone on for 15 straight weeks, with the protesters and the Algerian military at an impasse.
Returning Syrian refugees. In the past two years at least 164,000 refugees from the war in Syria have begun to return to the country at the encouragement of President Bashar al-Assad’s government. During this “reconciliation” process, hundreds have been arrested and interrogated, and the government is applying the same tactics in rebel-held areas, the Washington Post reports.
Papua New Guinea’s new prime minister. Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape, who was elected last week, could threaten China’s growing influence there. Papua New Guinea was the first country in the Pacific to sign onto the Belt and Road Initiative, but Marape is concerned about unsustainable debt.
Odds and Ends
Italy has likely put an end to controversial plans for a right-wing academy in a historic mountaintop monastery near Rome, the Washington Post reports. The Italian culture ministry says it will revoke the property rights for the project, which involves former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, due to a lack of maintenance work.
Cultural critics and LGBT activists in Russia are calling out a local film distributor for homophobia after it censored scenes in the new Elton John biopic, Rocketman. The company said it was following a 2013 Russian law that bans gay “propaganda.”
As the relationship between China and the United States deteriorates, there is a growing debate about how long the tension will last and who is responsible, Charles Edel and Hal Brands write in FP. As a framework, they turn to the origins of the “first Cold War,” between the United States and the Soviet Union—another autocratic regime.
“[T]he autocratic nature of the Communist Party ensures that Chinese officials will constantly be tempted to channel internal discontent outward, to manufacture legitimacy by pursuing a nationalist foreign policy, and to place antagonism with the democratic world as a core tenet of its beliefs,” Edel and Brands write. The implications? “There is little that the United States can realistically do to appease or reassure Chinese leaders.”
That’s it for today.