Morning Brief

U.S. Hardens Stance on Beijing’s Activities in South China Sea

Before yesterday’s announcement, the United States has preferred to have its warships do the talking.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on July 8.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington on July 8. Tom Brenner /AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks tough on the South China Sea, the United Kingdom is expected to announce its ban on Huawei from future 5G infrastructure projects, and a Taliban attack in Afghanistan kills 11 and wounds 63.

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U.S. Toughens Stance On Chinese Claims In  South China Sea

The United States has declared Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea unlawful, marking a change in the U.S. approach to a region where it had previously avoided such a blunt assessment.

“We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Monday. China has built up artificial islands in territorially disputed waters in recent years, prompting fears that the country would seek to dominate the area—home to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes as well as a potential oil and gas bonanza.

The United States has previously stayed away from describing Chinese activities in the region, preferring the U.S. Navy to do the talking. The United States has regularly undertaken “freedom of navigation” operations by sending warships within the waters China claims as its own. Chinese officials have called the U.S. operations “provocative.”

Unlike some of the Trump administration’s foreign-policy decisions, the move is not unilateral: It brings the United States in line with the 2016 ruling of a United Nations tribunal in a case brought by the Philippines against China that ultimately found Chinese island-building unlawful. The timing—four years and one day following the ruling—suggests the decision was not made hastily.

A pretext for conflict? It’s not clear whether the new designation will change U.S. actions in the region, but one area for concern is a lack of mutual understanding between the United States and China on what actions are permissible in the South China Sea. As FP’s Jack Detsch reports, some organizations have called for the United States to adopt a code of conduct to prevent or mitigate confrontations between the two powers.

China hits back over sanctions. Pompeo’s announcement comes as tensions between the two countries remain high. On Monday, China announced sanctions on top Republican politicians, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in retaliation for U.S. sanctions imposed on Chinese officials linked to abuse of China’s Uighur population in its Xinjiang region last week. China has yet to detail what kind of punishment has been imposed on the U.S. political leaders.

At least there’s trade? Despite problems elsewhere in the relationship, the “phase one” U.S.-China trade deal is still on, according to White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow. “We are still engaging on the phase one trade deal. I think that’s an important point: we are still engaging there,” Kudlow told Fox Business. Less than a month ago, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said the deal was “over,” prompting a swift denial from U.S. President Donald Trump. Writing in Foreign Policy on May 22, Jason Bordoff preempted Navarro’s take, citing the implausibility of any of the trade deal’s terms being met during the global economic downturn.

What We’re Following Today

Fate of foreign students hangs on court decision. A judge will hear arguments today in a lawsuit brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Harvard and MIT are seeking to block a rule announced last week that would revoke visas held by foreign students studying at universities that are offering online-only tuition in the upcoming fall semester. If the judge fails to suspend the rule, colleges will have until Wednesday to inform ICE whether they plan to teach online only or offer some in-person classes this fall. 

In Foreign Policy on July 10, Amy Mackinnon and Augusta Saraiva reported on the impact the visa threat has already had on students and the historical basis for the United States hosting over one million foreign students today.

U.K. to wind down Huawei use. The British government is set to bow to U.S. pressure and block Huawei from further involvement in the United Kingdom’s 5G network, with Huawei’s equipment currently in use expected to be phased out over a number of years. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will make the formal announcement today following a meeting of the U.K. Security Council. The move means all members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing alliance—which also includes the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—are now either blocking or moving to block the Chinese company from providing infrastructure for their 5G networks.

Taliban attacks in northern Afghanistan. At least 11 people were killed and a further 63 were wounded in an attack on an intelligence compound in the northern Afghan town of Aybak on Monday. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault, which involved both a suicide bombing and a machine gun attack. The incident follows attacks on government checkpoints in Kunduz on Sunday which killed 14 Afghan security forces. President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack and said the Taliban were trying to exert pressure ahead of future negotiations.

Keep an Eye On

Middle East downturn. Oil producing countries in the Middle East are expected to see their economies contract by 7.3 percent and make $270 billion less in oil revenue this year, according to a forecast by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Driving the steep decline is the estimate for Saudi Arabia: In April, the IMF projected the country’s economy would contract by 2.3 percent this year; that figure has now been revised to 6.8 percent. Saudi Arabia is not only facing declining revenues from low oil prices but will take a further hit now that the hajj pilgrimage is closed to overseas travelers.

Google makes India bet. While Chinese tech companies TikTok and WeChat are being kicked out of India, Google is being welcomed in. In “a reflection of our confidence in the future of India and its digital economy,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced a $10 billion investment in the country, to be spread out over the next five to seven years. The funds will go toward improving digital infrastructure including expanding language options and bringing more businesses online.

Richardson to Venezuela. Former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson is to travel to Venezuela to meet with President Nicolás Maduro to discuss U.S. citizens detained there, according to his foundation. The Maduro government currently holds two former U.S. soldiers after a botched incursion attempt in May as well as six executives from the oil refiner Citgo, five of whom are U.S. citizens. The U.S. State Department, while underlining the private nature of the trip, said it hoped for a “positive outcome.”

Odds and Ends

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has reported he “can’t stand” the routine of having to remain in place during his coronavirus-induced isolation in the presidential palace, calling it “horrible.” While strolling in the confines of the palace, the president fell upon more bad luck after he was reportedly bitten by an emu, one of many such birds who roam the grounds. Bolsonaro may be free of isolation soon, as a coronavirus test scheduled for today could give him a clean bill of health.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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