Morning Brief

U.S. and China Expected to Meet for Trade Talks as Tensions Escalate

U.S. bans on Chinese tech conglomerates will likely headline the meeting.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer talks to Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Beijing, China, on Feb. 15, 2019.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer talks to Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Beijing, China, on Feb. 15, 2019. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. and Chinese trade representatives are set to meet for talks, Israel and the UAE sign a historic deal normalizing relations, and mass arrests threaten Ethiopian democracy. 

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United States and China Prepare for Weekend Trade Talks

U.S. and Chinese trade representatives are expected to meet on Aug. 15 to review their countries’ Phase 1 trade deal amid increasingly strained relations between the world’s two largest economies. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will participate in a video conference call with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. The meeting will give both sides a face-to-face opportunity to air continuing grievances over the deal.

As part of the agreement, China agreed to purchase U.S. goods at an increase of about $200 billion compared to 2017 levels. But Beijing hasn’t met its commitments, in part due to the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It is still well behind the pace needed to meet the $77 billion first-year increase it agreed, and it is importing farm goods far below 2017 levels.

Wrangling over Chinese tech firms. China plans to broaden the agenda beyond the trade deal, and it is expected to raise the issue of U.S. bans on Chinese tech conglomerates. U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive orders banning the Chinese social networking giant TikTok and the messaging platform WeChat are scheduled to go into force in mid-September, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently hinted that these bans could be extended to other Chinese companies. With just one month until they take effect, this issue is set to be a key topic of discussion.

It’s the election, stupid. The economic slowdown coupled with Trump’s overwhelmingly unpopular pandemic response leave him with few issues on which to sell his reelection bid, and he is making getting tough on China one of his signature campaign issues. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows that a large majority of the U.S. public agree with the administration’s unfavorable view of China.

But Trump is walking a tightrope. The trade deal commits China to purchasing agricultural products from U.S. farmers—among whom Trump has cultivated a strong base—so one of his key priorities will be ensuring that China meets its pledge to purchase U.S. agricultural goods. “For Trump, in a word, it’s about farmers—the sales that they can make for red states in this election,” Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Bloomberg.


What We’re Following Today 

Israel and UAE normalize ties. On Thursday, Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached an agreement brokered by the United States which normalizes bilateral relations, marking the first time the two countries have had formal diplomatic ties.

As part of its commitments in the accord, Israel has agreed to put a temporary halt to its plans to annex parts of the West Bank, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this will remain his long-term ambition. In a statement, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the agreement as a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause.”

The move was in large part motivated by shared concerns over Iran’s military posture in the region. As Neri Zilber writes for Foreign Policy, this is reflective of a broader shift in Arab-Israeli relations, moving away from animosity over the Palestinian issue and toward agreement on Iran.

But as Bilal Y. Saab writes for Foreign Policy, Netanyahu’s ability to walk back an unrealistic campaign promise on annexation in exchange for the normalization of diplomatic relations with a regional power makes him—and Israel—the biggest winners. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Oman and Bahrain may follow the UAE and seek to normalize relations with Israel in the coming days.

China’s show of force. The Chinese military announced on Thursday that it had conducted a series of military exercises around Taiwan in a provocative show of force as relations with the United States continue to sour. The exercises occurred at the tail-end of a visit to the island by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, the highest-level meeting between U.S. and Taiwanese officials since Washington severed formal diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979.

China threatened unspecified retaliatory action in response to the visit, and on Monday two Chinese jets briefly crossed into Taiwanese airspace just prior to the meeting between Azar and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Although Thursday’s exercises were preplanned, they are a reminder of China’s increasingly aggressive stance toward Taiwan.

Emergency powers in Lebanon. The Lebanese parliament voted to approve the country’s state of emergency as protests against the political elite continue to rage. The decision grants sweeping powers to the army, allowing it to crack down on free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and to arrest anyone it deems a security threat. The government declared a state of emergency the day after the deadly explosions that rocked Beirut last week, but it required a parliamentary vote to have legal sanction. Thursday’s vote was almost unanimous, with only one parliamentarian in the 119-person body voting against the measure.

Although lawmakers in support of the legislation said it did not impact the public’s right to protest, several reports have emerged accusing the security forces of using excessive force against protesters. Critics contend that emergency powers will be used by the political elite to protect their status, despite Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s entire government resigning earlier this week. The legislation is set to expire on Aug. 21, but it can be renewed.


Keep an Eye On 

Democratic backsliding in Ethiopia. More than 9,000 people have been arrested in Ethiopia since deadly ethnic clashes tore through the capital of Addis Ababa in June, prompting concerns that Nobel Peace laureate and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government is reverting to the same strong-arm tactics Ethiopian leaders have used in the past. The clashes in June were sparked by the assassination of popular musician Hachalu Hundessa and ignited long-standing tensions between the country’s major ethnic groups. The incident led to the deployment of Ethiopian troops.

Abiy received much praise for introducing modernizing democratic reforms after taking office in 2018, but the deterioration of the situation in recent months suggests that he still relies on the repressive tactics of his predecessors to manage the country’s protracted ethnic difficulties. Writing for Foreign Policy in November, Addisu Lashitew warned that Ethiopian democracy could unravel if the country didn’t move beyond ethnic politics.

France stokes tensions with Turkey. The French defense ministry said on Thursday that it plans to send two fighter jets and a naval frigate to the eastern Mediterranean in order to boost its military presence as tensions between Greece and Turkey escalate. The announcement was followed by joint French-Greek military exercises in the region.

Greece and Turkey have long been at odds over the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean, where both countries have staked overlapping territorial claims. Tensions rose sharply this week after Turkey sent a research vessel reinforced by a contingent of naval ships close to the Greek island of Kastellorizo, to which Greece responded by sending its own naval detachment.


Odds and Ends 

The adjacent cities of Albury and Wodonga in Australia operate as a single community, and in normal times they are separated only by the Murray River. But the cities are in different states, and the New South Wales government’s decision to bar entry to people traveling from Victoria in order to fight the spread of the coronavirus has virtually split the Albury-Wodonga urban area into two. A police checkpoint now sits at the border, and residents are required to have a permit to cross into a city they once considered just another part of town.

While the situation is little more than an unusual inconvenience for some, for others it’s much more serious. It has had an adverse effect on residents who normally cross the border to seek medical attention, and it has hurt businesses that rely on cross-border trade and travel to stay afloat.


That’s it for today. 

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Dan Haverty is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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