Morning Brief

U.S. and Europe to Revive Forum on China

The U.S.-EU China Dialogue had been mothballed following the American election, but it is set for a rebirth today in Brussels.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) bumps elbows with the Netherlands' Foreign Minister Stef Blok.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) bumps elbows with the Netherlands' Foreign Minister Stef Blok at NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 23. YVES HERMAN/POOL/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: EU and U.S. foreign-policy chiefs to restart forum on China, Brazil records its highest daily coronavirus death toll, and Israel’s election is too close to call.

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Blinken and Borrell to Revive China Forum

The United States and European Union are to announce the revival of the U.S.-EU China Dialogue at a meeting today in Brussels between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell. The move, first reported by the Financial Times, represents a further step toward the Biden administration’s goal of creating a united response to China’s rise.

The dialogue was first launched by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Borrell’s invitation back in October as a a forum for U.S. and EU senior officials and experts to “discuss the full range of issues related to China,” but lost steam following Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in November’s U.S. presidential election.

A united front? A joint front on China policy looked unlikely at the end of 2020, when Brussels and Beijing agreed the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, a deal designed to level the playing field for large European firms by granting greater access to the Chinese market. At the time of the agreement, European Commission Ursula von der Leyen called it “an important landmark in our relationship with China.”

That relationship—and the status of the agreement—is now on shakier ground. After the European Union imposed rare sanctions on Monday on Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses against China’s Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, Beijing retaliated strongly, targeting sanctions against several members of the European parliament. Those sanctions now risk derailing the investment deal, as the EU body has yet to ratify it.

Europe’s loss? The Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the second largest grouping in the EU parliament issued a statement on Tuesday making clear that China would have to lift sanctions on European lawmakers before it would consider any talks on the investment deal. “Europe needs to trade with China, but our values and standards go first,” said Inmaculada Rodríguez-Piñero, the lead S&D MEP on the deal.

If the deal collapses, it could be more of blow to Europe’s manufacturers than Beijing. “My feeling is that China doesn’t care if things take place or not—it’s just ticking a box,” Philippe Le Corre, a China expert at the Harvard Kennedy School, told Politico.

What We’re Following Today

Israel’s election. A right-wing coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is likely to fall just short of a parliamentary majority, according to preliminary results, raising the possibility of a fifth election. An initial exit poll had projected Netanyahu and his usual allies would gain a slim majority but the actual vote count suggests they will not.

With nearly 90 percent of votes counted, it appears that an ideologically-disparate bloc opposed to the prime minister might reach the 61 seats necessary to form a government—and that the United Arab List (also known as Ra’am) could play kingmaker.

Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party which is on track to win 17 seats, said he would begin talks with the loosely aligned anti-Netanyahu bloc. Neri Zilber, writing in Foreign Policy on March 5, spoke with Lapid about his hopes for unseating Netanyahu and the “chaos” of forming a coalition.

Europe’s new vaccine rules. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will today propose new rules that strengthen the European Union’s ability to restrict vaccine exports. The rules would add new provisions on “reciprocity” and “proportionality” which in practice would mean the EU could either block exports to countries that aren’t themselves exporting, or ones that already have a high percentage of their population vaccinated. The move will likely anger the United Kingdom, and will be discussed at the European Council summit on Thursday.

Brazil’s worst day. Brazil’s health ministry recorded 3,251 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began. The unwelcome milestone came the same day Marcelo Queiroga, a cardiologist, assumed his post as Brazil’s new health minister—the fourth in less than a year. Facing a mounting death toll, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro assured Brazilians on Tuesday that “normal life” would resume “very soon,” citing the 500 million vaccine doses expected to be delivered by the end of the year. Like many countries, Brazil’s vaccination program has begun slowly: just 5.2 percent of its population have received a vaccine dose so far.

Keep an Eye On

Abiy acknowledges atrocities. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has admitted that Eritrean troops crossed into the country’s Tigray region during the conflict there, following repeated denials by Ethiopian authorities of their presence. Speaking to lawmakers, Abiy seemed to acknowledge that “atrocities” had been committed in Tigray and said that those who committed war crimes would be held accountable.

His remarks came as a government-linked human rights agency released a preliminary report into a massacre perpetrated by Eritrean forces at Axum, which had been the subject of reports by the Associated Press and Amnesty International. In its report, Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission called for a “comprehensive investigation” into the overall human rights situation in Tigray.

North Korea’s missile test. The Biden administration has shrugged off a recent North Korean short-range missile test as a “a normal part of the kind of testing that North Korea would do” as the White House continues to formulate its policy toward the country. Although North Korea has not tested a long-range missile since 2018, short-range tests are much more common. Before Tuesday’s news, the most recent test was in April of last year.

Odds and Ends

The Suez Canal has been blocked once again, although this time the obstruction has more to do with the size of today’s freighters than geopolitics. The Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, ran aground within the narrow waterway on Tuesday and is now stuck sideways—Austin Powers-style—causing a traffic jam of over 100 vessels. Evergreen Marine, the Taiwanese shipping company that operates the Ever Given, said the incident was caused by strong winds.

Tug boats are currently attempting to dislodge the ship in an operation that could take days, sparking fears of rising oil prices. As Joshua Keating writes in Slate, the ship is still far short of the record for the longest time stuck in the canal: 14 ships languished there for eight years after the Six Day War of 1967. 

That’s it for today.

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

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