December 14, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

China Under Trump

Could President-elect Donald Trump be rehearsing to perform “Nixon in China” backwards?

Whereas Nixon reached out to China during the Cold War to undermine the Soviet Union, Trump appears to be improving relations with Moscow but letting the American relationship with Beijing go south.

The Guardian used that analogy to explain the geopolitical upheaval that has a lot of people worried about the stability of Asia.

“Effectively he has put US-China relations in play in a way that hasn’t been the case before,” China expert George Magnus told Bloomberg, referring to the president-elect.

Trump has demonized China on the campaign trail, saying the country’s currency manipulation and cheap labor undercut American businesses. He has repeatedly threatened tariffs on Chinese goods in a bid to grow American jobs, too.

In contrast, Trump and his team have known Moscow connections. The latest example is the incoming Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. The Exxon chief executive has negotiated closely with the Kremlin on oil deals from the Arctic to the Black Sea.

After Trump broke decades of protocol earlier this month by speaking to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen – traditionally, the US has deferred to China’s demand and officially treated the island as a renegade Chinese province – some Chinese policymakers thought enough was enough.

They advocated solving the Taiwan problem “immediately and militarily” to put an end to the Taiwan question once and for all. “Mr. Trump’s attempt to improve the US trade position could lead to war,” wrote an opinion column in The Globe & Mail.

American companies, meanwhile, have around $500 billion at stake in China, Reuters reported. They and their Chinese partners don’t want to see their investments spoiled.

Beijing is already writing up a list of who is naughty and nice when it comes time to target American interests in China in case of a trade war.

“The Chinese are deeply concerned and we hear now from reliable sources in Beijing who suggest the Chinese government, the Communist Party, are developing lists of US interests against which they could retaliate,” a China trade policy expert told Reuters.

The New York Times explained how Detroit automakers, Boeing, Starbucks and Wal-Mart have trillions at stake in China as they invest to solidify future business in the world’s most populous country.

At least one columnist at The Wall Street Journal appeared elated over Trump’s tough talk on China.

“China’s belligerence during the Obama era began with hubris – a conviction that post-financial-crisis America was in irreversible decline and its own rise was unstoppable,” wrote The Wall Street Journal column. “Today, as Beijing tries to figure out how to play Donald Trump, the economic fortunes are reversing.”

But Trump isn’t solely antagonizing China. He’s tapped Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as his ambassador to the country. Branstad met Chinese President Xi Jinping 30 years ago when Xi was on a low-level agricultural mission to the US. The two men have kept in touch since then.

Branstad’s appointment was seen as a gesture to please Xi.

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Want To Know

An End in Aleppo

The battle for Aleppo is over.

Russia declared the fight for Syria’s largest city finished on Tuesday, after the last rebel fighters remaining in the besieged city agreed to turn over their territory to the Syrian government, the New York Times reported.

As troops backing President Bashar al-Assad moved into the city, the United Nations received reports of execution-style killings, the paper said.

Under the deal reached after rebels lost all hope of holding the city, evacuations were originally set to begin at 5 a.m. local time on Wednesday. Those have now been delayed – possibly until Thursday morning – according to Reuters. Opposition members have blamed the hold-up on Iran and its Shi’ite militias allied to Assad for obstructing the evacuation.

But the UN has already received reports that Syrian troops or allied Iraqi militiamen were gunning down families in apartments and on the streets, killing at least 82 civilians.

If the deal holds, it will mark Assad’s biggest victory and a major turning point in Syria’s six-year civil war – though the Islamic State’s recapture of Palmyra earlier this week suggests the terror group still has some fight left. At the same time, Assad is now more dependent than ever on Russia and Iran – further denting his legitimacy.

Striking Back

The US army has meted out rough justice to some of the terrorists responsible for the Nov. 13, 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

A drone strike in Syria last week killed two Islamic State leaders linked to the attacks, as well as a third man who was convicted in absentia for a failed attack in Belgium in 2015, Reuters reported.

“They were working together to plot and facilitate attacks on Western targets at the time of the strike,” the agency quoted the Pentagon as saying.

Salah Gourmat and Sammy Djedou helped facilitate the 2015 machinegun and suicide bomb attacks on the Bataclan music hall, Paris bars and restaurants, and the Stade de France soccer stadium, while Walid Hamman was involved in planning a foiled suicide attack in Belgium.

The three men were killed when a drone strike blew up the car they were traveling in.

Mexican Medicine

The Mexican Senate voted overwhelmingly to legalize medical marijuana, but experts said the step would do nothing to end the epidemic of drug-related gang violence that plagues the country.

Senators voted 98-7 for the legislation on Tuesday, AFP reported. The bill now moves to the lower chamber of deputies for a second vote.

A major policy shift for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who proposed the bill in April, the measure would allow Mexicans access to marijuana-based products with a one percent concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive ingredient. It would also allow farmers to cultivate marijuana for medical and scientific purposes.

But many contend that a much more dramatic step is needed break the cycle of drug-cartel related violence – which has claimed at least 80,000 lives over the past decade. Broader legalization of marijuana could be part of that, but the country must also tackle the production and trafficking of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, among other narcotics.

DISCOVERIES

Evil Spirits Be Gone

The Trump effigy has been a staple at political protests around the world in 2016, appearing at rallies in countries ranging from the United Kingdom to Mexico as a sign of anger against the president-elect and his hardline policies on immigration.

Now Guatemala is getting in on the action.

Last week, revelers set ablaze cardboard representations of President-elect Trump wearing devil horns and clutching fistfuls of fake cash during a traditional ceremony, “La Quema del Diablo,” or the Burning of the Devil, held in the weeks leading up to Christmas each year.

“We are against the person in many respects, regarding deportations, the wall he wants to build,” one reveler told Reuters. “We do not agree.”

The ceremony dates back to the 16th century, when Guatemalan villages began torching devil effigies in the belief it would help banish spirits from their homes and neighborhoods. It has since become a popular pastime nationwide.

Check out some pictures of these effigies here.