Eye on Taiwan

As the US and China slouch towards each other’s throats over trade and technology, one of the issues that is set to get hot again is Taiwan. Late last week, President Trump signed a bill that encourages high-level official bilateral visits between Washington and the island nation of 23 million. Beijing, which considers Taiwan to still be a province of China, is not pleased.


As a reminder, self-governing Taiwan is where the nationalist forces who lost the Chinese civil war to Mao set up shop in 1949. As part of a deal to establish formal relations China in 1979, the US agreed to pantomime Beijing’s “One China” policy, while also maintaining a robust trade relationship with the island that includes more than $25 billion in arms sales since then.

In recent months, the temperature has risen as the US broadens its diplomatic support for the pro-independence leadership that won Taiwan’s elections in 2016, while China has increased its efforts to diplomatically isolate and militarily threaten the island. Chinese officials have warned that if the US keeps up its new overtures to Taiwan, Beijing could move to forcefully reunite the island with the mainland — a longstanding threat that carries new weight under the assertive leadership of President Xi Jinping.

Trump and Congress, for their part, seem unfazed. Set in the context of broader tensions between the US and China — over trade, technology, North Korea, and the South China Sea — this long-simmering point of contention between Washington and Beijing could get hot again, and fast.

Wrecking the global economy's hopes for a relaxing late-August Friday, China and the US have taken fresh shots at each other in their deepening trade war.

First, China announced new tariffs on US goods in response to US levies on China's exports that are set to take effect next month.

Trump responded with a vintage tweet storm, lashing out at China and demanding that US firms stop doing business there. The Dow plunged as markets waited for the next shoe to drop. And drop it did: later in the day Trump announced higher tariffs on nearly everything that China exports to the United States.

Why now? Bear in mind, all of this comes right as Trump is leaving for this weekend's G7 summit in France. That gathering already promised to be a testy one – but with the global economy slowing, the impact of Trump's increasingly nasty trade war with China will add fresh tensions to the occasion.

So where are we in the trade war now? Here is an updated list of what measures each side has imposed to date, and what's next. Both sides have a lot at stake, but from the looks of it, the list isn't going to get shorter any time soon.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.