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Merkel's Mission to China

Merkel's Mission to China

Yesterday, the world’s most powerful woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to meet the world’s most powerful man, Chinese President Xi Jinping. Ms. Merkel has been to China many times, of course, but as my fellow Signalista Gabe is here to explain, this trip is pivotal — it comes as a deepening estrangement between Europe and the US is reshaping Germany’s choices and challenges on the world stage.


Only 14 percent of Germans think the US is a reliable partner anymore, according to a recent poll. More than forty percent, meanwhile, now see China in a positive light.

Germany and China certainly find themselves in the same boat on a number of important issues. Trade is one. As two of the world’s leading exporters, China and Germany run huge surpluses with the US, which means both are now in the crosshairs of the Trump administration’s zero-sum trade policies. The White House has already singled out key national industries — autos in Germany, advanced technology in China — for possible tariffs.

Merkel and Xi also agree that Trump’s walkout on the Iran deal was an impetuous and dangerous move. They will try to forge a path forward that preserves the deal, even in the face of new US sanctions.

But Merkel also has a huge bone to pick with Xi about China’s tech and industrial policies, which discriminate against foreign companies, and about Beijing’s siphoning of advanced technologies through investment in European firms. After all, China is an emerging competitor in markets for high-value industrial goods that German has dominated for decades.

The irony is that the Trump administration is also upset with China about these same issues, but has chosen to take up a trade fight with its European allies rather than work with them to pressure China together.

This leaves Merkel — who just weeks ago called for a new and more assertive European foreign policy — in the extraordinary position of having to find common ground with a rising competitor, because of the lack of common cause with a traditional ally.

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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a lot of foreign governments really mad. Let's call the roll.

Europe. The EU is angry that Turkey is drilling for oil in the eastern Mediterranean, and NATO is furious that member Turkey has defied its protests to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia. Erdogan has repeatedly rejected pushback from EU leaders by calling them fascists and Islamophobes.

Just this week, Erdogan refused to express sympathy with France following the beheading of a French schoolteacher by an Islamist extremist, attacked Macron's own response to the murder, suggested the French president needed "some sort of mental treatment," and countered Macron's vow to crack down on Islamist radicals with calls for a boycott of French products.

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Less than a week before the US election, President Donald Trump is repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of the vote (if he doesn't win) over largely unsubstantiated claims of potential fraud in universal mail-in voting. But with absentee ballots coming in all-time highs in all states due to the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans worry that the system itself may not be able to handle such an influx of ballots, including those already cast by a record number of early voters. Whether or not you agree, Gallup data show that US citizens are now less confident that the election will be conducted accurately — and more concerned about election irregularities and voter suppression — than they were four years ago. We take a look at how Americans' views on these electoral integrity issues have changed from 2016 to 2020.

Belarus on strike: In recent days, the Belarusian streets have turned up the heat on strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, as thousands of state factory workers and students in Belarus heeded a call from opposition leader Svyatlana Tikhanouskaya to join a general strike. Protests have roiled the country since August, when Lukashenko, in power since 1994, won a presidential election widely regarded as rigged. Last Sunday, 100,000 people turned up in Minsk, the capital. Tikhanouskaya — who ran against Lukashenko in that election and is currently exiled in neighboring Lithuania — had demanded the president resign by October 26. When he didn't, the walkout began. In one of the most iconic moments of protest so far, a striking worker at a refrigerator factory climbed the plant's tower to record a dramatic call for Lukashenko to step down. Belarus has been hit with sanctions from the US and EU, both of which are calling on him to hold new elections, but so far he has shown no signs of backing down, deploying his riot police with the usual fury. Something's got to give, soon.

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Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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