A Tale of Three Meetings

A Tale of Three Meetings

Moon-Kim: As I write, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un are sitting exactly 2,018 millimeters apart (in honor of this 2018 summit) in a “Peace House” inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ). It’s the first meeting between leaders of the two Koreas since 2007.


This is must-watch TV, but on substance, don’t expect the dawning of a new day. Maybe Moon and Kim will reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a project that employs tens of thousands of North Korean workers at South Korean-owned factories. Maybe they’ll allow reunions for some of the 60,000 family members separated by the Korean War. These things matter for people’s lives, even if they don’t shift the international status quo. They have produced a “peace agreement,” though not one that moves US troops, the DMZ, or its landmines. And the word “denuclearization” won’t mean much until Kim defines it for Trump and makes clear what he expects in return.

Beyond symbolism, the meeting’s greatest importance is as prelude to the much-anticipated meeting Kim hopes to have with President Trump in May or June. For today, we can enjoy the pageantry as the North and South Korean leaders plant a commemorative pine tree.

Trump-Merkel: After President Trump’s back-patting, high-fiving boys club meeting with Emmanuel Macron, the French president left Washington with little more than Shinzo Abe won from Trump the week before. Like Moon and Kim, Macron and Trump planted a tree together, but Macron got no pledge to spare the Iran deal, no reversal on the Paris climate accord, and no long-term US commitment in Syria.

What hope then for Germany’s Angela Merkel, who meets with Trump today? She won’t play golf with Trump, as Abe did, or hold hands with him, as Macron did. She won’t have more success than Macron in changing Trump’s mind on Iran or persuade him to offer Europe a permanent waiver on steel tariffs. (Trump might extend the waiver beyond its current expiration date of May 1, but “permanent” is more than he’s likely to give.) He’ll talk tough on trade deficits, she’ll look bored, both will wave, and the curtain will fall. Europe’s two heaviest hitters will have taken their turns at bat this week. Like Japan’s Abe, they will have little to show for it.

Modi-Xi: A much more interesting conversation is taking place today and tomorrow in Wuhan, China, where India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with China’s President Xi Jinping. Talks between Modi and Xi are intended to manage tensions rather than break new ground, but given the stakes between these Asian powers, any progress would be significant.

They’ll discuss how best to avoid a repeat of last summer’s 73-day border faceoff that inspired Indian and Chinese troops to (literally) throw rocks at one another. They’ll talk about China’s Belt and Road investment plan, its expanding ties with Pakistan, its growing presence in the Indian Ocean, and India’s concerns about all these things.

The most promising aspect of this meeting is that it centers on informal private conversations between Xi and Modi. Asia’s two most important leaders won’t plant a tree together, but they might build a new level of personal trust.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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