WAITING OUT TRUMP

WAITING OUT TRUMP

Like many US presidents before him, Donald Trump suffered a significant electoral setback in the midterm elections earlier this week. The Democrats won the popular vote by more than 7 percentage points, and their new majority in the House of Representatives will give them real political power for the first time in two years. True, the result wasn’t as bad as what Barack Obama suffered in 2010 (losing both houses of Congress in one night). But the perception that Trump has been wounded politically ahead of his own re-election bid in 2020 will now start to take hold in many foreign capitals.


As a result, allies and adversaries who’ve been on the receiving end of Trump’s aggressive policies are now actively considering a strategy we might call — “Wait Trump Out.” Consider a few examples:

China’s President Xi Jinping: The current US-China conflict is about more than just trade and investment. It’s the beginnings of a bigger contest for global power. The US is worried about China’s growing commercial and technological clout. China, meanwhile, wants to roll back US influence in East and Southeast Asia. Both sides are vying for dominance over new technologies that will determine the economic balance of power in the 21st century.

When Xi and Trump meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina later this month, Xi will try to persuade Trump to tone down the trade tensions that are already weighing on China’s economy. He’ll try to open the door to fresh progress at the negotiating table in the coming months. But will he really put all his cards on the table? Doubtful. He knows that in two years he could be dealing with a different US president and may hold off making big concessions to a recently-weakened Mr. Trump.

European leaders: In July, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker cut a temporary deal with the Trump administration that postponed US tariffs on European automobiles in exchange for promises to work toward broader elimination of transatlantic tariffs on industrial goods. But this was merely a ceasefire rather than a trade peace trade. And it envisions concessions from Europe that many EU member states are loath to even consider.

But after Tuesday night, EU leaders may calculate that the optimal strategy is simply to extend negotiations with the US for long enough that Trump can’t extract any big concessions from them before he has to face the electorate again.

Iran’s leaders: Earlier this week, the US re-imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil exports. The damage to Iran’s economy will be substantial, and Iran’s leaders aren’t happy about it. But don’t look for them to immediately renounce the nuclear deal that the Trump administration decided to abandon in May. Tehran still cares about preserving good relations with Europe and now hopes to win a reprieve with a new US president in 2020.

Kim Jong-un: North Korea’s leader has lovingly played the waiting game with Trump longer than anyone. Since the Singapore Summit the script has been simple: Smile. Make promises. Avoid provocation. Take no irreversible action. Improve relations with China and South Korea in hopes of extending “denuclearization” talks long enough to reap economic rewards and then take your chances with a new US president.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: Trump has successfully pressured Abe into opening negotiations on a US-Japan trade deal that Japan doesn’t want and that Abe has promised at home never to sign. If Abe can persuade Trump to delay big tariffs on Japanese cars, perhaps he can allow these negotiations to die a natural death if Trump leaves office in 2020. He may even be able to persuade a successor to Trump to rejoin the Transpacific Pacific Partnership, the massive trade deal that Trump pulled out of in his first week on the job.

The catch: The problem with these strategies is, of course, that Donald Trump might win re-election. Obama and Clinton both recovered from midterm disasters to win four more years in office, and Trump has proven too talented a politician to be underestimated.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.

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China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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