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U.S. President Joe Biden with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Biden in Mexico, Japan's Kishida on tour, Ukraine’s eastern flank

What’s on the agenda at the “Three Amigos Summit”?

A meeting of North American leaders known as the "Three Amigos Summit" kicked off in Mexico City on Monday with US President Joe Biden, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, set to meet face-to-face for the first time since Nov. 2021 to chart a path forward on a range of thorny issues. Biden was greeted by his Mexican counterpart a day after making his first visit to the US southern border since becoming president. Indeed, the two have plenty to talk about. While Washington usually calls the shots when it comes to the US-Mexico relationship, AMLO will be looking to earn some concessions from Biden, who is desperately seeking help in dealing with a chaotic situation at the US southern border. This comes after Biden announced in recent days that Mexico had agreed to take in tens of thousands of Nicaraguan, Haitian, and Cuban migrants denied entry into the US in exchange for more work visas for Mexican laborers. Still, the White House might ask for more: While AMLO has agreed to take in an extra 30,000 migrants per month from these countries (plus Venezuela), some 90,000 people from these four places sought to cross the US southern border in November alone. Stopping the drug smuggling trade from Mexico into the US will also be high on the agenda as fentanyl overdoses continue to devastate American communities. Much of the remaining conversation will center on the United States-Mexico-Canada trade deal: Ottawa and Washington have accused AMLO of exerting excessive state control over the energy market. Meanwhile, Canada-US ties have been strained since the Biden administration’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act, passed last summer, included a slew of tax breaks for buying US-made electric vehicles, which Ottawa says will cripple its car manufacturing industry.

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Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends a press conference in Tokyo, Japan.

Reuters

Japan to go the way of the samurai: Why and at what cost?

After decades of pacifism, Japan recently announced that it will double its military budget over the next five years to become the world’s third-biggest defense spender behind the US and China.

How did Tokyo, whose commitment to pacifism is enshrined in the country’s post-war constitution, get here? And what are the implications – at home and abroad – of the world’s third-largest economy embarking on a major military buildup?

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Smoke rises after a Russian drones strike on Kyiv, Ukraine.

Reuters

What We’re Watching: Drones over Kyiv, GOP’s advantage, Kishida’s church probe

Russia starts droning on

Russia attacked targets across Ukraine on Monday with Iranian-made “suicide drones,” which fly into targets and then explode. At least four people were killed when one of them struck an apartment complex in Kyiv. The building is located across the street from the offices of Ukraine’s national energy company, which may have been the intended target. That’s consistent with Russia’s recent approach of striking critical civilian infrastructure in retaliation for Ukraine’s sabotage of the Kerch Strait bridge earlier this month. Also on Monday, a Russian drone strike crippled a major sunflower oil export terminal in the southern city of Mykolaiv, raising the prospect of a renewed turbulence in prices for cooking oil, a staple in kitchens around the world. Tehran denies supplying the drones, but experts say they are clearly Shahed-136 drones from Iran. Until now, drones have been deployed to the most devastating effect by the Ukrainians, but Russia — suffering military setbacks on the ground and unable to establish aerial dominance — could be seeking a way to strike lots of targets crudely and at a relatively low cost. Although drones are slow-moving and easier to shoot down than jets or missiles, Ukraine is still calling for better air defenses overall. See our recent interview with a Ukrainian drone operator here.

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The State Funeral of Shinzo Abe | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Grief & controversy in Japan for Shinzo Abe's state funeral

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here from Tokyo, Japan, where it has been a pretty intense day. The state funeral of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister who, of course, of Japan was assassinated some 80 days ago. In some ways just kind of an astonishing couple of weeks for the world. Beginning of last week, of course, you had the funeral for Queen Elizabeth, by far the most important figure for the United Kingdom in the post-war period. Then the United Nations, where the entire world comes together in New York, and now in Japan, the state funeral, the first state funeral that you've had in Japan, 55 years for Abe Shinzo, who is by far the most important figure in Japan in the post-war period.

And in both cases, an astonishing outpouring of emotion, of grief in both countries. In the United Kingdom, of course, because she had ruled for 70 years, through so many prime ministers, since Churchill. In Japan, because Prime Minister Abe was gunned down, was assassinated by a young man with homemade weapons in a country that has virtually no violence and certainly not gun attacks against a former prime minister in broad daylight.

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Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a news conference during the 77th UN General Assembly in New York.

REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Will Japan's PM avoid the "danger zone" after Abe funeral?

Japan held a controversial state funeral Tuesday for former PM Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated in early July. Now that the ceremony is over, one attendee who'll feel some relief is Fumio Kishida, the embattled current prime minister.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China February 4, 2022

Reuters

What We're Watching: Putin-Xi meeting, Brussels vs. Budapest, Sweden's next government, Japanese yen in trouble, ​​

Putin hears out Xi on Ukraine, blasts “unipolar” world

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met in person on Thursday for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine. The Russian leader said he valued the “balanced position” Beijing has taken over Ukraine, noting that he understood Xi’s “concerns” about how the war is going (not well). But since there’s no way the Russian president will reverse course in Ukraine, he took the opportunity to play his greatest hits, railing against US-led efforts to create a “unipolar” world that leaves both Russia and China out to dry. Putin might consider what a US Senate committee did Wednesday an example of that. It advanced a bill that would for the first time authorize providing $4.5 billion worth of direct US military aid to Taiwan. The proposal still needs to pass the Senate, and the White House is not fully on board. But if it becomes law, Beijing will likely see this as a de facto change in US policy toward Taiwan. Since 1979, Washington has sold Taiwan weapons to defend itself against a Chinese invasion that was considered a long shot just a decade ago. Not so much now — which explains why the US is mulling preemptive sanctions to deter Xi.

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Jess Frampton

Why Japan’s political Moonies have staying power

When Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet for the first time since former PM Shinzo Abe’s assassination earlier this summer, it was a response to his falling approval rating. His government was struggling to tame rising COVID infections and acute inflation.

But it was also seen as damage control for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s ties to the controversial Unification Church. Kishida fired cabinet ministers linked to the cult-like religious movement born in South Korea whose members are known as Moonies (after founder Sun Myung Moon).

Although the PM also promised only to appoint future cabinet members who agree to review their relationship with the church, it wasn’t enough. After his popularity plummeted 16 percentage points in just a month to 36%, its lowest level since he took power, Kishida this week demanded all cabinet members review their past ties to the religious group.

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Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his cabinet ministers pose for a photo in Tokyo, Japan.

REUTERS/Issei Kato

What We're Watching: Japanese PM's cabinet reshuffle, Zelensky's bold speech, India's green bill

Moonies out of the Japanese government

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday removed all cabinet ministers linked to the controversial Unification Church from South Korea, whose members are known as Moonies (after founder Sun Myung Moon). The ruling Liberal Democratic Party came under intense scrutiny over its ties to the church following the shocking assassination last month of former PM Shinzo Abe, whose assassin blamed the church for his family’s financial ruin. Abe was not a member but praised the conservative values of the Moonies, who campaigned on behalf of his brother — the biggest name to get a pink slip from Kishida. The PM — with no ties to the church — has had a wild ride in the polls lately. His approval rating initially skyrocketed out of sympathy for the slain leader, sweeping the LDP to a big victory in the upper house elections just days later. But now his popularity has tanked to the lowest level since he took office due to a backlash against the church, long suspected of pulling the LDP's strings. The cabinet reshuffle may help boost Kishida’s numbers a bit, but he’s not out of the woods: COVID infections keep rising, and a slim majority of Japanese citizens oppose the government-funded state funeral for Abe planned for Sept. 27.

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