Bad news for US President Joe Biden: as the United Auto Workers’ strike enters its fifth day, labor and climate priorities are colliding in a crucial election year.
While Biden calls himself the most “pro-union president in American history,” a wave of major private sector strikes is the last thing he wants as he heads into 2024. What’s more, in addition to their grievances with Big Auto, the UAW sees a threat in another of Biden’s priorities: his green agenda. Most plants that produce electric vehicles are not unionized, and many of the batteries they require are made in China. This is catnip for leading GOP candidate Donald Trump, who called on workers to “stand strong against Biden’s vicious attack on American labor,” as well as fellow Republicans who blame Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and electrification push for workers’ troubles.
Democrats traditionally depend on a coalition of labor and progressive voters; any erosion of that support weakens their re-election prospects in what could be a tight race in 2024. Biden also needs to hold the state of Michigan, where the UAW is a strong player: in 2020, Biden just barely won the state’s 16 electoral votes.
A prolonged autoworkers’ strike would seriously damage the American economy, imperiling Biden’s re-election bid. And yet Union Joe has to walk a fine line. Last Friday he attempted to shore up his union bona fides, stating that “record corporate profits… should be shared by record contracts for the UAW.”
But that, in turn, only raised the ire of business interests. US Chamber of Commerce president Suzanne P. Clark accused Biden of “promoting unionization at all cost.” Biden can’t catch a break – and it’ll only get tougher as election day approaches.
Poland, Slovakia and Hungary have once again announced their own unilateral restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports, after the European Commission chose not to extend a broader import ban to five countries that border Ukraine. The ban had been imposed in May due to “distortions in supply” and complaints that Ukraine was not exercising effective export controls.
The three countries claim that a glut of Ukrainian imports continues to depress local prices and has pushed some farmers to the brink of bankruptcy. With tightly contested national elections upcoming in both Poland and Slovakia in a few weeks, neither government wants to antagonize its powerful farmers’ lobbies.
In Poland, the new ban not only covers four grains but also meals made from corn, wheat and canola. Hungary imposed a ban on imports of twenty-four Ukrainian agricultural products, including grains, vegetables, several meat products and honey.
The ban only affects imports to the Polish, Slovak and Hungarian markets. The three countries will still permit Ukrainian grain to transit their territory en route to third countries. Those so-called “Solidarity Lanes” moved some 60% of Ukraine’s grain exports over the past year, including 4 million tonnes of grain. The remaining 40% transited through the Black Sea, but that channel disappeared when Russia withdrew from the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Deal in July. Subsequent attempts to revive it have so far proved unsuccessful.In response to the new ban, the European Commission issued a statement asking all nations to “work in the spirit of compromise and engage constructively.”
In what could prove to be a major stumbling block to restoring democratic rule in Niger, on Saturday its ruling junta signed a mutual defense pact with the governments of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.
The three countries have all seen their governments toppled by military coups since 2020. Niger’s fell most recently in June with the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum, who remains under arrest on charges of “high treason.”
The new Alliance of Sahel States, as it is known, obliges members to defend each other should any of them come under attack. Not coincidentally perhaps, the pact was signed a week after Niger accused France of plotting to invade the country to restore Bazoum’s presidency.
France refuses to recognize Niger’s new military government, which has asked Paris to withdraw its troops and ambassador. There is fierce opposition to the presence of the former colonial power in the region: French troops have been removed from Mali and Burkina Faso, and Mali has asked the United Nations peacekeeping mission MINUSMA to leave its territory as well.
The new pact also represents a challenge to the power of ECOWAS, a West African economic and political union, of which all three countries are also members. ECOWAS itself had initially threatened military intervention to restore Bazoum, but has since dropped the idea.
In addition to mutual defense, the Alliance obliges its members to jointly tackle armed rebellions. All three nations face the threat of Islamic insurgency within their borders, and both Mali and Burkina Faso have relied on Russian mercenaries to help fight jihadists. The Alliance may now make it easier for Russia to expand its influence to Niger, which had been in discussions with the Wagner Group prior to the death of founder Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash on Aug. 23.
Why do Chinese officials keep vanishing? On Saturday, several executives of the beleaguered property developer Evergrande Group were arrested in the southern city of Shenzhen, where the conglomerate is headquartered. It is unclear how many persons were detained, or their names or titles, though a statement by local police referenced one individual named “Du.” There is speculation that this individual is Du Liang, who in 2021 was listed as head of Evergrande’s wealth management unit.
Evergrande made headlines in Aug. 2023 when it filed for US bankruptcy protection, and is currently undergoing a restructuring plan for its $340 billion debt. On Friday, China’s national financial regulator announced it had approved the takeover of Evergrande’s life insurance business by a new state-owned entity.
These arrests come on the heels of the disappearance two weeks ago of China’s defense minister, Li Shangfu. According to US officials, Li is under investigation for corruption along with eight senior officials who worked in a military procurement unit that he led from 2017 to 2022. Beijing, however, is staying mum: On Friday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she was “not aware” of the situation.These incidents, as well as the recent removal of Qin Gang as Chinese foreign minister and a shake-up at the top of the country’s nuclear forces, have led to speculation that President Xi Jinping is conducting a purge within China’s defense apparatus. If so, it remains to be seen whether that reflects squabbling within the Chinese elite, a more general consolidation of Xi’s power, or a house-cleaning ahead of some big move by the Chinese president. But a wave of disappearing acts at the top of the world’s second largest economy are not a good sign.
Hard Numbers: Lampedusa landings soar, Aussies rally for indigenous rights, Vatican makes Holocaust admission, Brand accused of rape
8,000: European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen traveled to the island of Lampedusa, which lies halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, after Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni called for the EU’s assistance with a wave of small boat arrivals there. Over 8,000 migrants have landed on Lampedusa since Friday. For more on how the immigration debate is dividing European governments, see our explainer here.
20,000: In Brisbane, Australia, 20,000 protestors rallied ahead of an Oct.14 referendum on Indigenous rights. They support measures that would enshrine Indigenous groups in the country’s constitution and set up an advisory body to advance their issues.
1942: A never-before seen letter has revealed that Pope Pius XII knew of the horrors of the Holocaust in 1942, far earlier than previously believed. The letter was released by the Vatican ahead of a major conference on Pius and the Holocaust next month at the Pontifical Gregorian, sponsored by Catholic and Jewish organizations.
6: Ukraine is stepping up its drone attacks. The Russian Defense Ministry says its forces stopped six Ukrainian unmanned craft that were attacking Russian targets in Crimea from different directions on Sunday. On the same day, two Ukrainian drones were shot down near Moscow.
4: Four women have accused British comedian and actor Russell Brand of sexual assaults, including rape, committed between 2006 and 2013. Brand, who has amassed millions of followers by styling himself as an anti-establishment truth teller and wellness guru, has denied all charges, saying they are "a litany of extremely egregious and aggressive attacks as well as some pretty stupid stuff."
US President Biden flew to Vietnamon Sunday for a series of meetings with Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. Speaking in Hanoi, Biden said the United States had “strengthened our ties with another critical Indo-Pacific partner,” after Vietnam officially elevated its relationship with Washington to the top level of the country’s three-tier hierarchy for bilateral relations, one also bestowed on both China and Russia.
Both countries loom large during Biden’s visit. While the US President denied the trip is about containing China, there is no doubt that increased US engagement aims to temper Beijing’s influence with Hanoi. And it’s not a one-way street: American overtures are welcome for economic and security reasons. Consider that American imports from Vietnam have nearly doubled since 2019, a bright spot while Vietnam’s overall exports fell for a sixth straight month in August due to softening global demand and China’s worsening economic outlook. Making matters worse for Hanoi, Beijing continues to boost its military presence in the South China Sea.
Crucially, Biden is scheduled to announce steps to help Vietnam diversify away from its reliance on Russian weapons. The timing is no accident: according to an internal Vietnamese document, Hanoi is planning to purchase arms from Russia to upgrade its military, through transfers at a joint Vietnamese and Russian oil venture in Siberia.
Still, US officials have warned that without significant overhauls of its infrastructure, there are limits on how much Vietnam’s economy can grow and rival China as a chief exporter of goods to the US and Europe.
The West African nation of Niger has accused former colonial power France of plotting military intervention to reinstate the government of ousted leader Mohamed Bazoum, who was removed from power in a military coup on June 26.
In a statement on national television, a spokesman for the ruling junta, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, claimed that France was deploying forces to other West African countries as “part of preparations for an aggression against Niger” and that military cargo aircraft were unloading supplies and equipment in Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Benin.
Paris, for its part, did not respond to claims that it had deployed troops elsewhere in the region but said it backed the position of ECOWAS, an economic bloc of West African states, that has threatened to use force to reinstate Niger’s ousted leader, elected in the country's first free polls in 2021.
The coup has galvanized anti-French sentiment in Niger, and the junta has demanded France withdraw the 1,500 soldiers it maintains in the country. The United States, meanwhile, also has about 1,100 soldiers in Niger and has begun to relocate its troops “as a precaution” from Niamey to the central city of Agadez.
Both France and the US maintained a military presence as a bulwark against Islamic insurgents, who have terrorized other nations in the Sahel region, and there’s growing concern that withdrawal of Western forces could create a power vacuum Islamists would rush to fill. What's more, the Russian mercenary group known as Wagner is also looking to gain more of a foothold in Niger and other West African states.
For more on the Wagner Group's aims in Africa, see our explainer here.
What was agreed to? On climate, member nations agreed “that developing countries need to be supported in their transitions to low carbon/emissions" though it’s not exactly clear what this financing would look like. “Climate justice” remains a contentious issue, as evidenced by Modi’s comments earlier in the week accusing Western nations of forcing the developing world to pay the price for their rapid industrialization.
The G20 declaration also comes just days after the first Africa Climate Summit, where African states pitched themselves as the future of the green economy. In a further testament to the growing importance of Africa, Modi later announced the admission of the African Union as a permanent member of the G20.
But the biggest challenge to consensus was Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine and the divide between many Western states and countries in the Global South that want to maintain solid ties with both the US and Russia. While the declaration recognized “the human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security,” – a nod to African nations that have seen supplies disrupted by the conflict – Kyiv was furious that the statement didn’t directly address Russian atrocities.
Indeed, this was a significant departure from the G20’s consensus declaration last year in Bali, which referenced “Russian aggression” and described the conflict as a war “against” Ukraine, not “in” it. And despite the absence of President Putin at the summit, Moscow was notably pleased with the outcome: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov praised the declaration, calling it "a step in the right direction.”
A win for Modi? One thing many observers agree on, however, was that the summit achieved India’s goal of boosting its global diplomatic bonafides, in part aimed at countering China’s influence in Asia and Africa. It helped, of course, that Xi Jinping also chose to stay home.