What We're Watching: Biden-MBS fist bump, Xi in Xinjiang, Kenya-Somalia thaw

What We're Watching: Biden-MBS fist bump, Xi in Xinjiang, Kenya-Somalia thaw

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman fist bumps US President Joe Biden in Jeddah.

Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS

Biden’s Saudi trip fallout

Engagement with would-be pariahs may cost you politically, but it's necessary for the national interest. Over the weekend, US President Joe Biden got panned — mostly by fellow Democrats — for fist-bumping with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, during Biden's controversial Middle East trip. (The CIA believes MBS ordered the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi.) Still, the White House said the president returned from the region with some important agreements, such as progress on ending the war in Yemen or making a joint pledge with Israel to stop Iran from getting nukes. But did he really achieve much else? Riyadh announced that it'll increase oil production, but not enough to tame rising gas prices and inflation in America before the November midterms. The Saudis are also nowhere near joining the Abraham Accords, and peace between Israel and the Palestinians remains as elusive as it was under Biden's predecessors. So, why go at all then? The short answer is: as long as the US wants to continue being a player in the Middle East, you simply can't afford to ignore the Saudis, or MBS himself.


Xi Jinping "inspects" Xinjiang

China's President Xi Jinping wrapped up a surprise visit to Xinjiang on Friday, his first in eight years, in a bid to demonstrate national unity in a region where Beijing has been accused of systematically violating the human rights of the Uyghur ethnic minority. Xi reaffirmed his commitment "to the correct and Chinese way to address ethnic issues" in Xinjiang. Although the one million Uyghurs who human rights groups say China has put in internment camps there may beg to differ, Xi clearly has no intention of changing tack in Xinjiang. Still, the visit is relevant for two reasons. First, it had been two weeks since Xi was seen in public following his trip to Hong Kong – his first trip outside mainland China since 2019 – to mark the 25th anniversary of the city’s handover (rumors swirled about him possibly catching COVID from a lawmaker who tested positive after meeting Xi there). Second, Xi seems to be making a big splash to show off his accomplishments in China's most restive regions as he prepares to secure a norm-defying third term as head of the ruling Communist Party in November. Will Tibet be his next destination?

Kenya and Somalia patching things up

Frenemy neighbors Kenya and Somalia took a big step toward warmer ties on Friday, by signing a slew of cooperation deals during Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's first visit to Nairobi since being elected in May. Mohamud and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta agreed to reopen the border, resume flights between the two countries, and lift a ban on trading khat, a mild stimulant that’s one of Somalia’s few exports. The two sides have been at odds for years over a bunch of issues. Kenya complains that Somalia doesn't do enough to stop al-Shabab militants from carrying out deadly attacks across the border, and has threatened to shut down Somali refugee camps in response. For their part, the Somalis resent Kenya for hosting the leader of Somaliland, a breakaway region whose independence is not recognized by Mogadishu. The relationship further deteriorated last October, when the UN's top court ruled in favor of Somalia in its long-running maritime border dispute with Kenya over an Indian Ocean triangle region presumably rich in offshore oil and natural gas. Still, the current déténte could be scrapped by whoever wins the presidential election to replace the outgoing Kenyatta on Aug. 9.
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