What We're Watching: Dwindling Hopes of a Big US-China Deal

Dwindling hopes of a big US-China deal – China's Vice Premier Liu He will be in Washington tomorrow for the latest round of US-China trade talks – but things don't look great. For one thing, Bloomberg reports that Chinese officials have privately made clear that while they'll talk tariffs, they aren't willing to negotiate core aspects of China's economic model, including Beijing's massive subsidies and protections for its state-owned companies. But omitting those things – which are critical for the US side –would mean there's no shot of the "100%" deal that the Trump administration seeks. What's more, on Monday night the US slapped fresh sanctions on 28 of China's top tech companies for their role in China's repression of Muslims in Xinjiang province. Without a deal this week, China may in fact be willing to stand pat and see how the impeachment, and the election, play out for Trump.


Disillusionment in Tunisia – The moderate Islamists of the Ennahda Party came out on top in a highly fragmented vote for Parliament over the weekend, but turnout was low (41 percent) and forming a government will prove tricky, as the party won only about 40 of 217 seats. After the last general election, in 2014, Ennahda governed in an unwieldy and largely ineffective coalition that left many voters disillusioned. Eight years on from the only successful democratic revolution of the Arab Spring, some 70 percent of Tunisians say they don't trust any political parties at all, and they are increasingly turning to outsiders: the leading candidates in this Friday's presidential election are a jailed populist media tycoon and a constitutional law professor with an uncommonly decent approach to politics.

A bulbous challenge in India – One of the biggest political challenges facing the world's most populous democracy at the moment has to do with… onions. The humble bulb vegetable is a staple food for hundreds of millions of Indians, and a hardy cash crop for millions of the country's farmers as well. So when floods caused onion prices to triple between August and October, the national government immediately banned onion exports in order to boost supplies and bring down prices. It worked. But that, in turn, prompted protests by onion farmers and exporters, particularly in the populous northern Maharashtra state which, as it happens, is about to hold local elections. As the BBC explains, onions have a long political history in India, and have played a starring role in major political campaigns over the years. Forgive us for calling this an eye-wateringly multi-layered problem.

What We're Ignoring

A Stupid Blame Game – After an apparently "frank" conversation about Brexit between British PM Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday morning, accusations flew fast. A 10 Downing Street source said the call had forever buried prospects for a deal. European Council President Donald Tusk accused Johnson of playing "some stupid blame game." Amusing as all this noise is, we're ignoring it because the raw situation is still this: 31 October is the deadline for the UK to leave the EU. Johnson says he'd do that with or without a deal, but an Act of Parliament requires him to seek an extension if he can't strike one. After his latest proposal for a Brexit deal failed to fly either with Brussels or with Ireland – whose border with Northern Ireland is the key sticking point – it looks like Johnson will make a big stink but end up asking for that extension. The EU will reluctantly grant it and then Johnson will look to hold elections in order to bolster his position ahead of fresh negotiations with Brussels. That, at least, seems like the obvious path – but nothing about Brexit has been obvious.

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How did an entire country's media spread false news for a night?

Fascinating case study in France over the weekend. For less than a day, we thought that the most wanted men in the country had been caught in Scotland. Turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The so-called news was actually reported quite carefully at first, on Friday night with careful words. But the language quickly moved from conditional to categorical and therefore, to misinformation through human error. What you have here is the tension between being first and being right, which has always been present in journalism but is more and more as you have these 24 hour news channels, social media, and the incredible economic pressure on news sites that are advertising based and therefore click based.

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Donald Trump announced a fresh "phase 1" trade deal with China last week, part of his ongoing bid to reduce the United States' huge trade deficit with China. The US has been buying more from China than China buys from the US for decades, but since coming into office Trump has made reducing that deficit central to his "America First" agenda. It's not easy to do. Consider that in 2018, after two full years of the Trump administration, the trade deficit with China actually swelled to its highest level since the Clinton years. That's because many perfectly healthy economic factors contribute to a trade deficit: stronger economic growth under Trump has meant more demand for foreign goods, so as long as the economy keeps humming along, it will be hard for Trump to reduce the deficit. Likewise, the strong US dollar makes foreign goods cheaper for US consumers to import, while China's own economic slowdown in 2018 decreased Chinese demand for American goods. For a historical perspective on all of this, here's a look at how the US-China trade balance has developed under each US president going back to 1993.

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.

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Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.

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