What We're Watching & Watch We're Ignoring

WHAT WE'RE WATCHING

A peace deal in the Central African Republic – The government of the Central African Republic yesterday struck a peace deal with 14 different armed groups intended to bring an end to over five years of political, religious and ethnic violence. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 640,000 displaced since the 2013 ouster of the country's Christian president by a coalition of Muslim rebels. While there's no guarantee this latest deal will stick – previous ones failed in 2014, 2015, and 2017 – the progress is encouraging. The peace talks that began on January 24 marked the first time the warring factions in the conflict had all sat down at the negotiating table.

"America First" at the World Bank – The Trump administration is expected to announce today its nomination of David Malpass as the next head of the world's largest development lender. Malpass, who is known for being a harsh critic of multilateral institutions, has in the past called for the World Bank to be downsized and to curb lending to China. The appointment is the latest example of President Trump's commitment to upend institutions he finds ineffectual or simply doesn't like, even if they ultimately serve US foreign policy objectives. The US provided about $3.8 billion to the World Bank last year, or around 13 percent of its total budget, and has substantial say in how it pursues its mandate to alleviate poverty and promote development around the world. We're watching to see how that mandate changes under new leadership.

WHAT WE'RE IGNORING

The UK's emergency plan to evacuate the queen – British officials in charge of organizing contingency plans for a messy Brexit are dusting off Cold War-era plans to whisk Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family out of London in case of riots. It seems like every new week of the Brexit saga brings some new absurdity, but this is really over the top. This family wasn't even evacuated from London during Germany's mass bombing campaign against the UK during World War II. The queen herself drove an ambulance during the war. A Brexit evacuation? One's mind boggles.

The Chinese Air Force's barely concealed menace – This Lunar New Year "goodwill" video from China's Air Force has it all: sleek bombers, aerial acrobatics, a catchy soundtrack, and the PLA's airborne corps logo superimposed against a backdrop of Taiwan's tourist hot spots. Real subtle, guys. We're ignoring the propaganda and wishing a happy New Year to all of our Signal readers in Taiwan, on the mainland, or wherever you may be. 恭喜发财!

Wrecking the global economy's hopes for a relaxing late-August Friday, China and the US have taken fresh shots at each other in their deepening trade war.

First, China announced new tariffs on US goods in response to US levies on China's exports that are set to take effect next month.

Trump responded with a vintage tweet storm, lashing out at China and demanding that US firms stop doing business there. The Dow plunged as markets waited for the next shoe to drop. And drop it did: later in the day Trump announced higher tariffs on nearly everything that China exports to the United States.

Why now? Bear in mind, all of this comes right as Trump is leaving for this weekend's G7 summit in France. That gathering already promised to be a testy one – but with the global economy slowing, the impact of Trump's increasingly nasty trade war with China will add fresh tensions to the occasion.

So where are we in the trade war now? Here is an updated list of what measures each side has imposed to date, and what's next. Both sides have a lot at stake, but from the looks of it, the list isn't going to get shorter any time soon.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

More Show less

The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

More Show less

Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.