Taliban fighters on Thursday night took control of the district of Kohistan, in Badakhshan province. At least 15 Afghan security officers were killed in the fighting before the Afghans were forced to retreat when requested supplies and reinforcements failed to arrive. This is the third district the Taliban have taken in Badakhshan, a province that contains several gem mines the Taliban could use as revenue sources.
Two days of negotiations in Beijing between Chinese and US trade representatives ended on Friday, and apparently not on good terms:
The American negotiating team, which included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the United States trade representative, Robert E. Lighthizer, headed for the airport after the talks and did not release a statement. But a list of demands that the group took into the meeting called for reducing the United States’ trade gap with China by $200 billion over the next two years and a halt on Chinese subsidies for advanced manufacturing sectors.
The demands, which spread on Chinese social media and were confirmed by a person close to the negotiations, suggested that both sides hardened their positions this week despite the two days of talks. Senior Chinese officials and their advisers were also sending a deliberate message to the West that the days of Beijing being conciliatory were over, and that China was staking out its own position in the negotiations.
The Chinese team went into the talks prepared to make limited concessions, but expected concessions from the US team as well. The US team apparently went in with an extensive list of demands to which it wanted China’s full capitulation. That seems not to have happened.
Meanwhile, Beijing is struggling to boost the image of its Belt and Road Initiative, especially in Southeast Asia where mistrust of Chinese intentions runs high anyway. Concerns over the terms of Chinese loan agreements and over whether or not Belt and Road is just a cover for an imperialist project are raising eyebrows, but for the most part Chinese investment is still too sweet to pass up:
Considering the grand ambition of the project, and a general distrust of Chinese intentions in Southeast Asia, it’s not difficult to see that perceptions of the BRI have been mixed in the region, and many see China as paving the way for a Sinocentric global order. In particular, Beijing’s willingness to invest in cash-strapped projects have brought concerns that China is purposely doing so to in order to seize these projects for military purposes down the road. However, Southeast Asian governments have, by and large, accepted the flow of Chinese investment for their many infrastructure projects. Funding from the BRI adds to the legitimacy of ruling governments, many of which have made improving infrastructure a key priority. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak are among the BRI’s biggest supporters in Southeast Asia and have received large amounts of investments from China for ambitious residential and connectivity projects. The BRI has also found great support in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest country. “The BRI presents significant opportunities for the future of Indonesian trade and connectivity,” one Indonesian minister told the authors, “so we should just accept it.”
US National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Friday that Donald Trump has not asked the Pentagon to work up plans for pulling US soldiers out of South Korea, contradicting a large amount of reporting to that effect this week. Are you going to believe John Bolton, or literally anybody else? I would go with anybody else, personally.
Repeated teacher strikes in Tunisia are threatening to wipe out the country’s school year:
The April 17-24 strike was the latest move in a long-standing feud that threatens to throw the school calendar so far off that administrators are threatening to declare what they’re calling a “gap year.” If that happens, elementary and secondary students would neither pass nor fail, nor would they receive any credit for their work this year.
Though teachers resumed classes April 25, they continue to withhold exam results from the first semester as leverage in negotiations and are threatening to withhold the second semester’s results as well.
Tunisian teachers staged massive protests late last year and again in February and March, voicing years of frustration and raising an ongoing call for improved wages and increased human and material resources. They are also seeking implementation of a 2011 agreement acknowledging teaching as the second most demanding profession after mining. That classification calls for higher wages and pensions. Teachers are also seeking to lower their retirement age from 60 to 55 after 30 years of service.
Cuts in education funding have come courtesy of, you guessed it, IMF-mandated austerity.
Writer Tafi Mhaka says that the big winner of the coup that ousted Robert Mugabe last year so far appears to be the Zimbabwean military. Its former commander in-chief, Constantino Chiwenga, who coordinated the military aspects of the effort to get rid of Mugabe, has since become the country’s vice president and defense minister, and people loyal to him have been appointed to several high-level government positions:
Now, Chiwenga not only controls the Defence Ministry, but his erstwhile subordinates hold influential and strategic positions in the government and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Retired Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri heads the Lands, Agriculture and Rural Settlement Ministry, retired Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo is foreign affairs and international trade minister; retired Brigadier-General George Mutandwa Chiweshe is the High Court judge president; and retired Lieutenant-General Engelbert Rugeje was appointed the ruling party’s political commissariat in December 2017.
Mnangagwa has promised to open up the Zimbabwean political system, but so far that’s been mostly talk. Chiwenga now looks positioned to succeed him as president at some point (maybe soon, if ZANU-PF’s increasingly apparent internal power struggle continues to escalate), which would further cement the military’s new power within the Zimbabwean state.
League party leader Matteo Salvini said on Friday that any stopgap Italian government must be led by someone from his center-right coalition, which collectively took in the most votes in March’s election. President Sergio Mattarella’s plan B if next week’s talks on forming a real government fail is to shepherd the formation of a short-term technocratic government that can draw up a 2019 budget and then shepherd the country into a new election. But the Five Star Movement, the largest single party coming out of the election, is insisting on a new election right away, as early as next month. Polling suggests that both the League and Five Star would outperform their March results if a new election were held now, but overall the result would look pretty close to Italy’s current stalemate.
After repeatedly insisting that it would not accept a Brexit plan that creates a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, Theresa May’s government is reportedly working on a Brexit plan that creates a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. In this plan, Northern Ireland would remain, practically speaking, in the European customs union and single market, and customs checks would be performed on goods traveling from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK. This is in order to avoid the return of a hard Ireland-Northern Ireland border, which many fear would lead to a resumption of violence in Northern Ireland.
This is the alternative to the government’s two other ideas for post-Brexit Northern Ireland–the UK as a whole entering into a customs partnership with the European Union or the reimposition of a Northern Ireland border wherein customs checks are nevertheless made quick and simple through the use of magic technology that may or may not actually exist. The former is unacceptable to Brexit hardliners and the latter is, well, ridiculous. And neither is acceptable to the EU.
Right wing candidate Iván Duque Márquez has 38 percent support in a new poll ahead of Colombia’s May 27 presidential election, 13 points ahead of his closed rival, left winger Gustavo Petro.
With a group of 70 crossing into the United States on Friday, 228 of the almost 400 members of the Central American migrant caravan have now crossed the border from Mexico. They are applying for asylum in the United States, having fled threats back home. Most, if not all, will eventually be deported back home. Central American asylum seekers have a difficult time staying in the US under normal circumstances, since they are often fleeing threats from gangs and other non-governmental actors and US immigration officials usually look for state threats of violence as the baseline for approving asylum requests. And anyway, between Donald Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions running the Justice Department, these are not normal times.
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