OurWeek In Politics (August 20, 2019-August 27, 2019)

Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:

1. President Donald Trump Places Expanded Tarrifs On China, Encourages American Businesses To Cease Cooperating With China

President Donald Trump this week went through with his planned tariffs on China and further demanded that American companies cease doing business with China.

On August 23, President Donald Trump said he would increase taxes on all Chinese goods and demanded that American companies stop doing business with China as his anger toward Beijing and his Federal Reserve chair increased. Twelve hours after China said it would retaliate against President Trump’s next round of tariffs by raising taxes on American goods, Trump said he would bolster existing tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods to 30 percent from 25 percent on October 1st. And he said the US would tax an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese imports at a 15 percent rate, rather than the 10 percent he had initially planned. These levies go into effect on September 1st.

In a series of angry tweets earlier in the day, President Donald Trump called on American companies to cut ties with China and said the US would be economically stronger without China. Those comments sent stocks plunging, helping push the market to its fourth straight weekly loss. The President also called the Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell, an “enemy” of the US and compared him to President Xi Jinping of China, his trade nemesis, after Powell declined to signal an imminent cut in interest rates. Trump has been counting on Federal Reserve Chairman Powell to help blunt the effect of his trade war by cutting interest rates to keep the economy humming. While Powell said that the Federal Reserve could push through another cut if the economy weakened further, he suggested that the central bank’s ability to limit economic damage from the president’s trade war was constrained. “My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?,” President Trump said in a Twitter post.

Behind the tirade was the growing reality that the type of trade war President Donald Trump once called “easy to win” is proving to be more difficult and economically damaging than the President envisioned. President Trump’s stiff tariffs on Chinese goods have been faced with reciprocal levies, hurting American farmers and companies and contributing to a global slowdown. In response to the increase in tariffs on Chinese goods, the Chinese government said it would increase tariffs on $75 billion worth of American goods, including crude oil, automobiles and farm products like soybeans, pork, and corn in response to Trump’s plan to tax an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese goods in September and December.

Talks between China and the US regarding the new tariffs have largely stalled, with China refusing to accede to the US’ trade demands. As economic damage from the yearlong dispute mounts, President Donald Trump has taken an inconsistent approach to help the slowing economy: clamoring for the Federal Reserve to cut interest times, teasing the idea of tax cuts, and commanding American companies to do his bidding against China. “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing our companies HOME and making your products in the USA,” Trump tweeted, adding, “We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them.” President Trump also said he was directing the US Postal Service and private American companies like FedEx, Amazon, and UPS to search packages from China for the opioid fentanyl and refuse delivery. It was not yet clear on how Trump planned to carry out his demands, including ordering companies to begin seeking alternatives to producing in China.

Business groups reacted with deep concern and pushed back against the notion that American companies would sever ties with China at President Donald Trump’s request. “U.S. companies have been ambassadors for positive changes to the Chinese economy that continue to benefit both our people,” said Myron Brilliant, the head of international affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce. “While we share the president’s frustration, we believe that continued constructive engagement is the right way forward.” Farmers, who have borne the brunt of China’s retaliation, said President Trump’s tactics were only making things worse. “Every time Trump escalates his trade war, China calls his bluff — and why would we expect any different this time around?” said Roger Johnson, the President of the National Farmers Union. “It’s no surprise that farmers are again the target.”

2. Amid Increasing Criticism Of His International Policies, President Trump Strikes Conciliatory Tone At G7 Conference

Despite mounting international criticism, President Donald Trump announced that he was willing to compromise to an extent on many of his policies at the G7 Summit in France.

President Donald Trump’s third G7 summit, which began with trade strife and Iran discord, ended on August 26 with the President expressing enthusiastic optimism that a deal with China is near and the remarkable prospect he could meet in the coming weeks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “There was tremendous unity. There was great unity,” Trump said as he was preparing to depart. “I will tell you, we would have stayed for another hour. Nobody wanted to leave.” In dinners and meetings throughout the weekend, leaders confronted Trump on numerous political issues. The consensus document that was produced at the end was only one-page long, and contained broad statements of agreement like a commitment to the “stability of the global economy” and a shared objective “that Iran can never acquire nuclear weapons.” President Trump made little effort to disguise his differing opinions, saying at a news conference that tariffs were working and the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Deal was “stupid.” But he sought to place those views within the realm of opinions that might be accepted by his fellow leaders, even as they expressed concern about the global consequences.

When French President Emmanuel Macron, announced he was working to arrange a meeting between President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, President Trump initially declined to commit to a meeting, saying that Iran’s supposedly destabilizing actions would be met with “violent force.” But later he said he thought it was realistic to think such a meeting could occur. “I think there’s a really good chance that we would meet,” he said. That would reflect a momentous occasion amid increasing tensions in the Persian Gulf following Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Obama-era nuclear deal. The time frame spelled out by Macron could place the meeting at the yearly United Nations General Assembly in New York. French President Emmanuel Macron said the proposed US-Iran meeting would come as a precursor to a new nuclear agreement, one that extended the window Iran would be required to curtail its nuclear program and included limits on ballistic missiles.

President Donald Trump’s protracted trade battle with China and other leaders’ anxiety over a weakening global economy provided the summit a constant subtext, with fears the additional tariffs Trump has threatened could cause further contraction. French President Emmanuel Macron himself said the uncertainty was dragging down the global economy. But President Trump brushed off the concerns. “Sorry, it’s the way I negotiate,” he said. Still, Trump sought to apply positive spin to the trade war on his final day here, a turnabout after ratcheting up tensions in the lead-up to the summit. “I think they want to make a deal very badly. I think that was elevated last night, very late in the night,” Trump told reporters in France. He was apparently cheered by comments from China’s vice premier, who said China would “adopt a calm attitude” in trade negotiations. That gave Trump confidence a deal is in the offing. “I believe it more strongly now,” Trump said.

Despite some conciliatory measures on his part, there exists little evidence that President Donald Trump was preparing any actual acts of conciliation that might have helped the group of leaders put on a show of unity on their final day of talks. Trump did not say he was considering removing any existing tariffs or stalling the ones due to take effect this week. Additionally, Trump was absent from the start of a session devoted to climate change. Ahead of the G7, US officials said the President viewed sessions devoted to climate change and oceans a poor use of time, preferring instead to focus on the economy. Asked whether he considers climate change a priority during his concluding press conference, Trump said the US has “tremendous” wealth that he does not want to lose on “dreams” or “windmills.”

Interactions throughout the summit have been tense, according to officials from multiple countries. President Donald Trump has harangued his counterparts on topics from Iran to trade to Russia, which he ardently argued should be readmitted to the summit next year. There have been plenty of friendly moments, however. President Trump was thrilled to meet the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, considering him a closer political ally than any of the other leaders. And Trump eagerly announced an “agreement in principle” on trade with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, though final details were still being put down on paper. But the strife between Trump and fellow leaders was still apparent. Even Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed he opposed Trump’s trade war with China. Trump’s aides huffed ahead of time that the summit’s agenda was an attempt to bolster Macron politically while isolating the US. The President, however, insisted the summit proceeded happily.

3. US Government Planning Direct Talks With Yemen’s Houthi Leaders As A Way To End Yemeni Civil War

The Trump administration this week announced that it was planning on holding direct talks with the Houthi sociopolitical group as a way to work to bring about an end to the Yemeni Civil War.

The US government is planning to open direct talks with Yemen’s Houthi rebels in a bid to end the country’s four-year conflict. Officials familiar with the matter stated that the Trump administration was pushing Saudi Arabia, who leads the coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, to take part in secret talks in Oman with the group’s leaders in an attempt to broker a ceasefire and a lasting resolution to the conflict that has engulfed much of the Middle East for nearly five years. Officials from former President Barack Obama’s administration secretly met with Houthi leaders in 2015 shortly after the war began to secure the release of US hostages. US officials also met with Houthi leaders in Sweden during UN-led peace talks held in December 2018. However, Trump Administration officials said that there had been no significant direct discussions with the Houthis since late 2017.

The Civil War in Yemen began in January of 2015, when the Houthis, a Shi’a socio-political group, captured Yemen’s Capital Sanaa from the Yemeni’s President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. In response to the Houthi takeover, a coalition primarily led by Saudi Arabia, the US, Israel, and the Gulf States intervened in Yemen to overthrow the Houthi-led government and reinstall a primarily Sunni (who make up a minority of the population of Yemen) dominated government. The UN has repeatedly warned that the Civil War in Yemen, has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, risking a famine and leaving tens of thousands dead. The US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States view the Houthis as a proxy group under the control of Iran, who has declared public support for the group and see the conflict as part of the wider regional conflict between Shi’a Islam on one hand, and Sunni Islam on the other hand.

The World Food Program, which says it feeds around 11 million people a month in Yemen, halted distributions to Houthi-controlled territory in June following accusations of “diversion of food” meant for Yemeni civilians.  In early August, WFP reached a deal to resume deliveries after the Houthis offered guarantees concerning the beneficiaries, the UN agency said. Over three million people have been displaced and some two-thirds of the country’s population are in need of aid, the organization says. A WFP spokesperson told AFP that the agency distributes more than 130,000 metric tons of food each month in Yemen despite “operational challenges” linked to the complex conflict.

4. Trump Administration Confirms The US, Venezuela, Engaging In Talks Meant To Resolve Impasse Between Both Countries

The Trump Administration confirmed this week that it was engaged in talks with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to settle the political impasses within the country.

The leaders of the US and Venezuela have confirmed high-ranking officials from their respective governments have been engaged in talks “for months.” Speaking at the White House during a meeting with Romanian President on Klaus Iohannis on August 21, President Donald Trump said that “We are talking to various representatives of Venezuela … I don’t want to say who but we are talking at a very high level.” Shortly thereafter, Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro said during a televised address: “I can confirm that for months that we have had contact.” Maduro said the discussions are aimed to “normalize and resolve this conflict” between the two countries. However, like Trump, Maduro did not wish to disclose which officials had been engaged in the talks, citing: “various contacts through various channels.” “Just as I have sought dialogue in Venezuela, I have sought a way for President Donald Trump to really listen to Venezuela,” he added.

Venezuela is currently in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory, with more than 4 million people having fled since 2015 amid an economic meltdown. In late January of this year, President Nicolas Maduro broke off the already tense diplomatic relations with the US after President Donald Trump recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful interim president. Officials from the US and Venezuela had not previously confirmed contact before August 21. The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on many high-level officials and Venezuelan state entities to ramp up the pressure on Maduro and ultimately try to oust him as leader of the country.

Overall, many international observers question the nature of the ongoing negotiations between Venezuela and the US. Maduro is using “the same tactic that he has used with the opposition, opening backchannels in an effort to gain time,” Diego Moya-Ocampos, principal political analyst for Latin America at IHS Markit said. He is trying to show that his administration is “engaging with different international actors in an effort to exhaust them,” so that the Venezuelan topic loses momentum and regime change is no longer on the agenda, Moya-Ocampos said.

the author

Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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