South Korean students burn a banner of a Japanese rising sun flag and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a rally denouncing the Japanese government’s trade restrictions, Seoul, July 29, 2019 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

Japan and South Korea are in the midst of a nasty diplomatic dispute, and Japan is using trade restrictions as a weapon to try and resolve it. Beyond the potential threats to American and regional geopolitical interests if the two countries remain at loggerheads, the nature of the spat is also disturbing. Japan’s use of trade restrictions to force South Korea to back down, while publicly justifying them as necessary for national security reasons, echoes U.S. President Donald Trump’s cavalier approach to trade rules and alliance relations. If the dispute is not resolved quickly, it could complicate efforts to deal […]

Activists protest with a cow against the EU-Mercosur trade deal, in front of the German Ministry of Finance, Berlin, March 26, 2018 (Photo by J’rg Carstensen for dpa via AP Images).

After 20 years of on-and-off negotiations, leaders from the European Union and South America’s Mercosur trade bloc announced late last month that they had reached a sweeping trade agreement encompassing 800 million people and almost a quarter of the global economy. Hailed on both sides of the Atlantic as a “landmark,” the accord must still be ratified by the negotiating parties’ legislatures, and it faces stiff opposition in key European countries like France and Ireland as well as in the four Mercosur member states of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. In an email interview with WPR, Bruno Binetti, a Buenos […]

President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a session at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Weeks after Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed to a truce in the U.S.-China trade war on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, negotiations remain on pause, and speculation is growing that neither side is particularly eager for a deal. Last week, reports emerged that American and Japanese negotiators are intensifying efforts to strike a smaller trade deal that Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could sign during the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. The news hardly looks like a coincidence. Trump is desperate for a trade deal […]

Women work at a textile factory in Kigali, Rwanda, Aug. 28, 2018 (Photo by Kristin Palitza for dpa via AP Images).

Leaders from across Africa gathered in Niamey, the capital of Niger, earlier this month to officially launch the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA. The sweeping agreement, which covers 54 out of 55 African Union members, is designed to boost intra-African trade and eventually create a single African market for goods and services. It has been called a potential “game changer” for Africa, but member states must now complete the hard work of implementing the deal and negotiating specific reductions in tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade. In an email interview with WPR, Trudi Hartzenberg, the executive director of […]

A man walks past China’s central bank, or the People’s Bank of China, in Beijing, March 10, 2019 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curates the week’s top news and expert analysis on China. Economic data published Monday revealed China’s economy is growing at its slowest pace since at least 1992, when modern record-keeping for quarterly growth began. Official figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics showed the economy grew 6.2 percent between April and June, compared with a year earlier. Though it still looks like a brisk pace, it represents a slowdown for China, where the previous quarter’s growth rate was 6.4 percent. A slump in trade was a main reason for […]

South Korean small and medium-sized business owners stage a rally calling for a boycott of Japanese products in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, July 15, 2019 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

As China’s trade war with the United States casts a pall over the global economy, a separate dispute between two of China’s neighbors—and two American allies—is adding to the gloomy outlook. Earlier this month, Japan curbed exports to South Korea of three materials that are necessary for the production of semiconductors and display screens, threatening to upend South Korea’s technology industry and throw a wrench into complex global supply chains for smartphones, televisions and other popular consumer devices. The move is only the latest escalation in an ongoing standoff, rooted in deep historical grievances, that has regional observers and officials […]

President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, and Kwesi Quartey, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 15, 2019 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

During the Cold War, American policymakers frequently pushed nonaligned countries to take sides. The Central Intelligence Agency fomented coups against governments that flirted with communism and the Soviet Union, or that just drifted too far to the left for comfort. The State Department threatened to cut aid flows to countries that voted too often against U.S. priorities at the United Nations. Could sub-Saharan Africa find itself caught in the middle again if a cold war with China breaks out? In a speech at the Heritage Foundation last December, President Donald Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, launched a new […]

Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor-Viorel Melescanu, center, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, second left, and other delegates at an EU-ASEAN meeting in Brussels, Jan. 21, 2019 (AP photo by Virginia Mayo).

In the early years of this century, there were suggestions that the European Union could play the role of a “quiet superpower,” and even speculation that Brussels might become a hegemonic rival to the United States. Now, with the rise of China and talk of a new Cold War brewing between Washington and Beijing, the EU’s place in the world is looking dramatically less imposing. For some experts and observers, the EU continues to be a “civilian power,” given its nonmilitary capabilities, or a “normative power,” referring to its historical role in helping to shape global norms on human rights […]

Containers being loaded at the port of Tema, east of Accra, Ghana, June 11, 2018 (DPA photo by Gioia Forster via AP Images).

Editor’s Note: Every Friday, Andrew Green curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent. It took four years of discussions, but the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA, is officially operational. African leaders gathered in Niger’s capital, Niamey, last weekend to launch the trade zone, which they hope will create a $3.4 trillion economic bloc and bolster development across the continent. AfCFTA got a late boost when Nigeria, the largest African economy, agreed Sunday to sign on, but that’s no assurance that the bid for a single unified market will be a success. Every African […]

Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington and a Democratic presidential candidate, unveiling part of his climate change policy at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, Washington, May 16, 2019 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Neil Bhatiya is filling in for Kimberly Ann Elliott this week. A little more than two years since he announced in the Rose Garden that the United States was “getting out” of the Paris climate change agreement, President Donald Trump was in Japan, the sole leader at the G-20 summit to disagree with a modest communique once again committing the international community to taking on climate change. It laid bare America’s isolation under Trump on an issue that much of the world—and indeed more and more of the American public—consider increasingly dire. Climate change has hardly […]

Chinese inspectors walk past piles of rare earth on a quay at the Port of Lianyungang in Jiangsu province, China, May 22, 2016 (Photo by Wang Chun for Imaginechina via AP Images).

As its trade war with the United States goes on, China in recent months has raised the possibility of weaponizing its control over 80 percent of the world’s supply of rare earths, minerals that are used in a wide array of important industrial and consumer products. In response, Washington wants to partner with other countries to help develop their mineral reserves to diversify the global supply chain, and even boost its own domestic supplies. But while that may sound sensible on paper, it is based on an unrealistic portrayal of the threat posed by China’s near-monopoly supply of rare earths, […]

President Donald Trump meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Fears of a full-blown trade war between the United States and India seem to have faded for the moment following last week’s meeting between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Japan. Trump and Modi agreed to instruct their trade officials to meet soon to find solutions to an escalating row over tariffs that had triggered concern in both countries. It was a climbdown of sorts for Trump, who just a day before the Osaka meeting had taken to Twitter, as usual, to air his grievances. “India, for years having put […]

President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Washington, May 16, 2019 (AP photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).

In this week’s editors’ discussion episode of the Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s editor-in-chief, Judah Grunstein, and associate editor, Elliot Waldman, talk about whether a slew of recent actions by President Donald Trump reveal a fundamental flaw in his approach toward foreign policy. Will adversaries see Trump’s concessions to China and Mexico on trade issues and his last-minute cancellation of a planned military strike on Iran as signs of weakness? And what could that mean for his potential successor in the White House? Judah and Elliot also discuss the significance of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent meeting with Japanese Prime Minister […]

A supporter of President Donald Trump carries a flag outside of the venue for the Democratic presidential primary debate, in Miami, June 26, 2019 (AP photo by Lynne Sladky).

As the 17th-century poet John Donne wrote in those immortal lines, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Don’t be alarmed. This is not a column about poetry, or metaphysics, but about how the world economy has churned and woven its way, however unsteadily, toward closer and closer ties between different countries and regions, and thus toward greater integration overall. These processes are generally called globalization, lending to a sense that this is something relatively new, but in fact, it has been going on in one […]

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 18, 2019 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

One of President Donald Trump’s top trade priorities upon entering office was renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. Renegotiations eventually went through, despite some typical threats and taunts from Trump along the way about tearing up or withdrawing from the existing deal. Along with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Trump signed the revised pact, now dubbed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, more than seven months ago. Mexico’s Congress ratified the deal in June—by an overwhelming vote of 114-4—while Canada has taken steps to do so before its parliamentary elections this fall. But […]

U.S. President Donald Trump at a signing ceremony for commercial trade agreements with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace, in Hanoi, Vietnam, Feb. 27, 2019 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Is it Vietnam’s turn in Donald Trump’s barrel? In a rambling interview last week with Fox News, Trump unexpectedly blasted Vietnam, a growing American partner in Southeast Asia and the host of Trump’s highly anticipated but ultimately failed summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in February. Vietnam is “almost the single worst abuser of everybody,” Trump declared in response to a question about imposing tariffs on the country, adding that “a lot of companies are moving to Vietnam, but Vietnam takes advantage of us even worse than China.” It was a moment that Vietnamese officials have been dreading […]

Farmers transplant rice seedlings in a field in Chongsan-ri, Kangso district, Nampho, North Korea, May 12, 2019 (AP photo by Cha Song Ho).

A prolonged drought in recent months on top of harsh economic sanctions have made already lean times in North Korea especially dire, with the United Nations warning in May of a “hunger crisis.” Last year’s harvest was the worst in 10 years, and more than 10 million people are facing food shortages as a result. The U.N. also noted that agricultural inputs like fuel, fertilizer and heavy machinery are in short supply due to sanctions that have been imposed by the United Nations Security Council in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The lack of fuel, in particular, […]