Friday, Mar. 17

Friday, Mar. 17

The stories that matter before they happen.

FRIENDS IN NEED: TILLERSON IN SEOUL

Photo: Photo: AP/Brendan Smialowski

Photo: Photo: AP/Brendan Smialowski

American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson continues his tour of Asia on Friday with a stop in South Korea. The North Korean nuclear threat, the THAAD missile defence system, and Chinese economic warfare will top the agenda.

The bilateral alliance is under strain like never before. North Korea has escalated its nuclear and missile testing in the past year, which has led to the accelerated deployment of an American missile defence system in the South. This, in turn, has infuriated China – South Korea’s most important trading partner – which has unleashed its most severe economic retaliation since relations were normalised in 1992. Meanwhile, political chaos has engulfed Seoul, and a Beijing-leaning president looks likely to be elected by May.

Tillerson’s visit is expected to elucidate the administration’s North Korea policy. The Trump administration has been mulling over pre-emptive strike options and has even mooted the idea of redeploying tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula. Friday might bring clarity to a pivotal element of US foreign policy that so far has only been sketched out by a series of erratic presidential tweets.

PROTECTING GROWTH: G20 MEETS

Photo: Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

G20 finance ministers will meet in Baden-Baden on Friday; their German hosts appear eager to curb the re-emerging trend towards protectionism.

Drafts of the main G20 communique suggest the group will take a conciliatory approach to the Trump administration’s trade views. The document has dropped a declaration on resisting all forms of protectionism – a mainstay of such communiques for the last decade.

In response, Germany is breaking with tradition by issuing a separate document that defends free trade values. Berlin will find allies in the emerging economies of the G20, such as Brazil and Mexico – which rely heavily on export markets – but won’t have any luck convincing the Americans.

Finance ministers will also review a 2014 commitment to boost global growth rates by an additional 2%. The deadline for this target is set for the end of next year. But with many G20 nations facing turbulent political and economic realities, implementing the reforms necessary to achieve their objectives is proving a challenge.

DIVORCING BRITAIN: SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY CONFERENCE

Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Just days after Westminster removed the last barrier to triggering Article 50, the Scottish National Party will hold its spring conference in Aberdeen.

It’s no secret that the party wants to seize on the groundswell of Scottish public opinion opposing Brexit to make another bid for independence. The question is when.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says she wants to hold a referendum on the issue by March 2019 – after Brexit is negotiated but before the UK has left the EU. But Prime Minster Theresa May said that “now is not the time” for another independence vote and focus should be on Brexit.

Friday’s conference is expected to shine a light on Sturgeon’s strategy. But she’ll need to tread carefully – a second ‘no’ vote would surely kill Scotland’s dreams of independence (and perhaps Ms Sturgeon’s career).

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

A winter storm delayed Angela Merkel’s headline-grabbing White House visit on Tuesday. Today the German leader will finally make the trip. Our analysis here.

Friday is the deadline for all French presidential candidates to be declared ahead of the April 23 first round vote. Rumours of centre-right candidate Francois Fillion’s withdrawal from the race have abounded in recent weeks but the conservative politician has resolutely dismissed them all; don’t expect him to change his mind today.

If you’re in Hong Kong, you might be waiting a little longer for a cab. Some 500 taxi drivers are planning to park their vehicles outside of the Legislative Council to protest the introduction of some 600 additional franchised taxis.