US, Japan and S. Korea hold trilateral talks on N. Korea, Trump disrupts US-China relations, and a Russian energy delegation visits Tehran
TRILATERAL TALKS ON NORTH KOREAN SANCTIONS
Increasing tensions with North Korea will top the agenda at a meeting of nuclear envoys from Japan, South Korea and America in Seoul on Tuesday. The trilateral talks will focus on the implementation of a raft of new UN Security Council sanctions.
In November, the international community voted to impose even harsher trade sanctions on North Korea in response to the regime’s repeated nuclear and missile tests. The sanctions are expected to squeeze North Korea’s limited coal exports and further isolate the country from sources of foreign currency.
China, which for years has been Pyongyang’s main political and economic ally, has shown signs of exasperation with its continued belligerence. Beijing supported two UN resolutions imposing sanctions on the North this year, and on Saturday announced it would suspend all coal imports from its neighbour until the end of 2016.
In signature style, Pyongyang has reacted with anger to these developments, promising a “tough” response. Last week, the North Korean military conducted drills simulating an invasion of the South.
TRUMP DISTURBS CHINA-US TIES
President-elect Trump has again caused a stir in Beijing, this time by questioning whether the US would stick to its recognition of Taiwan as part of ‘one China’. On Monday, a Chinese spokesperson expressed “serious concern” at the comments and insisted that the policy is “the political basis for developing China-US ties”.
Last week, Trump controversially accepted a call from Taiwan’s leader – the first time a US president or president-elect has done so since 1979. While reaction to that development was somewhat muted, Beijing’s tone harshened considerably on Monday.
Nestled amongst these two events was another development – Trump’s pick for Chinese ambassador: Terry Branstad. Branstad’s pick is unsurprising; he has extensive experience in US-China trade, an area in which Trump has pledged to Make America Great Again.
The new ambassador’s personal relationship with President Xi – who he first met in 1985 – also illustrates the importance Mr Trump places on individual ties. Whether Trump and Xi will enjoy such a lengthy and cordial relationship is yet to be seen.
IRAN AND RUSSIA DISCUSS ENERGY COOPERATION
On Tuesday, Iranian and Russian officials will meet in Tehran to discuss strengthening energy ties.
Russian-Iranian ties have strengthened considerably since the removal of nuclear-related international sanctions on Jan. 16. The two countries plan to double bilateral trade to $4 billion by the end of 2017; this three-day forum will represent Russia’s largest ever delegation to Iran, expected to be at least 300-strong.
This forum will likely see major deals signed between the Iranian government and six Russian oil companies – Gazprom, Rosneft, Lukoil, Gazpromneft, Tatneft and Zarubezhneft – worth an estimated 5 billion.
Nuclear issues may also be discussed. In 2014, Moscow agreed to assist Iran expand its Bushehr reactor and included an option for the construction of eight more power plants in the coming years. Last month, Russia and Iran launched a $10 billion project to build two new plants at Bushehr. Further details related to these projects may be discussed at Tuesday’s forum.