What China could do to counter US tariffs

BUSINESS

Amid intensifying trade friction between Washington and Beijing, a new round of US tariffs took effect on Monday, raising the stakes for both sides. China seems to have several tools up its sleeve to counter US tariffs.

    
Symbolbild Handelskrieg USA und China mit Dollar- und Yuan-Geldschein (picture-alliance/chromorange/C. Ohde)

Escalating trade tensions between the world’s two most powerful economies have cast a dark shadow over the global economic climate. On Monday, the United States and China imposed fresh tariffs on each other’s goods, with the US levying import taxes on $200 billion (€169.64 billion) worth of Chinese goods and Beijing retaliating with tariffs on $60 billion worth of US products.

Donald Trump has already hinted at the possibility of slapping tariffs on all US imports from China.

Read more: WTO: Weary Trade Organization?

Trump’s latest tariffs come in addition to those he has imposed on over $100 billion of imports already, including on steel, aluminum, solar panels, washing machines, and the initial volley of $50 billion on products from China.

China has asserted that it won’t back down and will retaliate against Trump’s tariffs by matching them dollar for dollar with its own. But Chinese exports to the US are nearly four times the amount of US exports to China.

In 2017, goods and services traded between the two giants totaled an estimated $710.4 billion, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative. While exports from the US to China were worth about $187.5 billion, imports to the US from China were as high as $522.9 billion and resulted in a massive trade deficit amounting to some $335.4 billion.

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No sign of resolution in US-China trade war

Given the deficit, the Trump administration’s thinking seems to be that Beijing might not be able to engage in a tit-for-tat escalation on tariffs as it would eventually “run out” of products to target with tariffs long before the United States does.

But some observers believe that China has other options to impose pain on the US.

Regulatory harassment

Experts like Nicholas Lardy of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, for instance, point out that Beijing could target American businesses operating in China and harass them with regulatory hurdles. This might take the form of delays issuing clearances for US products at Chinese ports, lengthy customs and safety inspections as well as visa rejections.

Read more: Opinion: Let’s just call it by its name — a winnable trade war

The Chinese government could also promote consumer boycotts of US goods as has happened with Japanese and South Korean products in previous geopolitical disputes.

Such a move could prove devastating to some American firms that have large exposure to the Chinese market. “Apple’s $40 billion market in China for iPhones, the largest in the world, could quickly collapse,” Lardy wrote in a research note in June. “Similarly, General Motors sells more cars in China than in the United States, sales that could easily be disrupted by the Chinese government.”

Another way China could hurt US interests is by withholding regulatory approvals that are critical for ensuring the commercial future of American firms.

US tech multinational Qualcomm offers a case in point. The company was recently forced to call off its $44 billion effort to buy NXP Semiconductors, a Dutch chip maker, after Chinese regulators withheld approval of the transaction.

Renminbi and US bonds

Beijing could also allow the renminbi, the Chinese currency, to depreciate further against the US dollar, making Chinese goods cheaper in the United States and partly offsetting the tariffs.

Read more: US growth revised up on investment and export spurt

The renminbi’s value against the US dollar has already declined by 8.5 percent since April, estimates Capital Economics. This depreciation “gives exporters leeway to lower dollar export prices to offset the tariffs’ impact (the new batch of tariffs will only be 10 percent initially),” Mark Williams, Chief China Economist at the London-based research consultancy, wrote in a report. “It should also help make exports more competitive globally.”

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Trump’s trade war is a dangerous game

But currency depreciation is a double-edged sword. Experts say a weaker renminbi could make China’s imports more expensive, raise inflationary pressures and result in capital flight out of the country. Furthermore, any deliberate move to depreciate the renminbi is likely to draw an angry response from the Trump administration.

Analysts say China could also sell US assets, particularly Treasury bonds, in a bid to pressure Washington. Beijing holds over $1 trillion of US government bonds, but has been cutting back on its holdings over the past several years. China has slashed its Treasury holdings by 10.2 percent since late 2013.

But if China continues to reduce its holdings and abruptly sells US debt, it would not only hurt Washington but also Beijing as it would lead to a loss in value of an asset that China holds a lot of. If the US bonds sold by China are bought by other countries and private investors, then the impact of such a move by Beijing would be limited on Washington.

“Beijing wields considerable power as the United States’ biggest creditor and could decide to shed some of its US government bonds. Yet that’s an unlikely course of action given the risks to the Chinese currency and the entire financial system,” according to Max J. Zenglein, senior economist at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS).

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Europeans to profit from US-China tariff conflict?

Economic restructuring

Some argue that China’s best option for responding to a trade war is by focusing on reforming and reconfiguring its domestic economy.

“While the Chinese government may try to respond to American tariffs by depreciating its currency or using regulations to discriminate against US companies, those measures have little guarantee of success,” Michael Pettis, finance professor at Peking University and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, wrote in Barron’s. “The better approach would be to focus on raising the incomes of ordinary Chinese so they can spend more.”

MERICS expert Zenglein thinks that the new tariffs put extra pressure on the Chinese economy. “The Chinese government is currently trying to tackle problems such as rising debt, industrial overcapacities and environmental degradation. Thus the new tariffs come at a time when the government can ill afford economic growth to slow too quickly.”

COURTESY: DW

Trump Administration Discussed Coup Plans With Rebel Venezuelan Officers

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President Nicolás Maduro at a ceremony in Caracas. The White House declined to answer detailed questions about talks with rebellious officers.CreditCreditJuan Barreto/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Trump administration held secret meetings with rebellious military officers from Venezuela over the last year to discuss their plans to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, according to American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the talks.

Establishing a clandestine channel with coup plotters in Venezuela was a big gamble for Washington, given its long history of covert intervention across Latin America. Many in the region still deeply resent the United States for backing previous rebellions, coups and plots in countries like CubaNicaraguaBrazil and Chile, and for turning a blind eye to the abuses military regimes committed during the Cold War.

The White House, which declined to answer detailed questions about the talks, said in a statement that it was important to engage in “dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy” in order to “bring positive change to a country that has suffered so much under Maduro.”

But one of the Venezuelan military commanders involved in the secret talks was hardly an ideal figure to help restore democracy: He is on the American government’s own sanctions list of corrupt officials in Venezuela.

He and other members of the Venezuelan security apparatus have been accused by Washington of a wide range of serious crimes, including torturing critics, jailing hundreds of political prisoners, wounding thousands of civilians, trafficking drugs and collaborating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

American officials eventually decided not to help the plotters, and the coup plans stalled. But the Trump administration’s willingness to meet several times with mutinous officers intent on toppling a president in the hemisphere could backfire politically.

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Most Latin American leaders agree that Venezuela’s president, Mr. Maduro, is an increasingly authoritarian ruler who has effectively ruined his country’s economy, leading to extreme shortages of food and medicine. The collapse has set off an exodus of desperate Venezuelans who are spilling over borders, overwhelming their neighbors.

Even so, Mr. Maduro has long justified his grip on Venezuela by claiming that Washington imperialists are actively trying to depose him, and the secret talks could provide him with ammunition to chip away at the region’s nearly united stance against him.

“This is going to land like a bomb” in the region, said Mari Carmen Aponte, who served as the top diplomat overseeing Latin American affairs in the final months of the Obama administration.

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Mr. Maduro at a meeting with ministers in Caracas this month. Most Latin American leaders agree that he is an increasingly authoritarian ruler who has effectively ruined his country’s economy.CreditMiraflores Palace

Beyond the coup plot, Mr. Maduro’s government has already fended off several small-scale attacks, including salvos from a helicopter last year and exploding drones as he gave a speech in August. The attacks have added to the sense that the president is vulnerable.

Venezuelan military officials sought direct access to the American government during Barack Obama’s presidency, only to be rebuffed, officials said.

Then in August of last year, President Trump declared that the United States had a “military option” for Venezuela — a declaration that drew condemnation from American allies in the region but encouraged rebellious Venezuelan military officers to reach out to Washington once again.

“It was the commander in chief saying this now,” the former Venezuelan commander on the sanctions list said in an interview, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals by the Venezuelan government. “I’m not going to doubt it when this was the messenger.”

In a series of covert meetings abroad, which began last fall and continued this year, the military officers told the American government that they represented a few hundred members of the armed forces who had soured on Mr. Maduro’s authoritarianism.

The officers asked the United States to supply them with encrypted radios, citing the need to communicate securely, as they developed a plan to install a transitional government to run the country until elections could be held.

American officials did not provide material support, and the plans unraveled after a recent crackdown that led to the arrest of dozens of the plotters.

Relations between the United States and Venezuela have been strained for years. The two have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010. After Mr. Trump took office, his administration increased sanctions against top Venezuelan officials, including Mr. Maduro himself, his vice president and other top officials in the government.

The account of the clandestine meetings and the policy debates preceding them is drawn from interviews with 11 current and former American officials, as well as the former Venezuelan commander. He said at least three distinct groups within the Venezuelan military had been plotting against the Maduro government.

One established contact with the American government by approaching the United States Embassy in a European capital. When this was reported back to Washington, officials at the White House were intrigued but apprehensive. They worried that the meeting request could be a ploy to surreptitiously record an American official appearing to conspire against the Venezuelan government, officials said.

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Venezuelans waiting to buy government-subsidized food in Caracas in May. The country is experiencing extreme shortages of food and medicine.CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

But as the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela worsened last year, American officials felt that having a clearer picture of the plans and the men who aspired to oust Mr. Maduro was worth the risk.

“After a lot of discussion, we agreed we should listen to what they had to say,” said a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak about the secret talks.

The administration initially considered dispatching Juan Cruz, a veteran Central Intelligence Agency official who recently stepped down as the White House’s top Latin America policymaker. But White House lawyers said it would be more prudent to send a career diplomat instead.

The American envoy was instructed to attend the meetings “purely on listening mode,” and was not authorized to negotiate anything of substance on the spot, according to the senior administration official.

After the first meeting, which took place in the fall of 2017, the diplomat reported that the Venezuelans didn’t appear to have a detailed plan and had showed up at the encounter hoping the Americans would offer guidance or ideas, officials said.

The former Venezuelan commander said that the rebellious officers never asked for an American military intervention. “I never agreed, nor did they propose, to do a joint operation,” he said.

He claimed that he and his comrades considered striking last summer, when the government suspended the powers of the legislature and installed a new national assembly loyal to Mr. Maduro. But he said they aborted the plan, fearing it would lead to bloodshed.

They later planned to take power in March, the former officer said, but that plan leaked. Finally, the dissidents looked to the May 20 election, during which Mr. Maduro was re-elected, as a new target date. But again, word got out and the plotters held their fire.

It is unclear how many of these details the coup planners shared with the Americans. But there is no indication that Mr. Maduro knew the mutinous officers were talking to the Americans at all.

For any of the plots to have worked, the former commander said, he and his comrades believed they needed to detain Mr. Maduro and other top government figures simultaneously. To do that, he added, the rebel officers needed a way to communicate securely. They made their request during their second meeting with the American diplomat, which took place last year.

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Lawmakers in Caracas last month. The plotters considered striking last summer, when the government suspended the powers of the legislature and installed a new assembly loyal to Mr. Maduro.CreditCristian Hernandez/EPA, via Shutterstock

The American diplomat relayed the request to Washington, where senior officials turned it down, American officials said.

“We were frustrated,” said the former Venezuelan commander. “There was a lack of follow-through. They left me waiting.”

The American diplomat then met the coup plotters a third time early this year, but the discussions did not result in a promise of material aid or even a clear signal that Washington endorsed the rebels’ plans, according to the Venezuelan commander and several American officials.

Still, the Venezuelan plotters could view the meetings as tacit approval of their plans, argued Peter Kornbluh, a historian at the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

“The United States always has an interest in gathering intelligence on potential changes of leadership in governments,” Mr. Kornbluh said. “But the mere presence of a U.S. official at such a meeting would likely be perceived as encouragement.”

In its statement, the White House called the situation in Venezuela “a threat to regional security and democracy” and said that the Trump administration would continue to strengthen a coalition of “like-minded, and right-minded, partners from Europe to Asia to the Americas to pressure the Maduro regime to restore democracy in Venezuela.”

American officials have openly discussed the possibility that Venezuela’s military could take action.

On Feb. 1, Rex W. Tillerson, who was secretary of state at the time, delivered a speech in which he said the United States had not “advocated for regime change or removal of President Maduro.” Yet, responding to a question afterward, Mr. Tillerson raised the potential for a military coup.

“When things are so bad that the military leadership realizes that it just can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition,” he said.

Days later, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has sought to shape the Trump administration’s approach toward Latin America, wrote a series of Twitter posts that encouraged dissident members of the Venezuelan armed forces to topple their commander in chief.

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Venezuelans waiting to register with the Brazilian immigration authorities in April. The economic collapse has set off an exodus of desperate Venezuelans.CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

“Soldiers eat out of garbage cans & their families go hungry in Venezuela while Maduro & friends live like kings & block humanitarian aid,” Mr. Rubio wrote. He then added: “The world would support the Armed Forces in #Venezuela if they decide to protect the people & restore democracy by removing a dictator.”

In a speech in April, when he was still White House policy chief for Latin America, Mr. Cruz issued a message to the Venezuelan military. Referring to Mr. Maduro as a “madman,” Mr. Cruz said all Venezuelans should “urge the military to respect the oath they took to perform their functions. Honor your oath.”

As the crisis in Venezuela worsened in recent years, American officials debated the pros and cons of opening lines of dialogue with rebellious factions of the military.

“There were differences of opinion,” said Ms. Aponte, the former top Latin America diplomat under Mr. Obama. “There were people who had a lot of faith in the idea that they could bring about stability, help distribute food, work on practical stuff.”

But others — including Ms. Aponte — saw considerable risk in building bridges with leaders of a military that, in Washington’s assessment, has become a pillar of the cocaine trade and human rights abuses.

Roberta Jacobson, a former ambassador to Mexico who preceded Ms. Aponte as the top State Department official for Latin America policy, said that while Washington has long regarded the Venezuelan military as “widely corrupt, deeply involved in narcotics trafficking and very unsavory,” she saw merit in establishing a back channel with some of them.

“Given the broader breakdown in institutions in Venezuela, there was a feeling that — while they were not necessarily the answer — any kind of democratic resolution would have had to have the military on board,” said Ms. Jacobson, who retired from the State Department this year. “The idea of hearing from actors in those places, no matter how unsavory they may be, is integral to diplomacy.”

But whatever the rationale, holding discussions with coup plotters could set off alarms in a region with a list of infamous interventions: the Central Intelligence Agency’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro as leader of Cuba in 1961; the American-supported coup in Chile in 1973, which led to the long military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet; and the Reagan administration’s covert support of right-wing rebels known as the contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

In Venezuela, a coup in 2002 briefly deposed Mr. Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez. The United States knew a plot was being hatched but warned against it, according to a classified document that was later made public. The coup took place anyway and the George W. Bush administration opened a channel to the new leader. Officials then backed away from the new government after popular anger rose against the coup and countries in the region loudly denounced it. Mr. Chávez was reinstated as president.

In the latest coup plot, the number of military figures connected to the plan dwindled from a high of about 300 to 400 last year to about half that after a crackdown this year by Mr. Maduro’s government.

The former Venezuelan military officer worries that the 150 or so comrades who have been detained are probably being tortured. He lamented that the United States did not supply the mutineers with radios, which he believes could have changed the country’s history.

“I’m disappointed,” he said. “But I’m the least affected. I’m not a prisoner.”

Anonymous anti-Trump op-ed enters uncharted territory in US politics

AMERICAS

There are no neatly fitting historic parallels to the anonymous opinion piece by a senior Trump official published in The New York Times. However, there are indicators to help explain why this scandal is so significant.

    
USA - Präsident Trump im Interview mit Reuters im Weißen Haus (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

How significant is the anonymous op-ed by a senior Trump administration official?

Questions about Donald Trump’s fitness for office have long preceded his tenure as president. There was a theory, or at least a hope, especially among establishment Republicans, that Trump could be reigned in by both the weight and tradition of the presidency, and by experienced Washington operators surrounding him — the so-called adults in the room.

But from inside what has been called “the leakiest White House ever” it quickly became clear that neither the “adults” nor institutional weight could seriously curtail Trump — a man who has come to be widely viewed in establishment Washington as an erratic, incompetent and at times dangerous president.

There have been many credible media accounts describing a changing cast of senior officials trying to reign Trump in, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Advisor HR McMaster. This phenomenon peaked early this year with the release of Michael Wolff’s bombshell book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, which detailed an administration in complete chaos.

But while the public has already become accustomed to high-profile Trump administration insiders complaining about their boss, the anonymous New York Times op-ed has a new quality, said Jennifer Mercieca, a political scientist who specializes in presidential rhetoric at Texas A&M University.

“This is now the third day of the [New York Times] op-ed news cycle,” she said. “A three-day news cycle that Trump can’t control is unheard of — he’s controlled it since June 2015.”

Another way to gauge the significance of the anonymous op-ed, explained Mercieca, is the large spike in Google searches for the 25th Amendment. The amendment is a constitutional clause that provides a process for the removal of a president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” In the op-ed, the author described “early whispers in the cabinet” about invoking the 25th Amendment, but that this idea was ultimately abandoned.

Notwithstanding that stated rejection, said Mercieca, the op-ed could be viewed as an effort to familiarize the public with the concept of the 25th Amendment and ease the shock if the president’s Cabinet would at some point decide to invoke it.

USA, Washington: Archiv 1973, Die Reporter Bob Woodward und Carl Bernstein (picture-alliance/AP Photo)Legendary Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal

Are there comparable instances in presidential history of a senior administration official writing an anonymous op-ed stating that the writer is “part of the resistance in the Trump administration?”

Not really. The firing of a National Security Council staffer who was discovered to be behind anonymous tweets that disparaged Hillary Clinton and other officials during the Obama administration is the most similar recent example. But other than the fact that an unnamed official lashed out against the White House, the cases are not really comparable.

“I don’t believe there has been anything exactly equivalent to the anonymous op-ed from a presidential administration official in earlier United States history,” said Robert Speel, a scholar of the presidency at Penn State University.

But when looking for a historical precedent in which key officials were secretly talking to the media behind a president’s back, one quickly lands at the Nixon administration and the Watergate scandal, said Speel. Adding to the parallels, both cases were triggered by the nation’s leading newspapers— The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The current case began after The New York Times published the unnamed Trump official’s op-ed, while the Watergate scandal famously revolved around a secret source nicknamed “Deep Throat” who revealed essential information implicating Nixon to legendary Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The identity of “Deep Throat” only became public in 2005, more than three decades after the politically motivated break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building in 1972. It was the associate director of the FBI, Mark Felt.

Read moreBob Woodward’s new Donald Trump book no game-changer

Like in the Trump administration, senior officials in the Nixon White House repeatedly worried about the president’s emotional stability. “During Nixon’s final days in office, his secretary of defense, James Schlesinger, was reported to have told military leaders to get his approval before carrying out any unusual actions ordered by the president,” said Speel.

Even further back, in the 1860s, an act of insubordination by a Cabinet member against a president led to the first impeachment in US history, noted Speel. After the assassination of Republican President Abraham Lincoln, Congress passed a law prohibiting his successor, Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who was more sympathetic towards slave owner interests than Republicans liked, from firing Lincoln Cabinet members without Senate approval. When Johnson tried to fire a Cabinet member who disagreed with his policies, he was impeached by the House of Representatives. He ultimately was able to remain in office after the Senate failed to oust him by a single vote.

Watch video02:06

Who wrote the New York Times op-ed?

COURTESY: DW

Now Trump is targeting Vietnamese refugees

9:12 a.m.

  

  • TRUMP
  • OPINION

A tent city at Camp Pendleton in 1975 housed Vietnamese refugees who fled after the fall of Saigon.
A tent city at Camp Pendleton in 1975 housed Vietnamese refugees who fled after the fall of Saigon. (Don Bartletti)

In its insatiable quest to rid the U.S. of immigrants, the Trump administration has been rounding up Vietnamese refugees who have been in the country for more than a quarter of a century and trying to send them back to Vietnam — despite a formal bilateral agreement that refugees who arrived here prior to the 1995 normalization of relations between the two countries would not be sent home.

In a number of cases, the refugees have been held in detention centers for months as the government sought to obtain travel documents from the Vietnamese government, and despite a Supreme Court decision that said the government could not detain someone for an extended period of time if it was unlikely the home country would accept the deportee.

After the end of the Vietnam War, and after the North Vietnamese communist government unified the country, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese — many of whom fought alongside or cooperated with American forces — fled for safety, often boarding rickety boatsto cross the South China Sea. In many cases, the refugees were stateless, because they were citizens of South Vietnam, a country that dissolved with the end of the war.

Nearly 1.3 million eventually settled in the U.S., some 200,000 in and around Orange County’s Little Saigon.

That large a population is bound to include some people who break the law, and upward of 10,000 Vietnamese have been ordered deported by immigration judges after being convicted of often serious crimes in American criminal courts. But for more than three decades after the war ended, the Vietnamese government refused to accept deportees from the U.S., viewing the refugees as political enemies or possible American spies.

That changed in 2008, when the George W. Bush administration reached an agreementunder which Vietnam would accept the return of deportees who had arrived in the U.S. after July 12, 1995. The wording of the pact is significant:

“Vietnamese citizens are not subject to return to Vietnam under this Agreement if they arrived in the United States before July 12, 1995, the date on which diplomatic relations were re-established between the U.S. Government and the Vietnamese Government. The U.S. Government and the Vietnamese Government maintain their respective legal positions relative to Vietnamese citizens who departed Vietnam for the United States prior to that date.”

For a decade that has been interpreted as a flat protection for the refugees. But the Trump administration argues in court filings — immigrant rights organizations are suing to halt the detentions and deportations — that the second sentence in effect negates the first, so the U.S. can deport Vietnamese refugees if they have committed acts that render them ineligible to remain in the U.S.

“The agreement does not in fact prohibit such removals,” the government argued in court documents. “Rather, it provides merely that pre-1995 aliens cannot be removed under the terms of the agreement itself.”

That’s a specious argument. Until the agreement, Vietnam would not accept any deportees from the U.S.; after the agreement, it began accepting what are called post-1995 deportees. So the only mechanism for returning people to Vietnam falls under the agreement, regardless of U.S. laws. The Trump administration is simply trying to break the terms of the deal — and so far has been successful in at least 11 cases, though it’s unclear why Vietnam agreed to let the deportees in. According to reports, the deportees have had trouble finding places to live and getting permission to work in Vietnam.

News accounts of the efforts have focused on refugees who arrived here as young (usually) men with limited social or family structure. A number of them fell in with gangs or individually committed crimes of varying seriousness, from drug possession to robbery and a few rare murders. Yet the issue here isn’t the crimes some refugees committed, but the circumstances of their arrival in the U.S., and the letter of the agreement with Vietnam.

This is yet another instance in which the Trump administration has just bulled its way forward to try to reduce the number of immigrants living in the U.S. If the government believes that it is in the nation’s best interest to deport Vietnamese refugees convicted of crimes, then it should reopen the 2008 agreement and create a lawful mechanism to do so.

COURTESY: LAT

Syria war: ‘Russian’ planes bomb targets in Idlib province

  • 4 September 2018

Related Topics

Syrian firefighters try put out a fire in a building that was hit by reported Russian air strikes in the rebel-hold town of Jadraya, about 35km south-west of the city of Idlib, on September 4, 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe rebel-held town of Jadraya was among those hit on Tuesday

Russian planes have reportedly bombed rebel-held targets in the Syrian province of Idlib, as government troops mass before an expected offensive.

If confirmed, they would be the first such air strikes there in three weeks.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump warned Syria’s Bashar al-Assad against launching a “reckless attack” on Idlib.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the warning and said the Syrian army was “getting ready” to clear a “cradle of terrorism” there.

Mr Peskov said the al Qaeda-linked jihadists dominating in the north-western province of Idlib were threatening Russian military bases in Syria and blocking a political solution to the civil war.

The UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if an all-out assault takes place.

The UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called on Russia and Turkey to act urgently to avert “a bloodbath” in Idlib.

He said telephone talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Regep Tayyip Erdogan “would make a big difference”.

Mr de Mistura also welcomed Mr Trump’s comments on the issue, saying it was sending “the right message”.

What did the air strikes target?

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that Russian jets had carried out about 30 strikes on about 16 rebel-held areas in western Idlib, the mountains of Latakia province, and the Sahl al-Ghab plain.

The pro-opposition Step News Agency reported Russian strikes on the villages of Inab, al-Janudiya, Tal Aawar, Sririf, Jadraya and al-Bariya.

A news outlet affiliated to the al-Qaeda-linked jihadist alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) posted photographs showing plumes of smoke rising from several villages.

Map: Areas of control in Syria as of 3 Sep 2018
Presentational white space

The Syria Civil Defence, whose rescue workers are commonly known as the White Helmets, reported that three civilians had been killed in the strikes on Jisr al-Shughour.

The Syrian Observatory said the Russian air strikes were the first for 22 days and had come hours after three pro-government fighters were killed by rebel rocket fire in the Jabal Turkmen area of Latakia.

What are pro-government forces doing?

Syrian army soldiers and allied militiamen have been gearing up for what has been described as a phased offensive on Idlib, the rebels’ last remaining stronghold.

HTS, which is designated by the UN as a terrorist organisation and has an estimated 10,000 fighters in Idlib, and rival rebel factions backed by neighbouring Turkey have said they will fight back.

On Monday night, Mr Trump warned Russia and Iran, which has sent military advisers and thousands of militiamen to Syria, that they “would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy”.

On Tuesday, Mr Peskov questioned the US president’s approach to solving the problem of HTS and other jihadists operating in Idlib.

National Liberation Front fighters prepare for a government attack on Idlib province (3 September 2018)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionRebel fighters in Idlib are preparing for an attack by pro-government forces

“To just make some warnings, not taking into account a very dangerous negative potential of the whole situation in Syria, is probably an incomplete, not all-encompassing approach,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

The Kremlin spokesman said the situation in Idlib would top the agenda at a summit of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey in Iran on Friday.

Why is the international community so worried?

Mr de Mistura has warned of a “perfect storm” if the government goes ahead with a full-scale offensive.

The jihadists must be defeated but not at the expense of thousands of civilian lives, the UN envoy said last week.

Camp for displaced people in Kafr Dariyan, near the Syrian border with TurkeyImage copyrightAFP
Image captionHundreds of thousands of people in Idlib are already experiencing dire conditions

He called for further talks on a political solution, or for humanitarian corridors to be set up to allow civilians to be evacuated temporarily to a safer area, most likely one under government control.

The UN says Idlib is home to some 2.9 million people, including a million children. More than half of the civilians have already been displaced at least once from elsewhere in Syria and have nowhere left to go.

UN officials say as many as 800,000 people could be displaced and that the already high number of people in need of aid could increase dramatically.

“A worst-case scenario in Idlib will overwhelm capacities and has the potential to create a humanitarian emergency at a scale not yet seen through this crisis,” John Ging of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned.

COURTESY: BBC

Nike’s ad with football player Colin Kaepernick creates controversy

NEWS

Sports giant Nike’s ad with American football player Colin Kaepernick is causing controversy on both sides of the political spectrum. The quarterback is the most prominent face of the “take a knee” protests.

    

Watch video01:46

Nike ad campaign with Kaepernick sparks controversy

Nike’s stock was down 2.5 percent on Tuesday after the company’s controversial new ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was unveiled on Monday.

Nike is just the latest sports brand to face boycott calls. Industry analysts said that their position could alienate some customers, while winning over others, but that such controversy often blows over quickly.

“Nike is not a stranger to backing sporting personalities who take views and act on them. Politicizing sport is likely to result in polarizing demographics,” said John Guy, an analyst at Mainfirst Bank in London.

Athletic clothing manufacturer Under Armour faced criticism last year after its chief executive made comments supporting Trump and Adidas was urged in May to cut its ties to rapper Kanye West after he described slavery as a choice and praised Trump.

Critics of Kaepernick, who have framed his protest as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the US military, took to Twitter to hit out at the Nike deal.

Some fans have burned Nike goods, with the hashtag #JustBurnIt (a play on Nike’s “Just Do It”) trending alongside #BoycottNike.

Country music singer John Rich posted a photo of a pair of slashed Nike sports socks.

“Our Soundman just cut the Nike swoosh off his socks,” Rich wrote on Twitter. “Get ready @Nike multiply that by the millions.”

One user going by the name Sean Clancy posted a video of burning Nike shoes, which was viewed more than 4 million times.

Sean Clancy@sclancy79

First the @NFL forces me to choose between my favorite sport and my country. I chose country. Then @Nike forces me to choose between my favorite shoes and my country. Since when did the American Flag and the National Anthem become offensive?

Others however showed their support of Kaepernick.

“Colin Kaepernick drew our collective attention to the problem of continued racial injustice in America,” former CIA director John Brennan wrote on Twitter.

John O. Brennan

@JohnBrennan

Colin Kaepernick drew our collective attention to the problem of continued racial injustice in America. He did so not to disrespect our flag but to give meaning to the words of the preamble of our Constitution—“in order to form a more perfect union.” Well done, Colin, well done.

Colin Kaepernick

@Kaepernick7

Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt

View image on Twitter

Nike’s sponsorship deal with Kaepernick is liable to further advance the issue of the national anthem and player protests against police violence during the coming season, increasing pressure on the NFL to broker a solution.

In June, President Donald Trump canceled the visit of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to the White House after several players indicated they would not attend.

NFL owners approved a new policyin May which made it mandatory for all players on the field to stand during the pre-match ritual of the US national anthem, albeit allowing them to stay in the locker room if they didn’t wish to take part.

However the new policy was shelved in July as the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to reopen dialogue to reach agreement on a new approach.

Controversy began in 2016

Kaepernick triggered a political firestorm for kneeling during the US national anthemin 2016 to protest racial injustice. He has not played in the NFL since early last year.

The new Nike ads, which were unveiled just days before the kick-off of the 2018 NFL season on Thursday, show a portrait of Kaepernick with the slogan: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Kaepernick posted the advert on his Twitter account followed by #JustDoIt.

Colin Kaepernick

@Kaepernick7

Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.

ESPN has reported that Nike kept Kaepernick, who signed a sponsorship deal with the company in 2011, was on its payroll throughout the controversy of the past two years.

“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” said Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America.

The ad’s release comes just days after Kaepernick was cheered by spectators when he appeared alongside fellow player and activist Eric Reid at the US Open tennis tournament to watch Serena Williams on Friday.

Kaepernick’s protests on the football field have become a bitterly divisive issue amongst NFL fans after President Donald Trump reignited the controversy during a campaign rally in September last year.

Trump described players like Kaepernick who knelt for the anthem as “sons of bitches” who should be fired. The US president has repeated those criticisms frequently over the past year, even suggesting at one stage that protesting players “shouldn’t be in the country”.

av/msh (Reuters, AFP)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

COURTESY: DW

Trump slams Sessions on Twitter, says AG is hurting GOP in midterms

President Trump lashed out at Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a string of tweets on Monday, accusing him of hurting Republican chances in the upcoming midterm elections with a series of Justice Department investigations.

“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department,” Trump tweeted. “Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff…..”

The president apparently was referring to the current investigations into GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York. Fox News has reached out to the White House for additional clarification, and the Justice Department did not immediately respond.

Hunter and his wife, Margaret, were indicted last month on charges of illegally converting $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses and filing false records, while Collins was indicted earlier in August on insider-trading charges. Prosecutors pinpointed the alleged insider trading to June 2017, after Trump took office.

COLLINS, ACCUSED OF INSIDER TRADING, SAYS HE’LL STAY ON BALLOT FOR RE-ELECTION

Trump also tweeted: “The Democrats, none of whom voted for Jeff Sessions, must love him now. Same thing with Lyin’ James Comey. The Dems all hated him, wanted him out, thought he was disgusting – UNTIL I FIRED HIM! Immediately he became a wonderful man, a saint like figure in fact. Really sick!”

Monday’s tweets continued a long-running gripe Trump has had with Sessions ever since the attorney general recused himself last year from the Russia investigation. Last month, the president tweeted that Sessions “doesn’t understand what is happening underneath his command position” and told “Fox & Friends” that his attorney general had “never taken control of his department.”

The president also said the only reason he named Sessions to one of his most important Cabinet-level positions was the former Alabama senator’s early support in the 2016 presidential election.

President Trump tells Bloomberg he will not fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions before the midterms, threatens to pull the U.S. out of the World Trade Organization if it does not 'shape up.'

The comments prompted a pointed response from Sessions, who said in a statement that “While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”

In an interview with Bloomberg on Thursday, Trump said Sessions would remain in his job at least until the November midterm elections. The president did not elaborate on whether he would keep Sessions on as attorney general following the election.

Fox News’ Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.

COURTESY: FOX NEWS

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