Syria on agenda, Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Vladimir Putin; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Their alliance is in good shape, so what’s left to talk about for two men who’ve engineered themselves all-powerful presidencies? Now that President Donald Trump has announced plans to withdraw US troops from Syria, countries that intend to remain involved in the mutlifront civil war are adapting their strategies accordingly. And Syria will certainly be on the agenda when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Moscow on Wednesday to meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The leaders will discuss creating a “security zone” east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria; Erdogan’s desire to launch a military operation to take the self-governed northern city of Manbij, which has been protected by Kurdish forces that drove out the Islamic State (IS) group; and the growing influence of a militia allied with al-Qaida in Idlib. Turkey officially opposes the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and has dedicated its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has close ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as a terror group. Turkey, the European Union and the US classify the PKK as a terror organization. The United States had worked with the YPG militia to combat IS, including training and arming fighters, which has angered Turkish officials and created tensions between the NATO members. The PYD seeks to establish an autonomous state in northern Syria, just south of Turkey’s border. Erdogan, however, wants to push YPG fighters out of this region in order to set up his security zone, where Syrians who have fled the war to Turkey could be resettled.
Brazil’s Bolsonaro inherits Davos keynote on overseas debut; President Bolsonaro said he would present a new, investment-ready Brazil to the Davos elite. He told the forum he’d try to walk a line between business interests and environmental protection. Brazil’s newly sworn-in nationalist President Jair Bolsonaro gave the first keynote speech to the globalist audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday. Bolsonaro has promised to institute neoliberal policies, such as the privatization of most infrastructure. The president did little to assuage the fears of environmentalists who worry about his ideas concerning the economic potential of the Amazon rainforest, by telling the forum that development and concern for the climate should go “hand in hand.” “One should not emphasize more than the other,” he said. He promised to open up Brazil’s “relatively closed” economy by lowering taxes and easing regulations on foreign investment, and to seek active reforms of the World Trade Organization. He further cemented his right-wing populist bonafides by vowing that the left wing “would not prevail” in Latin America. The only major policy initiative undertaken by Bolsonaro thus far is to pull Brazil from a UN pact meant to curb irregular migration, following in the footsteps of other populist leaders from around the world. He has also moved to relax gun regulations in violence-plagued Brazil.
Lebanon’s political and economic meltdown; Lebanon, it seems, is close to political and economic paralysis. Rampant corruption, poor health care, and soaring unemployment have turned the country into a powder keg. Anchal Vohra reports from Beirut. Barely a week passes these days without people in Lebanon taking to the streets. In one such protest last week in Beirut, demonstrators marched from the Labour Ministry to the Health Ministry, chanting slogans and displaying placards lamenting the country’s deteriorating economic conditions. The majority of the protesters were young and many of them unemployed. Take Zeenat. She studied French — the second most spoken language in Lebanon after Arabic — and would like to teach the language as a professional, if she could only get a job. “There are just no openings, no jobs,” she told DW. “We do not even have the money to live on.”
Analyst: China has to be put in the category of a ‘rogue state’; A group of ex-diplomats and academics have signed an open letter to the Chinese president for the release of two Canadians detained on national security grounds. DW spoke to Bill Hayton, one of the letter’s signatories.Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were on December 10 arrested for activities that “endanger China’s national security” — a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage. Their detentions are thought to be in retaliation for Canada’s arrest on a US request of Huawei vice president Meng Wanzhou, who is facing fraud charges linked to violations of Iran sanctions. In an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, released on Monday, a group of more than 100 former diplomats and academics called for the release of the two Canadians. The signatories included former ambassadors to China from Canada, Germany, Mexico, Sweden, the UK and the US. They all are “deeply concerned” by the detentions.
Uprising shows instability of Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela; A small group of Venezuelan soldiers have apparently failed in their to overthrow the regime. Observers say the uprising demonstrates how unstable Venezuela’s political situation has become.On Monday, members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) launched an apparent uprising. Things were seemingly back to normal by afternoon. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the “criminals” had been arrested and would feel the full force of the law. The failed revolt once again illustrates the political instability and humanitarian crises that plague Venezuela. Internationally and at home, the very legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro, who has been sworn in for a second term, is being questioned. “There have been similar revolts in the past,” said Victor Mijares, a Venezuelan native and professor of political science at the University of Los Andes in the capital of Colombia, Bogota. “There will be more in the future,” he said. Venezuela’s opposition has called for nationwide protests on Wednesday. Mijares said Venezuelan soldiers had put up with working conditions that breed discontent. Low- and midlevel personnel are particularly disgruntled, he said. “These people have the same worries that most ordinary citizens have. So this is a revolt by impoverished citizens, albeit with guns and uniforms.” The question is whether Venezuela’s disaffected citizens and military personnel will manage to destabilize the regime. And whether that would actually pave the way toward a democratic transition.
EU fines Mastercard more than half a billion euros; The EU has fined Mastercard €570 million for limiting competition between banks offering cheaper payment fees. The European Commission said Mastercard’s actions harmed consumers and retailers in the bloc. The European Commission on Tuesday fined Mastercard €570 million ($648 million) for preventing retailers from looking for better card payment terms at banks around Europe. The Commission, which monitors competition, said that Mastercard’s rules prior to 2015 forced retailers to pay certain bank fees in the country they are located rather than let them shop around. Mastercard, which also controls the Maestro brand, is the second-largest credit card program in Europe. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that “By preventing merchants from shopping around for better conditions offered by banks in other member states, Mastercard’s rules artificially raised the costs of card payments, harming consumers and retailers in the EU.”
Huawei scrambles to untangle crossed lines; Huawei just needs a better “brand storytelling” approach, a company source reportedly said. But will the telecoms giant’s charm offensive work as the EU wakes up to Chinese industrial espionage? Chinese telco Huawei kicked off a charm offensive this week aimed at salvaging its rapidly deteriorating reputation. The company has been hit with accusations of stealing trade secrets, several countries are blocking or planning to block its equipment from sensitive infrastructure projects, and its finance chief is under arrest in Canada.
Sources: Ghosn plans to step down from Renault; NHK sources say former Nissan head Carlos Ghosn intends to resign from his position as the chairman and CEO of Renault. Ghosn has been held in detention in Tokyo for over 2 months on a series of financial misconduct allegations. He was ousted from his post as Nissan chairman after his arrest in mid-November, but Renault has kept him on board. Ghosn oversaw the alliance between Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi Motors. The news comes as the French automaker prepares to hold a board meeting on Thursday to replace Ghosn. The French government is Renault’s largest shareholder. It’s urging the company to appoint new management to ensure stability. French media say tire manufacturer Michelin’s chief executive will likely take over as chairman. And Renault’s Chief Operating Officer is expected to become CEO. He has been filling in for Ghosn as acting chief executive. Ghosn’s expected departure is likely to intensify a power struggle and talks over the future of the alliance. Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan’s shares, but the Japanese automaker is more profitable. So there have been calls from within Nissan to review the partnership and possibly become more independent.
Indian police arrest Rohingya Muslims; Indian police have arrested a group of Rohingya Muslims who were trying to enter Bangladesh through its border. They had been stranded at the border for nearly a week. The 31 Rohingya Muslims include women and children. They had been reportedly living in the Kashmir region. Around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims are estimated to be in India after violence erupted in Myanmar. They live in settlements and slums across the country, but are considered illegal migrants and a potential security risk. Last October, seven Rohingya Muslims were repatriated to Myanmar, raising fears that more expulsions may follow. The United Nations estimates 730,000 refugees have fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to neighbouring Bangladesh. The UN has condemned the violence as ethnic cleansing, and has warned conditions in Myanmar are not conducive for the refugees to return.
US, N.Korean officials had ‘productive talks’; The government of Sweden has hinted that officials from the United States and North Korea had productive discussions at an international conference in the country. The US special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, and North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, Choe Son Hui, attended the meeting that was held for three days from Saturday near Stockholm. Biegun and Choe are believed to have discussed a second US-North Korean summit. Swedish officials told NHK on Tuesday that delegates from the US, North and South Korea and Sweden took part in the conference and discussed confidence-building and economic development. But the officials did not say whether US and North Korean delegates had one-on-one talks or how Pyongyang’s denuclearization was discussed. The head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, Kenji Kanasugi, was also in Stockholm but did not attend the conference. Kanasugi, who spoke with Biegun, said he did not meet the North Korean delegates. He added that Japan will provide support to ensure that the proposed US-North Korean summit will be a success.
Russians demonstrate opposing islands’ handover; Scores of Russians have staged a demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Moscow against a possible handover of islands claimed by Japan. About 100 people, mainly supporters of Russia’s Communist Party, gathered there on Tuesday. This comes before a Japan-Russia summit in Moscow on the same day to discuss a peace treaty that would include a resolution to the issue of the Russian-held islands. The demonstrators were holding up signs saying, “Russia won’t hand over the islands,” or “Japan should give up on them.” One criticized the Russian government, saying it should not negotiate with Japan on the sovereignty of the islands. Some of the participants scuffled with police. The demonstration’s organizers say 11 people were detained. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in November to accelerate negotiations on a peace treaty based on a 1956 joint declaration. The declaration states that Russia will hand over to Japan two of four Russian-held islands after the conclusion of a peace treaty. But opposition to the handover has been increasing since then. Russia controls the four islands. Japan claims them. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan’s territory. It says the islands were illegally occupied after World War Two.