China poised to take lead on climate after Trump’s move to undo policies

The New York Times reports: For years, the Obama administration prodded, cajoled and beseeched China to make commitments to limit the use of fossil fuels to try to slow the global effects of climate change.

President Obama and other American officials saw the pledges from both Beijing and Washington as crucial: China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed by the United States.

In the coming years, the opposite dynamic is poised to play out. President Trump’s signing of an executive order on Tuesday aimed at undoing many of the Obama administration’s climate change policies flips the roles of the two powers.

Now, it is far likelier that the world will see China pushing the United States to meet its commitments and try to live up to the letter and spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement, even if Mr. Trump has signaled he has no intention of doing so.

“They’ve set the direction they intend to go in the next five years,” Barbara Finamore, a senior lawyer and Asia director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York, said of China. “It’s clear they intend to double down on bringing down their reliance on coal and increasing their use of renewable energy.”

“China wants to take over the role of the U.S. as a climate leader, and they’ve baked it into their five-year plans,” she added, referring to the economic development blueprints drawn up by the Chinese government. [Continue reading…]

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Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds

The Guardian reports: The amount of new coal power being built around the world fell by nearly two-thirds last year, prompting campaigners to claim the polluting fossil fuel was in freefall.

The dramatic decline in new coal-fired units was overwhelmingly due to policy shifts in China and India and subsequent declining investment prospects, according to a report by Greenpeace, the US-based Sierra Club and research network CoalSwarm.

The report said the amount of new capacity starting construction was down 62% in 2016 on the year before, and work was frozen at more than a hundred sites in China and India. In January, China’s energy regulator halted work on a further 100 new coal-fired projects, suggesting the trend was not going away. [Continue reading…]

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Trump ‘looks forward to visiting China’ says Tillerson

BBC News reports: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told China’s President Xi Jinping that President Donald Trump looks forward to visiting his country, and to enhancing understanding between the states.

Mr Tillerson met the Chinese leader in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, as his East Asian tour comes to an end.

Mr Xi said he was glad to see good progress from Mr Tillerson’s meetings.

“You said that China-US relations can only be friendly. I express my appreciation for this,” he said. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: After meeting China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday, Tillerson voiced Chinese catchphrases about the relationship, including the avoidance of conflict and confrontation and the need to build “mutual respect” and strive for “win-win” cooperation.

The phrase “mutual respect” is key: In Beijing, that is taken to mean each side should respect the other’s “core interests.”

In other words: The United States should stay away from issues such as Taiwan, Tibet or Hong Kong — and in principle almost anything China’s Communist Party deems a vital national security concern. Increasingly, that also appears to include China’s territorial claims in the contested waters of the South China Sea.

Several Chinese foreign policy experts called the comments “very positive” and in line with a concept Beijing has long advocated — what it calls “a new model of great power relationships,” which would put the two nations on a roughly equal footing.

Jin Canrong, a Sino-U.S. relations expert at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said Tillerson’s comments came as a surprise.

“China has long been advocating this, but the United States has been reluctant to accept the point of ‘mutual respect,’ ” Jin said. “Tillerson’s comment will be very warmly welcomed by China.”

But Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the United States should use its own language to describe bilateral relations, not embrace China’s.

More importantly, “mutual respect” signals acceptance of “a litany of issues that China views as non-negotiable,” she said. “By agreeing to this, the U.S. is in effect saying that it accepts that China has no room to compromise on these issues.” [Continue reading…]

In an interview with Independent Journal Review, Tillerson said: I do think we’re at somewhat of a historic moment in the U.S.-China relationship. It has been defined for the past 40 years by the opening of China, the Nixon-Kissinger visit. During that time, by and large, the U.S. and China have found a way to exist together in this world, to deal with our conflicts. We’ve never fought a war with each other, other than on the Korean peninsula. That’s the only time we’ve fought a war with each other. And even as China’s country and economy have grown, and now occupies its place in the global economy, we have always managed to exist with one another in a spirit of non-conflict. It doesn’t mean we don’t have differences, but we’ve always found ways to either resolve them or to live with them. Accept that we have differences and move on and still do what’s in the best interest of our people, and China in the best interest of theirs. But I do think because of what is happening globally with people in the world over — globalization itself — that we’re at perhaps at an inflection point in the relationship of global powers in general. And I do think that the Chinese and the U.S. need to have a fresh conversation about what will define the relationship between the United States and China for the next 50 years. We can look back and see how successful we’ve been, 40 years of what I would say has been a very successful relationship with two very powerful nations living with one another without conflict. But now we find that there are issues arising that have gone unresolved. And I think how we are able to talk about those and how we are able to chart our course forward is going to set, potentially, the relationship in a new era of existing together without conflict, in an era of non-conflict. Again, it doesn’t mean we won’t have differences, but we will find how are we going to live with one another for the next 50 years. Because I think there’s a question, perhaps even in the minds of the Chinese: How will the American people, the Chinese people, live with each other in this world for the next half century? [Continue reading…]

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China urges U.S. to remain ‘coolheaded’ on North Korea as Tillerson warns of danger

The Washington Post reports: China urged the United States to remain “coolheaded” over North Korea and not to turn its back on dialogue, as visiting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed a “sense of urgency” to curb dangerous levels of tension on the Korean Peninsula.

On his first trip to Asia this week, Tillerson earlier declared that diplomacy has failed to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and that a new approach was needed. On Friday in Seoul, he warned ominously that all options were on the table to counter the threat from Pyongyang.

President Trump weighed in Friday by goading China over Twitter for not doing enough to help prevent its ally from “behaving very badly.”

But in a joint news conference Saturday with his Chinese counterpart, Tillerson struck a more diplomatic note, choosing to play down differences with Beijing and affirm that both countries share the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. [Continue reading…]

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Businesswoman who recently bought Trump penthouse is connected to Chinese intelligence front group

Mother Jones reports: When a Chinese American businesswoman who sells access to powerful people recently purchased a $15.8 million penthouse in a building owned by President Donald Trump, the deal raised a key question. Was this a straightforward real estate transaction, or was this an effort to win favor with the new administration? The woman, Angela Chen, refused to discuss the purchase with the media. The White House and the Trump Organization would not comment on it. Further investigation by Mother Jones has unearthed a new element to the story: Chen has ties to important members of the Chinese ruling elite and to an organization considered a front group for Chinese military intelligence.

Chen, who also goes by the names Xiao Yan Chen and Chen Yu, purchased the four-bedroom condo in the Trump Park Avenue building in New York City on February 21. As Mother Jones first reported, Chen runs a business consulting firm, Global Alliance Associates, which specializes in linking US businesses seeking deals in China with the country’s top power brokers. “As counselors in consummating the right relationships—quite simply—we provide access,” Chen’s firm boasts on its website. But Chen has another job: She chairs the US arm of a nonprofit called the China Arts Foundation, which was founded in 2006 and has links with Chinese elites and the country’s military intelligence service.

The China Arts Foundation was created by Deng Rong, the youngest daughter of Deng Xiaoping, the iconic revolutionary figure and Chinese leader. Deng Rong is what’s known in China as a princeling—a term used for the sons and daughters of former high-ranking officials or officers in the Chinese Communist Party who now hold significant sway in business and political circles. Since 1990, Deng has also served as a vice president of the China Association for International Friendly Contacts, which is an affiliate of the intelligence and foreign propaganda division of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China experts say CAIFC exists to cultivate relationships with former leaders and retired military officials and diplomats of various countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, in order to influence foreign defense policies toward China and the Far East.

To sum up: An influence-peddler who works with a princeling tied to Chinese military intelligence placed $15.8 million in the pockets of the president of the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Scandal fatigue and the Trump ethical swamp

Timothy L. O’Brien writes: Thanks to some fine work by two Bloomberg news reporters, David Kocieniewski and Caleb Melby, we now know that a major Chinese financial services firm may invest $4 billion in a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the family of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. And that Kushner’s family stands to take home about $500 million for itself from the transaction.

All sorts of goodies are sprinkled around this potential deal, which is being circulated to attract additional investment. It would be the biggest investment — ever — in a single Manhattan building. Some of the Kushner family’s debt on the property would get erased for about a fifth of its value. The Kushners would become equity partners with the Chinese firm, Anbang Insurance Group.

Best of all for the Kushners, the deal would rescue the family company from the consequences of overpaying for the building, 666 Fifth Avenue, which it purchased in 2007 for $1.8 billion. It would also buy out another prominent Trump political backer who invested in the building, Steve Roth of Vornado Realty, for 10 times his original investment.

“It would make business partners of Kushner Cos. and Anbang, whose murky links to the Chinese power structure have raised national security concerns over its U.S. investments,” Kocieniewski and Melby wrote.

That observation is made all the more pungent by the fact that Trump and China’s president, Xi Jinping, have been discussing the terms of a possible diplomatic summit meeting that may take place as early as next month. [Continue reading…]

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Jared Kushner heavily involved in planning Xi Jinping’s visit to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort

The New York Times reports: When President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China sit down for their first meeting next month in Palm Beach, Fla., they could use the balmy breezes and tranquil views at the Mar-a-Lago resort: Relations between the United States and China are as complex and chilly as they have been since the early days of the Reagan administration.

The list of issues that could open a new rift between these two men is long, such as the deployment of American antimissile batteries in South Korea, Mr. Trump’s campaign threats of a trade war or escalating tensions over the South China Sea and Taiwan.

The debate over where to hold Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Xi captures the underlying angst. Chinese officials pushed for an invitation to Mr. Trump’s private resort, American officials said, because it would be more relaxed and informal than a summit meeting at the White House. Equally important, it would reduce the pressure on the two leaders to produce any agreements, which in the current environment is viewed as unrealistic.

Inside the Trump administration, the visit lays bare the unsettled nature of policy toward China. The White House is divided into camps, with a fiercely ideological, anti-China faction vying against more pragmatic elements. Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has emerged as an influential, moderating voice. He is heavily involved in planning the presidential visit, a senior official said, and took part in a National Security Council meeting on Monday at which North Korea and China were discussed. [Continue reading…]

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China has granted preliminary approval for 38 new Trump trademarks

The Associated Press reports: China has granted preliminary approval for 38 new Trump trademarks, paving the way for President Donald Trump and his family to develop a host of branded businesses from hotels to insurance to bodyguard and escort services, public documents show.

Trump’s lawyers in China applied for the marks in April 2016, as Trump railed against China at campaign rallies, accusing it of currency manipulation and stealing US jobs. Critics maintain that Trump’s swelling portfolio of China trademarks raises serious conflict-of-interest questions.

China’s Trademark Office published the provisional approvals on February 27 and Monday.

If no one objects, they will be formally registered after 90 days. All but three are in the president’s own name. China already registered one trademark to the president, for Trump-branded construction services, on February 14.

If Trump receives any special treatment in securing trademark rights, it would violate the US Constitution, which bans public servants from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless approved by Congress, ethics lawyers from across the political spectrum say. Concerns about potential conflicts of interest are particularly sharp in China, where the courts and bureaucracy are designed to reflect the will of the ruling Communist Party. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea tensions pose early, and perilous, test for Trump

The New York Times reports: When the United States began deploying a missile defense system in South Korea this week, it was to protect an ally long threatened by North Korean provocations. But it was instantly met by angry Chinese warnings that the United States is setting off a new arms race in a region already on edge over the North’s drive to build a nuclear arsenal.

China condemned the new antimissile system as a dangerous opening move in what it called America’s grand strategy to set up similar defenses across Asia, threatening to tilt the balance of power there against Beijing.

The tensions are testing the new Trump administration and its uneasy allies South Korea and Japan, which have complained for years that China has simultaneously chastised and coddled the North, refusing to enact stiff enough measures to force it to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.

But with the beginning of work to install the antimissile system, the delicate international cooperation against North Korea is splintering: Beijing is expressing more concern about American intentions in the region than about the dangers of the North’s latest surge in nuclear and missile testing. [Continue reading…]

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Feinstein: Trump trademark in China may violate Constitution

Politico reports: A decision by the Chinese government to grant President Donald Trump a trademark for his brand could be a breach of the U.S. Constitution, a senior Democratic senator warned Friday.

“China’s decision to award President Trump with a new trademark allowing him to profit from the use of his name is a clear conflict of interest and deeply troubling,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in a statement. “If this isn’t a violation of the Emoluments Clause, I don’t know what is.”

The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibits federal officials — including the president — from accepting payments from foreign governments. Trump’s critics have argued that Trump’s opaque and byzantine business network could run afoul of this principle. [Continue reading…]

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Is Peter Navarro the most dangerous man in Trump world?

While considering the danger posed by the head of Trump’s National Trade Council, Jacob Heilbrunn writes: To counter the manifold economic and military threats the United States faces, Navarro recommends a sweeping revision of U.S. foreign policy. He wants high tariffs, the repudiation of trade pacts and, above all, a massive military buildup against China. One of Navarro’s aspirations is to beef up military ties with Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of China. Calling the Obama administration’s treatment of Taipei “egregious,” Navarro declared in Foreign Policy that it has been “repeatedly denied the type of comprehensive arms deal it needs to deter China’s covetous gaze.” At the same time, Navarro wants to end sequestration on defense and go on an all-out shipbuilding binge for the U.S. Navy. Nor does Navarro seem to see a bomber that he would not like to build.

The hysterical economic warnings, the scary prescriptions and the self-defeating proposals would simply be fanciful nonsense if Navarro weren’t whispering in the ear of the most powerful man in the world. The fact that he is makes them dangerous. Of course, where Trump will actually head still remains an open question. After his initial questioning of a “one China” policy, Trump, in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, seems to have endorsed it. But at the same time, Trump is clearly seeking to use Japan to balance Chinese power, which is why he is hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this weekend. On Friday, Abe even promised to invest in America and joked that he would help build a Maglev train that would convey the president within an hour from Washington to his Manhattan aerie.

Like not a few presidential advisers in history, Navarro may not be able to enact everything he proposes. Perhaps he will breathe fire about the perfidy of China and other countries but not decisively influence economic policy. In this scenario, Navarro would serve as a convenient release valve for ventilating frustration about the further loss of manufacturing jobs that is likely to continue under Trump, thanks mostly to the inexorable rise of artificial intelligence and automation. In the Washington Post, Ed Hess, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia, predicts that tens of millions of jobs will be destroyed in the next five to 15 years by emerging technologies, and 47 percent wiped out over the next 10 to 15 years.

Another possibility is that Navarro doesn’t get free rein but has to jockey for power with the other economic players in the administration, including Steven Mnuchin at Treasury, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has no history of China antagonism. In this scenario, Trump doesn’t jettison NAFTA but rather accedes to some cosmetic changes that don’t fundamentally alter the pact. At the same time, he retreats from his bogus charge that Beijing is depressing its currency — it isn’t — and initiates trade talks with the Chinese while also working with them to corral North Korean nuclear ambitions.

But there’s a third possibility — one that we shouldn’t dismiss. In this scenario, the Navarro line prevails. Trump unilaterally slaps draconian tariffs on Mexico and China. In turn, the World Trade Organization says they’re illegal. Trump, never one to defer to the courts, pulls the U.S. out of the WTO, and the international economic order is upended. With tariffs high and Trump bailing out of international institutions, it doesn’t take long before we end up in a global depression. The last time something like this occurred it led directly to the rise of fascist regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan, with nationalist leaders promising that domestic repression and external expansion were a quick and easy remedy to their nation’s woes. [Continue reading…]

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North Korean nuclear ambitions to be defining issue for Trump

Bloomberg reports: Trump will be forced to deal with ongoing threats from North Korea as that country gains the ability to threaten the continental U.S. with a nuclear strike, an official said on Sunday, hours after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile into nearby seas.

North Korea will probably develop its ballistic missile technology enough to pair with its nuclear weapons to reach the U.S. during Trump’s tenure, said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Either the U.S. gets the Chinese to help increase pressure on North Korea through sanctions, or Trump will have “a truly consequential decision,” Haass said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Sunday.

“Trump is going to have to face a truly fateful decision about whether we’re prepared to live with that, a North Korea that has that capability against us, or we are going to use military force one way or another to destroy their nuclear missile capability,” Haass said. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the test, the first by the North this year, demonstrated the “maniacal obsession” of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, with developing a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile.

The test came less than two days after Mr. Trump said on Friday that defending against the nuclear and missile threats from North Korea was a “very, very high priority.” Mr. Trump made the comment at a news conference with Mr. Abe at the White House. In their joint statement, the two leaders had urged North Korea “to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and not to take any further provocative actions.” [Continue reading…]

David Wright writes: The missile was apparently launched eastward from the Panghyon air base near Kusong, northwest of Pyongyang and traveled 500 km, splashing down in the Sea of Japan. According to the South Korean military, it flew on a lofted trajectory, reaching an apogee of about 550 km.

A missile flown on this trajectory would have a range of 1,200-1,250 km if flown on a standard trajectory with the same payload.

That range is similar to that of the North Korean Nodong missile, which was first tested in the early 1990s and has been launched repeatedly since then. Another launch of the Nodong would not be particularly useful for advancing Pyongyang’s missile program, so if that was what was launched it would have had a political motivation.

However, as Jeffrey Lewis points out, the trajectory is very similar to the trajectory the submarine-launched KN-11 missile flew in its first successful test last August. While similar in range to the Nodong, the KN-11 has the advantage that it uses solid rather than liquid fuel, which means it would take less preparation time before a launch. The North is likely to be interested in developing and testing a land-based version of the missile.

If this is what was launched, it would represent a useful developmental step for North Korea, no matter what may have driven the timing of the launch. [Continue reading…]

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Trump, changing course on Taiwan, gives China an upper hand

The New York Times reports: By backing down in a telephone call with China’s president on his promise to review the status of Taiwan, President Trump may have averted a confrontation with America’s most powerful rival.

But in doing so, he handed China a victory and sullied his reputation with its leader, Xi Jinping, as a tough negotiator who ought to be feared, analysts said.

“Trump lost his first fight with Xi and he will be looked at as a paper tiger,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, in Beijing, and an adviser to China’s State Council. “This will be interpreted in China as a great success, achieved by Xi’s approach of dealing with him.”

Mr. Trump’s reversal on Taiwan is likely to reinforce the views of those in China who see him as merely the latest American president to come into office talking tough on China, only to bend eventually to economic reality and adopt more cooperative policies. That could mean more difficult negotiations with Beijing on trade, North Korea and other issues.

At the same time, the Chinese leadership will view statements by Mr. Trump with even greater skepticism. “Even though Trump has said he will support the ‘One China’ policy, China cannot fully trust him,” said Yan Xuetong, dean of the school of international relations at Tsinghua University, in Beijing. “Even his own people don’t trust him.” [Continue reading…]

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China is eager to fill the vacuum in climate change leadership that is being left by the U.S.

Larry Buhl writes: Earlier this month China halted more than 100 coal-fired power projects. Scrapping these projects, with combined installed capacity of more than 100 gigawatts, may have more to do with China’s current overcapacity in coal production than its commitment to mitigating climate change. Nevertheless, Chinese leaders are likely happy that the move is framing their nation as a green energy leader, according to experts in Chinese and environmental policy.

That’s because, they say, the Chinese government is now eager to fill the vacuum in climate change leadership that is being left by the U.S. And, they say, China is poised to eat America’s lunch in the renewable energy sector.

Saying that China is doing nothing on climate change has long been a right wing talking point used to stop U.S. regulations such as carbon taxes. While that may have been true a decade ago, it certainly isn’t true now.

Already, China is both the world’s leading producer of renewable energy technologies and its biggest consumer. [Continue reading…]

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China’s winding down coal use continues — the country just canceled 104 new coal plants

Vox reports: Because China is such a behemoth, its energy decisions absolutely dwarf anything any other country is doing right now. Case in point: Over the weekend, the Chinese government ordered 13 provinces to cancel 104 coal-fired projects in development, amounting to a whopping 120 gigawatts of capacity in all.

To put that in perspective, the United States has about 305 gigawatts of coal capacity total. The projects that China just ordered halted are equal in size to one-third of the US coal fleet. If the provinces follow through, it’s a very, very big deal for efforts to fight climate change.

This move also shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In recent years, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has been making major efforts to restrain its coal use and shift to cleaner sources of energy. When Donald Trump and other conservatives in the United States complain that China isn’t doing anything about climate change, they simply haven’t been paying attention. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump and the New World Order

Der Spiegel reports: A weak, perhaps disintegrating Europe wedged in between the two great powers U.S.A. and Russia, whose presidents get along better than most of their predecessors: For Europe, such a scenario would be the largest foreign and security policy challenge since World War II. For the last 70 years, Europe could depend on having America at its side. Now, this is no longer a certainty.

The power vacuum that America’s withdrawal is creating is particularly welcome to two countries: China and Russia. For the leadership in Beijing, the collapse of the old world order is akin to an act of God: America, China’s last rival on its path to becoming a superpower, is pulling back. Never before have the prospects been as good for the realization of the “Chinese Dream,” which Xi Jinping has made the slogan of his presidency.

Xi spoke of his global vision this week in Davos, at the annual gathering of the world’s economic and financial elite. The rules of international cooperation, he said, must be changed. Beijing isn’t happy with Western dominance of global organizations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. China, with its population of 1.3 billion and significant economic strength, sees itself as an alternative. Beijing, Xi said, is prepared to take on more responsibility: “History is created by the brave.”

Are we headed for a world in which China — an authoritarian state in which the Communist Party leadership has a firm grip over the economy, controls the media and censors the internet — dominates the new global order? Will the 21st century see the realization of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” or George Orwell’s “1984,” the most dystopian visions of the 20th century?

For the moment, that seems farfetched. But from Moscow’s perspective, new commonalities with the U.S. are emerging. Even before his inauguration, Donald Trump presented the Russian leadership with a significant gift: He branded NATO obsolete and called into question the alliance’s principle of collective defense. Things could hardly be going better for Moscow. Maintaining control over Russia’s immediate vicinity is one of the country’s core interests while NATO’s eastward expansion is seen as a traumatic infringement of that claim. Putin has finally found an ally, in Washington of all places, in his battle against a world order that he has long attacked as being unipolar and unjust. Like Trump, Putin would like a world free of the West’s constant moralizing, a world in which might makes right. [Continue reading…]

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